Tag Archives: American White Pelican

Lots of Snowy Egrets, 05-31-19

I got up about 5:30 this morning, fed the dog his breakfast and then headed out to the Cosumnes River Preserve for a walk.

There was little to no water in the “wetland” areas, so not a lot of birds or dragonflies. I walked along the slough on the side of the road, and then walked through the oak woodland to the nature center, and then back to the car.  Along the slough, I saw Tree Swallows, a pair of Western Kingbirds, and a trio of Brown-Headed Cowbirds doing their bowing thing. They were on the top of a tree, so bowing was difficult, and they kept rolling off their twiggy branches. Eventually, they gave up and flew off.

Further along, I came across a small flock of Snowy Egrets who were feeling for things in the water with their feet.  As I was watching them and taking pictures, a Great Egret flew in and joined them. Seeing the great Egret and the Snowy Egrets side-by-side really exemplifies their size difference. It looked like a mama bird with lots of babies around her.  Some of the Snowy Egrets were flashing their top knots at one another. I got the sense that it was a more an aggressive, territorial thing than a romance thing. None of the birds had their long, trailing feathers in; and none of them were sporting the pink blush in the face the Snowies get when their breeding.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

Beyond the regular Oak Apple galls, there weren’t a lot of other ones out yet. I saw some Red Cones just starting to grow – looking like tiny red pimples on the leaves of some of the Valley Oaks.  I did see the curling leaf galls and “flower” galls on the ash trees, but not as much as I’m used to seeing.

As I was walking through the oak woodland, I was surprised to see a large flock of American White Pelicans fly overhead. By the time I got my camera up and focused, though, they were gone. It’s always so neat to see those big birds flying.  They don’t look like they should be able to stay aloft, but they’re so graceful in the sky.

I also got a glimpse of a Green Heron when he flew out from the rushes around the bridge area, and up into a willow tree.  There were so many twiggy branches around him, though, it was hard to get any decent shots of him.

Near the nature center, I saw some House Finches, Anna’s Hummingbirds, and a baby cottontail rabbit. The baby was a surprise; my brain couldn’t get itself around how small it was at first, and I just stared at it. I did come to enough to get a few shots of the bunny before it scrambled away, though.

Even going down to the boat launch area, I was surprised by the lack of insects. I was hoping to see dragonflies, damselflies and spiders there, but… nothing.

I walked for about three hours and then started to head home.  My insides were starting to complain, and I hurried to the restroom near the boardwalk area where my car was parked – only to find that the thing was locked shut. Seriously?! Guh! I hate it when that happens.

Species List:

  1. American White Pelican, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos,
  2. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna,
  3. Ash Flower Gall Mite, Eriophyes fraxinivorus,
  4. Ash Leaf Curl Aphid, Prociphilus fraxinifolii,
  5. Asian Ladybeetle, Harmonia axyridis,
  6. Bermuda Grass, Cynodon dactylon,
  7. Bindweed, Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis,
  8. Birds-Foot Trefoil, Lotus corniculatus,
  9. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
  10. Blue-Eyed Grass, Sisyrinchium angustifolium,
  11. Broadleaf Cattail, Bullrush, Typha latifolia,
  12. Broadleaf Mistletoe, Phoradendron macrophyllum,
  13. Brown-Headed Cowbird, Molothrus ater,
  14. Buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis,
  15. California Brodiaea, Brodiaea californica,
  16. California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica,
  17. California Wild Rose, Rosa californica,
  18. Cleveland Sage, Salvia clevelandii,
  19. Common Knotweed, Persicaria lapathifolia,
  20. Common Yarrow, Achillea millefolium,
  21. Convergent Ladybeetle, Hippodamia convergens,
  22. Coyote Brush Bud Gall Midge, Rhopalomyia californica,
  23. Curly Leaved Dock, Rumex crispus,
  24. Desert Cottontail Rabbit, Sylvilagus audubonii,
  25. Doveweed, Turkey Mullein, Croton setigerus,
  26. English Field Daisy, Bellis perennis,
  27. Fennel, Sweet Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare,
  28. Floating Water Primrose, Ludwigia peploides,
  29. Goodding’s Willow, Salix gooddingii,
  30. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias,
  31. Great Egret, Ardea alba,
  32. Green Heron, Butorides virescens,
  33. Green Pea Aphid, Acyrthosiphon pisum,
  34. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus,
  35. Hoverfly, Syrphidae,
  36. Hummingbird Sage, Salvia spathacea,
  37. Jointed Charlock, Raphanus raphanistrum,
  38. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferus
  39. Lippia, Turkey Tangle, Fogfruit, Phyla nodiflora,
  40. Long-Jawed Orb Weaver, Tetragnatha extensa,
  41. Oak Apple Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus,
  42. Oregon Ash, Fraxinus latifolia,
  43. Pearly Everlasting, Anaphalis margaritacea,
  44. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum,
  45. Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum,
  46. Purple Finch, Haemorhous purpureus,
  47. Purpletop Vervain, Verbena bonariensis,
  48. Rabbitsfoot Grass, Polypogon monspeliensis,
  49. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus,
  50. Seven-Spotted Ladybeetle, Coccinella septempunctata,
  51. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula,
  52. Swift Crab Spider, Mecaphesa celer
  53. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor,
  54. Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus,
  55. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata,
  56. Variable Flatsedge, Cyperus difformis,
  57. Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
  58. Western Kingbird, Tyrannus verticalis,
  59. Wild Onion (white), Allium sp.,
  60. Willow Apple Gall Wasp, Pontania californica,
  61. Willow Bead Gall Mite, Aculops tentanothrix,
  62. Willow Bud Gall Mite, Aculops aenigma,
  63. Willow Stem Gall Wasp, Euura exiguae,

A Somewhat Disappointing Excursion, 05-23-19

Feeling tired and stressed, I decided to try making the drive to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. Rather than being a therapeutic and relaxing time, however, I was faced with irritation after irritation, so the drive actually left me feeling more stressed and exhausted than I was before I started. *Heavy sigh*

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

Traffic wasn’t too terribly terrible, but it seemed like I hit every freaking red light there was, and the monster semi’s on the highway were “always” in front of me like giant snails. When I got to the refuge, I could see Bank Swallows collecting mud in the slough near the front gate, so I stopped to take some photos – and, of course, the birds wouldn’t cooperate, and two employees pulled up in their cars behind me and honked at me. Grrrrr. The rest of the day kind of went like that: I saw Gallinules, but they ducked into the tules before I could get a photo; I could hear Bitterns giving their “pumperlunk” calls close by, but couldn’t see them; it was windy, so most of the birds were hunkered down near the ground or deep in the trees; where there would normally be dozens of Marsh Wrens around, I saw only two deep in the tules; the dragonflies hadn’t come up from the water yet; what damselflies there were around were the tiniest ones that are like trying to photograph a strand of hair; there weren’t any of the Clark’s or Western Grebes that I was expecting to be out there by now; I couldn’t even get shots of ground squirrels… It was just one frustration after another. By the time I left, I had a splitting headache and just wanted to ram someone with my car. ((I didn’t though.)) *Heavy sigh-2*

Species List:

  1. American Avocet, Recurvirostra americana,
  2. American Bittern, Botaurus lentiginosus,
  3. American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus,
  4. American White Pelican, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos,
  5. Bank Swallow, Riparia riparia,
  6. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
  7. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus,
  8. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum,
  9. Cabbage White Butterfly, Pieris rapae,
  10. California Dock, Rumex californicus,
  11. California Milkweed, Asclepias californica,
  12. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis,
  13. Cinnamon Teal, Anas cyanoptera,
  14. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus,
  15. Common Gallinule, Gallinula galeata,
  16. Convergent Lady Beetle, Hippodamia convergens,
  17. Desert Cottontail, Sylvilagus audubonii,
  18. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auritus,
  19. Downingia, Downingia sp.,
  20. English Lawn Daisy, Bellis perennis,
  21. Eurasian Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto,
  22. Familiar Bluet Damselfly, Enallagma civile,
  23. Goodding’s Willow, Salix gooddingii,
  24. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias,
  25. Great Egret, Ardea alba,
  26. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons,
  27. Italian Thistle, Carduus pycnocephalus,
  28. Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos,
  29. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris,
  30. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura,
  31. Mute Swan, Cygnus olor,
  32. Northern Pintail, Anas acuta,
  33. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata,
  34. Painted Lady Butterfly, Vanessa cardui,
  35. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum,
  36. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis,
  37. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus,
  38. Ring-Necked Pheasant, Phasianus colchicus,
  39. Short-tailed ichneumon wasps, Ophion sp.,
  40. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula,
  41. Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia,
  42. Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus,
  43. Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum,
  44. Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
  45. Western Kingbird, Tyrannus verticalis,
  46. Wild Teasel, Dipsacus fullonum,

Behind-The-Scenes “Natives” Tour, 04-18-19

Today, I was treated to a behind-the-scenes “natives” tour at the reptile house and got to visit with a Burrowing Owl at the Sacramento Zoo.  There were two school buses full of kids there, so I didn’t hang around much after the tour, but I still got to see and learn some cool stuff.  My tour guides were Kathryn, a keeper named Bill (who did all the reptile house stuff) and a keeper named Mike who showed me the Burrowing Owl.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

Inside the back of the reptile house it was warm and kind of humid (which is what most of the reptile need to feel comfortable). The place is laid out like a snake, in a serpentine pattern, with the back sides of the habitat enclosures along the outer walls and other tanks and materials along the center spaces and inside walls. Each enclosure has pouches on the door with cards that tell when the animals’ feeding scheduled are and what work has taken place during the week, and also give the keepers detailed information on each animal inside the enclosure.  Some of the enclosures have one or two specimens inside, but others, like the one for the tiny Dart Frogs, can have a dozen individuals in them. Somehow – usually by color pattern – the keepers can tell who each individual is.  Everybody gets weighed about once a week to make sure they’re on track physically.

The first thing I had to do when I got inside the reptile house was dip the soles of my boots in a disinfectant bath to make sure I wasn’t tracking in anything that might harm the animals inside. (And we did the same thing just before leaving the building.)

Some of the critters don’t get enough UV light inside their enclosures (because the light is set in the ceiling of the enclosures and the animals (like turtles) can’t climb up to it.  So, sometimes the critters are taken off exhibit and allowed to bask under UV lights in separate terrariums to make sure they get all the “sun” they need. When I was there, they had some handsome Hamilton’s Pond Turtles (Geoclemys hamiltonii) doing the basking thing. The Hamilton’s have beautiful black-and-white polka dotted faces. I don’t remember ever seeing them before, so getting to meet a couple of them was a treat.  [They’re native to the Ganges, not California.]

I also got to see the Venomous Bite Alarm: a red phone that automatically connects directly with the local fire department.  So, if a keeper or a guest gets bitten by a venomous snake, all someone has to do is knock the receiver off the phone and an alert goes out to emergency personnel who are dispatched immediately.  All of the enclosures that hold the venomous snakes also have red warning cards on them, and a garbage can underneath the door, so if the snake lunges out at someone, it falls into the can instead of on a person.  Sometimes, the low-tech stuff is what works best.

And I got to see the food room for the reptile house, which is kept separate from the food storage for the other animals in the zoo because it’s comprised mostly of live insects and small frozen mice. There were egg crates crawling with live crickets and bottles of different kinds of worms… Some of the creatures, though, are vegetarians, so there are also greens, small flowers and other goodies for them to eat.

The tour was so cool! I got so much information from the staffers, that I don’t know if I’ll remember it all. But I’ll give you some of the highlights.

I got to see the zoo’s California Newt (Taricha torosa), our state’s endemic newt (found here and nowhere else on earth).  The are considered a Species of Special Concern because their numbers are dropping due to habitat loss and having to deal with invasive species like Bullfrogs and Red-Eared Slider Turtles. They’re often confused with Rough-Skinned Newts and Red Bellied Newts, but although they’re all from the same genus, they are separate species.

The newt’s poison (which it excretes through its skin) is so potent, it can kill a dog within 4 minutes. It’s believed that the Common Gartersnake is immune to the toxin.

California Newts breed in February and March in the wild. To keep the newts from going into breeding mode with its associated “water drive” (that causes them to leave their terrestrial homes to go find water in which to breed, preferably the same water source in which they were born) the zoo controls the temperature of their habitat to “skip” the spring and jump from winter directly to a cool summer.  So far, depriving the newts of their spring time doesn’t seem to adversely affect them.  Because their habitat had to be kept cooler and drier than the rest of the reptiles’ habitats, they have their own room that’s kept around 65° for most of the year.

Like the California Newt, the California Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma californiense) prefers the cool weather, too, so it’s kept in the same enclosure as the newt.  It’s also a native and endemic species. It’s considered an Endangered Species and is gone from most of the state.  A “mole salamander”, it spends most of its life underground and only comes out for any extended period of time to breed.  Although they go through courtship rituals, the males and females don’t actually touch one another to reproduce. The males deposit balls of sperm on the ground or in the water, and the female then drags her body over it.

They breed in vernal pools which are temporary water features, so the baby salamanders either have to develop, absorb their gills and start breathing with their lungs before the pools dry up, or they have to “overwinter”, buried under the ground in a sort of stasis that can last for a year or more and then finish developing the next spring. Amazing.

The spots on their bodies can change as they age, but are always unique to each individual, so the keepers at the zoo can tell who’s who by looking at and tracking the spots.

Next up was the California Giant Garter Snake (Thamnophis gigas). A threatened species, and another endemic one, they’ve lost about 98% of their habitat (!) so there are a lot of efforts throughout the Sacramento Valley to try to reestablish habitat for them – and a lot of that is in and around rice fields. The zoo got their female, which is the snake I met, from a farm after she’d been accidentally run over by some of their equipment. Her body has scars on it she’s blind in one eye, and a good portion of her tail is missing… but she was very mellow and seemed very comfortable with her keeper, who said that these snakes, despite their size, aren’t as aggressive as other gartersnakes and seldom bite. Their defense mechanism is to dive under water (they spend the majority of their time in or around water) or “skunk” their attacker with musk from their cloaca.

The Giant Gartersnake can grow up to 5½ feet long, and although some of the other gartersnake species can get almost as long as the Giants, they don’t have the Giants’ girth. These are thick snakes, like rope. Their diet is mostly made up of aquatic species, lots of fish and frogs.

Then I got to meet one of the zoo’s Common Chuckwallas (Sauromalus ater), a big male with orange staining on his back. I always forget that we have these guys live in this state. I always think of them being from Arizona or Nevada… They do “push-ups” like our Western Fence Lizards do as a warning and territorial display, but their main defense is their skin.  They have extra skin hanging from their sides that they can inflate, like a balloon, when they feel threatened. Usually, they’ll climb into a rock crevice, inflate their bodies to wedge themselves in, and wait for whatever is bothering them to leave.  Bill, their keeper, said he could tell what their mood was like just by how they felt in his hands. The male Chuckwalla was super docile, and I bet he could have gone to sleep if Bill hadn’t kept moving him this way and that so I could take photos of him.

They have special longer scales around their ears (tympanic membranes) to protect them when the lizard digs into the ground or wedges itself in rocks. And they also secrete excess salt from their nose – which Bill says then then rub onto the front of the glass of their enclosure, dirtying up the glass with their salty snot. Hah!

Although they have a pair of Chuckwallas, a male and a female, the male has yet to fertilize any of the eggs the female lays.  Sometimes, they can tell the female is pregnant with eggs, but then she reabsorbed them into her body before they get laid because they don’t get fertilized. Interesting.

Their diet consists of nothing but veggies, and I got to see some of their feeding dishes with included a variety of greens and little flowers, and some protein powder.

Next up was the Pacific Pond Turtle (Actinemys marmorata), California’s endemic turtle which is considered a “vulnerable” species. It’s lost a lot of its territory to the invasive Red Eared Slider Turtle which was brought into California for the pet trade, but then – when people found out how difficult water turtles are to keep – they were just dumped in the wild.

Unlike the Slider Turtles, the Pond Turtles have smooth marginal scutes (the “scales” along the edge of the shell in the rear) and they don’t shed their scutes. Instead, to grow, the scutes add rings to the outer rim of each one (like the rings of a tree). Like the Slider Turtles, male Pond Turtles wave their fingernails in front of the female’s face as part of the courtship ritual.

There are a couple of different ways to tell the males from the females at a glance. The easiest way it to look at the skin under the chin: if it’s a plain creamy color, it’s a male; if it has spots, it’s a female.  The female’s cloaca is also closer to the edge of the shell than the male’s is.  Both sexes have flat plastrons (the bottom half of the shell).  In some other turtle species, the female’s is flat, and the male’s is concave (so he can climb up on top of the female’s shell without rocking off).

As an aside: the Sacramento Zoo is the only zoo in the country that has a clutch of natural-born Pond Turtles. There’s a pond on the zoo property that local wild turtles went into and where they had their babies. At first, the zoo staff didn’t know that they were there, but then they saw crows snatching the babies out of the water, so the staff rushed in to rescue the little ones and now keep them as exhibit animals °and breeding stock.

When we were done with the reptile house visit, Kathryn walked me out to behind the amphitheater where their teaching animals are housed.  These included Cameron the Bateleur Eagle, Foster the Laughing Kookaburra, Charlie the Great Horned Owl, and sister Burrowing Owls, Sapphire and Ruby.

Cameron greeted us by lifting her hackles and bowing down on her perch. Rather than it being a threatening gesture, what she was actually doing was asking for someone to scratch her neck. Hah!  Charlie was being quiet in his enclosure, peeking out between some lengths of fire hose. He was a rescue and release owl who refused to fly off when he and his fellows were released in the wild. He just sat on the ground, preferring to be with humans than other owls.  Mike the keeper who looks after the educational animals, said that it’s the breeding season right now, so a lot of wild owls have been flying into the trees around Charlie’s enclosure eyeing him and hooting to him. Hah!

What I really wanted to see were the Burrowing Owls (Athene cunicularia), and Mike brought out one of them on the glove so I could get a close look at it. The zoo has several Burrowing Owls, but the educational ones are sisters, Ruby and Sapphire. Ruby was being anti-social this morning, so Mike brought out Sapphire. She was super mellow, and just sat on his hand, looking around while he talked about her.  (He said she has the worst mouth-breath, but I didn’t notice that. Hah!)  The owls, which are native to California, are losing their habitat all over the state, so they’re considered a vulnerable species and Species of Special Concern.

In most raptor species, the females are larger than the males, but this isn’t true of the Burrowing Owls. Males are larger and have a lighter color than the females.

It was so great to see all of the animals up so close. I got to touch most of them (except for the newt and the owl) and took photos of everyone. It was a fun tour; I’m so glad I was able to do it.