Tag Archives: Black-Necked Stilts

Still Not a Lot of Variety Yet, 11-12-18

I got up around 7:00 am, fed the dog his breakfast, and then went out to the Cosumnes River Preserve for a walk. There was still a lot of smoke in the air from the Camp Fire.

The preserve still doesn’t have enough water in it, so it was something of a disappointment, but I did get to see several different species of birds including fly-overs of small flocks of Sandhill Cranes and Tundra Swans. In their Facebook posts, the preserve had been talking about large flocks of Snow Geese in the surrounding rice fields, but I didn’t see any.  There were loads of greater White-Fronted Geese, though.  I also saw a few

The Coots were out feeding near the viewing platform of the boardwalk area, and I got to do my naturalist thing when two older women walked up and asked me if the “black birds were Moor Hens”.  I told them about the Coots and the Gallinules (moorhens) and how they were different, and then was able to point out a Northern Pintail to them, and a Black Phoebe. So, they got a free lesson today.  There was also some kind Rail near the viewing platform, but she flew off into the tules before I could get a really good look at her.  Maybe a Virginia Rail, but I’m not sure. It seems early in the season to see one of those.

I also saw Red-Winged Blackbirds, Killdeer, and Black-Necked Stilts which are all kind of ubiquitous in the area, along with a few  White-Crowned Sparrows, Savannah Sparrows, Western Meadowlarks, Northern Shovelers, House Finches, Great Egrets, Cinnamon Teals, Green-Winged Teals, a Greater Yellowlegs, some American Pipits, two or three Wilson’s Snipes, Red-Tailed Hawks, a Red-Shouldered Hawk, some male Lesser Goldfinches, and Song Sparrows.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

I was surprised when a small flock of Cedar Waxwings flew in and occupied the oak trees along the slough for a while. They’re primarily berry-eaters, and there were no berries around the slough this time of year.

As I was leaving the boardwalk area of the preserve, I stopped to use the little outhouse there, and found a couple of female praying mantises that apparently had just laid their egg cases on the side of the building. I also found a mud bird’s nest (probably a Phoebe’s) and some wasps’ nests (both from Paper Wasps and Mud-Dauber Wasps). I walked for about 3 hours and then headed back home, getting there around noon.

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.

Vacation Day #7: Friday the 13th at the Wildlife Refuge

Friday the 13th. DAY SEVEN OF MY FALL VACATION… I got up around 6:30 am and headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. The weather was lovely all day: 43º when I left the house and around 73º when I got home.  I thought it was going to be really smoky by the preserve, but the air was mostly clear; just a tiny bit of haze in the air.

At the refuge, I wanted to see how far along they were in flooding their seasonal wetland areas, and if there were any birds migrating in yet. The first half of the auto tour was pretty much “dry”, and the extension loop to the permanent wetlands was closed, so I thought the day was going to be a bust. But then I found a few areas where the water was creeping in, and the birds with it.

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

In one spot, where the slough runs parallel to the auto-tour route, I saw a Great Egret, a young Black-Crowned Night Heron, a Snowy Egret and an American Bittern feeding in the vegetation along and in the slough.

The Greater White-Fronted Geese were starting to move in and there were quite a few large flocks of them, and some flocks of Snow Geese as well… but the numbers aren’t at their maximum yet.  I also saw some Mallards and some Northern Shoveler ducks, but none of the other breeds that usually occupy the refuge… Those should show up over the next few months.  One species I saw quite a few of was the Wilson’s Snipe. I was kind of surprised by how many I saw…

I found the Great Horned Owl twins sitting up in a tree along the route, but they were deep in the shade in the high branches, so it was difficult to get a clear photos of them. I got a few shots, but they’re only so-so…

I saw a California Ground Squirrel snatch the head off of a teasel thistle. Those teasel heads are HARD and super-prickly – they used to be used to comb textiles.  I was really impressed by how deftly the squirrel was able to pluck it off the stem and then strip it down to get at the seeds.

I didn’t see a lot of hawks, but I did see a Northern Harrier doing its strafing run along the ground, and a Red-Tailed Hawk sitting on one of the small “islands” in the shallow water…

I spent about 3½ at the refuge and then headed home.

More than 140 Egrets in One Pond!

DAY 9 OF MY VACATION.  I got up around 5:45 this morning and headed out to the Cosumnes River Preserve.  I hadn’t been there in quite a while and wanted to see how things were going there (after all of the recent floods and whatnot).  It was another perfect weather day: 43º when I headed out; 64º when I headed back…

Because I was there so early, I knew the gate to the boardwalk parking area would still be closed, so I found a safe place on the side of the road, as near to the gate as I could get without blocking it, and parked there.  Then I walked into the preserve.  The majority of the water was gone from there, too.  But there were still a few large ponds sitting around… and one of them was brimming with Egrets (most Great Egrets, but several Snowy Egrets as well), all of them glistening white in the early morning sunlight.  I took my time walking up to the pond because I didn’t want to scare the birds off, but they were so busy eating and playing “¿Quién es más macho?” with one another that they didn’t even notice me, and I was able to get pretty close to them. I counted up to 140 egrets before I quit… That is a LOT of birds!

CLICK HERE to see the full album of photos and videos.

After the flood waters from the river recede, the standing ponds are filled with fish, crawdads, frogs, tadpoles and other tasties, and the birds just chow down.  I saw some of the egrets catching fish as big or bigger than my hand… so large I didn’t think the birds would be able to swallow them.  But each one managed to down its catch without totally gagging on it.  I was watching one egret trying to get a carp in the right position to swallow, and the big fish kept smacking the bird in the side of the head with its tail.  Bonk, bonk, bonk…! It wasn’t going down without a fight. Hahaha!

Some of the Great Egrets were still in their long breeding plumage and green faces, and those were the ones who were just walking around trying to be butch; sometimes chasing off other birds, or jumping into the air for three-second foot-to-foot combat.  And all of the birds were making their loud croaking noises; sounded like a herd of hogs…

Also around the egrets were some American Avocets, Common Terns, White-Faced Ibis, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Great Blue Herons, and even a Black-Crowned Night Heron who apparently wanted some breakfast before heading off to its day roost.  There were some Common Terns doing their death-drop into the water to catch fish – I worried about them because the water was shallow; I was afraid they’d break their necks! – and I saw an American White Pelican flying leisurely overhead… I got lots of photos and videos there, and was actually completely by myself for the majority of the time I was on the preserve.  I saw two or three other cars, but no people until just before I was ready to leave, so that was nice, too.

I was reluctant to leave the egrets to walk around the rest of the boardwalk area, but I did. There wasn’t much water around the boardwalk itself but the plants were crazy-prolific: several different kinds of grass, including Canary grass and Rabbit’s Foot Grass, Water Primrose, tules, of course, and small rushes, several different kinds of Smartweed, Jointed Charlock, a couple of different kinds of Flat Sedge, Soap Root, Scarlet Pimpernel, Flat-Faced Downgia… tons of stuff.  Too bad I pretty much suck at botany.

At the end of the boardwalk, the viewing platform was surrounded by a shallow pool, but the rest of the area was pretty much dry.  When I stepped out onto the platform I could hear a raspy squawking coming from the tules and vegetation around the shore of the pond, and I thought it might be a Sora or a Rail but I couldn’t see it. Whatever it was ducked into the vegetation; I could see the plants move as the critter worked its way through them.  So, I decided to leave it for a while and focused my attention instead on the few other birds around the pond.  There was a pair of Canada Geese with their goslings, some more Avocets, Black-Necked Stilts, a pair of Northern Shovelers, and a couple of Long-Billed Dowitchers.  A cute moment with the geese: as soon as the babies realized mom and dad were ambling toward the water, they all rushed out in front of their parents like little kids running toward a beach.

As I was taking photos and video of them, the squawking started again, so I turned slowly to look behind me along the shore of the pond… and there was a mama Virginia Rail!  She moved pretty quickly at first because she was trying to shoo her babies into the tules – two tiny black fuzz-balls.  She might have had more, but I only saw two them. They’re so teeny; they looked like drier lint on a stick. Hah! After that initial showing, I kept an eye and an ear out for her and was able to see her three more times as she dashed out onto the muddy edge of the pond to catch bugs and dig up worms for her kids and then dashed back into the tules to feed them.  While I was watching her, another “old lady” came up onto the platform with her binoculars.  I was going to tell her about the Rail – which is a rare sight at the preserve – but I didn’t want to make any noise for fear I’d scare the Rail away.  [Later, I told two other people I saw as I was heading back to my car about the Rail, so I wasn’t being a total noodge about it.]

I also walked along the sidewalk that acts as a boat ramp and leads you to the river.  I could see all the damage the flooding had done to the ground there, and there was still standing water in many places.  I couldn’t actually get to the boat dock itself because the last fifteen or twenty feet of the ramp to the dock was under water.  And that’s VERY unusual for this time of year.

I saw some American Goldfinches and Bullock’s Orioles as I was heading back to my car.  The Goldfinches were pretty far away, so the photos aren’t the best… and the Orioles refused to pose for me, so I didn’t get any shots of them at all. Still, for the day, I burned through four camera batteries and took almost 2000 photos!  It was a good day.

All in all, I walked for about 4 ½ hours; waaaaay past my body’s limit, so I knew I was going to pay for that with sore feet and ankles for the rest of the day, but I think it was worth to get the shots that I did.

Too Windy at the Refuge, 04-28-17

I’d gotten the okay from my boss to work from home of Friday.  I checked in with office stuff on-and-off via cellphone and email  in the morning, and then did some more work from home in the afternoon, but spent several hours in between driving around the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  It was way too windy there, so I didn’t get to see a lot of stuff, but it was still nice to get outside and into the fresh air.

CLICK HERE for an album of photos and videos.

Because the wind was blowing so hard, my subjects kept moving which made focusing on anything difficult, and at other times, the wind would latterly knock my camera to the side or back into my face, which also hampered picture taking and videoing.  So, I didn’t get as many choice photos as I would have liked.

I did see, in the distance a mama Mallard and what looked like 13 ducklings… It was hard to count them because they kept moving around…

For a minute, I saw a Red-Tailed Hawk in a tree. It’s crop was so full it looked like it had swallowed a tennis ball.  I think it was hoping to just rest in the top of the tree and digest its meal, but a pair of Kingbirds wanted that tree to nest in, and they mobbed the hawk until it flew off…

I also got to see a pair of American Bitterns. They had come out to the edge of the auto-tour road to challenge one another.  Both were doing their “pumper-lunk” calls, but by the time I got the car stopped and my camera primed, they were quiet… and one of them walked off into the tules where I could barely see him.  (Sometimes yet get the pictures; sometimes you don’t.)

Later in the tour I came across a roadkill, which is kind of unusual on the auto tour route because most cars are usually going less than 5 miles per hour. This was a full hit-the-critter-and-roll-it-inside-out kind of roadkill.  By the looks of the tail and the clawed back foot, I’m assuming it had been a muskrat. I wanted to take parts of it home with me – but I don’t have my collections permit yet, and besides you’re not allowed to get out of your car on the tour. Dangit!

A little further up the route, I came across a pair of Black Tailed Mule Deer sitting in a dry culvert, sunning themselves out of the wind.  One was a young male with black “nubbies” where is antlers will come in over the summer; the other was a female. They both lifted their heads to look at me, but didn’t get up.  They were comfortable where they were.

I’m used to seeing all of the Marsh Wren nests in tules, but today I saw a few that were really quite interesting in their construction. One seemed to complete with a grassy ‘handle” on top.  I’d love to be able to just camp out along a stretch of tules at the refuge and film the construction process… and try to figure out what attracts the females to a particular nest when there are so many options available to them.

 

American Bitterns Pumper-Lunking on Sunday

I was up at 6:00 am and out the door before 6:30.  It was my original intention to do some more wildflower hunting, but on the way to Highway 20 I got lost in my thoughts and missed the turn off (D’oh!), so I continued up the highway to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge and spent the morning there instead.  The weather was lovely (mostly sunny; 51º when I got there, 70º by the time I left).

CLICK HERE to see the whole album of photos and videos.

We’re right at the beginning of the breeding season, so lots of bird are starting to pair up, build nests, and claim territory.  I saw a lot of Great-Tailed Grackles flying overhead (and some American White Pelicans, too), and although I could hear the grackles occasionally singing their broad range of odd songs, I didn’t see any of them on or near the ground so I didn’t get any photos of them. I also saw a young garter snake and a green-tinted Western Racer snake, but they moved too fast for me. By the time I got my camera focus on them, they were gone into the brush.  I’d never seen a Western Racer before, so that was neat to see one for the first time.  When I initially saw it, I thought it was a tule on the auto-tour route… but then it moved.

A lot of the wildflowers and vernal pool flowers at the refuge were in bloom, so in area the ground was a patchwork of yellow Goldfields, orange Fiddleneck, white Popcorn Flowers and purple Dowingia… so pretty. There’s also wild mustard and Poison Hemlock, Blessed Milk Thistle, Italian Thistle, and Teasel blooming everywhere – just in time for the pollinators to wake up.

I saw only a few dragonflies, but it’s still early in the season for them. The Painted Lady and West Coast Lady butterflies on the other hand were everywhere. I bet I saw 20 of them just around the permanent wetland area.

There were jackrabbits and Cottontails bounding all over the place, and I got a few good shots of some California Ground Squirrels.

I didn’t see many babies today, just a pair of Canada Geese with their little troop of goslings, but it’s still early in the season.

The highlight of the day was seeing an American Bittern in the tall grass “booming”.  I don’t know why it’s called “booming” because the call has its own name but… whatever.  To stake out their territory, the Bitterns give out a loud complex call called the “pumper-lunk” call.  The bird claps its bill several time, sucking air into its esophagus, and then expels the air by compressing its neck – making a loud burbling sound, sort of like a melodious burp.  The one I was watching did his call five times, and I was able to get video of two of the calls.  Made. My. Day.  Here’s one of the videos of it: https://youtu.be/cg0HDZ2lhbw.

The odd moment of the day came when I saw something with long brown, black and white fur moving through the long grass.  I could see that it was moving nose-down along the ground, but because the critter never lifted its head, I couldn’t tell what it was.  I was thinking it was probably a Striped Skunk, but the brown shades were throwing me off… then I was thinking badger (but the fur was too long)… or maybe even porcupine (but they’re usually much larger, and the video proved that I was seeing fur and not quills)… So I’m settling on skunk, but I’m still not certain.

In another “what is that?” moment, I saw the dorsal fin and tail fin of a Northern Pike in one of the slews.  I know I’ve said it before, but those guys are brutal; they’ll eat anything.  They come up into the sloughs when the area gets flooded, then when the water recedes again, they get trapped.  They’re fast and powerful, though… and can move even in shallow water, so once they’re in the sloughs they prey on everything, including birds…

On the viewing platform, I came across a pair of Western Fence Lizards, that were challenging each other: doing pushups, body slamming one another, staring each other down.  I got some of the interaction on video.  The two males were very mature – showing off why they’re also called “Blue Bellies” – and had lots and lots of blue on their bodies, even along the back and on the head.  I’ve never ones that were this colorful before.  When the winner of the contest was done with his rival (who ran off) he decided that my blue-green walking shoes were an enemy, too, so he ran up as close to me as he dared and started doing pushups again.  Hah!  I let him win and walked away – after I got some video and photos of him.  In the same area, I found a melanistic Western Fence Lizard, a dark pitchy-gray one sitting on a branch sunning himself.  He was such a contrast to the brightly colored one, I had to get his photo, too.

I’m usually not too thrilled about seeing Black Phoebes, mostly because they’re so ubiquitous around here, but I caught sight of one carrying grass for its nest.  It perched on a limb of a tree and sat there for a while, letting me get some pretty good photos of it.  And the Kingbirds were out in force. I got some good shots of them, too.

Another good bird-moment was when I saw some American Coots playing “keep-away” with a crawfish.  One has caught it and was trying to eat it when a second Coot rushed up and grabbed it.  Coot #2 swam off with its prize, but as soon as it stopped to eat, Coot #3 rushed up and took it… When it comes to lunch, these guys aren’t polite.  Hah!

I stayed at the refuge for about 4 hours and then headed back home to crash with the dogs… So I didn’t see much in the way of wildflowers, today, but it was still a nice day out in nature…