Photo of the Week – Brown Pelican Taking Flight

A young Brown Pelican, just starting to grow its white adult head feathers, takes off from the waters of Klopp Lake at the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary.

These large sea birds inhabit both coasts of the Unites States and Mexico, maintaining a year-round presence in the southern reaches of their range and traveling along the northern states during the Summer. Humboldt Bay hosts several of them during the warmer months, a handful of which fish and take shelter at Arcata Marsh’s Klopp Lake.

They hunt by either swimming in groups to corral fish or by diving from the air after schools of fish. They are one of only two pelican species to fish by diving; after circling over the water to locate their prey, they dive beak first into the water:

A single dive can capture several fish which are swallowed after the pelican expels the water from its large, elastic gular pouch on the underside of the beak.

A Brown Pelican holds multiple smelt in its beak after diving into Klopp Lake

As they migrate to and from the northern coast, they travel in flocks, sometimes flying in a V formation and sometimes in a straight line, either passing low over the waves or soaring at a moderate altitude.

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News Roundup – Eagles, Wetlands, Bees and More

The Humboldt Bay eaglets have been given names, courtesy of two elementary school classes. The two young eagles, formerly dubbed E1 and E2, were found to be a male and a female and now go by Angel and Mist. They’ve grown to nearly adult size, and will fledge soon – their last weeks in the nest can be viewed on a live web stream here.

The eaglet in the Benbow, CA nest has successfully fledged after roughly twelve weeks in the nest, and is off learning to fish and fend for itself. When we visited its nest at the beginning of the month, hoping to see it for one last time, the nest was empty. Our readers have reported seeing the eaglet alive and well along the Eel River, although it will be leaving the region soon. Juvenile Bald Eagles migrate earlier than their parents in an effort to establish their own territory. Photographer Talia Rose, who has been documenting the eagle family over the course of a few months, has compiled a gallery of them and we’ve put together a playlist of our videos from the nest.

After a job well done by the Bald Eagle parents, the nest sits empty above the Eel River until next year

Bay Nature had a Q&A session with U.C. Berkeley researcher Gordon Frankie about California’s native bees, touching on their research and how farmers can cultivate populations of these pollinators on their farms. Meanwhile, researchers at U.C. San Diego are examining the effects of habitat loss on Southern California’s populations of wild bees.

A digger bee, one of California’s native pollinators, emerges from its hole in Patrick’s Point State Park

Neonicitinoids, a class of pesticide that has been found to disorient bees and is one of the several pesticides and fungicides linked to Colony Collapse Disorder, have been a target of proposed bans during some especially sharp declines in honey bee populations. New research has found that these pesticides pose a threat to bird life as well.

The California Clapper Rail once inhabited coastal wetlands over nearly the entire length of the state. Falling victim to hunting, habitat destruction and introduced predators, it is now found exclusively in remote wetlands of San Francisco Bay. This report extensively explores the history of the magnificent-looking bird and the conservation efforts currently underway to bolster its estimated population of 1200 individuals.

As part of an overall improvement project for Lake Merritt and its surrounding parks, the City of Oakland rebuilt a major stretch of road and opened up the formerly culverted channel connecting the tidal lagoon to San Francisco Bay. In addition to providing a more attractive and safer pedestrian passage under 12th Street, the reworked waterway was intended as a measure to improve water quality and biodiversity in Lake Merritt. Since then, the appearance of a river otter and a ray seem to provide evidence of the later, but water quality readings are sending mixed signals. With dissolved oxygen readings not reaching expected levels, people involved in the relatively new practice of water quality assessment are now looking at freshwater runoff and the tidal flow regulation mechanisms between Lake Merritt and the bay while citizen science efforts to evaluate water quality and biodiversity continue.

Sea Star Wasting Syndrome, which has been devastating localized populations of sea stars along the Pacific coast of North America over the past several months, has yet to be attributed to any single cause. While research continues to pinpoint a bacterium or virus responsible for the condition and a mechanism for transmission, recent findings suggest that warming waters might aid the spread of the disease.

In recent years, trespass grows (illicit marijuana cultivation operations on public lands) have come under scrutiny for draining and damaging sensitive watersheds and deploying harmful pesticides, herbicides and rodenticides. While there have been a handful of high-profile raids on these operations by various law enforcement agencies in the past several months, the conventional wisdom is that they are still omnipresent in California’s rural stretches. Environmental groups in California are now pressuring the U.S. Forest Service to divulge any information it has about remaining trespass grows so that the environmental impact from these plantations can be curbed.

With rainfall at historic lows, fire danger is high throughout most of California. While a handful of recent fires have been contained, multiple firefighting agencies are currently fighting a vegetation fire near Hoopa.

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Photo of the Week – Father and Son

The Belted Kingfisher chicks at the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary have recently fledged and are learning the ins and outs of surviving from their parents. Here, the juvenile male perches atop a pine above a choice fishing spot in Klopp Lake while his father flies past.

Belted Kingfishers nest in burrows dug into river banks or cliff faces and tend to clutches of up to six eggs. Their chicks emerge from the nests at the height of Summer, which coincides with the swelling of fish populations in Arcata Marsh’s brackish pools.

A Great Egret stands guard at the saltwater intake to Klopp Lake and feeds off the numerous fish

Kingfishers feed almost exclusively from the water, keeping watch for prey from branches or posts overlooking their chosen pond, river, lake, bay or slough. If prey wanders close enough to their watch point, they will dive directly into water after it.

The juvenile male emerges from an unsuccessful dive in Klopp Lake

If a feeding ground lacks a suitable watch point, kingfishers will hover in place over the water while targeting fish or swimming amphibians.

A male Belted Kingfisher hovering over Butcher’s Slough while fishing

When they catch a fish, they return to their perch to eat. Smaller fish are quickly swallowed whole, but larger fish need to be subdued. A kingfisher will strike large fish against a branch or post repeatedly until it can no longer struggle, then swallow it.

The mother Belted Kingfisher settling on a post with a freshly-caught fish

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Production Journal – Into the Wind is Coming Soon

Production notes from Redwood Planet Media’s President and Cinematographer, Alan Peterson

The editing for Into the Wind: The White-tailed Kites of the Redwood Coast has been under way for a while now, and the numerous Premiere timelines I’ve been piecing together are starting to resemble an actual film. I’ve put one of the introductory scenes online as a preview of what’s in store:

I’m pleased with how it’s shaping up; Matthew Birk’s voiceover came out very nicely and it feels great to see the results of a year’s worth of disparate filming sessions finally cohering into a story. The process is taking a bit longer than it should, since my three-year-old laptop struggles with processing footage from the RED camera I’m using (especially when involving After Effects), but the myriad tasks of post-production are slowly falling victim to patience and persistence. I’m aiming to complete the film before the end of July, and we’ll be debuting a special extended version of it at the Arcata Marsh Interpretive Center on August 15th (more details to come).

The one thing I hoped to include in Into the Wind that I’ll unfortunately have to omit is nesting behavior. Last year’s breeding pair of kites nested on a branch that wasn’t visible from any accessible part of the marsh and, after consulting with experts, I found out that nest cams have to be set up before nesting season starts (making them practically impossible to use on birds that build nests from scratch each year). This year’s breeding pair has nested on a treetop and put their nesting behavior on display for marsh-goers, but I thought it would stretching the truth a bit too much to have them stand in for last year’s couple (especially considering that this year’s female is one of last year’s hatchlings), and we’re too far into post-production to restructure the film at this point. I am, however, continuing to film them and will be including this year’s breeding pair in the feature-length film about Arcata Marsh.

The mother-to-be kite flies in for a shift on the nest so her mate can hunt

After Into the Wind is completed, Katy Warner (our CFO) and I will be focusing on raising a payroll budget for Redwood Planet Media and expanding out workforce. Right now, I’m handling production and post-production single-handed (while freelancing to cover living expenses) and Katy and I have been juggling web and administrative tasks as they can fit into our schedules. Between grants (which should be easier to get with a completed film under our belt), another crowd funding campaign and either licensing or digital distribution revenue from Into the Wind, we’ll hopefully be able to bring in enough revenue to cut regular pay checks and have a workforce that can devote itself to Redwood Planet without having to run off every time a paid film gig pops up in the area. With the relatively low cost of living in Humboldt County and the almost nonexistent overhead costs of running a company out of an apartment, we’re optimistic about making that happen. If you want to help us along, you can make a tax-deductible donation at any time (and get rewards, including prints of our photos) using the “Donate” link on our website’s sidebar.

Future projects, which we’ll hopefully be tackling with at least one more camera operator/editor and a faster computer, include a film about the waders (herons, egrets, bitterns and rails) at Arcata Marsh and a short documentary about reintroducing the California Condor to Humboldt County. With a glut of heron and egret footage on hand, the footage of American Bitterns we recorded in March rounded out a solid foundation for a documentary about waders. Over the coming weeks, I should be able to get some footage of juvenile egrets fledging from their nesting site on Indian Island. After that, finding and filming the elusive Virginia Rail is in order. On the condor front, I’ve been in touch with the Ventana Wildlife Society about filming their captive breeding program and interviewing their condor experts (a filming date isn’t set, but it’s looking like some time in August works best for everyone involved), and I’ll be contacting the Yurok Tribe after the holiday weekend about their efforts to prepare for a condor release in Humboldt County and hopefully arranging to film their release.

In the mean time, I’ll be spending most of my time with Redwood Planet finishing the editing for Into the Wind and making occasional trips to Arcata Marsh to grab supplemental vole footage, monitor the kites’ nest and get some footage of the newly-fledged Belted Kingfishers that have started hanging out at the Eastern side of Klopp Lake.

Stay tuned for more updates on Into the Wind – we’ll be submitting it to film festivals, and will be arranging more local screenings after its festival debut. Contributors to our first Indiegogo campaign will receive their digital copies of the film as soon as it’s finished.

Best wishes to all,
Alan Peterson
President, Redwood Planet Media

Photo of the Week – A First-time Mother in Flight

The White-tailed Kites at the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary have nested in the pines above Hauser Marsh, and are taking turns guarding and incubating their eggs. Here, the young mother-to-be flies out into the fields to catch a meal while her mate takes a shift on the nest.

These two kites began courtship in May and were hard at work building a nest by mid-month:

The female was raised in these very same pines only a year ago (she can be seen as a fledgling in an earlier Photo of the Week), but her youth has been no detriment to her skills as a parent. She aggressively chases away crows and ravens that might pose a threat to her eggs, and she’s frequently bringing new sticks to reinforce the nest. She’s become a skilled hunter over the last year, easily catching enough food for herself and regularly bringing back an extra vole to offer to her mate. In a courtship display, she will hover near the nest and deliver the food in a mid-air hand-off.

In this photo taken yesterday evening, she’s offering a vole to her mate above the nest, but he had just eaten and was not interested.

The kites are able to catch more than enough food for now, but their hunting skills will be tested as the dry weather continues and they have more mouths to feed in the nest. However, they are the only breeding pair of raptors nesting at the marsh right now and they know the terrain well. Barring any major surprises, there will be another rusty-colored fledgling or two venturing out of the pines within the next two months.

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