Even though it’s my day off, I wanted to beat the heat as much as possible and got up around 5:00 am to head off to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. I had to stop twice on the way: once to put gas in the car, and once to stop at a rest stop and unload my morning coffee. Hah!
The first thing I saw when I drove into the refuge was a Great Blue Heron poking its head up over the tules to watch my car drive in. Then for the most part it was all the usual suspects like jackrabbits and Cottontails, thousands (literally) of Variegated Meadowhawk dragonflies – so many, in fact, that I got bored taking photos of them — and another en masse explosion of blue damselflies, some California Ground Squirrels, Coots, cormorants, Pelicans, Pied-Billed Grebes (their songs were coming from everywhere), seagulls and other birds. I also saw skippers, Monarch Butterflies, Crescent, Buckeye, Painted Lady and West Coast Lady butterflies, and Cabbage White butterflies among the other bugs.
Oh, and I did see my first juvenile Coot today. The Coots are always all over the place, but I’ve never seen a baby one – and this was the first time I’ve seen a juvenile, so they must guard their babies really well!
The orb-weaver spiders had created webs that covered whole areas between the tules, like a sticky obstacle course. In one spot, I was trying to get a photo of an American White Pelican on the water, and the camera couldn’t “see” past the giant spiders in their webs in front of it… So I got a nice of photo of a spider with a totally blurry pelican behind it. Hah! The spiders had actually managed to capture quite a few dragonflies; the carnage was everywhere. One spider actually managed to parachute over to the car and drop down inside through the open window. Yikes! I don’t usually mind spiders, but that sucker was HUGE! And I don’t know where he ended up… Eew.
On some of the teasel, I saw what looked like white “globs” on the flowering heads. I couldn’t tell what they were (you can’t leave your vehicle to investigate things on the auto-tour) but I took photos of them anyway. When I got home, I processed the photos and realized the globs were actually pure white Crab Spiders. They seemed so shockingly bright and obvious to my eye when I saw them – but then I remembered that these spiders give off an ultraviolet signature that generally masks them from their prey (which can see into that part of the spectrum). Cool.
We’re just starting to see the exuvia from the larger dragonflies now clinging to the tules near the water. There should be a lot of big darners out in another week or so, I’d imagine.
There were a few unexpected surprises along the auto-tour route: (1) a large muskrat made to swim-by’s alongside my car in the permanent wetlands area. I got videos of his going in both directions. The first time around, he was swimming and chewing on something at the same time. The next time I saw him he was absolutely covered in eel grass and other vegetation; I had to laugh, he looked so funny. I wonder if it was building a “nest” somewhere.
CLICK HERE for the muskrat video.
(2) I also got some video of a pair of Clark’s Grebes in the water. The video sucks eggs (because the subjects were soooo far away, and the camera had to try to focus through heat waves coming up from the ground), but if you look closely, you’ll see first one and then two little white fuzzy black-beaked babies on mama Grebe’s back! They’re soooo cute!
CLICK HERE for the Grebe video.
And surprise number (3) was when a river otter ran past the road in front of the car – followed by its baby! I’d never seen a baby otter before. They moved to fast, though, I couldn’t get pictures of either one of them. Rats!
Oh, at one point, I could see some male mule deer off in the distance – all in their velvet – and was totally shocked when one of them stood up among them and I could see his rack of antlers. I swear those antlers were as long as his legs were! I’d never seen ones sitting up so tall on a deer’s head. I got some photos (but they were all shitty because the deer were so far away); I’ll try to post one to the photo album anyway so you can see it.
CLICK HERE to see an album of more photos.
I only made one pass through the refuge – because by noon it was already in the 90’s out there, and I didn’t think I’d see much of anything else in the heat. I headed home and got there without incident. I crashed with the dogs for a little while and then watched some TV and went through all of my photos