Mostly Butterflies as Things Grow and Bloom, 03-26-16

Pipevine Swallowtail eggs. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Pipevine Swallowtail eggs. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

Up at 6:30 am.  I headed over to the American River Bend Park for my walk this morning.  It was chilly, about 48°, but clear.

I wasn’t looking for anything in particular and just wanted the fresh air and exercise.  Still, I came across mule deer, wild turkeys, and jackrabbits.  I found some Red Admiral Butterfly caterpillars among the stinging nettles, and there were a lot of Pipevine Swallowtail Butterflies flitting around.  I also found a lot of their eggs on the pipevine plants along the trails.

The grasses are all getting lush and long; the black walnut trees are starting to develop their catkins; the elderberry bushes are starting to bud and the valley sedges are… “sedging”.  Hah!  There’s also poison oak emerging and growing everywhere.  The vines are flowering now and look really pretty… attracting people who don’t know what they are to touch them…

I found a Red-Shouldered Hawk in a tree above part of the trail and came across a House Wren singing to attract a female.  So there were little things to see here and there all along my walk.  Heading back to the car, I saw an osprey “kiting” over the river.  I was pretty far away, so I managed to snap a few photos of it.  They’re such gorgeous birds – and always an exciting sight to see.

I walked around for about 3½ hours and then headed home.

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A Good Day to View Nature, 03-25-16

Jackrabbit. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Jackrabbit. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

Even though I had the day off, I got up at 5:00 am anyway, and was out the door with the dog before 6:00 to head out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  I thought if I went in earlier I might be able to see some fly-ins, or spot coyotes or other crepuscular critters… and I figured I’d avoid the early morning work traffic.

When I got to the refuge, the  sun was just coming up and the moon was just going down.  Made for some interesting light for a while.  There were lots of wildflowers all over the refuge –mostly the yellow and orange waves right now: fiddleneck, wild mustard, goldfields…  So pretty.  There were a lot of jackrabbits around, zig-zagging through the grass; and I was surprised by how many pheasants I was able to see.  They must’ve known that part of the complex was off-limits to hunters.  Hah!  The extra mile loop at the refuge was open, though, so I drove through there and got some photos of an couple of American Bitterns.  One was hunkered down in some water iris, and another one was walking though the tules.  I saw him start to clap his bill and gulp air, filling up his gullet with it.  I’d never seen that behavior before, so I stopped to watch him (and got a tiny bit of video of it).  He’d gulp in air, and then let it out in with an odd sound that was particularly loud.  ((The video didn’t capture the sound very well.))  It was so odd, I looked it up when I got home and found out that that behavior is associated with territorialism. The sound is called a “pumper-lunk” and has been described as the sound of a “congested pump”.  I don’t know what a congested pump sounds like, but watching the bird make it was a cool sight to see.

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I also saw  mule deer, Canada Geese, White-Faced Ibis, a Snowy Egret, Bufflehead ducks (and lots of other ducks), Cinnamon Teals, lots and lots of Coots, Snow Geese, ground squirrels, a Great Blue Heron, cormorants, Killdeer, Turkey Vultures, Meadowlarks, a Nutthall’s Woodpecker, Northern Shovelers and Great Egrets – their faces all green this time of year (their breeding color).  And then there were the raptors: Northern Harriers, Red-Tailed Hawks, a Red-Shouldered Hawk and a Peregrine Falcon.  And one huge American White Pelican sitting on a small island with Coots and cormorants.

The Red-Winged Blackbirds were all around by the droves, too, all singing at the same time.  In some areas the sound was almost deafening.   And the tules were full of tiny Marsh Wrens singing and displaying around the nests they’d built for the females… Makes me want to go out there every day.  But I gotta work… and I’m getting two weeks off in April.

I drove around for several hours, then headed back to Sacramento.

After Work on Tuesday

Double-Crested Cormorants. ©2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Double-Crested Cormorants. ©2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

By the afternoon it was in 60’s and so pretty outside that I took the dog to the park after work.  We walked around for about an hour.  The WPA Rock Garden is starting to bloom up. I even got to see a Red Admiral Butterfly there.  (It was looking pretty raggedy, though; too much sex.)  At the middle pond in William Land Park, rain had filled it up so it was flooded up over the sidewalk in places.  I saw quite a few turtles sunning themselves on the rocks, and among the regular contingency of ducks and geese, I also saw a little male Wood Duck and a pair of Double-Crested Cormorants.

The cormorants were already showing off their crests, extra feathers they get over the eyes during the breeding season.  It makes them look like they have bushy eyebrows. While I was watching them, I saw one pull up sticks from the bottom of the pond and toss them in the air or drag them around for a while… I know that cormorants make their nests out of sticks, but I’d never seen this stick-toting and tossing behavior before, so when I got home I looked it up. Apparently, it’s something cormorants do. They also toss stones into the air and try to catch them.   Funny!  I didn’t know that!  Oh, another fun fact: A group of cormorants is called a “flight”, a “gulp”, a “sunning”, or a “swim” of cormorants.

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Mostly Redbuds and Butterflies

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Around 7:00 I headed over to the American River Bend Park.  Rain is predicted here in the afternoon, so I figured I could get a few hours of walking in before the storm arrived.

As I drove into the park the first thing I saw was a male mule deer (who had apparently recently lost his antlers) at the large Redbud Tree, snacking on the pink blossoms.  So pretty.  I got photos and a video snippet of him.  Further along the trail, I came across a pair of Mallard (a male and a female) waddling through the tall grass.  They came right toward me and when they stepped out onto the path, the female walked up to me and checked me out.  I think she was intrigued by my umbrella.  When I started walking, she followed after me for several feet…

When I got closer to the part of the trail that runs on a shallow cliff above the river I was surprised to see how full the river was and how fast it was flowing.  I knew that Folsom Dam had opened its gates, I’d still never seen the American River up this high before. Much of the shoreline below the nature trail was under water, as ne one of the smaller islands in the middle of the river.

As I continued my walk, I came across lots and lots of Pipevine Swallowtail Butterflies.  Because it was still chilly outside (about 47°) they were all torpid, and clinging to plants and trees, waiting for the sun to come out and warm them up.  As I was getting some photos of some of the butterflies in a Redbud tree, a Red-Shouldered Hawk flew up into a tree over my head.  I got some photos of it… and photos of a House Wren, some Western Bluebirds, Wild Turkeys, a Nutthall’s Woodpecker, and a Robin (that was taking a bath in a puddle).  Spring is pushing its way through the cold: the wildflowers are starting to rise up from the ground, the birds are starting to pair up, and the trees are sprouting new leaves… Another week or two – even with the rain – there should be really great photo ops every few minutes.  Today was pretty good, but I’m really looking forward to some super pictures in the next several weeks…

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I walked for about 3 hours, then headed home, stopping at Togo’s to pick up some sammiches and soup for lunch.

Two Exciting Naturalist Events Coming Up

I got my Executive Director, Sara, and I signed up for the CalNat (California Naturalist) Conferencenaturalist pin that is taking place in September in Southern California.  I’ll be doing a book selling/signing thing and will also do a poster presentation at the event.

And I’m working with the local CalNat folks to set up an outing for the training partners who will be participating in the training on May 10th and 11th.  We’ll hammer out the details in the next few weeks, but I’d like to take them to somewhere like Lake Solano.

More information will follow… but I really excited to be working on things like this!

Lots of Red-Shouldered Hawks and Deer

Wisteria. ©2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Wisteria. ©2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

I got up around 6:30 this morning to partly sunny skies.  A huge storm with rain and wind went through Sacramento last night, knocking branches out of the trees everywhere.  It kept blowing the doggie door open and then slamming it shut on and off all night and freaked out the dogs.  Waukegan would hear it open, go to check on it, then run back into my bedroom when it slammed shut again.  Needless to say that made for another night of sleep-us interrupt-us.

While it was nice out, I headed over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve.  I wanted to check on the Red-Shouldered Hawks that had been building a nest near the nature center there… and they were still there.  Mama was sitting on her now-finished nest, and got up a few times to roll her eggs around (I think).  Papa was sitting up in a nearby tree, and they screeched back and forth to one another.  This must be the year for Red-Shoulders in the preserve.  I found three other nests as I was walking along the trails.  Amazing.  One of them was being tended by a hawk who was rearranging all of the dead oak leaves around it.  The wind storm may done a number of that nest and the hawk was cleaning up…

Before I got to the preserve, though, I stopped off along 65th Street in town where the annual wisteria is in bloom.  There are plants all along a fence line that borders the street, and every year they’re just spectacularly ripe with thousands of blossoms.  Such a pretty sight to see…

What wasn’t so pretty was the restroom at the preserve in the golf course area.  I hardly ever use the public toilets, but nature was calling urgently, so I ducked inside the building… The restroom is basically brick walls with a metal roof on top attached to metal braces and posts.  There are no windows, but there is a gap where the walls meet the roof.  The wind storms last night must’ve really kicked up stuff, because the entire cubicle and toilet were covered in drenched leaves, twigs, and seed pods.  It was ghastly looking.  I bunched up some TP and used that to scrape the layer of crud off the toilet seat then used a seat cover before I sat down.

When I finally got out onto to the preserve itself, I was immediately met by a small flock of Wild Turkeys, including the oddly white leucistic one, and some of the males were “in strut”.  I also found a small herd of mule deer who let me watch them for quite a while as they grazed in the long grass.  The does and yearlings are so cute… I love their big dark eyes…

Then while I was trying to get photos of a wren bouncing around a blackberry thicket, I could hear a huge commotion at the small pond further up the trail: splashing and crashing.  I left the wren and headed for the pond, not knowing what the clatter was all about, and I found two male Mallards doing a ducky-smack-down in the middle of the pond while a female tried to stay out of the scuffle.  I’d seen male Mallard gang up on females before to mate, but I’d never seen a male fight to keep another male away from “his woman”.  It was brutal.  At one point both males were on top of the female – one male trying to drag the other male off of her – and I was worried that they were going to inadvertently frown the female!  The top male finally dragged the usurper-male off of her, then shoved his head under the water until he finally rushed out and flew away.  Wow.  I got some of it on video…

Video of Mallards:  CLICK HERE

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I walked around for about 2 ½ hours and then headed home.  On the way there, I stopped at BelAir and got all of my groceries for the next few weeks.  When I got to the house, I unpacked the groceries, rebooted the dishwasher and did a load of laundry before quitting for the day.  Phew!