Category Archives: photography

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.

From Grebes to Lerps at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

Red Gum Eucalyptus Psyllid Lerps. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.
Red Gum Eucalyptus Psyllid Lerps. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.

Still feeling pretty tired this morning.  I think I’m fighting off a cold or something, but I’m not sure…  It was overcast for most of the day, and in the afternoon it actually rained… for a minute or two.  Hah!

At noon, I headed over to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  Traffic in Woodland was surprisingly horrid, though, and it took me over 30 minutes to get from the office to the freeway onramp, which is literally only about a mile and half. (It usually takes me about 6 minutes to do that.)  The freeway itself wasn’t bad, though, and I got to the refuge around 1:30 pm.  I was going to do a really fast run through it, and ended up spending about 2 hours there.  But I enjoyed my time at the refuge, even though I didn’t see much of anything new.

I did get to see a pair of Pied-Billed Grebes on their floating mat nest… But I was most anxious to see if the Clark’s Grebes’ nests had survived the wind and waves from last weekend.  The one nest I saw last time that the parents were battling to keep afloat so their eggs wouldn’t drown didn’t make it.  It was in pieces, and there were some Coots were fighting over it.  Usually Coot nests are built from the bottom up (like a volcanic island of twigs and sticks and grass; a huge mountain under the water, and then the little peak peeking up above the surface.  I don’t think the Grebe nests have that kind of solid base… It’ll be interesting to see if the Coots can make the old Grebe nest work for them… The Grebe nests that seemed to be doing well were those that were built further away from the edges of the wetland area – and I’m assuming they were built by more experienced couples.

CLICK HERE for more photos.

 

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.