Category Archives: Naturalist

Snow Geese and Crepuscular Critters, 11-12-19

A long day.  Up at 4:30 am to go out with my dog Esteban to the Sacramento and Colusa National Wildlife Refuges.  This was the first long drive I’ve taken him on since I adopted him, and I wasn’t sure how he’d do.  For the first part of the trip, he whined on and off, like a kid in the backseat groaning “are we there yet”, or something.  But otherwise he was good in the car, for the most part. 

Esteban. I’ve had some folks ask what kind of dog he is. I’m not sure, because he’s adopted and I don’t know much about his background, but I think he’s a Chihuahua and Dachshund mix with maybe a little Jack Russell Terrier in there. Anyone want to pay for an DNA test for him?

We got to the Sacramento refuge first around 7:00 am just as the sun was rising.  It was about 45º when we started on the auto tour route.  There was a hazy overcast that lasted all day so there weren’t any stark shadows; the light was diffused.

I wanted to go early to see some of the “fly in” and also to get a chance to see some of the crepuscular animals that generally aren’t out later in the day – like coyotes, otters, raccoons, deer and the like.  Good thing I did!  I got to see all of those except for the otters (but I did find an otter “latrine site” if that counts.)

There are still a LOT of dry areas in both preserves… and the migrating birds are coming in, so they’d better start getting more water out there or the birds will go somewhere else. 

Along the auto tour route at the Sacramento refuge, one of the first things I saw was the backside of a deer poking out between the tules.  When I got a little closer, I realized it was one of four deer (looked like two does and a pair of older fawns).  They were close enough to the car that I was able to get a few photos of them before they took off.  Esteban could see them but didn’t seem to recognize or startle at them. He just sniffed the air. 

Then, a little further down the route, I saw something big standing on the shoulder of the road in front of me.  It was backlit by the rising sun, but I thought it was probably a coyote (albeit a large coyote) or maybe a Mountain Lion… Turned out to be a coyote.  When I got closer to the place where it was standing, it took off along the mowed areas between the stands of tule.  Got a lot of “butt shots” of that guy, but nothing really good.

Coyote, Canis latrans

Further along still, near the gate to the permanent wetlands loop (which is closed this time of year), there’s a 4-way crossing where the wetlands and sloughs abut one another.  Along the edge of the road there, I could see something “dark” tuck in near the slough.  When I got closer, I was surprise to find that the “dark” was actually two raccoons! 

Raccoon, Procyon lotor

Raccoon video snippet: https://youtu.be/aaN83GKU204

They were wet up to their shoulders with water and climbed up near the road again, right next to the car, to shake off. It was then that I was able to get photos of them before they realized a human was looking at them, and they waddled away into the undergrowth.  I hardly ever get to see the raccoons out there, and when I do, they’re usually really far away, so it was quite a treat to be able to get a view of them so close.  Racoons are usually solitary animals, so I was kind of surprised to see two together.  Maybe it was a mom and her teenaged kid.

There were no eagles out today, but a lot of hawks: Red-Tails, Red-Shouldered and Harrier.  And, of course, Snow Geese were there in abundance. Literally thousands of them.  They were soooo noisy you could hear them all over the place. 

Snow Geese, Chen caerulescens

Snow Geese in flight video #1: https://youtu.be/04qTdiPW3YE
Snow Geese in flight video #2: https://youtu.be/qTXfRGZ5dYM
Snow Geese in the Water video: https://youtu.be/4OalP_1KiYI

At one of the park-and-stretch sites along the route, I let Esteban out on his leash, and he was totally freaked out by the geese near the road, especially when parts of the flock took off in tandem, honking loudly and flying in circles.  I don’t know if he recognized them as “birds”, but he did not like that noisy whirling mass bursting up in front of him and flying overhead.

I also saw quite a few Turkey Vultures.  In one of the trees where a couple of vultures were sitting there was also a Peregrine Falcon.  It looked so tiny next to them.  No doubt, the vultures were sitting around waiting for the falcon to catch something so they could have the leavings.  Raptor co-op. 

Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura

Oh, and I also spotted a pair of Great Horned Owls in a tree along the route. They were pretty obscured by twiggy branches, so I didn’t get any real good photos of them, but it was still great to see them.

There were quite a few different sparrow species out today, and I saw a handful of Western Meadowlarks.  Those populations will increase over the next few months.

At the Colusa refuge, it was pretty much the same as it was at the Sacramento refuge with the landscape currently dominated by thousands of Snow Geese and Ross’s Geese.  One surprise though was when I was driving the auto tour route there, and a large three-point buck came walking out from among the tules.  Yikes! That was unexpected.

Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus

The last time I was at the Colusa refuge, I was lamenting because I didn’t see as many Black-Crowned Night Herons at the end of the route as I had on previous occasions.  Usually, there’s 30 to 50 herons out there. The last time I was out, I only saw about a dozen.  Today, I saw few more, and some of them were occupying the trees near the one-way bridge, so I felt a little better. They apparently hadn’t been completely displaced and found new day-roosts to occupy.

Black-Crowned Night Herons, Nycticorax nycticorax

Among the other birds, I also saw a White-Faced Ibis, a couple of Pied-Billed Grebes, a Common Gallinule and an American Pipit while I was there.              

Before leaving the Colusa refuge, I stopped at the picnic tables with Esteban and we had a little lunch before heading home again.  We got back to the house a little after 1:30 pm so that was a l-o-n-g 8- or 9-hour day in the car for the dog and me.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

Species List:

  1. American Coot, Fulica americana
  2. American Pipit, Anthus rubescens
  3. American Wigeon, Anas americana
  4. Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon
  5. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii
  6. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  7. Black-Crowned Night Heron, Nycticorax nycticorax
  8. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus
  9. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  10. Brown-Headed Cowbird, Molothrus ater
  11. Bufflehead, Bucephala albeola
  12. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  13. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
  14. Common Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  15. Common Gallinule, Gallinula galeata
  16. Common Knotweed, Persicaria lapathifolia
  17. Common Raven, Corvus corax
  18. Common Teasel, Dipsacus fullonum
  19. Coyote, Canis latrans
  20. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
  21. Gadwall duck, Mareca strepera
  22. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
  23. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  24. Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus
  25. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons
  26. House Sparrow, Passer domesticus
  27. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  28. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  29. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris
  30. Northern Harrier, Marsh Hawk, Circus hudsonius
  31. Northern Pintail, Anas acuta
  32. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata
  33. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii
  34. Peregrine Falcon, Falco peregrinus
  35. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  36. Raccoon, Procyon lotor
  37. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  38. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
  39. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  40. Ring-Necked Pheasant, Phasianus colchicus [heard]
  41. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  42. Ross’s Goose, Chen rossii
  43. Savannah Sparrow, Passerculus sandwichensis
  44. Snow Goose, Chen caerulescens
  45. Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia
  46. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  47. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
  48. White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys
  49. White-Faced Ibis, Plegadis chihi

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

Some Fall color on a Short Walk, 11-08-19

I took my dog Esteban for a walk at William Land Park this morning.  It was 41º outside, which is okay for me, but was too cold for him – even in his sweater.  So, we were only out there for about 60 minutes. (I usually like to walk for about 3 hours, so cutting the walk short was kind of a letdown.)

I used to take my dog Sergeant Margie out with me all the time before he got too creaky to handle the trails, but he was twice Esteban’s size (16 pounds to Esteban’s 8) and had a thick fur coat.  The only time I had to take Sergeant Margie back to the car and curtail a walk was when it was down to about 29º at the American River. Too icy for him. He was a trooper, though.  I have to be more careful with Esteban, I guess. He’s more fragile.

Esteban

Anyway, during the walk, Esteban was very good when he encountered ducks and geese or squirrels.  He didn’t try to lunge at or chase them.  But he was oddly thoroughly fascinated by a single long seed pod from a catalpa tree. I don’t know what about it was so interesting to him, but he approached it as though it was a snake, and walked around it and poked at it… He’s such a funny little thing.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

In the pond in the park, all of the lotus plants have died and some of them have been pulled out and left on shore for Parks and Rec to clean up later. All of the brown twigs and desiccated leaves in the water are, at the same time, ugly and oddly beautiful.  There is also some autumn color in some of the trees, and the reflections of that color on the water were gorgeous.

Seed pod of Sacred Lotus, Nelumbo nucifera

There were lots and lots of Wood Ducks in the pond and lots of Northern Flickers in the trees and foraging in the grass.  I also heard a Nuttall’s Woodpecker and a Belted Kingfisher, but I couldn’t catch sight of them.

But, as I mentioned, my walk was cut short, so I didn’t get as many photos and wasn’t able to do as much exploring as I usually do.

Species List:

  1. Aloe, Aloe maculate
  2. American Robin, Turdus migratorius
  3. Angel’s Trumpet, Brugmansia suaveolens
  4. Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon
  5. Berkshire Pig, Sus scrofa domesticus var. Berkshire
  6. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica
  7. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  8. Cayuga Duck, Anas platyrhynchos domesticus var. Cayuga
  9. Common Correa, Correa reflexa
  10. Common Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  11. Common Hibiscus, Hibiscus syriacus
  12. Common Jasmine, Jasminum officinale
  13. Crested Duck, Anas platyrhynchos domesticus var. Crested
  14. Eightday Healthbush Lobostemon fruticosus [bright blue flowers]
  15. Fountain Grass, Pennisetum setaceum
  16. Garden Snail, Cornu aspersum
  17. Golden Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
  18. Italian Cypress, Cupressus sempervirens
  19. Liquidambar, Liquid Amber Tree, Liquidambar styraciflua
  20. Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  21. Monterey Cypress, Cupressus macrocarpa
  22. Myrtle, Myrtus communis
  23. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
  24. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii
  25. Orpington Duck, Anas platyrhynchos domesticus var. Buff Orpington
  26. Pekin Duck, Anas platyrhynchos domesticus var. Pekin
  27. Raccoon, Procyon lotor [tracks]