Grebes and Eagles, 07-08-20

Got up early-early around 5:00 am to get myself and the dog ready to head over to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. I was hoping to see some Clark’s Grebes there today, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The drive into and back from the refuge was uneventful, and with so little traffic on the roads, I was able to make the 2-hour drive in 90 minutes.  That was nice.  It was about 64° when I got to the refuge and warmed up fast, which was hard on my old car. The engine in the Sebring is air-cooled, so when the car is moving, it’s fine. But in the summer heat, when the car is sitting still, it just gets hotter and hotter. So, I could only stop for short periods of time to get photos, and had to keep the car moving as much as possible. Not ideal for viewing wildlife along the auto-tour route.

There wasn’t much of a variety of damselflies and dragonflies out there yet which was a tiny bit disappointing.  With most of the refuge dry as a bone in the summer months, one of the main draws for me are the Odonata around the permanent wetland pool. There were tons of Familiar Bluets and Variegated Meadowhawks all over the place, but I only saw a few Pondhawks and a couple of Black Saddlebag dragonflies (on the fly). I also didn’t see a lot of exuvia, which I thought was odd considering the number of dragonflies and damselflies I saw. 

I could HEAR frogs along the shore of the pond, but couldn’t find a spot where I could SEE any.

As I said, I’d gone mainly looking for Clark’s Grebes, and I saw quite a few of them.  There were several of their floating nests on the water (most of them toward the end of the extension loop) and some pairs of parents in the water, carrying their fuzzy white-gray babies on their backs.  Most of them were right on the edge of where my camera can reach (and heat waves coming off the car and the ground didn’t help with the focus), but I managed to get quite a few shots and a couple of short video snippets.

Another one of the grebes was adding its nest which already had eggs in it, and another one was trying to reclaim its nest from a Common Tern that insisted on standing on it. Following is the video of the mom rebuilding her nest:

It looks like she’s also removing broken egg shells from it, so I wonder if something had attacked the nest earlier. Because the nests are floating on the water, the eggs and the parent sitting on the nest are vulnerable to attack from a variety of predators including river otters and Bald Eagles.  If the nest is destroyed, the birds will try again before the breeding season is over.

Among the Clark’s Grebes, there were also quite a few Pied-Billed Grebes (but I couldn’t see any of their nests) and, surprisingly, quite a few pairs of Ruddy Ducks.  The males are in their full breeding plumage now, so their bills are bright blue.

Ruddy Duck, Oxyura jamaicensis

The big surprise of the day, though, was seeing a pair of Bald Eagles on the little island in the middle of the pool that’s usually occupied by pelicans and cormorants.  Usually, you don’t see eagles around the refuge in the summer (they’re more prevalent in winter and spring), but maybe there aren’t a lot of places they can look for fish or waterfowl when it’s so dry everywhere (due to the lack of rain), so they came to the permanent wetland to cruise for breakfast.

While I watched them, the female eagle ate her fill of a bird carcass, then put the carcass into one of her feet and walked it over to the male who was waiting his turn a few feet away.  They “talked” to each other for a moment, and then the male started eating from the carcass while the female walked off to clean her beak off in the water. 

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

I came across several jackrabbits along the way, and also got to see a few deer.  One of the does had a fawn with her, and another doe had a pair of twins. The twins looked like they were only a few days old, tiny babies.

Can you find the twin fawns in this photo?

Despite the heat and the long drive, I thought the trip was well worthwhile. For the majority of the ride, I had my dog Esteban in his new soft enclosure in the car.  Like a pop-up tent for dogs, it is made of broadcloth and has mesh sides. It fills up about half of the back seat. He was able to stand up and move around in it while still being contained.  I had been worried that the g-forces of being in the car might have had a negative impact on his back, but he seemed to handle it very well.

We were at the refuge for about 3½ hours, and we got back to the house around 11:30 am, and by then it was already 83° outside.  Pleh!

Species List:

  1. Alkali Heliotrope, Chinese Parsley,  Heliotropium curassavicum
  2. American Coot, Fulica americana
  3. American White Pelican, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos
  4. Bald Eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus
  5. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii
  6. Black Saddlebags Dragonfly, Tramea lacerate
  7. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus
  8. Bristly Oxtongue, Helminthotheca echioides
  9. Bull Thistle, Cirsium vulgare
  10. Cabbage White butterfly, Pieris rapae
  11. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  12. Clark’s Grebe, Aechmophorus clarkii
  13. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
  14. Common Teasel, Dipsacus fullonum
  15. Common Tern, Sterna hirundo
  16. Deer Fly, Chrysops vittatus
  17. Desert Cottontail Rabbit, Sylvilagus audubonii
  18. Familiar Bluet Damselfly, Enallagma civile
  19. Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis
  20. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  21. Great-Tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus
  22. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  23. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  24. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris
  25. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  26. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  27. Painted Lady Butterfly, Vanessa cardui
  28. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  29. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum
  30. Red Gum Eucalyptus, River Redgum, Eucalyptus camaldulensis
  31. Red Gum Lerp Psyllid, Glycaspis brimblecombei
  32. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
  33. Ring-Necked Pheasant, Phasianus colchicus
  34. River Otter, North American River Otter, Lontra canadensis [scat and slides]
  35. Ruddy Duck, Oxyura jamaicensis
  36. Sheet Weaver Spiders, Family: Linyphiidae
  37. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  38. Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum
  39. Water Primrose, Ludwigia hexapetala [rounded leaves; not floating]
  40. Western Fence Lizard, Blue Belly, Sceloporus occidentalis
  41. Western Kingbird, Tyrant Flycatcher, Tyrannus verticalis
  42. Western Pondhawk Dragonfly, Erythemis collocata [males are blue; females are green]
  43. Western Spotted Orbweaver Spider, Neoscona oaxacensis
  44. White Ash Tree, Fraxinus americana
  45. Willowleaf Lettuce, Lactuca saligna