The Water Mower and an Osprey, 12-18-20

I got up around 6:00 this morning, and was out the door with my friend Roxanne around 6:30.  We headed over to Mather Lake Regional Park. Our last trip there had been so successful, we were hoping for another good day of nature watching…

Before I left the house, I’d let my dog Esteban outside to do his potty thing. As he was coming into the house, I could see movement across the fence across the back of the yard. At first I thought it was one of the neighbor’s cats, but as it drew closer, I realized it was a Striped Skunk! Ignoring me, the skunk proceeded to squash its body underneath the bottom of the fence and disappeared into the neighbor’s yard. Welp, I gotta shore up that spot at the base of the fences, that’s for sure. Hah!

It was in the 30’s, frosty and foggy when we got to the park. We were struck by how “little” we saw in the way of wildlife this time around (compared to our last trip there.) So, the photo album will be a bit thin on this one.

Along with the usual Mute Swans, Coots, and Pied-Billed Grebes, there were a lot of the tiny Ruby-Kinglets flitting through the trees. They’re moving in for the winter months, and seem to be everywhere. But they’re so small and move so fast, it’s really difficult to get any clear photos of them. I’m seeing mostly females, and have yet to get a photo of a male with the red-crown. It’s frustrating.

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Regulus calendula

I was upset to see a large machine sitting in the water right near where we think the beaver lodge is, and where the otters like to fish. I didn’t know what it was, and railed about human interference again. But my anger was misplaced. We learned later, when we saw the machine working its way around the stand of tules, and came across one of the workmen who was there, that the machine was a “water mower”.

            “…[It’s] mounted on a pontoon that’s designed for inland water management. The harvester is hydraulically driven to travel through clogged ponds and lakes.The sizeable floating machine has reciprocating blades underwater located on the harvesting head. The blades cut and harvest different vegetation like reeds, weeds and aquatic plant life that’s causing detriments to your lake or pond. Removing plants from a body of water is called aquatic harvesting. First, the weeds are cut vertically, then horizontally, to separate the mass. A harvester removes aquatic weeds about two to three meters below the water’s surface. It also removes algae and other forms of debris that’s built up in the system. Once the weeds and reeds are cut, they move to the conveyor system on the machine’s deck. The conveyor fills over time and stores the biomass, packing it tightly. The vegetation then transfers to your lake or pond’s shoreline or a truck for other uses. If being reused, the plants are pressed to remove any moisture…”

With all the noise made by the mower, the some of the wildlife had left for the morning.            

The workman we talked to was in the truck with the flatbed trailer on the back.  He was waiting for the mower to come up and dump its load on the flatbed, so he could drive it over to a drying area. He said if we walked up over the shallow hill on the side of the park, we’d see all the refuse that had already been set out there. I wanted to go look at the piles to see if there was any aquatic life that had been pulled up with the weeds, but by that time, I had already been walking for several hours, and didn’t have the strength to climb the hill.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

In the trees near the back of the lake, we could see large raptors sitting. One was a White-Tailed Kite and the other one, surprisingly, was an Osprey! I’d never seen an osprey around there before, so that was a cool discovery. Of course, the birds were so far away, I couldn’t really get any clear photos of either of them. Sighting the osprey was a first for this year.  We eventually walked around to the opposite side of the lake from where we were in the hopes of getting a closer look at the osprey. And it did fly in closer – but was completely backlit, so we still couldn’t get a clear shot of it. *Sigh*

None of the photos today were very good of the Osprey, Pandion haliaetus

The lake is stocked with bass, trout and bluegill, and they’re confined in a small area, so that would make for easy pickings for a hungry osprey. I hope it sticks around so we can see it again.

When trying to get closer to some Northern Flickers and a Kite, to get photos of them, Rox took the low road over a field and I took the high road along a graveled path, hoping to catch the birds between us. My photos were not great, because the birds were at a distance from us up in the top of trees, and the Kite took off as soon as I lifted my camera. *Double-Sigh!

Certified California Naturalist, Roxanne Moger, going through the field to get photos of the birds in the trees.

As I was walking along the graveled path, I saw some wild turkeys on the opposite side of a chain-link fence.  They were walking near a large coyote brush bush, and I could hear quail complaining from under the dense bush. Hah!  I never saw the quail, but it was funny to listen to them fuss.  Along that path, I DID see a Downy Woodpecker and could hear a Red-Shouldered Hawk calling, but could get a clear photo of it as it was hidden behind a mass of twigs and sticks.

Downy Woodpecker, Picoides pubescens

In the lawn near the picnic tables there was a flock of Great-Tailed Grackles – and all of them looked like females. We also saw some Brewer’s Blackbirds, Canada Geese and Mallards. 

A female Great-Tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus

Much of the trail that leads along that side of the lake looked like it had just been re-cut; it was all naked, rutted and muddy. 

I thought we’d see more lichen on the trees on that side of the lake (on mostly older willows and oak trees), but was surprised to find there wasn’t much. And among what we did see, there was nothing new. I’m feeling an urge/need to find another source of lichen – maybe go up to Kenny Ranch again?

Common Sunburst Lichen, Golden Shield Lichen, Xanthoria parietina; Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata; and Hooded Rosette Lichen, Physcia adscendens [hairs/eyelashes on the tips of the lobes]

After heading back to the car, we took the long way home, taking photos of birds as we saw them along the road: Meadowlarks, sparrows, a Shrike, and a Red-Tailed Hawk sitting up on top of a mound.  In one spot we saw about fifteen Turkey Vultures “kittling” overhead. So cool.

Not including the drive, I think we walked for about 2½ hours before heading home. It was so clear outside by then that we were able to see the snow on the Sierras along the horizon. So pretty!

Snow on the Sierras

Species List:

  1. American Coot, Fulica americana
  2. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  3. Armenian Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus [pink flowers]
  4. Beaver, American, Beaver, Castor canadensis [signs]
  5. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  6. California Black Oak, Quercus kelloggii
  7. California Camouflage Lichen, Melanelixia californica [dark green with brown apothecia, on trees]
  8. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  9. California Praying Mantis, Stagmomantis californica [ootheca]
  10. California Quail, Callipepla californica
  11. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  12. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  13. Common Sunburst Lichen, Golden Shield Lichen, Xanthoria parietina [yellow-orange,on wood/trees]
  14. Cork Oak, Quercus suber
  15. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  16. Downy Woodpecker, Picoides pubescens
  17. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  18. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  19. Gold Dust Lichen, Chrysothrix candelaris
  20. Goodding’s Black Willow, Salix gooddingii
  21. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  22. Great-Tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus
  23. Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata
  24. Holstein Cattle, Bos taurus v Har. Holstein
  25. Hooded Rosette Lichen, Physcia adscendens [hairs/eyelashes on the tips of the lobes]
  26. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  27. Loggerhead Shrike, Lanius ludovicianus
  28. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  29. Mute Swan, Cygnus olor
  30. Narrowleaf Willow, Salix exigua
  31. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
  32. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  33. Oak Apple Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  34. Osprey, Pandion haliaetus
  35. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  36. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  37. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
  38. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  39. Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Regulus calendula
  40. Savannah Sparrow, Passerculus sandwichensis
  41. Shrubby Sunburst Lichen, Polycauliona candelaria
  42. Star Moss, Syntrichia ruralis
  43. Star Rosette Lichen, Physcia stellaris [on wood, hoary colored, black apothecia]
  44. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  45. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  46. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
  47. White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus
  48. White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys
  49. Yellow Starthistle, Centaurea solstitialis
  50. ?? Unidentified orb-weaver spider web