Category Archives: photography

Saturday Morning at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

Juvenile Widow Skimmer. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.
Juvenile Widow Skimmer. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.

I got up around 5:30 and left the hotel to get over to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  The windy was blowing a gale out there this morning, though, so I wasn’t expecting to see much of anything.  There was no one else at the refuge that time of day, and I actually didn’t see another car until about noon as I was getting ready to leave.

Along the auto-tour route, the jackrabbits were up, and I also came across a couple of Striped Skunks – but those little guys can really MOVE, so all I got was blurry photos of them. At one point, one of them got pissed off because I was “chasing” it with my car, and it stopped an aimed his butt at me to warn me off.  Hah!  I finally did manage to get a short video snippet of it, but that was all.

Along with the usual contingency of ducks and geese, I got to see the American White Pelicans again – most of them napping on a small island in the middle of the permanent wetlands area. And I got some photos of the little red House Finch picking up thistle-seeds from the ground.

The dragonflies surprised me.  Because of the hard wind, I didn’t think I’d see many of them, but they were smart and fly close to the ground on the lee side of the tules to shield themselves from the wind, so I got some more photos of them, including some Widow Skimmer dragonflies, some adults and some juveniles who hadn’t fully developed their deep wing staining yet or gotten the greyish-blue pruinescence on their abdomen (so they were still striking black and yellow)… I saw several of the smaller dragonflies caught up in spider’s webs, and got a little video snippet of a spider racing out to sting and wrap a dragonfly in silk before it could wriggle free.

Among the other insects, I also got some photos of Painted Lady butterflies and a Red Admiral butterfly feeding on the teasel flowers.  And there were Cabbage White butterflies all over the place… On my way out of the refuge later, a tiny Crescent butterfly flew into the car and walked along the dashboard before leaving again…

At the permanent wetlands area, the mother Clark’s Grebe that I’d filmed yesterday moving her eggs around on her floating nest, was off the nest this morning (and I got photos of the eggs).  The winds had kicked up small waves on the water and the waves were wreaking havoc on the floating nest.  Mom and dad worked to try to add more grass to the nest and shore it up a bit, and eventually mom got back onto it, but it looks to me like her weight pushed the eggs under water… so I don’t know if they’re going to make it.  (Other grebes on their mats that I could see dotting the water seemed to be fine.)  I also saw another pair of grebes working on their nest (no eggs yet).  They had a good start on it and were working hard despite the waves.

The abandoned nest I saw yesterday was still there but the eggs were gone.  There was a pair of Pied-Billed Grebes checking the nest out, but I just thing that one’s too close to the road and will remain un-lived-in for the season.

I also saw a large “straw” nest in a tree along the route and was stymied by it for a while.  It was all grasses and small twigs with a hole in the side of it.  After doing some research, I decided it must have been an Oriel’s nest.  Now, usually Oriel’s nests are really easy to distinguish; they hang like purses or socks from branches.  But this one was up against the trunk of the tree – an unusual but not unheard of placement.  According to Cornell’s “All About Birds” site: “… The distinctive nest usually hangs below a branch, but is sometimes anchored along a vertical tree trunk…”

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The dog and I also walked one of the shorter trails at the refuge before heading home.

Some Quail on Sunday

California Quail. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.
California Quail. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.

I headed out to the American River Bend Park for my walk around 5:00 am.

I went down by the river side where I’d seen the beaver a week ago.  No beavers today, but I did get to see a covey of California Quail feeding and running through the short grass. Those are always fun to watch; especially the males with their little “dingle balls” bouncing on their head as they move.  This group seemed to be all bachelors; males with no apparent harem of females around them. I crept up on them as quietly as I could, but there’s a lot of stones and gravel around there, so I didn’t get any really good shots of them before they flushed.

I could then hear ducklings peeping from the river, so I walked closer to the shore.  There was a  mama Common Merganser there with a bevy of babies.  I think it might have been the same mama I saw before (the one with 20 babies), but she only had 12 now… and one of the babies had gotten carried off by the current.  He was bobbing on the little waves in the river, peeping loudly in distress.  Mama rushed across the surface of the water – with the other little ones in tow — and positioned herself downstream from the one that was peeping.  While she did that, I saw two other female Mergansers fly across the water in front of the baby as though they were trying to “herd” him in the right direction.  The current finally took him to where his mom and siblings were and she went back across the water with all of her kids again.  I got some video of her and the kids on the bank opposite from me, and as I was filming, I could a baby peeping again, and saw two others adult females skidding on the water to try to corral it…  I don’t know if the was the same baby as before, but there again was a little one who’d gotten separated from its group and was whining for help as the current took it downstream.  That poor mama must be so tired by the end of the day!

Later on my walk, I saw another female Merganser, this one with only two babies that she was carrying down the river on her back.  That’s a little more manageable, I’m sure.

I also came across a couple of Spotted Sandpipers in their breeding spots bobbing along the bank, eating stuff from between and on tops of the rocks – looked like worms or larvae of some kind — and I got a few photos of them. Along my walk I also saw some California Towhees and Spotted Towhees, Scrub Jays, Tree Swallows, Mallards, a jackrabbit and a Red-Shouldered Hawk.

The wild blackberries are covered in blossoms and berries right now, and the wild grapes have tiny clusters of grapes on them, but nothing’s ripe yet.  It’ll be another 2 or 3 weeks. The rushes and flat sedge along the river are all getting their seed-heads now along with the smartweed and dock.

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I then drove further into the park and was going to do some walking along the river there but the place was swamped with kids from a youth group that were camping there.  *Sigh*  I turned the car around and headed home.

 

Nature Included Humidity on Saturday

Young Mule Deer. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.
Young Mule Deer. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.

I wanted to beat the heat as much as I could, so I was out the door before 6:00 am and went to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk.  It was about 68° when I got there and 81° when I left just 2 ½ hours later.  And there was an overcast all day, so along with the heat, we got a lot of unusual humidity.  Blech!

Anyway, at the preserve I saw a lot of the usual suspects but nothing really unusual or “special”.  The Red-Shouldered Hawk family wasn’t performing when I was out there, but I did get to see the two juveniles standing and walking around the nest waiting for their parents to bring them some breakfast.  They’re getting big enough now that they should be able to catch their own meals in another week or two… There were lots of Wild Turkey bachelor groups walking around, but I didn’t see any females…

I came across a small herd of Mule Deer which included one youngster who was just out of his spots, and whose more adult coat hadn’t quite settled in yet – so he looked really blond and shaggy.  They were foraging for leaves.  The young one stopped to watch a squirrel in a nearby tree, then looked over at me and stared at me for a little while, like he wasn’t sure what I was.  So cute…  I tried to get some nest-photos, but only managed a few shot of a European Starling poking its head out of its nesting cavity… And I watched a tree squirrel wrestle a wild plum out of a tree and run off with it…

On my way out of the preserve I passed by a group of newbie birders who were going to be taken on a guided walk through the preserve… It was so uncomfortable outside by then, though, that I don’t think the outing is going to last very long.  And I could tell by what the group leader was saying that some of the participants hadn’t brought water with them – which is a must have in the hot weather (even when it’s humid).

Even though I didn’t get a lot of photos, the walk was good and I got some exercise and reconnection time out in Nature — which is the really the point of all of this.

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Hawk Babies and More This Morning

Mother and child. Red-Shouldered Hawks. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.
Mother and child. Red-Shouldered Hawks. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.

I have today off from work, but got up around 5:45 am anyway, then headed over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve in Carmichael.  It’s so weird to see the streets totally empty on a Monday morning.  Everyone else must’ve been sleeping in.

As I was driving through the residential area that wraps around on side of the nature preserve, a mama Mule deer and her baby – just out of its spots – walked across the street.  By the time I got my camera out of its bag, they were gone.  I’m just going to have to drive with the camera out all of the time, I guess.  Hah!

In the parking area, some of the male wild turkeys were showing off to the females; and in the native plant garden area, the Yarrow was in full bloom along with lots of Showy Milkweed.  I didn’t see any signs of Monarchs yet around the milkweed, though; maybe in another week or two… I’d recently read about making a tincture of Yarrow to use as a natural insect repellant.  You get fresh yarrow (the whole plant: stems, leaves, buds) and chop it all up, then put it in a bottle or jar and cover it with vodka.  Leave it in a closet for about 3 weeks, and then strain out all of the plant material before transferring the liquid to a spray bottle.  It doesn’t work as long as stuff with DEET in it (only about 30-45 minutes), so you have to keep spraying it on, but at least it won’t poison you…

The blue elderberry was in blossom everywhere and some of the plants already has berries on them.  The wild plum trees were also starting to bear fruit, and the Black Walnut trees were covered in new walnuts…

Usually, the preserve is a good bet for a lot of deer photos, but the deer were keeping to themselves this morning, and I only saw one or two.  The big show, though, was the Red-Shouldered Hawks that had built a nest near the nature center.  While papa screeched from a nearby tree, mama flew in to the nest with a big rat or vole she’d caught.  Then she started walking around the lip of the next and screeching, too… and in flew two of her children.  Almost fully fledged now, they were testing out their wings.  I got some still shots and video of them – all except papa who kept himself hidden among the leaves of his tree.  While I was taking video, another photographer came up and started filming, too… so in the video you can hear me respond to him…  It was hard for us to leave the site and continue on our prospective walks.  I saw more Red-Shouldered Hawks all around the preserve: everyone’s out hunting this morning…

CLICK HERE to see some video of the mother hawk and her kids.

I came across other birds in and around their nests, including a very uncooperative European Starling.  I saw it fly into its tree cavity, and waited and waited for it to poke its head out again so I could get a picture of it…  But the little dickens came out with a large feather in front of its face – doing housekeeping duties, I assume – so all I got was a picture of a feather sticking out of the tree with the Starling’s eye looking over the top of it.  Hah!  I also got a few photos of a mama House Wren trying to move a twig around in her nesting cavity.  It was really too long for the cavity and part of it stuck out through the hole; she kept trying to drag it all the way in and shove it around.  So much exertion for such a tiny bird…

I also saw a Darkling Beetle, lots of Acorn Woodpeckers, Western Fence Lizards, Scrub Jays, a snakefly,  a pair of Mallards sleeping in the long grass, a female Nutthall’s Woodpecker, and three California Towhees bobbing along the path in front of me. A little further along, I also saw a Spotted Towhee.

As I was heading out of the preserve, I came across a group of three people who were looking at a fallen log and pointing to something under it.  As I got closer, I could hear them talking, and one was saying, “That’s telemetered Male Number 37.”  I knew instantly they were talking about a rattlesnake!  I subscribe to blog by Mike Cardwell on the rattlesnake at the preserve (http://www.eyncrattlesnakes.com/), and knew that Number 37 was one they’d just recaptured and put a new transmitter on.  When I got closer, I asked the group if they were part of the rattlesnake study on the preserve, and – yep.  The main guy in the group was none other than Mike Cardwell himself!  I was SUCH a groupie; Oooo, I just LOVE your blog, Mike! He asked me if I wanted to see one of the snakes, and I said sure, so he let me come off the path to where he was and pointed out Number 37 to me.  The snake was looking right at us, but wasn’t making any noise.  Number 36 is a huge male with about 11 rattles on his tail already.  I tried getting some photos of him, but he was a good 15 feet away, under a log and behind the grass, so my photos aren’t the best…  But at least I got to meet Mike AND the nefarious Number 37.  Cool!

And to end my walk with a little more coolness: as I was heading to my car, I could hear bullfrogs burping in the small pond near the little Maidu Indian Village reconstruction, so I stopped there to see if I could see any frogs.  Got photos of three of them.  Coolness.

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I walked for about 2 ½ hours. After that I headed home, stopping first to put gas in the car and run the Sebring through the carwash, and then stopping at BelAir to pick up a bunch of groceries.  When I got home, I unpacked everything and rested for a bit.