Sunday at the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve

Vacation Day 9.  I got up at about 7:00 am and was out the door by 7:15.  I had planned to go up to Redding today and visit with Mike and Sharyi, but I was feeling too tired to do that, so I stayed close to home instead.  (Marty and I are now planning to visit with Mike and Sharyi the day after Thanksgiving.)  I went over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve.  It was overcast for most of the time I was out there, which kept the temperatures down in the 60’s.

I wasn’t looking for anything in particular; just walking along doing my “naturalist” thing. Two guys with fancy photo equipment passed me on the trail at one point toward the end of my walk complaining to one another that there “wasn’t anything to see out there this morning”.  What?!  Then they’re either blind or they don’t know how to look for anything. 

I saw Black Phoebes, Mule Deer, a coyote, Acorn Woodpeckers, Wild Turkeys, Scrub Jays, a couple of Red-Shouldered Hawks, Northern Flickers, an American Kestrel, some Sulphur Shelf Fungus, black Harvester Ants, a tiny Sandpiper, some ground squirrels, a big Argiope spider, a river otter, a Great Blue Heron, several Great Egrets, a Green Heron, and a pair of Belted Kingfishers that were chasing each other back and forth across the river.  They moved so fast, I couldn’t get a single decent shot of them (although I did get one dark and very distant shot of the male when he stopped on a rock to rest for a few seconds).  Sheesh!  Where were those camera guys looking?!

As soon as I went into the preserve I saw the turkeys and a gathering of Mule Deer.  Then as I was walking past the area where the deer were resting, I heard a squirrel give off its “chuffing” alarm call, so I looked back to see what it was complaining about.  There was a coyote there, right behind a tall stand of grass near the deer.  The coyote looked pretty ragged, like it was mangy or had been in a fight.  Parts of its fur were missing and its coat was really dull.  It didn’t look like one from the healthy pack I usually see at the preserve.  The deer must’ve gotten wind of it when it stopped to check me out, because they all got to their feet and started milling around.  No fawn for breakfast for that coyote…

At another point, I saw the American Kestrel swooping back and forth over the top of a tree, and went closer to investigate.  As I got near the tree, a large Red-Shouldered Hawk took off out of the branches with the kestrel chasing after it.  Kestrels are about a third of the size of the big hawks, so that was one seriously brave little dude.

When I got to the pond area along the trail I found it covered with a thick blanket of algae.  I saw some Wood Ducks in the water and got a few distant shots of them… then I saw the tules and rushes around the pond start to move.  Some of the ducks startled and flew off, but I kept watching to see what all the rustling was about.  My patience paid off.  It was a river otter! I got a few still shots of him, and also got some video. 

When he moved off into the reeds at one side of the pond, I stepped over there to see if I could get more footage of him… and instead, I accidentally walked into a small group of Mule Deer that were sleeping there, a mom and her three kids (two yearlings and a fawn).  D’oh!  The baby saw me first and started to walk toward me, then his mom and siblings stood up — so that was the end of that adventure.  I backed away a little bit, and videotaped them until they moved elsewhere.

Then I went around to the opposite side of the pool, to see if I could catch another glimpse of the otter, and I came across a huge Banded Garden Spider (Argiope trifasciata) and her web.  She was a full grown beastie, about as long as my thumb, not counting her legs… and she had her web decorated with heavy zig-zags of silk called “stabilimentum” (sort of like the trash-lines in Trash-line Spider webs, but the Argiope do a fancier zig-zag pattern with their silk).  Scientists aren’t sure what the decoration is used for or what it means.  Some speculate it stabilizes the structure of the web, others say it’s used to attract mates, others think it enhances the spider’s ability to catch prey… No one knows for sure; but not all spiders decorate their webs with stabilimentum, so it becomes easy to identify the webs of those that do.

So, I got quite a few photos (some better than others, but that’s the way it always is). 

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After about 3 ½  hours of walking around, I headed back home.  By then it was a little after noon.