Glory and the Flehman Response, 10-30-20

I got up around 6:30 this morning in a LOT of pain. I’d been able to sleep through the night without getting up to take a pain pill, and I was paying for the long stretch without meds with burning nerve pain and deep-tissue muscle ache from The Poltergeist.

I had been planning on going to the Sacramento Zoo today to see the new baby giraffe, Glory, and I was worried that the pain would make that impossible.  I was grateful, then, when around 8:30 The Poltergeist was relatively quiet again.

The COVID protocols at the zoo were better enforced this time than they were the last time I was there. Everyone except the very youngest kids were in masks all the time, and there were few enough people so that everyone could easily do social distancing. Of course, there are always assholes who think they’re above the laws and do whatever they want. I was glad to see others “shunning” them, and giving them dirty looks when they got too close.  One guy started arguing with another about the benefits of masks.

Me and a witchy friend at the zoo.

The pro-mask guy was one who said he’d gotten COVID and it wasn’t a walk in the park. “When they made seatbelts mandatory, you wore one, right? When they made motorcycle helmets you wore one, right?”

            “But seat belts and helmet save lives!” the other guy complained.

            “So do masks!”

I wanted to hug him – but I didn’t. I did give him an enthusiastic thumbs up, though.

I was able to see lots of the animals I wanted to see as I walked through the zoo.  I think the only ones I really missed was the river otters. They weren’t out.  [And the reptile house was closed, so I couldn’t go in there.]

My mission was to see Glory, and I was pleased to find her out with her mom, Shani, her “aunties”, and dad.  Glory was born on September 20th of this year. The zoo held an auction for someone to have the right to name her and the winner paid $10,000 for the privilege.

Glory the Masai Giraffe

I got quite a few photos and a little video snippet of Glory, but also got to witness a “Flehman Response” from the male giraffe that I’d never seen or heard about before.

The male Masai Giraffe doing the “flehman response” behind a female giraffe

Lots of animals do this Flehman Response thing, including black-tailed deer. The animal inhales with its mouth open and upper lip curled to expose the scent/pheromone to the “vomeronasal organ” in the roof of the mouth behind the front teeth. The scent they take in helps them determine the pheromone levels and receptivity of the females so they can tell who’s mature and who isn’t, and who’s ready to breed and who isn’t.

            “…The behavior may be performed over particular locations, in which case the animal may also lick the site of interest, or may perform the flehmen with the neck stretched and head held high in the air for a more general gustatory or taste-related investigation… The flehmen response draws air into the VNO or Jacobson’s organ, an auxiliary olfactory sense organ that is found in many animals. This organ plays a role in the perception of certain scents and pheromones…”

Anyway, the male giraffe, a big Masai Giraffe, walked up behind one of the females and prodded her in the behind until she started to urinate.  Then he drank the urine as it flowed out of her. [[Kids seeing this all went, “Eeeeeeeeew!” and some of the parents did, too. Hah!]] After getting a mouthful, he lifted his head and let the stuff drain out from either side of his mouth while he inhaled its scent. He then followed after the female, continuing to sniff at her. 

The male Snow Leopard, Blizzard, doing the “flehman sniff”

Across the walk from the giraffes, the male Snow Leopard, Blizzard, was also doing a Flehman sniff, sticking out his tongue and curling his lips after sniffing and licking at the grass in their enclosure. I think the female had been out there earlier and he was working on her scent. He also rolled around in the spots where he liked the scent the best.

Boys are weird. Hah!

Among the other “newbies” at the zoo, like Glory,  I also saw the newborn Wolf’s Guenon (born on September 8th) with its mom, Mimi, and the three new Squirrel Monkeys, Blaze, Taco and Arlo. I was astonished by how TINY they all were.  The baby Wolf’s Guenon was so small it could fit in the palm of your hand…and the Squirrel Monkeys weren’t much larger. The baby Wolf’s Guenon was running around, exploring its enclosure, learning how to climb, but mom, Mimi kept a close eye on it.  Every now and then, she gather it up against her body and saunter off with it as if to say, “Okay, human, you’ve seen enough. Walk on.”

The baby Wolf’s Guenon

The little Squirrel Monkeys were in a small enclosure behind the lion exhibit. I wonder if the scent and sounds of the lions spooked them. It was chilly outside, and they all seemed cold and a bit afraid of everything. They stayed huddled inside a box in their enclosure behind some dirty plexiglass so it was hard to see or photograph them.

It was impossible to get any clear photos of the new Squirrel Monkeys.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

There were wild squirrels, ducks, and rats all over the place, taking advantage of the free food scattered in the different enclosures. There were lots of wild Wood Ducks in the Flamingo pond, and a Green Heron hunting for insects inside the alligator pit.  And, of course, being a naturalist, I was just as interested in the heron ad I was in the alligators.  I also took some photos of a big orb-weaver spider’s web near the pond. Hah!  [I wonder if anyone else noticed those things.]

The ostriches were out and about, but before I could get any good photos of the zebras, they were gone inside their barn. The Emus were out, as were the kangaroos and wallabies. I love the ostrich’s and emu’s feathers, they’re so big and so soft…

I avoided the meerkat exhibit because there were so many germ kids around it, putting their hands and faces against the glass. “High Contact Area”. I did look in on Padme the aardvark. She was fast asleep inside her cave with the heat lamp on her.

Around 11 o’clock I stopped by the café for a light lunch of soda and a fried pretzel with salt.

In among the birds in the flamingo pond there was a juvenile who still had gray feathering on her otherwise pink neck, some White-faced Whistling Ducks, Mallards, and Comb Ducks as well as an American White Pelican.

Caribbean Flamingos; one leaning on the back of another.

I walked through the place for about 3 hours before heading back home. The walk was nice and I saw a lot of critters so I felt it was a worthwhile excursion.

Species List:

  1. Aardvark, Orycteropus afer
  2. African Lion, Panthera leo
  3. American Alligator, Alligator mississippiensis
  4. American White Pelican, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos
  5. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  6. Azure-winged Magpie, Cyanopica cyanus
  7. Bird of Paradise, Crane Flower, Strelitzia reginae
  8. Brown Rat, Rattus norvegicus
  9. Caribbean Flamingo, Phoenicopterus ruber
  10. Chimpanzee, Pan troglodytes
  11. Chinese Stripe-necked Turtle, Mauremys sinensis
  12. Comb Duck, Sarkidiornis melanotos
  13. Common Crow, American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  14. Crested Coua, Coua cristata
  15. Crested Screamer, Chauna torquata
  16. Douglas Squirrel, Tamiasciurus douglasii
  17. Eastern Gray Squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis
  18. Emu, Dromaius novaehollandiae
  19. Green Heron, Butorides virescens
  20. Grevy’s Zebra, Equus grevyi
  21. Hawk-headed Parrot, Deroptyus accipitrinus
  22. Himalayan Monal, Lophophorus impejanus
  23. Japanese Aralia, Paperplant, Fatsia japonica
  24. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  25. Masai Giraffe, Giraffa tippelskirchi
  26. Mongoose Lemur, Eulemur mongoz
  27. Ostrich, Common Ostrich, Struthio camelus
  28. Pigeon, Domestic Pigeon, Columba livia domestica
  29. Pyracantha, Firethorn,  Pyracantha coccinea
  30. Red Billed Hornbill, Tockus erythrorhynchus
  31. Red Kangaroo, Macropus rufus
  32. Red Panda, Ailurus fulgens
  33. Red River Hog, Potamochoerus porcus
  34. Reticulated Giraffe, Giraffa camelopardalis reticulata
  35. Snow Leopard, Panthera uncia
  36. Spur-winged Lapwing, Vanellus spinosus
  37. Squirrel Monkey, Saimiri sciureus
  38. Stinking Iris, Iris foetidissima
  39. Sumatran Orangutan, Pongo abelii
  40. Tawny Frogmouth, Podargus strigoides
  41. Thick-billed Parrot, Rhynchopsitta pachyrhyncha
  42. Western Spotted Orbweaver Spider, Neoscona oaxacensis
  43. White-faced Saki, Pithecia pithecia
  44. White-faced Whistling Duck, Dendrocygna viduata
  45. Wolf’s Guenon, Wolf’s Mona Monkey, Cercopithecus wolfi
  46. Wood Duck, Aix sponsa
  47. Yellow-footed Rock Wallaby, Petrogale xanthopus

Raptors and Eared Grebes in Yolo County, 10-27-20

I got up around 6:30 this morning, and after breakfast was ready to head out with my friend Roxanne to visit the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area. I’d been to their offices before for classes and whatnot, but had never been out on the auto tour or trails before. I was hoping to see some Yellow-headed Blackbirds there, but…no luck.

We did see quite a few raptors including Red-Tailed Hawks, Red-Shouldered Hawks and Kites while we were out there. When we first started on the auto tour route, we came across a guy who was by his truck, taking photos of a Kite in a distant tree. “You missed it,” he said. “He just finished breakfast.”

White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus

The bird was pretty far away, but we were able to get a few photos of it. Further along the route we came across another tree with a pair of Kites in it.

Because of the lack of water on the ground there were no waterfowl to see along the auto tour route.  We were disappointed that it seemed that half of the length of the auto tour route was closed, so there was no way to make the complete loop.  [I think the last half was shut down because there were active hunters back there.]

So, the bypass was pretty much a bust today. It’ll get more interesting as soon as the fields are flooded and we get some rain.

Snow Geese, Chen caerulescens

Not to be completely deterred, Rox and I then headed over to the Woodland-Davis Clean Water Agency water treatment plant to see if anything was in the ponds there.  [This is where the Ibis Rookery is, but the ibises are gone now.] We had better luck there than we had at the bypass.  One of the first things we saw was a gorgeous Ferruginous Hawk – the first one I’ve seen!  It was sitting on the crossbar of a telephone pole along the driveway.

Ferruginous Hawk, Buteo regalis

Then in a plowed up field and along a drainage ditch, we saw a Great Blue Heron, several Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets. The egrets seemed to be watching a small flock of Great-Tailed Grackles that were in and around the sides of the ditch. 

Snowy Egrets and Great-tailed Grackles in the ditch

The grackles were eating what looked like small crayfish from the trickle of water at the bottom of the ditch. One of the females had gotten hold of a piece of a crayfish and was manipulating it while trying to eat it. She was working so hard – and had to keep it away from the other birds that were trying to get a piece of it. 

Meanwhile, the male grackle found a tiny crayfish, no larger than a pea, and plucked it out of the algae before gobbling it up.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

As we went a little further, we saw more grackles and a pair of Ravens sitting up on a telephone pole across from the main pond.  Near where the Ravens were, we found what was left of a jackrabbit carcass, including its spine, a leg and foot, and its skull. I looked around for owl/hawk pellets, but didn’t see any.

In the pond itself we saw quite a variety of birds. Canada Geese, White-Fronted Geese, Northern Shovelers, Cinnamon Teals, Black-Necked Stilts, Mallards, gulls, Least Sandpipers, Greater Yellowlegs, Killdeer and Ruddy Ducks.

Along the gravel road by the main pond there were several bee boxes lined up, and they were all full of active bee colonies. There were yellow rectangles protruding from the top of the boxes that had a honeycomb pattern on them but were made of plastic. I tried looking them up, but couldn’t figure out what the structures were.

Bee box

The really cool finds there were a lot of Eared Grebes and some Canvasback Ducks. I hardly ever see the Canvasbacks, so it’s always a treat to find them.  And I haven’t seen the Eared Grebes around here for four or five years, so I was really pleased to see them again.

We also saw a single Western Grebe and a Bufflehead duck among the other birds on the water.

We found a small “colony” of killdeer in the rocks along the low-water bridge part of the gravel road. Some were lying in the rocks and others were posing and scrambling around them.   

Along the way, we also came across some plants I hadn’t seen or documented before including Stinkwort and Tumbleweed. The tumbleweed was actually quite pretty: candy-cane striped branches and pink “flowers”. The whole thing was covered in thorns and each flower had poky spikes surrounding it, so the whole thing was stiff and scratchy. I’d seen tumbleweed in their desiccated state before, but never “fresh” like this. 

Tumbleweed, Salsola tragus

We were out for about 5 hours.

Species List:

  1. American Coot, Fulica americana
  2. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  3. Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
  4. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus
  5. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum
  6. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  7. Bufflehead Duck, Bucephala albeola
  8. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  9. Canvasback Duck, Aythya valisineria
  10. Carrot, American Wild Carrot, Daucus pusillus
  11. Cinnamon Teal, Anas cyanoptera
  12. Common Raven, Corvus corax
  13. Cooper’s Hawk, Acipiter cooperii
  14. Eared Grebe, Podiceps nigricollis
  15. European Honeybee, Western Honeybee, Apis mellifera
  16. Ferruginous Hawk, Buteo regalis
  17. Filamentous Green Algae, Spirogyra sp.
  18. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  19. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
  20. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  21. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons
  22. Greater Yellowlegs, Tringa melanoleuca
  23. Great-Tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus
  24. Gumweed, Great Valley Gumweed, Grindelia camporum
  25. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  26. House Sparrow, Passer domesticus
  27. Interior Sandbar Willow, Salix interior
  28. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  29. Least Sandpiper, Calidris minutilla
  30. Long-Billed Dowitcher, Limnodromus scolopaceus
  31. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  32. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata
  33. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  34. Purple Finch, Haemorhous purpureus
  35. Red Swamp Crayfish, Crawfish, Crawdad, Procambarus clarkia
  36. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  37. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
  38. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  39. Rock Pigeon, Columba livia
  40. Rough Cocklebur, Xanthium strumarium
  41. Ruddy Duck, Oxyura jamaicensis
  42. Savannah Sparrow, Passerculus sandwichensis
  43. Snow Goose, Chen caerulescens
  44. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula
  45. Stinkwort, Dittrichia graveolens
  46. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  47. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  48. Tumbleweed, Salsola tragus
  49. Western Grebe, Aechmophorus occidentalis [black through eye]
  50. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
  51. White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus
  52. White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys

Not a Lot Out Today, 10-24-20

I got up around 6:30 this morning and headed over to the Cosumnes River Preserve to see if conditions have gotten better for the birds since the last time I was there… and no, they haven’t; not really. There’s still no water in the majority of the wetland areas, and the pools are empty. There are currently more birds in the ag lands surrounding the preserve than in the preserve itself.

I drove along Bruceville and Desmond Road to see what was there. I saw a lot of Meadowlarks and Sparrows and Finches, for the most part. There was one Meadowlark that got up onto a fence-line and sang for quite a bit. I was able to get still shots and a video snippet of it.

There were a few quail out, along with several Great Blue Herons, Goldfinches and lots of Greater White-Fronted Geese.  I could hear Sandhill Cranes and saw them flying overhead, but only saw two on the ground, and they were fairly far away.

Savannah Sparrow, Passerculus sandwichensis

Because the preserve was so dry and pretty much a bust, I drove over to Staten Island Road to see what was there. There were lots of geese and cranes, but most of them were very far from the road.

Sandhill Crane, Grus canadensis

I saw several Red-Tailed Hawks, and a couple of Northern Harriers, including one that flew low to the ground along the side of the road. I was able to get some still shots and video of it. I saw it dive into the tall grass a couple of times, but didn’t see if catch anything.

CLICK HERE to see the full photo album.

Because I wasn’t seeing very much, I cut my visit short and headed back home. In total, including travel time, I was out for about 4 hours.

Species List:

  1. American Coot, Fulica americana
  2. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  3. Broadleaf Cattail, Bullrush, Typha latifolia
  4. Cackling Goose, Branta hutchinsii
  5. California Quail, Callipepla californica
  6. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  7. Dallis Grass, Dallisgrass, Paspalum dilatatum
  8. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
  9. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  10. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  11. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  12. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris
  13. Northern Harrier, Marsh Hawk, Circus hudsonius
  14. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
  15. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  16. Sandhill Crane, Grus canadensis
  17. Savannah Sparrow, Passerculus sandwichensis
  18. Say’s Phoebe, Sayornis saya
  19. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  20. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
  21. White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys

First Trip to Gray Lodge, 10-22-20

Got up around 6:00 am and was out the door with my friend and fellow naturalist Roxanne to head over to the Gray Lodge Wildlife Area in Gridley (about 90 minutes from Sacramento). We’d never been there before, so we didn’t really know what to expect, but we’d seen posts on social media of the birds other folks are seeing there.

It’s early in the migration period, so there are mostly Pintails, Northern Shovelers and Snow Geese in big flocks all over the place – and that’s pretty much what we were seeing at this preserve. But over the next few months, sightings of other birds should sharply increase. Another factor working again us today was the fact that it was very windy in Gridley, so there was a lot of chop on the water in the wetland areas, and the birds were all kind of hunkered down to keep warm. Nonetheless, I could really see the potential of this preserve to become one of my go-to places in the future.

There is a 3-mile auto tour route that we followed, and a couple of trails, too. Along the auto tour route, there are turn-outs (some with porta-potties, which are GREATLY appreciated) and great viewing areas. It’s about half as long as the route at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, but far more open. We walked one of the trails as far as the wildlife blind… which was THE NICEST blind I’ve ever seen. It’s well shaded, had lots of viewing windows, polished benches to sit on, and room to bring in your gear – or even your lunch. I was very impressed with the place.

The views of the Sutter Buttes from around the preserve are excellent. We would have gotten more photos if the air wasn’t so smutty with smoke and dirt kicked up by all of the work being done on the surround ag properties right now.

The Sutter Buttesas seen from the highway heading into Gridley, CA

As we were driving to toward where the pay station was and the auto tour route began, we stopped at one of the turnout to look at the huge pyracantha bushes on the side of the road, and watch several hawks and vultures coasting overhead on the wind. We also use the porta-potty unit there which was one of THE cleanest units I’ve ever seen.

There was a large willow tree near there that was wearing a thick “coat” of poison oak. And in another nearby tree was a juvenile Turkey Vulture. He was very young but fully fledged; his head and the tip of his beak were still very black. If we’d had all day to sit around there we might have been able to see his mom come to feed him.

A juvenile Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura

Just before you get onto the auto tour route, there’s a kiosk to buy a land’s pass for the day. It’s $4.25 per person. You can buy an annual pass online (if you set up an account), but it’s by CALENDAR year and isn’t prorated; so, if you buy a pass in October it’s only good though December of the same year (2 months) but still costs you as much as a 12-month pass. So, it’s best to buy the annual pass in January.

Adjacent to the kiosk are some picnic tables, and access to the ADA compliant Wetland Discovery Trail. This one is a little over half a mile long and leads to a viewing platform. We didn’t walk it, but look forward to doing that during our next trip there.

In the ponds along the auto tour route we saw the usual suspects: Coots, Pipits, Northern Shovelers, Northern Pintails, Mallards, Killdeer, Wigeons, Green-Winged Teals, Greater Yellowlegs, a Common Gallinule, Greater White-Fronted Geese, Snow Geese, Canada Geese, Gadwalls, blackbirds, and others. Most of them were pretty far away, sheltering against the wind near stands of tules and other vegetation. So photo-taking wasn’t all that easy.

Gadwall duck, Mareca Strepera

At one point, though, we found a Peregrine Falcon standing in a naked tree and were able to get a few photos of him before he flew off. And further along, we saw a Red-Tailed Hawk being harassed by a Raven. When the hawk set down on a berm to rest for moment, the Raven sat down nearby, resting too. Then they both took off again, with the Raven resuming its harassing activities.

A Common Raven, Corvus corax,and a Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis take a break before starting the harassment again.
Listen to how strong the wind was!

In the group shots I got of the ducks was the pleasant surprise of finding a Eurasian Wigeon in among the American Wigeons and Northern Pintails. That was a “first” for me. I’ve seen pictures of them,of course, but I’ve never spotted one in the wild before. Very exciting.

A rusty-headed Eurasian Wigeon, Mareca penelope, among a flock of American Wigeons, Anas Americana , and Northern Pintails, Anas acuta

When we’d completed the auto tour route, we parked in a pull-out, used the facilities there, and then walked down part of the 2-mile graveled Flyaway Loop Trail. This runs along the levees around some of the temporary and permanent wetland pools, and leads to the Betty Adamson Hide, the large bird blind. As I’d mentioned, this was the nicest-looking blind I’ve ever seen. On the side of the blind is an inverted V-shaped bat box. At Gray Lodge, there are supposed to be several species of bats including the California Myotis, Brazilian Free-tailed bat, Pallid Bat, and Western Red Bat. One of the windows looks right out onto the box, so it might be cool to sit there at dusk and see if anything flies into the box.

Along the trail were lots of blackberry vines and sweetbriar rose bushes, salt grass, tules and rushes, and a variety of riparian habitat trees: oaks, willows, cottonwood, boxelder, eucalyptus, ash…

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

Rox pointed out the salt grass to me, and I was able to get photos of the exuded salt on its leaves along with close-up images of its pinkish “flowers”. I ran my fingers over the leaves and then licked them to taste the salt, but I didn’t put my tongue on the plant itself. Hah! Salty!

Salt Grass, Distichlis spicata

We saw a variety of dragonflies, still in flight although late in the season, including Black Saddlebags, Variegated Meadowhawks, Pondhawks, and Green Darners. We saw some of them, male-and-female pairs, flying in tandem and some in-wheel. We also saw a pair of the Meadowhawks depositing eggs on the water.

Black Saddlebags Dragonfly, Tramea lacerata

There were a lot of incredibly tiny butterflies (no larger than my fingernail) flitting around the foot of the plants on the trail. I managed to get some photos of them, and believe they were Western Pygmy-Blues, the smallest butterflies in North America. Their wings, when open, are dusky copper with a purple-blue blush down the middle, with each wing rimmed in white. Sooooo pretty; and so much remarkable detail for such tiny things. Their host plants include pigweed, saltbrush and amaranth plants. “…After mating, females lay eggs on all parts of the host plant, oftenmost on the uppersides of leaves…” Considering how small these guys are, can you imagine how miniscule their eggs, caterpillars and chrysalises must be?!

The Western Pygmy-Blue Butterfly, Brephidium exilis exilis. The smallest butterfly in North America.

The biggest surprise, was finding the biggest grasshopper I’d ever seen. It was a dark luscious green with a yellow stripe down its pronotum and bright red hind tibiae. It was a kind of “bird grasshopper”, called that because it can fly very high and very fast like a bird; a Spotted Bird Grasshopper, Schistocerca lineata.

I had a little trouble ID-ing it at first because this species comes in a variety of different color including reddish-brown, yellowish-brown, yellowish-green, olive-green, olive-brown, or dark brown. The color changes with age and is also dependent on the surrounding environment. This particular species overwinters as an adult (rather than in egg form in the ground like most grasshopper species). Females are larger than males.  I’m guessing we found a female.

Spotted Bird Grasshopper, Schistocerca lineata. Based on its size, I assumed this one was a female.

I first caught sight of it hanging underneath the leaf of a blackberry vine. I could see one of its legs and its long abdomen and at first I thought it might be a mantis of some kind. On closer inspection, I realized it was a grasshopper. I reached into the blackberry vines to try to get a hold of it, but every time I got close to it, it would death-drop down further into the brambles. I finally used my old-lady-cane to pull the thorn-covered vines away and got hold of it. It was totally worth the scratches. As big as it was, it had a lot of power in its hind legs, so we held it by the thorax and the wings in order to get photos of it before releasing it again into the thicket.

An American Robin searching for bugs in the leaf litter at one of the turn-outs along the auto-tour route.

When we got back to the car from the trail, we stopped for bit to sit in the shade and have our lunch before heading home again. All in all, we were out for about 8 hours. It was a fun, interesting and informative day. I really enjoyed it… and am looking forward to going back to the preserve a little later in the season (preferably when it’s not so windy).

Species List:

  1. American Coot, Fulica americana
  2. American Kestrel, Falco sparverius
  3. American Pipit, Anthus rubescens
  4. American Robin, Turdus migratorius
  5. American Wigeon, Anas Americana
  6. Armenian Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus [pink flowers]
  7. Audubon’s Warbler, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata auduboni
  8. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  9. Black Saddlebags Dragonfly, Tramea lacerata
  10. Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
  11. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum
  12. Boxelder, Box Elder Tree, Acer negundo
  13. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  14. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis
  15. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  16. Common Gallinule, Gallinula galeata
  17. Common Raven, Corvus corax
  18. Eurasian Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto
  19. Eurasian Wigeon, Mareca penelope
  20. Gadwall duck, Mareca Strepera
  21. Golden Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
  22. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
  23. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  24. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons
  25. Greater Yellowlegs, Tringa melanoleuca
  26. Green Darner Dragonfly, Anax junius
  27. Green-Winged Teal, Anas carolinensis
  28. Herring Gull, Larus argentatus [spot on bill, gray legs, pale eye]
  29. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  30. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  31. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris [heard]
  32. Mosquito, Common House Mosquito, Culex pipiens
  33. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  34. Non-Biting Midge, Chironomus sp.
  35. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
  36. Northern Harrier, Marsh Hawk, Circus hudsonius
  37. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  38. Northern Pintail, Anas acuta
  39. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata
  40. Parrot’s Feather, Myriophyllum aquaticum [water plant]
  41. Peregrine Falcon, Falco peregrinus
  42. Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Western Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
  43. Prickly Pear, Opuntia sp.
  44. Pyracantha, Firethorn, Pyracantha coccinea
  45. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
  46. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  47. Rough Cocklebur, Xanthium strumarium
  48. Salt Grass, Distichlis spicata
  49. Smartweed, Persicaria lapathifolia [white]
  50. Snow Goose, Chen caerulescens
  51. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula
  52. Spotted Bird Grasshopper, Schistocerca lineata
  53. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus [heard]
  54. Sulphur Shelf Fungus, Western Hardwood Sulphur Shelf, Laetiporus gilbertsonii
  55. Swamp Smartweed, False Water-Pepper, Persicara hydropiperoides [pink]
  56. Sweet-Brier Rose, Rosa rubiginosa
  57. Tasmanian Blue Gum Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus globulus [white flowers]
  58. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  59. Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum
  60. Western Gull, Larus occidentalis
  61. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
  62. Western Pondhawk Dragonfly, Erythemis collocata
  63. Western Pygmy-Blue Butterly, Brephidium exilis exilis 
  64. White Ash Tree, Fraxinus americana
  65. White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys
  66. White-Faced Ibis, Plegadis chihi
  67. ?? Tiny rounded droppings (chipmunk?)

A Hawk Day, 10-20-20

I got up around 6:30 this morning, and headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk. It was very much a “hawk” day today, although I also saw songbirds and lots of deer.

The first thing I saw when I got there was a male Western Bluebird skittering across the lawn outside the nature center.  As I headed out onto the main trail, I saw my first Red-Shouldered Hawk of the morning. She was sitting on the top of an old snag near the meadow. I then followed a small herd of  black-tailed deer that were browsing on the edge of the meadow and then crossed the trail into another field. 

As I was taking the photos of the deer, a Red-Shouldered Hawk flew right down on the limb of a tree in front of me with her breakfast in her talons. (I don’t know if the same bird I’d seen earlier on the snag, but I had a sense it might be.) 

The hawk had an alligator lizard, which it quickly dispatched by biting and twisting off its head.  I got photos and video snippets of the bird as it continued to eat.  It seemed oblivious to me, despite my close proximity, and eventually finished off the lizard by sucking down its tail before flying off. That was so cool to see.

Then I was back on the trails again, going along the Meadow Trail to the Pond Trail, back to the main trail and over to the Bluff Trail before going back toward the nature center.  I found more deer along the way, including a split-prong (2-pointer) and a spike buck.  I also found a small sapling that had had much of its bark rubbed off by the deer rubbing their antlers against it.  They do that in part to remove any remaining velvet from the antlers and in part to lay down their scent for other deer to sniff and follow.

Along the way, I came across three species of squirrels: Western Gray, Eastern Fox, and California Ground Squirrel. I also found Mourning Doves, a Bewick’s Wren, a House Wren, Dark-Eyed Juncos and other birds. I caught glimpses of Nuttall’s Woodpeckers but couldn’t get photos of any of them, and watched as the Acorn Woodpeckers moved acorns around between their granary trees and periodically chased off encroaching Starlings. 

At one spot, I found an ash tree with white foamy exudate on the bark. Most of the stuff had dried and gone sicky, and it looked like each line of the ooze came from a point where something had bored into the tree. I think we have several species of ash borer beetles here in California, including the emerald and the banded, but I didn’t get close enough to the tree to inspect under the bark for them. There were ants on ooze, which isn’t unusual. The “sour beer” smell of the flux exudate often attracts a variety of insects.

Alcoholic Flux bacteria, Foamy Canker, Slime Flux, Phytophthora sp. X other bacteria

There were lots of bees clustered around the opening to the hive in the bee tree. I wondered, in the cool morning air, if they were so tightly gathered to help keep each other (and their queen) warm.  I caught sight of a cottontail rabbit at the base of the same tree, but he was too hidden in the overgrowth for me to get a clear photos of him.

European Honeybee, Western Honeybee, Apis mellifera

When I was nearer to the nature center again, I stopped to photograph some ground squirrels who were gathered around their burrows. One of them was sitting on a stump near one of the openings to the burrows, making a soft but constant “peeping” sound.  I’ve hear the squirrels give out loud, sharp alarm calls before, but nothing like this one, so I got some video of it to help document it for myself. 

Then suddenly, a Red-Shouldered Hawk swooped down and landed right next to the burrow! The squirrel that had been giving out the soft call, broke out into its sharp, bright, loud alarm call, and the other squirrels around the burrow ducked down into the burrows. The alarmist remained on its stump to keep an eye on the hawk that was now on the ground. And the hawk, having seemingly missed whatever it had been after, stood there for a moment looking frustrated and confused. It then lifted itself up and flew off into a nearby tree (where I was later able to get a few more photos of it.)

While I was watching all that happening, the Effie Yeaw volunteer coordinator, Rachael, was out nearby with two new volunteers. They’d heard the alarm call and saw the hawk take off, but didn’t see what happened. Rachael wondered if the hawk had been after one of the squirrels, but based on what I saw, I didn’t think so. The squirrels I could see were all near the entrances to the burrows, and the hawk landed in the grass a few feet away from them. [And it’s the wrong time of the year for baby squirrels to be about.] I think it was after a snake or lizard, or maybe a mouse or vole. Whatever it was, it got away.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

As I was heading out of the preserve, I saw two California Towhees taking a bath in the shallow “pump pool” next to the pond.  I stopped to take some photos and video of them, and as I was doing that, I saw a Black Phoebe standing on top of a broken tule near them… a trio of Lesser Goldfinches, and a White-Breasted Nuthatch.

One of the male goldfinches and the nuthatch came down onto low branches near where the towhees were bathing, watching them. I got the sense that they wanted to take baths, too, but being much smaller than the towhees, they didn’t dare try to run them out of the water. So they waited patiently for the towhees to leave.

Here’s a video snippet of the nuthatch:

I walked for about 3½ hours before heading back home, and felt I’d had a very fun and productive photo morning.

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. Alcoholic Flux bacteria, Foamy Canker, Slime Flux, Phytophthora sp. X other bacteria
  3. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  4. Azolla, Water Fern, Azolla filiculoides
  5. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii
  6. Black Garden Ant, Common Black Ant, Lasius niger
  7. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  8. Bushtit, American Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus
  9. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  10. California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana
  11. California Quail, Callipepla californica [heard]
  12. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  13. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis
  14. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis [flying overhead]
  15. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
  16. Common Crow, American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  17. Crisped Pincushion Moss, Ulota crispa [tight bunches]
  18. Dark-Eyed Junco, Junco hyemalis
  19. Desert Cottontail Rabbit, Sylvilagus audubonii
  20. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
  21. European Honeybee, Western Honeybee, Apis mellifera
  22. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  23. Golden Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
  24. Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata
  25. Hoary Lichen, Hoary Rosette, Physcia aipolia
  26. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon
  27. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  28. Labyrinth Orb-Weaver Spider, Metepeira labyrinthea [web]
  29. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  30. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  31. Northern Alligator Lizard, Elgaria coerulea
  32. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
  33. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii [heard]
  34. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus
  35. Plum, Prunus cerasifera
  36. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  37. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  38. Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Regulus calendula
  39. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus [heard]
  40. Sulphur Shelf Fungus, Western Hardwood Sulphur Shelf, Laetiporus gilbertsonii
  41. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  42. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  43. Western Bluebird, Sialia Mexicana
  44. Western Fence Lizard, Blue Belly, Sceloporus occidentalis
  45. Western Gray Squirrel, Sciurus griseus
  46. White Ash Tree, Fraxinus americana
  47. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis
  48. White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys

Lots of Golden-Crowned Sparrows, 10-16-20

Up at 7:00 and out the door by 7:30 to go for a walk at William Land Park and the WPA Rock Garden.  I was really hurting today -– the Poltergeist is angry — so I didn’t stay out as much as I normally might.

At the park, the middle pond is almost completely covered with Sacred Lotus, but the lotus has gone to seed and is dying off, so it’s really just a mostly-ugly mess in the water. I think the ducks and geese will be grateful when it’s gone so they can have the water to themselves again. [Give me some waders; I’ll go out there and pull up those plants.] The seed pods made for good landing spots for the Black Phoebes, though.

Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans

The leaves also hosted swarms of what I think were a kind of Semaphore Fly. There were dozens of them. I think they’d all just hatched or something and were warming themselves up in the early morning sunlight.

Among the Mallards and domesticated ducks there were a few wild Wood Ducks. I also saw a Muscovy Duck hanging out with a plump black-and-white Rock Pigeon. I don’t get to see this kind of pigeon very often, and have the feeling this one had been someone’s pet.

Rock Pigeon, Columba livia

The Fox Squirrels were out in force, running around, trying to find hiding places for their nuts and acorns. They carry the nuts in their mouth, and then place it into the ground, patting dirt and grass over the nut to try to hide it. 

If they see you watching them, they sometimes try to fake you out by doing the patting on the ground, then secreting the nut to a different location. Hah!

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

In the WPA Rock Garden, I saw a hummingbird taking a “bath” in the sprinkler water that had collected on the leaves of a bush.  And where there were several stands of Red Amaranth in the garden, the plants were inundated with lots of Golden-Crowned Sparrows who were chowing down on the seeds and florets.

The Strawberry trees are getting their fruit this time of year. The Carob Trees were covered in fluffy catkins, the Firethorns were covered in berries, and the Japanese aralia (also called “Paperplants”) were flowering. 

Strawberry Tree, Arbutus unedo

Even as the seasons start to shift, nature is working to continue the reproductive and feeding processes necessary for a lasting ecosystem.

I ended up walking for about 2 ½ hours before heading back home.

Species List:

  1. Angel’s Trumpet, Brugmansia arborea
  2. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  3. Audubon’s Warbler, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata auduboni
  4. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  5. Buff Orpington Duck, Anas platyrhynchos domesticus var Orpington
  6. California Fuchsia, Epilobium canum
  7. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  8. California Sycamore, Platanus racemose
  9. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  10. Carob Tree, Ceratonia siliqua
  11. Chinese Juniper, Juniperus chinensis
  12. Chinese Praying Mantis, Tenodera sinensis [ootheca]
  13. Crested Duck,  Anas platyrhynchos domesticus var. Crested
  14. Crimson Fountain Grass, Cenchrus setaceus
  15. Domestic Swan Goose, Chinese Goose, Anser cygnoides domesticus [white or gray, knob on forehead]
  16. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
  17. Golden Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
  18. Graylag Goose, Anser anser
  19. Great Desert Spoon, Century Plant, Dasylirion acrotrichum
  20. Italian Cypress, Cupressus sempervirens
  21. Japanese Aralia, Paperplant, Fatsia japonica [kind of looks like a cross between a coffee plant and a fig tree]
  22. Juniper Leaved Grevillea, Grevillea juniperina ssp. sulphurea
  23. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  24. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  25. Mediterranean Cypress, Cupressus sempervirens
  26. Mexican Bush Sage, Salvia leucantha
  27. Muscovy Duck, Cairina moschata domestica
  28. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  29. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii
  30. Pekin Duck, Anas platyrhynchos domesticus var. Pekin
  31. Pokeweed, American Pokeweed, Phytolacca americana
  32. Pyracantha, Narrowleaf Firethorn, Pyracantha angustifolia
  33. Red Amaranth, Cock’s Comb, Amaranthus cruentus
  34. Rock Pigeon, Columba livia
  35. Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Regulus calendula
  36. Sacred Lotus, Nelumbo nucifera
  37. Semaphore Fly, Subfamily: Dolichopodinae
  38. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  39. Strawberry Tree, Arbutus unedo
  40. Sugarbush, Protea sp.
  41. Swedish Blue Duck, Anas platyrhynchos domesticus var. Swedish Blue
  42. Trailing Abutilon, Callianthe megapotamica
  43. Western Bluebird, Sialia Mexicana
  44. Wood Duck, Aix sponsa