Happy 2015 from the Redwood Coast

We’re wishing a happy 2015 to all of our readers. 2014 held many challenges for Northern California, owing largely to one of the worst droughts on record. Nonetheless, the people and animals pushed on in their own unique ways. Heavy December rains brought relief to parched fields and shrinking wetlands as well as their inhabitants. To finish off the year, the raptors of Arcata Bottoms, drawn by the booming vole population, put on a spectacular show for our cameras:

We’re thankful to live in a region where the natural world has so much to offer. Looking back on the past year, we’ve put together some highlights from each month featuring the wildlife of the redwood coast.

During the winter, large flocks of shorebirds make Humboldt Bay and its surrounding wetlands their home. Here, a Marbled Godwit pulls a meal from a submerged mudflat at the mouth of Butcher’s Slough.

A vivid winter sunset lights up this White-tailed Kite as it grabs a vole from one of Arcata Marsh’s levees.

Large rain storms brought the American Bitterns out of their flooded reed beds to hunt for fish, frogs, worms and insects in the water parsley and grasses. Here, one comes in for a close look at the camera.

At the beginning of the month, the two chicks in Arcata Marsh’s Anna’s Hummingbird nest fledged. Here, the second of the two chicks receives one of the last feedings from its mother after leaving the nest.

Lake Merritt, the country’s oldest wildlife sanctuary, has roughly 140 Canada Geese that reside at the lake year-round in addition to the flocks that migrate through. In May, their hatchlings emerge and graze in the fields surrounding the tidal lagoon.

High above the south fork of the Eel River, a Bald Eagle nestling practices for its first flight. Despite a terrible drought, its parents were able to bring enough food to raise the eaglet until it could hunt on its own.

Belted Kingfisher fledglings emerged at Arcata Marsh and spent most of the month around Klopp Lake. Here, a young male dives at a school of smelt that’s drawn to the saltwater lake’s tidal sluice.

As the treetop nesting sites emptied out, several juveniles joined the wading birds that feed around Humboldt Bay. As this young Snowy Egret ages, its legs and beak will turn all black except for the feet and cere.

With the rut well underway for the Roosevelt elk, two young bulls engage in antler wrestling. While not yet large enough to challenge a dominant bull for its harem, these two are sharpening their skills for when they grow older.

Brown Pelicans are one of only two pelican species that dive from the air to fish. During the summer and fall, several of them gather on California’s northern coast to feed on the plentiful fish.

During the fall, grebes return to the Pacific coast from their summer breeding grounds. Here, a Western Grebe dives into Butcher’s Slough to feed.

The plentiful shorebirds and waterfowl on the California coast during the winter provide a rich feeding ground for Peregrine Falcons. Here, a Bufflehead narrowly escapes becoming a meal for one by diving into the McDaniel Slough tidal wetlands.

Photo of the Week – Dueling Hawks

A Northern Harrier dives at a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk perched by Arcata Marsh’s brackish pond.

During the winter, the wetlands of Humboldt Bay and their surrounding fields come alive with raptor activity. Drawn by the plentiful shorebirds, waterfowl and voles, hawks and falcons frequently patrol the landscape for their next meal. White-tailed Kites and Northern Harriers hunt within fairly limited ranges, returning to the same areas predictably during the peak activity of their prey. Flying lower and more slowly than most raptors, harriers search for birds and rodents using both their keen eyes and their owl-like hearing mechanisms.

Red-shouldered Hawks are less predictable, often hunting and roosting in different spots from day to day. Although they usually choose favorite perches by their different hunting grounds, these hawks typically will not aggressively defend a territory unless provoked.

A crow comes in for a close look at a Red-shouldered Hawk over Arcata Marsh’s log pond

Northern Harriers, on the other hand, won’t hesitate to chase off a perceived competitor if they think they have an advantage. A harrier can’t match the speed or maneuverability of an adult Red-shoulder Hawk, but the juvenile pictured above appears as both a nuisance and an easy target to the marsh’s resident raptor.

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 – Black Phoebe

A Black Phoebe yawns on its perch while waiting for insects to emerge over the Arcata Salt Marsh.

These small songbirds feed almost exclusively on insects and spiders, making short flights from a favored perch to grab prey off the ground, the water’s surface or out of the air. Native to the western coasts of temperate and tropical North and South America, they are usually spotted perched low over water. Here, one makes quick work of a passing damselfly in the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary:

When it comes time to nest, a male Black Phoebe will approach a female and display by hovering near her and chasing her if she moves away. If the female accepts, the male will scout out potential nesting locations and show them off to his mate by fanning his tail and zig-zagging or spiraling upward next to a cliff face or the eves of a building. The female makes the final decision about where the nest will be built; after a male’s display, she will accept or reject the location, and they will move on to the next potential site if necessary. When a nesting site is chosen, the pair will construct mud shell lined with vegetation, similar to that of a Cliff Swallow, where they will tend up to six eggs.

If you have video, photos 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 – Black Oystercatcher

A Black Oystercatcher enjoys the contents of a mussel on the rocky shores of César Chávez Park on the edge of San Francisco Bay.

These shore-dwelling birds occupy rocky portions of North America’s Pacific coast, ranging from Alaska’s Aleutian Islands to Baja California. Their entire population is estimated to be only 8,900-11,000 individuals due to their limited feeding grounds. Although they are not considered a threatened species, they are monitored as an indicator of habitat health. Feeding primarily on mussels and limpets, they can be identified by their dark plumage (which is entirely black on the northern end of their range and a mixture of black and brown toward the southern end), their long, thick, red beak and their yellow eyes.

Black Oystercatchers sporting brown feathers below the neck at Monterrey Bay

Black Oystercatchers are one of only a few birds that feature eye flecks: pigmented portions of the iris adjacent to the pupil. While it’s unclear whether they provide any functional benefits for the eye, they seem to be a display of sexual dimorphism. Female oystercatchers tend to have larger and more clearly defined eye flecks than their male counterparts.

A likely female Black Oystercatcher with a large eye fleck

They can be located by their piercing, persistent calls as they browse mussel beds during low tide.

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 – A Well-fed Tree Frog

After a large meal on the forest floor, a Pacific tree frog struggles to right itself while climbing back into the forest undergrowth.

Normally heard more often than seen while taking cover in foliage, leaf litter or under fallen logs, these small frogs are now venturing into the open in Humboldt County to take advantage of a seasonal food source. The normally reclusive wood boring beetles are out in large numbers looking for mates, and they make an irresistible meal for a frog.

Wood boring beetles mating on the forest floor in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park

The Pacific tree frog is capable of eating prey nearly as large as itself, which these wood-boring beetles are. The frog’s body will expand to accommodate larger meals, as pictured above, which will be digested over the course of several days. With their appetite for insects and relatively plentiful numbers in the western states, Pacific tree frogs act as a keystone species in much of their range, stabilizing populations of their prey and providing food for snakes, birds and predatory mammals.

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