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