A Day of Nature for Me and the Dog, Saturday 05-07-16

Male Ruddy Duck. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Male Ruddy Duck. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

I turned off my phone and computer today, and headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge for a “nature day” –  just me and the dog.  It was totally overcast and drizzling on and off all day, but I didn’t care.  I just needed to unplug with Sergeant Margie.

I got to the refuge around 7:30 am and because it was overcast and rather “dark” a lot of the critters were tricked into thinking it was a lot earlier than it really was, so I got to see the Black Crowned Night Herons flying off to their daytime roosts (but no good photos, sadly), and caught a raccoon heading off to its den. Because of the inclement weather there were no other guests at the refuge all the while I was there (or at least I didn’t see anyone else), so I felt like I had the whole place to myself.  I could drive down the auto tour route as slowly as I wanted to without be hurried or interfered with by other drivers.  That’s always soooo nice.

There were lots and lots of Jackrabbits and cottontails everywhere, and I got to see some mule deer, too.  Kingbirds also seemed to be all over the place today, and often landed in the tules or overgrowth alongside the auto tour route to “pose”.  Most of the time they just flit away when they see people but today they were very cooperative…  Some of my videoing and photo-taking throughout the day was impeded by rain and thick blinds of tules (the camera doesn’t know what to focus on, so I get a lot of blurring going on.)  I’m no “National Geographic” photographer or videographer to be sure, but I was pleased with what I got…

From the auto tour route, I could see a nest way off in the distance and I thought I could see birds in it, so I snapped some photos (even though I knew they’d be crappy) just to see if I could get a better look at the occupants.  As far as I could tell it was a hawk’s nest, and a fuzzy white fledgling hawk was looking out from one side of it, and the adult was looking out the other side.  Cool!  I also checked out the nest of the Great Horned Owl that I’d seen the last time I was at the refuge.  At first mama was absent but there were TWO huge fat owlets sitting in the nest.  When I went by the nest again later in the morning, Mom had come back later to sit with the babies… I have no idea how they all fit into that nest!

I saw a lot of Bitterns in flight, mostly in pairs, but didn’t get any good shots of them because they flushed so fast and flew so quickly.  In one spot, a flock of American White Pelicans was paddling through an area where the Bitterns were trying to feed, and rousted them out.  Feathers everywhere…

Later along the auto tour route I came across a “cooperative” of Canada Geese (a huge contingent of goslings overseen by several adult birds). They were on the road in front of me, and took off running.  The adults could’ve flown off the road into the water if they’d wants to, but they didn’t want to abandon the goslings, so they ran and ran and ran until the found a place where the goslings could safely to the water.  I worried about the babies running so hard for what seemed like “forever” (it was actually only a minute, but it seemed to take longer).  When they got to the water, all the adults regrouped and got all the kids together again…

Here’s a short video of the run.  Please excuse the blurred quality.  The geese were running slightly uphill in front of the car and the video was taken through the windshield.

When I drove by the permanent wetlands area, I got to see a lot of courtship displays among the different birds.  Some of the male Ruddy Ducks were in their full regalia – rust-red feathers and blue beaks – and were thrumming their beaks against their chests to make the water bubble and swirl around them.  (I got photos and a little video of that.) Here’s a video of the Ruddys.

I also got a little video of the Clark’s Grebes doing their courtship run across the top of the water, and the males offering eelgrass to the females for their floating nests. Here’s a video of a male Grebe presenting grass and here’s a video of the Grebes courtship run. Again, these aren’t high-quality but you’ll get the gist of things.

Then I saw some black s-shaped things in a tree nearby, and turned to focus on them.  They were male Great-Tailed Grackles doing displays for the females, elongating their necks and vocalizing (with a wide variety of sounds). They left the tree and flew into the tules to sing some more, then they flew down onto the ground and tried dancing around a female who was gathering grasses for her nest. Here’s a video snippet of a pair of males singing.  Turn the volume up as high as you can.  They were pretty far away, so they’re kind of hard to hear.

I felt kind of bad for some of the male birds.  Female birds can be so particular about who they choose as their mates, and the males try soooo hard to impress them – often to be rejected or simply ignored.  There was one male Gadwall who was head-bobbing to a female, and all she wanted to do was preen.  Hah!

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Oh, and here is a video snippet of some Snowy Egrets.  You get to see one them lift its long breeding plumage at another one who gets too close it.

I figured I saw over 35 species of plants and animals today.  It was a long leisurely drive with my dog and nature… just what I needed after a stressful week.