Everything is Getting Ready for Spring in the Forest

Elfin Saddle, Helvella ephippium. Copyright ©2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Elfin Saddle, Helvella ephippium. Copyright ©2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

I got up around 6:30 again this morning and headed over to the American River Bend Park for a walk.  It was in the high 40’s and hazy while I was there, but warmed up to almost 70° by the afternoon.

I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, just wanted a nature walk, and I actually saw quite a bit to photograph.  A lot of the seasonal vines are growing already, the pipe vines and manroot vines mainly.  I also saw a lot of different kinds of Helvella fungus (elfin saddles), the knobby wrinkly kind (Helvella lacunose) and the kind that look like inverted tacos on a stick (Helvella ephippium) and a few other mushrooms.  Along the river, I saw a Great Egret, a Snowy Egret, and several ducks including Hooded and Common Mergansers.  Oh, and I also saw the first Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly of the season.  It had just come out of its chrysalis and was pumping up it wings.  The forewings were all stretch out but the hind wings were still a little crumpled.

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I walked for about 3 hours and as I was heading back to the car, I came across a Red-Breasted Sap Sucker and some Western Bluebirds – those little guys are all pairing up for the spring now. They’re a little ahead of schedule…

Jackrabbit City at the Refuges

Black-Crowned Night Heron. Copyright ©2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Black-Crowned Night Heron. Copyright ©2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

I got up around 6:00 am and headed out with Sergeant Margie to the Colusa and Sacramento National Wildlife Refuges.  It was a little chilly and clear in Sacramento, but in Willows and Colusa it was hazy and the overcast deepened as the day went on.  Got up to about 68°.

I wanted to get to the Colusa refuge early to see if I could get some photos of the Black-Crowned Night Herons in action (rather just sitting in their sleeping trees).  They hunt by night and sleep during the day.  Even getting there around 7:30 I wasn’t there early enough; they were already back “in bed” dozing away in the trees.  Some were a little further out on the edge of the branches than I’d yet seen them so I was about to get a few more clearer photos of them.  I’d really like to see them out on the water, though…

As soon as I drove into the Colusa refuge I saw a large coyote moving across a field and then realized there was another one sitting nearby in the grass.  Further along, I saw two raccoons moving through the marshes and in other areas I saw mule deer napping in the grass.  Lots of other critters out there today, too, including: Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, American Wigeons, Gadwalls, Pied-Billed Grebes, Ring-Necked Ducks, House Sparrows, Ring-Necked Pheasants, Red-Tailed Hawks, American Coots, Black Phoebes, White-Faced Ibis, Ross’s Geese, Northern Harrier, European Starlings, Red-Winged Blackbirds, a Tri-colored Blackbird, Western Pond Turtles, White-Fronted Geese, Northern Shovelers, Pintails, Jackrabbits, Tree Swallows, Western Meadowlark, and some slime mold.  Among all the usual geese and ducks, I also saw a dark-morph/blue-phase Snow Goose hanging out with the other Snow Geese but sticking out like a sore thumb among them.  I’d never seen one of them before.  I also saw my first Tri-Colored Blackbird (sort of like a Red-Winged Blackbird but with a white trim on its epaulet).  Those were cool.

As I was driving along, a guy pulled up beside me with a blue jeep and asked if I’d seen the eagle there.  Eagle?  Uh, no.  I’ve seen them at the Sacramento refuge, but not at Colusa.  The guy said he thought he’d seen an Golden Eagle there yesterday and was looking for it again.  Wow, it would be neat to see one of them around there!

The dog and I also took the sort one-mile trail along the back of the slough and platform area.  There’s another smaller platform you can walk out onto along the way.  It’s all kind of scraggly and messy along the trail, but I understand that they have the detritus along the sides of the trail to keep people from leaving it and going nearer to the water.  It’s a flat, well-marked trail that’s easy to walk so it’s suitable for all fitness levels.

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Then it was off to the Sacramento refuge for more birding.  I didn’t see any eagles, but the first bird that greeted me as I drove in was a beautiful Avocet.  I hardly ever get to see them; they’re such lovely birds.

It was jackrabbit-city along the auto tour there, too.  I saw several large groups, and a few came right up to the edge of the road before zig-zagging away through the grass.  I also saw some large groups of turtles trying to sun themselves in the partly-cloudy light. Nothing else but the usual suspects along the way, but it was still a nice drive.  By about 1:00 pm we were headed back to Sacramento and got to the house by 2:30.

Mostly Deer and Red-Shouldered Hawks on Sunday

Red-Shouldered Hawk in her nest. © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Red-Shouldered Hawk in her nest. © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

I didn’t sleep very well last night because Sergeant Margie just couldn’t seem to get comfortable in bed and Pozey kept stomping around.  Still, I was feeling pretty good today; not 100%, but maybe close to 95%, and I’ll take that.  There’s still a remnant of the cough, but I’m not taking any medication right now, so let’s hope the cough will completely abate soon…  I went over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve this morning, and got there before the Sunday crowds (they started coming in just as I was leaving). Lots of mule deer and Red-Shouldered Hawks were out today.  In fact, it looks like a pair of the hawks are building a nest in a tree right next door to the nature center building itself.  If the hawks stay there, they’ll become a great teaching tool for the naturalists that take courses there… It’s nice to see things greening up out there.  Some of the wild plum trees were in bloom already.  Lots of songbirds out right now, too,  along with Robins, Acorn Woodpeckers and White-Breasted Nuthatches.  I also came across a Nutthall’s Woodpecker.

I got a little video of a Hooded Merganser in the pond area, and that was kind of cool.  You can see him raising and lowering his “pop top” of head feathers.  I got video of one of the mule deer grooming itself, too, and wanted to feature the fact that it was cool enough outside to see the deer’s breath.  When I got the video home, though, and looked through it, I realized that the deer was a young buck you could see all of his “junk”… then he walked off and pooped in the direction of the camera.  Hah!  Not gonna show that one, I guess.  A lot of the deer were just lying in the grass chewing their cud…  Some of the boys are losing their antlers already and just have “open wounds” on their foreheads where the antlers used to be…

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As I was walking along, I came across a mother and father with their young kids – and their dog.  As they went by, I told the dad, “You know, dogs aren’t allowed in here… and there can be a pretty hefty fine if one of the rangers sees you.”  He said, “It’s too late; we’re already out here.”  And then the mother said, “The signs said we could have a dog on a leash.”  Uh, no.  You can have a dog on the leash in the golf course area next door, but there are signs all over saying “no dogs allowed” in the preserve itself.  I told them they were a great example to their children… and they didn’t get the sarcasm.  Idiots.

I walked for about 3 hours and then headed back home, stopping off at BelAir to get some groceries on the way.

Egrets & Herons: 2 Voles: 0

Great Egret tries to swallow its catch. © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Great Egret tries to swallow its catch. © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

I’m feeling better today; got through the whole night without drugs and without coughing.  I got up around 6:30 and headed out with Sergeant Margie to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  It was foggy and chilly (around 48°) in Sacramento, but pretty clear and a little bit warmer (56°) by the time I got to Willows.

At the refuge there were hardly any other people (I only saw 2 cars on the auto tour), so I felt like I practically had the whole place to myself.  I saw mostly egrets and herons on the auto tour.  I got some good video snippets of one Great Egret catching and eating what looked like a large water vole (the tail was too short to be a rat).  It stabbed at the vole several times with its dagger-like beak and dunked it under water a couple of times to drown it (and, I think, to make it easier to swallow.)  Later on, I also saw a Great Blue Heron catch a vole about the same size as the one the egret got.  Rather than stabbing and drowning it, though, the heron took the vole and shook it violently (I think to severe the spiral cord from the brain) and then moved it toward the back of its mouth where it could crush it with its beak.  Not a good day for the voles…



I also got to see one adult Bald Eagle in the distance, and came up on one of the juvenile eagles again while it was eating.  It was up in a tree over the auto-tour road and didn’t like the fact that a car had come by to disturb it.  So, it dropped some of its meal onto the top of my car, from where it bounced off and hit the road next to my driver’s side window.  A Coot.  Eew. Then the eagle flew off.

I saw a couple of different kinds of hawks, but most of them were too far off to get any photos.  I did get a short snippet of video of a large Red-Tailed Hawk buzz-bombing a small flock of Coots.  He’d strafed them twice before I could get my camera focused on him, so I only got one of the three runs, but he was persistent.  I later found him sitting in a tree near the auto-tour road and got a few photos of him.

At the turnout near the viewing platform (about halfway through the auto tour route) I got out with the dog, and we could hear two Ring-Necked Pheasants croaking at each other.  They’re really loud, and their call is unmistakable, so I was hoping I’d be able to see at least one of them.  I went up onto the top of the viewing platform, and saw one of the pheasants – a large male, making his way through the tall grass, snacking on leaves as he went along.  I got a tiny bit of video of him, but, man, those things move fast!

When I was done with the auto tour, it was still kind of early (around 10:00 am), so I decided to go to the Colusa National  Wildlife Refuge again to see if the Black-Crowned Night Herons were still hanging around there.  They were… but by that time in the morning, they’re all sleeping.  I need to get to the refuge near dusk or dawn, so I can see them when they’re moving around and hunting.  Unlike the Great Blue Herons, the Black-Crowned Night Herons are real heavy and stocky with a short neck and football-shaped body.  They’ll eat almost anything, and are known to predate duck nests.  Their loud “wok” call is very easy to identify.  We’re getting near their breeding season, and sometimes they’ll forage during the day if they have a lot of babies to feed so I’m hoping that eventually I’ll get some decent photos of them…

When I came to the area where the Black-Crowned Night Herons were all sleeping in their trees along the slough, a Great Egret and Great Blue Heron flew down right in front of my car, so I was able to get some close-ups of them.  Among the other birds I saw was a Eurasian Wigeon, different from the American Wigeons that are abundant this time of year, the Eurasian Wigeon has a rust-colored head instead of the gray/green head the Americans have.  This was the first Eurasian Wigeon I’d seen, so I got to add him to my species list.

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When we were done with the tour at the Colusa refuge, Sergeant Margie and I had lunch at the picnic tables near the entrance to the refuge: chicken, apricots and tea.  Then we headed home.  It was a nice day.  It’s so great to be feeling well enough to get outside again…

Valentine’s Day Walk

Red-Shouldered Hawk. © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Red-Shouldered Hawk. © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.021416

Happy Valentine’s Day I got up about 7:30 am and headed out to the American River Bend Park for a walk.  I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, and I was trying to be conscientious about not forcing my body to do more than it could, so instead of a 3 or 4 hour walk, I cut it down to about 2 hours.  I did a figure-8 loop through the upper campsite area and came across a large group of birders looking for birds along the river.  There were so many people, though, that they scared off whatever birds might’ve normally been visible to them.  Large groups also play havoc with some of the weaker parts of the trail (which is mostly on sandy cliffs along the riverside).  The group leaders should have known better…

As I said, I wasn’t looking for anything special, and just walked at a slow pace trying to get the crap out of my lungs and watching for whatever Nature wanted to show me.  The long grass is growing in now and everything looks green-green.  The pipevines already have blossoms on them, and the manroot vines are starting to come up.  They’re thick and ropey and look like snakes; they rear straight up off the ground in places looking for low-ling tree branches to grab a hold of.  The Miner’s Lettuce is also growing quickly and is working itself up into secondary leaves and blossoms…

I saw 28 species of bird on my walk today including:  Acorn Woodpecker Melanerpes formicivorus, Anna’s Hummingbird Calypte anna, Belted Kingfisher Megaceryle alcyon, Bushtit Psaltriparus minimus, California Gull Larus californicus, Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula, Common Merganser Mergus merganser, Cooper’s Hawk Accipiter cooperii, Double-crested Cormorant Phalacrocorax auritus, European Starling Sturnus vulgaris, Great Egret Ardea alba, House Wren Troglodytes aedon, Lark Sparrow Chondestes grammacus, Mallard Anas platyrhynchos, Mourning Dove Zenaida macroura, Northern Flicker Colaptes auratus, Nuttall’s Woodpecker Picoides nuttallii, Oak Titmouse Baeolophus inornatus, Red-shouldered Hawk Buteo lineatus, Snowy Egret Egretta thula, Spotted Sandpiper Actitis macularius, Spotted Towhee Pipilo maculatus, Tree Swallow Tachycineta bicolor, Turkey Vulture Cathartes aura, Western Scrub-Jay Aphelocoma californica, White-breasted Nuthatch Sitta carolinensis, White-crowned Sparrow Zonotrichia leucophrys, Wild Turkey Meleagris gallopavo.

There was one gorgeous Red-Shouldered Hawk that sat on a stumpy branch on the outside of a tree where I could get some good photos of him.  The Red-Shouldered hawk and a Cooper’s Hawk kept shadowing one another through the forest, like they were both scouting nesting sites and didn’t want the other one to get the best spot.  The Cooper’s Hawk gave up, though, when the Red-Shouldered Hawk met up with its mate.  Two against one…

As I was leaving the park, I came across a small bachelor group of mule deer grazing in the long grass. I pulled off to the side of the road and photographed them through the passenger side window of the car.  They eyed me every now and then, but didn’t bolt or run off, so I got a few good shots of them, too.

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As I said, I had cut my walk a bit short, and on the way home I stopped off at Bel Air to get some stuff for lunch.  I was so exhausted when I got back to the house that I went into my bedroom and pretty much just stayed in bed for the rest of the day.