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