Category Archives: birding

From Owlets to Muskrats, 04-10-21

I got up around 6:00 am and went to the American River Bend Park first just to check on mama Great Horned Owl and her owlets, then I was off to Mather Lake Regional Park to see how things were going there.

At the River Bend Park, I parked near the “owl tree” and immediately saw mama Great Horned Owl sitting on a branch to the right of the nest. She was dozing. Inside the nest I could see two owlets. One was standing up, while the other stayed down inside the nest; only the top of its head was visible.

On the nearby lawn, the male Wild Turkeys were strutting for the females. In the early morning light, their iridescent feathers took on a deep copper tone. They’re really such beautiful animals.

After taking several photos, I headed over to Mather Lake. All of the trees are starting to leaf-out including the willows, cottonwoods and oaks, so there were varying shades of green all around the lake.  One of the first things I saw there was a House Finch flying onto a nest she had under the roof of one of the kiosks. The nest had a mud base and was filled with spun dried grass.

House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus, and her nest

The male Red-Winged Blackbirds were out in force, singing from the trees and tules; and a Great Tailed Grackle was joining in from an adjacent tree.

In yet another tree, I saw a Green Heron.  It was croaking at a second heron that I only saw when the two of them took off and flew out of the park.

Several of the Coyote Brush bushes and Willow Dock plants were infested with aphids; light green on the Coyote Brush and deeper, richer green on the dock… But I’m not sure of the species. There are so many different ones, it’s hard to tell. I’ll have to do more research.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

Along the trail I got a brief glimpse of a cottontail rabbit, and also saw a tiny pocket gopher running by.  Oh, I saw my first Western Kingbird of the season, and also saw my first Sankefly of the season, so those were cool.

Snakefly, Agulla adnixa

The biggest surprise of the say, though, was seeing a muskrat swimming back and forth in the water several times. It was gathering greenery from the bottom of the lake, bringing it to the surface, and carrying it to the opposite side of the little island in the lake. I assumed it was taking the greenery to fill its nest, wherever that was. Maybe feeding babies?

Unfortunately for the muskrat, the island was being occupied by Canada Geese. Some of the geese chased the muskrat and nipped at him, and another goose stole the muskrat’s greenery and ate it! Poor little thing. Even with all the abuse, the muskrat kept focused on its task. I watched it go back and forth three times before I lost track of it.

On my way out to the parking lot, I noticed that two pairs of the Canada Geese had goslings with them — three babies each — and were walking them from the water’s edge, then back up onto the grass, where the adults tried to settle down to rest in the sunshine. Some of the goslings weren’t interested in napping, though, and rushed back to the water. Hah!  Brats!

Canada Goose, Branta canadensis, and goslings

On the way home, I drove down Eagle’s Nest Road beside the protected vernal pool area.  There’s no water out there that I could see, but some of the goldfields flowers and pan poppies were out blooming.

In another field, surrounded by temporary fencing, was a huge herd of Nubian Goats (the ones with the long floppy ears) working to clear the field. The herd included adult and baby goats, and when the baby goats ran, they looked like Cocker Spaniels running, ears flapping. One of the babies’ hide was covered in dots and splotches, and one of the splotches looked like a white heart on its side. How cute is that?!

I was out walking for almost 4 hours. This was hike #34 of my #52HikeChallenge.

Species List:

  1. ?? Ants farming the aphids
  2. Aphid, Family: Aphididae [pale green on coyote brush]
  3. Aphid, Family: Aphididae [rich green on willow dock]
  4. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  5. Boxelder, Box Elder Tree, Acer negundo
  6. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  7. Bur Parsley, Bur Chervil, Anthriscus caucalis
  8. California Black Oak, Quercus kelloggii
  9. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  10. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  11. Cattle, Bos taurus
  12. Cobwebby Thistle, Cirsium occidentale
  13. Common Cat’s-Ear, Hypochaeris radicata
  14. Cork Oak, Quercus suber
  15. Coyote Brush Bud Gall midge, Rhopalomyia californica
  16. Coyote Brush Rust, Puccinia evadens
  17. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  18. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
  19. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  20. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  21. Frying Pan Poppy, Eschscholzia lobbii
  22. Goat, Nubian Goat, Capra aegagrus hircus
  23. Goldfields, California Goldfields, Lasthenia californica
  24. Goodding’s Black Willow, Salix gooddingii
  25. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  26. Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus
  27. Great-Tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus
  28. Green Heron, Butorides virescens
  29. Hairy Vetch, Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa ssp. villosa
  30. Hermit Thrush, Catharus guttatus
  31. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  32. Lincoln’s Sparrow, Melospiza lincolnii
  33. Lupine, Arroyo Lupine, Lupinus succulentus
  34. Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  35. Mossy Stonecrop, Crassula tillaea [red]
  36. Mute Swan, Cygnus olor
  37. Multiflora Rose, Rosa multiflora [like white rock rose]
  38. Muskrat, Ondatra zibethicus
  39. Mustard Yellow Polypore, Fuscoporia gilva [like a bracket fungus]
  40. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  41. Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Western Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
  42. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  43. Ribwort Plantain, Plantago lanceolata
  44. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  45. Savannah Sparrow, Passerculus sandwichensis
  46. Snakefly, Agulla adnixa
  47. Stinging Nettle, Urtica dioica
  48. Swainson’s Hawk, Buteo swainsoni
  49. Swedish Blue Duck, Anas platyrhynchos domesticus var. Swedish Blue
  50. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  51. Wall Barley, Hordeum murinum
  52. Western Bluebird, Sialia mexicana
  53. Western Fence Lizard, Blue Belly, Sceloporus occidentalis
  54. Western Kingbird, Tyrant Flycatcher, Tyrannus verticalis
  55. White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys
  56. Willow Dock, Rumex salicifolius

Birds, Bees and Spring Galls, 04-08-21

I got up around 6:00 am and was out of the house before 6:30 to go to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve. It was 41° out at the river when I got there.

I’m still dealing a little bit with COVID-brain, I guess, because I forgot to leave a note for Lissa, so she knows where I am, and also forgot to take my cellphone with me. D’oh! So, I couldn’t call to tell my sister where I was — and I also couldn’t take the real close up photos of some of the things I was seeing (which I normally do when I’m out in the field).

When I was driving near the preserve, I saw two deer stepping slowly out of someone’s driveway and into the street. I know they were being cautious about the road, but to me it looked like they were tip-toeing away from the scene of the crime or something, like they’d done something wrong. Hah!

There were also quite a few deer visible along the trails. In one spot, I saw nine of them all together, grazing on the spring grasses and wildflowers. Some of the bucks were already showing the buds of this year’s antlers. By June, they’ll be in their velvet.

At the preserve itself there were lots, and lots and lots of squirrels out today; in fact, the first thing I saw when I drove into the parking lot was a Western Gray Squirrel running past the car with a mouth full of dried grasses and weeds to line its nest (drey). Later, when I was on the trail, I saw another Western Gray Squirrel running up a tree to check out its drey.

Squirrels build their drey out of leaves, grasses, small twigs, feathers, and pretty much whatever else they can carry in their mouths. [They’ll use tree cavities, too, if they’re available to nest in, but still line the inside with soft stuff.] They build the drey close to the trunk of the tree and/or forked branches to give the structure more support…which is what I was seeing here.

Right now, there are only Blue Dicks and Miniature Lupine making themselves conspicuous there, but as the month progresses we should see more variety. Near the nature center the planted Sonoran Sage and Douglas Irises were in bloom. The Redbud trees were flowering, some getting and showing off new blossoms, some done for the season and shedding old ones.

All of the oak trees and the black walnut trees are sporting catkins, so folks with allergies have a hard time being outdoors right now.

On the live oaks, I saw quite a few spring generation Live Oak Gall Wasp galls (that look like little funnels with a cap on them), and, surprisingly, a lot of Ball Gall Wasp galls (that look like a round tumor near the center of the leaf — visible from both the front and back of the leaves). I hadn’t seen any of those at the preserve for over a year, I think, and even then it was just one or two.

The little male House Wrens were all out singing, advertising nesting places for the females.  The Starlings were yelling and flapping their wings. And a fussy Acorn Woodpecker chased a dove out of its granary tree, but ignored a pair of Tree Swallows sitting in the next branch. Weird.  I also caught a fast glimpse of a pair of California Quail.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

Lots of Spotted Towhees were in the underbrush, making themselves visible on occasion, and I spotted (hah!) a Lincoln’s Sparrow in the grass.  I’m seeing more and more Lincoln Sparrows all over the place now. I don’t know if it’s because they’re actually increasing in numbers in the region, or if I’m just getting better at seeing them and differentiating them from other sparrows, like Song Sparrows.

The big surprise of the day was seeing a young coyote running down the trail toward me. It looked thin and long-legged so my initial impression was that it was a young male. But when it crossed through a grassy area and onto an adjacent trail, I think I spotted teats on the belly… so it might have been a young mom, thin because she’s giving her all to her pups.

There were Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies flitting around, but in smaller numbers than I’m used to seeing this time of year. Some of them are already looking “ragged” from their journeys. I wasn’t able to see eggs on any of the pipevine plants I saw.

California Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta. A sub-species endemic to the Central Valley of California.

A nice thing to see, though, was a swarm of bees in the doorway of the bee tree. The queen must’ve finally woken up from her winter doze and put her colony back to work.

I walked for about 3 ½ hours and then headed back home. This was hike #33 of my #52HikeChallenge.

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. Asian Lady Beetle, Harmonia axyridis
  3. Black Walnut, Eastern Black Walnut, Juglans nigra
  4. Blue Dicks, Dipterostemon capitatus
  5. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra cerulea
  6. Blue Oak, Quercus douglasii
  7. Bur Parsley, Bur Chervil, Anthriscus caucalis
  8. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  9. California Manroot, Bigroot, Marah fabaceus
  10. California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana
  11. California Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta
  12. California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica
  13. California Quail, Callipepla californica
  14. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  15. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis
  16. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  17. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
  18. Coyote, Canis latrans
  19. Cranefly, European Crane Fly, Tipula paludosa
  20. Digger Bee, Tribe: Anthophorin
  21. Douglas Iris,Iris douglasiana
  22. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
  23. Eastern Gray Squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis
  24. European Honeybee, Western Honeybee, Apis mellifera
  25. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  26. Golden-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
  27. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon
  28. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  29. Lincoln’s Sparrow, Melospiza lincolnii
  30. Live Oak Erineum Mite Gall, Aceria mackiei
  31. Live Oak Gall Wasp, Spring Generation, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis [looks like a soft funnel, green to brown]
  32. Lupine, Miniature Lupine, Lupinus bicolor
  33. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  34. Oak Apple, California Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  35. Periwinkle, Greater Periwinkle, Vinca major
  36. Red Deadnettle, Lamium purpureum
  37. Round Leaf Gall Wasp, Heteroecus flavens [single large blister on live oak leaves]
  38. Sonoma Sage, Salvia sonomensis
  39. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  40. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  41. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  42. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  43. Wavy-Leafed Soap Plant, Soaproot, Chlorogalum pomeridianum
  44. Western Gray Squirrel, Sciurus griseus
  45. Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis
  46. ?? caterpillar between live oak leaves

No Fooling…and owlets, 04-01-21

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.

Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus

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!

Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura

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.

A male California Quail, Callipepla californica

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

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 20210401_082910.jpg

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. Almond Tree, Prunus dulcis
  3. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  4. Audubon’s Warbler, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata auduboni
  5. Bedstraw, Velcro Grass, Cleavers, Galium aparine
  6. Black Grass Bug, Irbisia pacifica
  7. Black Locust Tree, Robinia pseudoacacia
  8. Black Walnut, Eastern Black Walnut, Juglans nigra
  9. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra cerulea
  10. Bur Parsley, Bur Chervil, Anthriscus caucalis
  11. California Manroot, Bigroot, Marah fabaceus
  12. California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana
  13. California Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta
  14. California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica
  15. California Quail, Callipepla californica
  16. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  17. Common Pea, Pisum sativum [rounded leaves, flower is light pink and dark pink]
  18. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
  19. Dove’s-foot Crane’s-Bill, Geranium molle
  20. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  21. Field Elm Tree, Ulmus minor [soft flakey seed pods]
  22. Ghost Spider, Family: Anyphaenidae
  23. Giraffe’s Head, Henbit Deadnettle, Lamium amplexicaule
  24. Goodding’s Black Willow, Salix gooddingii
  25. Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus
  26. Hairy Vetch, Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa ssp. villosa
  27. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon
  28. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  29. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  30. Lincoln’s Sparrow, Melospiza lincolnii
  31. Live Oak Gall Wasp, Spring Generation, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis [looks like a soft funnel, green to brown]
  32. Live Oak Gall Wasp, Summer Generation, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis [spiky ball]
  33. Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  34. Miner’s Lettuce, Claytonia perfoliata
  35. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  36. Non-Biting Midge, Cricotopus bicinctus [black and white, turned up tail]
  37. Oak Apple, California Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  38. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus
  39. Popcorn Flower, Rusty Popcornflower, Plagiobothrys nothofulvus [tiny]
  40. Red-Eared Slider Turtle, Trachemys scripta elegans
  41. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  42. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  43. Ruptured Twig Gall Wasp, Callirhytis perdens
  44. Santa Barbara Sedge, Carex barbarae
  45. Soldier Beetle, Silis sp.
  46. Stinging Nettle, Urtica dioica
  47. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  48. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  49. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  50. Western Bluebird, Sialia mexicana
  51. Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis
  52. Western Screech Owl, Megascops kennicottii
  53. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis

A Few New Things, 03-29-21

I got up around 6:00 this morning and headed over to the Cosumnes River Preserve. It was sunny and a lovely 49° when I got there. The wind picked up around 11:00 am and it was about 66° there when I left.

I was glad I’d put on some insect repellent because the midges and mosquitoes were everywhere. But on the other hand, the butterflies were out, too. I saw Cabbage Whites, some Western Tiger Swallowtails and some Anise Swallowtails.

I took the route around Bruceville and Desmond Roads, and in one spot, I found a large flock of California Quails, several males and females together. I also saw two Northern Harriers on the ground. One flew off, but the other remained, finishing off a carcass. When it stepped back and walked around for a little bit, I could see that its crop was VERY full. Still, it went back to the carcass to eat some more. It’s feast or famine in the raptor world.

The wild radish (Charlock) plants were in bloom everywhere: pink, white, yellow and pastel orange, and there was mustard blooming in the fields along with tules and rushes. Fiddleneck and buttercups were growing in small patches, and the valley oak and ash trees were starting to get their new leaves.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

On the valley oaks, the Oak Apple galls were starting to appear for the season, and I also found some I’d never seen before. They were little “blister-like” galls near the base of some of the new leaves on the trees. I’m looking forward to receiving Russo’s newest book on galls and hope these are included in it. [The book is supposed to be available on April 20th.]

I also found some little red-and-black striped beetles that I’d not seen before. They’re a kind of Calligraphy Beetle, and were quite near a Seven-Spotted Ladybeetle.

There were sparrows, Meadowlarks and Red-Winged Blackbirds singing from the trees and rushes.  On the water, there were occasional Coots, Northern Shovelers, Green-Winged Teals and other ducks, Black-Necked Stilts and Greater Yellowlegs. The usual suspects. There were Tree Swallows everywhere, vying for nesting spots. Some were eyeing a nesting box right near the entrance gate to the preserve’s boardwalk area, but it was already being occupied by a pair of Western Bluebirds.  Mama bluebird was making short trips to bring bits of soft grass to line the nest inside.

At the end of the boardwalk, a pair of Phoebes were building a nest underneath the wooden planks. And there were two others building nests under the eaves of the restroom facility there.

There were also quite a few cottontail rabbits out and about. In one spot, I saw three of them together.

I walked for about 3½ hours and then headed back home. This was hike 31 of my #52HikeChallenge.

Species List:

  1. American Coot, Fulica americana
  2. American Robin, Turdus migratorius
  3. American Wigeon, Anas americana
  4. Anise Swallowtail Butterfly, Papilio zelicaon
  5. Audubon’s Warbler, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata auduboni
  6. Black Mustard, Common Wild Mustard, Brassica nigra
  7. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  8. Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
  9. California Buttercup, Ranunculus californicus
  10. California Calligraphy Leaf Beetle, Calligrapha californica [black and orange striped]
  11. California Quail, Callipepla californica
  12. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  13. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis
  14. Common Fiddleneck, Amsinckia menziesii
  15. Common Pea, Pisum sativum [rounded leaves, flower is light pink and dark pink]
  16. Common Spike-Rush, Eleocharis palustris
  17. Desert Cottontail Rabbit, Sylvilagus audubonii
  18. Dunlin, Calidris alpina
  19. European Honeybee, Western Honeybee, Apis mellifera
  20. European Water-Plantain, Alisma plantago-aquatica [large leaves, tall flowering heads]
  21. Fennel, Sweet Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare
  22. Golden-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
  23. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons
  24. Greater Yellowlegs, Tringa melanoleuca
  25. Green Lacewing, Chrysoperla rufilabris
  26. Green-Winged Teal, Anas carolinensis
  27. Heart-Podded Hoary Cress, Lepidium draba [looks like a short Broad Leafed Pepperweed to me]
  28. Jointed Charlock, Wild Radish, Raphanus raphanistrum
  29. Long-Billed Dowitcher, Limnodromus scolopaceus
  30. Marsh Fly, Euthycera sp.
  31. Marsh Foxtail Grass, Alopecurus geniculatus
  32. Musk Stork’s-Bill, Erodium moschatum
  33. Northern Harrier, Marsh Hawk, Circus hudsonius
  34. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata
  35. Oak Apple, California Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  36. Oregon Ash, Fraxinus latifolia
  37. Paper Wasp, Black Paper Wasp, European Paper Wasp, Polistes dominula [nest]
  38. Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Western Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
  39. Prickly Sowthistle, Pigweed, Sonchus asper
  40. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  41. Ribwort Plantain, Plantago lanceolata
  42. Seven-Spotted Lady Beetle, Coccinella septempunctata
  43. Slender Path Rush, Juncus tenuis [“flowers” mid stem]
  44. Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia
  45. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  46. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  47. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  48. Water Lettuce, Pistia stratiotes
  49. Water Purslane, Ludwigia palustris [dense, leafy, red stems]
  50. Western Bluebird, Sialia Mexicana
  51. Western Fence Lizard, Blue Belly, Sceloporus occidentalis
  52. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
  53. Western Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly, Papilio rutulus
  54. Yellow-Legged Mud-Dauber Wasp, Sceliphron caementarium
  55. ?? Galls like “blisters” on new leaves of Valley Oak tree
  56. ?? Stink Bug

Taking the Car Out for a Long Drive, 03-24-21

I got up about 5:30 this morning — (Ugh!) — and was ready to head out the door with my dog Esteban to drive over to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge and Colusa National Wildlife Refuge. As I mentioned before, I wanted to take the car on a long jog to see how well it ran after its repairs last week, and I wanted to see how things were going at the refuge.

Esteban usually fusses in the car. The last time I took him with us to the refuge, he whined all the way (wanting to get up in the front seat with me). This time, he whined for about a half an hour, then settled down on my coat in the back seat and fell asleep. He was great for the rest of the trip. I was so proud of him. Occasionally, he’d stand up with his paws on the arm rest and look out the window. I wonder how his little brain processes what he sees…

I stopped off in Woodland to get a coffee before going further, and there were so many blackbirds singing in one of the trees that their sound was almost deafening.

Every “black dot” is a blackbird singing away just before sun up.

It was about 46° when I headed out, and was a lot windier during the day than I was expecting. Rough winds interfere with birding — everyone tends to hunker down. But I did okay in that department — even though I totally missed getting close up photos of an American White Pelican and a Bald Eagle. (They flew off before I could get near enough. *Sigh*)

I decided to go first to the Colusa refuge first, and the first thing I saw were small flocks of Greater White-Fronted Geese and Snow Geese. There was also a Red-Tailed Hawk sitting in a nearby tree and a White-Tailed Kite kiting in the air over the field.           

I was the only person on the refuge for about the first hour or so, so I had the whole place to myself and could go at whatever speed I wanted along the auto tour route. Several of the wetland areas were still dry, which kind of surprised me. I thought it would be all full with a least some measure of water everywhere. There weren’t very many birds near the viewing platform, which was also kind of a surprise. There are usually lots of geese and ducks around there.

Snowy Egret, Egretta thula, with White-Faced Ibises, Plegadis chihi

At the beginning of the route, there  were Wild Turkeys jogging along. They ran out into the field and I could see the males were doing their strutting thing for the females. In another area, I saw a flock of female turkeys all gathered together (avoiding the boys).

There were Coots were everywhere, and Marsh Wrens were teasing me from the tules. I could see of their nests; the males are working hard to impress the females with their construction work.

Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris

 There were lots and lots of Ibises. Some of the adults are getting their full breeding colors now and are so handsome. I didn’t see any with their white faces yet, however.

There weren’t any more large flocks of ducks, but I did see a wide variety of species: American Wigeons, Northern Shovelers, Gadwalls, Cinnamon and Green-Winged Teals, and Buffleheads. I was surprised to see a little female Hooded Merganser in one of the ponds. I couldn’t see any male around, though.

There were handfuls of Snowy Egrets and the occasional Great Egret, and of course there was the huge flock of Black-Crowned Night Herons day-roosting in the trees at the end of the route.

The sightings of the day were two different Great Horned Owls hunkered down in their nesting spots. There was also supposed to be a Barn Owl out there, but I didn’t see that one. What I DID see was owl poop around the informational kiosk — along with a few pellets.  Yay!

I then headed over to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, and the first thing I saw there was a Black-Tailed Jackrabbit. This is baby season for the jack’s and I saw a lot of the adults around, chasing one another.

The wildflowers are just starting to pop up around there even though the vernal pools are empty. It seemed all the “yellows” are coming out first. I saw outcrops of Fiddlenecks, Bird’s-foot Trefoil, amid Brass Buttons, along with fields of Goldfields.

The extra loop to the permanent wetland area is now open, and they’ve done a lot of “remodeling” around it. Most of the taller tules and weeds have been mowed down, so areas around the main pond are more visible. I was hoping to see some Bitterns around here, but had no luck. Of course, I’d gotten here “late” in the morning today (it was a little after 10:00 am. When I usually go here, I go around 6:30 or 7:00 when the sun is coming up.) Here, too, there are huge areas that have no water in them… which alters the kind of species you see (from “wet” to “dry”).

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

There was the normal cadre of sparrows everywhere, and a smattering of Western Meadowlarks. One let me get close enough to photograph it and video it singing.

Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta

There were lots and lots of Ibises here, too, many of them fishing for crayfish. I was getting some cool video of one of them, just as the battery died in the camera. By the time I got it reloaded and focused on the bird again, the Ibis was swallowing down its meal. Dang it!

I watched some male Northern Shoveler ducks trying to do some of their courtship movements for a female. There was the “Head Dip and Up-end” that looked like a mini-bath, the “Wing Flap” and “Precopulatory Head Pumping”… but the gal just wasn’t into them. D’oh! She just swam by with her face in the water looking for food.

I also watched a male Canvasback as he was feeding. They’re actually diving ducks, but here the water was exceedingly shallow, so the male rose up and stirred up the bottom of the marsh with his feet, then dipped forward to eat what he’d kicked up.

When a female Mallard got too close to him and his meal, he attacked her and chased her until her boyfriend showed up. The Canvasback turned away then, and let the Mallards depart together.

A male Canvasback Duck, Aythya valisineria, attacked a female Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos, when she got too close to where he was foraging for food.

In that same pond area there were Clark’s and Western Grebes checking out spots to build their nests (which they’ll be sitting on in the summer). There were also some Pied-Billed Grebes singing to one another.

Along the end of the auto tour route, several Ground Squirrels popped up, and one came out onto the road and gave itself a dust bath right next to the car. Hah! They’re such cute little things. I’d love to have a colony of them in the yard just so I could watch them.

California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi

Around this same area, I saw another Great Horned Owl sitting on a nest in a tree. It was pretty distant, so I couldn’t get any close ups.

Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus,in its nest

All together Esteban and I were in the car for about 10 hours! The walking I did at each of the refuges combined counted as the 29th hike in my #52HikeChallenge. Woot!

Species List:

  1. American Coot, Fulica americana
  2. American Elm Tree, Ulmus americana
  3. American Pipit, Anthus rubesce
  4. American White Pelican, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos
  5. American Wigeon, Anas americana
  6. Arundo, Giant Reed, Arundo donax
  7. Audubon’s Warbler, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata auduboni
  8. Bald Eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus
  9. Bird’s-foot Trefoil, Lotus corniculatus
  10. Black Mustard, Common Wild Mustard, Brassica nigra
  11. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  12. Black-Crowned Night Heron, Nycticorax nycticorax
  13. Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
  14. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus
  15. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum
  16. Boxelder, Box Elder Tree, Acer negundo
  17. Brass Buttons, Cotula coronopifolia
  18. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  19. Bristly Oxtongue, Helminthotheca echioides
  20. Bufflehead Duck, Bucephala albeola
  21. Cackling Goose, Branta hutchinsii
  22. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  23. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis
  24. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  25. Canvasback Duck, Aythya valisineria
  26. Cinnamon Teal, Anas cyanoptera
  27. Clark’s Grebe, Aechmophorus clarkii [black above the eye]
  28. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
  29. Common Fiddleneck, Amsinckia menziesii
  30. Crow, American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  31. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
  32. Floating Water Primrose, Ludwigia peploides ssp. Peploides
  33. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  34. Gadwall Duck, Mareca strepera
  35. Goldfields, California Goldfields, Lasthenia californica [6-8 petals, rounded mound-like center]
  36. Goodding’s Black Willow, Salix gooddingii
  37. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
  38. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  39. Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus
  40. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons
  41. Greater Yellowlegs, Tringa melanoleuca
  42. Green-Winged Teal, Anas carolinensis
  43. Himalayan Blackberry, Rubus bifrons [white flowers]
  44. Hooded Merganser, Lophodytes cucullatus
  45. House Sparrow, Passer domesticus
  46. Interior Sandbar Willow, Salix interior
  47. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  48. Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  49. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris
  50. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  51. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
  52. Northern Harrier, Marsh Hawk, Circus hudsonius
  53. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  54. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata
  55. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii [heard]
  56. Oregon Ash, Fraxinus latifolia
  57. Pacific Pond Turtle, Western Pond Turtle, Actinemys marorata
  58. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  59. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum
  60. Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Western Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
  61. Prickly Sowthistle, Pigweed, Sonchus asper
  62. Red Swamp Crayfish, Crawdad, Procambarus clarkii
  63. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
  64. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  65. Ring-Necked Duck, Aythya collaris
  66. Ring-Necked Pheasant, Phasianus colchicus
  67. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  68. Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Regulus calendula
  69. Ruddy Duck, Oxyura jamaicensis
  70. Savannah Sparrow, Passerculus sandwichensis
  71. Snow Goose, Chen caerulescens
  72. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula
  73. Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia
  74. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  75. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  76. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  77. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  78. Western Fence Lizard, Blue Belly, Sceloporus occidentalis
  79. Western Grebe, Aechmophorus occidentalis [black below the eye]
  80. Western Kingbird, Tyrant Flycatcher, Tyrannus verticalis [nest]
  81. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
  82. White Horehound, Marrubium vulgare
  83. White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus
  84. White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys
  85. White-Faced Ibis, Plegadis chihi

As an Aside

Wow. Some bee-otch on the Birding California group complained about my adding scientific names to the species photos I post. (Which I do as a naturalist to be specific with my IDs and to help others learn.) She wrote: “Does listing the ‘official name’ of each bird make you feel superior? No just egotistical.”

Geez, cranky much? I consider this harassment (as it’s personally denigrating and inaccurate.) I reported her to the admin of the group, reported her to Facebook, and blocked her. No one has to take harassment and bullying from any troll — ever, anywhere.

It was nice to see others in the group stand up for me. One person wrote: “…Keep doing it. Great photos. Ignore the trolls.” and another wrote: “Great posting for us newbies. I used your photos as “flash cards” to see if I could correctly identify each bird before reading your label. Thanks teach!”

A Many Otter Morning, 03-20-21

I got up at 6:30 this morning, so I could head out with my friend Roxanne to the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area. We had heard online that the Yellow-Headed Blackbirds (YHB) were starting to show up at the bypass again.

I’ve seen some juvenile and female YHBs, but they were individuals, here and there. I’ve never seen the fully mature males, which have vibrant yellow heads, and I’ve never them in flocks before. So, Rox and I decided we’d go to look for them. Then some of our naturalist friends Rachael and Karlyn said they wanted to go, too, so we told them we’d meet them over at the bypass around 8:00 am.

Rox met me at the house around 7:00 and we headed in toward Davis, stopping briefly to get some coffee and then trying to see if the Burrowing Owls were out by the ag fields. We didn’t see any owls — the fact that a woman went jogging right by where it was didn’t help –but I did catch a glimpse of a Yellowthroat and I saw my first ever Horned Lark. It was a young female, and wasn’t showing any horns (which can be raised or lowered), but, hey, it was a “lifer” for me!

Horned Lark, Eremophila alpestris

We then went to the Yolo Bypass and met up with Karlyn and Rachael at the parking lot in front of the start of the auto tour route. Rox and I went in one car, and Rachael and Karlyn went in another. Rachael couldn’t stay for the whole day, so we tried to keep an eye on the clock as we went along.

We were seeing a lot of the usual suspects: sparrows, egrets, some ibises, but also saw a handsome Raven sitting on top of a post. He posed for a while before taking off. 

As we went along, though, Roxanne spotted some dark forms galloping across the road in the distance. We realized right away that they were North American River Otters, Lontra canadensis, and saw them go into a slough/ditch area by a bridge. It was hard not to just SPEED to the spot, but we didn’t want to startle the otters, so Rox drove toward them at a moderated speed.

Our sort of stealth was rewarded when we got to the bridge and found a whole raft of otters in the water. As we watched them, the otters used the large drainage pipe adjacent to bridge to move from one side of it to another; sometimes hiding from us by piling up inside the pipe. Sometimes all we saw with the rippling effect they had on the water, or the bubbles they released when they were submerged.

Eventually, the otters felt comfortable enough to come out and climb onto the levee on the side opposite from us where they shook their fur, did some grooming, greeted and rolled over one another, and even did their “poopy dance”. All the while, one or more of them would be snorting at us; low sounds, like they were grumbling about us under their breath.

We counted SIX of them for sure, and then thought we’d spotted a SEVENTH in the water… but it was hard to keep track of everyone because they were all moving about.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

I tried getting single shots of each one of them, which again wasn’t easy, in the hopes that I could maybe identify individuals later from their photos but… sorry to say, they all look pretty much the same to me. Trying to get group shots was hilarious. It was like trying to find a family photo for a Christmas card when not all of the subjects are cooperating. Some would look this way, while others looked that way, or fell out of the frame, or decided to shake their head just as the picture was snapped… Hah!

Still, what a wonderful treat! Those little guys made my day.  At that was the largest group of otters I’ve ever seen. Karlyn and Rachael were equally impressed.  Of course, I reminded all of them to log their sighting at the River Otter Ecology Project’s “Otter Spotter” site.

The other unexpected sighting was seeing some Black Crowned Night Herons day-roosting in one of the fields. There’s supposed to be a large colony of them there, but we couldn’t find them on our drive or our walk. I saw a pair of otters in the water in a field as we were going along, but they disappeared into the tules.

Black-Crowned Night Heron, Nycticorax nycticorax

We never did see any of the Yellow-Headed Blackbirds, but figured that they might be foraging in another field or something. We DID get to see a Black Phoebe near a little viewing platform gathering nesting materials. They build mud nests then line the nest with fine twigs and feathers and other soft stuff.  Rox and I kind of consider the phoebes “our” birds because we see them almost everywhere we go. This one’s nest was UNDERNEATH the platform we were standing on. As long as the water level of the pond doesn’t rise too much, it should be fine there.

Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans

At that same spot, we got a glimpse of two more otters. They were fussing along the edges of the stands of tules, and then disappeared. We wondered if they had a holt in there somewhere.

As we were driving out, we flushed an American Bittern which took off flying tour left across the marsh. We had been keeping an eye out for bitterns, but didn’t see any until this one surprised us. Of course, it all happened so fast, we didn’t get any photos of it.

Between the driving and the walking out at the bypass, we were out for almost five hours!  The weather was gorgeous, the company was fun, and the animal sightings were enjoyable… A good morning all around.

Species List:

  1. American Bittern, Botaurus lentiginosus
  2. American Coot, Fulica americana
  3. American Pipit, Anthus rubescens
  4. American Wigeon, Anas americana
  5. Audubon’s Warbler, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata auduboni
  6. Black Mustard, Common Wild Mustard, Brassica nigra
  7. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  8. Black-Crowned Night Heron, Nycticorax nycticorax
  9. Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
  10. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum
  11. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  12. Broadleaf Cattail, Bullrush, Typha latifolia
  13. Brown-Headed Cowbird, Molothrus ater
  14. Bufflehead Duck, Bucephala albeola
  15. Bur Clover, Medicago polymorpha
  16. Canvasback Duck, Aythya valisineria
  17. Carrot, American Wild Carrot, Daucus pusillus
  18. Cheeseweed Mallow, Malva parviflora
  19. Cinnamon Teal, Anas cyanoptera
  20. Cooper’s Hawk, Acipiter cooperii
  21. Cut-leaved Crane’s-Bill, Geranium dissectum
  22. Fennel, Sweet Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare
  23. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  24. Golden-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
  25. Goodding’s Black Willow, Salix gooddingii
  26. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
  27. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  28. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons
  29. Greater Yellowlegs, Tringa melanoleuca
  30. Greenbottle Fly, Marsh Greenbottle Fly, Lucilia silvarum
  31. Green-Winged Teal, Anas carolinensis
  32. Gumweed, Hairy Gumweed, Grindelia hirsutula
  33. Horned Lark, Eremophila alpestris
  34. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  35. Interior Sandbar Willow, Salix interior
  36. Jointed Charlock, Wild Radish, Raphanus raphanistrum
  37. Khella, Bisnaga Weed, Toothpick Plant, Bishop’s Weed, Ammi visnaga [ a kind of carrot, invasive species]
  38. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  39. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  40. Long-Billed Curlew, Numenius americanus
  41. Long-Billed Dowitcher, Limnodromus scolopaceus
  42. Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  43. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris
  44. Mediterranean Stork’s-Bill, Erodium botrys
  45. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  46. Northern Harrier, Marsh Hawk, Circus hudsonius
  47. Northern Pintail, Anas acuta
  48. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata
  49. Paper Wasp, Black Paper Wasp, European Paper Wasp, Polistes dominula
  50. Paper Wasp, Red Paper wasp, Apache Paper Wasp, Polistes apachus
  51. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum
  52. Prickly Sowthistle, Pigweed, Sonchus asper
  53. Raven, Common Raven, Corvus corax
  54. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  55. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
  56. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  57. Ring-Necked Pheasant, Phasianus colchicus
  58. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia [saw in the field on the drive]
  59. River Otter, North American River Otter, Lontra canadensis
  60. Rough Cocklebur, Xanthium strumarium
  61. Sandhill Crane, Grus canadensis
  62. Savannah Sparrow, Passerculus sandwichensis
  63. Shepherd’s-Purse, Capsella bursa-pastoris
  64. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula
  65. Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia
  66. Sunflower, Common Sunflower, Helianthus annuus
  67. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  68. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  69. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  70. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
  71. White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus
  72. White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys
  73. White-Faced Ibis, Plegadis chihi
  74. Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata