Out with Some of My Naturalist Students, 03-31-18

Up at 6:45 am.  I headed out to the American River Bend Park to meet some of my naturalist students for a hike and to see the Great Horned Owl nest there.  The weather was perfect, and I had seven students show up.  Our pace was slow, and it was great having so many sets of eyes looking around the same area. What one missed, others found.

The Wild Turkeys were out in force, including the leucistic ones I’d seen earlier in the month. The males were strutting: tails fanned out, snoods hanging. I got video of one “treading” on the ground (it looked like a Flamenco Dancer, hah!)

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos and video snippets.

The group was able to spot several different nests, including two Bushtit nests (that look like hanging socks), two large owls’ nests, and a nest with a Red-Shouldered Hawk in it.  Just before we got to the first owl’s nest, we were met by a Ranger who let us know where the second nest could be found. I know the park well enough that I was able to figure out which area the ranger was  talking about.  In the first nest was mama Great Horned Owl and her two owlets. (She might have had three, but I’m not sure.) The babies were moving around and standing up occasionally so we got a few photos of them. We all kept our distance, though, so as not to disturb them.

There were Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies all over the place (mostly females). We found some of their eggs, and also got a couple of them to pose for photos. There was one spot, too, where we were able to see and photograph a pair of the butterflies mating. At one point, we found some female River Bluet damselflies. They’re tan, and they were able to camouflage themselves well among the leaf litter. Even when we were standing right over them, it was hard to see them.  We also found a single Scarab Hunter Wasp; I think it might have been a queen.

Other critters we saw along the way included male and female Nutthall’s Woodpeckers, Audubon’s Warblers, lots of House Finches singing from trees, some Spotted Towhees, Anna’s Hummingbirds, tree squirrels, a small herd of mule deer, Tree Swallows, Western Bluebirds, Acorn Woodpeckers, etc.  We also heard some California Quails, but couldn’t find them, and came across a tiny dead vole on the trail.

At two spots along the trail we found nice outcroppings of Common Ink Cap Mushrooms (Coprinopsis atramentaria), also called “Tippler’s Bane” because when consumed with alcohol they can be poisonous.

After a short break for snacks and a restroom break, we headed toward the second owl’s nest. The nest was HUGE but there were no owls in it. We weren’t sure if the owls were still building it and not occupying it yet, or if it (like a nest on the other side of the park) had been rejected by the female.  We did, however, come across another nest which had a Red-Shouldered Hawk sitting in it. All we could see was the bird’s back end, but she was definitely “occupying” it.

We walked for almost 5 hours and then called it a day.

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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.