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.

A Beaver, Babies and a Bison Snaketail

Beaver. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.
Beaver. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.

I got up around 5:45 this morning and headed out to the American River Bend Park for a walk.  I hadn’t been out there for quite a while, and wanted to see if the water plants were growing along the banks yet, and if the Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillars were starting to make their chrysalises.  No to the first one – sort of – and yes to the second one.  The weirdest sight was when I first drove into the park.  A female ranger was out by the kiosk and asked me to stop, so I did… And from across the driveway comes a mama Wild Turkey and her six fuzzy babies – and a male Peacock all walking along right in front of my car.  I couldn’t get my camera out of its bag fast enough to get any photos.  Dangit!  I wondered if this was the same Peacock I’d seen chasing the female turkeys several weeks ago… and if the babies could have been his.  The ranger said she didn’t think they could interbreed, but…  both birds are Galliformes, aren’t they?  I mean, peacocks are more closely related to turkeys than turkeys are to chickens…  What would you call the hybrids?  Teacocks? Perkeys?  Hah!  Wish I could keep an eye on that group and see how the babies look when they fledge…

When I pulled the car in further down the road and parked, I was right next to a tree where there were a lot of Acorn Woodpeckers, and I got some photos (and a little video) of one sitting in the nesting cavity.  At first glance I thought it was a female sitting on her nest, but it was a young male, so it must’ve been a fledgling not ready to get up yet.  Sleepy boy.

Then I came across some very tiny, shiny black beetle-like things on the leaf of a live oak tree.  I’d never seen anything like them; they seemed to have suck an odd shape and what looked like white spots in between the body segments.  I thought they must have been the larva stage of something, so I posted photos to BugGuide.net to see if someone there could identify them for me…

My next big find was spotting a large beaver eating roots and greens along the bank of the river.  It was right up the bank from me, and I was so surprised to see it that I just pointed my camera at it and started shooting.  I got some shaky lurching video of it, and a few still shots.  That was the closest I’d ever been to a live beaver.  It was exciting.  I think he would have stayed there for a while longer had I not tripped on one of the stones on the shore and startled him.  He took off into the water, slapping his tail down to make a big splash as he left.

Female Common Merganser and babies. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.
Female Common Merganser and babies. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.

Then I saw a female Common Merganser coming down the river with TWENTY little red-headed babies in tow.  The stronger ones were able to climb up onto her back when she sped up trying to get past me… Beyond. Cute.

Later on while I was stopping by an old Cottonwood tree to get some photos of lizard, a big male Twelve-Spotted Skimmer dragonfly decided to fly in and rest on a nearby branch, so I got some photos of him, too.  Further along, I saw a Bison Snaketail dragonfly land in the dried grass along the side of the trail.  I got some photos, but because the dragonfly is almost the same color as the grass, they don’t really show off how cool the dragonfly is…

Then I drove the car a little further into the park and walked along the trail that follows the river but stays well above it.  The water was high in the river and running pretty fast, so I didn’t see a lot birds on the shore… just a few Mallards and Canada Geese.  What I was really looking for on this part of the trail, though, was the Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillars.  During this time of the year they’re finishing up gorging themselves and turning their attention to getting up off the ground and forming their chrysalises.  I found lots of them.  Some still undulating around, some going into their torpor stage, and some already encased in their chrysalises.  While I was checking out the caterpillars on one tree, I was startled when a mama Tree Swallow flew past my head and went into her tree-cavity nest right across the trail from me.  I got some photos of her checking me out… along with some shots of the butt of a small House Wren who had a nest in the tree across from the Swallow’s nest.

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On my walk, I also came across several mule deer, a Killdeer, an Ash-Throated Flycatcher, some Scrub Jays, fly-overs by a few Great Egrets and what looked like an immature Black-Crowned Night Heron, and a few different plants, flowers and galls. So it was a very eventful and productive walk.  I was out there for about 3½ hours and then headed out.

A Quick Trip on Friday, 05-27-16

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

After work I took another quick run up to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  (You knew I couldn’t keep away…)  I drove through pretty quickly, so I didn’t see a lot but I did get photos of several different bird species, including American White Pelicans, Marsh Wrens, and some Black-Crowned Night Herons and Grebes. Oh, and I saw a Brown-Headed Cowbird.

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