Category Archives: photography

After a 24-Hour Shift, I Needed a Nature Break

After breakfast on Friday, I checked out of the hotel where I worked on the Big Day of Giving for a 24 hour shift, and went in to the Tuleyome office to unpack stuff that had to be returned there, went through the mail, and sent off some emails… Then I headed back home. I felt I needed a nature fix to help clear my tired, fuzzy brain, so I stopped briefly at William Land Park, to walk through the flowers and see the duckies there.

CLICK HERE to see an album of photos and videos.

The WPA Rock Garden there is looking lovely this time of year; lots of different flowers and trees in bloom. Between the flowers, the fennel plants and the Spice Bush, the air was filled with fragrance…

Around the pond there were the standard ducks and geese, including one pair of ducks with 10 ducklings. The pair was made up a male Mallard and a larger female Cayuga-Swedish Blue hybrid, so some of the duckling had Mallard markings, and some of the babies were all black with tufts of yellow on them. The cutest thing about the babies was that some of them had black legs and toes, but the webbing between the toes was bright yellow, as was the underside of their feet… Mallards hybridize easily, and most of the ducks around that pond have intermixed at least once, so there are a lot of “odd ducks” walking around the pond.

I also saw a baby Red-Eared Slider Turtle in the water, about the size of a 50¢ piece swimming in the water. It followed me for a bit, then swam off, then came to the surface, then swam off again… It made me smile (even though that species of turtle is actually invasive.)

I walked for about an hour and then went on to the house.

A Western Tanager and Others, 04-30-17

I got up around 6:15 and was out the door by 6:30 to head over to the American River Bend Park for a walk.  It got up to 82º today.

At the River bend Park, the elderberry bushes are getting their flowers on them, and the buds on the Buckeye trees are just starting to open. Pipevines, grape vines and manroot vines abound, many of them vying for the same spots in the sun; and the black walnut trees are heavy with catkins. I was hoping to get some photos of Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly eggs, and was a little surprised to find that the caterpillars had already hatched out of most of them!  There were little first and second instar caterpillars everywhere…

CLICK HERE TO SEE THE ENTIRE ALBUM. More videos will be added shortly.

I also got to see a few Tussock Moth caterpillars, which are always cool. I even got one to crawl on my hand for a little while… (They’re the moths in which the female is wingless.  She sit in the tree she was born in and waits for the males to come to her.)

And I also came across an area where a bunch of Elder Moth caterpillars (a kind of cutworm) were coiled up on young elderberry bushes; some had curled themselves into the leaves, and one leaf curl had a shiny new pupa case in it… Neato.  [The Elder Moths are white and super-fuzzy and have green “staining” on their wings.]

A couple of other cool things happened on this walk, as well.  The most exciting was when I was trying to get photos of a pair of Bewick’s Wrens that were bringing food to their hatchlings.  The wrens were nesting in a tree cavity BUT, the tree was lying on its side on the ground, so they had to go through grass to get to the opening.  I was trying to figure out how to shoot through the grass and eliminate the heavy shadows around the opening to the nest, when I heard screeching in a tree behind me. I turned around to find a handsome Cooper’s Hawk up in the tree… and as soon as I looked at it, it started buzz-bombing me.  It dove straight at my head, so I lifted my camera up to deflect it.  Then it landed up in another tree, and I was taking photos of it there, it dove at me again… and again… and again… first from one direction, then from another. I don’t know if I was too close to its nest, or if it had a fledgling on the ground, or if I was too close to its breakfast, but it was NOT happy.

I got as many photos of it as I dared, and then walked off before it had the chance to gouge out my eyes.  (I tried getting video of it. I got a few frames of it screaming and diving at my head, and then the rest of the video is just a bunch rapid shaking and me shouting in exclamation.  I might add that to the album just because it’s funny.

I never did get a photo of that wren’s nesting site; maybe next time. But I did get some video of wrens singing and “beeping”, so that was something of a consolation.

Another cool thing: I saw some European Starlings picking stuff off the side of a tree, so I went over to see what so interesting to them.  A huge portion of the tree was literally covered in ants; a whole bivouac of them including some winged ones. I don’t know if they were moving in or moving out, but there were hundreds of them.  While I was getting some video of that, I noticed something “yellow” in the periphery of my vision, so I looked up and… Wow, it was a gorgeous Western Tanager! I’d never seen one at the park before.  It grabbed some of the winged ants and flew off, and then came back and sat on the low branch of a nearby tree for quite a while. In order to get pictures of it, I had to shoot through the leaves of the tree closest to me, a little hole about the size of my fist, and then get the camera to focus on the bird and not the leafy edges of the hole.  I got quite a few good photos, including a cute one of the bird cocking its head to one side. I was super-pleased.

Aaaannnd… I also got to see an Ash-Throated Flycatcher. He was sitting on the top of a small, broken, dead  tree trunk, but his back was to me so, all I could see with this powderpuff of feathers on the top of his head.  Then the bird flew off into another branch, and I could see its whole body… Yep, Flycatcher.  They’re not uncommon birds, but I think I’ve only seen maybe three or four altogether at the River Bend Park.

On the way out of the park, I walked by a spot where a couple of Tree Swallows were making all sorts of noise. That always alerts me to the notion that there’s a nest nearby, and sure enough, I was able to spot it as one of the birds exited the cavity.  I had to climb over a (very low) fence and then find a position where I could view the tree without interfering with the birds and watched it for about 10 or 15 minutes. I got quite a few photos of the birds in and near the nest hole… and even watched as one of them chased off an interloper when it got too close. That was a nice way to end the walk.  (I actually walked for a little more than 3½ hours before heading home.)

Too Windy at the Refuge, 04-28-17

I’d gotten the okay from my boss to work from home of Friday.  I checked in with office stuff on-and-off via cellphone and email  in the morning, and then did some more work from home in the afternoon, but spent several hours in between driving around the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  It was way too windy there, so I didn’t get to see a lot of stuff, but it was still nice to get outside and into the fresh air.

CLICK HERE for an album of photos and videos.

Because the wind was blowing so hard, my subjects kept moving which made focusing on anything difficult, and at other times, the wind would latterly knock my camera to the side or back into my face, which also hampered picture taking and videoing.  So, I didn’t get as many choice photos as I would have liked.

I did see, in the distance a mama Mallard and what looked like 13 ducklings… It was hard to count them because they kept moving around…

For a minute, I saw a Red-Tailed Hawk in a tree. It’s crop was so full it looked like it had swallowed a tennis ball.  I think it was hoping to just rest in the top of the tree and digest its meal, but a pair of Kingbirds wanted that tree to nest in, and they mobbed the hawk until it flew off…

I also got to see a pair of American Bitterns. They had come out to the edge of the auto-tour road to challenge one another.  Both were doing their “pumper-lunk” calls, but by the time I got the car stopped and my camera primed, they were quiet… and one of them walked off into the tules where I could barely see him.  (Sometimes yet get the pictures; sometimes you don’t.)

Later in the tour I came across a roadkill, which is kind of unusual on the auto tour route because most cars are usually going less than 5 miles per hour. This was a full hit-the-critter-and-roll-it-inside-out kind of roadkill.  By the looks of the tail and the clawed back foot, I’m assuming it had been a muskrat. I wanted to take parts of it home with me – but I don’t have my collections permit yet, and besides you’re not allowed to get out of your car on the tour. Dangit!

A little further up the route, I came across a pair of Black Tailed Mule Deer sitting in a dry culvert, sunning themselves out of the wind.  One was a young male with black “nubbies” where is antlers will come in over the summer; the other was a female. They both lifted their heads to look at me, but didn’t get up.  They were comfortable where they were.

I’m used to seeing all of the Marsh Wren nests in tules, but today I saw a few that were really quite interesting in their construction. One seemed to complete with a grassy ‘handle” on top.  I’d love to be able to just camp out along a stretch of tules at the refuge and film the construction process… and try to figure out what attracts the females to a particular nest when there are so many options available to them.

 

The Woodland Library Rose Garden

At lunchtime on Thursday, I took a short break during to walk around the rose garden at the Woodland Public Library across the street from the office.

I’m not a big fan of cultivated roses – (They’re all a bunch of GMO’s, basically, with their pollen-producing anthers and stamens genetically modified to become more petals instead, which means the roses get big and fat, but actually produce LESS pollen for the critters that need that as food source.) – but I have to admit that when so many of them are bunched together in a small space, they make a gorgeous display.

CLICK HERE to see the whole album of photos.

American Bitterns Pumper-Lunking on Sunday

I was up at 6:00 am and out the door before 6:30.  It was my original intention to do some more wildflower hunting, but on the way to Highway 20 I got lost in my thoughts and missed the turn off (D’oh!), so I continued up the highway to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge and spent the morning there instead.  The weather was lovely (mostly sunny; 51º when I got there, 70º by the time I left).

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

We’re right at the beginning of the breeding season, so lots of bird are starting to pair up, build nests, and claim territory.  I saw a lot of Great-Tailed Grackles flying overhead (and some American White Pelicans, too), and although I could hear the grackles occasionally singing their broad range of odd songs, I didn’t see any of them on or near the ground so I didn’t get any photos of them. I also saw a young garter snake and a green-tinted Western Racer snake, but they moved too fast for me. By the time I got my camera focus on them, they were gone into the brush.  I’d never seen a Western Racer before, so that was neat to see one for the first time.  When I initially saw it, I thought it was a tule on the auto-tour route… but then it moved.

A lot of the wildflowers and vernal pool flowers at the refuge were in bloom, so in area the ground was a patchwork of yellow Goldfields, orange Fiddleneck, white Popcorn Flowers and purple Dowingia… so pretty. There’s also wild mustard and Poison Hemlock, Blessed Milk Thistle, Italian Thistle, and Teasel blooming everywhere – just in time for the pollinators to wake up.

I saw only a few dragonflies, but it’s still early in the season for them. The Painted Lady and West Coast Lady butterflies on the other hand were everywhere. I bet I saw 20 of them just around the permanent wetland area.

There were jackrabbits and Cottontails bounding all over the place, and I got a few good shots of some California Ground Squirrels.

I didn’t see many babies today, just a pair of Canada Geese with their little troop of goslings, but it’s still early in the season.

The highlight of the day was seeing an American Bittern in the tall grass “booming”.  I don’t know why it’s called “booming” because the call has its own name but… whatever.  To stake out their territory, the Bitterns give out a loud complex call called the “pumper-lunk” call.  The bird claps its bill several time, sucking air into its esophagus, and then expels the air by compressing its neck – making a loud burbling sound, sort of like a melodious burp.  The one I was watching did his call five times, and I was able to get video of two of the calls.  Made. My. Day.  Here’s one of the videos of it: https://youtu.be/cg0HDZ2lhbw.

The odd moment of the day came when I saw something with long brown, black and white fur moving through the long grass.  I could see that it was moving nose-down along the ground, but because the critter never lifted its head, I couldn’t tell what it was.  I was thinking it was probably a Striped Skunk, but the brown shades were throwing me off… then I was thinking badger (but the fur was too long)… or maybe even porcupine (but they’re usually much larger, and the video proved that I was seeing fur and not quills)… So I’m settling on skunk, but I’m still not certain.

In another “what is that?” moment, I saw the dorsal fin and tail fin of a Northern Pike in one of the slews.  I know I’ve said it before, but those guys are brutal; they’ll eat anything.  They come up into the sloughs when the area gets flooded, then when the water recedes again, they get trapped.  They’re fast and powerful, though… and can move even in shallow water, so once they’re in the sloughs they prey on everything, including birds…

On the viewing platform, I came across a pair of Western Fence Lizards, that were challenging each other: doing pushups, body slamming one another, staring each other down.  I got some of the interaction on video.  The two males were very mature – showing off why they’re also called “Blue Bellies” – and had lots and lots of blue on their bodies, even along the back and on the head.  I’ve never ones that were this colorful before.  When the winner of the contest was done with his rival (who ran off) he decided that my blue-green walking shoes were an enemy, too, so he ran up as close to me as he dared and started doing pushups again.  Hah!  I let him win and walked away – after I got some video and photos of him.  In the same area, I found a melanistic Western Fence Lizard, a dark pitchy-gray one sitting on a branch sunning himself.  He was such a contrast to the brightly colored one, I had to get his photo, too.

I’m usually not too thrilled about seeing Black Phoebes, mostly because they’re so ubiquitous around here, but I caught sight of one carrying grass for its nest.  It perched on a limb of a tree and sat there for a while, letting me get some pretty good photos of it.  And the Kingbirds were out in force. I got some good shots of them, too.

Another good bird-moment was when I saw some American Coots playing “keep-away” with a crawfish.  One has caught it and was trying to eat it when a second Coot rushed up and grabbed it.  Coot #2 swam off with its prize, but as soon as it stopped to eat, Coot #3 rushed up and took it… When it comes to lunch, these guys aren’t polite.  Hah!

I stayed at the refuge for about 4 hours and then headed back home to crash with the dogs… So I didn’t see much in the way of wildflowers, today, but it was still a nice day out in nature…

A Visit to the Woodland Science Center Site, 04-19-17

My coworker Jenifer took the staff on a tour of the site where we hope the new Woodland Science Center will be built. Jenifer spearheaded this project for Tuleyome and has been working for the last two years to pull all of the community stakeholders together.  She’s pushed the project forward to the point where she already architectural drawings of the site and is starting to look for funding to build everything.  I’d heard her describe the site several times, and had seen some photos of it, but they don’t even begin to elicit the same response as actually stepping onto the site and looking at it.  I can see soooo much potential there, and am now more excited to see the center get built and the site protected and utilized. My coworkers Nate and Kristie came along with us, and we all got so involved with taking photos and recording sounds that the 1-hour site visit turned into a 2 ½ hour hike! We walked all the way around the borrow pit (which was full of water and looking great), and up to one of the high points on a hillock.

Jenifer said she really enjoyed being out on the site with us because we were so excited about everything, and were able to point out to her things she hadn’t seen or noticed before.

CLICK HERE to see an album of photos.

Because I had thought it was just going to be a short site visit, I hadn’t brought my “field stuff”, like my notebook, insect repellant, walking stick, etc.  Still, I was able to mentally keep track of many of the species we saw there, and I got some photos, too.   I told Jenifer that to get really good images I’d need to get onto the property at dusk and dawn when the light wasn’t so glaring (and it was cooler)… so I suggested she ask Sara if staff could do an overnight campout on the site (before the heat of summer was on us and all of the plants were dried up). We’ll see…

Of the species we were able to identify we saw: Purple Salsify, Annual Yellow Sweetclover, Silverpuffs, Soft Blow Wives, several different kinds of Lupine, Storksbill, California Goldfields, Cowbag Clover, Popcorn Flowers, Canary Grass, Dock, Italian Thistle, Bull Thistle, Milk Thistle, Oat Grass, Squirrel-tail barley, willow trees, cottonwood trees, and what I thought might be Alkali Milk Vetch (although that’s pretty rare).  We saw Variegated Meadowhawk dragonflies, Exclamation Damselflies, Northern Bluet Damselflies, Black-Fronted Forktail Damselflies, and Pacific Forktail Damselflies.  A coyote, rabbit, signs of otter slides along the banks of the borrow pit, a Green Heron, Tree Swallows, Barn Swallows, Western Kingbirds, Great-Horned Owls, Red-Tailed Hawks, Swainson’s Hawks, a small flock of Long-Billed Dowitchers (that “attacked” Nate), Mallards, Mourning Doves, Mockingbirds, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Western Meadowlarks, and Bullock’s Orioles.  We also heard the call of Pied-Billed Grebes and came across two hawks’ nests (one with a mama sitting on her eggs), and an owl’s nest. We also found some very large burrows… but couldn’t tell what lived in them because the tracks around them that clear.  We did find a lot of cow tracks, some deer tracks, coyote tracks and raccoon tracks. I think if we had more time on the site, we’d be able to better document a lot more (thus, the request for the campout).

What’s neat about the site is that the area around the borrow pit can be reformed into a beautiful pond / wetlands area, and there are also alkali sinks and vernal pools on the property, so it can be turned into a real environmental “learning space”.  And even though it’s “wild”, it sits right near rice farms, schools, and suburban housing, so it will be easy for the public to get to. I was really excited about the whole thing!