Low to No Water at the SNWR, 05-26-23

I got up around 5:30 this morning, so I could get the dog and myself ready to make the long drive to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge (SNWR). It takes about 2 hours to get there from the house. We stopped to top off the gas tank and get some coffee, and were on the road in earnest by 6:00 AM.

With the place nearly devoid of any standing water, it was more like a late-spring grassland than a wetland area.

There was a little water near the turnouts on the auto route, but not a lot. And I didn’t see any waterfowl in those areas.

Even the large “permanent wetland” pool was just barely full of water. It looked like it was maybe only a few inches deep, and when the coots and grebes swam through it, their knobby knees came up over the surface of the water.

This pond had recently been reformed, and along a large swath of the bank all of the vegetation had been completely removed. I didn’t understand that. The place is supposed to be a “refuge” for wildlife, but removing the vegetation meant the little Marsh Wrens wouldn’t be able to build their nests there, dragonflies and damselflies wouldn’t be able to emerge there, and the summer spiders wouldn’t have anywhere to build their webs.

The lack of vegetation does mean you have a much better view of the water. But with the lack of waterfowl at the moment and the shallow depths of the pool, there wasn’t much to see anyway. I also noticed that some of the “islands” that had stood in the pond previously, were now gone. That was upsetting because traditionally, cormorants and White Pelicans used to rest on those islands.

I DID get to see some of the usual suspects like the Coots, Canada Geese, the last of the migrating Snow Geese, Killdeer, Lesser Goldfinches, Meadowlarks and Mallards. In some places along the auto tour route, the Killdeer ran in front of the car, sometimes laying down in their “broken wing” displays — which meant they had nests on the ground around there. I drove really slowly, worrying all the while that I was inadvertently crushing the nests and their eggs hidden in the gravel. Yikes!

In the water of the permanent pool were a few Clark’s and Western grebes floating about, but none of them seemed to be paired up yet. There were also a few Pied-Billed grebes. One of them was hoot-calling to its mate; such a cool sound. I also got a little footage of a Black-Necked Stilt complaining about something. They’re so loud!

There was also a pod of Ruddy Ducks, males and females, and most of the males were in their breeding plumage, bright blue bills and everything.

I saw a couple of the males doing their courtship displays, which are really kind of hilarious. The males swim in front of the females with their tails and eyebrows raise high, then they thrum against their chests with their bills, making bubbles appear in front of them. Hah!

“…They punctuate the end of the display with a belch-like call,,, Everything about this bird is interesting to the naturalist, but almost nothing about it is interesting to the sportsman…” –– Cornell

I got a tiny bit of video of the behavior, but the birds were pretty far away, and sometimes had their back to me.

I had better luck getting some video and photos of the male Marsh Wrens, including one that was standing next to one of the nests it had built.

Along another part of the pond, there was nothing but Bird’s-Foot Trefoil on the bank. And in other areas there was Poison Hemlock, Blessed Milk Thistle, and teasel in various levels of blossoming. I also saw some Brass Buttons, Downingia, Spikeweed, Cocklebur, Smartweeds, and Dock. The Yellow Star-Thistle was just starting to emerge.

One of the things that surprised me was seeing a few different forms of witches broom on the mustard plants. The wild growth is caused by a kind of phytoplasma.

…Phytoplasmas are obligate intracellular parasites of plant phloem tissue and of the insect vectors that are involved in their plant-to-plant transmission. Phytoplasmas were discovered in 1967 by Japanese scientists who termed them mycoplasma-like organisms…” — Wikipedia

“…Dr. Saskia Hogenhout, a scientist at the John Innes Centre in England, and her colleagues reveal that some of these creepy alterations are driven by the work of a single protein from the parasite called SAP05, which stands in the way of the plant’s maturation…In the new paper, they explain how SAP05 seems to drive some of the more surprising effects, like the life-span extension. ‘It looks like it stays in a juvenile phase,’ [she] said…” — The Indian Express

I didn’t see any evidence of the large orb-weaver spiders that usually inhabit the pond area in the summer, and I only found a few damselflies and dragonflies. Among the dragons, I only found male and female Variegated Meadowhawks. It’s still early in the season, though. A kind of Deer Fly with “crazy eyes” came into the car for a short period of time. I also saw some Sulphur and Cabbage White butterflies flitting around, but I was only able to get photos of a cooperative West Coast Lady butterfly.

As I left the pond area and headed toward the viewing platforms, I saw some Cliff Swallows darting back and forth, into and through a drainage block. [I assume they were building nests in there, and/or feeding nestlings.] Some of the fledglings sat among the tules, waiting for their parents to feed them.

Other critters I saw today were quite a few jackrabbits, a pond turtle, some Western Fence Lizards, and a California Ground Squirrel grooming itself.

Because I was in my vehicle for the majority of this trip, I didn’t count it toward my #52hikechallenge for the year.

Species List:

  1. American Coot, Fulica americana
  2. American Pipit, Anthus rubescens
  3. Ash Tree, California Ash, Fraxinus dipetala
  4. Bees, European Honeybee, Western Honeybee, Apis mellifera
  5. Bindweed, Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis
  6. Bird’s-Foot Trefoil, Lotus corniculatus
  7. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  8. Blackberry, Armenian Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus [red canes, white flowers]
  9. Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
  10. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus
  11. Brass Buttons, Cotula coronopifolia
  12. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  13. Bufflehead Duck, Bucephala albeola
  14. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  15. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  16. Cinnamon Teal, Spatula cyanoptera
  17. Common Spikeweed, Centromadia pungens
  18. Dock, Curly Dock, Rumex crispus
  19. Dock, Fiddle Dock, Rumex pulcher
  20. Downingia, Flatface Calicoflower, Downingia pulchella
  21. Dragonfly, Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum
  22. Eucalyptus, Tasmanian Blue Gum, Eucalyptus globulus
  23. Flax-Leaved Horseweed, Erigeron bonariensis
  24. Flies, Deer Fly, Chrysops sp. [many have wild-looking eyes]
  25. Flies, Face Fly, Musca autumnalis
  26. Grasses, Foxtail Barley, Hordeum murinum
  27. Grasses, Harding Grass, Phalaris aquatica [a kind of canary grass]
  28. Grasses, Rabbitfoot Grass, Polypogon monspeliensis
  29. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  30. Grebe, Clark’s Grebe, Aechmophorus clarkii [black above the eye]
  31. Grebe, Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  32. Grebe, Western Grebe, Aechmophorus occidentalis [black through/below the eye]
  33. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  34. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  35. Kingbird, Western Kingbird, Tyrannus verticalis
  36. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  37. Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  38. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  39. Pacific Pond Turtle, Western Pond Turtle, Actinemys marorata
  40. Pineappleweed, Matricaria discoidea
  41. Phytoplasmas, Phytoplasma sp. [creates witch’s broom]
  42. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum
  43. Red-Tailed Hawk, Western Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis calurus
  44. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  45. Rough Cocklebur, Xanthium strumarium
  46. Ruddy Duck, Oxyura jamaicensis
  47. Rushes, Sea Clubrush, Bolboschoenus maritimus
  48. Smartweed, Pale Smartweed, Persicaria lapathifolia
  49. Sneezeweed, Helenium sp.
  50. Snow Goose, Chen caerulescens
  51. Swallow, Cliff Swallow, Petrochelidon pyrrhonota
  52. Teasel, Fuller’s Teasel, Dipsacus sativus [flowers in bands]
  53. Teasel, Wild Teasel, Dipsacus fullonum [flowers overall]
  54. Thistle, Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum
  55. Thistle, Yellow Star-Thistle, Centaurea solstitialis
  56. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  57. West Coast Lady Butterfly, Vanessa annabella [blue spots]
  58. Western Fence Lizard, Blue Belly, Sceloporus occidentalis
  59. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
  60. White-Faced Ibis, Plegadis chihi
  61. Wren, Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris

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