At the Nimbus Fish Hatchery, 02-27-18

Around 7:30 I headed over to the Nimbus Fish Hatchery. This was going to be the last day they were going to do the Steelhead spawning, and I wanted to film some of that process for the naturalist students. When I got to the hatchery, nothing was open yet, so I walked the ground for a little while. It was 37º there, but the wind coming off the American River made it feel like 32º. Brrrr!

The visitor’s center opened up at 8:00, which is when the Steelhead spawning was advertised to start… But I was told that it was going to be delayed for an hour or so, so the process could be simulcast to grade schools in the area.

I didn’t want to just stand around for an hour and half, so I decided to brave the cold again and walk part of the trail instead. If nothing else, I could take some photos of that to share with my naturalist class.

Right around the visitor’s center there were lots of Brewer’s Blackbirds, and I also saw some Lesser Goldfinch, a House Finch, lots of House Sparrows and Golden-Crowned Sparrows, and several hummingbirds (Anna’s, I think).

On the river I saw lots of Common Goldeneye Ducks, Common Mergansers (more females than males), Canada Geese, a single Grayleg Goose, Herring Gulls, Ring-Billed Gulls, and California Gulls.

The best find by the river was being able to see gulls and Double-Crested Cormorants lining up on a wire that goes from one side of the river to another. I’m not sure what it’s used for, but the winch-end of the wire is on the hatchery’s side. The cormorants get their “nuptial crests” – that stand out like bushy eyebrows over their eyes — during the breeding season, and we’re right at the beginning of that now. Most of the crests you see are black (which generally means that the cormorant is a resident of California), but occasionally you’ll see one with white crests which generally means they’re migrating down into our area from more northerly regions, like Alaska. I saw one with white crests today. That was a first for me.

CLICK HERE to see the album of photos.

The salmon raceways were empty, even the water had been drained out; but on the trout side of the facility, there were Rainbow Trout in various stages of development in every raceway.

Caught inside the structure, too, were a couple of Black-Crowned Night Herons. They must’ve gotten in when someone opened and the forgot to shut the entrance gate – and then got trapped in there when the place was locked up again. They were looking pretty panicked. The only way to get them out would be to open the gates again and shoo them toward the open door. But opening the gates means other fish-eating birds can get into the raceways, too… A conundrum.

By the time I got back to the visitors center, they were halfway through the filming of the Steelhead spawning, and I didn’t want to interrupt that, so I left.

On my way home, I passed right by the American River Bend Park, so I stopped there for a few minutes just to see if I could spot the Great Horned Owl on her nest that I saw the last time I was there. Yep. She was there, sitting on her nest, dozing away. Because the nest is so high and the lighting around it is so bad, I can’t get very good photos of it, but I took a few anyway.

In the same area, I also saw a mule deer in the distance, several Mourning Doves, a few Northern Flickers, Spotted Towhees, Oak Titmice, and an Audubon’s Warbler. It looks like stands of Stinging Nettles are starting to come again – which may be a bad thing for hikers and campers, but is a good thing for Red Admiral butterflies who lay their eggs on the plants, and whose caterpillars depend on them for food and protection. I only stayed at the park for about 30 minutes and didn’t walk any of the trails.

A Western Screech Owl and Other Critters, 02-24-18

Brrr.  It was 32º this morning when I headed over to Lake Solano Park for a walk and a pre-field trip photo session.  This is the park where I had fallen earlier this month, so I was very much on my guard while I was there.  I got to the park without any ado, and had the parking lot all to myself when I arrive (around 8:00 am), so I was able to park in an easily accessible place. Score!  The rest of my morning went along well, too… and I didn’t fall down once. Hah!

At the park, I was accosted by a peacock looking for handouts when I first got out of my car, but then I didn’t any of the peafowl again throughout my walk (although I could hear them calling to one another across the park).  It was cold enough there in the early morning that some of shallower water was frozen solid.

Bufflehead ducks seemed to be everywhere I looked in the river, females with males around them doing their head-bobbing thing and bullying each other. I also saw Mallards, American Wigeons, some Wood Ducks and lots of Common Goldeneyes. I saw quite a few Great Blue Herons, including one that was very cooperative and let me walk to within about 10 fee of it while it waded in the water.

There are always Canada Geese at the park, but I was surprised to find a pair that were actually hybrids, crossed with Greater White-Fronted geese, so their coloring was way off. As Billy Crystal would say, “This is what happens when cousins marry.”

Along with the ubiquitous Acorn Woodpeckers, I also saw several Northern Flickers (although I had a lot of trouble getting photos of them because they were up so high in the trees and kept moving around), and some Nutthall’s Woodpeckers (a male in one tree and a female in another). And there were California Scrub Jays all over the place; some stashing food in the ground, some picking up twiglets for their nests.

I also saw a Cedar Waxwing (that wouldn’t turn around, so all I got was the back of its head), several Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets, Spotted Towhees, Golden-Crowned Sparrows (eating the flowers off what I think was a fruitless pear tree), Song Sparrows, Pied-Billed Grebes, a few Hooded Mergansers, several Crows, Black Phoebes, a couple of Myrtle Warblers and a Eurasian Collared Dove.  I was teased by Belted Kingfishers all morning, flying back and forth along the shore of the river, but never on the side on which I walking… and they’re so freakin’ fast! I just barely got some a really bad photos of a female in a tree.

I was surprised and happy to see several Phainopepla in the park, both males and females. But the best sighting of the day was of a tiny Western Screech Owl.  I would have completely missed him if a birder-lady hadn’t pointed him out to me… “See the tree with the blue mark on it?” She said. “Now look up where the knots are on it.” Wow!  Amazeballs. He was sitting with his butt in a hole in the side of the tree, dozing, and opened his eyes just a slit to look at me when I took some photos of him. Think of an owl the size of your palm – that’s how little he was.

Find the owl.

Among the plants I could easily identify were Pipevine, Manroot Vine, Miner’s Lettuce and Burr Chervil, tules, cattails… y’know, the usual suspects.

I also saw my first Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly of the season, and got it to sit on my sleeve for a little while so I could take some photos of it.  I think it like that the coat was WARM on such a chilly morning. I could tell by the amount of blue on her hind wings that it was a female.

Here is an album of photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mkhnaturalist/albums/72157690848390452

I walked for about 4½ hours, which is way past my limit, so I was exhausted and achy by the time I got back home.

A Fast Run at the SNWR, 02-22-18

After my work appointment this morning, I had lunch in my car and took a quick run out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge to clear my head and get some fresh air before the predicted rain came in. I usually do the auto tour in 4 hours; today I zipped through in just 1… but I still got to see this guy (a juvenile Bald Eagle) before I headed back home and finished my work for the day.