Category Archives: photography

Otters, Poults and Galls, 07-10-16

I got up a little before 6:00 am this morning and headed over to the American River Bend Park for a walk.  Rather than going on my regular route, I opted to cross the river at the bridge and walk alongside the banks there.  So, I pulled the car into the parking lot on “my side” of the river and got out… and immediately saw several mama Wild Turkeys walking around the picnic tables eating leftovers with their babies (poults).  The poults were about half their parents’ size, and in most of their feathers now, although still pretty scraggly-looking.  One mama had three babies; another one had one.  I got a few photos and some video snippets of them before moving on.


The acorns and summer wasp galls are starting to show up on the oak trees now.  I found three or four different kinds of galls – including one I don’t think I’d ever seen before.

I also got some good photos of a sleepy Anna’s Hummingbird who decided to flit over to a branch next to me and just doze in the sun for a few seconds.  I could tell something was “off” with the bird; it just didn’t look okay, and it also looked to me like his tongue was stuck in the “out” position, so I did some research on that after I got home.  Apparently, the condition is known as “swollen tongue”.  It’s caused by a fungal infection the birds get from feeding from dirty hummingbird feeders.  The fungus causes the hummer’s tongue to swell and it eventually starves and suffocates to death.  Oh, no!  KEEP THOSE HUMMINGBIRD FEEDERS CLEAN, people!

The best find of the day, though, was seeing a mother river otter and three of her babies swimming and fishing along the shore, looking for mussels.  So cute!  But man those guys move fast!  I managed to get a little bit of video of them.  CLICK HERE to see it.

I walked for about 2 ½ hours and then headed home.

Lots of Grebe Babies, 07-08-16

I headed with the dog over to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge to see if I could find any other cool dragonflies or see any more Grebe babies.  On the way, I stopped at a gas station to top off the tank, and got some stuff for lunch for Sergeant Margie and me.  It was in the high-70’s when we got to the refuge, and over 90° when we left just a few hours later.

I got to see quite a few dragonfly species including Black Saddlebacks, the ubiquitous Variegated Meadowhawks, blue and green Pondhawk, some Widow Skimmers, and several mated pairs of Green Darners that were laying their eggs in the water.  The pairs were fighting over who got to sit on what stick in the water, and the males dragged the females back and forth while they fought for egg-laying territory.

There were a couple of male Great-Tailed Grackles out singing and chirping around the nests where their females were – like expectant fathers waiting for the babies to hatch.  And I came across a California Ground Squirrel eating along the side of the auto-tour route.  She had a particularly beautiful coat with bands of russet brown around her body and a very dark-brown “mantel” across her back.  Most ground squirrels are scruffy looking, but she looked very… svelt.


I did get to see some more Clark’s Grebe babies.  One pair of adults had chicks sitting on the backs of both of parents, mom and dad, and the parents were feeding them bugs they’d catch from the top of the water.  At a few points, the babies jumped off of the parents’ backs and tried swimming on their own – then immediately climbed back on for the ride.

I also came across a mom who had one baby on her back and was tending her nest where her other babies were apparently just hatched out.  They weren’t very coordinated yet or very strong.  When dad floated by, two of the babies climbed up on his back but the others kept trying to get mom to sit on them some more – as she tried cleaning all the egg crap out of her nest.  I could see dad feeding some of them bugs…  They’re so fascinating to watch.  Unfortunately, they were all still too far away to get any real good clear close-up photos or video of them, but I did the best I could.

Here’s a distant video of a mama Grebe on her nest getting her eggs settled.

Here’s a video of a mama Grebe on her nest with the babies all around her.

I’m soooo in need of an upgrade in camera equipment – even if it’s just to get a camera on which I can shut off the auto-focus… I’ll have to look for a grant for that… I was thinking I should get a car mount for my birding scope, too; maybe I can figure out a way to the camera (or even my cell phone) to focus through that to get some closer shots.  Hmmmm…

I also got to see American White Pelicans – (I got some video of a pair of them feeding in the water) — cormorants, Pied-Billed Grebes, and some juvenile Ruddy Ducks.

Here’s a video snippet of the pelicans feeding.

One cool sighting, though, was a covey of Ring-Necked Pheasant poults running across the road after their mama from left to right, right in front of the car.  I had to shoot through the windshield to get some photos of them – which were crappy – but I did get a little video snippet of some of them.  Then I could hear one of the poults peeping loudly from my left.  It had gotten separated from the group and didn’t know where it’s mom was.  When I stepped out onto the road, I tried getting some photos through the driver’s side window.

A super-brief video of the poults.

Another video of the one lost poult.

Another cool sighting that I didn’t get any photos of: I saw a Lesser Nighthawk (which is a species I’d never seen before) getting mobbed by Kingbirds that didn’t want him around their nesting area.  I recognized the Nighthawk immediately by the bright white bands on its wings.

On the way out of the refuge, I came across some Turkey Vultures who had descended on a squished skunk on the side of the road.  Photo op!  I’m so weird. Hah!

Fourth of July at William Land Park

CLICK HERE for more photos.

I got up early again today, even though I have the day off – like just about everyone else – and headed out before 6:00 am to the William Land Park and WPA Rock Garden.  I wasn’t looking for anything in particular; just wanted to get some walking in before it got too warm outside.

There wasn’t much of anything new to see there, but I did get to see some late season baby ducks (Mallards and Wood Ducks) which are always fun to watch.  And the WPA Rock garden still has summer flowers in it; lots of sunflowers and suchlike.  I also noticed that along the wet part of the dirt path that winds through the garden there were lots of raccoon tracks – like little handprints in the mud.

The gardeners had cut down one of the century cacti that had bloomed (the blooming stalks are about 30 feet tall) and then subsequently died, but they left the one next to it upright still because birds had drilled a cavity into the stalk and were nesting in there. Awwwww.  I was glad they left that up until the babies hatch…

At the larger pond in the park, I was chased briefly by “the mean goose”, a white Chinese Goose who doesn’t tolerate humans coming near his Grayleg Goose girlfriend, but otherwise my 2 hours was a pleasant one.


Muskrat, Baby Grebes and a Jillion-Million Dragonflies

Monarch Butterfly on teasel. ©2016 Copyright, Mark K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Monarch Butterfly on teasel. ©2016 Copyright, Mark K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

Even though it’s my day off, I wanted to beat the heat as much as possible and got up around 5:00 am to head off to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  I had to stop twice on the way: once to put gas in the car, and once to stop at a rest stop and unload my morning coffee.  Hah!

The first thing I saw when I drove into the refuge was a Great Blue Heron poking its head up over the tules to watch my car drive in.  Then for the most part it was all the usual suspects like jackrabbits and Cottontails, thousands (literally) of Variegated Meadowhawk dragonflies – so many, in fact, that I got bored taking photos of them — and another en masse explosion of blue damselflies, some California Ground Squirrels, Coots, cormorants, Pelicans, Pied-Billed Grebes (their songs were coming from everywhere), seagulls and other birds. I also saw skippers, Monarch Butterflies, Crescent, Buckeye, Painted Lady and West Coast Lady butterflies, and Cabbage White butterflies among the other bugs.

Oh, and I did see my first juvenile Coot today.  The Coots are always all over the place, but I’ve never seen a baby one – and this was the first time I’ve seen a juvenile, so they must guard their babies really well!

The orb-weaver spiders had created webs that covered whole areas between the tules, like a sticky obstacle course.  In one spot, I was trying to get a photo of an American White Pelican on the water, and the camera couldn’t “see” past the giant spiders in their webs in front of it… So I got a nice of photo of a spider with a totally blurry pelican behind it.  Hah!  The spiders had actually managed to capture quite a few dragonflies; the carnage was everywhere. One spider actually managed to parachute over to the car and drop down inside through the open window.  Yikes!  I don’t usually mind spiders, but that sucker was HUGE!  And I don’t know where he ended up…  Eew.

On some of the teasel, I saw what looked like white “globs” on the flowering heads.  I couldn’t tell what they were (you can’t leave your vehicle to investigate things on the auto-tour) but I took photos of them anyway.  When I got home, I processed the photos and realized the globs were actually pure white Crab Spiders.  They seemed so shockingly bright and obvious to my eye when I saw them – but then I remembered that these spiders give off an ultraviolet signature that generally masks them from their prey (which can see into that part of the spectrum).  Cool.

We’re just starting to see the exuvia from the larger dragonflies now clinging to the tules near the water.  There should be a lot of big darners out in another week or so, I’d imagine.

There were a few unexpected surprises along the auto-tour route: (1) a large muskrat made to swim-by’s alongside my car in the permanent wetlands area.  I got videos of his going in both directions.  The first time around, he was swimming and chewing on something at the same time.  The next time I saw him he was absolutely covered in eel grass and other vegetation; I had to laugh, he looked so funny.  I wonder if it was building a “nest” somewhere.

CLICK HERE for the muskrat video.

(2) I also got some video of a pair of Clark’s Grebes in the water.  The video sucks eggs (because the subjects were soooo far away, and the camera had to try to focus through heat waves coming up from the ground), but if you look closely, you’ll see first one and then two little white fuzzy black-beaked babies on mama Grebe’s back! They’re soooo cute!

CLICK HERE for the Grebe video.

And surprise number (3) was when a river otter ran past the road in front of the car – followed by its baby!  I’d never seen a baby otter before.  They moved to fast, though, I couldn’t get pictures of either one of them.  Rats!

Oh, at one point, I could see some male mule deer off in the distance – all in their velvet – and was totally shocked when one of them stood up among them and I could see his rack of antlers.  I swear those antlers were as long as his legs were!  I’d never seen ones sitting up so tall on a deer’s head.  I got some photos (but they were all shitty because the deer were so far away); I’ll try to post one to the photo album anyway so you can see it.

CLICK HERE to see an album of more photos.

I only made one pass through the refuge – because by noon it was already in the 90’s out there, and I didn’t think I’d see much of anything else in the heat.  I headed home and got there without incident.  I crashed with the dogs for a little while and then watched some TV and went through all of my photos

Looking for Dragonflies

A Widow Skimmer and male Common Pondhawk  face off against one another. ©2016 Mary K. Hanson.  All rights reserved.
A Widow Skimmer and male Common Pondhawk face off against one another. ©2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

I got up around 5:00 am even though I didn’t have to work today.  Forecasts were for temperatures over 100° by the afternoon, so I headed out early to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge before it got too hot outside.  I wasn’t expecting to see a lot of birds; I was looking for dragonflies.  Before I even got near the refuge, I found myself driving through thin “clouds” of dragonflies along the freeway.  It was like a population explosion of Variegated Meadowhawks; they were everywhere… and lots of them hitting the windshield like tiny soft bullets.

The refuge was full of them, too, especially where the water was still standing.  I also saw lots of Widow Skimmers, Blue Dashers, Common Pondhawks (blue males and green females), Green Darners and Black Saddlebags, along with a bunch of blue damselflies.  Despite their numbers, getting clear photos of them was a bear.  They were usually in among the tules and other plants and all of the background “layers” made it difficult to tell if the camera was focusing on the right one.  I snapped off almost 2000 shots and less than half of them were usable.  That’s just how it goes sometimes.  I also saw other insects like honey bees and bumblebees, and loads of Cabbage White butterflies.  There were also some Sulphers, Common Buckeyes, and Painted Ladies.

As I was leaving the loop around the permanent wetland area, I came across some Great-Tailed Grackles.  One of the males was feeding a juvenile female what looked like a tadpole he’d brought up from the water.  I also saw Kingbirds, Pelicans, Grebes and Red-Winged Blackbirds.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.


Monarch Butterfly Caterpillars at Effie Yeaw

Monarch butterfly caterpillar. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.
Monarch butterfly caterpillar. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.

I got up about 5:30 and was out the door before 6 o’clock to go over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk.

Before I even got to the preserve, I came across a group of three mule deer: a yearling, a mama with swollen teaties, and a young male in his velvet, all eating grass along the roadside.  I bet there was a younger fawn somewhere; the yearling and the male were too big to be feeding off of mama’s teats…

There was a small flock of Yellow-Billed Magpies in the lawn by the kiosk near the front gate. This species of magpie is special because it’s found in this part of California but nowhere else in the world.  Birders come from all over the planet to see them – and here they are, right in our “backyard”….

Near the nature center, there were Monarch butterfly caterpillars chomping up the milkweed in the native plants garden.  I’d seen a thing on a nature documentary on TV just last week about them which said that to keep themselves from being caught and drowned in the milky white latex produced by the milkweed plant, the Monarch caterpillars will go onto the back of the leaf and sever the main vein to stop the flow of latex to the rest of the leaf.  They then chew through the rest of the leaf without get sticky…  And sure enough, on each leaf I checked, I could see where the caterpillar had severed the main the vein of the leaf before it started eating.  Cool!

Elsewhere, I could hear the Red-Shouldered Hawks nearby screeching at each other, so I went over to where the noise was coming from.  One of the juvenile had caught a snake on the ground, and mama was supervising him.  The other juvenile was in a tree nearby, screaming for attention.  They youngsters are just learning how to fly and hunt, so they’re not really very graceful yet.  I got some photos of the one on the ground, but missed the shot when it flew up off the ground with the snake hanging from its talons.  Gotta be fast out there, man!

CLICK HERE for more photos.

I walked for about 2 ½ hours and then headed home.