A Lovely Saturday at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

Lots to share today…  I got up around 5:45 this morning and headed out with the dog to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. It was actually overcast when I left the house, nice and cool.  The temperatures stayed pleasant throughout the day: around 80° with a cool breeze by the late afternoon.

I was taking a chance that the extended loop at the refuge would still be open for the Labor Day weekend, and my gamble paid off.  (I think they’re actually closing the loop on September 10th.) I wasn’t looking for anything in particular; just looking around to see what Nature wanted to show me today.  That kind of outing is always really relaxing for me.  When you’re not expecting anything, then anything can be a surprise.

CLICK HERE to see the full album of photos from today.

The first critter we saw was a Turkey Vulture sitting in a eucalyptus tree near the parking lot, just casing the joint and relaxing in the shade.  Then there was a series of jackrabbits (and Cottontails, but they moved to fast for me to get any photos of them). I also came across some mule deer, including a fawn that was separated from its mom. (I think she was foraging along the side of a nearby slough.) It’s not unusual for the youngsters to be left alone for short periods of time, so I wasn’t worried about the little guy.

At one point along the auto-tour route, I came across a pair of young female Ring-Neck Pheasants foraging in the dried grass along the edge of the road.  I parked the car and watched them for a little while. One of the pair was pretty skittish, but the other one didn’t seem to mind that I was there – as long as I didn’t move. Toward the end of the route, I also came across a more adult female pheasant and got a tiny bit of video of her. The males are more elaborate-looking, but I love the patterns on the feathers of the females. It looks like each one was paint individually…

CLICK HERE for a video of the young pheasants foraging.

CLICK HERE for a video of the mature female pheasant. You can hear in this one how much the wind had picked up.

There were  a lot of Clark’s and Western Grebes on the water in the permanent wetlands area, most of them trying to feed their voracious children.  You could hear the kids “yelling” for food all along that part of the route: high-pitching whining cries that got louder whenever their parents came up from a dive with a bug or small fish for the kids to eat.  I got several video snippets of that. Some of the parents were more successful at finding a meal for the kids than others.  I watched one Western Grebe that came up with a bug or a fish every time it dove down for something; and I watched another parent that came up empty-handed every time. The kids were all able to recognize their own parent, too, so the ones that weren’t getting fed by their parents never went after the adults who came up with fish every time.

I also watched while one “teenager” preened while it waited for its parent to bring it food.  I’m always fascinated by the way the grebes’ legs and feet are  attached to its body.  The legs don’t sit underneath in the center of the bird’s like they do in most bird species; instead, they’re positioned near the back of the bird’s body which makes them great swimmers, but rather clumsy on land. They also have lobed (not webbed feet) and often lift their feet out of the water to shake them off… or even lift the whole leg out of the water and bend it over their back to tuck the foot in under the wing (called “foot-shipping”). It looks really goofy when they do this.  I have a little bit of video of this so you can see what I mean.

CLICK HERE for a video of the “foot shipping” juvenile Grebe.

CLICK HERE for a video of a juvenile Clark’s Grebe getting fed by its parent.  turn the sound up and you’ll hear the high-pitched call from the juvenile.

CLICK HERE for a video of a juvenile who got separated from its parent and then had to rush to get its meal. In the background of this video you can hear the harsh calls of a flock of Common Terns that were circling and swooping overhead.

 

There were lots of American White Pelicans out today, some just napping, some preening, some fishing in large groups.  Alongside them were Double-Crested Cormorants. When the temperature started to rise, the cormorants would gape and make their throats waggle (gular fluttering) to cool off a bit. I also saw (and got a little video of) some of the juveniles sparring with one another: opening their hooks beaks and rattling them against one another’s while their grunted.  There was also one of the cormorants that picked up feathers and carried them over to other cormorants in the flock. I saw him do this with a scraggly black feather and white gull feather… But I haven’t been able to find anything that describes this behavior or why the cormorant was doing it.  It was a juvenile, so I don’t think it was any kind of “courting” behavior… and I didn’t see it eat the feathers (like the grebes do sometimes to aid in their digestion), so I was stumped.  Fascinated, but stumped.  I wish I had more time to just sit out in nature and view/video more of the behavior stuff… I find it all so interesting.

CLICK HERE for a video o the pelicans feeding.

CLICK HERE for the video of the sparring juveniles. Turn the sound up to hear the sounds the birds are making.  You can also see some Gadwalls in this clip.

CLICK HERE for a video of the cormorants doing their “gular fluttering” thing.

Among the other birds, we got so see Great Egrets, a lone Red-Tailed Hawk, Ring-Billed Gulls, Pied-Billed Grebes, a few Ruddy Ducks, a female Ring-Necked Duck, a Greater Yellowlegs, and a pair of White-Faced Ibis feeding in the shallows alongside the road. The sun was behind them, though, so I didn’t get very good shots of them.

I also got photos of a few different dragonfly species and other “incidental” stuff like wasps and bindweed… whatever looked interesting at the moment.

The best “find” of the day for me was coming across a small group of river otters.  They’d found a cache of fish (and bullfrogs, I think) near the shore and were chowing down.  I got a little video of them crunching away at their catch. It’s so hard to get clear photos of the otters when they’re in the water because they move so swiftly; and then they’ll disappear under the surface and pop up again somewhere else… I never know where to point the camera.  Hah!

CLICK HERE for a video of the otters eating.

CLICK HERE for a video of the otters swimming.

The dog and I headed back home around noon and got to the house a little after 2:00 pm.

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Mary K. Hanson is a breast cancer survivor who, at age 61, took coursework to become a Certified California Naturalist. The author of “The Chubby Woman’s Walkabout”™ blog, Ms. Hanson has also written nature-based feature articles published in regional newspapers, authored over ten books, including her "Cool Stuff Along the American" series of guide books, and has had her photographs featured in books, articles, calendars, on the American River Parkway Foundation’s Instagram stream, and even the White House blog. This year Ms. Hanson is helping to launch and teach a new Certified California Naturalist course through Tuleyome, in partnership with the University of California and the Woodland Library, so members of the public can themselves become certified as naturalists in the state. All of the photos seen on her website were taken by Ms. Hanson herself (unless noted otherwise) with moderate- to low-end photographic equipment more easily affordable to the everyday nature enthusiast. She also occasionally leads photo-walks through the American River Bend Park for the public and is sometimes available for public speaking.