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