Hawk Babies and More This Morning

Mother and child. Red-Shouldered Hawks. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.
Mother and child. Red-Shouldered Hawks. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.

I have today off from work, but got up around 5:45 am anyway, then headed over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve in Carmichael.  It’s so weird to see the streets totally empty on a Monday morning.  Everyone else must’ve been sleeping in.

As I was driving through the residential area that wraps around on side of the nature preserve, a mama Mule deer and her baby – just out of its spots – walked across the street.  By the time I got my camera out of its bag, they were gone.  I’m just going to have to drive with the camera out all of the time, I guess.  Hah!

In the parking area, some of the male wild turkeys were showing off to the females; and in the native plant garden area, the Yarrow was in full bloom along with lots of Showy Milkweed.  I didn’t see any signs of Monarchs yet around the milkweed, though; maybe in another week or two… I’d recently read about making a tincture of Yarrow to use as a natural insect repellant.  You get fresh yarrow (the whole plant: stems, leaves, buds) and chop it all up, then put it in a bottle or jar and cover it with vodka.  Leave it in a closet for about 3 weeks, and then strain out all of the plant material before transferring the liquid to a spray bottle.  It doesn’t work as long as stuff with DEET in it (only about 30-45 minutes), so you have to keep spraying it on, but at least it won’t poison you…

The blue elderberry was in blossom everywhere and some of the plants already has berries on them.  The wild plum trees were also starting to bear fruit, and the Black Walnut trees were covered in new walnuts…

Usually, the preserve is a good bet for a lot of deer photos, but the deer were keeping to themselves this morning, and I only saw one or two.  The big show, though, was the Red-Shouldered Hawks that had built a nest near the nature center.  While papa screeched from a nearby tree, mama flew in to the nest with a big rat or vole she’d caught.  Then she started walking around the lip of the next and screeching, too… and in flew two of her children.  Almost fully fledged now, they were testing out their wings.  I got some still shots and video of them – all except papa who kept himself hidden among the leaves of his tree.  While I was taking video, another photographer came up and started filming, too… so in the video you can hear me respond to him…  It was hard for us to leave the site and continue on our prospective walks.  I saw more Red-Shouldered Hawks all around the preserve: everyone’s out hunting this morning…

CLICK HERE to see some video of the mother hawk and her kids.

I came across other birds in and around their nests, including a very uncooperative European Starling.  I saw it fly into its tree cavity, and waited and waited for it to poke its head out again so I could get a picture of it…  But the little dickens came out with a large feather in front of its face – doing housekeeping duties, I assume – so all I got was a picture of a feather sticking out of the tree with the Starling’s eye looking over the top of it.  Hah!  I also got a few photos of a mama House Wren trying to move a twig around in her nesting cavity.  It was really too long for the cavity and part of it stuck out through the hole; she kept trying to drag it all the way in and shove it around.  So much exertion for such a tiny bird…

I also saw a Darkling Beetle, lots of Acorn Woodpeckers, Western Fence Lizards, Scrub Jays, a snakefly,  a pair of Mallards sleeping in the long grass, a female Nutthall’s Woodpecker, and three California Towhees bobbing along the path in front of me. A little further along, I also saw a Spotted Towhee.

As I was heading out of the preserve, I came across a group of three people who were looking at a fallen log and pointing to something under it.  As I got closer, I could hear them talking, and one was saying, “That’s telemetered Male Number 37.”  I knew instantly they were talking about a rattlesnake!  I subscribe to blog by Mike Cardwell on the rattlesnake at the preserve (http://www.eyncrattlesnakes.com/), and knew that Number 37 was one they’d just recaptured and put a new transmitter on.  When I got closer, I asked the group if they were part of the rattlesnake study on the preserve, and – yep.  The main guy in the group was none other than Mike Cardwell himself!  I was SUCH a groupie; Oooo, I just LOVE your blog, Mike! He asked me if I wanted to see one of the snakes, and I said sure, so he let me come off the path to where he was and pointed out Number 37 to me.  The snake was looking right at us, but wasn’t making any noise.  Number 36 is a huge male with about 11 rattles on his tail already.  I tried getting some photos of him, but he was a good 15 feet away, under a log and behind the grass, so my photos aren’t the best…  But at least I got to meet Mike AND the nefarious Number 37.  Cool!

And to end my walk with a little more coolness: as I was heading to my car, I could hear bullfrogs burping in the small pond near the little Maidu Indian Village reconstruction, so I stopped there to see if I could see any frogs.  Got photos of three of them.  Coolness.

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I walked for about 2 ½ hours. After that I headed home, stopping first to put gas in the car and run the Sebring through the carwash, and then stopping at BelAir to pick up a bunch of groceries.  When I got home, I unpacked everything and rested for a bit.

A Beaver, Babies and a Bison Snaketail

Beaver. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.
Beaver. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.

I got up around 5:45 this morning and headed out to the American River Bend Park for a walk.  I hadn’t been out there for quite a while, and wanted to see if the water plants were growing along the banks yet, and if the Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillars were starting to make their chrysalises.  No to the first one – sort of – and yes to the second one.  The weirdest sight was when I first drove into the park.  A female ranger was out by the kiosk and asked me to stop, so I did… And from across the driveway comes a mama Wild Turkey and her six fuzzy babies – and a male Peacock all walking along right in front of my car.  I couldn’t get my camera out of its bag fast enough to get any photos.  Dangit!  I wondered if this was the same Peacock I’d seen chasing the female turkeys several weeks ago… and if the babies could have been his.  The ranger said she didn’t think they could interbreed, but…  both birds are Galliformes, aren’t they?  I mean, peacocks are more closely related to turkeys than turkeys are to chickens…  What would you call the hybrids?  Teacocks? Perkeys?  Hah!  Wish I could keep an eye on that group and see how the babies look when they fledge…

When I pulled the car in further down the road and parked, I was right next to a tree where there were a lot of Acorn Woodpeckers, and I got some photos (and a little video) of one sitting in the nesting cavity.  At first glance I thought it was a female sitting on her nest, but it was a young male, so it must’ve been a fledgling not ready to get up yet.  Sleepy boy.

Then I came across some very tiny, shiny black beetle-like things on the leaf of a live oak tree.  I’d never seen anything like them; they seemed to have suck an odd shape and what looked like white spots in between the body segments.  I thought they must have been the larva stage of something, so I posted photos to BugGuide.net to see if someone there could identify them for me…

My next big find was spotting a large beaver eating roots and greens along the bank of the river.  It was right up the bank from me, and I was so surprised to see it that I just pointed my camera at it and started shooting.  I got some shaky lurching video of it, and a few still shots.  That was the closest I’d ever been to a live beaver.  It was exciting.  I think he would have stayed there for a while longer had I not tripped on one of the stones on the shore and startled him.  He took off into the water, slapping his tail down to make a big splash as he left.

Female Common Merganser and babies. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.
Female Common Merganser and babies. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.

Then I saw a female Common Merganser coming down the river with TWENTY little red-headed babies in tow.  The stronger ones were able to climb up onto her back when she sped up trying to get past me… Beyond. Cute.

Later on while I was stopping by an old Cottonwood tree to get some photos of lizard, a big male Twelve-Spotted Skimmer dragonfly decided to fly in and rest on a nearby branch, so I got some photos of him, too.  Further along, I saw a Bison Snaketail dragonfly land in the dried grass along the side of the trail.  I got some photos, but because the dragonfly is almost the same color as the grass, they don’t really show off how cool the dragonfly is…

Then I drove the car a little further into the park and walked along the trail that follows the river but stays well above it.  The water was high in the river and running pretty fast, so I didn’t see a lot birds on the shore… just a few Mallards and Canada Geese.  What I was really looking for on this part of the trail, though, was the Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillars.  During this time of the year they’re finishing up gorging themselves and turning their attention to getting up off the ground and forming their chrysalises.  I found lots of them.  Some still undulating around, some going into their torpor stage, and some already encased in their chrysalises.  While I was checking out the caterpillars on one tree, I was startled when a mama Tree Swallow flew past my head and went into her tree-cavity nest right across the trail from me.  I got some photos of her checking me out… along with some shots of the butt of a small House Wren who had a nest in the tree across from the Swallow’s nest.

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On my walk, I also came across several mule deer, a Killdeer, an Ash-Throated Flycatcher, some Scrub Jays, fly-overs by a few Great Egrets and what looked like an immature Black-Crowned Night Heron, and a few different plants, flowers and galls. So it was a very eventful and productive walk.  I was out there for about 3½ hours and then headed out.

A Quick Trip on Friday, 05-27-16

Young male Mule Deer. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.
Young male Mule Deer. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.

After work I took another quick run up to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  (You knew I couldn’t keep away…)  I drove through pretty quickly, so I didn’t see a lot but I did get photos of several different bird species, including American White Pelicans, Marsh Wrens, and some Black-Crowned Night Herons and Grebes. Oh, and I saw a Brown-Headed Cowbird.

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Two Gardens in One Sunday

Bear's Breeches. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.
Bear’s Breeches. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.

I got up around 6:00 this morning and headed over to the William Land Park and the WPA Rock Garden.  It was only about 49° outside this morning, and got up to a high around 70°, so it was a lovely day weatherwise.

When I got to the park, the first thing I saw was a group of Mallard fledglings.  I think was the same orphaned group I saw several weeks ago when they were just fuzzy babies.  They were traveling without a mom.  If it was the same group, they’ve developed well.  Their mama must’ve died AFTER she was able to teach them enough to keep them alive.  I’m kind of proud of the little things.  They had a really rough start, but are doing very well… I also came across a couple of pairs of Wood Ducks…  In the rock garden, I saw a lot of beautiful flowers, but no really neat bugs – although an Assassin Bug nymph did land on my arm and walk around for a while.  Hah!  I wanted to go over to the larger pond in the park, but that whole section was closed off for some kind of special event. Grrrr.

I still wanted to do some more walking, so I went over to the Sacramento Old City Cemetery.  When I got there I was all set to park across the street in the big parking lot there but… the parking lot was blocked off because they were repaving it.  Grrrr-2.  So I drove around the block and parked inside the cemetery near the front gate. (You’re not really supposed to, but… the parking lot was inaccessible).  The gardens there are starting to fade already but I still managed to get quite a few photos.  The cemetery seemed full of Mockingbirds this morning; they were singing from everywhere, many standing on the headstones to show off for the girls. I was also surprised to see a young Red-Shouldered Hawk fly in and land on one of the pine trees there.  He didn’t stay long, though, because a pair of Scrub Jays kept harassing him.  Apparently, that was THEIR tree and they didn’t want the hawk loitering around there.  What was funny was: just before the hawk took off, he pooped on the tree.  Take THAT, Scrub Jays.  Hahahahaha!  As I was leaving the cemetery, I saw a male Western Bluebird land on the fingertips of one of the “monumental” size statues…

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I walked around for about 2 hours and then headed out.  I stopped first at Raley’s to get a few things for lunch before going home.

Back to the SNWR for One More Run

American Goldfinch, male. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.
American Goldfinch, male. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.

I got up around 6:00 am and headed off to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge again.  This will be my last trip up there this month… On the way out of Sacramento I was surprised to see six  — count ‘em, six – police cars blocking one of the lanes on Fruitridge and surrounding the Shell gas station.  Wonder what was going on there…  The rest of the drive was completely uneventful, and I got to the refuge around 8:00 am.

Starting off on the auto tour the first critter that greeted me was a brightly colored male American Goldfinch eating seeds.  They’re such teeny birds, but such a bright shade of yellow, you can’t miss them… I also was surprised by coming across a river otter.  She was sitting by the side of the road taking a dirt bath, but rushed across the road and slipped into the water when she saw my car.  I’m assuming it was a female because she looked VERY pregnant… I saw mama Great Horned Owl and her owlets all sitting on a long branch on “their” tree.  When a Great Blue Heron landed on the top of their tree, they didn’t seem to mind… I also saw several Bull Frogs, and was kind of proud of myself for being able to spot them since some of them were nothing but eyeballs sitting above the surface of the water…

On the little island where the American White Pelicans and Cormorant usually hang out there were also Wigeons, Ruddy Ducks, and Pintails this morning. I watched a Pied-Billed Grebe gathering grass for its nest… and saw a small flock of adult Canada Geese trying to contain and discipline a rowdy group of fledglings (which were already in their sort-of adult colors but still smaller than the adults)… Among the normal contingency of Cabbage White butterflies, there was a Painted Lady… And I also saw several American Bitterns on the wing, some Black-Crowned Night Herons, and an immature Snowy Egret (without its yellow boots; its feet were black)…

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I usually do two rounds of the auto tour, but today (like yesterday) I did only one, and headed back to Sacramento.  I stopped in Woodland to pick up a few groceries and then headed home.

After Work at the SNWR

Black Crowned Night Heron. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.
Black Crowned Night Heron. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.

After work, I ran out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  I usually go out there very early in the morning, and I was interested in seeing if there were any “new” critters I could see in the late afternoon.  As I drove from Woodland up to Willows, I got caught by one of the monster rainstorms that was rolling through.  It didn’t just rain or pour, it was like driving through a WATERFALL, solid water.  Some folks pulled off to the side of the highway because they couldn’t see.  The noise was incredible, too.  I bet there was a tornado just waiting to be born in that cloud.  Luckily, though, by the time I got to the refuge, I’d driven past the storm, and it was cloudy and windy, but not wet there.

I actually saw LESS creatures in the afternoon than I normally do in the early morning, so I won’t need to do this experiment again.  I did, however, get some shots of a Black-Crowned Night Heron that was wading through a shallow pond.  I stopped to get its picture, and was having a little difficulty focusing through the tules.  While I was doing that, a guy is a truck pulled up beside me and started talking to me… Uh, I’m TRYING to get a photo.  His truck was so loud and he was making so much noise with his chatter I feared the bird would fly off and I’d never get a decent shot.  I gave him perfunctory monosyllabic responses to the guy’s remarks until he finally figured out that I wasn’t interested in conversation and drove off.  Luckily the heron was still hanging around, so I DID get the photos I wanted.

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By then the storm had circled around and was coming back again, so I left the refuge and headed back to Sacramento.