Tag Archives: American Crow

Going Back to Bear Valley Road, 04-22-19

I got up around 5:00 am and was out the door with the dog before 6:00 am.  I wanted to check out the wildflowers along Bear Valley Road again to see if I could find the Most Beautiful Jewel Flower that was spotted there during the last Tuleyome driving tour.  Trying to drive the car on a dirt road, with sheer cliff walls on one side and a drop into a deep ravine on the other, while I tried to search for a tiny plant with nearly black flowers on it proved… difficult. Hah!  So, I didn’t find that flower, but I did see some I hadn’t seen the last time I was out there, and I was also compensated with the surprise find of an in-the-wild Burrowing Owl in one of the cattle ranch fields!

I saw what I thought at first was a ground squirrel poking its head up in a field, so I stopped the car to get some photos of it. As I zoomed in with the camera, I realized I wasn’t looking at a squirrel, I was looking at a Burrowing Owl. Cool! I’d met one at the Sacramento Zoo, but I had never seen one in its natural habitat before. I got out of the car to try to get closer to the fence that separated me from the owl, but the car door blew shut with a bang(!). [[It was windy out there.]]  The owl hunkered down near the opening of its burrow, which made it a lot more difficult to photograph, but I was glad I got to see it at all.

On another part of the road, I saw some Red-Winged Blackbirds mobbing a crow in the air. They were dive-bombing at him and grabbing at him.  Then I saw him land on the ground and thought that was weird of him because it made him an easier target for the blackbirds.  But then I saw the crow pick up a small blue egg out of a nest hidden in the long grass. I’m not sure, but I think the crow swallowed it. (I didn’t see him drop it.)  One of the blackbirds landed on the ground behind the crow and then rushed up again, smacking the crow in the back of the head, but the crow didn’t move right away. Instead, he reached down into the nest again. Two of the blackbirds attacked him once more and were finally successful in chasing him off.  I couldn’t see into the nest, so I’m not sure how much damage the crow did, but it seems like any nest on the ground is easy-pickings.

I always thought the blackbirds built their nests near water at the base of tules and other tall vegetation, so I was surprised there was one on the ground in an open field filled with roaming cattle.  According to the Audubon website, though, the birds also nest “in dense grass in fields. Nest (built by female) is bulky open cup, lashed to standing vegetation, made of grass, leaves, rootlets, lined with fine grass.” I love learning new stuff like this!

There were a lot of California Quails all along the sides of the road, several coveys.  But they moved too quickly for me to get any decent photos of them. There were also Killdeer along the road but, again, no photos.

And I saw some Western Kingbirds in what I think was part of their courtship displays.  There were also lot of them along the fence lines on the side of the road. Another nice surprise was being able to see a lovely Lark Sparrow. I hardly ever see those guys, and I think the patterns on their faces are so pretty.

CLICK HERE for the photos from today.

I stopped at the Keegan Ranch, which allows you to come onto the property to experience the wildflowers there, and I got to see a LOT of flowers. The fields were like “oceans” of them, with cattle “swimming” through them.  I also watched while a rancher on horseback rounded up some cows and their calves with the help of a handful of herding dogs. This ranch and the adjoining Epperson Ranch are actually protected by conservation easements (since 2016).  So, they cannot be drastically changed or built upon in perpetuity.

According to an article on them by the California Rangeland Trust: “From the rare serpentine soils, extensive wildflower fields and native grasses to the productive rangeland, this working cattle ranch is a great example of how ranchers can work with conservation groups to voluntarily protect the natural environment and sustain a way of life. These ranches are the first in California to be funded by NRCS’s Grasslands of Special Environmental Significance under its Agricultural Conservation Easement Program. The Keegan and Epperson Ranches are a great example of a multi-agency and private partnership that will protect vital habitats for plants and wildlife, expand and protect wildlife corridors, and will help wildlife adapt to climate change in perpetuity. Conservation of these ranches helps meet several goals aimed at reducing pressures to the Northern California Interior Coast Range Ecoregion outlined in California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s 2015 State Wildlife Action Plan…”

Combined, the ranches comprise 4,049 acres of now-protected landscape.  Makes me love this place even more.

My dog, Sergeant Margie, was great through the whole drive.  We stopped every once in a while so I could take photos, and when I did, I let him out to pee. On the way home, I had to go potty so I drove up Highway 16 a little ways to use the restrooms at Cowboy Camp.  One of the restroom buildings was locked, and the other one had no handle on the door.  I used that one, but had no privacy, obviously. Then I stopped at a Shell station in Williams and got a sandwich and cucumber smoothie for supper.

I got home around 2:30 pm.  Another long day.

Species List:

1. American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos,
2. Big Heron’s Bill, Erodium botrys,
3. Bird’s Eye Gilia, Gilia tricolor,
4. Black Angus Cattle, Bos Taurus,
5. Blister Beetle, Black Blister Beetle, Epicauta pennsylvanica,
6. Blow Wives, Achyrachaena mollis,
7. Blue Dicks, Dichelostemma capitatum,
8. Blue Witch Nightshade, Solanum umbelliferum,
9. Bulbous Blue Grass, Poa bulbosa,
10. Burrowing Owl, Athene cunicularia,
11. Bush Lupine, Silver Bush Lupine, Lupinus albifrons,
12. Butter Lupine, Lupinus luteolus,
13. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi,
14. California Plantain, Plantago erecta,
15. California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica,
16. California Quail, Callipepla californica,
17. Canyon Live-Forever, Dudleya cymose,
18. Caterpillar Flower, Lacy Phacelia, Phacelia tanacetifolia,
19. Clover, Rabbitfoot Clover, Trifolium arvense,
20. Clover, Strawberry Clover, Trifolium fragiferum
21. Clover, Rose Clover, Trifolium hirtum,
22. Common Fiddleneck, Amsinckia intermedia,
23. Common Mustard, Brassica rapa,
24. Cream Cups, Platystemon californicus.
25. European Honeybee, Apis mellifera,
26. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris,
27. Frying Pan Poppy, Eschscholzia lobbii,
28. Giant Death Camas, Zigadenus exaltatus,
29. Goldfields, Lasthenia californica,
30. Gray Pine, Pinus sabiniana,
31. Hawkweed, Hieracium argutum,
32. Hereford Cattle, Bos taurus,
33. Hog Fennel, Lomatium utriculatum,
34. Holstein Cattle, Bos taurus,
35. Indian Paintbrush, Castilleja affinis,
36. Ithuriel’s Spears, Triteleia laxa,
37. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous,
38. Lark Sparrow, Chondestes grammacus,
39. Larkspur, Delphinium decorum,
40. Lupine, Lupinus sp.,
41. Milk Vetch, unidentified, Astragalus sp.,
42. Miniature Lupine, Lupinus bicolor,
43. Mountain Dandelion, Agoseris heterophylla,
44. Mule’s Ears, Smooth Mules Ears, Wyethia glabra,
45. Owl’s Clover, Dense Flower Owl’s clover, Castilleja densiflora,
46. Painted Lady butterfly, Vanessa cardui,
47. Pepperweed, Common Pepper Grass, Lepidium densiflorum,
48. Q Tips, Slender Cottonweed, Micropus californicus var. californicus,
49. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus,
50. Shepherd’s Purse, Capsella bursa-pastoris,
51. Sierra Tidy Tips, Layia pentachaeta ssp. pentachaeta,
52. Silver Puffs, Uropappus lindleyi,
53. Snowbrush, Ceanothus velutinus,
54. Tamarisk, Salt Cedar, Tamarix parviflora,
55. Tidy Tips, Fremont’s Tidy Tips, Layia fremontii,
56. Tidy Tips, Smooth Tidy Tips, Layia chrysanthemoides,
57. True Babystars, Leptosiphon bicolor,
58. Valley Tassels, Castilleja attenuate,
59. Wallflower, Erysimum capitatum,
60. Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
61. Western Hawksbeard, Crepis occidentalis,
62. Western Kingbird, Tyrannus verticalis,
63. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta,
64. Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis,
65. Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa,
66. Yellow-Faced Bumblebee, Bombus vosnesenskii,

Naturalists at the Conaway Ranch, 03-10-19

I headed out to Woodland around 8:30 am to help my co-worker Bill with his recon outing at Conaway Ranch.  He has about twenty outings slated for that venue over the next months or two; he takes school children out there to tell them about food chains, rice growing and harvesting, wildlife, etc. There’s a slough that runs through one part of the property and it acts like a mini-riparian habitat that attracts otters, opossums, birds, snakes and small critters.  Today, he just really wanted to look at the state of the property after all of the rains and see what there was around to tell the kids about.

I was expecting some of our current naturalist students to join Bill out there, but instead, we had four of our former students (now certified naturalists themselves) come out –Susan Sallocks, Barbara Meierhenry, Bob Ream and Donna Moyer – all offering to help Bill with his future outings. All of them greeted me, some hugged me or wished me well in my ongoing fight against The Children of Wilson, and a couple of them said how much they had enjoyed the naturalist class and how I’d changed their lives for the better… It was all so unexpected and lovely, it almost made me cry. What a sweet way to begin our day.

We spent about three hours walking along the slough, checking out tracks, trying to identify the birds around and in the air overhead, looking at the different plant species starting to emerge everywhere.

The first thing I saw when I got to the spot was a medium sized garter snake curled up along the side of the road. It was limp and cold, and it wasn’t moving. But I couldn’t tell if it was truly dead or just in a deep torpor because it was so cold outside (in the high 40’s).  Its eyes were still clear, it didn’t look like any part of it had been run over by a car, and it was limp, not stiff with rigor mortis. I took some photos of it and then put it back down the way I’d found it. At the end of our walk, it was still there, so I guess it was dead. It’ll make a good meal for some critter.

Bill showed us some of the props he uses for the outings with the kids including one about the water cycle and how rice grows. Very cool and informative. We didn’t see any live crayfish, but we did find several skeletons and their mud chimneys in the burned rice field.

There was a team from the University out on the property checking on and upgrading the solar-powered electronic boxes on the Wood Duck boxes they have lined up along the slough. They stopped to talk with us for a little bit and then went on ahead of us.

As far as wildlife went, we didn’t see a whole lot, but did get to see crows, bullfrogs and Pacific Tree frogs, flocks of Greater White-Fronted Geese and Sandhill Cranes flying overhead, some Marsh Wrens, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Northern Mockingbirds, a Say’s Phoebe, and a Great-Horned Owl.  We heard a Belted Kingfisher but couldn’t see it. As the weather warms up, there will be a lot more to see there.

CLICK HERE to see the album of photos.

The naturalist graduates were intrigued with the property and said they were hoping to be able to come out to the ranch to help Bill with his group outings throughout the coming months.

Species List:

1. Ant, Velvety Tree Ant, Liometopum occidentale
2. Asian Clam, Freshwater Clam, Corbicula fluminea
3. Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon
4. Broadleaf Cattail, Typha latifolia
5. Broad-Leaf Lupine, Lupinus latifolius
6. Bullfrog, American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus
7. Crow, American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
8. Fava Beans, Vicia faba
9. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons
10. Great-Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus
11. Himalayan blackberry, Rubus armeniacus
12. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris
13. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
14. Pacific Tree Frog, Chorus Frog, Pseudacris regilla
15. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum
16. Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
17. Red Swamp Crayfish, Crawfish, Crawdad, Procambarus clarkii
18. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
19. Sandhill Crane, Grus canadensis
20. Say’s Phoebe, Sayornis saya
21. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
22. Tule Pea, Lathyrus jepsonii
23. Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
24. Valley Garter Snake, Thamnophis sirtalis fitchi
25. Western Pond Turtle, Pacific Pond Turtle, Actinemys marmorata
26. Wood Duck, Aix sponsa
27. Yellow Star-Thistle, Centaurea solstitialis

Cute Duckling and Green Heron

The weather was actually nicer today than it was yesterday, and after I dropped Marty off, I went over to the WPA Rock Garden and duck pond for a short walk.  When I first got there I was surprised to see a small flock of Mallards sitting in a long stretch of iceplant.  Must’ve been nice and cool in there.  Hah!

I wanted to see some bugs and eggs and praying mantises… but the place was surprisingly bug-free (relatively speaking of course).  Oh, but I did get some close-ups of a female Carpenter Bee who landed on a branch to groom herself for a few seconds… There are lots of flowers in bloom – including the thistles – so I got a lot of pictures of flowers but not much else.  And my walk was being constantly interrupted by a woman using the garden to take professional photos of kids and their families… and the kids were screaming and crying all the while.  Ugh.  Surely there are OTHER places they can go and do that…

At the pond though, I was taking photos and video of a mama Mallard with her one lonely duckling and saw a Green Heron swoop over the pond and land in a floating enclosure of lotus plants.  I walked around the pond to get a better view of him, and he posed for some photos then got down to business plucking tiny fish out of the water.  I video-taped him catching two of them in a row.

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When I got home it was around 10 o’clock.  I did a couple of loads of laundry and rebooted the dishwasher, then started packing for my own trip mid-week to “somewhere near Tahoe” for the Tuleyome staff’s strategic planning meeting: 2 nights and 3 days in “The Cabin in the Woods”.  Yikes!

Video of the Duckling: https://www.dropbox.com/s/6pc2yx0zgvdfdth/WPArockgarden061415%20303.MOV?dl=0

Video of the Heron: https://www.dropbox.com/s/992yqyjnq2e19ak/WPArockgarden061415%20367.MOV?dl=0