Category Archives: Firsts

Mostly Deer and Woodpeckers, 11-10-19

I headed over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for my weekly volunteer trail-walking gig there. It was 48º at the preserve when I got there.  Still chilly enough that there was a little bit of ground fog in the shadier parts of the preserve and rising steamy fog on the surface of the American River which was neat to see. 

I saw a lot of Acorn Woodpeckers and Scrub Jays today, all of them vying for the acorns remaining on the oak trees.  The Acorn Woodpeckers were also shuffling their cached seeds between limbs and sometimes even between trees, getting things to fit properly in the holes they’d drilled so the acorns didn’t fall out.

Lots of deer out again today, too.  I only saw one of the really big bucks, the three-pointer with the really tall antlers, but saw quite a few does and their fawns and yearlings.  I’ve gotten so I can pretty accurately tell the male from the female fawns just by looking at their faces.  The females have “softer” features than the males.  But to get to the point where you notice that, you have to look at a LOT of deer. 

One spike buck was following after a loan doe but trying to be “cool” and not let her see that he was following her.  Hah! Those horny guys are so funny.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

About halfway through my walk, I had to stop to change out the ScanDisk card. They fill up sometimes, and the whole camera “chokes” until I put in a new one.  Of course, that happened just as I came across a pair of young bucks that were starting to joust, a two-pointer and a spike. I got a video snippet of them, but they were mostly obscured by tall grass and weeds.

I’m thinking that next year when I put together my species list, I’ll also do a count of how many of each thing I see.  I may have to guestimate when I encounter large flocks of birds and fields of wildflowers, but the data might prove interesting in the long run.  I can also submit my data to some of the online citizen science venues like Ebird (https://ebird.org/home).  There’s also a list of different citizen science projects through #CalNat at http://calnat.ucanr.edu/California_PPSR/.

On my way out of the preserve, I got some photos of Golden-Crowned Sparrows bathing in the small demonstration pond near the nature center, and I got my first glimpse of a Red-Breasted Sapsucker this year.  I’ve seen them there before, but this was the first one for this year.

I walked for about 3½ hours and then headed home.

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  3. California Quail, Callipepla californica
  4. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  5. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis
  6. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
  7. Common Snowberry, Symphoricarpos albus
  8. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis [male and female plants]
  9. Coyote, Canis latrans [scat]
  10. Deer Grass, Muhlenbergia rigens
  11. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
  12. Golden Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
  13. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  14. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
  15. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus
  16. Raccoon, Procyon lotor [tracks]
  17. Red-Breasted Sapsucker, Sphyrapicus ruber
  18. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  19. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  20. Western Gray Squirrel, Sciurus griseus
  21. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis

Very Much a “Crane” Day, 11-02-19

Got up a little after 7:00 am and after giving the dog his breakfast, I headed over to the Cosumnes River Preserve.  They’d advertised on Facebook about the large flocks of hundred of birds coming in… But they till don’t have a lot of water on the ground, so the “wetlands” are still pretty dry. So, it wasn’t as productive an outing as I thought it might be. Still, there were a few standouts and surprises.

It was a very chilly 36º outside when I got to the preserve. I took the loop around Bruceville Road and Desmond Road before going to the preserve itself and actually saw far more birds there than on the wetlands themselves.  In the rice fields along the roads were Brewer’s Blackbirds and large flocks of Red-Winged Blackbirds, Western Meadowlarks, Canada and Greater White-Fronted Geese, Killdeer, Black-Necked Stilts, a few Dunlins, some Greater Yellowlegs and a lot of Sandhill Cranes.

In the fields, it was very a “crane day”. The Sandhills were all over the place, and more flew in as I was taking photos. Because it was so cold outside and the car was so warm from its long drive from Sacramento, heat waves coming up from the undercarriage warped and distorted most of the photos I took from inside the car. So, I got myself out of the car to take some more. 

In one of the fields, there were Sandhill Cranes mixed in with Great Egrets and some Cattle Egrets. Among the cranes were some of their youngsters who were smaller and didn’t have that signature “heart” on the forehead yet.  I think there were so many birds in that field because it was in the process of being flooded – so all of the mice, voles and moles were rushing to get to parts of the field that were still dry. One of the adults managed to grab hold of a small black vole, and then had to dart, run and fly around to try to keep it from the other cranes and egrets who tried to steal it. I managed to get a few photos of that, but the action was so quick most of the images turned out as blurs.

Sandhill Cranes, Grus canadensis, a Great Egret, Ardea alba, and some Canada Geese, Branta canadensis

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

The adult cranes can stand around 5 feet tall when they stretch their necks out, so sometimes all I could see over the tall grasses were their heads. And it seemed like when the Great Egrets were around them, the egrets would stretch themselves up trying to look as tall as the cranes. So funny.  In these areas, too, the air was filled with the loud sound of hundreds of geese, blackbirds singing, and cranes crackling.  Such a cacophony!

Another video snippet of the Sandhill Cranes and Great Egrets along Desmond Road

I saw leg bands on one of the cranes and blew up the photo when I got home to see if I could figure out where it had come from.  Although I could see the color of the bands, I couldn’t make out the numbers on them. (And I think there was a transmitter on the opposite leg, but I’m not sure.)  Anyway, I loaded the images I had up and submitted them to the International Crane Foundation (https://www.savingcranes.org/report-sandhill-crane/) hoping they’ll be able to tell me more about the crane I’d spotted.

Whenever you see any banded bird, try to get a photo of the bands or write down what you see and then forward the information you’ve collected to the proper birding authority. This is what Citizen Science is all about: everyday folks spotting banded birds and reporting their findings so scientists can use them in their studies.

As far as other waterfowl went, I saw a few Mallards, a handful of female Northern Shovelers, one female Northern Pintail and some American Coots.

The preserve was holding their “Ducks in Scopes” event this weekend (as I think they do every weekend until February), but it’s hard to do a ducks-in-scopes with no ducks.  When the staffers arrived with their tables, chairs and scopes one of them exclaimed, “Oh, thank god the Coots are out today.  Last week we had only ONE.”  Hah! As I said, they need a LOT more water on the landscape to temp the waterfowl to land there, and they just don’t have that yet.

I walked the boardwalk, and didn’t see a whole lot along that route, but I was surprised to find a stalwart Cabbage White Butterfly braving the cold morning, trying to warm herself up in the sun.  Because she was cold, she didn’t fuss when I took her off the willow stem and held her on my fingertips for a little while to get some close-up shots of her.

Cabbage White Butterfly, Pieris rapae

And down one of the shallow levies I saw a female Northern Harrier on the ground.  She chased a gray field mouse through the grass and herded it toward the water, and finally caught it when it refused to get its feet wet.  She was pretty far away from me, but I did manage to get a few (rather bad) photos of her, and a video snippet of her eating her breakfast. 

A female Northern Harrier, Marsh Hawk, Circus hudsonius, with her field mouse breakfast.
A female Northern Harrier, Marsh Hawk, Circus hudsonius, with her field mouse breakfast.

When she flew off after her meal, she spent a little time harassing a Red-Tailed Hawk that was sitting on top of a short tree in the middle of the marsh.

I walked for about 2 hours and then headed back home.  When I got back to the house it was about 55º outside.

Species List:

  1. American Coot, Fulica americana
  2. American Pipit, Anthus rubescens
  3. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  4. Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
  5. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  6. Cabbage White Butterfly, Pieris rapae
  7. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  8. Cattle Egret, Bubulcus ibis
  9. Common Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  10. Dunlin, Calidris alpina
  11. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  12. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons
  13. Greater Yellowlegs, Tringa melanoleuca
  14. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  15. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris [nest]
  16. Northern Harrier, Marsh Hawk, Circus hudsonius
  17. Northern Pintail, Anas acuta
  18. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata
  19. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
  20. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  21. Rough Cocklebur, Xanthium strumarium
  22. Sandhill Crane, Grus canadensis
  23. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  24. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
  25. White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys

A Cat-Faced Spider and some Devil’s Thorns, 10-19-19

Around 7:00 am, I went out with my friend and fellow naturalist Roxanne to the “Open Trail Day” at the Bufferlands Regional San.  The bufferlands are comprise of 2150 acres of land around the Sacramento wastewater treatment facility that separate the facility from the surrounding neighborhoods – and had been landscaped to provide natural and manmade habitat for regional wildlife and plant species.

Certified California Naturalist, Roxanne Moger, walking down the trail surrounded by poison oak.

According to their website, “…With a varied mix of upland and wetland habitats, the Bufferlands is an important wildlife area, supporting more than 230 species of birds, 25 species of native mammals and several native fish, amphibians, and reptiles. The Bufferlands is also home to more than 20 species of rare plants and animals, including several threatened and endangered species such as Swainson’s hawk, vernal pool fairy shrimp and giant garter snakes… Habitat restoration and enhancement efforts on the Bufferlands are ongoing. Through these efforts, the size of our riparian forests has more than doubled, and native perennial grasses are now an integral part of the landscape. Also, our staff continues to work with the resident farmers to better structure Bufferlands agricultural operations to benefit wildlife. For example, cattle grazing is used to enhance areas for the western burrowing owl, where vegetation would otherwise become too thick for these small raptors to hunt…”

A lot of its current look is due in great part to Roger Jones, their Senior Natural Resource Specialist. And he’s a great nature photographer to boot.

Roger Jones (and a Burrowing Owl)
This is one of my favorite photos that Roger took. He let me use it with my article on coyotes.

Access to the property is generally controlled, but the facility holds a lot of events there including walks to view cormorant, heron and egret rookeries, birdwatching at Meadowlark and Fishhead Lakes, the “Walk on the Wild Side” annual party and tours, and today’s Open Trail Day among others.

Finding the entrance to place proved to be a little tricky. The route Roxanne normally takes there was shut down at one point, so she had to recalculate and approach it from another way.  Still, I was amazed at how “hidden” the gravel road into the park side of the preserve was: a narrow opening across the street from a marina in the tiny town of Fremont.  There was plenty of parking on a grass and gravel lawn, and the trails were clearly marked, so once we got there we were good for the rest of the morning. Roger and one of the other rangers were there to check us in.  He remembered Roxanne from previous excursions there and remembered me from Tuleyome. He also follows me on Facebook and offered condolences for my loss of Sergeant Margie. Aww. I thought that was so thoughtful of him.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

We’re still between seasons – the migrating birds haven’t come in yet, and it’s still too dry for fungi – so there wasn’t a massive number of things to see.  Part of the trail, too, led under the I5 Freeway, where construction was going on, so any wildlife we might have seen around there was scared off by the noise and mess.  But we did enjoy spotting the iron animal totems along the route that went through a shallow forest of 100-year old oak trees, and the poison oak was actually quite beautiful this time of year.  So, most of my photos today were scenery shots.

See how many metal animal totems you can find along the trails.

The real standout was a Cat-Faced Spider we found in her big web on our walk back to the parking area.  She was a big gal, who tried to thwart our attempts to get pictures of her, until we got her to climb on top of our cellphones. Hah!  Had no idea those things were good for that.

I saw a few things I’d never seen or gotten good photos of before, and that’s always fun: Osage-Orange, Devil’s Thorns, Spiny Rose Galls and Panicled Willowherb.

Puncture Vine, Devil’s Thorns, Tribulus terrestris

We ended up walking for about 4 hours, which was really beyond my limit, especially after my long walk at the Zoo yesterday and my lack of sleep during the night.  I was totally exhausted and hurting all over when we got back home.

Species List:

  1. Ash Flower Gall Mite, Eriophyes fraxinivorus
  2. Asian Lady Beetle, Harlequin Labybug, Harmonia axyridis
  3. Assassin Bug, Zelus luridus
  4. Bobcat, Lynx rufus [scat]
  5. Box Elder Tree, Acer negundo
  6. Boxelder Bug, Boisea trivittata
  7. Bristly Oxtongue, Helminthotheca echioides
  8. Burred Horsehair Lichen, Bryoria furcellata
  9. Bush Sunflower, Encelia californica
  10. California Blackberry, Rubus ursinus
  11. California Sycamore, Platanus racemose
  12. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica
  13. California Wild Rose, Rosa californica
  14. Cat-Faced Orb Weaver Spider, Araneus gemmoides
  15. Chicory, Cichorium intybus
  16. Chinese Praying Mantis, Tenodera sinensis
  17. Common Green Lacewing, Chrysoperla carnea [lion, nymph]
  18. Cottonwood, Fremont Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  19. Coyote, Canis latrans [scat]
  20. Fat-Hen, Atriplex prostrata
  21. Flat-Topped Honeydew Gall Wasp, Disholcaspis eldoradensis
  22. Green Plant Bug, Chinavia hilaris
  23. Harlequin Bug, Murgantia histrionica
  24. Himalayan Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus
  25. Horse (domesticated), Equus ferus
  26. Oak Apple Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  27. Oregon Ash, Fraxinus latifolia
  28. Osage-Orange, Maclura pomifera
  29. Pacific Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
  30. Panicled Willowherb, Epilobium brachycarpum
  31. Pokeweed, Phytolacca decandra
  32. Puncture Vine, Devil’s Thorns, Tribulus terrestris
  33. Rice, Oryza sativa
  34. Rough Cocklebur, Xanthium strumarium
  35. Spiny Leaf Gall Wasp, Spiny Rose Gall, Diplolepis polita
  36. Sweet Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare
  37. Unidentified Milk Vetch, Astragalus sp.
  38. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  39. Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum
  40. White Sweetclover, Melilotus albus
  41. Woollybear Gall Wasp, Sphaeroteras trimaculosum