I got up around 6:00 this morning and headed over to the Cosumnes River Preserve. It was sunny and a lovely 49° when I got there. The wind picked up around 11:00 am and it was about 66° there when I left.
I was glad I’d put on some insect repellent because the midges and mosquitoes were everywhere. But on the other hand, the butterflies were out, too. I saw Cabbage Whites, some Western Tiger Swallowtails and some Anise Swallowtails.
I took the route around Bruceville and Desmond Roads, and in one spot, I found a large flock of California Quails, several males and females together. I also saw two Northern Harriers on the ground. One flew off, but the other remained, finishing off a carcass. When it stepped back and walked around for a little bit, I could see that its crop was VERY full. Still, it went back to the carcass to eat some more. It’s feast or famine in the raptor world.
The wild radish (Charlock) plants were in bloom everywhere: pink, white, yellow and pastel orange, and there was mustard blooming in the fields along with tules and rushes. Fiddleneck and buttercups were growing in small patches, and the valley oak and ash trees were starting to get their new leaves.
On the valley oaks, the Oak Apple galls were starting to appear for the season, and I also found some I’d never seen before. They were little “blister-like” galls near the base of some of the new leaves on the trees. I’m looking forward to receiving Russo’s newest book on galls and hope these are included in it. [The book is supposed to be available on April 20th.]
I also found some little red-and-black striped beetles that I’d not seen before. They’re a kind of Calligraphy Beetle, and were quite near a Seven-Spotted Ladybeetle.
There were sparrows, Meadowlarks and Red-Winged Blackbirds singing from the trees and rushes. On the water, there were occasional Coots, Northern Shovelers, Green-Winged Teals and other ducks, Black-Necked Stilts and Greater Yellowlegs. The usual suspects. There were Tree Swallows everywhere, vying for nesting spots. Some were eyeing a nesting box right near the entrance gate to the preserve’s boardwalk area, but it was already being occupied by a pair of Western Bluebirds. Mama bluebird was making short trips to bring bits of soft grass to line the nest inside.
At the end of the boardwalk, a pair of Phoebes were building a nest underneath the wooden planks. And there were two others building nests under the eaves of the restroom facility there.
There were also quite a few cottontail rabbits out and about. In one spot, I saw three of them together.
I walked for about 3½ hours and then headed back home. This was hike 31 of my #52HikeChallenge.
I got up a little before 6:00 am so I could head out with my friend Roxanne to go to the North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve in Oroville, about a 90-minute drive from Sacramento right up Highway 70. We had never been there before, but we’d seen photos from other people who had been up there, so we were excited to see what we could see. Some words of warning if you go up there yourself: don’t go on a weekend, and try to get there as early as you can.
When we got there, one of the parking lots was already full, and by the time we left both parking lots were overflowing with cars, more cars were coming in, and other cars were parked on both sides of the road for about a MILE. Rox and I figured that by the time we left there were about 1000 people at the site. Now, Table Mountain is huge, but still… gad.
After we walked for several hours, we went back to the car to sit and have some lunch. It was our original intention to go out and walk some more after lunch, but after realizing how many people were there and how the cars were stacking up, we decided to leave.
Weatherwise, it was a gorgeous day to be out walking: in the 60’s and 70’s,sunny, with a slight breeze. Just beautiful.
Rox found an excellent parking space right near the front entrance to the parking lot. And right outside the doors of the car were Blue Dicks, Popcorn Flowers, Goldfields, Fiddleneck, and Sky Lupines! So pretty…and such a great start to our flower-search day.
The area is also home to free-range cattle. Signage tells you to stay at least 300 feet from the cows, but that wasn’t always possible because several of the cattle walked right up to within arm’s length of us. Sometimes they were so close, you could hear the crunch of their teeth as they browsed among the wildflowers.
I was watching one Black Angus who was watching Rox as she checked out the various flowers on the ground below her. When she would bend down to get a picture, the cow would dip its head down like it was trying to see what she was interested in. Hah!
We avoided the heavily trafficked trails (too many people making too much noise), and just perused the top of the plateau and some of the seep areas. Everywhere you stepped there were flowers, including several I hadn’t seen before, like the glorious pink Bitterroots and white Table Mountain Meadowfoam (which are endemic to that region; found there and nowhere else on earth).
The broad landscapes were as interesting and beautiful as the close-up flowers themselves. Waves of blue lupines, yellow goldfields, orange poppies, white popcorn flowers. Just breath taking.
We spent about 3½ combing the area, and were happy when we discovered a tiny Sierra Chorus Frog in one of the seep areas. I was able to catch him, so we could get some close up photos before releasing him back into the water.
As we drove out, heading eventually back to Sacramento via Colusa, we stopped occasionally along the way to get photos of other flowering plants we saw along the way. We saw some Virgin Bower (“Old Man’s Beard”) in the treetops, but also found a whole bankside along the road covered with phacelia.
We’re anxious to check out more wildflower spots in the region. During one of those stops we also got to see a lovely Lark Sparrow sitting on a barbed wire fence line.
After driving through the city of Colusa, we stopped briefly at the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge so I could show Rox where one of the Great Horned Owls were.
The mama owl wasn’t in her nest, but she was up in the trees near it. The afternoon sun was really beating down on the tree where her nest was, and she was panting like she was overheated.
The heat no doubt kept her eggs warm (if she had any; and I’m assuming she did, or she wouldn’t have stuck so close to that same nesting tree). We took a few distant photos of her and headed back to the car.
By then it was almost 80° outside and we were getting overheated ourselves. We headed home, stopping off to get a cold drink along the way.
We were out for a little over 10 hours. Phew! This counted as hike #30 in my #52HikeChallenge.
I got up about 5:30 this morning — (Ugh!) — and was ready to head out the door with my dog Esteban to drive over to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge and Colusa National Wildlife Refuge. As I mentioned before, I wanted to take the car on a long jog to see how well it ran after its repairs last week, and I wanted to see how things were going at the refuge.
Esteban usually fusses in the car. The last time I took him with us to the refuge, he whined all the way (wanting to get up in the front seat with me). This time, he whined for about a half an hour, then settled down on my coat in the back seat and fell asleep. He was great for the rest of the trip. I was so proud of him. Occasionally, he’d stand up with his paws on the arm rest and look out the window. I wonder how his little brain processes what he sees…
I stopped off in Woodland to get a coffee before going further, and there were so many blackbirds singing in one of the trees that their sound was almost deafening.
It was about 46° when I headed out, and was a lot windier during the day than I was expecting. Rough winds interfere with birding — everyone tends to hunker down. But I did okay in that department — even though I totally missed getting close up photos of an American White Pelican and a Bald Eagle. (They flew off before I could get near enough. *Sigh*)
I decided to go first to the Colusa refugefirst, and the first thing I saw were small flocks of Greater White-Fronted Geese and Snow Geese. There was also a Red-Tailed Hawk sitting in a nearby tree and a White-Tailed Kite kiting in the air over the field.
I was the only person on the refuge for about the first hour or so, so I had the whole place to myself and could go at whatever speed I wanted along the auto tour route. Several of the wetland areas were still dry, which kind of surprised me. I thought it would be all full with a least some measure of water everywhere. There weren’t very many birds near the viewing platform, which was also kind of a surprise. There are usually lots of geese and ducks around there.
At the beginning of the route, there were Wild Turkeys jogging along. They ran out into the field and I could see the males were doing their strutting thing for the females. In another area, I saw a flock of female turkeys all gathered together (avoiding the boys).
There were Coots were everywhere, and Marsh Wrens were teasing me from the tules. I could see of their nests; the males are working hard to impress the females with their construction work.
There were lots and lots of Ibises. Some of the adults are getting their full breeding colors now and are so handsome. I didn’t see any with their white faces yet, however.
There weren’t any more large flocks of ducks, but I did see a wide variety of species: American Wigeons, Northern Shovelers, Gadwalls, Cinnamon and Green-Winged Teals, and Buffleheads. I was surprised to see a little female Hooded Merganser in one of the ponds. I couldn’t see any male around, though.
There were handfuls of Snowy Egrets and the occasional Great Egret, and of course there was the huge flock of Black-Crowned Night Herons day-roosting in the trees at the end of the route.
The sightings of the day were two different Great Horned Owls hunkered down in their nesting spots. There was also supposed to be a Barn Owl out there, but I didn’t see that one. What I DID see was owl poop around the informational kiosk — along with a few pellets. Yay!
I then headed over to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, and the first thing I saw there was a Black-Tailed Jackrabbit. This is baby season for the jack’s and I saw a lot of the adults around, chasing one another.
The wildflowers are just starting to pop up around there even though the vernal pools are empty. It seemed all the “yellows” are coming out first. I saw outcrops of Fiddlenecks, Bird’s-foot Trefoil, amid Brass Buttons, along with fields of Goldfields.
The extra loop to the permanent wetland area is now open, and they’ve done a lot of “remodeling” around it. Most of the taller tules and weeds have been mowed down, so areas around the main pond are more visible. I was hoping to see some Bitterns around here, but had no luck. Of course, I’d gotten here “late” in the morning today (it was a little after 10:00 am. When I usually go here, I go around 6:30 or 7:00 when the sun is coming up.) Here, too, there are huge areas that have no water in them… which alters the kind of species you see (from “wet” to “dry”).
There was the normal cadre of sparrows everywhere, and a smattering of Western Meadowlarks. One let me get close enough to photograph it and video it singing.
There were lots and lots of Ibises here, too, many of them fishing for crayfish. I was getting some cool video of one of them, just as the battery died in the camera. By the time I got it reloaded and focused on the bird again, the Ibis was swallowing down its meal. Dang it!
I watched some male Northern Shoveler ducks trying to do some of their courtship movements for a female. There was the “Head Dip and Up-end” that looked like a mini-bath, the “Wing Flap” and “Precopulatory Head Pumping”… but the gal just wasn’t into them. D’oh! She just swam by with her face in the water looking for food.
I also watched a male Canvasback as he was feeding. They’re actually diving ducks, but here the water was exceedingly shallow, so the male rose up and stirred up the bottom of the marsh with his feet, then dipped forward to eat what he’d kicked up.
When a female Mallard got too close to him and his meal, he attacked her and chased her until her boyfriend showed up. The Canvasback turned away then, and let the Mallards depart together.
In that same pond area there were Clark’s and Western Grebes checking out spots to build their nests (which they’ll be sitting on in the summer). There were also some Pied-Billed Grebes singing to one another.
Along the end of the auto tour route, several Ground Squirrels popped up, and one came out onto the road and gave itself a dust bath right next to the car. Hah! They’re such cute little things. I’d love to have a colony of them in the yard just so I could watch them.
Around this same area, I saw another Great Horned Owl sitting on a nest in a tree. It was pretty distant, so I couldn’t get any close ups.
All together Esteban and I were in the car for about 10 hours! The walking I did at each of the refuges combined counted as the 29th hike in my #52HikeChallenge. Woot!
Pacific Pond Turtle, Western Pond Turtle, Actinemys marorata
Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum
Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Western Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
Prickly Sowthistle, Pigweed, Sonchus asper
Red Swamp Crayfish, Crawdad, Procambarus clarkii
Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
Ring-Necked Duck, Aythya collaris
Ring-Necked Pheasant, Phasianus colchicus
Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Regulus calendula
Ruddy Duck, Oxyura jamaicensis
Savannah Sparrow, Passerculus sandwichensis
Snow Goose, Chen caerulescens
Snowy Egret, Egretta thula
Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia
Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
Western Fence Lizard, Blue Belly, Sceloporus occidentalis
Western Grebe, Aechmophorus occidentalis [black below the eye]
Western Kingbird, Tyrant Flycatcher, Tyrannus verticalis [nest]
Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
White Horehound, Marrubium vulgare
White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus
White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys
White-Faced Ibis, Plegadis chihi
As an Aside
Wow. Some bee-otch on the Birding California group complained about my adding scientific names to the species photos I post. (Which I do as a naturalist to be specific with my IDs and to help others learn.) She wrote: “Does listing the ‘official name’ of each bird make you feel superior? No just egotistical.”
Geez, cranky much? I consider this harassment (as it’s personally denigrating and inaccurate.) I reported her to the admin of the group, reported her to Facebook, and blocked her. No one has to take harassment and bullying from any troll — ever, anywhere.
It was nice to see others in the group stand up for me. One person wrote: “…Keep doing it. Great photos. Ignore the trolls.” and another wrote: “Great posting for us newbies. I used your photos as “flash cards” to see if I could correctly identify each bird before reading your label. Thanks teach!”
I got up at 6:30 this morning, so I could head out with my friend Roxanne to the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area. We had heard online that the Yellow-Headed Blackbirds (YHB) were starting to show up at the bypass again.
I’ve seen some juvenile and female YHBs, but they were individuals, here and there. I’ve never seen the fully mature males, which have vibrant yellow heads, and I’ve never them in flocks before. So, Rox and I decided we’d go to look for them. Then some of our naturalist friends Rachael and Karlyn said they wanted to go, too, so we told them we’d meet them over at the bypass around 8:00 am.
Rox met me at the house around 7:00 and we headed in toward Davis, stopping briefly to get some coffee and then trying to see if the Burrowing Owls were out by the ag fields. We didn’t see any owls — the fact that a woman went jogging right by where it was didn’t help –but I did catch a glimpse of a Yellowthroat and I saw my first ever Horned Lark. It was a young female, and wasn’t showing any horns (which can be raised or lowered), but, hey, it was a “lifer” for me!
We then went to the Yolo Bypass and met up with Karlyn and Rachael at the parking lot in front of the start of the auto tour route. Rox and I went in one car, and Rachael and Karlyn went in another. Rachael couldn’t stay for the whole day, so we tried to keep an eye on the clock as we went along.
We were seeing a lot of the usual suspects: sparrows, egrets, some ibises, but also saw a handsome Raven sitting on top of a post. He posed for a while before taking off.
As we went along, though, Roxanne spotted some dark forms galloping across the road in the distance. We realized right away that they were North American River Otters, Lontra canadensis, and saw them go into a slough/ditch area by a bridge. It was hard not to just SPEED to the spot, but we didn’t want to startle the otters, so Rox drove toward them at a moderated speed.
Our sort of stealth was rewarded when we got to the bridge and found a whole raft of otters in the water. As we watched them, the otters used the large drainage pipe adjacent to bridge to move from one side of it to another; sometimes hiding from us by piling up inside the pipe. Sometimes all we saw with the rippling effect they had on the water, or the bubbles they released when they were submerged.
Eventually, the otters felt comfortable enough to come out and climb onto the levee on the side opposite from us where they shook their fur, did some grooming, greeted and rolled over one another, and even did their “poopy dance”. All the while, one or more of them would be snorting at us; low sounds, like they were grumbling about us under their breath.
We counted SIX of them for sure, and then thought we’d spotted a SEVENTH in the water… but it was hard to keep track of everyone because they were all moving about.
I tried getting single shots of each one of them, which again wasn’t easy, in the hopes that I could maybe identify individuals later from their photos but… sorry to say, they all look pretty much the same to me. Trying to get group shots was hilarious. It was like trying to find a family photo for a Christmas card when not all of the subjects are cooperating. Some would look this way, while others looked that way, or fell out of the frame, or decided to shake their head just as the picture was snapped… Hah!
Still, what a wonderful treat! Those little guys made my day. At that was the largest group of otters I’ve ever seen. Karlyn and Rachael were equally impressed. Of course, I reminded all of them to log their sighting at the River Otter Ecology Project’s “Otter Spotter” site.
The other unexpected sighting was seeing some Black Crowned Night Herons day-roosting in one of the fields. There’s supposed to be a large colony of them there, but we couldn’t find them on our drive or our walk. I saw a pair of otters in the water in a field as we were going along, but they disappeared into the tules.
We never did see any of the Yellow-Headed Blackbirds, but figured that they might be foraging in another field or something. We DID get to see a Black Phoebe near a little viewing platform gathering nesting materials. They build mud nests then line the nest with fine twigs and feathers and other soft stuff. Rox and I kind of consider the phoebes “our” birds because we see them almost everywhere we go. This one’s nest was UNDERNEATH the platform we were standing on. As long as the water level of the pond doesn’t rise too much, it should be fine there.
At that same spot, we got a glimpse of two more otters. They were fussing along the edges of the stands of tules, and then disappeared. We wondered if they had a holt in there somewhere.
As we were driving out, we flushed an American Bittern which took off flying tour left across the marsh. We had been keeping an eye out for bitterns, but didn’t see any until this one surprised us. Of course, it all happened so fast, we didn’t get any photos of it.
Between the driving and the walking out at the bypass, we were out for almost five hours! The weather was gorgeous, the company was fun, and the animal sightings were enjoyable… A good morning all around.