Category Archives: Surprises

No Fooling…and owlets, 04-01-21

I got up at 6:00 this morning, and headed out to the American River Bend Park.  It was 51°F when I got to the river (and then spiked at 88° by the late afternoon.)

My hip was hurting, but seemed to be less painful when I was moving. My back pain was less than it was yesterday, but I still had a few “gasp” moments walking or driving on the more uneven parts of the trail and dirt-and-gravel roadways.

My first priority was to look in on mama Great Horned Owl. There was another photographer there when I arrived, and after a few minutes he asked, “Are you Hanson K. Mary?” (My Facebook name) I was astonished and asked, “How did you know that?” He said he’d seen a lot of my photos on the birding group sites. Hah! I’m famous — sort of.

Mama owl was in a tree opposite from the nest, warming her chest and belly in the early morning sunlight. In the nest were two owlets that I could see. [Later, other photographers on the site said they’d seen three babies yesterday.] I was so excited for mama. She’d had two last year and three the year before, and she’d always been good about keeping everyone fed. I hope she’s as successful this year.  The owlets were, of course, adorable, still in their super puffy fluff-dry stage.

After a little while, mama flew into the tree next to the nest, and when I came back to check on her about an hour later, she was sitting on everyone. It’s so exhilarating to see all of them.

Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus

I walked for a while at the park, and came across a pair of Western Bluebirds who were flying around. I also saw a pair of Mourning Doves in the high branches of a tree. It looked to me like the female was sitting, waiting for the male to mount her, but the male just couldn’t get himself oriented correctly. On a few attempts he approached her “backwards”, his head to her tail. And once, rather than mounting her, he just stepped on her and walked over to a different part of their branch. D’oh!

Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura

In that same area, I saw a male European Starling doing one of his courtship rituals. He was sitting on a branch where he could be seen by passing females, sang loudly to them and flapped his wings in a circular motion.

Cornell says: “…Once males have established a nesting territory, they advertise by singing. When females approach, the males often stop singing and move to the nesting cavity, where they resume singing. Wing-waving, a circular flapping of the wings while perched, often accompanies the singing, especially in the presence of females…”

The redbud trees in the park are all blossoming. Beautiful, huge swaths of pink in unexpected places. Just gorgeous.

As I was checking out the manroot vines and Santa Barbara Sedge (what I consider my “proof of Spring” plant in this area), I could hear California Quails giving out their “Chi-ca-go!” calls. It sounded like one was getting pretty close to me, but I was still startled when a male popped up from the side of a hill in front of me. I stood stock still, because they’re nervous birds and flush really easily, and got some photos of him, then realized he had a lady friend with him. She was down in the twigs and grass, and ran off with him when he realized I was looking at them.

A male California Quail, Callipepla californica

As I headed back toward my car, I was attracted to movement at the bottom of one of the oak trees. I crept up toward it, and realized it was a tiny White-Breasted Nuthatch. She was tugging at a short length of cord, trying to pluck out threads to take back to her nest.

According to Cornell: “…Only the female builds [the nest]. Little known about nest construction or structure, but nuthatches observed to carry hairs and pieces of bark to the cavity site…”  I’ve seen them use tufts of dog hair and feathers myself.

In that same area, I caught sight of an Oak Titmouse singing in a tree. Cornell says: “…The frequency of occurrence of song types used by males changes seasonally, with some songs becoming more prevalent in the repertoire as breeding season progresses while the prevalence of other songs declines…”

I’d lost the clip-in macro lens for my cellphone somewhere at Table Mountain, I think, so I bought a new one. It’s a little more powerful than my old one, so it’s taking some getting used to the precise focal point. It also shifts a little when I try to use it, slipping away from the phone’s eye. Gotta get used to avoiding that, too. Otherwise, I like it.     

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.     

I then drove over to the nearby Gristmill Recreation Area to check on the Red-Shouldered Hawk nest and man-made nesting boxes. When I first got there and looked up into the hawk’s nest I was worried that it had been abandoned. I couldn’t see mom (or any sign of babies) anywhere.  When I came back that to same spot on my way back to the car, however, I could see her sitting on the nest, calling loudly to her mate. Guess she was hungry and wanted some breakfast. Hah!

There were lots of California Pipevine Swallowtail and Western Tiger Swallowtail butterflies all over the area, but not one of them sat still long enough for me to get a photo of it.

House Wrens seemed to be singing from everywhere, and I saw one pair using one of the smaller nest boxes.

At other boxes, the Western Screech Owl was dozing, a pair of Western Bluebirds were rushing back and forth, and a cadre of Tree Swallows were fussing and flying around. Of course, as soon as I got into a position where I could better see and photograph the bluebirds and swallows, they ducked out of sight. So, I didn’t get as many photos as I’d like. Sigh. Such is the life of a nature photographer.

The surprise here today was seeing two Turkey Vultures sitting in trees near the river. Th trail runs along the high edge of the river with a drop down of maybe 20 or 30 feet to the water in some places. So, when one of the vultures decided to sit up “high” in the tree, his branch was actually right in the eye-line of hikers on the trail. I got a few good close-up photos of him. The second vulture was further down the cliffside nearer to the water. That one looked like a juvenile to me; its beak wasn’t fully bone-white yet and still had a gray tip.

Below that vulture, on a log in the water, were three Red-Eared Slider Turtles sunning themselves in the morning light. The vultures, of course, weren’t interested in them, so the turtles had nothing to fear from them.

Altogether, I walked for about 4 hours and headed back home. This was hike #32 of my #52HikeChallenge.

No fooling. April is Citizen Science Month

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Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. Almond Tree, Prunus dulcis
  3. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  4. Audubon’s Warbler, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata auduboni
  5. Bedstraw, Velcro Grass, Cleavers, Galium aparine
  6. Black Grass Bug, Irbisia pacifica
  7. Black Locust Tree, Robinia pseudoacacia
  8. Black Walnut, Eastern Black Walnut, Juglans nigra
  9. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra cerulea
  10. Bur Parsley, Bur Chervil, Anthriscus caucalis
  11. California Manroot, Bigroot, Marah fabaceus
  12. California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana
  13. California Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta
  14. California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica
  15. California Quail, Callipepla californica
  16. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  17. Common Pea, Pisum sativum [rounded leaves, flower is light pink and dark pink]
  18. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
  19. Dove’s-foot Crane’s-Bill, Geranium molle
  20. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  21. Field Elm Tree, Ulmus minor [soft flakey seed pods]
  22. Ghost Spider, Family: Anyphaenidae
  23. Giraffe’s Head, Henbit Deadnettle, Lamium amplexicaule
  24. Goodding’s Black Willow, Salix gooddingii
  25. Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus
  26. Hairy Vetch, Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa ssp. villosa
  27. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon
  28. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  29. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  30. Lincoln’s Sparrow, Melospiza lincolnii
  31. Live Oak Gall Wasp, Spring Generation, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis [looks like a soft funnel, green to brown]
  32. Live Oak Gall Wasp, Summer Generation, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis [spiky ball]
  33. Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  34. Miner’s Lettuce, Claytonia perfoliata
  35. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  36. Non-Biting Midge, Cricotopus bicinctus [black and white, turned up tail]
  37. Oak Apple, California Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  38. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus
  39. Popcorn Flower, Rusty Popcornflower, Plagiobothrys nothofulvus [tiny]
  40. Red-Eared Slider Turtle, Trachemys scripta elegans
  41. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  42. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  43. Ruptured Twig Gall Wasp, Callirhytis perdens
  44. Santa Barbara Sedge, Carex barbarae
  45. Soldier Beetle, Silis sp.
  46. Stinging Nettle, Urtica dioica
  47. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  48. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  49. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  50. Western Bluebird, Sialia mexicana
  51. Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis
  52. Western Screech Owl, Megascops kennicottii
  53. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis

Taking the Car Out for a Long Drive, 03-24-21

I got up about 5:30 this morning — (Ugh!) — and was ready to head out the door with my dog Esteban to drive over to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge and Colusa National Wildlife Refuge. As I mentioned before, I wanted to take the car on a long jog to see how well it ran after its repairs last week, and I wanted to see how things were going at the refuge.

Esteban usually fusses in the car. The last time I took him with us to the refuge, he whined all the way (wanting to get up in the front seat with me). This time, he whined for about a half an hour, then settled down on my coat in the back seat and fell asleep. He was great for the rest of the trip. I was so proud of him. Occasionally, he’d stand up with his paws on the arm rest and look out the window. I wonder how his little brain processes what he sees…

I stopped off in Woodland to get a coffee before going further, and there were so many blackbirds singing in one of the trees that their sound was almost deafening.

Every “black dot” is a blackbird singing away just before sun up.

It was about 46° when I headed out, and was a lot windier during the day than I was expecting. Rough winds interfere with birding — everyone tends to hunker down. But I did okay in that department — even though I totally missed getting close up photos of an American White Pelican and a Bald Eagle. (They flew off before I could get near enough. *Sigh*)

I decided to go first to the Colusa refuge first, and the first thing I saw were small flocks of Greater White-Fronted Geese and Snow Geese. There was also a Red-Tailed Hawk sitting in a nearby tree and a White-Tailed Kite kiting in the air over the field.           

I was the only person on the refuge for about the first hour or so, so I had the whole place to myself and could go at whatever speed I wanted along the auto tour route. Several of the wetland areas were still dry, which kind of surprised me. I thought it would be all full with a least some measure of water everywhere. There weren’t very many birds near the viewing platform, which was also kind of a surprise. There are usually lots of geese and ducks around there.

Snowy Egret, Egretta thula, with White-Faced Ibises, Plegadis chihi

At the beginning of the route, there  were Wild Turkeys jogging along. They ran out into the field and I could see the males were doing their strutting thing for the females. In another area, I saw a flock of female turkeys all gathered together (avoiding the boys).

There were Coots were everywhere, and Marsh Wrens were teasing me from the tules. I could see of their nests; the males are working hard to impress the females with their construction work.

Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris

 There were lots and lots of Ibises. Some of the adults are getting their full breeding colors now and are so handsome. I didn’t see any with their white faces yet, however.

There weren’t any more large flocks of ducks, but I did see a wide variety of species: American Wigeons, Northern Shovelers, Gadwalls, Cinnamon and Green-Winged Teals, and Buffleheads. I was surprised to see a little female Hooded Merganser in one of the ponds. I couldn’t see any male around, though.

There were handfuls of Snowy Egrets and the occasional Great Egret, and of course there was the huge flock of Black-Crowned Night Herons day-roosting in the trees at the end of the route.

The sightings of the day were two different Great Horned Owls hunkered down in their nesting spots. There was also supposed to be a Barn Owl out there, but I didn’t see that one. What I DID see was owl poop around the informational kiosk — along with a few pellets.  Yay!

I then headed over to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, and the first thing I saw there was a Black-Tailed Jackrabbit. This is baby season for the jack’s and I saw a lot of the adults around, chasing one another.

The wildflowers are just starting to pop up around there even though the vernal pools are empty. It seemed all the “yellows” are coming out first. I saw outcrops of Fiddlenecks, Bird’s-foot Trefoil, amid Brass Buttons, along with fields of Goldfields.

The extra loop to the permanent wetland area is now open, and they’ve done a lot of “remodeling” around it. Most of the taller tules and weeds have been mowed down, so areas around the main pond are more visible. I was hoping to see some Bitterns around here, but had no luck. Of course, I’d gotten here “late” in the morning today (it was a little after 10:00 am. When I usually go here, I go around 6:30 or 7:00 when the sun is coming up.) Here, too, there are huge areas that have no water in them… which alters the kind of species you see (from “wet” to “dry”).

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

There was the normal cadre of sparrows everywhere, and a smattering of Western Meadowlarks. One let me get close enough to photograph it and video it singing.

Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta

There were lots and lots of Ibises here, too, many of them fishing for crayfish. I was getting some cool video of one of them, just as the battery died in the camera. By the time I got it reloaded and focused on the bird again, the Ibis was swallowing down its meal. Dang it!

I watched some male Northern Shoveler ducks trying to do some of their courtship movements for a female. There was the “Head Dip and Up-end” that looked like a mini-bath, the “Wing Flap” and “Precopulatory Head Pumping”… but the gal just wasn’t into them. D’oh! She just swam by with her face in the water looking for food.

I also watched a male Canvasback as he was feeding. They’re actually diving ducks, but here the water was exceedingly shallow, so the male rose up and stirred up the bottom of the marsh with his feet, then dipped forward to eat what he’d kicked up.

When a female Mallard got too close to him and his meal, he attacked her and chased her until her boyfriend showed up. The Canvasback turned away then, and let the Mallards depart together.

A male Canvasback Duck, Aythya valisineria, attacked a female Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos, when she got too close to where he was foraging for food.

In that same pond area there were Clark’s and Western Grebes checking out spots to build their nests (which they’ll be sitting on in the summer). There were also some Pied-Billed Grebes singing to one another.

Along the end of the auto tour route, several Ground Squirrels popped up, and one came out onto the road and gave itself a dust bath right next to the car. Hah! They’re such cute little things. I’d love to have a colony of them in the yard just so I could watch them.

California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi

Around this same area, I saw another Great Horned Owl sitting on a nest in a tree. It was pretty distant, so I couldn’t get any close ups.

Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus,in its nest

All together Esteban and I were in the car for about 10 hours! The walking I did at each of the refuges combined counted as the 29th hike in my #52HikeChallenge. Woot!

Species List:

  1. American Coot, Fulica americana
  2. American Elm Tree, Ulmus americana
  3. American Pipit, Anthus rubesce
  4. American White Pelican, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos
  5. American Wigeon, Anas americana
  6. Arundo, Giant Reed, Arundo donax
  7. Audubon’s Warbler, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata auduboni
  8. Bald Eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus
  9. Bird’s-foot Trefoil, Lotus corniculatus
  10. Black Mustard, Common Wild Mustard, Brassica nigra
  11. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  12. Black-Crowned Night Heron, Nycticorax nycticorax
  13. Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
  14. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus
  15. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum
  16. Boxelder, Box Elder Tree, Acer negundo
  17. Brass Buttons, Cotula coronopifolia
  18. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  19. Bristly Oxtongue, Helminthotheca echioides
  20. Bufflehead Duck, Bucephala albeola
  21. Cackling Goose, Branta hutchinsii
  22. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  23. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis
  24. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  25. Canvasback Duck, Aythya valisineria
  26. Cinnamon Teal, Anas cyanoptera
  27. Clark’s Grebe, Aechmophorus clarkii [black above the eye]
  28. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
  29. Common Fiddleneck, Amsinckia menziesii
  30. Crow, American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  31. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
  32. Floating Water Primrose, Ludwigia peploides ssp. Peploides
  33. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  34. Gadwall Duck, Mareca strepera
  35. Goldfields, California Goldfields, Lasthenia californica [6-8 petals, rounded mound-like center]
  36. Goodding’s Black Willow, Salix gooddingii
  37. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
  38. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  39. Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus
  40. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons
  41. Greater Yellowlegs, Tringa melanoleuca
  42. Green-Winged Teal, Anas carolinensis
  43. Himalayan Blackberry, Rubus bifrons [white flowers]
  44. Hooded Merganser, Lophodytes cucullatus
  45. House Sparrow, Passer domesticus
  46. Interior Sandbar Willow, Salix interior
  47. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  48. Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  49. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris
  50. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  51. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
  52. Northern Harrier, Marsh Hawk, Circus hudsonius
  53. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  54. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata
  55. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii [heard]
  56. Oregon Ash, Fraxinus latifolia
  57. Pacific Pond Turtle, Western Pond Turtle, Actinemys marorata
  58. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  59. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum
  60. Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Western Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
  61. Prickly Sowthistle, Pigweed, Sonchus asper
  62. Red Swamp Crayfish, Crawdad, Procambarus clarkii
  63. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
  64. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  65. Ring-Necked Duck, Aythya collaris
  66. Ring-Necked Pheasant, Phasianus colchicus
  67. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  68. Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Regulus calendula
  69. Ruddy Duck, Oxyura jamaicensis
  70. Savannah Sparrow, Passerculus sandwichensis
  71. Snow Goose, Chen caerulescens
  72. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula
  73. Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia
  74. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  75. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  76. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  77. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  78. Western Fence Lizard, Blue Belly, Sceloporus occidentalis
  79. Western Grebe, Aechmophorus occidentalis [black below the eye]
  80. Western Kingbird, Tyrant Flycatcher, Tyrannus verticalis [nest]
  81. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
  82. White Horehound, Marrubium vulgare
  83. White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus
  84. White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys
  85. White-Faced Ibis, Plegadis chihi

As an Aside

Wow. Some bee-otch on the Birding California group complained about my adding scientific names to the species photos I post. (Which I do as a naturalist to be specific with my IDs and to help others learn.) She wrote: “Does listing the ‘official name’ of each bird make you feel superior? No just egotistical.”

Geez, cranky much? I consider this harassment (as it’s personally denigrating and inaccurate.) I reported her to the admin of the group, reported her to Facebook, and blocked her. No one has to take harassment and bullying from any troll — ever, anywhere.

It was nice to see others in the group stand up for me. One person wrote: “…Keep doing it. Great photos. Ignore the trolls.” and another wrote: “Great posting for us newbies. I used your photos as “flash cards” to see if I could correctly identify each bird before reading your label. Thanks teach!”

A Many Otter Morning, 03-20-21

I got up at 6:30 this morning, so I could head out with my friend Roxanne to the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area. We had heard online that the Yellow-Headed Blackbirds (YHB) were starting to show up at the bypass again.

I’ve seen some juvenile and female YHBs, but they were individuals, here and there. I’ve never seen the fully mature males, which have vibrant yellow heads, and I’ve never them in flocks before. So, Rox and I decided we’d go to look for them. Then some of our naturalist friends Rachael and Karlyn said they wanted to go, too, so we told them we’d meet them over at the bypass around 8:00 am.

Rox met me at the house around 7:00 and we headed in toward Davis, stopping briefly to get some coffee and then trying to see if the Burrowing Owls were out by the ag fields. We didn’t see any owls — the fact that a woman went jogging right by where it was didn’t help –but I did catch a glimpse of a Yellowthroat and I saw my first ever Horned Lark. It was a young female, and wasn’t showing any horns (which can be raised or lowered), but, hey, it was a “lifer” for me!

Horned Lark, Eremophila alpestris

We then went to the Yolo Bypass and met up with Karlyn and Rachael at the parking lot in front of the start of the auto tour route. Rox and I went in one car, and Rachael and Karlyn went in another. Rachael couldn’t stay for the whole day, so we tried to keep an eye on the clock as we went along.

We were seeing a lot of the usual suspects: sparrows, egrets, some ibises, but also saw a handsome Raven sitting on top of a post. He posed for a while before taking off. 

As we went along, though, Roxanne spotted some dark forms galloping across the road in the distance. We realized right away that they were North American River Otters, Lontra canadensis, and saw them go into a slough/ditch area by a bridge. It was hard not to just SPEED to the spot, but we didn’t want to startle the otters, so Rox drove toward them at a moderated speed.

Our sort of stealth was rewarded when we got to the bridge and found a whole raft of otters in the water. As we watched them, the otters used the large drainage pipe adjacent to bridge to move from one side of it to another; sometimes hiding from us by piling up inside the pipe. Sometimes all we saw with the rippling effect they had on the water, or the bubbles they released when they were submerged.

Eventually, the otters felt comfortable enough to come out and climb onto the levee on the side opposite from us where they shook their fur, did some grooming, greeted and rolled over one another, and even did their “poopy dance”. All the while, one or more of them would be snorting at us; low sounds, like they were grumbling about us under their breath.

We counted SIX of them for sure, and then thought we’d spotted a SEVENTH in the water… but it was hard to keep track of everyone because they were all moving about.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

I tried getting single shots of each one of them, which again wasn’t easy, in the hopes that I could maybe identify individuals later from their photos but… sorry to say, they all look pretty much the same to me. Trying to get group shots was hilarious. It was like trying to find a family photo for a Christmas card when not all of the subjects are cooperating. Some would look this way, while others looked that way, or fell out of the frame, or decided to shake their head just as the picture was snapped… Hah!

Still, what a wonderful treat! Those little guys made my day.  At that was the largest group of otters I’ve ever seen. Karlyn and Rachael were equally impressed.  Of course, I reminded all of them to log their sighting at the River Otter Ecology Project’s “Otter Spotter” site.

The other unexpected sighting was seeing some Black Crowned Night Herons day-roosting in one of the fields. There’s supposed to be a large colony of them there, but we couldn’t find them on our drive or our walk. I saw a pair of otters in the water in a field as we were going along, but they disappeared into the tules.

Black-Crowned Night Heron, Nycticorax nycticorax

We never did see any of the Yellow-Headed Blackbirds, but figured that they might be foraging in another field or something. We DID get to see a Black Phoebe near a little viewing platform gathering nesting materials. They build mud nests then line the nest with fine twigs and feathers and other soft stuff.  Rox and I kind of consider the phoebes “our” birds because we see them almost everywhere we go. This one’s nest was UNDERNEATH the platform we were standing on. As long as the water level of the pond doesn’t rise too much, it should be fine there.

Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans

At that same spot, we got a glimpse of two more otters. They were fussing along the edges of the stands of tules, and then disappeared. We wondered if they had a holt in there somewhere.

As we were driving out, we flushed an American Bittern which took off flying tour left across the marsh. We had been keeping an eye out for bitterns, but didn’t see any until this one surprised us. Of course, it all happened so fast, we didn’t get any photos of it.

Between the driving and the walking out at the bypass, we were out for almost five hours!  The weather was gorgeous, the company was fun, and the animal sightings were enjoyable… A good morning all around.

Species List:

  1. American Bittern, Botaurus lentiginosus
  2. American Coot, Fulica americana
  3. American Pipit, Anthus rubescens
  4. American Wigeon, Anas americana
  5. Audubon’s Warbler, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata auduboni
  6. Black Mustard, Common Wild Mustard, Brassica nigra
  7. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  8. Black-Crowned Night Heron, Nycticorax nycticorax
  9. Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
  10. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum
  11. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  12. Broadleaf Cattail, Bullrush, Typha latifolia
  13. Brown-Headed Cowbird, Molothrus ater
  14. Bufflehead Duck, Bucephala albeola
  15. Bur Clover, Medicago polymorpha
  16. Canvasback Duck, Aythya valisineria
  17. Carrot, American Wild Carrot, Daucus pusillus
  18. Cheeseweed Mallow, Malva parviflora
  19. Cinnamon Teal, Anas cyanoptera
  20. Cooper’s Hawk, Acipiter cooperii
  21. Cut-leaved Crane’s-Bill, Geranium dissectum
  22. Fennel, Sweet Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare
  23. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  24. Golden-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
  25. Goodding’s Black Willow, Salix gooddingii
  26. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
  27. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  28. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons
  29. Greater Yellowlegs, Tringa melanoleuca
  30. Greenbottle Fly, Marsh Greenbottle Fly, Lucilia silvarum
  31. Green-Winged Teal, Anas carolinensis
  32. Gumweed, Hairy Gumweed, Grindelia hirsutula
  33. Horned Lark, Eremophila alpestris
  34. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  35. Interior Sandbar Willow, Salix interior
  36. Jointed Charlock, Wild Radish, Raphanus raphanistrum
  37. Khella, Bisnaga Weed, Toothpick Plant, Bishop’s Weed, Ammi visnaga [ a kind of carrot, invasive species]
  38. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  39. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  40. Long-Billed Curlew, Numenius americanus
  41. Long-Billed Dowitcher, Limnodromus scolopaceus
  42. Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  43. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris
  44. Mediterranean Stork’s-Bill, Erodium botrys
  45. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  46. Northern Harrier, Marsh Hawk, Circus hudsonius
  47. Northern Pintail, Anas acuta
  48. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata
  49. Paper Wasp, Black Paper Wasp, European Paper Wasp, Polistes dominula
  50. Paper Wasp, Red Paper wasp, Apache Paper Wasp, Polistes apachus
  51. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum
  52. Prickly Sowthistle, Pigweed, Sonchus asper
  53. Raven, Common Raven, Corvus corax
  54. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  55. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
  56. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  57. Ring-Necked Pheasant, Phasianus colchicus
  58. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia [saw in the field on the drive]
  59. River Otter, North American River Otter, Lontra canadensis
  60. Rough Cocklebur, Xanthium strumarium
  61. Sandhill Crane, Grus canadensis
  62. Savannah Sparrow, Passerculus sandwichensis
  63. Shepherd’s-Purse, Capsella bursa-pastoris
  64. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula
  65. Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia
  66. Sunflower, Common Sunflower, Helianthus annuus
  67. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  68. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  69. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  70. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
  71. White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus
  72. White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys
  73. White-Faced Ibis, Plegadis chihi
  74. Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata

The Eww Factor, 01-29-21

I got up around 6:30 this morning and headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a much-needed walk around 7:30 am. I was hoping to see some fungi and was going to check out any rain puddles for signs of hairworms. So, I was going for the “eew factor”… and Nature gave me a lot of it.

The storm had downed quite a few trees in the preserve, but most of the destruction had been cleaned up already and moved off the trails. Still, there were a lot of windfall twigs that seemed to cling to my feet and worked their way up my pant legs. Creepy feeling!

Downed tree limb in the Maidu village

The first eew was finding the bodies of young squirrels that had been thrown out of their dray (squirrel nest) by the storm. They were older “pinkies”, still furless, their eyes just developing under their skin. Their little feet and tails were developing, and there were a few wispy whiskers poking out on their faces, but otherwise they were “embryonic” looking.

I found three of them, all frozen by rigor mortis, their bodies colder than the air.  I listened for heartbeats and breathing, but there was nothing. They’d just fallen too far out of their tree and been exposed to the cold for too long.  I felt sad at the sight of them -– and wondered how traumatic it must have been for their mom to have lost them all in the same night. She must have been sitting on them, trying to keep them warm, when the dray fell apart…

Then I saw what looked like a sickly wild turkey by the little observation pond. He was standing, but all curled up like his insides hurt. I took some photos of him to pass onto the park rangers, but then when I got closer, he WAS able to step away from me. He walked slowly, but everything seemed to function all right… So I don’t know if he was actually sick or just cold and alone.

What I thought was a sickly Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia,huddled near the pond.

Along the trails, I found several different kinds of gooey jelly fungus –- eew — including yellow Witch’s Butter, Black Jelly Roll, Brown Ear Jelly Fungus and the little Jelly Spots.

Witch’s Butter Jelly Fungus, Tremella mesenterica

As I was looking over the Witch’s Butter, part of it still attached to the False Turkey Tail fungus which it was parasitizing, I found some pale, white long-bodied springtails and a tiny spider. Those are details I would have missed without the macro attachment to my cellphone camera.

There weren’t a lot of mushrooms out yet. I guess they need a little more time to push up to the surface. I DID find a patch of purple Blewit mushrooms, though. They’re also called “Purple Cores”. When they’re fresh, they’re lavender all over… and then lose a lot of their color. The ones I found were pretty spent already, but the caps still showed off some of their purple hue.  I also found some Yellow Fieldcaps, much smaller than the Belwits, but their color was much much brighter.

I saw a mother with two very small children with her who were looking into a very large mud puddle. They mentioned “worms”, so I stepped over –- not too close because of COVID – to see what they were looking at. In one part of the puddle was a mass of little white worms wriggling slowly.  I told the mom that they looked like pinworms to me, so she should probably keep her little kids out of that water and she said thank you.

Then she pointed out a second much larger worm in the other end of the puddle, and I was excited to see it was a hairworm (!) I know, I get jazzed by weird stuff.

Horsehair Worms are from the phylum of “nematomorphs”, and are also called hairsnakes or Gordian Worms (because they wrap themselves upon convoluted knots when they mate).

The hairworm/ Horsehair Worm was maybe ten inches long, dark, like a hair from a horse’s tail.  It was moving slowly, snake-like toward the edge of the puddle. I actually picked it up to see what it feltlike and was surprised to find that wasn’t gushy like an earthworm; it was cord-like and felt “muscular”. The skin wasn’t slimy; it felt “dry”, like a snake’s scale. I took some photos of it, and then placed it back into the water. 

Then, the Naturalist in me coming out, I explained to the mother that the hairworm wasn’t generally harmful to humans, but it parasitizes other insects. The worms lay eggs along the edges of ponds and puddles – or even swimming pools — that are ingested by insects like crickets. The larvae grow in the cricket’s body, going through several instars (molts) over the period of several weeks (or months) until it matures. Inside the cricket, the worm wraps around and around itself as it grows, filling the cricket’s body, then when it matures, the worm infects the cricket’s brain and forces the cricket toward the nearest water source – where the cricket drowns itself and dies. After the cricket dies, the adult worm emerges and seeks a mate. That got a verbal “Eeeew!” from the mom and the kids. Sometimes nature is gross-cool. Hah!

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

As I was going along, finding all the “eews”, I was lamenting to myself that I hadn’t seen a single deer that morning, which was unusual for that preserve. Then, along the Woodland Trail, I finally found a small herd that includes does and some yearlings, a young spike buck, and a large 4-pointer buck. They were lovey.

I walked for about 2½ hours and then headed back home. This walk was #10 in my #52HikeChallenge; a milestone! Woot!

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. Azolla, Water Fern, Azolla filiculoides
  3. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii
  4. Black Jelly Roll Fungus, Black Witches’ Butter, Exidia glandulosa
  5. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  6. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus
  7. Blewit Mushroom, Purple Core, Lepista nuda
  8. Brown Jelly Fungus, Leafy Brain, Phaeotremella foliacea
  9. California Camouflage Lichen, Melanelixia californica [dark green with green or brown apothecia, on trees]
  10. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  11. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis
  12. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis [overhead flight]
  13. Candleflame Lichen, Candelaria concolor
  14. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
  15. Common Sunburst Lichen, Golden Shield Lichen, Xanthoria parietina [yellow-orange,on wood/trees]
  16. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
  17. False Turkey-Tail, Stereum hirsutum [thin, flattish, brown underside]
  18. Frosted Rim-Lichen, Lecanora caesiorubella [white with white apothecia]
  19. Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata
  20. Hoary Rosette Lichen, Physcia aipolia [hoary, brown apothecia]
  21. Hooded Sunburst Lichen, Xanthomendoza fallax [leafy, yellow-orange, on trees]
  22. Horsehair Worm, Hairworm, Phylum: Nematomorpha
  23. Jelly Spot Fungus, Dacrymyces stillatus
  24. Lace Lichen, Ramalina menziesii
  25. Lords and Ladies, Wild Arum, Arum maculatum
  26. Mealy Rim-Lichen, Lecanora strobilina [greenish apothecia]
  27. Miner’s Lettuce, Claytonia perfoliata
  28. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
  29. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus
  30. Oakmoss Lichen, Evernia prunastri [like strap but with soredia]
  31. Pinworm, Family: Oxyuridae
  32. Plump Springtails, Superfamily: Onychiuroidea
  33. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  34. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  35. Shrubby Sunburst Lichen, Polycauliona candelaria
  36. Speckled Greenshield Lichen, Flavopunctelia flaventior
  37. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  38. Strap Lichen, Western Strap Lichen, Ramalina leptocarpha [without soredia]
  39. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  40. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  41. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  42. Wall Spider, Oecobius sp.
  43. Wavy-Leafed Soap Plant, Soaproot, Chlorogalum pomeridianum
  44. Western Gray Squirrel, Sciurus griseus         
  45. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis
  46. Witch’s Butter Jelly Fungus, Tremella mesenterica
  47. Yellow Fieldcap Mushroom, Bolbitius titubans

Frosty Morning at the Fish Hatchery, 01-26-21

I got up around 5:00 am in pain and had to take some meds, then after letting the dog out to go potty, we both went back to bed until 7:00 am.

It was only 28° outside then. Wow! Brrrr!  Nevertheless, I got myself ready and headed out for a walk at the Nimbus Fish Hatchery.  It was 31° at the river, but warmed up to a balmy 45° a few hours later when I left.

They’re still doing a lot of reconstruction at the site and most of the area by the new (not yet finished) salmon ladder is fenced off and full of heavy equipment. You can get to the trail that runs along the hill beside the American River, and they’ve finished a new viewing platform with benches at then of the “paved” portion of the trail.

In the water were Common Goldeneyes, Common Mergansers, and Mallards.  I noticed that the Goldeneyes were getting harassed by the gulls. As soon as one of the Goldeneyes was able to catch a fish, a gull would attack it and grab the fish!  I saw this behavior about four times, but was only able to video the aftermath of the attacks. Those gulls were FAST!

Along the bank of the river were Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, and Snowy Egrets. When I was taking photos of one of the Great Blue Herons, I was astonished to see some early-in-the-season lupines and vetch in bloom. The plants are so confused by the weather.

And there were a couple of Green Herons inside the fenced-in raceways that usually house the salmon fry. There were no fish in the raceways today, though, because the cement raceways were being cleaned, so the herons got nuthin’ for their efforts.

Green Heron, Butorides virescens, in the trout raceways

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

I took quite a few photos of a small flock of Lesser Goldfinches as they wrested and ate seeds from the Starthistle. Then I saw a male Anna’s Hummingbird sunning himself on a twig, and just as I focused on him and took the photo, a female Goldfinch took his place on the twig. Hah! I guess she REALLY wanted her photo taken!

There were quite a few White-Crowned Sparrows around, eating cast off seeds and berries from the Coffeeberry trees. I also came across a Song Sparrow and got a little bit of video of it singing.

The big surprise of the day was seeing a beaver swimming along the shore on the opposite side of the river. I was able to get a little bit of video of it. I had never seen one there before, so that was a nice treat.

I walked for about 2½ hours.  This was walk #9 of my #52HikeChallenge.

Species List:

  1. American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  2. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  3. Audubon’s Warbler, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata auduboni
  4. Beaver, American, Beaver, Castor canadensis
  5. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  6. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum
  7. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  8. Bush Lupine, Silver Lupine, Lupinus albifrons
  9. California Gull, Larus californicus [yellow legs; dark eye; red spot]
  10. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  11. Coffeeberry, California Buckthorn, Frangula californica
  12. Common Goldeneye, Bucephala clangula
  13. Common Merganser, Mergus merganser
  14. Common Sunburst Lichen, Golden Shield Lichen, Xanthoria parietina [yellow-orange,on wood/trees]
  15. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
  16. Glaucous-Winged Gull, Larus glaucescens [gray wings/grey wing-tips; red spot; pink legs]
  17. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
  18. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  19. Green Heron, Butorides virescens
  20. Hairy Vetch, Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa ssp. villosa
  21. Herring Gull, Larus argentatus [spot on bill, gray legs, pale eye]
  22. Himalayan Blackberry, Rubus bifrons [white flowers]
  23. Hoary Rosette Lichen, Physcia aipolia [hoary, brown apothecia]
  24. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  25. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  26. Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  27. Musk Stork’s-Bill, Erodium moschatum
  28. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus
  29. Prickly Pear Cactus, Indian Fig Opuntia, Opuntia ficus-indica
  30. Ring-Billed Gull, Larus delawarensis [ black ring, light eye, yellow legs]
  31. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula
  32. Soft Rush, Juncus effusus
  33. Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia
  34. Western Gull, Larus occidentalis [spot on bill, pink legs, orange circle around eye]
  35. White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys
  36. Yellow Starthistle, Centaurea solstitialis
  37. Yellow Water Iris, Yellow Flag, Iris pseudacorus [invasive]

Dos Coyotes, 12-30-20

I got up around 7:00 this morning, and headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk. (And, yes, Vincenzo started right up, so the battery issue is no longer an issue.)

The full moon was still out, but heading down into the clouds on the horizon, so I only got a fast photo of it through a tree in the neighbor’s yard.

Full moon over the neighbor’s house.

I got to the preserve around 8:00 am. It was 33° at the river when I got there, but crept up to about 53° by the time I left. In the shaded areas, frost was still heavy on the ground.

The first thing I saw was a Scrub Jay being harassed by two Yellow-Billed Magpies. I don’t know what their argument was about, but I couldn’t get any photos of them because they were high in a tree among all the stickery branches. What I saw the most of today (besides lichen) were the Columbian Black-Tailed deer.

I counted fourteen deer throughout my walk, including a couple of spike bucks, two 4-pointers and a 2-pointer buck. I was hoping to see some jousting, but no such luck. Among the spikes, I saw two of them with sort of “mirrored” antlers. One had a long spike on the left and a short one on the right, and the other had a long spike on the right and a short one on the left.

I got a few photos of the bucks doing their “Flehmen Sniff” thing, where they curl their upper lip, suck the air and pull the scent into their mouth through their upper teeth to the organ in the roof of the mouth that can parse out the data in the scent: the age of the doe, the state of her health, is she reading mating… Amazing.    

The “Flehman Sniff”

Towards the end of my walk, I came across one of the large 4-point bucks just sitting in a field, in the tall grass, with his back to the trees. Just sitting there, watching all the humans go by. He was quite impressive.

Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus

Most of the birds were being very elusive – hiding behind grasses or twiglets, or flitting away just as I was focusing the camera on them. The frustrations of a nature photographer.

While I was trying to get photos of a Spotted Towhee, though, two deer walked up behind me on the trail and crossed over to climb a hill on the opposite side. I didn’t even know they were there until they started their ascent. Sneaky! I got a few pix of them just before a young spike buck arrived to sniff the other two deer up. That hillside it pretty steep, so there was no way I could follow them up it, but I did get a few photos of them from the base of it.

There were Fox Squirrels all over the place, eating or hiding acorns, and chasing one another around the trees.

Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger

About halfway through the walk, I stopped at a bench to rest for a minute and saw a sign taped to the bench that warned that it was under surveillance to keep people from vandalizing it. The first thought that went through my mind was, “damn those vandals!”, and the second thought was, “I guess I’d better watch what I do while I’m out here resting,” hah!

When I got up from the bench, I was startled to see a doe and a buck with vegetation stuck in his antlers, racing past me toward another part of the preserve – and a huge, thick-furred coyote chasing after them. Even at her rate of speed, there was no way the coyote was able to catch up with the deer. They were just too long-legged and moving too fast. I then saw the coyote break off and start chasing a jackrabbit, but she wasn’t successful in getting that either. Of course, while all this action is happening, I’m not able to focus on or film any of it.

When the coyote gave up on the jackrabbit, it turned around and came toward where I was, and I got a little bit of video of it through the grasses and trees. The coyote was really panting by then, so I don’t know if she had enough energy for another chase right away.

Later, I saw a real mangy coyote (almost devoid of fur) crossing the rocks near the river’s edge. It’s tail was just a long naked rope trailing behind it. He was NOT a healthy boy.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

Along with the tree and rock lichen I photographed today, I also came across some of the first mushrooms of the season: some Oak-Loving Gymnopus and some Honey Fungus. I was hoping to see some nice Barometer Earthstars, but only found a few very small specimens.

I walked for about three hours and the headed back home.

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  3. Bark Rim Lichen, Lecanora chlarotera [looks like Whitewash Lichen but has apothecia]
  4. Barometer Earthstar fungus, Astraeus hygrometricus
  5. Bay Laurel Tree, Laurus nobilis
  6. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii
  7. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus
  8. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  9. California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana
  10. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  11. California Sycamore, Platanus racemose
  12. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica
  13. California Wild Rose, Rosa californica
  14. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  15. Chinese Pistache, Pistacia chinensis
  16. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
  17. Common Crow, American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  18. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  19. Coyote, Canis latrans
  20. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
  21. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  22. Farinose Cartilage Lichen, Ramalina farinacea [like Oakmoss but very thin branches]
  23. Gold Dust Lichen, Chrysothrix candelaris
  24. Golden-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
  25. Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata
  26. Honey Fungus, Honey Mushroom, Armillaria mellea
  27. Hooded Rosette Lichen, Physcia adscendens
  28. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  29. Lords and Ladies, Wild Arum, Arum maculatum
  30. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  31. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
  32. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii
  33. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus
  34. Oak-loving Gymnopus, Gymnopus dryophilus [tan-orange with pale gills; cap can be flat or curved up as it ages]
  35. Paltry Puffball, Puffball Fungus, Bovista californica
  36. Pin-Cushion Sunburst Lichen, Polycauliona polycarpa [bright orange, apothecia, close, piled]
  37. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus [heard]
  38. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  39. Rock Shield Lichen, Xanthoparmelia conspersa
  40. Sheet Weaver Spiders, Family: Linyphiidae
  41. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  42. Strap Lichen, Western Strap Lichen, Ramalina leptocarpha [without soredia]
  43. Sunken Disk Lichen, Aspicilia sp. [like crusty patches on rock, tan to black]
  44. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  45. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  46. Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis
  47. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis
  48. White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys
  49. Yellow-Billed Magpie, Pica nuttalli