Category Archives: Nature Tips

Flickers Foraging were the Stand-Outs today, 11-24-20

I got up around 6:30 this morning and headed over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Center/Preserve.  It was a slightly foggy, chilly morning, around 34° when I arrived at the river. It only made it to about 61° by the afternoon. I actually like this cooler weather. I didn’t see a whole lot on my walk, but it was great to be moving out in the crisp autumn air.

Lots of Starlings were out singing and chirping to one another. I found one sitting above a cavity and wondered if it was advertising its “love shack”. According to Cornell:

“…Males normally use a song perch 4–10 m from the nest site or a perch mounted on a nest box, but occasionally sit on the ground under the nest site. This song perch may be shared with other males in the vicinity. Singing is sometimes heard at roosts, even at night… Starlings make an impressive range of sounds, including clear whistles, liquid warbling, harsh chattering, high pitched trills, rattles, and strident screams, in addition to mimicry of other sounds (see above). Although the starling’s vocalizations sound quite variable and even garbled at times, they are well organized. Vocalizations can be divided into the structurally more simple calls used by both sexes and songs, used primarily by the male…”

A European Starling singing above the opening of a nesting cavity.

The Starlings are also great mimics. I’ve heard one at Effie Yeaw that does the screel of a Red-Tailed Hawk perfectly.

According to Cornell:

“…Mimicry is an important element in both the whistled and warbled songs (Hausberger et al. 1991). Individuals may mimic up to 20 different calls. In North America, commonly heard mimicries include the Eastern Wood-Pewee (Contopus virens), Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus), Eastern and Western Meadowlarks (Sturnella magna and S. neglecta; Figures 3b, c), Northern Bobwhite (Colinus virginianus), Wood Thrush (Hylocichla mustelina), House Sparrow (Passer domesticus), Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater), Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus), American Robin (Turdus migratorius), American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos), and many others. Mimicry may function to increase the repertoire size and potential attractiveness of males…”

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

Among all the usual suspects, I did get two see a couple of interesting things.  One was a female Purple Finch who was among the tules in the demonstration pond at the end of the Pond Trail.  She was rubbing her beak and face along the length of a tule, but not really scratching her face or wiping her beak. It was an odd behavior I’d never seen before.  Was she itchy? Was she pulling the foggy-damp of the tule to wet her feathers and in effect wash her face? Was she scraping and nibbling something off the surface of the tule that I couldn’t see?     

Watch the video and tell me what you think.       

I also got to watch a male, red-shafted Northern Flicker eating berries off a Chinese Pistache tree. He was very selective, and only ate those berries that had gone blue. Flickers usually eat ants and other insects as their main food source, but will eat berries and seeds in the winter months if they can’t find enough insects.            

The sme male, red-shafted Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus,sitting on a nearby stump

Further along the trail, I watched another male, red-shafted Flicker foraging on the ground,  According to Cornell:

“…Flickers forage for ants and other insects by probing and hammering in soil with their powerful bills…Flickers have the remarkable protrusile tongue, derived by great elongation of the basihyal and part of the hyoid horns, that is characteristic of woodpeckers. The sticky tongue darts out as much as 4 cm beyond the bill tip as it laps up adult and larval ants…Foraging may also occur in winter (a pair to as many as 12 birds) feeding on a crop of preferred fruit… May occasionally drink from natural catch-basins in trees (e.g., knot-holes)…”   

Here’s a not-so-great video snippet of the Flicker foraging on the ground:

I also have a photo of the depression left in the ground from where the bird was digging. Interesting behavior.

Depression created in the ground by a foraging Northern Flicker.

I found what I believe was a Digger Bee’s mound, and at the “bee tree” there was only one sentry bee again.

A kind of digger bee’s mound.

I walked for about 3 hours and headed back home.

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. Audubon’s Warbler, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata auduboni
  3. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii
  4. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  5. California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana
  6. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  7. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis
  8. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis [flying overhead]
  9. Chinese Pistache, Pistacia chinensis
  10. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
  11. Common Crow, American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos [flying overhead]
  12. Coyote, Canis latrans [scat]
  13. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
  14. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  15. Feral European Honeybee, Apis mellifera
  16. Floating Water Primrose, Ludwigia peploides ssp. Peploides
  17. Fluffy Dust Lichen, Pacific Fluffy Dust Lichen, Lepraria pacifica [blue-green dust lichen]
  18. Gold Dust Lichen, Chrysothrix candelaris
  19. Golden Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
  20. Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata
  21. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  22. Lace Lichen, Ramalina menziesii
  23. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  24. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  25. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
  26. Oak Apple Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  27. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus
  28. Purple Finch, Haemorhous purpureus
  29. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  30. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  31. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  32. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  33. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  34. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  35. Western Gray Squirrel, Sciurus griseus
  36. White Horehound, Marrubium vulgare
  37. White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys
  38. Wood Duck, Aix sponsa
  39. ?? Goldenrod, Solidago sp.
  40. ?? spider’s web

Lookin’ for Lichen, 11-14-20

I got up around 6:00 this morning and headed over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Center/Preserve for a walk. It was chilly and very foggy outside after having rained a bit yesterday.

I was hoping the rain would have started to wake up the lichen on the rocks and trees in the preserve, and I did get to see quite a few nice specimens of common lichens. There was lots of Green Shield Lichen, Hoary Lichen, Gold Dust, Bark Rim Lichen, California Camouflage Lichen, Candleflame Lichen, Farinose Cartilage Lichen, Oakmoss, Shrubby Sunburst Lichen and others.  Most often, there were several different ones on the same tree or stem.  I’m looking forward to seeing some new and different ones as the season goes forward.

There were a lot of deer out and about, including several bucks, everything from a young spike buck to an older 4-pointer. There was also one with thick malformed antlers, and I got the impression that they had been broken off during the velvet stage when they were trying to grow. The buck looked pretty solid and the girth of the base of his antlers made me think he was probably a very mature guy. I wondered what happened to his rack.

Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus

CLICK HERE for an article I wrote on antlers.
CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

I saw several of the bucks do the Flehman sniff thing, but couldn’t get photos of them doing that.

I could hear all kinds of songbirds, but most of them were very good at avoiding the camera. I did get photos of Spotted Towhees and a Bewick’s Wren. 

At one spot along the River Trail, I could hear a Kestrel calling. It took me a while to find her; she was sitting on the top of a tree. A little – but loud – female. I also saw a couple of Red-Shouldered Hawks in the trees along the trails.

American Kestrel, Falco sparverius, female
Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus

I was kind of surprised of the amount of coyote scat on the trails… but I didn’t see any of the coyotes.

Coyote, Canis latrans [scat]

At the bee tree, I saw only a single bee sitting at the opening of the hive. The sentry. I guessed the other bees were all inside the tree trying to keep the queen warm from the chilly morning weather.

I walked for about 3 hours and headed back home.

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. American Kestrel, Falco sparverius
  3. Bark Rim Lichen, Lecanora chlarotera [looks like Whitewash Lichen but has apothecia]
  4. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii
  5. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus
  6. Brown Jelly Fungus, Jelly Leaf, Tremella foliacea
  7. California Camouflage Lichen, Melanelixia californica [dark green with brown apothecia, on trees]
  8. California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana
  9. California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica
  10. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  11. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis
  12. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica
  13. Candleflame Lichen, Candelaria concolor [bright yellow, crumbly-looking]
  14. Ceramic Parchment Lichen, Xylobolus frustulatus [hoary or pale brown, flat like parchment]
  15. Chinese Pistache, Pistacia chinensis
  16. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
  17. Common Snowberry, Symphoricarpos albus
  18. Coyote, Canis latrans [scat]
  19. Creeping Moss, Conardia compacta
  20. Cushion Moss, Leucobryum sp.
  21. False Turkey Tail fungus, Crowded Parchment Fungus, Stereum complicatum
  22. Farinose Cartilage Lichen,  Ramalina farinacea [like Oakmoss but very thin branches]
  23. Feral European Honeybee, Apis mellifera
  24. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  25. Gold Dust Lichen, Chrysothrix candelaris
  26. Golden Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
  27. Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata
  28. Himalayan Blackberry, Rubus bifrons
  29. Hoary Lichen, Hoary Rosette, Physcia aipolia
  30. Hooded Rosette Lichen, Physcia adscendens [hairs/eyelashes on the tips of the lobes]
  31. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  32. Lace Lichen, Ramalina menziesii
  33. Oakmoss Lichen, Evernia prunastri [with soredia]
  34. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  35. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  36. Shrubby Sunburst Lichen, Polycauliona candelaria
  37. Soap Plant, Wavy Leafed Soaproot, Chlorogalum pomeridianum
  38. Split Porecrust, Schizopora paradoxa
  39. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  40. Strap Lichen, Western Strap Lichen, Ramalina leptocarpha [without soredia]
  41. Sulphur Shelf Fungus, Western Hardwood Sulphur Shelf, Laetiporus gilbertsonii
  42. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  43. Western Gray Squirrel, Sciurus griseus
  44. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis

My Article on Microhabitats has been published, 11-11-20

I wrote an article called “Exploring the Mysteries of Microhabitats with Your Cellphone” for the Effie Yeaw Nature Center’s publication The Acorn. The article includes photos that I took of a pseudoscorpion and globular springtail among other things.

CLICK HERE to read the article.

The Galls Are Just Starting to Emerge, 06-07-20

I got up around 5:30 this morning, and headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk. It was 61° at the river, but warmed up fast as soon as the sun was up.

At the preserve, it’s still between seasons, so there’s not tons to see, but I did get to see some deer, squirrels, some Red-Shouldered Hawks, and  a Cottontail rabbit what was “hiding” among the yarrow plants in the garden by the nature center. 

The plum trees are heavy with fruit and the blue elderberry bushes still have berries on them. The wild grapevines and blackberries are starting to show their fruit now, too.

Among the deer, I saw a couple of does and a skinny buck in his velvet. No babies yet.  The fawns should start showing up later this month.

Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

The fox squirrels are up in the trees snacking on black walnuts.  You can hear the scritch-scritch-scritch of their teeth on the nuts as they gnaw through the husk and try to crack the hard shells.

            Among the birds I saw, there was a mockingbird that was really putting on a display in the top of one of the oak trees. He had an exceptional repertoire mimicking Acorn Woodpeckers, Towhees, hawks, Scrub Jays, Killdeer, Titmice… while jumping up and down to attract the females. I got a little bit of video of him, but it doesn’t do him justice.

I was surprised not to see much of anything on the milkweed plants – no butterfly eggs or any other insects except for a handful of planthoppers. Some of the plants have been chopped down, and a sign indicated that the preserve was trying that to see if they could attract Monarchs to the plants with fresher leaves later in the season. If that works, it’ll be great.

The only really fun thing was finding the season’s first Spiny Turban galls forming on the Valley Oak trees, along with a LOT of new acorns. Some trees are heavy with acorns this year… I’ll have to keep an eye on that to see if that “gravid” condition is true across the region.

Galls of the Spiny Turban Gall Wasp, Antron douglasii,on the leaves of a Valley Oak, Quercus lobata

I only walked for bout 2 hours before heading back home. This was the first time I’d left my dog Esteban home in over a week.  I’d asked my sister Melissa to leave him in the bedroom unless he had to go potty to keep him confined in a space with flat floors so he couldn’t aggravate his back issues.  She said he did pretty well, but barked and whined all the while I was gone.  Poor bubby.

Esteban recovering from a back injury in the bedroom.

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  3. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  4. Black Walnut Erineum Mite galls, Eriophyes erinea
  5. Black Walnut, Eastern Black Walnut, Juglans nigra
  6. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra cerulea
  7. Blue Penstemon, Penstemon azureus
  8. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  9. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  10. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica
  11. California Wild Rose, Rosa californica
  12. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  13. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
  14. Common Green Lacewing, Chrysoperla carnea
  15. Coyote Mint, Monardella villosa
  16. Desert Cottontail Rabbit, Sylvilagus audubonii
  17. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
  18. European Honeybee, Western Honeybee, Apis mellifera
  19. Himalayan Blackberry, Armenian Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus
  20. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  21. Lace Lichen, Ramalina menziesii
  22. Large-flowered Evening-Primrose, Oenothera glazioviana
  23. Leaf Gall Wasp/ Unidentified per Russo, Tribe: Cynipidi [on Valley Oak]
  24. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  25. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  26. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  27. Plum, Prunus cerasifera
  28. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  29. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa
  30. Spiny Turban Gall Wasp, Antron douglasii
  31. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  32. Sunflower, Common Woolly Sunflower, Eriophyllum lanatum
  33. Tobacco, Tree Tobacco, Nicotiana glauca
  34. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  35. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  36. Western Fence Lizard, Blue Belly, Sceloporus occidentalis
  37. Yarrow, Achillea millefolium

Some Surprises at the Cosumnes Preserve, 01-06-20

Friend and fellow naturalist Roxanne and I took the non-freeway route to the Cosumnes River Preserve heading down Franklin Road. 

Start Time: 7:30 am
Start Temperature: 37º F
End Time: 12:30 pm
End Temperature: 53º F
Weather: Clear and chilly
Total Hours in the field (includes travel time): 5 hours

When we got to Bruceville and Desmond Roads, we stopped to take some photos of the birds we could see in and around the rice fields and on the telephone poles. We were seeing a lot of hawks around there and managed to get photos of some of them.

Red-Tailed Hawks, Buteo jamaicensis. One was sitting in the top of a tree and the second one came up, “tagged” the sitting one, and then they both flew off.

Then we went into the preserve itself and walked along the boardwalk.  We saw a lot of the usual suspects: a variety of ducks and geese and sparrows. The standouts for me were the Blue-Winged Teals, which I don’t get to see very much. We got see a handful of them, and in one photo I managed to get a Blue-Winged Teal, a Green-Winged Teal and a Cinnamon Teal all in the same frame.

A Blue-Winged Teal, Anas discors, a Cinnamon Teal, Anas cyanoptera, and a Green-Winged Teal, Anas carolinensis. All of these are males.

We also got the surprise of a Sora.  We were walking toward the viewing platform at the end of the boardwalk trail and saw something in the water that ducked underneath the wooden platform.  A few seconds later, the Sora stepped out on the opposite side of the platform.  We only had a few more seconds before it rushed off into the tules, but it was fun to see.  They’re pretty “secretive” little birds that can move quickly, so  it’s sometimes hard to get photos of them.

Sora, Porzana Carolina

While we were walking, we noticed several Sandhill Cranes flying overhead and heading toward the fields around Desmond Road, so when we got back to the car after finishing our walk in the boardwalk area, we drove back over to Desmond to see if could spot the cranes there.

CLICK HERE to see the entire album. 

As we came up over the hump where Desmond meets the railroad tracks, I spotted a bird on one of the telephone wires… A White-Tailed Kite!  From where I was sitting in the car I had to shoot through the windshield, so my pictures pretty much suck, but I think Roxanne got some good ones.  We also saw several of the cranes and lots and lots of Greater White-Fronted Geese among the ducks.  Closer to the road, we saw a pair of Greater Yellowlegs participating in what we thought might be courtship behavior. 

It’s impossible for me to tell the males from the females in that species of bird, but it was obvious that they were a pair and that one, which we assumed was the male, was chasing and ushering the other one through the shallow water.  They ran side-by-side, sometimes in a straight line and sometimes in meandering circles, and then the male would flap his wings, sometimes jumping up a little bit when he did this, and then go back to ushering the female around.

After our walk, we looked up information on the behavior and were surprised to find that there isn’t a whole lot of information on this species; it’s not studied very much.  I think that’s odd for a species that seems relatively easy to locate and view.  Apparently, the birds mate for life.  And the Birds of North America site noted:

Most aspects of breeding biology are poorly known. Most of the information is based on limited observations and small sample sizes... Undulating Flight Display. Unknown whether both sexes involved. Flap wings at even pace during latter half of fall and first two-thirds of rise. Flapping stops at this point and bird coasts to peak of rise on open wings. At peak, closes wings, causing brief stoop before starting to flap again. Single display can last up to 15 min; song, and occasionally other vocalizations, given throughout, although song can cease for several seconds. Courting male runs in circles around female and poses with upraised quivering wings...”

Greater Yellowlegs, Tringa melanoleuca

There were so many geese around making so much noise that I couldn’t hear if the Yellowlegs were vocalizing or not.  I got a little bit of the display on video and took some photos.  So interesting.

We could see little Killdeer among some of the other waterbirds, and seeing them reminded me of the time when I saw a mama Killdeer lay and egg right in front of me.I had seen her in a shallow green area next to the road on the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge auto-tour route.  The mama and a male were walking around in circles, and when my car approached, I thought the mom had crouched down to start her broken-wing display, but instead she popped out an egg.  I was fortunate, at the time, to get a video snippet of it.

On our way home, we spotted quite a few hawks in the trees and on the telephone poles along the road.  When I got home and went through my photos, it looked to me like one of the hawks might have had Avian Pox.  There were what looked like warty lesions all over its feet.  I thought at first the distortion was gore left over from a recent feed, but usually hawks are fastidious about cleaning their feet after eating.  There’s no way of telling if the bird did have Avian Pox,of course, without testing the lesions, but distortions on the feet are typical of the disease.

“…There are two forms of the disease. The type observed in this case is called the cutaneous (dry) form. Starting as vesicles on the unfeathered skin of the feet, legs, beak, or conjunctiva, it progresses to a proliferative nodule that can become infected with secondary bacteria… [TVMDL]

Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
The warty nodules and lesions on the bird’s feet looked like evidence of Avian Pox to me.

And we were surprised by the number of Striped Skunk roadkill we saw. I think we counted five skunks on just one stretch of road.  We speculated that because it doesn’t really get cold enough here for the skunks to go into hibernation, they have to come out of their dens periodically to feed – an human garbage makes for easy pickings when the skunk’s normal prey isn’t available.  ((I read somewhere, too, that skunks will leave their winter den occasionally to empty their scent glands.  Don’t know if that’s true, but it’s kind of an interesting idea.))

Species List:

  1. American Coot, Fulica Americana
  2. American Pipit, Anthus rubescens
  3. American Wigeon, Anas Americana
  4. Ash Flower Gall Mite, Eriophyes fraxinivorus
  5. Avian Pox, Avipoxvirus ssp. [on feet of hawk]
  6. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii
  7. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  8. Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
  9. Blue-Winged Teal, Anas discors
  10. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  11. Bristly Oxtongue, Helminthotheca echioides
  12. Broadleaf Cattail, Bullrush, Typha latifolia
  13. Bufflehead, Bucephala albeola
  14. California Dock, Rumex californicus
  15. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica [heard]
  16. California Wild Rose, Rosa californica
  17. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  18. Chicory, Cichorium intybus
  19. Cinnamon Teal, Anas cyanoptera
  20. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris [on the highway]
  21. Fennel, Sweet Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare
  22. Floating Water Primrose, Ludwigia peploides ssp. Peploides
  23. Gadwall duck, Mareca Strepera
  24. Gold Dust Lichen, Chrysothrix candelaris
  25. Golden Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
  26. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  27. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons
  28. Greater Yellowlegs, Tringa melanoleuca
  29. Green Alga (freshwater), Chlorophyta ssp.
  30. Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata
  31. Green-Winged   Teal, Anas carolinensis
  32. Himalayan Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus
  33. Honey Dew Wasp Gall, Disholcaspis eldoradensis
  34. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  35. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  36. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  37. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  38. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  39. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris
  40. Mistletoe, American Mistletoe, Big Leaf Mistletoe, Phoradendron leucarpum
  41. Mower’s Mushroom, Haymaker Mushroom, Panaeolus foenisecii
  42. Narrowleaf Willow, Salix exigua
  43. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus [heard]
  44. Northern Harrier, Marsh Hawk, Circus hudsonius
  45. Northern Pintail, Anas acuta
  46. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata
  47. Oak Apple Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  48. Oakmoss Lichen, Evernia prunastri
  49. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  50. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
  51. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  52. Ring-Billed Gull, Larus delawarensis
  53. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  54. Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Regulus calendula
  55. Sandhill Crane, Grus canadensis
  56. Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia
  57. Sora, Porzana Carolina
  58. Striped Skunk,  Mephitis mephitis
  59. Sunburst Lichen, Xanthoria elegans
  60. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  61. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  62. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  63. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  64. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
  65. White Alder, Alnus rhombifolia
  66. White Ash Tree, Fraxinus Americana
  67. White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus
  68. White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys

Fighting the Fog Along Woodbridge and Staten Roads, 01-04-20

Around 7:30 am, my friend and fellow naturalist Roxanne showed up (with coffee for each of us) and drove us around to the Woodbridge Ecological Reserve, Staten Island Road and into the city of Elk Grove.

Start Time: 7:30 am
Start Temperature: 39º F
End Time: 12:30 pm
End Temperature: 51º F
Weather: Overcast, foggy, a little drizzly
Total Hours in the field (includes travel time): 5 hours

I’d purchased Lands Passes (day pass) for both of us for Woodbridge, but had never been there before. So, I didn’t realize we couldn’t actually get into the reserve by ourselves; you have to have a ranger guide you on a tour. Instead, we drove into the pull-outs along the road, and then walked along the road for a mile or two, looking out into the reserve and at the farms around it.

Right across from one of the pull-outs was a large vineyard, and we were surprised to see most of the vines still heavy with drying, rotting fruit. I took some establishing shots before focusing on the wildlife we could see.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

It was pretty foggy outside when we got there, and when the sun came out it created a bright glare that was hard to photograph through and against. Still, we managed to get quite a few photos of birds.

It was foggy when we first arrived, which made photo-taking somewhat difficult. (Cooper’s Hawk, Acipiter cooperii)

Lots of Sandhill Cranes and Red-Tailed Hawks along the road. We were also teased by a Cooper’s Hawk and an American Kestrel who kept landing near us and then flying off before we could get any really good shots of them. Once the fog lifted our photography improved somewhat.

Cooper’s Hawk, Acipiter cooperii

In one area, someone had tossed out some cracked corn on the ground, and there were sparrows, blackbirds and Mockingbirds eating it. Someone had also dumped four old Christmas trees there which I thought was sooooo rude.

The Sandhill Cranes seemed to be all over the place, in small flocks and onesies-twosies. In some spots they were standing in among the chaff of what we think were fields of corn, and as big as the birds are, they seemed to blend right in. Sometimes we didn’t see then until we were almost right next to them. Amazing.

Sandhill Crane, Grus canadensis, adults and a juvenile.

“Sandhill cranes mate for life. When they form a pair bond, it can last for years, until one of the cranes dies… Mated pairs and their juvenile offspring stay together all through the winter, until the 9- to 10-month-old juveniles finally separate from their parents the following spring. During migration and winter the family units group together with other families and nonbreeders, forming loose roosting and feeding flocks—in some places numbering in the tens of thousands. “

I looked to see if I could spot some banded birds, but… no luck there.

In one of the flooded fields, we saw Black-Necked Stilts, some Northern Shovelers, Coots, a few Dowitchers and Dunlin. In another field there were Shovelers, Pintails and Mallards. So a lot of waterfowl… just most of it was out of the range of our camera, or back-lit so they were hard to see. There were also lots of Red-Winged Blackbirds and flocks of House Finches here and there.

A male Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata, in his “eclipse plumage”. According to RSPB: “Eclipse plumage is temporary or transition plumage. Ducks are peculiar in that they molt all their flight feathers — the long, wing feathers; — at once. For about a month, they can’t fly and very vulnerable to predators. To provide some protection, particularly for the brightly-colored males, the molt starts with their bright body feathers. These are replaced by dowdy brown ones, making them look much like females.”

In another area, there were also cattle sitting and grazing in a field, and the herd included several cows with their calves. We got to see some of the calves nursing.

Charolais Cattle, Bos Taurus var. Charolais

There was also one spot in a field where a Red-Tailed Hawk was trying to eat from what looked like a duck carcass… and there were several seagulls around him trying to steal his meal. I think they were Ring-Billed gulls, but I need to double-check on that. One of the gulls was so brazen that it walked up and sat right behind the hawk, like he was waiting for an opening.

As we were heading back toward Sacramento, in some spots along the road, we found groupings of cast off watermelons and cantaloupes. They looked like they’d just been dumped…but they’ll drop seeds as they deteriorate. We also some Osage oranges in a tree/shrub along the way, and came across what looked like a very unkempt apple orchard with loads of apples on some of the trees.

We drove for about 5 hours before stopping in Elk Grove for lunch.

Species List:

  1. American Coot, Fulica americana
  2. American Kestrel, Falco sparverius
  3. American Robin, Turdus migratorius
  4. Audubon’s Warbler, Setophaga coronata auduboni
  5. Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
  6. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  7. Broadleaf Cattail, Bullrush, Typha latifolia
  8. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  9. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis
  10. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  11. Charolais Cattle, Bos Taurus var. Charolais
  12. Common Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  13. Common Mustard, Brassica rapa
  14. Cooper’s Hawk, Acipiter cooperii
  15. Cultivated Apple, Malus domestica ssp.
  16. Cultivated Watermelon, Citrullus lanatus
  17. Dunlin, Calidris alpina
  18. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
  19. Golden Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
  20. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
  21. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  22. Greater Yellowlegs, Tringa melanoleuca
  23. Holstein Cattle, Bos taurus var. Holstein
  24. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  25. House Sparrow, Passer domesticus
  26. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  27. Long-Billed Dowitcher, Limnodromus scolopaceus
  28. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  29. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  30. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  31. Northern Pintail, Anas acuta
  32. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata
  33. Osage-Orange, Maclura pomifera
  34. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum
  35. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
  36. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  37. Ring-Billed Gull, Larus delawarensis
  38. Sandhill Crane, Grus canadensis
  39. Say’s Phoebe, Sayornis saya
  40. Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia
  41. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  42. Umbilicated cap mushroom, maybe Arrhenia obscurata
  43. Western Gull, Larus occidentalis 
  44. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
  45. White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys