Meerkats at the Zoo (and Coconut Returns), 11-30-18

Since this is the only day for about a week that is supposed to be without rain, I decided to try taking a walk at the Sacramento Zoo.

It was a perfect day for that. About 56° outside, mostly sunny, hardly any people at the zoo. I really enjoyed it – AND my tumor pain was down to about 2 while I was there. So, it was nice.  Volunteers from The Hilton hanging around everywhere. They were trying to sell gift packages that included admission to the zoo, but also had access to some golf carts. I was able to get a couple of them to drive me short distances around the zoo – playing the “old lady” card sometimes works. Hah!

When I first went in, I came across one of the volunteers holding “Timbuktu” a Mali Spiny-tailed lizard.  The volunteer had put “Tim” on a heating pad to keep him warm, but for some reason didn’t seem to realize that once he was warmed up, Tim would be very active and mobile. The lizard kept trying to climb out of the volunteer’s hands; a real squirmy worm.

I’d gone to the zoo mostly to see their new Meerkats exhibit, but when I first got to the enclosure, the animals were all inside and workmen were setting up heaters for them because it was too chilly for them. “Come back in about 30 minutes,” one of the workmen said. So, I did that, and sure enough, all of the Meerkats were out by then. Some were still dozing inside a little dog-kennel-like thing, but others were busy digging holes everywhere and protecting the perimeter. I was surprised by how small they were; I expected them to be larger. But they were so active and so expressive. Really fun to watch.

CLICK HERE to see the full album of photos.

In an enclosure right next to theirs was Padme, the zoo’s resident Aardvark. She was sleeping in the sun in her “cave”. The cave is heated and has windows on the side, so you can see her when she’s in there. Every time I walked by, she was sleeping but in a different position. Apparently, she’s a restless sleeper.

When I first went by the Snow Leopard enclosure, the big male, Blizzard, was out, and I was able to get a few photos of him. The next time I went by, the mom Misha and little Coconut were out instead. On and off, they were rushing around, rolling over one another, and ambushing each other. Mom got little Coconut to run up the faux boulders along all three sides of the enclosure, exercising his muscles and teaching him out track prey at the same time.

At one point, Coconut ran from one end of the enclosure to the other and jumped on his mom, and a group of pre-teen boys standing near me all went, “Oooo, woooow!” really loudly. They were so loud that they startled Coconut and he stopped in his tracks for a moment. Then, brave little thing that he is, he walked right up the front of the enclosure, as close as he could get to the boys, and stood up with his paws against the fence looking at them.  Behind him, his mom, Misha, was starting to curl her lips and show her teeth. She apparently didn’t like her baby interacting with the kids. Eventually, she got Coconut to follow her up onto the boulders again, and they both sat and rested there for a while.

Yesterday’s rain had left puddles all over the zoo, and piles of wet leaves. The Red River Hogs seemed to like having a new “wallow” in their enclosure.

In their habitat in another part of the zoo, the Wolf’s Guenons were out, including a mom, two babies and the dad.  The mom didn’t like the fact that the Mongoose Lemurs had been moved into an enclosure next to hers and she kept “bucking” at them and rushing the fence to drive them away… then one of her babies came up to her begging for food and milk. He’s really too big to nurse, and she kept pushing him away from her breasts with her hands.  Then he sat down next to her and started to groom her, and she sat for that… until he made a grab for her teat again. She used one hand to moosh his face down and then walked over him to get away from him. Hah!  The dad seemed very much on the alert today, and on several occasions put himself between me and the mom and kids, blocking my view of them. So, I took some close-up photos of his face that turned out pretty good.

I thought with the cooler weather, the Red Pandas would be out and about. And they were both out, but they were both napping. In the kangaroo habitat next door to the Red Pandas, there was a male emu showing off for the female. He was strutting around with all of his neck feathers fluffed out – like a model on the runway with a huge feather boa. Among emus, the males build the nests, incubate the eggs and raise the chicks. It’s a little late in the season for the male to be strutting, but it would be neat to see if he builds a nest.

The only disappointment of my visit was when they let all of the chimpanzees out into their habitat. I heard the chimps all hooting, excited, and went over to see them. They were all sitting on the floor, grabbing up treats BUT the glass on the sides of the enclosure were all so fogged with the chimps’ excited breath that I couldn’t take any photos through it. Chimps in the Mist.

Around noon, I stopped to have some lunch before finishing off my zoo visit: chicken stir fry and tea. It wasn’t great, so I didn’t finish it. I understand that a big chunk of the price you pay for food at the zoo actually goes to the animals, so I didn’t feel the purchase was a total waste.

After lunch, I walked around a little bit more and took some more photos of the Meerkats and Snow Leopards and then headed home.

Turkeys in Trees and Lots of Deer Everywhere, 11-26-18

Around 7:15 am I went over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve again for a walk. When I first walked in, I saw a small group of deer collected behind the classroom facility across from the nature center. There was one of the 3-pointer bucks back there, rubbing his head against some of the scrub brush (to transfer his scent) and showing off to the couple of does that were near him. I would have missed him completely if he hadn’t made such a fuss over the bushes, rattling and shaking them with his rubbing.  I climbed up onto the stone bench next to the building to look over the plants around there and see him.  He lifted his head up high a couple of times to check me out but otherwise ignored me. He was more focused on trying to impress the gals.

One of the does had a springtime fawn with her, so she wasn’t interested in the buck, and kept moving around to keep him away from her baby. The other doe didn’t seem overly impressed with him either. She walked through a garden to nature center, lifted some of the tomato cages they have around young plants there (to protect them from the deer), and ate the no-longer-protected plants. Hah!  What a brat!

Further along the trail, I came across another buck that was sitting on the side of the trail. He looked pretty good but had a rosy spot on the tip of his nose that he might’ve gotten from jousting.  He just sat there in the grass and let me get pretty close to him to take photos. He stayed where he was until a pair of does came down the trail and caught his eye.  He got to his feet as soon as they sauntered by, and just when he was approaching them, the big 4-pointer buck came across the field and ran the other buck off.  So, the younger buck’s wait was for naught.

On a different part of the trail, I found the buck with the damaged antler. He was standing amid some fallen logs and scrabbly brush… and it took me a while before I realized there was a doe sitting in the grass on the other side of the log. When I went to get some photos of her, the buck poked his head under the log to keep his eye on me.  On the other side of the trail, I also noticed a young spike buck who was sitting in the tall weeds where the larger buck couldn’t see him. When the doe decided to get up and walk away, the older buck followed her… and the spike buck followed him. Stalker.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

The Wild Turkeys were out in force again. The males are all in strut, showing off to one another and the ladies. Although most of the time they were just posturing at or bluffing one another, I saw a couple of short fights break out among them. They chase one another around, jump up and use the heavy spurs on the sides of their legs to whack one another. You can hear the “crack!” when they make contact all over the preserve; it’s actually louder than the sound made by the deer when they joust.

I was surprised, though, to see about a half dozen of the turkeys way up in the trees over the trail. They were complaining to one another, so I assumed there was something on the ground (a cat or coyote) that was distressing them. After about 15 minutes, I saw them all fly down, crossing over the tops of other trees and landing in a shallow field. They’re big birds and tend to glide rather than flap-and-fly, so they don’t make a whole lot of noise until they get close to the ground, set their feet down and run to a stop.

About halfway through my walk, I was irritated by the fact that the continuous-mode setting on my camera (that takes photos in a burst of 5 shots) decided to stop working. It would take a burst of photos and then stall – the whole camera would freeze up and I couldn’t get it to release unless I took the battery out of it to make it stop.  After quite a while of this nonsense, I set the camera to single-shot, but I hate taking photos like that because there’s a second or two between each photo that you have to wait until the camera resets itself and is ready for the next shot. It’s apparently a problem for my type of camera when I take a lot of photos. The scan disk card isn’t “fast” enough to handle all of the data and the buffer fills up and makes the camera crash. So, I need to get a faster card.

I was in single-shot mode when I came across an Acorn Woodpecker that I wanted to get photos of. As I finished with those shots, I saw that on another branch on the same tree there was a Red-Shouldered Hawk. The bird was polite enough to sit for me and I was able to get quite a few good shots of him.  When nature sits still, single-shot mode works pretty well. Hah!

I walked for about 3½ hours.

That Rattlesnake was a Surprise, 11-24-18

I headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve around 8:00 am.  It was overcast, around 58°, and mist-raining when I got there, but the mist stopped shortly after I arrived. I was able to do a slow 3 hour walk but couldn’t cover as much ground as I normally could. Saw lots of different birds today. That’s not unusual since the migrations are going on right now.  Within the first few minutes of my arriving, I got photos of Ruby a Crowned Kinglet, Golden-Crowned Sparrows and California Towhees.  I also saw several Bewick’s Wrens, an American Robin, California Scrub Jays, Western Bluebirds, Mourning Dives, the ubiquitous Acorn Woodpeckers, and a small flock of Dark Eyed Juncos (in what looked like both the “slate” and “Oregon” color forms).

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

On the river, I saw Canada Geese, Mallards, a Snowy Egret, some Bufflehead ducks, and a female Common Merganser. In the river, I also saw the humped backs and dorsal fins of some salmon… but every time I tried to get a photo of that, the fish ducked down under the water again.

The Wild Turkeys were out en masse. This time of year, the males are showing off a lot, and it seemed like the flock I was looking at actually broke along “gang” lines: one part of the flock intimidating and chasing off the other part. I got some still shots of them and some video snippets.

I saw the melanistic Eastern Fox Squirrel again. He was down on the ground but kept himself well hidden in the tall dried grass and weeds, so I didn’t get any real picture of him.  There were also California Ground Squirrels, Western Gray Squirrels, and “normal colored” Fox Squirrels in abundance.

Among the deer I saw today, most of them were the big bucks, so lying down in the grass, some following after females. There’s a young spike buck that thinks he’s the bees’ knees and walks right up into the big bucks’ harems to try to lure the girls out. They ignore him, but he’s persistent. Gotta give him props for that.  Another one of the bucks I saw looked badly beaten up. One of his antlers had cracked off close to the pedicle (and the break looked so clean it looked like it could have been done with a saw). He had battle scars and shallow gouges on one shoulder and walked with a slight limp. The Rut can be rough!

At one point along the trail, I stopped to get a photo of some Sulphur Shelf Fungus and saw what I though was an odd light-and-dark pattern on the ground. I couldn’t tell what I was looking at with the naked eye, so I zoomed my camera in to take a closer look.  Oddly enough, it was a rattlesnake!  It’s super unusual for those guys to be out when it’s “cold”; most of them have gone underground into their hibernacula already.  While I was taking photos of the snake, careful not to get too close (even though I knew that in the cool air he’d be pretty torpid), a family group (grandparents to little grandchildren) came by and I got to do my “naturalist” thing for them. I explained how rattlesnakes were ectothermic and usually slept during the winter months in a state called brumation (which is like hibernation for warm-blooded animals), blah, blah, blah.   And the mother with the little girls in the group said, “That’s neat… but we’re going to stay on the other side of the trail for now.” Hah! Good call.

The recent rain has brought out some of the early season fungi and I was able to find jelly fungus and Barometer Earthstars here and there. The rain also fattened up the mosses and lichen so parts of the forest are looking green already even as the fall colors start showing off.

As I mentioned, I walked for about 3 hours and then headed back home.

Lots of Deer and a Squirrel Stuffing Her Face, 11-17-18

After giving the dog his breakfast, I headed over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk. The air quality has been so bad that the zoo and other recreation places in Sacramento have all shut down for the day. The nature center at Effie Yeaw was also closed, but the trails were still open.

It was about 38° at the river, so I could see my breath in the cold air; and it got up to about 60° by the afternoon. I don’t know how much the smoke is affecting the local temperatures, but I’m sure it’s contributing to the lows.

The first thing I saw when I went into the preserve was the big 4-pointer buck (now working on 5 points) with his harem of does.  In my head, I refer to him as “Big Boy” because of the size of his rack.  He was hanging out in the meadow right next to the picnic area, so I was able to get quite a few photos of him.  As I watched him, a spike buck (1-point) approached, following after a doe who had a fawn with her.  The fawn was pretty good-sized and out of its spot, but still considerably smaller than its mom.  The doe headed deeper into the meadow and the spike buck followed her but was cut off by Big Boy who then tried to get the doe into his own harem. The fawn got spooked and ran toward the harem while its mom was being pursued. She wasn’t receptive to either one of the boys and pretty much ignored them. I didn’t hang around there long enough to see when she reunited with her fawn.

At different points along the trail I saw other deer: some lone does, some small herds, and some of the other larger bucks, including a 3-pointer who, oddly enough, seemed to have the center of his back shaved. There was a large spot that was completely hairless, and the margins of the spot were too clean and symmetrical to have been natural (like mange or something). I couldn’t see any suture marks or anything that might have suggested the buck had gotten medical attention, so I wonder what had caused the bald patch. (I guess I’ll have to call him “Baldy” for now.)  The obvious “flaw” in his coat didn’t seem to detract from his attractiveness to the does. He had his own small harem of three or four of them.

When I was walking away from the 3-pointer and his group, a male photographer came up the trail. “He walked right by you, didn’t he?” he said, referring to Baldy.

“Yeah. He’s got some females with him right now.” I said.

The male photographer then joked that the deer weren’t cooperating with him much, but the squirrels were posing for him everywhere he looked. He even struck a couple of squirrelly poses to demonstrate. Hah!  I’d gotten a lot of squirrel photos, too. They were all over the place: California Ground Squirrels, Western Gray Squirrels, Eastern Fox Squirrels… I got photos of some of them chewing on black walnuts, and one female literally stuffing her face with grass and leaves for her winter nest.  So funny.

I also came across solitary deer throughout the forest; some camouflaged so well in the gold-brown grass that I was only able to see them because their silhouettes gave them away. I saw the doe with the peculiarly long, thin face (“Long Face”); she’s very distinctive. At one spot on the trail, I could HEAR the deer before I saw them.  There was a small group of does and fawn that were very loudly crunching on acorns (which are plentiful this time of year). They needed to eat with their mouths shut. Hah! I guess they felt safe enough, though, to make that much noise.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

One of the obvious things all along the trails today was the coyote scat. It seemed to be on every trail; some of it very fresh. I must have just missed seeing some of the coyotes.  I think, though, that a coyote is what caused a flock of Wild Turkeys to take off en masse from the top of a hill and fly down, right over my head, into the woods. Those things are BIG; I was surprised when none of them hit me or crashed into anything.

A neat sighting was a male Western Bluebird sitting on top of a bat box along the Natoma Trail. There are a few bat boxes on posts throughout the preserve, but I don’t think they attract very many bats. The boxes look too “exposed” to me; they get the full sun in the summer months. Bats need darkness and protection to sleep in during the day; I doubt that those sunny “saunas” are attractive to any of them.  I’ve seen lots of different birds use the boxes as perches, though, like the Western Bluebird, so I guess they’re not a complete waste.

On my way out of the preserve, I came across a couple of volunteers who were taking the nature center’s “animal ambassador” bird out for some air.  One was Wak-Wak, a female Peregrine Falcon, and the other was Orion, the Swainson’s Hawk I’d seen the last time I was there. Wak-Wak had been accidentally shot by hunters (who then rescued the bird and brought it in for care), so one of her wings is permanently mangled and she can’t fly.

I walked for about 3½ hours and then headed back home.

 

Still Not a Lot of Variety Yet, 11-12-18

I got up around 7:00 am, fed the dog his breakfast, and then went out to the Cosumnes River Preserve for a walk. There was still a lot of smoke in the air from the Camp Fire.

The preserve still doesn’t have enough water in it, so it was something of a disappointment, but I did get to see several different species of birds including fly-overs of small flocks of Sandhill Cranes and Tundra Swans. In their Facebook posts, the preserve had been talking about large flocks of Snow Geese in the surrounding rice fields, but I didn’t see any.  There were loads of greater White-Fronted Geese, though.  I also saw a few

The Coots were out feeding near the viewing platform of the boardwalk area, and I got to do my naturalist thing when two older women walked up and asked me if the “black birds were Moor Hens”.  I told them about the Coots and the Gallinules (moorhens) and how they were different, and then was able to point out a Northern Pintail to them, and a Black Phoebe. So, they got a free lesson today.  There was also some kind Rail near the viewing platform, but she flew off into the tules before I could get a really good look at her.  Maybe a Virginia Rail, but I’m not sure. It seems early in the season to see one of those.

I also saw Red-Winged Blackbirds, Killdeer, and Black-Necked Stilts which are all kind of ubiquitous in the area, along with a few  White-Crowned Sparrows, Savannah Sparrows, Western Meadowlarks, Northern Shovelers, House Finches, Great Egrets, Cinnamon Teals, Green-Winged Teals, a Greater Yellowlegs, some American Pipits, two or three Wilson’s Snipes, Red-Tailed Hawks, a Red-Shouldered Hawk, some male Lesser Goldfinches, and Song Sparrows.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

I was surprised when a small flock of Cedar Waxwings flew in and occupied the oak trees along the slough for a while. They’re primarily berry-eaters, and there were no berries around the slough this time of year.

As I was leaving the boardwalk area of the preserve, I stopped to use the little outhouse there, and found a couple of female praying mantises that apparently had just laid their egg cases on the side of the building. I also found a mud bird’s nest (probably a Phoebe’s) and some wasps’ nests (both from Paper Wasps and Mud-Dauber Wasps). I walked for about 3 hours and then headed back home, getting there around noon.