Category Archives: Firsts

The Necessity for Fishing Line Clean-Up, 01-20-21

Birthday Week Day Four: I got up around 7:00 am and around 7:30 headed over to the Mather Lake Regional Park where I met up with fellow naturalist, Rachael. Rachael had never been there before, so it was fun showing her around and telling her where we usually see what. We actually got to see [and hear] quite a lot.

Rachael had brought her spotting scope out to see if we could see anything a little bit better. We tried to get it to focus on an osprey and a pair of White-Tailed Kites that were sharing a tree on the opposite side of the lake. It took a while to get the scope to cooperate, adjusting this, tilting that, readjusting… but we DID get a view of the birds and were able to see that the osprey was a female (with a necklace of dark spots around her neck).

A female Osprey, Pandion haliaetus, with a White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus, behind her. You can tell the female Ospreys from the males by the necklace of spots hanging down from around their neck.

The scope was too cumbersome to carry along the mostly-narrow trails around the lake, so it was returned to Rachael’s car before we carried on.

There was birdsong all around today, including the sounds of California Quail, Great-Tailed Grackles, and Northern Flickers. There were Great Blue Herons on the shoreline as well as Great Egrets.  Among the Great Blue Herons we saw today, was a bonded pair of the birds that were flying back and forth across the lake. This one landed in the top of the tree… It’s so interesting to watch their dance.

Lots of Double-Crested Cormorants in the trees and the water. We also saw several Nuttall’s Woodpeckers including both a male and a female that stopped longs  enough for me to get some photos of them.

We were surprised to see a solitary male Canvasback Duck swimming on the lake. And also saw a solitary male Bufflehead and Wigeon.  What is it that causes these males to go off on their own? Are they ahead of the flock or behind it?

The family of River Otters was out an about, but they were tucked in along the edges of the island for the most part, too far away to get really good photos of them. We saw one of them exit the water and gallop through the tules – in and out of sight. The kind of roll and waddle when they’re on land, but in the water, they’re all silk.

North American River Otters, Lontra canadensis

We also saw a pair of White-Tailed Kites who were murmuring quietly to one another and flying in “soft circles” with their legs down. Rachael and I wondered if that was courtship behavior, so I looked it up when I got home and – yep! We were right. “Leg hanging” is part of the courtship and territorial behavior, and is usually done over a potential nesting site! Wow, wouldn’t it be great if we could see a kite nest here?!

White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

When we were near the end of the trail on the “golf”-side of the lake we could hear a goose calling but with a rattling, pain-filled honk like nothing we’d ever heard before. We followed the sound out to the edge of the water where there was a flattened out patch of tules. Rachael ventured out as far as she could without getting her feet wet, and took some video of the goose as it struggled to breathe and coughed and gently shook its head.  It was out in the water, floating there, so we couldn’t get close enough to it to “rescue” it.

Rachael getting some video of the goose in distress.

When I got home, I looked up goose diseases to try to figure out what the bird might be suffering from, and was surprised by the number of diseases they can get, including coccidiosis and avian influenza (especially prevalent in Canada Geese). Wow. Many of the diseases are caused by their living and feeding in water that is contaminated by animal feces…

When I posted the find to Facebook, another friend, Allyson Seconds, saw the post and passed it on to her animal rescuer friend, Ben Nuckolls. Ben had been getting several calls about the goose and had been trying to rescue it, but it kept evading him. He asked for more details on the one we saw, and Rachael responded with:

“…I could not see any obvious injury or entanglement. The piercing sound is what attracted our attention. The goose continually put its bill in the water and withdraw and shake its head gently. Then it would follow with what I would describe as a cough since the entire chest and abdomen expanded and contracted as it make the loud piercing sound. It would periodically open its bill briefly too. I have video and will pm it too you…”

Ben wrote: “…I’m still suspecting the ingestion of fishing line or fish hook because this lake is known for its many entanglement hazards. Disease cases would most likely show up in more than one goose at a time and not be an isolated goose. If I can catch it, I will examine all the possibilities…”

Ben went out to look for the bird, and sadly found it – dead in the water. Closer inspection showed it “had an obstruction of fishing line and a hook down its throat”. Ben’s photos showed the obstruction suffered by the goose. It was ghastly.

Photo by Ben. The dead goose with fishing line and hooks inside its mouth and throat.

I knew the geese and ducks could get tangled in fishing line (and have seen ones who log a leg or had a wind sawed off by the stuff, by it didn’t occur to me that the birds might EAT it.  I suppose if it’s wrapped up in the water vegetation they eat, or if there’s still a lure and hook attached to it they might think that’s a meal and gobble it up. This particular goose had a hook lodged in its throat and wad of the line bunched up inside its mouth… so it couldn’t eat and had trouble breathing. Good lord, poor thing. Cast off line and dropped hooks is a major problem at the lake, but the park doesn’t have enough personnel to do the recon and clean-up of the stuff.

We walked for about 3 hours and then headed back to our respective homes. Rachael said she’s been looking for places nearby that are relatively easy to walk but still have a nature component to them, so I suggested she check out my website; there are lots of sites listed there. This was walk #7 in my #52HikeChallenge.

Species List:

  1. ?? Snake bones
  2. American Coot, Fulica americana
  3. American Kestrel, Falco sparverius
  4. American Wigeon, Anas americana
  5. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  6. Azolla, Water Fern, Azolla filiculoides
  7. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  8. Broadleaf Cattail, Bullrush, Typha latifolia
  9. Bufflehead Duck, Bucephala albeola
  10. Bushtit, American Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus
  11. California Quail, Callipepla californica [heard]
  12. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  13. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis
  14. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  15. Canvasback Duck, Aythya valisineria
  16. Common Gallinule, Gallinula galeata
  17. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  18. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
  19. Downy Woodpecker, Picoides pubescens
  20. Eurasian Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto
  21. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  22. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  23. Golden Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
  24. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
  25. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  26. Great-Tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus
  27. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  28. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  29. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  30. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  31. Mute Swan, Cygnus olor
  32. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
  33. Northern Harrier, Marsh Hawk, Circus hudsonius
  34. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii
  35. Osprey, Pandion haliaetus
  36. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  37. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus [heard]
  38. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  39. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  40. River Otter, North American River Otter, Lontra canadensis
  41. Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Regulus calendula
  42. Soft Rush, Juncus effusus
  43. Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia
  44. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  45. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  46. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  47. Western Bluebird, Sialia Mexicana
  48. White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus

Post Script:

Ben set up an impromptu clean-up for volunteers at the park the next day.  They found one more dead goose and another one that was coughing and wheezing. It was taken to Gold Country Wildlife Rescue to be rehabilitated.            

Too Windy at the Bypass, 01-19-21

Birthday Week, Day Three. I had planned for this to be a “crash” day between excursions, but my friend Roxanne invited me to join her on a trip to Yolo County. Yipee!

We went to the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area and then went to the Ibis Rookery in Woodland. So we headed out around 7:00 am. It was super-windy today, though, which meant birding was pretty much a no-go. There was so much chop on the water that there were actual cresting waves across the flooded fields and marshes.  And that wind was COLD! As we were driving around, we’d open the car windows to try to shoot some photos through them, only to get blasted by the wind. Some gusts were so strong, they knocked the camera back and forth as I held it up to get a shot.

We saw a few raptors including a couple of White-Tailed Kites, some Red-Tailed Hawks, and a few Northern Harriers. There were also lots of White-Crowned Sparrows hugging the growth closer to the ground and wherever berms shielded them from the wind. There were also “piles” of ducks, different species crammed in against one another for warmth, or feeding with their faces in the water below the chop. Pickings for photos were slim.

The one good thing about this trip is that we figured out the whole circular route through the place this time around, so we know where to go now the next time we head out there.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

As we were heading out of the wildlife area, we saw some Northern Harriers on the ground. One of them had a clod of dirt in its talons and was “playing” with it, lifting it up, letting it fall, picking it up again, tossing it. Apparently, this is common among juvenile Harriers.

Cornell notes: “…In the fledgling stage, juveniles chase and supplant one another, and occasionally pounce on and play with inanimate objects. In winter, Bildstein observed Northern Harriers playing with inanimate objects, both before going to roost in evening and after roosting. Individuals picked up and manipulated vole-size corncobs and other crop residue; birds were more likely to initiate play when a nearby bird did so, and as many as 3 birds played with corncobs…”

As the one we were watching was playing, I noticed that she’d transfer the clod of dirt from one foot to another… almost like she was practicing the “prey transfer” moves that adult Harriers do between them (when the male brings food to the female). I got a little video of it, but it was so windy, the camera moves all over the place.

We then went over to the Ibis Rookery and were surprised by the number of Ruddy Ducks we saw in the water there, but, again because of the wind we didn’t get to see a lot of birds – or anything else.  We were also surprised by a new sign that read “No Birder Vehicles Beyond This Point”, so we weren’t able to circle the settling ponds like we normally would. That kind of added insult to injury.

Although we didn’t get much in way of interesting sightings or photos, we had a lot of fun chatting all along the way. Sometime, we need to set up one of the cellphones to record our running commentary… we crack ourselves up.  Hah!

We spent about 3½ hours driving around, and because it was all driving and no walking, I couldn’t count it toward my #52HikeChallenge.

Species List:

  1. American Coot, Fulica americana
  2. American Kestrel, Falco sparverius
  3. American Pipit, Anthus rubescens
  4. American Wigeon, Anas americana
  5. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  6. Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
  7. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  8. Bufflehead Duck, Bucephala albeola
  9. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  10. Cinnamon Teal, Anas cyanoptera
  11. Common Goldeneye, Bucephala clangula
  12. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
  13. Golden Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
  14. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
  15. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  16. Green-Winged Teal, Anas carolinensis
  17. Herring Gull, Larus argentatus [spot on bill, gray legs, pale eye]
  18. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  19. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  20. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  21. Northern Harrier, Marsh Hawk, Circus hudsonius
  22. Northern Pintail, Anas acuta
  23. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata
  24. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  25. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
  26. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  27. Ring-Necked Pheasant, Phasianus colchicus
  28. Ruddy Duck, Oxyura jamaicensis
  29. Savannah Sparrow, Passerculus sandwichensis
  30. Snow Goose, Chen caerulescens
  31. Sunflower??
  32. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
  33. White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus
  34. White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys

Eagle versus Otters, 01-07-21

I went to Mather Lake Regional Park and 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.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

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).

A White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus, with a very full crop

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.

A small vole skull, I believe

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 Project emailed 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…”

Photo by Bill Barrett…Jenner, Ca.


Species List:

  1. American Coot, Fulica americana
  2. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  3. Azolla, Water Fern, Azolla filiculoides
  4. Bald Eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus
  5. Beaver, American, Beaver, Castor canadensis [sign]
  6. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  7. Bluegill, Lepomis macrochirus
  8. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  9. Bufflehead Duck, Bucephala albeola
  10. California Quail, Callipepla californica
  11. California Wild Rose, Rosa californica
  12. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  13. Common Crow, American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  14. Common Gallinule, Gallinula galeata
  15. Crisped Pincushion Moss, Ulota crispa
  16. Cytospora Canker, Cytospora chrysosperma [bright orange fruiting body, looks like frozen dodder]
  17. Dog, Canis lupus familiaris
  18. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
  19. Downy Woodpecker, Picoides pubescens
  20. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  21. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  22. Gold Dust Lichen, Chrysothrix candelaris
  23. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  24. Great-Tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus
  25. Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata
  26. Himalayan Blackberry, Rubus bifrons [white flowers]
  27. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  28. Mica Cap, Coprinellus micaceus [an inkcap, tan cap, dark gills]
  29. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura   
  30. Muskrat, Ondatra zibethicus
  31. Mute Swan, Cygnus olor
  32. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
  33. Northern Harrier, Marsh Hawk, Circus hudsonius
  34. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  35. Oyster Mushroom, Pleurotus ostreatus
  36. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  37. Poplar Sunburst Lichen, Xanthomendoza hasseana [on Cottonwood]
  38. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  39. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
  40. River Otter, North American River Otter, Lontra canadensis
  41. Savannah Sparrow, Passerculus sandwichensis
  42. Say’s Phoebe, Sayornis saya
  43. Sheet Weaver Spiders, Family: Linyphiidae
  44. Shrubby Sunburst Lichen, Polycauliona candelaria
  45. Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia
  46. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  47. Star Moss, Syntrichia ruralis
  48. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  49. Water Vole, Arvicola amphibius [skull]
  50. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
  51. White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus

Hike #1 of my #52hikechallenge. Miles: 1.32

Dos Coyotes, 12-30-20

I got up around 7:00 this morning, and headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk. (And, yes, Vincenzo started right up, so the battery issue is no longer an issue.)

The full moon was still out, but heading down into the clouds on the horizon, so I only got a fast photo of it through a tree in the neighbor’s yard.

Full moon over the neighbor’s house.

I got to the preserve around 8:00 am. It was 33° at the river when I got there, but crept up to about 53° by the time I left. In the shaded areas, frost was still heavy on the ground.

The first thing I saw was a Scrub Jay being harassed by two Yellow-Billed Magpies. I don’t know what their argument was about, but I couldn’t get any photos of them because they were high in a tree among all the stickery branches. What I saw the most of today (besides lichen) were the Columbian Black-Tailed deer.

I counted fourteen deer throughout my walk, including a couple of spike bucks, two 4-pointers and a 2-pointer buck. I was hoping to see some jousting, but no such luck. Among the spikes, I saw two of them with sort of “mirrored” antlers. One had a long spike on the left and a short one on the right, and the other had a long spike on the right and a short one on the left.

I got a few photos of the bucks doing their “Flehmen Sniff” thing, where they curl their upper lip, suck the air and pull the scent into their mouth through their upper teeth to the organ in the roof of the mouth that can parse out the data in the scent: the age of the doe, the state of her health, is she reading mating… Amazing.    

The “Flehman Sniff”

Towards the end of my walk, I came across one of the large 4-point bucks just sitting in a field, in the tall grass, with his back to the trees. Just sitting there, watching all the humans go by. He was quite impressive.

Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus

Most of the birds were being very elusive – hiding behind grasses or twiglets, or flitting away just as I was focusing the camera on them. The frustrations of a nature photographer.

While I was trying to get photos of a Spotted Towhee, though, two deer walked up behind me on the trail and crossed over to climb a hill on the opposite side. I didn’t even know they were there until they started their ascent. Sneaky! I got a few pix of them just before a young spike buck arrived to sniff the other two deer up. That hillside it pretty steep, so there was no way I could follow them up it, but I did get a few photos of them from the base of it.

There were Fox Squirrels all over the place, eating or hiding acorns, and chasing one another around the trees.

Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger

About halfway through the walk, I stopped at a bench to rest for a minute and saw a sign taped to the bench that warned that it was under surveillance to keep people from vandalizing it. The first thought that went through my mind was, “damn those vandals!”, and the second thought was, “I guess I’d better watch what I do while I’m out here resting,” hah!

When I got up from the bench, I was startled to see a doe and a buck with vegetation stuck in his antlers, racing past me toward another part of the preserve – and a huge, thick-furred coyote chasing after them. Even at her rate of speed, there was no way the coyote was able to catch up with the deer. They were just too long-legged and moving too fast. I then saw the coyote break off and start chasing a jackrabbit, but she wasn’t successful in getting that either. Of course, while all this action is happening, I’m not able to focus on or film any of it.

When the coyote gave up on the jackrabbit, it turned around and came toward where I was, and I got a little bit of video of it through the grasses and trees. The coyote was really panting by then, so I don’t know if she had enough energy for another chase right away.

Later, I saw a real mangy coyote (almost devoid of fur) crossing the rocks near the river’s edge. It’s tail was just a long naked rope trailing behind it. He was NOT a healthy boy.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

Along with the tree and rock lichen I photographed today, I also came across some of the first mushrooms of the season: some Oak-Loving Gymnopus and some Honey Fungus. I was hoping to see some nice Barometer Earthstars, but only found a few very small specimens.

I walked for about three hours and the headed back home.

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  3. Bark Rim Lichen, Lecanora chlarotera [looks like Whitewash Lichen but has apothecia]
  4. Barometer Earthstar fungus, Astraeus hygrometricus
  5. Bay Laurel Tree, Laurus nobilis
  6. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii
  7. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus
  8. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  9. California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana
  10. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  11. California Sycamore, Platanus racemose
  12. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica
  13. California Wild Rose, Rosa californica
  14. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  15. Chinese Pistache, Pistacia chinensis
  16. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
  17. Common Crow, American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  18. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  19. Coyote, Canis latrans
  20. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
  21. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  22. Farinose Cartilage Lichen, Ramalina farinacea [like Oakmoss but very thin branches]
  23. Gold Dust Lichen, Chrysothrix candelaris
  24. Golden-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
  25. Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata
  26. Honey Fungus, Honey Mushroom, Armillaria mellea
  27. Hooded Rosette Lichen, Physcia adscendens
  28. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  29. Lords and Ladies, Wild Arum, Arum maculatum
  30. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  31. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
  32. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii
  33. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus
  34. Oak-loving Gymnopus, Gymnopus dryophilus [tan-orange with pale gills; cap can be flat or curved up as it ages]
  35. Paltry Puffball, Puffball Fungus, Bovista californica
  36. Pin-Cushion Sunburst Lichen, Polycauliona polycarpa [bright orange, apothecia, close, piled]
  37. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus [heard]
  38. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  39. Rock Shield Lichen, Xanthoparmelia conspersa
  40. Sheet Weaver Spiders, Family: Linyphiidae
  41. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  42. Strap Lichen, Western Strap Lichen, Ramalina leptocarpha [without soredia]
  43. Sunken Disk Lichen, Aspicilia sp. [like crusty patches on rock, tan to black]
  44. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  45. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  46. Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis
  47. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis
  48. White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys
  49. Yellow-Billed Magpie, Pica nuttalli

Quite a Few Surprises, 12-26-20

Woke up around 4:00 am in pain, and took some meds, but couldn’t get comfortable, so I couldn’t get back to sleep before 6:00 when I had to get up to get ready to go out birding with my friend Roxanne.

We were initially going to go to the Yolo Bypass, then changed our minds but got on the wrong freeway – D’oh! – and ended up instead going over to the Gray Lodge Wildlife Area.  The length of the drive was about the same, just in a different direction. As happens sometimes, we saw more wildlife along the highway and in the ag land areas than we did in the wildlife area itself… including over 30 hawks  along the way (mostly Red-Tailed Hawks, a couple of Red-Shouldered Hawks, and a Cooper’s Hawk).

I thought it was going to be drizzly and foggy, but it was actually a lovely day, weatherwise, with intermittent sunshine and lots of poufy clouds.

Along the more rural parts of the highway, we were surprised to find a dirt-filled lot that had Western Meadowlarks and Yellow-Billed Magpies in it, a field that had Tundra Swans in it, and another field that had Sandhill Cranes in it.  The big surprise was seeing a Bald Eagle sitting on the ground in yet another field with Turkey Vultures sitting to one side of it and a small flock of Crows sitting on the other side. All of them must have been there to scavenge something, but I couldn’t see any evidence of what it was that had brought them all there. 

Bald Eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus; Turkey Vultures, Cathartes aura; and Common Crows, American Crows, Corvus brachyrhynchos

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

Elsewhere, hawks decorated the trees and telephone poles, and more were inside the wildlife area. Most of them seemed to be the ruddy-red “rufous” morph Red-Tails.

There were more vultures throughout the wildlife area, including one that was displaying oddly to another vulture. At first, we saw it bowing in front of the other vulture (which was sitting on a post), with its wings arched downward and its tail lifted up with the tail feathers splayed wide.

Both birds flew off a short distance to other posts where the display continued. After a while, the posturing bird hopped off its post and walked off a few steps where it then sat on its feet.

From the head and beak, I think the posturing bird was younger than the other bird. Its head was still a bit dark and the tip of its beak wasn’t pure bone white yet. I don’t know if the posturing bird was a youngster begging for food or if was trying to initiate courtship or what. I’d never seen anything quite like it.

A young Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura,sitting on his feet after “dancing”

I know that vultures sometimes sit on their feet to conserve heat, but I tried looking up the crooked-wing display in Cornell’s. The only thing I could find was references to courtship and, “…Wing-spreading and hopping also occur during gregarious dance performed by Turkey Vultures in early spring, but function unknown…”

Some of the folks in the Facebook birding groups suggested it was courtship behavior, but I can’t imagine a younger bird trying to court an older one. So I’m still stumped.

Anyway, another surprise of the day was seeing a Red-Breasted Sapsucker in a tree along the auto tour route. And a female Northern Pintail with a band around her leg. I could only see a portion of it, but I reported it anyway.

Northern Pintails, Anas acuta, a banded female and a male.

After we left the wildlife area, we took Highways 45 and 20 back to the interstate. Along the way we stopped at one spot where there was an animal carcass in the road – a newly killed raccoon.

There were vultures on the side of the road, eyeing it, and a Red-Tailed hawk on the telephone pole on the side opposite the vultures. Then we saw a second hawk on the ground in the weeds, eating his fill of a part of the carcass he’d managed to pull over there. I took some photos, then quick ran out to pull the rest of the carcass out of he middle of the road to the side of the road, so the birds could eat it later without getting run over by cars.

At another spot, we saw a Red-Shouldered Hawk off a little ways from the road, and stopped to get some photos of it. Rox turned her hazard lights on to make the car more visible. We were only stopped there for maybe a minute, and these guys in a massive truck with an American flag mounted in the bed came up and yelled, “Are you in trouble?”

Rox told them politely, “No.”

“You’re in the middle of the road!” they shouted. You’re on a rise! No one will see you!” [Untrue. They could see us just fine.] “Get out of there!”  [If we had been MEN in the car, they would never have used that tone with us.] I don’t think I would have minded their “bullying concern” if they hadn’t been what I consider right-wing psychos – which are prevalent these days. I’m pretty much burned out on these pseudo-patriots in their gas-guzzling pick-ups waving their flags in my face. I was glad to see them gone.

As we cut through Colusa, heading to the interstate, we stopped at the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge. There were more geese there than at Gray Lodge: Snow Geese, Ross’s Geese and Greater White-Fronted Geese. Lots of Coots, too, and it seemed to us that the Coots we were seeing all seemed “young” and rather thin. Nothing much else to see there, today, so we headed on home.

A view of the Sutter Buttes from the Colusa preserve

We were out from about 6:30 am to 4:00 pm,9½ hours. A long day, but we saw a lot of different and unexpected things, and that was fun.

Species List:

  1. American Coot, Fulica americana
  2. American Kestrel, Falco sparverius
  3. American Pipit, Anthus rubescens
  4. American Wigeon, Anas Americana
  5. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  6. Bald Eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus
  7. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  8. Black-Crowned Night Heron, Nycticorax nycticorax
  9. Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
  10. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  11. Bufflehead Duck, Bucephala albeola
  12. Bushtit, American Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimu
  13. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  14. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  15. Common Crow, American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  16. Common Gallinule, Gallinula galeata
  17. Common Raven, Corvus corax
  18. Cooper’s Hawk, Acipiter cooperii
  19. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
  20. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  21. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  22. Gadwall duck, Mareca Strepera
  23. Goodding’s Black Willow, Salix gooddingii
  24. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
  25. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  26. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons
  27. Greater Yellowlegs, Tringa melanoleuca
  28. Green-Winged Teal, Anas carolinensis
  29. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  30. House Sparrow, Passer domesticus
  31. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  32. Loggerhead Shrike, Lanius ludovicianus
  33. Long-Billed Curlew, Numenius americanus
  34. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  35. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris
  36. Mistletoe, American Mistletoe, Big Leaf Mistletoe, Phoradendron leucarpum
  37. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  38. Northern Harrier, Marsh Hawk, Circus hudsonius
  39. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  40. Northern Pintail, Anas acuta
  41. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata
  42. Pampas Grass, Cortaderia selloana
  43. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  44. Raccoon, Procyon lotor
  45. Red-Breasted Sap Sucker, Sphyrapicus ruber
  46. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  47. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
  48. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  49. Ring-Necked Duck, Aythya collaris
  50. Ring-Necked Pheasant, Phasianus colchicus
  51. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  52. Ruddy Duck, Oxyura jamaicensis
  53. Sandhill Crane, Grus canadensis
  54. Smartweed, Persicaria lapathifolia [white]
  55. Snow Goose, Chen caerulescens
  56. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula
  57. Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia
  58. Sora, Porzana carolina
  59. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  60. Tundra Swan, Cygnus columbianus
  61. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  62. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
  63. White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus [kiting over a field]
  64. White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys
  65. White-Faced Ibis, Plegadis chihi
  66. White Horehound, Marrubium vulgare
  67. Yellow-Billed Magpie, Pica nuttalli

The Water Mower and an Osprey, 12-18-20

I got up around 6:00 this morning, and was out the door with my friend Roxanne around 6:30.  We headed over to Mather Lake Regional Park. Our last trip there had been so successful, we were hoping for another good day of nature watching…

Before I left the house, I’d let my dog Esteban outside to do his potty thing. As he was coming into the house, I could see movement across the fence across the back of the yard. At first I thought it was one of the neighbor’s cats, but as it drew closer, I realized it was a Striped Skunk! Ignoring me, the skunk proceeded to squash its body underneath the bottom of the fence and disappeared into the neighbor’s yard. Welp, I gotta shore up that spot at the base of the fences, that’s for sure. Hah!

It was in the 30’s, frosty and foggy when we got to the park. We were struck by how “little” we saw in the way of wildlife this time around (compared to our last trip there.) So, the photo album will be a bit thin on this one.

Along with the usual Mute Swans, Coots, and Pied-Billed Grebes, there were a lot of the tiny Ruby-Kinglets flitting through the trees. They’re moving in for the winter months, and seem to be everywhere. But they’re so small and move so fast, it’s really difficult to get any clear photos of them. I’m seeing mostly females, and have yet to get a photo of a male with the red-crown. It’s frustrating.

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Regulus calendula

I was upset to see a large machine sitting in the water right near where we think the beaver lodge is, and where the otters like to fish. I didn’t know what it was, and railed about human interference again. But my anger was misplaced. We learned later, when we saw the machine working its way around the stand of tules, and came across one of the workmen who was there, that the machine was a “water mower”.

            “…[It’s] mounted on a pontoon that’s designed for inland water management. The harvester is hydraulically driven to travel through clogged ponds and lakes.The sizeable floating machine has reciprocating blades underwater located on the harvesting head. The blades cut and harvest different vegetation like reeds, weeds and aquatic plant life that’s causing detriments to your lake or pond. Removing plants from a body of water is called aquatic harvesting. First, the weeds are cut vertically, then horizontally, to separate the mass. A harvester removes aquatic weeds about two to three meters below the water’s surface. It also removes algae and other forms of debris that’s built up in the system. Once the weeds and reeds are cut, they move to the conveyor system on the machine’s deck. The conveyor fills over time and stores the biomass, packing it tightly. The vegetation then transfers to your lake or pond’s shoreline or a truck for other uses. If being reused, the plants are pressed to remove any moisture…”

With all the noise made by the mower, the some of the wildlife had left for the morning.            

The workman we talked to was in the truck with the flatbed trailer on the back.  He was waiting for the mower to come up and dump its load on the flatbed, so he could drive it over to a drying area. He said if we walked up over the shallow hill on the side of the park, we’d see all the refuse that had already been set out there. I wanted to go look at the piles to see if there was any aquatic life that had been pulled up with the weeds, but by that time, I had already been walking for several hours, and didn’t have the strength to climb the hill.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

In the trees near the back of the lake, we could see large raptors sitting. One was a White-Tailed Kite and the other one, surprisingly, was an Osprey! I’d never seen an osprey around there before, so that was a cool discovery. Of course, the birds were so far away, I couldn’t really get any clear photos of either of them. Sighting the osprey was a first for this year.  We eventually walked around to the opposite side of the lake from where we were in the hopes of getting a closer look at the osprey. And it did fly in closer – but was completely backlit, so we still couldn’t get a clear shot of it. *Sigh*

None of the photos today were very good of the Osprey, Pandion haliaetus

The lake is stocked with bass, trout and bluegill, and they’re confined in a small area, so that would make for easy pickings for a hungry osprey. I hope it sticks around so we can see it again.

When trying to get closer to some Northern Flickers and a Kite, to get photos of them, Rox took the low road over a field and I took the high road along a graveled path, hoping to catch the birds between us. My photos were not great, because the birds were at a distance from us up in the top of trees, and the Kite took off as soon as I lifted my camera. *Double-Sigh!

Certified California Naturalist, Roxanne Moger, going through the field to get photos of the birds in the trees.

As I was walking along the graveled path, I saw some wild turkeys on the opposite side of a chain-link fence.  They were walking near a large coyote brush bush, and I could hear quail complaining from under the dense bush. Hah!  I never saw the quail, but it was funny to listen to them fuss.  Along that path, I DID see a Downy Woodpecker and could hear a Red-Shouldered Hawk calling, but could get a clear photo of it as it was hidden behind a mass of twigs and sticks.

Downy Woodpecker, Picoides pubescens

In the lawn near the picnic tables there was a flock of Great-Tailed Grackles – and all of them looked like females. We also saw some Brewer’s Blackbirds, Canada Geese and Mallards. 

A female Great-Tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus

Much of the trail that leads along that side of the lake looked like it had just been re-cut; it was all naked, rutted and muddy. 

I thought we’d see more lichen on the trees on that side of the lake (on mostly older willows and oak trees), but was surprised to find there wasn’t much. And among what we did see, there was nothing new. I’m feeling an urge/need to find another source of lichen – maybe go up to Kenny Ranch again?

Common Sunburst Lichen, Golden Shield Lichen, Xanthoria parietina; Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata; and Hooded Rosette Lichen, Physcia adscendens [hairs/eyelashes on the tips of the lobes]

After heading back to the car, we took the long way home, taking photos of birds as we saw them along the road: Meadowlarks, sparrows, a Shrike, and a Red-Tailed Hawk sitting up on top of a mound.  In one spot we saw about fifteen Turkey Vultures “kittling” overhead. So cool.

Not including the drive, I think we walked for about 2½ hours before heading home. It was so clear outside by then that we were able to see the snow on the Sierras along the horizon. So pretty!

Snow on the Sierras

Species List:

  1. American Coot, Fulica americana
  2. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  3. Armenian Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus [pink flowers]
  4. Beaver, American, Beaver, Castor canadensis [signs]
  5. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  6. California Black Oak, Quercus kelloggii
  7. California Camouflage Lichen, Melanelixia californica [dark green with brown apothecia, on trees]
  8. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  9. California Praying Mantis, Stagmomantis californica [ootheca]
  10. California Quail, Callipepla californica
  11. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  12. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  13. Common Sunburst Lichen, Golden Shield Lichen, Xanthoria parietina [yellow-orange,on wood/trees]
  14. Cork Oak, Quercus suber
  15. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  16. Downy Woodpecker, Picoides pubescens
  17. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  18. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  19. Gold Dust Lichen, Chrysothrix candelaris
  20. Goodding’s Black Willow, Salix gooddingii
  21. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  22. Great-Tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus
  23. Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata
  24. Holstein Cattle, Bos taurus v Har. Holstein
  25. Hooded Rosette Lichen, Physcia adscendens [hairs/eyelashes on the tips of the lobes]
  26. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  27. Loggerhead Shrike, Lanius ludovicianus
  28. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  29. Mute Swan, Cygnus olor
  30. Narrowleaf Willow, Salix exigua
  31. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
  32. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  33. Oak Apple Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  34. Osprey, Pandion haliaetus
  35. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  36. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  37. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
  38. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  39. Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Regulus calendula
  40. Savannah Sparrow, Passerculus sandwichensis
  41. Shrubby Sunburst Lichen, Polycauliona candelaria
  42. Star Moss, Syntrichia ruralis
  43. Star Rosette Lichen, Physcia stellaris [on wood, hoary colored, black apothecia]
  44. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  45. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  46. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
  47. White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus
  48. White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys
  49. Yellow Starthistle, Centaurea solstitialis
  50. ?? Unidentified orb-weaver spider web