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.
CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.
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.
- American Bittern, Botaurus lentiginosus
- American Coot, Fulica americana
- American Pipit, Anthus rubescens
- American Wigeon, Anas americana
- Audubon’s Warbler, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata auduboni
- Black Mustard, Common Wild Mustard, Brassica nigra
- Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
- Black-Crowned Night Heron, Nycticorax nycticorax
- Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
- Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum
- Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
- Broadleaf Cattail, Bullrush, Typha latifolia
- Brown-Headed Cowbird, Molothrus ater
- Bufflehead Duck, Bucephala albeola
- Bur Clover, Medicago polymorpha
- Canvasback Duck, Aythya valisineria
- Carrot, American Wild Carrot, Daucus pusillus
- Cheeseweed Mallow, Malva parviflora
- Cinnamon Teal, Anas cyanoptera
- Cooper’s Hawk, Acipiter cooperii
- Cut-leaved Crane’s-Bill, Geranium dissectum
- Fennel, Sweet Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare
- Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
- Golden-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
- Goodding’s Black Willow, Salix gooddingii
- Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
- Great Egret, Ardea alba
- Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons
- Greater Yellowlegs, Tringa melanoleuca
- Greenbottle Fly, Marsh Greenbottle Fly, Lucilia silvarum
- Green-Winged Teal, Anas carolinensis
- Gumweed, Hairy Gumweed, Grindelia hirsutula
- Horned Lark, Eremophila alpestris
- House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
- Interior Sandbar Willow, Salix interior
- Jointed Charlock, Wild Radish, Raphanus raphanistrum
- Khella, Bisnaga Weed, Toothpick Plant, Bishop’s Weed, Ammi visnaga [ a kind of carrot, invasive species]
- Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
- Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
- Long-Billed Curlew, Numenius americanus
- Long-Billed Dowitcher, Limnodromus scolopaceus
- Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
- Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris
- Mediterranean Stork’s-Bill, Erodium botrys
- Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
- Northern Harrier, Marsh Hawk, Circus hudsonius
- Northern Pintail, Anas acuta
- Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata
- Paper Wasp, Black Paper Wasp, European Paper Wasp, Polistes dominula
- Paper Wasp, Red Paper wasp, Apache Paper Wasp, Polistes apachus
- Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum
- Prickly Sowthistle, Pigweed, Sonchus asper
- Raven, Common Raven, Corvus corax
- Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
- Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
- Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
- Ring-Necked Pheasant, Phasianus colchicus
- Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia [saw in the field on the drive]
- River Otter, North American River Otter, Lontra canadensis
- Rough Cocklebur, Xanthium strumarium
- Sandhill Crane, Grus canadensis
- Savannah Sparrow, Passerculus sandwichensis
- Shepherd’s-Purse, Capsella bursa-pastoris
- Snowy Egret, Egretta thula
- Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia
- Sunflower, Common Sunflower, Helianthus annuus
- Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
- Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
- Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
- Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
- White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus
- White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys
- White-Faced Ibis, Plegadis chihi
- Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata