Phalaropes and Zinnias, 07-01-21

I got up around 5:30 this morning so I could head out to Yolo County with my friend and fellow naturalist Roxanne at 6:00 am. It was in the high 50’s when we left the house. We were going to the zinnia farm again, but also wanted to stop at the Woodland-Davis Clean Water Agency facility in Woodland because Sami LaRocca had taken photos of hundreds of Wilson Phalaropes there earlier in the week.  I know Sami, an avid birder, from when I worked at Tuleyome. She was a donor, and we struck up a loose friendship that persists through Facebook and birding group sites.

Anyway, Rox and I stopped for coffee and then hit the road. When we got to the water treatment plant, we saw two crows sitting side-by-side on an overturned bale of hay. I think they might have been a juvenile and an adult. The juvenile picked up a piece of the hay and showed it to the adult, but there was no other interaction between them regarding it.  Eventually, the juvenile let the piece of hay drop to the ground and ignored it. Then the two of them flew off together. 

According to Cornell: “…Family members (pair, parents and offspring, siblings, and immigrants from other families) often sit or stand side by side, sometimes bodies touching… Pulls at twigs, pecks bark of branches, picks up debris and discards it again, and preens, as forms of Displacement Behavior. Males sometimes pick up objects as part of copulatory behavior…”

Then we walked around the perimeter of the first, larger south pond.  I could see pelicans on the water on the opposite side of the pond, and lots of little “dots” on the water. After a while, I realized the dots were the phalaropes.

I was surprised by how little they were. I thought they’d be about the same size at the Black-Necked Stilts, but they are actually much smaller. They have lobed toes (kind of like Coots) and the females are more colorful than the males. Females are also larger than males and choose their mates (several different ones in a season). Males do all the incubation and chick rearing, while the females go off to look for their next mate. You go, girls! Hah!

The wintering range of Wilson’s Phalarope are at saline lakes in the highlands of Peru, Chile, Bolivia, and Argentina. But they migrate through here during the breeding season. Oddly enough, they use coastal marshes and sewage ponds of California for resting, and often gather in large numbers at Mono Lake.

According to Cornell: “…[The Wilson’s Paralope] uses surface tension of water between mandibles to transport prey from beak tip to mouth. Foraging methods include: typical phalarope “spinning;” chasing and pecking prey from water or mud; standing still and lunging/stabbing passing flies; probing soft substrates…”

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

They’re actually kind of sweet looking birds, with rusty accents in their coloring, and a stripe down the back of their heads. They were pretty far away from us– always moving away from us as we circled the pond — but I was able to get a handful of photos that were fairly descriptive.

Near the center of the pond, there was a collection of Black-Necked Stilts and American Avocets, and here and there was a White-Faced Ibis.

This plant is where the ibis usually roost in the summer, build nests and have their babies, but I haven’t seen any sign of nest-building yet.  Last year, they were out thereby the second week of June. I wonder if they were rousted out before they could settle. That would be sad. I looked forward to seeing them each year. The few ibises we saw in the water DID have their white breeding faces on…

Nesting White-Faced Ibis, Plegadis chihi. This is a photo I took in June of 2020.

Along the rocky edges of the pond we could see Great-Tailed Grackles singing in the sparse trees, and a pair of Eurasian Collared Doves.  There were also Ruddy Ducks and a few Cinnamon Teals in the water.

There were Barn Swallows and Tree Swallows flying all over the place, eating bugs and collecting mud. They were the only birds we saw around the pool further south of the pool we were investigating. That other pool is a settling pond, too, but not as “clean” as the one with the phalaropes in it. Still, there were a lot of bugs on the surface, and the swallows were swallowing them up. Between them eating the midges, the avocets filter feeding, and the phalaropes eating the flies, there’s certainly seems no need for further insect control at the ponds.

An adult American Barn Swallow, Hirundo rustica erythrogaster, and a juvenile Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor

We also saw flocks of some kind of tiny shorebird flying around in flashing murmurations; seemingly invisible on some turns, then bright white as they made another turn. I couldn’t tell what they were exactly, but suspect they were Least Sandpipers (mostly by their GIS: general impression, shape and size).

We once again found cottontails all along the side of the road. It’s like they all “hatched” at the same time. They were running all over the place. So funny! Then we found a stately jackrabbit sitting in the dry part of the slough.

In the wet part of the slough we found several very small Pacific Pond Turtles. While we were taking photos of them, a Green Heron flew out toward us. It took both Rox and me a minute to figure out what we were seeing, and after it registered on my brain, it was too late to take photos of the heron. It was already gone.

Pacific Pond Turtle, Western Pond Turtle, Actinemys marorata

That happens often when we’re looking at wildlife. As we were driving into Woodland, in one of the empty rice fields alongside the highway, I saw a small animal sitting down in the grass and a larger animal moving toward it. It wasn’t until we were further down the freeway that it registered that I’d just seen a coyote pup and its mom. We couldn’t stop on the freeway or back up, so we missed the chance to get photos of it. Dang it! Win some, lose some.

Once we were finished at the water treatment plant, we went on to the town of Yolo and stopped at Metzger’s Zinnia Patch. It was open today with lots of flower to choose from. There were a few other people there, but it wasn’t overly crowded at all. I collected enough flowers to fill two vases (one for me, one for my sister Melissa), and then rearranged the dividers in my purse (they attach by Velcro) so it could hold both vases upright and steady on the way home. By the time we were done picking flowers, it was in the 70’s and getting too warm for us, so we headed back home.

This was hike #58 of my hike challenge for the year.

Species List:

  1. Amaranth, Redroot Pigweed, Amaranthus retroflexus
  2. American Avocet, Recurvirostra americana
  3. American Coot, Fulica americana
  4. American White Pelican, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos
  5. Barn Swallow, American Barn Swallow, Hirundo rustica erythrogaster
  6. Bee Fly, Family: Bombyliidae
  7. Black Nightshade, Solanum nigrum [small flowers, black berries]
  8. Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
  9. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus
  10. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  11. Broadleaved Pepperweed, Lepidium latifolium
  12. Cabbage White butterfly, Pieris rapae
  13. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  14. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  15. Cinnamon Teal, Anas cyanoptera
  16. Corn, Maize, Zea mays
  17. Crow, American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  18. Desert Cottontail Rabbit, Sylvilagus audubonii
  19. Elegant Zinnia, Zinnia elegans
  20. Eurasian Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto
  21. European Honeybee, Western Honeybee, Apis mellifer
  22. Great-Tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus
  23. Green Heron, Butorides virescens
  24. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  25. House Sparrow, Passer domesticus
  26. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  27. Least Sandpiper, Calidris minutilla
  28. Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  29. Non-Biting Midge: Chironomus sp.
  30. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata
  31. Pacific Pond Turtle, Western Pond Turtle, Actinemys marorata
  32. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  33. Ruddy Duck, Oxyura jamaicensis
  34. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula
  35. Tree of Heaven, Ailanthus altissima
  36. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  37. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  38. Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum
  39. Western Kingbird, Tyrant Flycatcher, Tyrannus verticalis
  40. White-Faced Ibis, Plegadis chihi
  41. Wilson’s Phalarope, Phalaropus tricolor