Photo of the Week – Coast Garter Snake

In a rare patch of sun in the dense forests of Trinidad, California, a garter snake lounges on a mossy hillside.


Found along the majority of the California coast and varying in appearance from region to region, the coast garter has one of the most diverse diets of any reptile. Fish, birds, mice, lizards, amphibians, smaller snakes, worms, leeches, slugs and snails all fall prey to the coast garter. It shows a remarkable resistance to the toxin of the rough-skinned newt, and is the only animal known to survive after eating one.

Garter snakes are one of the few species of snake that give birth to live young. Breeding in spring, the newly-emerged juveniles can be seen between July and September.

If you have photos, video or news from the redwood coast that you would like to see featured on our site, let us know at info@redwoodplanet.org.

News Roundup – Waterways, Trails and More

California’s record-setting drought continues to strain the health of the state’s watersheds, ecosystems and agriculture. With a persistent lack of rainfall accompanied by diversions for irrigation and so-called pollution pot, the Van Duzen River has ceased to flow all the way to the lower Eel River, prompting a declaration of a state of emergency from Humboldt County supervisors. Following warnings about toxic blue-green algae, The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation has instated a schedule of water releases from Trinity Lake to maintain river health. Agricultural interests in California’s central valley filed a lawsuit to stop releases from the reservoir and preserve the its water for irrigation, but a federal judge has denied this request.

In addition to the Trinity water releases, additional measures are being taken to protect wildlife during drought conditions. The Nature Conservancy and its allies are launching a program to rent strategically located patches of farmland and temporarily turn them into wetlands to aid in annual bird migrations. The Ten Mile River, which hosts one third of the spawning coho salmon in Mendocino County, has been slated for a long term restoration project intended to preserve fish populations.

Yurok tribal authorities have collaborated with state and federal law enforcement to stop illegal water diversions in the Klamath river by cracking down on illicit marijuana grows. In the first step toward developing long-term restoration plans and obtaining remediation funding, The North Coast Regional Wa¬≠ter Quality Board has recommended six waterways for impairment listing. Not content to wait for the Humboldt Bay National Wildlife Refuge to carry out its reclamation plan, natural forces have forged ahead and taken back a 50-acre portion of Humboldt Bay’s tidal wetlands. In the San Francisco bay, restoration efforts are taking place underwater to transplant native eel grass to the bay floor.

Fans of trails and public forests on the north coast have a lot to look forward to in the near future. Humboldt County has closed the deal to acquire nearly 1000 acres of forested land previously owned by Green Diamond Resource Company. This tract of land, located near Eureka, will have a trail system developed over the coming years and possibly be joined by additional purchases and/or easements of adjacent forest. The state has released funding to a handful of north coast trail construction projects while the Six Rivers National Forest has just grown by 320 acres.


An American Kestrel perched on a cyprus in coastal Sonoma County

Two northern California birds that occupy very different biological niches have come under increased scrutiny from conservationists. Both the Band-tailed Pigeon and the American Kestrel have suffered steady declines in their respective populations over recent decades. While recent research suggests a parasitic infection may be a large factor in the decline of the Band-tailed Pigeon, the transitory nature of of the American Kestrel has made the bird very hard to study. Falcon researchers are now requesting the help of citizen scientists to collect data on American Kestrels – those interested in helping can sign up here.

If you have photos, video or news from the redwood coast that you would like to see featured on our site, let us know at info@redwoodplanet.org.

Photo of the Week – American Avocets

Over the course of July and August, several shorebird species return to their winter home on the California coast. Here, two recent arrivals feed side by side in a shallow channel on Humboldt Bay.


These American Avocets are from a flock of approximately twenty of their kind that has settled at the northern end of Humboldt Bay for the winter. The shallow bay, which converts to an expansive mudflat during low tide, provides an ideal feeding ground for these shorebirds that are specially adapted for harvesting marine invertebrates. Striding steadily across wet mud or through shallow pools and channels, they sweep their upturned beaks from side to side to gather small organisms near the bay mud’s surface.

Like many of North America’s shorebirds, the American Avocet travels to the plains and prairies of the northern states and Canada to breed during the summer. The plumage on their necks and heads changes from a light grey to a bold rusty orange for the warm months, but quickly fades after they return to their winter habitats.


An American Avocet with breeding plumage

If you have photos, video or news that you’d like to see featured on our site, let us know at info@redwoodplanet.org.

Production Journal – A Quick Update

An update from Redwood Planet Media’s President, Alan Peterson

Thanks to everyone who came out to our screening of Into the Wind: The White-tailed Kites of the Redwood Coast last Friday. It was a pleasure to unveil the film and discuss this year’s kite family with such a friendly and fun crowd. After having so much of the kite’s lives stored away as footage for the last year, I’m really happy to see them finally come to life as a film and being able to share it with others.

There are still a number of refinements that need to be made before Into the Wind is ready for a wider release, but we’re now equipped with a faster computer that will make the final steps of editing quicker and less painful. We’ll be submitting it to several film festivals over the coming months and arranging for more local screenings, so keep an eye on our website and social media feeds for screening dates if you missed it the first time or if you want to see it again.

While the story of last year’s White-tailed Kite family wraps up as a film project, this year’s kites have left the pines of Arcata Marsh. The juvenile fledged in early August and the family has moved to richer hunting grounds across McDaniel Slough. I’ve spotted the two parents perching together on a dead tree in the middle of the slough, and I’ve heard from a friend who’s seen all three together since then. As their time in Arcata Marsh comes to an end, so does my filming and photographing of them… except for when they make visits to their old hunting grounds, of course.


The mother kite hovering near the oxidation ponds at Arcata Marsh, seen yesterday

Over the coming year, we’ll be focusing on three documentary shorts: one about the reintroduction of California Condors to California’s north coast, one about the waders (herons, egrets and bitterns) at Arcata Marsh, and one about the migratory birds that rely on Arcata Marsh and other regional wetlands for their long journeys each year. At this point, I can’t say which one will be completed first, but our collection of wader footage is growing quickly with the flocks that are drawn to the newly-restored McDaniel tidal slough.

Updates to our site should be more consistent now that some big deadlines for me have passed (and I have gobs of links stored up for upcoming news roundups), so stay tuned for more from Redwood Planet. Once our first film is finalized, we’ll be working on raising a payroll budget for the company so it doesn’t have to take a back seat every time paid gigs become available. If you’d like to support us in this endeavor, please check out the Donate link on the left side of our website.

Thanks and best wishes,
-Alan Peterson

Into the Wind Sneak Preview Screening

This Friday, August 15, we will be screening a sneak preview of our first documentary, Into the Wind: The White-tailed Kites of the Redwood Coast at the Arcata Marsh Interpretive Center. The film follows the White-tailed Kites at the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary over the course of a year, providing a close up look at their lives, their prey and their rivals.

A reception with snacks will be held at 7:30pm and the film will screen at 8:00, followed by a lecture from the film’s director and our company President, Alan Peterson. Picking up where the film left off, he will give a talk about further developments in the kite population around Arcata Marsh accompanied by photos and footage, including close-up views of this summer’s nest.


The Arcata Marsh Interpretive center is located at 600 South G Street in Arcata, California. Seating is limited, but reservations can be made by calling (707) 826-2359.

UPDATE: The time of the event has been pushed back by half an hour. The reception will be at 7:30pm and the film will show at 8:00pm, rather than the previously stated 7:00pm and 7:30pm.