A Western Tanager and Others, 04-30-17

I got up around 6:15 and was out the door by 6:30 to head over to the American River Bend Park for a walk.  It got up to 82º today.

At the River bend Park, the elderberry bushes are getting their flowers on them, and the buds on the Buckeye trees are just starting to open. Pipevines, grape vines and manroot vines abound, many of them vying for the same spots in the sun; and the black walnut trees are heavy with catkins. I was hoping to get some photos of Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly eggs, and was a little surprised to find that the caterpillars had already hatched out of most of them!  There were little first and second instar caterpillars everywhere…

CLICK HERE TO SEE THE ENTIRE ALBUM. More videos will be added shortly.

I also got to see a few Tussock Moth caterpillars, which are always cool. I even got one to crawl on my hand for a little while… (They’re the moths in which the female is wingless.  She sit in the tree she was born in and waits for the males to come to her.)

And I also came across an area where a bunch of Elder Moth caterpillars (a kind of cutworm) were coiled up on young elderberry bushes; some had curled themselves into the leaves, and one leaf curl had a shiny new pupa case in it… Neato.  [The Elder Moths are white and super-fuzzy and have green “staining” on their wings.]

A couple of other cool things happened on this walk, as well.  The most exciting was when I was trying to get photos of a pair of Bewick’s Wrens that were bringing food to their hatchlings.  The wrens were nesting in a tree cavity BUT, the tree was lying on its side on the ground, so they had to go through grass to get to the opening.  I was trying to figure out how to shoot through the grass and eliminate the heavy shadows around the opening to the nest, when I heard screeching in a tree behind me. I turned around to find a handsome Cooper’s Hawk up in the tree… and as soon as I looked at it, it started buzz-bombing me.  It dove straight at my head, so I lifted my camera up to deflect it.  Then it landed up in another tree, and I was taking photos of it there, it dove at me again… and again… and again… first from one direction, then from another. I don’t know if I was too close to its nest, or if it had a fledgling on the ground, or if I was too close to its breakfast, but it was NOT happy.

I got as many photos of it as I dared, and then walked off before it had the chance to gouge out my eyes.  (I tried getting video of it. I got a few frames of it screaming and diving at my head, and then the rest of the video is just a bunch rapid shaking and me shouting in exclamation.  I might add that to the album just because it’s funny.

I never did get a photo of that wren’s nesting site; maybe next time. But I did get some video of wrens singing and “beeping”, so that was something of a consolation.

Another cool thing: I saw some European Starlings picking stuff off the side of a tree, so I went over to see what so interesting to them.  A huge portion of the tree was literally covered in ants; a whole bivouac of them including some winged ones. I don’t know if they were moving in or moving out, but there were hundreds of them.  While I was getting some video of that, I noticed something “yellow” in the periphery of my vision, so I looked up and… Wow, it was a gorgeous Western Tanager! I’d never seen one at the park before.  It grabbed some of the winged ants and flew off, and then came back and sat on the low branch of a nearby tree for quite a while. In order to get pictures of it, I had to shoot through the leaves of the tree closest to me, a little hole about the size of my fist, and then get the camera to focus on the bird and not the leafy edges of the hole.  I got quite a few good photos, including a cute one of the bird cocking its head to one side. I was super-pleased.

Aaaannnd… I also got to see an Ash-Throated Flycatcher. He was sitting on the top of a small, broken, dead  tree trunk, but his back was to me so, all I could see with this powderpuff of feathers on the top of his head.  Then the bird flew off into another branch, and I could see its whole body… Yep, Flycatcher.  They’re not uncommon birds, but I think I’ve only seen maybe three or four altogether at the River Bend Park.

On the way out of the park, I walked by a spot where a couple of Tree Swallows were making all sorts of noise. That always alerts me to the notion that there’s a nest nearby, and sure enough, I was able to spot it as one of the birds exited the cavity.  I had to climb over a (very low) fence and then find a position where I could view the tree without interfering with the birds and watched it for about 10 or 15 minutes. I got quite a few photos of the birds in and near the nest hole… and even watched as one of them chased off an interloper when it got too close. That was a nice way to end the walk.  (I actually walked for a little more than 3½ hours before heading home.)

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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.