Category Archives: photography

Back to the Cosumnes River Preserve, 05-18-17

DAY 13 OF MY VACATION. I got up around 6 o’clock this morning and headed out to the Cosumnes River Preserve. I was looking for damselflies and dragonflies; it’s early in the season but as the weather is turning warmer, I thought they should be starting to emerge… It got up to 85º today…

CLICK HERE to see the full album of photos and videos.

At the preserve, I didn’t see a lot of dragon- or damselflies, but I did find a great example of exuvia – the exoskeleton left behind when a dragonfly leaves its aquatic body and emerges as a winged dragonfly. I was able to get a lot of close-up photos of it.  I also saw two garter snakes and got some photos of the Virginia Rail and she scurried back and forth getting bugs for her babies.  And for some reason there were a lot of crayfish all over the place; most of them in areas where the egrets and herons couldn’t get in to eat them. They must’ve figured out where it was safer… I also saw quite a few tiny Pacific Tree Frogs, and came across a small Tadpole snail.  I’m always surprised when I’m able to catch sight of the teeny stuff like that…

When I got to the preserve its was 54º, but by the time I left it was already 76º — which is “too hot” for walking.  I walked for about 4 ½ hours… and was exhausted by the time I got back home. My feet and ankles just can’t take walks that long anymore…

 

Deer, Goslings and Acorn Woodpeckers, 05-16-17

DAY 11 OF MY VACATION. I got up around 5:30 this morning and headed over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve… It was cool and overcast all day today, and never got over 65º outside.  All of this beautiful weather we’ve been having is on its way out, though. When I got back to work next week, it’s supposed to be over 100º every day… Pleh!

I was hoping to see the baby hawks again today at the preserve, but it was dark and chilly outside, and they weren’t awake yet.  I got a tiny bit of video of one of them rustling around the nest, but no good shots.  I could hear their mom and dad screeching at one another across the preserve, but didn’t see either of them go to the nest… I did get to see quite a few deer, and lots of geese and their goslings, though.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos and videos.

The first deer I saw was a female – who looked very pregnant – standing in the overgrown native flowers bed near the nature center building. She was eating all the tender leaves on the plants, and some of the flower heads.  Surprisingly, she let me get quite close to her – maybe within 8 feet– and never startled.  She was so calm, I watched her graze for several minutes before moving on.  All of the other deer I saw were also casually grazing… and I saw one buck in his velvet hobbling though the long grass.  It looked like he was favoring his right front leg, but I couldn’t tell what was wrong because the grass came up almost to his shoulders.  I couldn’t see any swelling in the joints that I could see; and nothing looked broken.  Maybe he has an injury to his hoof…

I found some areas where the thistles were thick… and many of them had Painted Lady Butterfly caterpillars stretched out along them, covered with a thin web of silk (which they spin while they’re feeding)… It’s hard to get photos of them when they’re in their webs because the camera keeps trying to focus on the webbing instead of the caterpillars, and the prickles on the thistles stab me in the hands.  I got a few, though.

I also came across a small flock of female Wild Turkeys, and next to them was a group of males, all showing off, fanning their tails, dropping their wings, and snorting through their snoods.  The gals were not impressed and didn’t even look at the guys. I got some video of one of the gobblers and in it you can his snood contract and expand on his face.  On the video you can hear me “chew!”-ing at him, mimicking the noise the male turkeys made when they snort out blasts of air from under their snood.  It made the male turn and look at me, so I could get some good head-on footage of him…

Just seconds after I left the group of turkeys behind to get some shots of another doe in a nearby field, I heard the turkeys all scrambling and gobbling and shrieking frantically, I looked back to see a coyote chasing one of them down.  I ran – Yeah, me, running. Try not to laugh out loud. – after the coyote but lost it in the over-growth.  I couldn’t tell if it got a turkey or not, but as I turned back to the trail, I saw a second coyote running up from the riverside.  He must’ve heard the breakfast call.  It all happened so fast all I got through the camera was a few-second glimpse of the second coyote as it ran through the overgrowth. Got my heart going, I can tell you.

After that I headed to the river bank to see how far up the water was there.  It was up higher than it normally is, but wasn’t “flooding” like it had been earlier. There were quite a few pairs of Canada Geese close to the water, and each pair had a handful of goslings.  It seemed like each group had babies of different ages, from little golden fuzzies to gray-and-black ones that were just starting to fledge.

Now, a lot of times several groups of dominant parents will work collectively to oversee, feed and protect a large crèche of babies, but these pairs weren’t intermingling, and sometimes showed aggression toward one another.  So I was surprised by how close the parents let me get to their kids; some came to within about a foot of me – and the parents didn’t attack or hiss at me.  I was the only person on the shore, so maybe they didn’t think I was much of a threat… One of the parents, though, got mad at another parent’s fledgling that got too close to its fuzzies, and it bit the fledging in the butt and chased it into the water. For the rest of the time I was there, that one fledgling stayed in the water, whining for its parents to come get it… Poor baby. When his mom finally came back to him, he fussed and fussed at her, as though scolding her for leaving him behind.  Hah!

I also saw a lot of Acorn Woodpeckers who were out and about, squawking and “ratchet-ing!” at each other. One pair was in the process of excavating a new nesting cavity in the side of a dead tree near the nature center that had been denuded of limbs and topped off (so it wouldn’t fall on anyone). It amazed me how perfectly round the cavity’s doorway was; like they had used a drill or a awl or something rather than their face.  Amazing.

I walked for about 4 ½ hours, and then headed home. On the way there, I stopped to get the few groceries I had forgotten to put on the list for delivery this afternoon, and got back to the house around 11:30 am. My ankles were killing me, but I think the exercise is good for me…

I relaxed with the dogs for a few hours, and then Safeway delivered the rest of the groceries to the house.  I unpacked those, and then crashed for the rest of the day.

More than 140 Egrets in One Pond!

DAY 9 OF MY VACATION.  I got up around 5:45 this morning and headed out to the Cosumnes River Preserve.  I hadn’t been there in quite a while and wanted to see how things were going there (after all of the recent floods and whatnot).  It was another perfect weather day: 43º when I headed out; 64º when I headed back…

Because I was there so early, I knew the gate to the boardwalk parking area would still be closed, so I found a safe place on the side of the road, as near to the gate as I could get without blocking it, and parked there.  Then I walked into the preserve.  The majority of the water was gone from there, too.  But there were still a few large ponds sitting around… and one of them was brimming with Egrets (most Great Egrets, but several Snowy Egrets as well), all of them glistening white in the early morning sunlight.  I took my time walking up to the pond because I didn’t want to scare the birds off, but they were so busy eating and playing “¿Quién es más macho?” with one another that they didn’t even notice me, and I was able to get pretty close to them. I counted up to 140 egrets before I quit… That is a LOT of birds!

CLICK HERE to see the full album of photos and videos.

After the flood waters from the river recede, the standing ponds are filled with fish, crawdads, frogs, tadpoles and other tasties, and the birds just chow down.  I saw some of the egrets catching fish as big or bigger than my hand… so large I didn’t think the birds would be able to swallow them.  But each one managed to down its catch without totally gagging on it.  I was watching one egret trying to get a carp in the right position to swallow, and the big fish kept smacking the bird in the side of the head with its tail.  Bonk, bonk, bonk…! It wasn’t going down without a fight. Hahaha!

Some of the Great Egrets were still in their long breeding plumage and green faces, and those were the ones who were just walking around trying to be butch; sometimes chasing off other birds, or jumping into the air for three-second foot-to-foot combat.  And all of the birds were making their loud croaking noises; sounded like a herd of hogs…

Also around the egrets were some American Avocets, Common Terns, White-Faced Ibis, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Great Blue Herons, and even a Black-Crowned Night Heron who apparently wanted some breakfast before heading off to its day roost.  There were some Common Terns doing their death-drop into the water to catch fish – I worried about them because the water was shallow; I was afraid they’d break their necks! – and I saw an American White Pelican flying leisurely overhead… I got lots of photos and videos there, and was actually completely by myself for the majority of the time I was on the preserve.  I saw two or three other cars, but no people until just before I was ready to leave, so that was nice, too.

I was reluctant to leave the egrets to walk around the rest of the boardwalk area, but I did. There wasn’t much water around the boardwalk itself but the plants were crazy-prolific: several different kinds of grass, including Canary grass and Rabbit’s Foot Grass, Water Primrose, tules, of course, and small rushes, several different kinds of Smartweed, Jointed Charlock, a couple of different kinds of Flat Sedge, Soap Root, Scarlet Pimpernel, Flat-Faced Downgia… tons of stuff.  Too bad I pretty much suck at botany.

At the end of the boardwalk, the viewing platform was surrounded by a shallow pool, but the rest of the area was pretty much dry.  When I stepped out onto the platform I could hear a raspy squawking coming from the tules and vegetation around the shore of the pond, and I thought it might be a Sora or a Rail but I couldn’t see it. Whatever it was ducked into the vegetation; I could see the plants move as the critter worked its way through them.  So, I decided to leave it for a while and focused my attention instead on the few other birds around the pond.  There was a pair of Canada Geese with their goslings, some more Avocets, Black-Necked Stilts, a pair of Northern Shovelers, and a couple of Long-Billed Dowitchers.  A cute moment with the geese: as soon as the babies realized mom and dad were ambling toward the water, they all rushed out in front of their parents like little kids running toward a beach.

As I was taking photos and video of them, the squawking started again, so I turned slowly to look behind me along the shore of the pond… and there was a mama Virginia Rail!  She moved pretty quickly at first because she was trying to shoo her babies into the tules – two tiny black fuzz-balls.  She might have had more, but I only saw two them. They’re so teeny; they looked like drier lint on a stick. Hah! After that initial showing, I kept an eye and an ear out for her and was able to see her three more times as she dashed out onto the muddy edge of the pond to catch bugs and dig up worms for her kids and then dashed back into the tules to feed them.  While I was watching her, another “old lady” came up onto the platform with her binoculars.  I was going to tell her about the Rail – which is a rare sight at the preserve – but I didn’t want to make any noise for fear I’d scare the Rail away.  [Later, I told two other people I saw as I was heading back to my car about the Rail, so I wasn’t being a total noodge about it.]

I also walked along the sidewalk that acts as a boat ramp and leads you to the river.  I could see all the damage the flooding had done to the ground there, and there was still standing water in many places.  I couldn’t actually get to the boat dock itself because the last fifteen or twenty feet of the ramp to the dock was under water.  And that’s VERY unusual for this time of year.

I saw some American Goldfinches and Bullock’s Orioles as I was heading back to my car.  The Goldfinches were pretty far away, so the photos aren’t the best… and the Orioles refused to pose for me, so I didn’t get any shots of them at all. Still, for the day, I burned through four camera batteries and took almost 2000 photos!  It was a good day.

All in all, I walked for about 4 ½ hours; waaaaay past my body’s limit, so I knew I was going to pay for that with sore feet and ankles for the rest of the day, but I think it was worth to get the shots that I did.

The Universe Played Keep-Away, But I Still Got Photos, 05-12-17

DAY 7 OF MY VACATION. I go up around 5:00 this morning and headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge again.  It was another beautiful day as far as the weather went: 48º when I headed out; 73º by the late afternoon with a slight breeze all day.

CLICK HERE to see the entire album of photos and videos.

I got to the refuge around 7:30 am… and it was a kind of frustrating, disappointing day.  It was like the Universe was playing “keep away” all the while I was out there.  You know, that horrible “game” wherein someone takes your hat, dangles it out in front of you, and then snatches it away just as you reach for it.  It was like that.  Oooo, there’s an otter in the water… but as soon as I trained my camera on it, it was gone.  Oooo, there are two Bitterns… but they’re in the tall grass and the camera refuses to focus on them.  Oooo, there’s a Yellow-Headed blackbird… and it flies away.  Oooo, there’s a Bullock;s Oriole… and won’t sit still. Oooo, listen! You can hear the calls of a Great-Tailed Grackle… but it never comes out where you can see it long enough to get a photo…  Even the ground squirrels wouldn’t pose for me.

Guh! It was like that ALL DAY.  It seemed like I was “fighting” with nature and the camera every minute.  It was the most unproductive photo day I’ve ever had out on the refuge.  So frustrating.  I was getting more and more pissed off as the day went on… And, of course, that kind of negativity broadcasts out, and then none of the critters want to come anywhere near you… *Sigh*

There were a couple of “yay” moments, however.  I was hoping to see at least one White-Striped Sphinx Moth flitting around the blooming thistles and teasel; it’s the right time of the year for them to wake up and start flying. Well, as soon as the sun started warming up the air, I saw about a dozen of them at different points along the auto tour; sometimes two or three at a time.  That was cool!

And on my way out of the refuge, I came across a Black-Crowned Night Heron fishing in a slough… and he was close enough and cooperative enough that I was able to get photos and video of him… While I was filming him, a pair of American Bitterns landed onto the side of the slough: one with its white shoulder feathers extended.  They lighted on the ground for a moment and then took off again… That white-shoulder display is part of their courtship ritual, but they went by so fast, I only barely got a few frames of the male’s display (and no images of the female).  At another spot, I also saw a male Common Gallinule fan his tail for a female… So, the day wasn’t a total waste.

Oh, and the little Killdeer I saw the last time I was there who had built her nest close to the road on the auto-tour route, was still there. And she had 4 eggs now instead of the two I saw the last time.  So, that was nice.

A Baby Hawk! And Other Stuff, 05-11-17

DAY 6 OF MY VACATION. I got up around 6:30 this morning and headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for my walk.  It was another gorgeous day, weatherwise – I’m lucking out so far on this vacation with great weather – 55º when I headed out, and up to 70º by the late afternoon.

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

The first thing I saw when I went into the preserve was a Yellow-Billed Magpie bopping along a lawn area. They’re endemic to the Central Valley (found here and nowhere else on Earth), so it’s always fun to see one… Then I saw a mama mule deer with a yearling, a little boy just starting to get his antlers.  He was very skittish, and ran off behind some brush, but mom was calm and just stood her ground while I walked past her.  She looked pregnant  — it’s that time of year.

I came across several House Wren nests, and watched as one pair of parents double-teamed to get their babies fed. Dad would bring them bugs then fly off, mom would bring them bugs then fly off, dad would sing in a nearby tree and the babies would answer him with creaky little croaking calls, mom would bring them more bugs, dad would fly into the nest to grab the fecal sacs and dump them outside the nest…  I think I stood there for almost 20 minutes just watching the parents fly back and forth…

At another nest, the Wren parents were having a fit because a Fox Squirrel had figured out which tree cavity their nest was in, and was trying to rip into it to get to the eggs.  The entrance to the next was on the underside of a branch that was hanging low near the ground.  I tried to get video of it, but there were weeds in the way, so it’s hard to see anything.  The squirrel wasn’t successful in getting at the eggs – at least nit while I was watching it… You normally think of squirrels as nut- or seed-eaters, but their diet is very varied and often includes birds’ eggs, fruit, and insects…

The one thing I was hoping to see at the preserve was the Red-Shouldered Hawks who have a nest near the nature center there, but when I started out on my walk, I couldn’t see the birds (or the babies I was hoping they had).  Last year, they had two babies.  On my way out of the preserve, though, I looked up and could see the fluffy white head of a baby poking up from the edge of the nest.

I walked around until I could get a better view of the nest, and was awarded with a view of the baby – starting to fledge – as it stood up and walked across the nest.  Then mama flew in to check on him… and I could hear papa screeching from somewhere nearby.  As I continued to watch the nest, I realized there were TWO chicks in the nest not just one… So the parents had twins again!  That was a nice way to end the walk!

Well, that Baby Rattlesnake was a Surprise, 05-10-17

I got up early this morning, and headed out to the American River Bend Park around 6:30 am for a walk. It was gorgeous outside today; 53º when I headed out, and high of 69º all day with a slight breeze…

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos and videos.

At the River Bend Park, I was looking for Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars, and they were in abundance. I think they’ll start going into their chrysalises in another week or so; they’re getting so big and fat.

The wild grasses throughout the park are waist high in most places, and there were lots and lots of Dog-Tail Grass and Rattlesnake (Big Quaking) Grass everywhere; more than I had ever seen there before. (And that, I’m assuming is because of all of the rain we had earlier in the year.) I was surprised to see Miniature Lupine, Tule Peas, Elegant Clarkia and Bush Monkey Flowers still in bloom in some places, along with all of the common vetch and the Woodland Stars…

I found a pair of House Wrens tending to their babies and bringing them all sorts of bugs.  Once I figured out where the nest was (in a tree cavity) I stood next to the tree for a little while – and I could actually hear the babies making their raspy “feed me” noises inside the tree.  Hah!

Some interesting/weird/neat things along the walk included being able to see green bunny poop for the first time.  Rabbits and hares usually poop twice. The first time they do it, the pellets are green… and then the rabbit or hare eats the pellets and puts them through their digestive system a second time to make sure they get all of the nutrients out of them. When the animal poops a second time, the pellets are brown. (I must’ve scared the rabbit off before it had a chance to re-eat it droppings) … I’d never seen the green version before, so I thought that was neat. I know, I know… it takes a “naturalist” to get excited about bunny poop.  Hah-2!

The second odd thing was a female Mallard sitting in a tree. Mallards usually nest on the ground and sometimes on floating mats near the water, but this one was checking out a spot in a tree near the riverside. Flood waters early in the year, had brought grassy debris into the branches about halfway up the tree, and when the waters retreated, the grassy mass was left behind.  The mama Mallard was checking it out… poking around in the mass, pushing on spots, settling down and then standing again, like she was testing to see if it would work for her.  Papa Mallard was in the water below the branches, fussing and splashing around, like he did want her in the tree.  Eventually, she left the site and went down to meet the male in the water.  They swam off together, and then I saw mama flying off across the river. They must’ve had a fight about it.  Hah-3!

The third thing was a real surprise. I was looking over a tree that had been felled by a beaver, when I saw a “thin black thing” flicking out from under the dislocated shaggy bark on the side of the tree.  At first I thought it was an earwig’s butt… but it was moving too fast. So I looked closer and realized it was forked tongue! Then I could see the snake’s face but not its body, so at first I didn’t know what kind of snake it was. Good thing I didn’t reach for it! I knew the rattlers were emerging and having babies this time of year, so I got a stick and lifted the bark over the tree… and there was a baby rattlesnake!  He was so young he only had one button on his tail… and he wasn’t rattling at me… Baby rattlers are usually born in groups, so I figured where there was one, there might be more, so I backed away from the tree and headed back to the car.  I actually walked for about 3 ½ hours up to that point, so I’d gotten a lot of good exercise in already.