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So Many Tree Swallows, 03-25-18

I got up around 7:30 this morning and headed out with the dog to the Cosumnes River Preserve and William Land Park.

At the Cosumnes Preserve, I was surprised to see dozens of Tree Swallows flying all over the place and congregating in large numbers among the tules and on the road! I guess they were sitting on the road to get warm, but I’d never seen Tree Swallows do that before. There were adults and juveniles in the mix. Because there were so many of the Swallows around, lots of the photos I took there had photo-bombing Swallows in them.

CLICK HERE to see the album of photos.

I walked along the boardwalk and around an adjacent pond, and saw a few birds (maybe about 18 species). There were a lot of Long-Billed Dowitchers “slumming” with the ducks, Killdeer, and other shorebirds; and the tiny Marsh Wrens were singing their buzzy songs from both sides of the boardwalk.

I was there for about 90 minutes and then headed to William Land Park.

Lots of Wrens and Squirrels, 03-24-18

Around 6:30 am I headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge with the dog. They’ve opened the loop to the permanent wetlands area, so I wanted to see what that looked like these days – and I needed a nature fix. The mountains around us, which aren’t too terribly tall, had snow on their summits, and a light dusting of snow all down their flanks (which had pretty much melted by the end of the day today). It was 44º when I got to the refuge and around 51º when I headed back home. Clear and bright, though. I got some nice scenery shots while I was out there.

I saw most of the usual suspects while I was out on the preserve; and for the most part I had the place all to myself. I only saw two or three other cars on the auto route when I was driving it (although, a phalanx of cars showed up just as I was leaving. I assumed it was a birding group who were there to see the fly-out at dusk.)

CLICK HERE for the album of photos and videos.

Jackrabbits and Cottontails were out, and I also got a glimpse of a Striped Skunk and a small herd of mule deer. Otherwise, it was mostly birds. The huge-huge flocks are gone now, but there’s more variety in the different kinds of species you can see out there (if you know where and how to look for them.)

I saw American Coots, American Wigeons, Killdeer, Red-Winged Blackbirds, several Great Egrets, Western Meadowlarks, some Northern Harriers, White-Faced Ibis, Great Blue Herons, Song Sparrows, Green-Winged Teals, Northern Shovelers, White-Crowned Sparrows, a couple of Red-Tailed Hawks, lots of Double-Crested Cormorants, Pied-Billed Grebes, Ruddy Ducks, Ring-Necked Ducks, Cinnamon Teals, Golden-Crowned Sparrows, a Belted Kingfisher, Audubon’s Warblers, Black-Necked Stilts, Tree Swallows, Long-Billed Dowitchers, Snowy Egrets, Gadwalls, a Red-Shouldered Hawk, some Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Goldfinches, House Sparrows, an Anna’s Hummingbird, and several Crows. And, of course, this time of year the Marsh Wrens are out everywhere building their nests and singing their buzzy songs trying to attract females. I got lots of photos of them.

At one spot along the route, I came across an area where there were several Ibis and Snow Egrets gathered, and a Great Egret standing nearby. One of the Ibis caught a crayfish in the water, but as soon as it lifted it up, about three of the Snowy Egrets went after it, making the Ibis drop its meal. One of the Snowys picked it up and tried to fly off with it, but then the great Egret flew over and body-slammed the Snowy making it drop the crayfish, too. The Great Egret then had to search through the turbid water to find the crayfish again so he could eat it himself.

I saw only one of the Ibis starting to get its white breeding face, and the Snowy Egrets I saw aren’t showing any signs of their breeding plumage yet. But some of the Great Egrets are… and their faces are turning neon green: a signal to other Great Egrets that they’re ready and available for mating.

I also got quite a few photos of California Ground Squirrels. I’m just enamored with those little guys. If I had the time and funding, I’d love to be able to a long-tern field study on them. This is the time of year when the females have all set up their natal chambers in their burrows and are lookin’ for love. I saw one pair of the squirrels though in which the female was not at all interested in the male who kept harassing her. Maybe she already had babies in her burrow she needed to take of, or she just wasn’t that into him, but their antics were hysterical to watch. I got a little bit of it on video and in photos, but they just don’t do the comedy justice. The male first approached the female from the front, sniffing at her, reaching out to her with a paw, touching his nose to hers. But when he tried to move in further to get a whiff of her goodies, she jumped straight up into the air about a foot and ran off. The male chased her, and the two of them went running down the road in front of my car, tails up, the male body-slamming the female occasionally to try to get her to slow down or stop for him. More jumping. More running. Then they took a break for about a second before the male tried to approach the female again and… More jumping. More running. Hah! It was exhausting to watch them. I don’t know if he ever got her or not, but it was valiant effort.

The permanent wetlands loop was kind of disappointing. They’re redone the dirt road there and cut down all of the tall grass and most of the roadside vegetation. That makes viewing easier, but because there aren’t any places now near the road with high vegetation, there’s no place for the critters to hide or eat or build nests. So there was “nothing” to see. The refuge is also going to drain the big pond there, which means for a brief period of time, as the waters shrink and the water-living bugs and crustaceans are forced into a smaller and smaller living space, the birds will have a feast. When that happens there will be a lot of activity and photo ops. But the draining of that pond also means that the Clark’s and Western Grebes won’t be able to build their floating nests on the water – which is usually a big draw for photographers. So, this might be a disappointing year for photographers at the refuge.

((The draining of the pond is done about every years to get rid of the invasive carp who get into the basin when the area floods and then get trapped there when the flood waters recede. The refuge also has to till the pond bottom to expose it to the sun, so that all of the bacteria and viruses in the accumulated bird droppings can get irradiated.))

I was at the refuge for about 5 hours and then headed back home.

A Western Tanager and Others, 04-30-17

I got up around 6:15 and was out the door by 6:30 to head over to the American River Bend Park for a walk.  It got up to 82º today.

At the River bend Park, the elderberry bushes are getting their flowers on them, and the buds on the Buckeye trees are just starting to open. Pipevines, grape vines and manroot vines abound, many of them vying for the same spots in the sun; and the black walnut trees are heavy with catkins. I was hoping to get some photos of Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly eggs, and was a little surprised to find that the caterpillars had already hatched out of most of them!  There were little first and second instar caterpillars everywhere…

CLICK HERE TO SEE THE ENTIRE ALBUM. More videos will be added shortly.

I also got to see a few Tussock Moth caterpillars, which are always cool. I even got one to crawl on my hand for a little while… (They’re the moths in which the female is wingless.  She sit in the tree she was born in and waits for the males to come to her.)

And I also came across an area where a bunch of Elder Moth caterpillars (a kind of cutworm) were coiled up on young elderberry bushes; some had curled themselves into the leaves, and one leaf curl had a shiny new pupa case in it… Neato.  [The Elder Moths are white and super-fuzzy and have green “staining” on their wings.]

A couple of other cool things happened on this walk, as well.  The most exciting was when I was trying to get photos of a pair of Bewick’s Wrens that were bringing food to their hatchlings.  The wrens were nesting in a tree cavity BUT, the tree was lying on its side on the ground, so they had to go through grass to get to the opening.  I was trying to figure out how to shoot through the grass and eliminate the heavy shadows around the opening to the nest, when I heard screeching in a tree behind me. I turned around to find a handsome Cooper’s Hawk up in the tree… and as soon as I looked at it, it started buzz-bombing me.  It dove straight at my head, so I lifted my camera up to deflect it.  Then it landed up in another tree, and I was taking photos of it there, it dove at me again… and again… and again… first from one direction, then from another. I don’t know if I was too close to its nest, or if it had a fledgling on the ground, or if I was too close to its breakfast, but it was NOT happy.

I got as many photos of it as I dared, and then walked off before it had the chance to gouge out my eyes.  (I tried getting video of it. I got a few frames of it screaming and diving at my head, and then the rest of the video is just a bunch rapid shaking and me shouting in exclamation.  I might add that to the album just because it’s funny.

I never did get a photo of that wren’s nesting site; maybe next time. But I did get some video of wrens singing and “beeping”, so that was something of a consolation.

Another cool thing: I saw some European Starlings picking stuff off the side of a tree, so I went over to see what so interesting to them.  A huge portion of the tree was literally covered in ants; a whole bivouac of them including some winged ones. I don’t know if they were moving in or moving out, but there were hundreds of them.  While I was getting some video of that, I noticed something “yellow” in the periphery of my vision, so I looked up and… Wow, it was a gorgeous Western Tanager! I’d never seen one at the park before.  It grabbed some of the winged ants and flew off, and then came back and sat on the low branch of a nearby tree for quite a while. In order to get pictures of it, I had to shoot through the leaves of the tree closest to me, a little hole about the size of my fist, and then get the camera to focus on the bird and not the leafy edges of the hole.  I got quite a few good photos, including a cute one of the bird cocking its head to one side. I was super-pleased.

Aaaannnd… I also got to see an Ash-Throated Flycatcher. He was sitting on the top of a small, broken, dead  tree trunk, but his back was to me so, all I could see with this powderpuff of feathers on the top of his head.  Then the bird flew off into another branch, and I could see its whole body… Yep, Flycatcher.  They’re not uncommon birds, but I think I’ve only seen maybe three or four altogether at the River Bend Park.

On the way out of the park, I walked by a spot where a couple of Tree Swallows were making all sorts of noise. That always alerts me to the notion that there’s a nest nearby, and sure enough, I was able to spot it as one of the birds exited the cavity.  I had to climb over a (very low) fence and then find a position where I could view the tree without interfering with the birds and watched it for about 10 or 15 minutes. I got quite a few photos of the birds in and near the nest hole… and even watched as one of them chased off an interloper when it got too close. That was a nice way to end the walk.  (I actually walked for a little more than 3½ hours before heading home.)