The dog and I got up around 7:00 and after giving Sergeant Margie his breakfast, I headed over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve. The weather forecast called for rain today, but I was hoping to get out before the front settled over this area. I timed it pretty well, too. It didn’t start to rain in earnest (along with some thunder) until just as I was leaving the preserve… It was cloudy all the while I was out there; and in some places the clouds looked really “stirred up”, with “boiling” bottoms. That usually means that on top, the clouds are spiking really high up into the atmosphere. Thunderheads…
The first thing I saw when I went into the preserve was a buck with mismatched antlers following after a doe. I followed them for a while, making sure not to get between the buck and the doe. At one point the buck stepped out, straight toward me, as though warning me off, but otherwise he was pretty blissed out on doe-scent. I watched as the buck went to a small tree and rubbed his head against it. Male mule deer have an extra scent gland there that the females don’t have – and the scent advertises how mature the male is, how healthy he is, and whether or not he’s in rut. I could smell him even from several feet away… that kind of leather, musk and wet-dog smell. I kind of like it, actually.
When the buck stepped away from the tree and in closer to the doe again, I walked up to the tree and stayed there for a while because the spot gave me a good look at both deer. The doe was confused though, I think, by the mix of my human scent and the buck’s scent on the tree, and she stretched her nose out toward me, with this quizzical “what the hell?” look on her face. Hah! I watched the pair of them until they wandered off into the ticket and out of sight.
I saw quite a few of the bucks out in different parts of the preserve, even a young “spike” buck. They were all looking for girls. I came across several does, too, and they were all out, away from the bucks, browsing with their this-year’s fawns. One mama also had one of her yearlings with her, along with her twin babies. The babies are all out of their spots now, but are still “snack size”, so their moms keep a close eye on them. In one spot, I saw a mama park her baby in a tall outcropping of weeds before she trotted off towards the river to get a drink.
There also were quite a few pairs of Red-Shouldered Hawks flying around and screeching to one another. The hawks mate for life, and during this time of year they reinforce the pair-bond by refortifying their nests and participating in light courtship behavior (jumping from branch to branch, sometimes feeding one another). I came across a volunteer at the preserve, a lady about my age named Elizabeth. She said she and other people had seen a lot of the pair-bonding behavior from the hawks, too. We all wonder if the weird weather this year has thrown off their breeding schedules. (Elizabeth suggested that I sign up to volunteer with the preserve since I know it so well…)
Down by the river, I came across a wake of Turkey Vultures. They were all sitting on a rocky shoal in the water chowing down on salmon and steelhead leftovers that had flowed down stream. Nearby were some Mallards, a male Goldeneye, a couple of pairs of Buffleheads, and some female Common Mergansers. It was kind of “dark” and foggy down by the water, which made picture-taking a little difficult, but it was neat to see so many birds in such a confined area.
Another cool find was when I was heading out the preserve and came across a tree where both a female Northern Flicker and a female Nutthall’s Woodpecker were hanging out, one on one side of the tree, one on the other. Nutthall’s Woodpeckers are pretty small, so I’m not sure the Flicker was even aware it was there, but I was able to get a few photos of both of them.
I also managed – just barely – to get a fleeting image of a male Ruby-Crowned Kinglet showing off his red crown. He was chasing an Oak Titmouse away from “his” tree, chattering, head blazing bright red. What a display!
The neatest find of the day, though, was something I wasn’t expecting to see in this area at all. In a stump very near the nature center building was a large outcropping of Lion’s Mane Fungus (Hericium erinaceus). I’ve seen photos of it before, but have never seen it “in the flesh”. Because it was tucked inside the stump, I extricated a small bit of it so I could get some close-ups of its surface. It’s supposed to be edible and it a kind of “tooth fungus” with long, white, shaggy “hairs” running down its surface. It looks more like a frozen waterfall to me than a lion’s mane, but… it’s still cool.
Here’s hoping this year brings out a lot of interesting fungi in the region!
I got up with the dog around 5:30 am and we immediately headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. This is #OptOutside day; rather than doing Black Friday shopping, I’m spending the day outdoors. It was around 50º when we left the house and 61º when we got back home in the afternoon.
It was super-foggy on the way to the refuge, and the fog lingered to some extent for most of the day… which made photo-taking a challenge at times. There were a lot of the usual suspects at the Sacramento refuge: Killdeer, Golden-Crowned Sparrows, White-Crowned Sparrows, Turkey Vultures, House Sparrows, a Peregrine Falcon, Northern Shovelers, Greater White-Fronted Geese, Gadwalls, Northern Pintails, Mallards, Western Meadowlarks, Northern Harriers, Red-Winged Blackbirds, American Coots, Snow Geese, Ross’s Geese, Black Phoebes, Red-Tailed Hawks, Great Egrets… There were two standouts for the day though, and they were within a few feet of one another.
I stopped at a spot where two sloughs intersect, near the gate for the extended loop section of the auto tour route. I found an American Bittern in one of the sloughs, treading on the aquatic vegetation, looking for fish and crayfish. As I was photographing it and taking some videos, I could hear something gurgling in the water to my right. I looked over and could see the vegetation moving; something was underneath it. I focused the camera on that spot and saw a River Otter poke its head up to look around! It ignored the Bittern – who in turn ignored the otter – and ducked back under the plants again. A few seconds later, two otter heads popped up… and then three!
The otters all swam down the slough and climbed up onto the side of it. And then a fourth otter appeared! A whole family. They posed on the bank for a little while, and then disappeared into another section of wetland. I looked back behind me, and the Bittern was still there, fishing away. It was completely oblivious to the otters. Hah! I saw another Bittern further along the auto-tour route, in among the tules, but didn’t see the otters again.
CLICK HERE for the album of photos and video snippets.
I finished the route early (around 10 o’clock), so I decided to go over to the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge to check things out there. That refuge is much smaller than the Sacramento one, and usually not as interesting, but there are some birds that I see there that I don’t see at the Sacramento refuge (like Wigeons and Gallinules). The Colusa refuge isn’t full of water yet, and there weren’t many birds at the viewing platform there, so it wasn’t as “fun” a diversion as the Sacramento refuge was. I was through the Colusa refuge within about 90 minutes, and headed straight home from there.
Around 7:00 am I headed out to the Cosumnes River Preserve for a walk. It was super foggy all the way to the preserve. In some places, the fog was so thick I could only see a car length or two in front of me. When I got to the preserve, the fog had lifted up a little bit, but was still hovering near the ground. I wasn’t expecting to see a lot in this kind of weather. The dark skies fool the birds into thinking it’s earlier in the day than it really is, so they sleep in a little bit. One good thing about fog, though, is that is sometimes clings to the spiders’ webs, and you can get some interesting shot of those (if the light hits them just right.)
CLICK HERE for the album of photos and video snippets.
I drove down Bruceville Road before going to the preserve’s boardwalk parking lot to see if there was anything interesting out there. I stopped at one place to get web photos and came across a very-late-in-the-season praying mantis, a pregnant female who was probably looking for somewhere to lay her eggs. It was chilly and wet out there, around 49º, so she didn’t really want to move to do anything, but she posed for me for a little while and climbed up onto the sleeve of my jacket (mostly for the warmth, I think.)
At the preserve itself, there wasn’t a whole lot to see: mostly the little shorebirds and some Northern Pintails and Green-Winged Teals. There were quite a few American Pipits and lots and lots of sparrows. I walked the length of the boardwalk and back and then decided to walk up the road a bit to see if there was anything interesting along the sloughs that run parallel to the road. There were two guys fishing in one of the ponds near the parking lot (which I think is illegal) and I saw something in the water across from them. At first I thought maybe they had snagged their lines on some crud on the bottom of the pond and were dragging it through the water. But when I looked back at their fishing poles, I could see that the lines were “soft” and they had bobbers floating on the surface. So, I looked at the disturbance in the water again, and saw what I thought might have been a snout poking up… But it was gone again before I could see for certain. Then it reappeared further down the length of the pond and into the spot where the pond narrowed into the slough. So I figured since I was walking that way anyway, I’d try to keep an eye out for whatever it was.
After walking about 20 feet, I saw something dark on the opposite side of the slough, so I moved slowly and quietly between the oak trees on my side to see if I could get a better look at whatever it was. And…
It was a river otter!
It was grooming itself and rolling in a patch of high grass it had squished down. It stayed there for about 5 minutes which allowed me to get lots of photos and some video snippets of it before it went back in the water again. Coolness! That made my morning! …And no one else saw it but me, so I feel kind of “privileged”.
I walked around a bit more, and then drove the loop around Bruceville Road once more before heading home. On Bruceville, I saw a pair of Sandhill Cranes grazing in the short grass and got some video of them before leaving the area and getting back on the freeway. Altogether, I was at and around the preserve for about 2½ hours.