I got up at 6:00 this morning, and headed out to the American River Bend Park. It was 51°F when I got to the river (and then spiked at 88° by the late afternoon.)
My hip was hurting, but seemed to be less painful when I was moving. My back pain was less than it was yesterday, but I still had a few “gasp” moments walking or driving on the more uneven parts of the trail and dirt-and-gravel roadways.
My first priority was to look in on mama Great Horned Owl. There was another photographer there when I arrived, and after a few minutes he asked, “Are you Hanson K. Mary?” (My Facebook name) I was astonished and asked, “How did you know that?” He said he’d seen a lot of my photos on the birding group sites. Hah! I’m famous — sort of.
Mama owl was in a tree opposite from the nest, warming her chest and belly in the early morning sunlight. In the nest were two owlets that I could see. [Later, other photographers on the site said they’d seen three babies yesterday.] I was so excited for mama. She’d had two last year and three the year before, and she’d always been good about keeping everyone fed. I hope she’s as successful this year. The owlets were, of course, adorable, still in their super puffy fluff-dry stage.
After a little while, mama flew into the tree next to the nest, and when I came back to check on her about an hour later, she was sitting on everyone. It’s so exhilarating to see all of them.
I walked for a while at the park, and came across a pair of Western Bluebirds who were flying around. I also saw a pair of Mourning Doves in the high branches of a tree. It looked to me like the female was sitting, waiting for the male to mount her, but the male just couldn’t get himself oriented correctly. On a few attempts he approached her “backwards”, his head to her tail. And once, rather than mounting her, he just stepped on her and walked over to a different part of their branch. D’oh!
In that same area, I saw a male European Starling doing one of his courtship rituals. He was sitting on a branch where he could be seen by passing females, sang loudly to them and flapped his wings in a circular motion.
Cornell says: “…Once males have established a nesting territory, they advertise by singing. When females approach, the males often stop singing and move to the nesting cavity, where they resume singing. Wing-waving, a circular flapping of the wings while perched, often accompanies the singing, especially in the presence of females…”
The redbud trees in the park are all blossoming. Beautiful, huge swaths of pink in unexpected places. Just gorgeous.
As I was checking out the manroot vines and Santa Barbara Sedge (what I consider my “proof of Spring” plant in this area), I could hear California Quails giving out their “Chi-ca-go!” calls. It sounded like one was getting pretty close to me, but I was still startled when a male popped up from the side of a hill in front of me. I stood stock still, because they’re nervous birds and flush really easily, and got some photos of him, then realized he had a lady friend with him. She was down in the twigs and grass, and ran off with him when he realized I was looking at them.
As I headed back toward my car, I was attracted to movement at the bottom of one of the oak trees. I crept up toward it, and realized it was a tiny White-Breasted Nuthatch. She was tugging at a short length of cord, trying to pluck out threads to take back to her nest.
According to Cornell: “…Only the female builds [the nest]. Little known about nest construction or structure, but nuthatches observed to carry hairs and pieces of bark to the cavity site…” I’ve seen them use tufts of dog hair and feathers myself.
In that same area, I caught sight of an Oak Titmouse singing in a tree. Cornell says: “…The frequency of occurrence of song types used by males changes seasonally, with some songs becoming more prevalent in the repertoire as breeding season progresses while the prevalence of other songs declines…”
I’d lost the clip-in macro lens for my cellphone somewhere at Table Mountain, I think, so I bought a new one. It’s a little more powerful than my old one, so it’s taking some getting used to the precise focal point. It also shifts a little when I try to use it, slipping away from the phone’s eye. Gotta get used to avoiding that, too. Otherwise, I like it.
CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.
I then drove over to the nearby Gristmill Recreation Area to check on the Red-Shouldered Hawk nest and man-made nesting boxes. When I first got there and looked up into the hawk’s nest I was worried that it had been abandoned. I couldn’t see mom (or any sign of babies) anywhere. When I came back that to same spot on my way back to the car, however, I could see her sitting on the nest, calling loudly to her mate. Guess she was hungry and wanted some breakfast. Hah!
There were lots of California Pipevine Swallowtail and Western Tiger Swallowtail butterflies all over the area, but not one of them sat still long enough for me to get a photo of it.
House Wrens seemed to be singing from everywhere, and I saw one pair using one of the smaller nest boxes.
At other boxes, the Western Screech Owl was dozing, a pair of Western Bluebirds were rushing back and forth, and a cadre of Tree Swallows were fussing and flying around. Of course, as soon as I got into a position where I could better see and photograph the bluebirds and swallows, they ducked out of sight. So, I didn’t get as many photos as I’d like. Sigh. Such is the life of a nature photographer.
The surprise here today was seeing two Turkey Vultures sitting in trees near the river. Th trail runs along the high edge of the river with a drop down of maybe 20 or 30 feet to the water in some places. So, when one of the vultures decided to sit up “high” in the tree, his branch was actually right in the eye-line of hikers on the trail. I got a few good close-up photos of him. The second vulture was further down the cliffside nearer to the water. That one looked like a juvenile to me; its beak wasn’t fully bone-white yet and still had a gray tip.
Below that vulture, on a log in the water, were three Red-Eared Slider Turtles sunning themselves in the morning light. The vultures, of course, weren’t interested in them, so the turtles had nothing to fear from them.
Altogether, I walked for about 4 hours and headed back home. This was hike #32 of my #52HikeChallenge.
No fooling. April is Citizen Science Month.
- Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
- Almond Tree, Prunus dulcis
- Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
- Audubon’s Warbler, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata auduboni
- Bedstraw, Velcro Grass, Cleavers, Galium aparine
- Black Grass Bug, Irbisia pacifica
- Black Locust Tree, Robinia pseudoacacia
- Black Walnut, Eastern Black Walnut, Juglans nigra
- Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra cerulea
- Bur Parsley, Bur Chervil, Anthriscus caucalis
- California Manroot, Bigroot, Marah fabaceus
- California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana
- California Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta
- California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica
- California Quail, Callipepla californica
- Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
- Common Pea, Pisum sativum [rounded leaves, flower is light pink and dark pink]
- Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
- Dove’s-foot Crane’s-Bill, Geranium molle
- European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
- Field Elm Tree, Ulmus minor [soft flakey seed pods]
- Ghost Spider, Family: Anyphaenidae
- Giraffe’s Head, Henbit Deadnettle, Lamium amplexicaule
- Goodding’s Black Willow, Salix gooddingii
- Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus
- Hairy Vetch, Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa ssp. villosa
- House Wren, Troglodytes aedon
- Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
- Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
- Lincoln’s Sparrow, Melospiza lincolnii
- Live Oak Gall Wasp, Spring Generation, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis [looks like a soft funnel, green to brown]
- Live Oak Gall Wasp, Summer Generation, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis [spiky ball]
- Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
- Miner’s Lettuce, Claytonia perfoliata
- Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
- Non-Biting Midge, Cricotopus bicinctus [black and white, turned up tail]
- Oak Apple, California Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
- Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus
- Popcorn Flower, Rusty Popcornflower, Plagiobothrys nothofulvus [tiny]
- Red-Eared Slider Turtle, Trachemys scripta elegans
- Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
- Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
- Ruptured Twig Gall Wasp, Callirhytis perdens
- Santa Barbara Sedge, Carex barbarae
- Soldier Beetle, Silis sp.
- Stinging Nettle, Urtica dioica
- Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
- Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
- Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
- Western Bluebird, Sialia mexicana
- Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis
- Western Screech Owl, Megascops kennicottii
- White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis