Yellow-Billed Magpies and Other Critters, 06-24-18

I headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve. It was 68º when I left the house, and 75º when I got back home a little after 9:00 am.

The first thing I saw when I got to the preserve was a huge flock of Yellow-Billed Magpies foraging for bugs and seeds on the lawns near the payment kiosk. I parked in the little parking lot there and took a lot of photos. The magpies hardly ever sit still, so it’s always neat when I can get some decent shots of them. Most of them seemed to have yellow patches around their eyes. That’s not uncommon, especially if they’re molting.

CLICK HERE to see the full album of photos.

There were more deer out this time than there were the past several times I’d gone to the preserve. Mamas are now showing up with their babies. I saw one doe with a fawn that was maybe four to six months old; out of its spots but still snack-sized.

And in another spot, I saw a mom with a newborn, but she was hiding him really well and I couldn’t get any good photos of him. She was down in a shallow gully between two hills and in the shade. Smart mama.

There were lots of California Ground Squirrels out and about. I saw one, though, who looked like it had a broken left rear leg… and whatever injury there was, was being harassed by flies. I couldn’t tell for sure, but it looked like part of the bone was poking through the skin, and the leg and foot were badly swollen. There were other wounds on its body; spots where the fur had been rubbed off or torn out. I wonder if it had been grabbed by hawk or Coyote and then freed itself – at the cost of its leg. I could tell it was in pain by the way it moved, but it was very stoic – no squeaking or crying. Poor squirrel; I wish I could have caught it and taken it to a vet or something.

I could hear the Red-Shouldered Hawks in the preserve screaming at each other, but only caught glimpses of them in flight. No photos of those guys today.

I came across a very small Velvet Ant, all fuzzy and golden. There are hundreds of species of Velvet Ants, so identifying them can be hard. Although they’re called “ants”, they’re actually a kind of wingless wasp – and they carry a very painful sting. According to one article: “In some areas, velvet ants are known colloquially as ‘cow killers’ because their venom packs a painful punch. In addition, their ‘sting’ – the scientific term for what many of us refer to as a ‘stinger’ – is agile and half as long as the wasp itself. This enables the insect to inject venom into a predator from varied angles and free itself.” So, look but don’t touch.

There were also signs along the trails warning hikers about the high-danger of rattlesnakes this time of year, and also a spot where some Yellow-Jacket Wasps had built a nest in the ground. Nature can be tough in the summer!

As I was leaving the preserve, I saw an Acorn Woodpecker drinking out of the water fountain by the nature center. Hah! Smart bird!

As an aside: I read a blog by Ron Dudley every day. He’s a fantastic nature photographer. His most recent post included information about a long-term Citizen Science project headed by Doug Tallamy, PhD, of the University of Delaware that’s been going on since about 2013. He’s trying to determine what birds eat, most specifically what invertebrates they eat, so he’s asking for people to send him photos of birds with insects and other such critters in their beaks. I’d recently taken quite a few of those — including one today of a Spotted Towhee — so I sent them off to him and also gave him a link to my Flickr account, saying he could use any of the photos there in his study if he wanted to. Citizen collect the data (in this case, the photos and forward it on to the scientist for study… that’s what Citizen Science is all about. (http://www.whatdobirdseat.com/)

Posted by

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.