Tag Archives: beaver sign

Mostly Pheasants and Marsh Wrens, 03-21-19

I got up a little before 6:00 am and headed out with the dog to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  I hadn’t been out there in a few months, so I was anxious to see what it was looking like.  I arrived there around 8:00 am and it was about 44° outside; when I left around noon, it was about to about 63°.  For the first half of my drive, the full moon was out, and all I could think was: I bet the Tiger Salamanders in Dunnigan are up and running around.  Hah!  Too much of a naturalist.

There “wasn’t much” to see at the preserve. Most of the large flocks of birds have moved on, and the summering birds haven’t arrived yet. What there was to see was mostly Ring-Necked Pheasants and Marsh Wrens… But there were other species as well, most of them too far away to get a decent photo of them. So, the day was a little frustrating for me. I did get to see some Black Phoebes building their nests under an overhang on the sign at the first park-and-stretch site, a pair of male pheasants squaring off against one another (although they were more interested in breakfast than in fighting), and a Great Egret fishing for crawdads in one of the sloughs.  One of the male Ring-Necked Pheasants jumped up onto a fallen log and “crowed”, then jumped back down and walked along the edge of a shallow levy to show off in the morning sun. He was unusually cooperative, so I got quite a few photos of him.  I saw a few Red-Tailed Hawks and some Northern Harriers (in flight); no eagles out today.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

Not a lot of wildflowers are out yet; it’s been too chilly for them. But I did see some Fiddleneck, and the pink Squirreltail Barley was all over the place.

I saw a small herd of deer cutting across one part of the wetlands, and one of the does looked VERY pregnant. Her belly was almost halfway down to her “knees”.

The Pool 2 Extension Loop was open, which was a nice surprise.  They’ve “manicured” some of the banks of the pool, though, knocking down and bending over some of the tules – which gives you a better view of the water, but means there are fewer hiding places for the birds (like the Bitterns), so you don’t get to see them. Can’t win.

The one thing that was out in abundance was the midges; they were everywhere, some of them in deep warming balls. Lots of food for the insectivores!

I drove around the auto tour route for about 4 hours and then headed home, getting there around 1:30 pm or 2:00.

Species List:

1. American Coot, Fulica americana
2. American Pipit, Anthus rubescens
3. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
4. Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
5. Black-tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus
6. Brown-Headed Cowbird, Molothrus ater
7. Bufflehead, Bucephala albeola
8. Bullfrog, American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus
9. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
10. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
11. Cattail, Broadleaf Cattail, Typha latifolia
12. Cinnamon Teal, Anas cyanoptera
13. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Mule Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
14. Crayfish, Crawfish, Crawdad, Red Swamp Crayfish, Procambarus clarkii
15. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auritus
16. Fiddleneck, Common Fiddleneck, Amsinckia intermedia
17. Great Egret, Ardea alba
18. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons
19. Greater Yellowlegs, Tringa melanoleuca
20. Green-Winged Teal, Anas carolinensis
21. House Sparrow, Passer domesticus
22. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferus
23. Loggerhead Shrike, Lanius ludovicianus
24. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris
25. Meadowlark, Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
26. Midge, Tanytarsus sp.
27. Northern Harrier, Circus cyaneus
28. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata
29. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
30. Pink Barley, Squirreltail Barley, Foxtail, Hordeum jubatum ssp.
31. Red-Eared Slider Turtle, Trachemys scripta elegans
32. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
33. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
34. Ring-Necked Duck, Aythya collaris
35. Ring-Necked Pheasant, Phasianus colchicus
36. Ruddy Duck, Oxyura jamaicensis
37. Savannah Sparrow, Passerculus sandwichensis
38. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula
39. Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia
40. Teasel, Wild Teasel, Dipsacus fullonum
41. Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus var. occidentalis
42. Western Kingbird, Tyrannus verticalis
43. Western Pond Turtle, Pacific Pond Turtle, Actinemys marmorata
44. White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys
45. White-Faced Ibis, Plegadis chihi

CalNat Field Trip #2, Lake Solano Park. 03-03-18

I led a California Naturalists field trip to Lake Solano Park today. The first thing we saw when we entered the park were two peacocks roosting high in a tree over our heads… and a male Phainopepla that was looking for mistletoe berries to eat.

It was originally the idea that half of the group would go in one direction and the other half of the group would go in another – so we could cover the whole park — but all of the students wanted to come with me, so we moved in one big group.

The walk was a productive one, however: we got to show students different kinds of plants including flowering Pipevine, Manroot vines with seed-pods forming on them already, and Northern Giant Horsetail (Equisetum telmateia braunii ), a subspecies of horsetail that grows in western North America. Although commonly referred to as “Horsetail Grass” it’s actually a kind of fern that grown simultaneously in fertile and non-fertile forms. We saw both the non-fertile green stems (that are photosynthetic), and the yellowish fertile spore-bearing stems in the same area. The spore-bearing stems die as soon as their spores are released, so there were a lot of them around looking like they’d “fainted”. Although the normal mature size of these ferns is about 4-5 feet tall, they can get as tall as 7 feet high. (So the ones we saw were just “babies”.) In another month or so, they’ll come up to my chest. (Both the infertile forms and the fertile forms grown from the same rhizomes of the same plant – so one feeds the overall fern while the other tends to reproduction.)

There were also plenty of waterfowl to see including Canada Geese, Double-Crested Cormorants, Common Goldeneyes, Mallards, American Wigeons, Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons (which seemed to be almost everywhere we looked), and a Green Heron.

When one student took a close-up photo of a sprout of mistletoe, she realized there was a bug on it and asked me if I could identify it for her. I’d never seen anything like it before. It looked like a scale bug, but I wasn’t positive, so I took a bunch of close-ups of it and then researched it after I got home. It was Icerya purchasi — (my brain first saw that as “Ikea Purchases”; hah!) — and it’s common name is Cottony Cushion Scale. It’s considered a pest species and usually attacks citrus trees, but it’s known to parasitize mistletoe. So the parasitic mistletoe has a parasite of its own. The one we saw was in the medium stage of its development, before it gets its big white cushiony behind.

We also saw a family of about 5 river otters in Putah Creek, but they were too far away (along the distant shore) for me to get any good photos of video of them. Another hard-to-photograph find was a male Belted Kingfisher that kept flying back and forth on the opposite side of the river. “See that white dot on the tree over there? That’s his breast.” Hah!

The find that all of the students really enjoyed was being able to spot the tiny Western Screech Owl, who was sleeping in the same tree I’d seen him in before. His tree is behind one of the most remote restrooms in the park, so I had the students follow me around the building, then file in behind me at the adjacent picnic tables, before I showed them where the owl was. I used a laser pointer to help them pinpoint his location. It was gratifying to hear all of the ooo’s and ahhhs, and the clicking of camera shutters once they spotted him. If nothing else, I’d been able to give them the treat of seeing something they’d never seen in the wild before. And some of the students didn’t even know the park was there, so it was nice surprise to them, too.

Along the walk (and we only covered half of the park in 4 hours!), I also pointed out stuff like Turkey Tail fungus, Black Jelly Roll fungus, different kinds of lichen, and some Barometer Earthstars. They’d never seen anything like that before, so I demonstrated for them how the spores are released from the puffer-belly in the center of the fungus – and one of the students took a video of that.

It’s hard for me to lead a walk, point out and hold specimens, AND take photos of my own, so I didn’t get as many pictures as the students themselves did. I told them they have to share them with me!!

On the way back to the parking lot, where folks gathered to share to lunches and decompress, my coworker Bill spotted some scat along the shore. So I put on a nitrile glove and picked some of it up. We concluded it was probably otter scat, considering all of the crayfish parts we found in it – including an intact, undigested antenna. I told the students Bill was “great at finding all sorts of crap”, and everyone laughed, including Bill.

While we were having our lunches, too, someone noticed an aggregate of Western Boxelder Bugs so I was able to give them a mini lesson on those. Some of the bugs were having sex, so the mass kind of looked like an orgy, but most of the bugs were just huddled together to keep themselves warm. (By that time of the day it was about 46º and the rain was just starting.) The species we see here in California is Boisea rubrolineata. Their host trees are ash, maple, Goldenrain trees, and soapberry; and they usually eat nothing but the seeds.

We all left the park around 12:30 pm, and headed back home. I took the long way around, going back to Woodland and then on to Sacramento, so the drive took me over an hour… but it was neat to see all of the sofa clouds and the storm squall starting to move in and cover the valley.

Mostly Snipes on Christmas Eve

I did some journaling and checked my email before heading over to the Cosumnes River Preserve

The temperature gauge said it was 38º at the preserve, but it felt much colder than that. My fingers were “freezing” every time I took some photos, and I had to stop now and then to plunge my hands into my pockets until they thawed out again. Brrr!  It remained overcast for the whole day and never got above 50º (lingering around 45º for quite a while).

I walked around the main wetland area near the boardwalk, then crossed the street, and took the wetland path down to the nature center, then back up to the boardwalk area again.  There didn’t seem to be very many birds out, but considering the chill, I wasn’t really surprised.

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

I did get to see a LOT of Wilson’s Snipes; they seemed to be everywhere. And I also got to see some Ring-Necked Ducks which I think are so handsome. The males have an iridescent brown ring around their neck, but you can’t see it unless the duck lifts up its head and stretched its neck (usually to show off to the females). They’re always a treat to see because they’re only in this area for a short time each winter.

There  were also a couple of Turkey Vultures who had found dead stuff to snack on. One looked like it was working on the carcass of a Coot, but the other one looked like it had a goose. The thing was too big for the vulture to lift or move…

On the wetland trail I found some earthball fungus commonly called “Dead Man’s Foot” because it looks kind of like a rotting toe-less foot sticking up out of the ground. The things are gross, but they’re interesting at the same time. As they mature and ripen, the whole thing turns into a huge lump of brown spores…  I also found some mistletoe (how appropriate) that was full of berries, so I pulled down a sprig to get some photos of it… and then left it for the birds and squirrels who love those things.

I walked for about 3 hours and then headed back to the house.

Lots of Sandhill Cranes on a VERY Windy Day

It was VERY windy this morning and warmer than it has been; around 47º when I got up.

I did some journaling before getting dressed and then headed out to the Cosumnes River Preserve for a walk.

The wind gusts were so strong, they sometimes almost bowled me over or pushed me along the trail. And figuring the wind into the temperature factor it felt FREEZING out there! I’d brought my dragon scarf with me, so I wrapped that around my head and face to help keep me warm. ((I have quite a few scarves that I interchange as the mood strikes me. Monica has knit me several pretty, ruffly ones; Marty gave me a knit “infinity scarf” – it’s a loop; and Sara had given me one that looks like an otter. My dragon scarf is red, orange and white and looks like a Chinese dragon.))

CLICK HERE for the photo album.

The buffeting wind also meant that there weren’t a whole lot of birding opportunities around. Al of the birds were hunkered down, trying to get out of the gusts. I saw a small kestrel struggling to fly against the wind. It gave up several times to catch its breath on a fence post.

The one species I saw quite a lot of today, though, was the Sandhill Crane. There were a couple of flocks gathered in the ponds near the nature center. I noticed that in these groups, the immature birds were in the center of the flock where they were more protected from the wind by the adults’ bodies.

I also noticed that one of the crane had a bright green band on one leg (above the “knee”) and a pale orange band on the other. I couldn’t get a clear shot of the bands, though, so I couldn’t read them.

There was a little Black Phoebe that, along one part of the trail, would pose on a twig to let me take photos, then fly on ahead of me, stop and pose for me when I caught up to it, then fly on ahead of me, stop and pose for me when I caught up to it, then fly on ahead of me, stop and pose for me when I caught up to it… I think it did that about five times! When I quit taking photos, it flew off. Hah!

Where the trail was shielded from the wind by the trees, walking was great. I loved the clean crisp air and sunshine. But in other spots, where the wind was gusting fiercely, I couldn’t stead the camera to take any descent photos. The wind kept knocking it around. I walked for about 3 hours and then headed home.

Me and the dragon scarf

A Thanksgiving River Otter, 11-23-17

Around 7:00 am I headed out to the Cosumnes River Preserve for a walk. It was super foggy all the way to the preserve. In some places, the fog was so thick I could only see a car length or two in front of me. When I got to the preserve, the fog had lifted up a little bit, but was still hovering near the ground.  I wasn’t expecting to see a lot in this kind of weather. The dark skies fool the birds into thinking it’s earlier in the day than it really is, so they sleep in a little bit. One good thing about fog, though, is that is sometimes clings to the spiders’ webs, and you can get some interesting shot of those (if the light hits them just right.)

CLICK HERE for the album of photos and video snippets.

I drove down Bruceville Road before going to the preserve’s boardwalk parking lot to see if there was anything interesting out there. I stopped at one place to get web photos and came across a very-late-in-the-season praying mantis, a pregnant female who was probably looking for somewhere to lay her eggs.  It was chilly and wet out there, around 49º, so she didn’t really want to move to do anything, but she posed for me for a little while and climbed up onto the sleeve of my jacket (mostly for the warmth, I think.)

At the preserve itself, there wasn’t a whole lot to see: mostly the little shorebirds and some Northern Pintails and Green-Winged Teals. There were quite a few American Pipits and lots and lots of sparrows.  I walked the length of the boardwalk and back and then decided to walk up the road a bit to see if there was anything interesting along the sloughs that run parallel to the road. There were two guys fishing in one of the ponds near the parking lot (which I think is illegal) and I saw something in the water across from them. At first I thought maybe they had snagged their lines on some crud on the bottom of the pond and were dragging it through the water.  But when I looked back at their fishing poles, I could see that the lines were “soft” and they had bobbers floating on the surface.  So, I looked at the disturbance in the water again, and saw what I thought might have been a snout poking up… But it was gone again before I could see for certain.  Then it reappeared further down the length of the pond and into the spot where the pond narrowed into the slough. So I figured since I was walking that way anyway, I’d try to keep an eye out for whatever it was.

After walking about 20 feet, I saw something dark on the opposite side of the slough, so I moved slowly and quietly between the oak trees on my side to see if I could get a better look at whatever it was. And…

SCORE!

It was a river otter!

It was grooming itself and rolling in a patch of high grass it had squished down. It stayed there for about 5 minutes which allowed me to get lots of photos and some video snippets of it before it went back in the water again.  Coolness! That made my morning! …And no one else saw it but me, so I feel kind of “privileged”.

I walked around a bit more, and then drove the loop around Bruceville Road once more before heading home. On Bruceville, I saw a pair of Sandhill Cranes grazing in the short grass and got some video of them before leaving the area and getting back on the freeway.  Altogether, I was at and around the preserve for about 2½ hours.

Well, that Baby Rattlesnake was a Surprise, 05-10-17

I got up early this morning, and headed out to the American River Bend Park around 6:30 am for a walk. It was gorgeous outside today; 53º when I headed out, and high of 69º all day with a slight breeze…

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos and videos.

At the River Bend Park, I was looking for Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars, and they were in abundance. I think they’ll start going into their chrysalises in another week or so; they’re getting so big and fat.

The wild grasses throughout the park are waist high in most places, and there were lots and lots of Dog-Tail Grass and Rattlesnake (Big Quaking) Grass everywhere; more than I had ever seen there before. (And that, I’m assuming is because of all of the rain we had earlier in the year.) I was surprised to see Miniature Lupine, Tule Peas, Elegant Clarkia and Bush Monkey Flowers still in bloom in some places, along with all of the common vetch and the Woodland Stars…

I found a pair of House Wrens tending to their babies and bringing them all sorts of bugs.  Once I figured out where the nest was (in a tree cavity) I stood next to the tree for a little while – and I could actually hear the babies making their raspy “feed me” noises inside the tree.  Hah!

Some interesting/weird/neat things along the walk included being able to see green bunny poop for the first time.  Rabbits and hares usually poop twice. The first time they do it, the pellets are green… and then the rabbit or hare eats the pellets and puts them through their digestive system a second time to make sure they get all of the nutrients out of them. When the animal poops a second time, the pellets are brown. (I must’ve scared the rabbit off before it had a chance to re-eat it droppings) … I’d never seen the green version before, so I thought that was neat. I know, I know… it takes a “naturalist” to get excited about bunny poop.  Hah-2!

The second odd thing was a female Mallard sitting in a tree. Mallards usually nest on the ground and sometimes on floating mats near the water, but this one was checking out a spot in a tree near the riverside. Flood waters early in the year, had brought grassy debris into the branches about halfway up the tree, and when the waters retreated, the grassy mass was left behind.  The mama Mallard was checking it out… poking around in the mass, pushing on spots, settling down and then standing again, like she was testing to see if it would work for her.  Papa Mallard was in the water below the branches, fussing and splashing around, like he did want her in the tree.  Eventually, she left the site and went down to meet the male in the water.  They swam off together, and then I saw mama flying off across the river. They must’ve had a fight about it.  Hah-3!

The third thing was a real surprise. I was looking over a tree that had been felled by a beaver, when I saw a “thin black thing” flicking out from under the dislocated shaggy bark on the side of the tree.  At first I thought it was an earwig’s butt… but it was moving too fast. So I looked closer and realized it was forked tongue! Then I could see the snake’s face but not its body, so at first I didn’t know what kind of snake it was. Good thing I didn’t reach for it! I knew the rattlers were emerging and having babies this time of year, so I got a stick and lifted the bark over the tree… and there was a baby rattlesnake!  He was so young he only had one button on his tail… and he wasn’t rattling at me… Baby rattlers are usually born in groups, so I figured where there was one, there might be more, so I backed away from the tree and headed back to the car.  I actually walked for about 3 ½ hours up to that point, so I’d gotten a lot of good exercise in already.