Two Owls in Two Places, 02-20-21

I got up around 6:30 this morning, and headed over to the American River for a walk. It was partly cloudy when I left the house, but pretty much cleared up by the afternoon. Because it had rained during the night, everything was wet and there were big puddles all around.

I started off by going to the Gristmill Access to the river; I’d never been there before but wanted to check it out. The entry was another one of those drop-down-off-a-cliff int o the gravel parking area which wasn’t very large. There is a single short trail (about a ½ mile out and back), some porta-potties and ready access to the rocky shore of the river.

Right next to the parking area near the top of a tree was a Red-Tailed Hawk sitting on its nest, squawking away.  I got the impression that it was a male, based on its coloring and the fact that it didn’t have a brood patch (where the female hawks lose their feathers to expose their skin to their eggs to keep them warm.)

Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus

The trail is narrow and follows the up and down curves of the hillsides. It’s right behind a residential area, so there are a lot of non-native trees and plants mixed in with the wild native stuff. I could identify Live and Valley Oak trees, Cottonwood trees, lots of elderberry trees and some non-native almond trees. I think I also spotted a Silverleaf Oak among the trees, which I’d never seen before. I wonder if it gets any kind of galls on it.

[Speaking of galls, remember that Russo’s new book is coming out in March of this year.]

On the ground were the usual suspects like vetch, manroot, bedstraw, Mugwort, horehound, and miner’s lettuce in the tall grass.

Miner’s Lettuce, Claytonia perfoliata

There are bird boxes everywhere, from small bluebird boxes, to duck boxes to larger barn owl boxes. Each box was numbered, so I assumed someone it keeping track of them.  I checked that out online after I got home and found that the Sacramento Audubon Society set most of them up and tracks what’s there.

Bird boxes

            “…An amazing number of rarities have been found here: Eastern Wood-Pewee, Red-eyed Vireo, Tennessee Warbler, Northern Parula, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Blackburnian Warbler, Bay-breasted Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Hooded Warbler, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak… Jeri Langham and his cadre of friends and students scour it, sometimes several times a day, during migration. Gristmill is big enough to attract and hold interesting birds, but small enough and open enough to allow for good coverage…”

Cool!  I don’t know what most of those birds are!  And most warblers are tiny, fast-moving birds, so I’ll need to keep a sharper eye out myself.  CLICK HERE for more information on what to look for along the river.

I saw a large Blewit and lot of Yellow Fieldcap mushrooms in the grass, but not much else in the way of fungi (although I stuck pretty much to trail during this first time out).

Blewit Mushroom, Purple Core, Lepista nuda

In the surrounding trees, bushes and blackberry vines were White-Crowned Sparrows, Spotted Towhees, and Oak Titmice.

The trail looks down on the river, so I got to see quite a few birds in and around the water including a Snowy Egret, Coots, Common Goldeneyes, Wood Ducks and Common Mergansers (which I’m sure will be occupying some of the duck boxes as spring approaches), and Bufflehead ducks.

Wood Ducks, Aix sponsa; American Coots, Fulica americana; a male Bufflehead Duck, Bucephala albeola; and a male Common Goldeneye, Bucephala clangula

Some of the male Buffleheads were doing their head-bobbing courtship dances which is always so funny to watch, but I also saw some of them dive down under the surface of the water — which was clear enough and shallow enough to see through. As I watched, I could see one male dive and launch himself like a torpedo toward another male, then crash into the other male causing it to panic and leap out of the water. Hah! That’s one way to take out the competition.

Bufflehead Ducks, Bucephala albeola. A male underwater zeroes in on a male on the surface.

Back and forth across the river and through the trees was a pair of Belt Kingfishers flying around, chattering at one another, and face-planting into the water for fish. The female stopped a few times so I could get photos of her, but the male just wouldn’t sit still.

Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon, female

I came across some European Starlings fussing near the top of the tree. It looked like one of them had found a nesting cavity, but was doing house cleaning, taking out beakfuls of detritus from inside the cavity and tossing it out onto the trail.

The biggest surprise of the walk was finding a tiny Western Screech Owl napping in one of the duck boxes. It must’ve been dozing during the early morning rain because some of its feathers were still wet. Such a cutie.

Western Screech Owl, Megascops kennicottii

CLICK HERE for the photos from Gristmill.

I spent about an hour out there, just doing the out and back. I want to get back there, though, to spend more time when the plants are more fully fledged and the birds are doing their thing. I then headed over to the American River Bend Park to finish off my walk and look for fungi.

At the park, I found some new outcroppings of False Turkey Tail, jelly fungi, and the first emerging horsehair mushrooms. I was hoping for some coral or bird’s nest fungus but I didn’t find any of those.

Oak-leaf Pinwheel Mushroom, Horsehair Mushroom, Marasmiellus quercophilus

The Wild Turkeys were out strutting. There was a large group of males near a group of females, and among them was a much-smaller turkey who was the “wrong color”. Adult males have iridescent black bodies; this one was predominantly brown. It was also about half the size of the adult males. Additionally, its face was more like a female’s, without all the heavy red caruncles. So, I didn’t know what I was looking at: was it a horny teenager, or a female with too many male hormones?

I posted video and photos to some birding groups on Facebook so see if I could get an answer. One speculated that it might have been an Alpha Female showing off for the group… But I thought Alpha Females only displayed male behavior when there were no males around. There were plenty of males here. My sister Melissa suggested that it was a lesbian female…which kind of makes more sense to me.

I also saw quite a few deer — most of them at a distance — including some does, and some two- and three-pointer males still hanging onto their antlers.

Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus

The big surprise here was seen as I was leaving the park. I stopped by the spot where Great Horned Owls had nested last year… and found mama owl sitting on the nest today. Yay! I’m looking forward to owlets!

Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus

CLICK HERE for the photos from the RiverBend Park.

I counted the two walks combined as hike #20 in my #52HikeChallenge. It’s only month two, and I’ve got 20 hikes in already. It’ll be interesting to see what my final total is at the end of the year.

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. Almond Tree, Prunus dulcis
  3. American Coot, Fulica americana
  4. Bark Rim Lichen, Lecanora chlarotera [looks like Whitewash Lichen but has apothecia]
  5. Bedstraw, Velcro Grass, Cleavers, Galium aparine
  6. Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon
  7. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii
  8. Black Jelly Roll Fungus, Black Witches’ Butter, Exidia glandulosa
  9. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  10. Blewit Mushroom, Purple Core, Lepista nuda
  11. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra cerulea
  12. Brown Jelly Fungus, Leafy Brain, Phaeotremella foliacea
  13. Bufflehead Duck, Bucephala albeola
  14. Bur Parsley, Bur Chervil, Anthriscus caucalis
  15. California Manroot, Bigroot, Marah fabaceus
  16. California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana
  17. California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica
  18. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  19. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis
  20. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
  21. Common Goldeneye, Bucephala clangula
  22. Common Merganser, Mergus merganser
  23. Common Sunburst Lichen, Golden Shield Lichen, Xanthoria parietina [yellow-orange,on wood/trees]
  24. Dark-Eyed Junco, Junco hyemalis
  25. Dark-Winged Fungus Gnat, Bradysia sp.
  26. Deer Mushroom, Pluteus cervinus
  27. Dog, Canis lupus familiaris
  28. Dryad’s Saddle, Hawk’s Wing, Polyporus squamosus
  29. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
  30. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  31. False Turkey-Tail, Stereum hirsutum [thin, flattish, brown underside]
  32. False Turkey-Tail, Stereum ostrea
  33. Farinose Cartilage Lichen,  Ramalina farinacea [like Oakmoss but very thin branches]
  34. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  35. Giraffe Spots, Peniophora albobadia [flat, brown w/light rim]
  36. Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus
  37. Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata
  38. Hairy Vetch, Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa ssp. villosa
  39. Himalayan Blackberry, Rubus bifrons [white flowers]
  40. Holm Oak, Quercus ilex
  41. Jelly Spot Fungus, Dacrymyces stillatus
  42. Magpie Inkcap, Common Inkcap, Coprinopsis picacea
  43. Miner’s Lettuce, Claytonia perfoliata
  44. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  45. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
  46. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus
  47. Oak-leaf Pinwheel Mushroom, Horsehair Mushroom, Marasmiellus quercophilus
  48. Peach Tree, Prunus persica
  49. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  50. Red Edge Brittlestem Mushroom, Psathyrella corrugis [young have red-brown caps and white stipe; turn pale tan and brown with age]
  51. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  52. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  53. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula
  54. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  55. Strap Lichen, Western Strap Lichen, Ramalina leptocarpha [without soredia]
  56. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  57. Western Bluebird, Sialia Mexicana
  58. Western Screech Owl, Megascops kennicottii
  59. White Horehound, Marrubium vulgare
  60. White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys
  61. Witch’s Butter Jelly Fungus, Tremella mesenterica
  62. Wood Duck, Aix sponsa
  63. Yellow Fieldcap Mushroom, Bolbitius titubans