BIRTHDAY WEEK, DAY TWO – Zoo Day! After a light breakfast, I went through my emails and social media stuff, did a little journaling and then headed over to the Sacramento Zoo. They still have their COVID protocols in place, so folks have to wear a mask, and they limit the number of people allowed in at one time (so you have to have an appointment to come in). I kind of wish they’d keep doing that even after the COVID thing is over.
It was super windy all day, and got up to a record-breaking high of 73° (“normal” for this time of year is about 56° here.)
The zoo is refurbishing some areas to better utilize what space they have, so, in some areas the animals were off-exhibit. For example, Rocky the Rhinoceros Iguana had been displaced while her habitat was being cleaned out and redone, so she was hanging out in an exam room in the vet center inside the zoo.
And when the Wolf’s Guenon monkeys were off exhibit, their habitat was given to Charlie, the Great Horned Owl, so he had a larger space to fly in if he wanted to.
I got to see most of the animals I was hoping to see, except for the Snow Leopards. Neither Blizzard nor Misha were out today. I did see the lions (who were super-sleepy this morning) and the female jaguar (who was eating grass).
The Thick-Billed Parrots seemed more visible today, and some of them are starting to make nests for themselves in the nest boxes supplied to them. They’re also given balls of shredded newspaper to tear apart and use for nesting materials. I wonder how many babies the zoo gets each year.
Among the duck food feeder stations scattered around the park, I saw crows and a Black Phoebe stealing the food. They literally crammed their beaks full of the soggy food before flying off with it. Then the Phoebe posed for quite a few photos before flying off.
The Sumatran Orangutans (all of whom have birthdays this month) were out, but they were being a little anti-social. One of them wouldn’t come out of her cave, and the big male kept turning his butt to cameras, and eventually picked up a blanket and pulled it over his head. Hah!
Glory, the baby giraffe, was very proud of herself when she was able to get a twig with leaves on it and dragged it around and played with it. It was so cute to see her do her spread-leg stance to pick the twig up off the ground before throwing it up again. She’s still a “tiny” girl when compared to the adult giraffes in the enclosure.
The Red Kangaroos were out, but I didn’t see any of the wallabies. The flamingos were very chatty, and were joined in their noise by whistling ducks.
I walked for about 2½ hours and stopped to get an ice cream cone before I left. The guy piled so much of the soft-serve ice cream onto the cone that the minute he passed the cone over to me, all of the ice cream toppled over and landed on the ground. “Uh, you don’t have to pay for that,” he said, and he put together another cone for me. Hah!
The walk around the zoo equaled 1.36 miles, so I was able to count it as my #6 walk in my #52HikeChallenge. Woot!
I got up around 7:00 this morning after a pretty good night’s sleep. It was slightly foggy in the early hours, but that burned off quickly, and the rest of the day was sunny. It got up to 70°!
Around 7:30 I headed over to William Land Park and the WPA Rock Garden for a walk. I figured a walk through the garden and around both the larger and middle ponds would equal a mile so it would count as my #5 walk in my #52HikeChallenge. [Using a GPS tracker on the walk, I found it was actually about 1¼ miles, so… yay!]
Even though it’s winter, the WPA Rock Garden still has some plants and flowers showing off a bit. The Strawberry Tress were especially pretty with their long panicles of urn-shaped flowers trailing down.
Among the birds flitting around, there were the usual Golden-Crowned Sparrows, Bushtits, hummingbirds, some Spotted Towhees, and Crows, but I was happy and surprised to see a Hermit Thrush bopping around in under some of the bushes. They’re such sweet little things with their round speckled breasts.
Don’t let their size and cuteness trick you, though. These can be tenacious birds who will defend their breeding territories with a lot of aggression. Sometimes the male gets so ramped up, he chases females away. Oops! Kind of defeats the purpose of a breeding ground. Hah! They’re also omnivorous, eating insects and spiders, amphibians and reptiles… and fruit from a variety of plants and trees. The one I saw was tossing leaf-litter under a Mock Orange looking for breakfast.
At the middle pond, half of the Sacred Lotus has been dredged up, and all that remains are the dead stalks of last year’s plants. All of the dead stuff will have to go eventually to make room for next spring’s outcropping of the plants. Less lotus plants means more water for the waterfowl, but I didn’t see anything “exotic” in or around the pond, just the usual ducks and geese.
On the lawn, there was a small cadre of Northern Flickers looking for ants and grubs, and in another area there was a small flock of Dark-Eyed Juncos. Up in the trees were Lesser Goldfinches and Audubon’s Warblers trying to get the seeds out of the seed pods left open and dangling on the Sycamore Trees.
In one of the Italian Cypress trees behind the amphitheater on the grounds, there was a pair of squirrels making out. I guess if you’re going to have sex, high up in the heavy greenery of a cypress is a good place to do it. Only nosy naturalists would notice you there.
At the larger pond, there was again the usual crowd of ducks and geese, but also on the lawns there were Mourning Doves, warblers, and Western Bluebirds. In the trees on the far side of the pond were Turkey Vultures, preening and stretching in the early morning sunlight before taking off for long kettling flights overhead.
It was such a lovely morning. I walked for about 3 hours before heading back home.
Around 7:00 I was out the door with my friend Roxanne, to head over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk. The first thing we saw was a pair of California Towhees in the parking lot, then when we stepped into the preserve, we saw a Red-Shouldered Hawk sitting in a tree.
While we were watching it and taking photos, we were glad to spot Rachael Cowan, the former volunteer coordinator at Effie Yeaw. I was so happy to see that she was still well and kicking.
At the preserve the air was full of birdsong; it seemed like it was never-ending. That was so different from our recent experience at Kenny Ranch where the forest seemed completely silent for the most part. We were able to identify most of the birds by their song: Red-Shouldered Hawks, Acorn Woodpeckers, Oak Titmice, starlings, wrens, nuthatches, Spotted Towhees, Wild Turkeys… But we weren’t always able to see them well enough to get photos each time.
We also saw a few deer, including some does and yearlings, a spike buck, and a pair of 2-pointer bucks who were jousting, if half-heartedly. They kept pushing one another into deep folds between the hillocks, so we could only see them when they came up for air. I got a few shots of the head butting, but would have liked to have gotten more.
The does seemed focused on eating, and they seemed to really like the leaves of the olive trees on the property. One of them even walked down into a little ravine where the low branches of an olive tree trailed down over the side. Another doe tried to eat the leaves off a twiggy branch by pulling it around her head and stripping the leaves off as the twig ran through her mouth. It was fun watching them.
I was hoping to find some fungi, and we did come across a few common species, but it really needs to rain more to see more variety and specimens. I also found some green Trichoderma viride mold growing on a cast-off log.
“… The mold can grow directly on wood, which is mostly composed of cellulose, and on fungi, the cell walls of which are mainly composed of chitin. It parasitizes the mycelia and fruiting bodies of other fungi, including cultivated mushrooms, and it has been called the ‘green mold disease of mushrooms’…”
We were only out walking for about 2 hours – I was dragging a bit – but we were able to complete the one-mile necessary to count this as #4 of my #52HikeChallenge.
I got up around 7:00 am to overcast skies and high fog, with temps in the 40’s, and headed over to the Cosumnes River Preservefor a walk. I wasn’t expecting very much, but was hoping to maybe see some fungus along the walkway that goes through the oak forest. Nope. No fungi. Not even a single little mushroom. I was hoping to see an otter or mink, too, and again, nope. Nothing.
I checked the trees for lichen, and pretty much saw the usual suspects. I also checked out the lichen on the walls of the metal bridge the crosses an especially marshy area at the preserve.
I caught sight of many different waterfowl, but many were too far away to get any good photos of them – which is kind of what I expected. Recent reports have suggested the photo-taking opportunities juts aren’t there…and it may be because it’s still cold, overcast, and intermittently drizzly around here right now. When the sun shows itself, things may be different.
I did get to see a small flock of Buffleheads,and in among them was the first Common Goldeneye of the season.
In this video [above] you can see both male and female Buffleheads. In the first part of the video, you’ll see one of the males doing the head-bobbing gesture that’s part of their courtship ritual. You’ll also see a male and female pair fly off from the water, and see a larger male Northern Shoveler come in for a landing.
Cornell explains: “…Head-bobbing is the most common courtship display. The male swims toward a female and starts making a movement in which the head is repeatedly extended upwards and forwards (about 60° to the surface), and then retracted in rapid jerks, with brief pauses in the lowered stance. A characteristic sequence of actions during courtship involves Fly-over and Landing, Head-shake-forwards and Wing-lifting, and small Head-bobbing. Fly-over and Landing occur when a male courts a female in the presence of other males. The male makes a short flight over the female with the head held forward and low. At landing, the male is upright and the crest is erected as he “skis” on water with his feet pointing forward, thereby showing his conspicuous black and white upper plumage and bright pink feet. After he settles on the water, the head is thrust forward (Head-shake-forwards), and the wings are raised sharply behind the head (Wing-lifting). Head-bobbing follows.”
Among Buffleheads monogamy is the rule, but the pair bonds break when the breeding season is over, and then resume again the following year. The sex ratio favors the males, about 5 (males) to 1 (female). Copulation is brief as the male mounts the female for only 10–15 seconds and like most ducks, male Buffleheads have a penis.
Sparrows and other small birds seemed to dominate my photo-taking today. At one point, I was getting pictures of a Hairy Woodpecker on one side of the trail, and a Nuttall’s Woodpecker on the other.
In another spot, there were Golden-Crowned Sparrows, some California Towhees, and a Fox Sparrow all sharing the same leaf pile. More sightings like those would have been most welcome.
All together I walked for about 3½ hours and covered almost 3 miles, so I was pleased by the exercise. This was #3 of my #52HikeChallenge.
American Coot, Fulica americana
American Kestrel, Falco sparverius
American Pipit, Anthus rubescens
American Wigeon, Anas americana
Bare-bottom Sunburst Lichen, Xanthomendoza weberi [yellow to orange, shrubby, on rock/metal]
I got up around 6:30 this morning, and headed out to Grass Valley with my friend and fellow naturalist Roxanne Moger to go mushroom and lichen hunting at Kenny Ranch.
On the way to the location, we’ll pulled off to the side of the highway were there were a few trees covered in lichen that were within reach of the shoulder. The ground there was still icy, especially in the shadier spots, and I was sort of glad I’d brought an extra heavier jacket with me along with my regular hoody. It was COLD; 37° F, and there was a slight breeze that added to the chill factor.
When we got to the ranch, we put on our heavier clothing, but regretted it as soon as the sun cut through the clouds and fog. It got up to about 57° while we were out there: cold in the shade, too warm in the sun. It’s hard to know how to dress for weather like that.
Tree lichens are different species from rock lichens, and we were expecting to see mostly rock lichens at Kenny Ranch, so the stop off along the way allowed us to capture photos and information on more species. There was one stick we picked up that was loaded with a variety of different species in different colors. That phenomenon always amazes me: so much life clinging to one discarded twig.
The most species we found, though, were among the rock lichen, which this particular spot (Kenny Ranch) has in abundance. There’s a large field filled with boulders, and each boulder is covered in one or more species of lichen.
I was hoping to see some rag lichen on the trees and some birds’ nest fungus, but didn’t find either of those. Whereas, the ranch did not scrimp on the number of rock lichens to see, but the fungi were few and far between. We did find the oddly-named Scurfy Twiglet, the very large Yellow Knights, and some Bleach-Scented Mycenas (also called Nitrous Bonnets) with their sharp bleach smell.
Mycena is a very large genus and includes over 500 species worldwide. Some smell like bleach, some smell like garlic, some smell like watermelon. Some species are edible while others are toxic. And over 30 of the species are bioluminescent. The ‘shrooms themselves are, for the most part, pretty unremarkable when you see them: little plain gray or tan guys with a translucent veined cap and tender stipe.
In some patches of disturbed earth among the boulders where the rock lichens were found, we found different formations of ice including “needle ice”, incredible extrusion of ice from the earth. Rox did some research on it when we got home and found:
“… One of our wonderful finds today was many patches of needle ice. Needle ice forms in saturated soils especially those high in clay. The air temperature has to be colder than the soil temperature and then the rest is capillary action. And the result is delicate pillars of ice in neat vertical stacks. Here’s an articlethat explains it a little better. And a few photos...”
All along the way, we saw piles of scat that we assumed were from coyotes… but most of them were deposited on rocks rather than directly onto the ground, which we thought was odd and interesting.
One of our favorite sightings at Kenny Ranch was finding some Rosy Short-Headed Millipedes. We knew where to look for them, and were hoping to find some, so it was encouraging to actually see some of them under a log. Like their name implies, they’re a pale rosy pink. Whereas most millipedes feed on leaf litter, these guys feed primarily on fungus, so we were keeping an eye out for them in the same places where we were looking for mushrooms.
We always find them in colonies, which is typical of the species. The colonies are multi-generational (closer to the spring you’ll find adults layered on top of pale whitish young), and as there is no apparent “caste system”, all adults are supposedly able to reproduce.
Another standout feature of this particular genera of millipede, is that the males care for the eggs until they hatch. The female lays the eggs in a cluster, and the male coils its body around the mass, lifts the eggs from the ground (so soil fungus doesn’t affect them), and protects them from ants and other predators. The millipedes have defense glands that secrete a chemical compound, like buzonamine, that repels ants.
According to a study published in the Biodiversity Data Journal, the males don’t differentiate between “their” clutch of eggs and other males’ eggs, and will flail around to collect eggs that seem to be “abandoned”. The study also indicated that when the scientists removed the eggs, the males would go seek them and collect them up again.
Their many-many legs are hidden from view by the paranota that extend off of each segment of their bodies giving them an almost “feathery” look. Close ups of the paranota show that, in this species, they’re decorated with tiny bumps. Such interesting little guys!
Other fun finds were some tube lichens and some turret spider holes.
We walked about halfway around the major loop trail, then turned around and went back to the car (about a 3 hour trip). We parked among the cedars and had our lunch, then looked for the other end of the trail by the NID irrigation ditch. We weren’t successful in locating that other end, so decided to head back home from there.
I went to Mather Lake Regional Parkand walked for about 3 hours. I was looking for the osprey again, but didn’t find it. I was surprised by other things, though – including a Bald Eagle!
It was foggy and damp, around 43° when I got to the lake, and the temperature didn’t change much while I was out there. Everything seemed to be made of varying shades of gray and silver and black. I took photos of a couple of kinds of lichen, including Poplar Sunburst, and some mushrooms, including Mica Caps (a kind of ink cap) and Oyster mushrooms.
The Mute Swans were out in force on the lake, but I didn’t see the Tundra Swan this time. I wonder if it moved on in its migration. There were also large numbers of Coots, some of them sticking together in large covers while they were feeding on aquatic plants. I also saw some of the usual suspects: Double-Crested Cormorants, Mockingbirds, Canada Geese, Pied-Billed Grebes, and a Great Egret.
I caught a glimpse of a muskrat as it was swimming across the surface of the water, and also saw about five river otters. The first otter I saw was a lone one, but then I saw a group of four. All of them were swimming and feeding on the fish they were able to catch. It’s always exciting to see them. I was hoping they would come up onto the shore at some point so I could get some full body shot of them, but I guess they were too focused on breakfast. Several of them popped up long enough to look directly at me and snort loudly at my presence.
I was following this same raft of otters in the water, then saw the Bald Eagle over my head in a tree. Although eagles are historically not uncommon at the lake, they hadn’t been spotted there for years. So, I was very surprised when I saw it. More surprising, though, was when the otters gathered in the water underneath where the eagle was perched and huffed and snorted loudly at it.
Then the eagle swooped down off of its branch and flew low over the water. All of the otters ducked but didn’t fully submerge. The eagle approached one of them and literally raked its talons cross the top of the otter’s head before landing in a tree further down the bank. I didn’t get the impression that the eagle was trying to catch the otter; rather it seemed like it was flicking the otter hard on the head to show it who was boss. Of course, my camera wasn’t focusing on anything at that moment; all I got was a blur, dang it! [When I got home, I made sure to log my sighting with the River Otter Ecology Project]
Other raptors noted today were two White-Tailed Kites, a Red-Tailed Hawk, and a Red-Shouldered Hawk (heard).
Along one part of the trail, I came upon the broken skull of what I think was a small vole. It was alongside some scat that I couldn’t identify because it was too degraded. It might have been from a coyote. I know mink eat voles, but I don’t know if otter eat them as well. The scat definitely looked “mammalian”; not something that was part of a bird pellet.
As I was leaving, I came across a man with his unleashed, old, Yellow Lab. The man was walking back to his car, and the dog was following its owner with a soggy tennis ball in its mouth. At one point, the dog stopped and put its ball on the ground. The man, realizing that his dog was no longer following him, turned to look at the dog, and the dog started whining loudly and “mouthing words” at the man.
“No, you can’t go in the water,” the man said to the dog. “It’s too cold. Pick up your ball and come on.” The dog picked up the ball and continued to follow the man to the parking lot. Even as much as I HATE seeing unleashed dogs in public areas, I had to laugh at that exchange.
I walked for about 3 hours before heading home.
In response to my “otter spotter” submission on the otter versus eagle moment today, Megan Isadore at the River Otter Ecology Projectemailed me:
“…Thanks for that very interesting sighting! I’m not sure if you’ve seen our series on Otter and Bald Eagle at Jenner a couple of years ago? Here’s my favorite shot of the group; the eagle had tried to “share” the otter’s prey, which he’d dragged up onto the rock. The otter prevailed…”