Category Archives: Naturalist

At the Cosumnes Preserve

I was sick, but I was getting a little stir crazy and thought a short jaunt outside might make me feel better so I went over to the Cosumnes River Preserve.  They’re not flooded out anymore, but there’s still too much water on the landscape, so there weren’t many birds to see.  I drove around the periphery of the wetlands area, and stopped at the boardwalk area and walked for a little while before heading back home.

CLICK HERE to see the album of photos and video snippets.

More Photos from the Sacramento Refuge

Here are some more photos from the over 1600 I took at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  Some “firsts” in here include a Merlin and a Woodlouse Hunter Spider.

The spiders eat woodlice and beetles.  “…These spiders have very large chelicerae, which they use to pierce the armored bodies of woodlice and beetles. There are also some reports that they have a mildly toxic venom that can cause local reactions in humans; with their huge fangs there is little doubt that they could bite if threatened, but the venom has not been well studied. The spiders have their six eyes arranged in a semicircle. The first two pairs of legs face forward. Dysdera crocata has a characteristic coloring – the carapace is dull red-brown and the abdomen gray or tan…”

CLICK HERE for the album of photos and video snippets.

Saturnid Moth Cocoons

I got some Saturnid moth cocoons from biological supply company today. (We had to check first to make sure California would allow them to come into the state, and they did.) I gave them a short soak in water (about 20 seconds) before setting them up in the little pop-up butterfly house I’d purchased.

There are six cocoons, all made by silk moth caterpillars, but I can’t tell what species they are by looking at the cocoons.. so I’ll just be surprised when they hatch.  I have to mist them a little bit each day until they emerge. If they’re on track (and aren’t in diapause) I should have giant moths in about 2 or 3 weeks.  Because they’ll be indoors, they may hatch sooner than they normally would.  I’ll keep you apprised of their progress.

I got them in part because I wanted to see the big moths emerge (and maybe get some photos/videos of that process), and in part to see if would be appropriate to do again next year for the Certified Naturalist Class I’ll be co-teaching.

As you read this, bear in mind that it’s illegal in most (if not all) states to take moth cocoons and other biological and cultural artifacts from the landscape without a permit.  Here in California, the rules for collection are exceedingly strict; you can’t even pick up road kill without a permit.  The cocoons I purchased were from a licensed biological supply company that raises moths and collects their cocoons for education purposes.  You wouldn’t believe the amount of legal paperwork that was sent along with the cocoons.

Was Able to See a Killdeer Lay Her Egg Today

I actually had today off but I got up at the regular time anyway to get to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge by 7:00 am.  It was about 43° when I headed out and got up to 65° by the late afternoon. Sunny and tiny bit breezy all day… It was gorgeous.

I had planned months ago to take today off because I was able to get a spot in one of the photo blinds there.  I picked the blind I did because it’s handicapped accessible.  But today it wasn’t… there was too much water around it to get to it, and was flooded inside (not deep, but enough to make it unusable).  I also have a reservation for a blind at the Colusa refuge for the weekend, but that one is under water right now, so I won’t be able to get to that one either.  Not being able to use the blind today was kind of disappointing, but the day was so beautiful, I just drove the auto tour route – twice – and got to see lots of stuff anyway. I burned through 4 batteries and took over 1600 photos!  Yikes!

CLICK HERE to see an album of some of the photos and video snippets.

As soon as a I drove into the refuge, I was a greeted by the sight of a small flock of Snowy Egrets feeding in a shallow pond by the entrance, so I was able to get some shots of them right off the bat.  Along with the egrets were a few American Wigeons, and one of the males swam right up within view, so I was able to get some good photos of him, too.  That was an auspicious start to my day.

I also saw White-Faced-Ibis, Northern Shovelers, a Flicker, Golden-Crowned Sparrows, White-Crowned Sparrows, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Song Sparrows, a Red-Tailed Hawk, Pied-Billed Grebes, Great Egrets, Gadwalls, Black Phoebes, Black-Necked Stilts, Western Pond Turtles, Green-Winged Teals, Bufflehead ducks, a  House Sparrow, Double-Crested Cormorants, nests, Western Meadowlark, Mallard, Snow Geese, Northern Harrier, Great Blue Heron, American White Pelicans, a Yellow-Rumped Warbler, American Coots, Cinnamon Teals,  White-Fronted Geese and several California Ground Squirrels. I also got a glimpse of a muskrat.  He was in the water along the edge of the road.  I saw him, he saw me and poof! he was out of there.

There were lots and lots of jackrabbits out and about, and lots of Ring-Necked Pheasants.  I saw a pair of American Avocets in a distant pond, one was in its breeding plumage and the other wasn’t.  I’d seen Avocets in their breeding colors before, but I’d never seen a “plain” one, so that was a first for me.

I found some Marsh Wrens weaving their nests among the tules… and lots of the tiny males singing away trying to attract females. I got a little video of one of the males working on his nests, and some photos of him emerging from one of them.  Further along the route, I came across a spot where a pair of Bushtits were building their nest, and got photos and video snippets of them, too.  It’s that time of year.  All of the birds are working on home-building projects.

At the end of the auto-tour route I came across a pair of Killdeer.  Mama was sitting down in the dirt and papa was patrolling around her.  They were head-bobbing, so I thought maybe they were getting ready to mate.  I didn’t think they had a nest there because even the though there was a slight depression in the ground, it wasn’t in the kind of dense gravel Killdeer normally prefer (so their spotted eggs blend into the stones). As the head-bobbing continued, I noticed the female was fanning her tail a little bit, so I turned on the video option on my camera expecting to see a mating… But as I watched, the mama surprised me and laid an egg! Literally.  A little grey and black spotted egg.  That was so cool – and what a great way to end my day at the refuge!  I’m a little worried about their nest, though.  It’s very near the auto route and right along a spot where some people hike through to get to the pedestrian trails…

I headed back home and got to the house a little before 3:00 pm.

Egrets, Beaver Sign and a Deer with One Antler

It rained overnight and was mostly cloudy and drizzly on and off all day today.  I got up a little after 6:00 am and headed over to the American River Bend Park to see how the water levels are looking there.  I took an umbrella but only had to use it for a little while. And it’s on its last legs so it kept turning inside out all by itself, without any wind prompting it.  Time to get a new one…

Because it was chilly (about 45°) and mizzling, I didn’t get to see a lot of critters, but I did see more beaver-sign along the river – which has receded considerably.  In some places there is now the long swath of gravel before you get to the water. But in that swath is a lot of sand that got churned up and deposited when the river was raging, and a lot of debris: tree limbs, flotsam, garbage…

Anyway, back to the beaver stuff.  I found old scat, and another tree that had been gnawed almost all the way through.  What was weird was that under the spot where the beavers had been chewing the trunk was covered with white, frothy, almost rubbery stuff that looked like latex.  But cottonwoods don’t product latex.  So what was the stuff?  When I got home, I did some research and I think the beaver-wounded tree was suffering from “Alcohol Flux Syndrome” a bacterial infection that was probably living in the tree well before the beaver got to it.  One of the symptoms is white frothy foam that exudes from the bark and smells like fermentation…  This stuff actually had a faint odor to it but it was more like the smell of Elmer’s glue than fermentation…  When I touched it, it felt like rubber, and when I pulled a section away from the bark, you could see froth left behind on the tree…  Weird.

CLICK HERE for the entire album of photos and video snippets.

The manroot vines and pipevines are all going great guns and should be ready for the butterflies and caterpillars when they emerge (probably sometime later this month).  And there was one spot along the muddy bank where I thought I found bobcat tracks.  I was trying to get a photo of them, but the ground under my feet there was so slippery with muck that I couldn’t keep my balance.  I got a couple of shots, but you can’t really tell much from them.

At another spot, I came across a Great Egret and a Snowy Egret fishing in a still pond that had been left behind when the river receded.  Lots of tiny fish must’ve been trapped in the pool because I got video of the Snowy Egret catching about a dozen fish in less than two minutes.  I don’t know if the Great Egret was just super-picky about wat he’d eat or if he just sucked at fishing; I didn’t see him catch anything.  Both egrets were coming into their breeding plumage: long trailing and curling feathers down their back and over their tail.  So pretty.

I also came across a small herd of mule deer which included a buck that had lost one of his antlers. (They shed them this time of year.) The lack of symmetry didn’t seem to bother him or interfere with his ability to walk or graze, but it sure looked funny.

I walked for about 2 hours and then headed back home.

Mostly Jackrabbits, Marsh Wrens and an Eagle

I was feeling pretty burnt out, so I took a mental health day today, and went over to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge with Sergeant Margie. It’s supposed to rain all weekend, so I was hoping it would be nice today… and it was.  It was in the 40’s when I got there and about 59° when I left.  There was a high overcast, but no rain.

At the refuge, there were lots of jackrabbits everywhere and they’re always fun to watch.  And the tules were full of little male Marsh Wrens and their rattling calls, trying to attract females. The place also seemed overrun with young and old White-Crowned Sparrows. They were everywhere! Hah! As I was photographing some of them, I saw a large bird fly onto a pile of broken tules behind the car, so I backed up to see what it might be… It was a handsome juvenile Cooper’s Hawk that posed for me for several seconds before flying off again.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos and video snippets.

There weren’t any big flocks of birds, but there seemed to be a really good variety of them.  I saw  Northern Shovelers, American Wigeons, Gadwalls, Black-Necked Stilts, a few Killdeer, a Raven, several Turkey Vultures, Red-Tailed Hawks, Greater Yellowlegs, Ring-Necked Pheasants, Pied-Billed Grebes, Western Meadowlarks, Red-Winged Blackbirds, White-Faced Ibis, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, several Hairy Woodpeckers, a Great Blue Heron, a pair of California Towhees, Cinnamon Teals, and lots more.

When I stopped to get some photos and video snippets of Eared Grebes, I could see some other movement in the water.  At first I couldn’t figure out what I was looking at: something dark rolling under the surface…  Then a head popped up.  It was an otter feeding in the shallow water!  I got some video of him chomping on something, but he moved so quickly it was hard to keep up with him.  As soon as I focused the camera, he dove down into the water, then popped up somewhere else… It’s always fun to see those guys, though, so I was pleased with the little bit of footage that I got.

The big payout of the day was getting to see a Bald Eagle.  It was sitting in a scag of a tree along the auto-tour route by itself, and was facing right toward the car.  I was able to drive up within about 15 feet of the tree to get some photos.  At one point, the eagle looked straight down at me – just before it flew off.  Neat!

There was also a pond where I could see the gold and silver humped backs of carp… I think they were spawning; swimming closely alongside one another and rolling around.  It’s unusual for there to be carp in there.  They must’ve been brought in with the flood waters from the river and then stranded when the waters receded again…

 

When I was done at the Sacramento refuge, I drove over to the Colusa refuge, but they were still totally flooded and all of the auto-tour routes were closed.  I got out and had lunch with Sergeant Margie at their picnic area, and then walked part of their hiking trail.  Sergeant Margie hadn’t been doing well on walks for a while; he’s slowing down in his old age. But he did really well on the walk and even trotted ahead of me for most of the way. He must’ve needed a “day off” to feel better, too.