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
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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.
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.
Early this month, two small flocks of Wilson’s Phalaropes, accompanied by some Red-necked Phalaropes took refuge on the oxidation ponds at the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary. Drawn by the calm waters and plentiful food, these small shorebirds stopped to feed and regain their strength during their southward migration.
With their breeding season concluded, these small shorebirds are in the middle of a long journey from the inland lakes and prairie wetlands of North America to as far south as the Tierra del Fuego. Some have already lost the bold colors of their mating plumage while others are still displaying some of their darker feathers.
Lacking fully lobed toes, Wilson’s Phalaropes are unable to navigate the rough waters of the ocean and rely on lakes, ponds and alluvial wetlands for feeding. Saltwater lakes are a favorite feeding ground of these birds, but the plentiful aquatic insect larvae in the freshwater oxidation ponds provide meals with minimal effort while the reeds, willows and aquatic plants provide shelter.
A phalarope eating a fly larvae
The phalaropes stay close to the edges of the marsh pennywort and other plants
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In the light of the setting sun, a Marbled Godwit stretches while wading into the shallow waters of Humboldt Bay.
After spending a couple months on the prairies of the northern states and southern Canada to breed, the Marbled Godwits are flocking into California’s coastal wetlands once again. An abundance of these mottled brown shorebirds feed on the mudflats and tidal sloughs of Humboldt Bay, including a large gathering that take refuge at the Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary. Marbled Godwits make up a large portion of the shorebird population that shelter on the islands and rock levees of Arcata Marsh’s Klopp Lake, accompanying Willets, American Avocets, sandpipers and transitory flocks of other species.
A flock of Western Sandpipers lands amongst a group of Willets and Marbled Godwits
Having so many relatively small birds gathered in one place makes an attractive target for predators; Peregrine Falcons and Northern Harriers make regular trips to Klopp Lake to hunt. Shorebirds, mostly defenseless on their own, depend on their flocks for protection. Flying in dense, erratic patterns makes it difficult for a raptor to single out its prey.
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