Tag Archives: American White Pelicans

Wrens, Tree Swallows and… Pronghorns, 04-29-18

Things didn’t go quite as planned today, but it was okay.  Up around 6:00 am and off to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. I had intended to go out Highway 20 to search for wildflowers, but the season is almost passed around here, so I drove on to the refuge instead.  It was 49º when I headed out and about 66º on my way back. The sky was full of big sofa clouds and there was a slight breeze all day. Very pretty.

At the refuge, the large pond has been drained down to almost nothing, so there’s nothing to see, really, along that extra loop right now. It’s a disappointment. Without the water there are no dragonflies, no grebes nesting on their floating mats, no rafts of pelicans fishing… Just a big dirt hole with deer tracks running across it.  Still, the trip wasn’t a complete waste. When I started the auto-tour route, I was greeted with the sight of a male American Goldfinch in the tall grass, eating seeds. They’re much brighter than the Lesser Goldfinches I usually see around there. Very striking.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

I also got to see several of the male Marsh Wrens successfully luring females to their construction sites. The males build several different nests close to one another, and then let the female decide which one she likes best. Two of the males I saw had females working to line the nests with soft grass and feathers.  I also watched as another male worked frantically to build a nest, not out of cattail skins (like most of the other nests), but of green weeds and bits of wet stick.  He was really struggling. The green weeds were thin and leafy and wouldn’t bend or sit the way he wanted them to. When he brought the stick in, he tried it in several different spots and just couldn’t seem to get it into the right spot. I got some photos and video snippets of all of this.  I also came across one male Marsh Wren without a tail.  Usually the males “flag” with their tail and hold it upright when they sing. This guy had nothing to work with. I don’t know if the tail feathers had molted out and not regrown yet, or were pulled out by some other critter that tried to make the small bird its meal… I wonder if being tailless will impact on the little guy’s ability to find a mate.

Seriously. I wished I could stay there longer, and study it all more. Where’s my millions, Universe? I want to be able to retire and do naturalist stuff full time!

At another spot along the route, by the big viewing platform, I found a pair of nesting Tree Swallows. Mom and dad took turns patrolling the nest and going out to look for food. I couldn’t hear any babies, though, and the parents didn’t seem to be bringing whatever food they found back to the nest. Maybe mom is still building up enough protein to lay eggs; or maybe the chicks aren’t hatched yet – but far enough along so that mom doesn’t need to be sitting on the nest all of the time. More questions left unanswered because I can’t get out there long enough to do a definitive study. I need to look for research grant funding…

There were lots of ground squirrels out, and a couple of them posed for me.  And I came across several “wakes” of Turkey Vultures.  On group was perches on a gate with huge tufts of poison hemlock growing up all around them. That made for an unusually creepy yet lovely photograph.  Who knew vultures could look so pretty?

Here is the album of pix from today:  https://www.flickr.com/photos/mkhnaturalist/albums/72157695871401034

The big surprise of the day, though, was at the end of the day as I was heading home. Just off Road 68, where the I5 onramp is there was a herd of … wait for it… Pronghorns! I knew there were pronghorn in California, but I’d never seen one. This was a small herd and they were walking through a recently plowed agricultural field. It was such a surprise that it actually took my brain several seconds to understand what I was looking at. An amazing sight.

It was Hit and Miss at the Refuges on Saturday

I was going to sleep in today, but the dogs got me up a little before 5:00 am, and then I couldn’t get back to sleep. So, I just got up and headed over to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge for the day.

When I drove into the refuge I saw a Turkey Vulture sitting on the edge of the sign at the mouth of the auto-tour. It let me walk up pretty close to get photos of it before it flew away. I think those are the coolest birds… I heard some Bitterns “pumper-lunking” but only saw a few in flight, and didn’t get any photos. The bullfrogs were doing their ninja thing, too: I could hear their deep cello-calls, but couldn’t see or photograph any of them…

Click here for the full album of photos and videos.

I did get some good photos of Clark’s Grebes and a few other birds, though.

There was a male Great Tailed Grackle in the tules around the permanent wetlands that was performing for the females. He went through a variety of different calls including its high-pitched “peep”, deep-throated “clap!” and loud echoing “yeeeeeeeeeeeeeep!” I got some video of him, but was interrupted a few times by other drivers along the trail who crept or rushed past my car. One lady parked right next to my car and yelled through the open window, “Did you see the owl?!” Uh, yes… but I’m trying to film a grackle right now… Guh!

I also came across a family group of otters, a mom and dad and two babies. They were one of the permanent ponds but moved so quickly, it was really difficult to get any clear shots of them. I did manage to get a little bit of video, though… until dad saw me, snorted loudly and turned his family around.

When I was done at the Sacramento refuge, I headed over to the Colusa one. I hadn’t been there in quite a while because they took the brunt of the flooding earlier in the year, and were closed to the public for months. It was kind of a waste to go there today, though, because now they’ve drained off a lot of the water (so the surrounding rice fields can have it), and most of it is just a big dirt hole with flowers growing here and there.

One pond was filled with dead carp – stinking bodies everywhere – and others that were slowly dying as the pond evaporates. The carp come up with the flood waters, and when the flood recedes, they get caught in-land and can’t get out. I was surprised that the refuge allows them to suffer slow deaths like that; surely there must be some way to collect them and relocate them.

Where there were spots in the refuge that still had water in them, the water was shallow, and the banks were overrun with water primrose… One interesting thing, though, was that in some of the waterless ponds there were crayfish chimneys, structures the crayfish make by piling up little balls of mud. The bottom of the chimney opens into water (when there is water), and the top opens to the air. They use them to hide in when they’re breeding and getting ready to lay their eggs…

My visit to the Colusa refuge was also kind of ruined because there was a biplane from one of the neighboring rice fields flying around. He’d circle over the refuge, fly down really low, and dump seeds and pesticides on the fields next door. The noise was horrible… You can’t “relax and enjoy nature” when there’s some guy buzz-bombing the place every few minutes. It was ugly… I won’t need to go back there at all for the rest of the year…

Too Windy at the Refuge, Again? 05-07-17

Day 2 of my vacation. I got up around 5:30 this morning so I could head out before 6:00 to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  Although the temperatures were great all day (about 56º when I headed out, and about 72º when I headed back home), it was SUPER windy at the refuge.  Wind gusts were so hard that at one point, when I got out of the car at a park-and-stretch area, the wind knocked me over into the side of the car.  I bet I’ll be black and blue tomorrow!  When the wind is fierce, you don’t see many birds because they don’t want to have to expend energy flying against it and they don’t like getting knocked around on the ground… So I wasn’t expecting to get many good photos today.  I was happy, then, when I actually got a few.

CLICK HERE to see the whole album of photos and video snippets.

At one point, I came across a spot where three mule deer were grazing: two very pregnant females – I think it was a mom and her daughter — and a young male in his velvet.  To get pictures of them, I had to roll the window up part way and balance the camera on it so the wind wouldn’t blow the camera out of my hand.

…As I was driving along, very slowly, keeping an eye out for Bitterns (which I didn’t see all day), I was surprised to see a raccoon in the tules, keeping its eye on me. I came to a stop and took a few photos and a video snippet of it before it turned away and headed back to the water.

…I came across two crèches of Canada Geese: large groups of goslings being cared for by several adults.  One group with about 11 goslings was in the water, but had the babies buoyed up on rafts of aquatic plants to keep them safe against the “waves” kicked up by the wind.  They only moved out into the water when they figured I had watched them for too long and wanted to get further away from me.  Another group with about 28 goslings was out on a flatland area where the parents didn’t have to worry about the kids getting exhausted in the water and overwhelmed by the wind and waves. Birds are smarter than we think sometimes… I also found a mama duck with her six ducklings and a Killdeer nest with 2 eggs in it. Babies everywhere,

… And I also got to see an Avocet and a Great Egret catch and eat crayfish for lunch.  So the photo excursion was better than I thought it would be.

Zoo Day, 03-31-17

Around 8:30 am I headed over to the Sacramento Zoo, hoping to be able to catch a glimpse of their new tigress Jillian.  I didn’t see her, but I did get to see a lot of the other big cats including the Snow Leopard, Lions and Jaguar.  It was sunny, bright and in the 50’s, but a stiff wind was blowing so it felt a little colder than it was.  I put on an extra t-shirt to keep my insides warm…

CLICK HERE to see the entire album of photos and video snippets.

I got to the zoo too early, so I walked around the middle  pool at the William Land Park.  Whatever restoration the city was doing there is finished, but the big pond is still empty and surrounded by a fence.  I finished the walk around the pool right around 9 o’clock so I went into the zoo – just as a busload of ferrets showed up. Eew.  I tried to avoid their group as much as possible, but one group figured out that I had a good eye for finding the animals, so they hung around me no matter how hard I tried to lose them.  “Just watch where she points the camera,” one of the moms kept telling the kids.  Hah!

I was at the zoo for about three hours, just walking around at a leisurely pace, taking photos… Around 11:00 I stopped and got some lunch: a club sandwich with fries and a beer, and a package of cotton candy, too, of course. I can’t have a zoo day without cotton candy.

Most of the giraffes were out including the Masai dad, who was playing kick-ball with a barrel, and the baby who was feeling his oats and jumping around.  He would crouch down on his long legs and then pop up and bounce around – so cute. I got photos and videos of them.

When I got to the lions, papa decided to start roaring and I was able to get video of that, too. All of the cats seemed to be really enjoying the fresh cool weather, and posed for photos… except for Jillian. There was a zookeeper sitting out in front of the tiger’s enclosure, and pointed out where the tiger was supposed to be: in the dark under a cave-rock. I couldn’t see anything.  Jillian is new to the zoo, so she’s not habituated to her enclosure yet. I’m sure all the screaming children running around wasn’t helping her any…

There was a female Mallard who already had a brood of about seven ducklings with her; early season babies… and when I got to the chimpanzee enclosure, near the end of my walk, they were all sitting on the ground eating leaves or dozing in the warm sun…  I think I ended up with over 1400 photos!

Was Able to See a Killdeer Lay Her Egg Today

I actually had today off but I got up at the regular time anyway to get to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge by 7:00 am.  It was about 43° when I headed out and got up to 65° by the late afternoon. Sunny and tiny bit breezy all day… It was gorgeous.

I had planned months ago to take today off because I was able to get a spot in one of the photo blinds there.  I picked the blind I did because it’s handicapped accessible.  But today it wasn’t… there was too much water around it to get to it, and was flooded inside (not deep, but enough to make it unusable).  I also have a reservation for a blind at the Colusa refuge for the weekend, but that one is under water right now, so I won’t be able to get to that one either.  Not being able to use the blind today was kind of disappointing, but the day was so beautiful, I just drove the auto tour route – twice – and got to see lots of stuff anyway. I burned through 4 batteries and took over 1600 photos!  Yikes!

CLICK HERE to see an album of some of the photos and video snippets.

As soon as a I drove into the refuge, I was a greeted by the sight of a small flock of Snowy Egrets feeding in a shallow pond by the entrance, so I was able to get some shots of them right off the bat.  Along with the egrets were a few American Wigeons, and one of the males swam right up within view, so I was able to get some good photos of him, too.  That was an auspicious start to my day.

I also saw White-Faced-Ibis, Northern Shovelers, a Flicker, Golden-Crowned Sparrows, White-Crowned Sparrows, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Song Sparrows, a Red-Tailed Hawk, Pied-Billed Grebes, Great Egrets, Gadwalls, Black Phoebes, Black-Necked Stilts, Western Pond Turtles, Green-Winged Teals, Bufflehead ducks, a  House Sparrow, Double-Crested Cormorants, nests, Western Meadowlark, Mallard, Snow Geese, Northern Harrier, Great Blue Heron, American White Pelicans, a Yellow-Rumped Warbler, American Coots, Cinnamon Teals,  White-Fronted Geese and several California Ground Squirrels. I also got a glimpse of a muskrat.  He was in the water along the edge of the road.  I saw him, he saw me and poof! he was out of there.

There were lots and lots of jackrabbits out and about, and lots of Ring-Necked Pheasants.  I saw a pair of American Avocets in a distant pond, one was in its breeding plumage and the other wasn’t.  I’d seen Avocets in their breeding colors before, but I’d never seen a “plain” one, so that was a first for me.

I found some Marsh Wrens weaving their nests among the tules… and lots of the tiny males singing away trying to attract females. I got a little video of one of the males working on his nests, and some photos of him emerging from one of them.  Further along the route, I came across a spot where a pair of Bushtits were building their nest, and got photos and video snippets of them, too.  It’s that time of year.  All of the birds are working on home-building projects.

At the end of the auto-tour route I came across a pair of Killdeer.  Mama was sitting down in the dirt and papa was patrolling around her.  They were head-bobbing, so I thought maybe they were getting ready to mate.  I didn’t think they had a nest there because even the though there was a slight depression in the ground, it wasn’t in the kind of dense gravel Killdeer normally prefer (so their spotted eggs blend into the stones). As the head-bobbing continued, I noticed the female was fanning her tail a little bit, so I turned on the video option on my camera expecting to see a mating… But as I watched, the mama surprised me and laid an egg! Literally.  A little grey and black spotted egg.  That was so cool – and what a great way to end my day at the refuge!  I’m a little worried about their nest, though.  It’s very near the auto route and right along a spot where some people hike through to get to the pedestrian trails…

I headed back home and got to the house a little before 3:00 pm.

Mostly Jackrabbits, Marsh Wrens and an Eagle

I was feeling pretty burnt out, so I took a mental health day today, and went over to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge with Sergeant Margie. It’s supposed to rain all weekend, so I was hoping it would be nice today… and it was.  It was in the 40’s when I got there and about 59° when I left.  There was a high overcast, but no rain.

At the refuge, there were lots of jackrabbits everywhere and they’re always fun to watch.  And the tules were full of little male Marsh Wrens and their rattling calls, trying to attract females. The place also seemed overrun with young and old White-Crowned Sparrows. They were everywhere! Hah! As I was photographing some of them, I saw a large bird fly onto a pile of broken tules behind the car, so I backed up to see what it might be… It was a handsome juvenile Cooper’s Hawk that posed for me for several seconds before flying off again.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos and video snippets.

There weren’t any big flocks of birds, but there seemed to be a really good variety of them.  I saw  Northern Shovelers, American Wigeons, Gadwalls, Black-Necked Stilts, a few Killdeer, a Raven, several Turkey Vultures, Red-Tailed Hawks, Greater Yellowlegs, Ring-Necked Pheasants, Pied-Billed Grebes, Western Meadowlarks, Red-Winged Blackbirds, White-Faced Ibis, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, several Hairy Woodpeckers, a Great Blue Heron, a pair of California Towhees, Cinnamon Teals, and lots more.

When I stopped to get some photos and video snippets of Eared Grebes, I could see some other movement in the water.  At first I couldn’t figure out what I was looking at: something dark rolling under the surface…  Then a head popped up.  It was an otter feeding in the shallow water!  I got some video of him chomping on something, but he moved so quickly it was hard to keep up with him.  As soon as I focused the camera, he dove down into the water, then popped up somewhere else… It’s always fun to see those guys, though, so I was pleased with the little bit of footage that I got.

The big payout of the day was getting to see a Bald Eagle.  It was sitting in a scag of a tree along the auto-tour route by itself, and was facing right toward the car.  I was able to drive up within about 15 feet of the tree to get some photos.  At one point, the eagle looked straight down at me – just before it flew off.  Neat!

There was also a pond where I could see the gold and silver humped backs of carp… I think they were spawning; swimming closely alongside one another and rolling around.  It’s unusual for there to be carp in there.  They must’ve been brought in with the flood waters from the river and then stranded when the waters receded again…

 

When I was done at the Sacramento refuge, I drove over to the Colusa refuge, but they were still totally flooded and all of the auto-tour routes were closed.  I got out and had lunch with Sergeant Margie at their picnic area, and then walked part of their hiking trail.  Sergeant Margie hadn’t been doing well on walks for a while; he’s slowing down in his old age. But he did really well on the walk and even trotted ahead of me for most of the way. He must’ve needed a “day off” to feel better, too.