Cedar Waxwings

When I got to the house after picking my car up from the garage, I found a large flock of Cedar Waxwings in the hackberry tree in the neighbors’ front yard. The birds flew down en masse to drink some street water and then flew back up into the tree again. I knew they were around, but I hadn’t been able to get any photos of them until today. I always keep my camera in the car with me and snapped off a bunch of photos and a little bit of video. I think they’re such handsome birds. It was a nice treat to be able to see them so close by.

According to the All About Birds website: The name “waxwing” comes from the waxy red secretions found on the tips of the secondaries of some birds. The exact function of these tips is not known, but they may help attract mates… The birds’ name derives from their appetite for cedar berries in winter; they also eat mistletoe, madrone, juniper, mountain ash, honeysuckle, crabapple, hawthorn, and Russian olive fruits. In summer Cedar Waxwings supplement their fruit diet with protein-rich insects including mayflies, dragonflies, and stoneflies, often caught on the wing. They also pick items such as scale insects, spruce budworm, and leaf beetles directly from vegetation.

Sandhill Cranes, Red-Tailed Hawk, and Other Birds

After work, I was feeling a little better so I went down Desmond Road again and took it around to Bruceville Road… Saw the regular kestrel that always seems to cruise that area and a Red-Tailed Hawk.  The hawk actually let me get pretty close to the tree he was sitting in, and I got some good shots of him… along with some time-lapse photos of him taking off to fly down the street.  He looks very much like the Red-Shouldered Hawk I usually get pictures of, but the Red-Tailed Hawk (obviously) has a red tail rather than a black-and-white barred tail.  I also got to see some Sandhill Cranes.  When I turned up Bruceville I saw a truck parked along the side of the road, and a guy was standing in the bed of it with a fancy camera rig on a tripod.  I slowed down as I got closer and realized there were about a dozen crane standing alongside one of the flooded fields, closer to the road than I’d ever seen them.  So I pulled off, too, and got some photos with my “little camera”.  When I went back to the car, I was startled by a bird’s head that popped up out of the culvert right in front of the car.  A Great Blue Heron was fishing in there.  He stood stalk-still while I took several pictures of him, but he was so close, I could’ve touched him… if I could get my hand through the reeds and crap.  But that was neat.  As I was driving back to the main road, I saw a bunch of fat little Killdeer birds sitting on the railroad tracks.  They looked so cute, I actually stopped in the middle of the street to get some shots of them.  Good thing there isn’t a lot of traffic in that area.  Hah!

Using Nature as an “Anti-Stress” Potion

I was so stressed out after work today that I spent some time driving up to the Cosumnes River Preserve and along Desmond Road to see the birds.  Didn’t see much of anything new, but I did get some shots of a hawk eating its prey (which I think was a vole or somebody’s chick), and some shots of a Greater Yellowlegs (which is a kind of Sandpiper), so it wasn’t all for naught.

Turns out that “nature as a cure” for stress is a REAL thing.  Here are some snippets from an article from Prevention magazine: “…In a recent study published in the journal Landscape and Urban Planning, scientists measured the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in 25 healthy adults in Scotland and asked them to fill out questionnaires about what stresses them out at home and at work. They then compared that information to the number of parks, woodlands, and other natural environments in each participant’s zip code. Those who lived in the areas with the most amount of green space had lower levels of cortisol, and their self-reported feeling of stress were lower than those who spent more time in urban settings… And five minutes outside is all it takes get the mood-boosting effect, according to a 2010 study in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. Researchers found that people experienced the largest boosts to their mood and self-esteem after just spending five minutes outside doing some form of light exercise, like walking.”

This is echoed in another article in “The Dirt”: “…Recent research shows that taking a stroll through a natural setting can boost performance on tasks calling for sustained focus. ‘Taking in the sights and sounds of nature appears to be especially beneficial for our minds.’ In fact, Dr. Marc Berman and fellow researchers at the University of Michigan found that ‘performance on memory and attention tests improved by 20 percent after study subjects paused for a walk through an arboretum. When these people were sent on a break to stroll down a busy street in town, no cognitive boost was detected’.”


Happy Birthday to Me!

Happy birthday to me!  I’m 60 years old today.  I actually woke up feeling sorry for myself because I was “house-bound” on my birthday and couldn’t get out into nature.  I did my morning ablutions stuff, feeling weepy, and went into the kitchen to make myself a pot of coffee… and found on the kitchen table a birthday card from Marty, along with a bottle of my favorite Pink Moscato wine AND the keys to his classic car telling me to use it for the day if I wanted to.  [[That’s like getting the keys to the Millenium Falcon for the day!]] Woo-hoo!  I literally burst into tears.

I decided to go to the Sacramento Zoo.  I figured there wouldn’t be a lot of people there on a Thursday, AND I’d get to add more critters to my “1000 Species” list for the year.  Yes, I’m counting zoo animals.  ((I also figured that if I had any problems with the car, I’d be close enough for a tow home without too much expense.))  It took a little while to get used to driving the Reatta but I think I did well.  I accidentally set off the alarm on it though, and it took me a few seconds to figure out how to make it shut up (put the key in the door lock).  Had lots of people staring at me – especially as I was in my zombie-hoodie at the time…

When I first walked into the zoo, there were a bunch of docents hanging around inviting people to come into their presentation room by the front gate.  (I didn’t eve known that was there.)  And I got to see and touch a Rainbow Boa, a hedgehog (which was actually on my “bucket list”, right under wanting to touch a live whale), and a Blue-Tongued Skink.  Happy birthday to me!  I also got to see the new baby Duiker (born in November) and the Wallaby, and got to watch the lion triplets play with their mom and dad.  So cute!  While I was getting photos of the Wallaby, there was a docent there talking about kangaroos and how hard it was to get shots of the Wallaby because he was so shy.  I showed her some on my camera, and she said, “Wow!  When did you get those!”  I told her, “Just now… He’s right over there.”  Hah-ha-ha!

The baby Duiker was up and running around after mom.  He doesn’t have the stripe of yellow fur down his back yet and is brown over-all, but he already has his little horns and his top-knot of reddish-brown hair.  Dad was off in another pen by himself.

I think the lion cubs know how darling they are because every time they make an appearance, they put on show for the crowd.  Today they were pouncing and rolling all over each other, grabbing their daddy’s tail, and trying to knock mom over.  At one point, the dad picked one of the cubs off up, set him off to the side and smacked him in the head with his paw.  Behave!  While I was watching the cubs, I felt someone bump in next to my left calf.  It was a little kid who was fascinated by the pins on my carry-all camera bag… so I gave her my Zoo pin.  (Marty did something unexpected and nice for me, so I did something unexpected and nice for someone else… Pay it forward, people.)

The Jaguar was off exhibit while I was there, but I got some good close-ups of the Snow Leopard and the Tiger.  The Snow Leopard walked right down the side of her enclosure and sat on the rocks with her paws hanging down in front of her, totally chillin’.  And the tiger was sitting on his ledge by the window of his enclosure. I got some shots of him through the bamboo on the front of his enclosure, too; he is sooo handsome.  His son, CJ, was sent off to another zoo late last year to he’s an “empty-nester” right now.  Doesn’t seem to mind.

I got some short video snippets of the Wolf’s Guenon baby swinging from his mama’s tail; the lion cubs playing; the flamingoes doing their open-winged greeting; and the Mallards having a quickie in the flamingo pond.  I took so many photos that I literally filled up the entire memory card on my camera; over 1100 photos.  I’d never done that before. Yikes!

I walked around for about three hours and would’ve stayed a little longer if my camera wasn’t filled to capacity.  When I got home, I baked some chicken and had that with mashed potatoes and asparagus (one of my favorite meals).  The only thing I DIDN’T have for my birthday like I usually do was a cherry pie.  Maybe I can get that over the weekend.  It was a nice day – thanks mostly to Marty who let me use his classic car.

In the Backyard

Around lunchtime I went out into the backyard with the dogs.  I always take my camera with me, and today got some photos of some neat fungus and slime mold on the woodpile behind the shed.  Keep in mind that the tiny mushrooms and slime mold “heads” in the photos are about the size of candy sprinkles (jimmies), and the stems are thinner than a strand of hair.  The “lentinellus” fungus is like a mushroom without a stipe (stem) and is soft like velvet.

Birds in the Fog

I got up around 8 o’clock this morning (and so did Marty), and I was out the door and heading to the Cosumnes River Preserve within a few minutes.  It was foggy and overcast again this morning.  As I was heading out the door I told Marty where I was going, and he said, “In the fog?  Are you going to be able to SEE anything?”  I didn’t know if I would see anything, but I thought of it as kind of an experiment: to see how the birds around the preserve acted in a dense fog.  Well, apparently they don’t act much differently in the fogs as they do in the sunlight.  Morning hours are morning hours to them whether it’s overcast or not…

On my way to the preserve I went up and Desmond Road (because the gates at the preserve weren’t open yet), and also circled around to Bruceville Road which run parallel to some of the wetlands area and some farmland.  While I was inching my way in the car down Bruceville, I came across a police car coming from the opposite direction, driving as slowly as I was.  The officers were out birding that morning, too.  Hah-2!

One of the most unusual things I saw was a large bird carcass along the shallow levy on the wetlands area.  It was large and nearly picked clean; I figured based on its size it must’ve been a goose.  There was very little left but the bones and one wing.  The scavengers had made quick work of it.

I saw the usual suspects: hawks, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Turkey Vultures, Pintails, Coots, a couple of Great Egrets, chubby little sparrows (including a White-Crowned Sparrow and what I think was a Savanna Sparrow), an American Kestrel, House Finches, Cinnamon Teals, a Wilson’s Snipe (hunkered down next to a much larger duck that I think was a Gadwall), some Green-Winged Teals, Mallards, a Black-Necked Stilt, a Great Blue Heron (hidden down next to one of the egrets), several Killdeer and Meadowlarks in a field, and a flock of Snow Geese taking off in the fog.  While I was watching the Kestrel, it kept tugging at stuff stuck to one of its feet.  A closer look seemed to indicate that the “stuff” was wet feathers.  I don’t know if they were the Kestrel’s feathers (caught on its feet when it was scratching itself) or were feathers that belonged to something else.  Oh, and I also I saw my first Brown-Headed Cowbird (a female feeding alongside a Coot).  They’re super-common birds, but I’d never seen a “live” one before.

I stayed out there for almost 4 hours before heading back to the house.