Tag Archives: Black Phoebes

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.

Leeches! 06-27-18

I got to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve around 6:30 am and it was 56º; shirt-sleeve weather. I love it. The first thing I saw when I went into the preserve was a pair of Black Phoebes. A mama was feeding bugs to her fully-fledged offspring. What a spoiled kid! Hah!  Then I saw a long, dark slug making its way slowly across the trail. I was kind of surprised by how long it was. I don’t know enough about snails and slugs to properly identify it. (That’ll be my homework for the next day or so.)

The real close-encounter-of-the-slimy-kind came a little later when I was near the restoration pond on the trail. I found a Red-Eared Slider Turtle there. I think she’d come up to lay her eggs. When I got closer to her, I realized she was covered in LEECHES — and some of the leeches had babies. They were on her shell and in around her face and head. I tried pulling them off, but they were tough, so I got out my Yolo County Library key fob thing and used that to successfully scrape them off.

While I was doing that a small family group — mother, grandmother and 2 little girls — came up and asked what I was doing. So, I showed them the leeches and the turtle and explained how the leeches live, what kind of turtle it was, what an invasive species was, how turtles lay their eggs, etc. It was a cool teaching moment. The mom and grandma had their cell phones out and were taking photos and video. While I was talking about the turtle, she stretched her neck out so they could see her red “ears” and her toenails. They were all so excited about that.

None of the ladies had ever seen a live leech before and didn’t realize that leeches are found in a lot of the waterways around here. The adults thought they were cool; the kids thought they were super gross. Hah!  Here are some of the videos I took just before the family showed up:

Leeches video 1: https://youtu.be/i4ptncDfPo4

Leeches video 2: https://youtu.be/_9wsmvDeVsA

And here are the photos from todayhttps://www.flickr.com/photos/mkhnaturalist/albums/72157696783328501

On another part of the trail I could hear a Red-Tailed Hawk making is distinctive screeling sound from the top of a tree.  I located her and realized she had some fledglings in the tree with her. I couldn’t get any photos of the juveniles because they were in a part of the tree that was very leafy, and the leaves obscured them.  I got the distinct impression, though, that their mom did NOT like me being so close to their tree.  She flew in circles over my head several times and landed in the bare branches of other nearby trees, screaming and screaming. I was able to get a lot of photos of her – and in most of them she’s vocalizing, mouth wide open.

I had to abbreviate my walk because I got a call saying the handyman who was scheduled for 2:00 pm today was actually going to show up around 9:30 am.

Lots of Hawks, Ducks, Geese and an Eagle!

Up at 6:30 again this morning, and I was out the door heading for the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge before 7:00.  It was 38° when I left the house, and was bright, sunny, and chilly all day.  Never got over 54°.  I love this kind of weather!  I had originally planned to go Lake Solano Park today, but something inside me insisted I go the SNWR instead… and I’m glad I did.  Got to see my first Bald Eagle of the season!

CLICK HERE to see the photo album.

The drive to the refuge was unremarkable; I had to stop and put gas in the car, and got some Jack breakfast stuff to eat, then was off again.  It was so clear out, you could see a lot of the foothills and smaller mountains around the valley.  Snow Mountain actually had snow on it… and I could see Mount Lassen in the distance, snow-covered, too… On the way, I counted 15 hawks along the highway…

I got to the refuge around 9:00 am, and juts as I drove into the first lot where the payment kiosk is, I saw a Great Egret fishing in the slough. As I crept forward a little bit to try to get some photos of it, I realized there was a smaller Snowy Egret standing behind it.  A two-fer! That was a nice way to start the morning!  I saw several more egrets along the way.

You could see the silhouette of the Sutter Buttes along the eastern horizon with a layer of fog crawling along below them.  It was neat to see the flocks of geese fly in and land across that backdrop…

An odd happenstance: I came across a flock of American White Pelicans that decided to WALK across the auto-tour route rather than fly… until they spotted my car.  Then little by little they all took off.  Another stunner: I stopped under a big willow tree where I usually see Northern Harrier Hawks.  Today there were no hawks, but there WAS a huge Great Horned Owl sitting up there!  It was dozing, its eyes open just a slit, and it was so well camouflaged it was hard to see it among all the little twiglet branches, but I did get a few photos of it.  I had a similar encounter with a Red-Tailed Hawk that was so covered by branches and stems, I could barely see it…

At another point on the route, something stirred up the Snow Geese, and they filled the air, flying and squawking and carrying on for the longest time.  Most of them settled in the “back 40”, fields a little further away from the auto-tour route which made taking photos a little difficult.  But among the Snow Geese were juveniles (once called “Blue Geese”) and some odd dark-morph ones.

Lots of Jackrabbits here and there, most of them trying to hide out in the tall dead grass or thickets because there were hawks everywhere.  I also saw a little American Kestrel.  I came across a few California Ground Squirrels, and got some close-up shots of one of them.  I also saw a Striped Skunk but – dang it! – it ducked down into its burrow before I could a picture of it.  I have no luck with skunk photos…

Among the ducks were most of the usual suspects: Mallards, Northern Pintails, Northern Shovelers, Green-Winged Teals, Cinnamon Teals, and a few Buffleheads.  The Buffleheads were too far away to get any descent still shots of them, but I did get a little video of them diving and popping up in the water. Oh, and I also found some Ring-Necked Ducks (which actually have a ring around their bill); a small group of males and females.  Later, while I was taking some photos of a group of American Coots, two White-Faced Ibis flew in, so I got a little bit of video of them… I didn’t realize it until I got home a looked through my photos, but I got a fuzzy photo of a Blue-Winged Teal, too.  He was slumming with the Mallards.  Hah!

Among the smaller birds were Western Meadowlarks, Song Sparrows, Black Phoebes, and White-Crowned Sparrows.

I didn’t see the eagle until the very last part of the route, just before you head back to the nature center.  It was sitting in a eucalyptus tree above my head, and I had to do contortions out the driver’s side window to get pictures of her.  I assumed it was a “she” based on her size, and the “depth” of her beak.  (In males, the beak opens up to just in front of the eye; in the female it’s deeper, and opens up to the mid-eye, or even behind the eye.)  An older couple came up in a car behind me and at first seemed aggravated that I was stopped near the middle of the road, then they realized the eagle was up there, and I saw huge smiles cross their faces. The hubby leaned outside the driver’s side window of their car to get some photos, too.  That was a great way to end the run.

By the time I got to the front gate of the SNWR it was only about 11:30 am, so I decided to head over to the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge before heading home.  It’s on the way; just outside of the town of Williams.  At Colusa, I saw pretty much the same species of ducks and geese, except for some American Widgeons and the Black-Crowned Night Herons.  There  were also a lot of Great Blue Herons along the sloughs, and I was able to get some fairly good shot of them.

There were also lots of hawks, too, and at one point I stopped to watch a big Red-Tailed Hawk trying to manage a Coot it had been successful in catching. The Coot was too large to eat at all once, and too heavy to fly away with, so the hawk wasn’t sure what to do.  It ate as much as it could, then flew off into a nearby tree – where two other hawks and a Turkey Vulture were sitting, waiting for leftovers. After a few second, the first hawk flew back to its kill, and flew-dragged the Coot off onto a small knoll in the middle of a wet area.  There, the hawks kind of posed for me and I got some really good shots of it with its prey.  I got some video of it spreading its tail and raising its head-feathers to make itself look more formidable.  Such a handsome animal!

I left the Colusa refuge around 1:30 and then headed home.

And here are some video snippets:

I Helped Lead a Tour of the SNWR, 11-12-16

I had to work today — helping to lead an auto-tour of the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge — so I was up at 5:00 and out the door by 5:30 am.  I stopped at a gas station on my way, filled up the tank, and got some munchies for the road, and then headed over to the Denney’s off of West Street in Woodland to meet up with my coworker Nate and the folks who were coming on the tour.  I’d gotten there early enough to order a small breakfast and get it in a to-go box.  I ate what I could of it out in the car, and then saw Nate and the others gathering outside the parking lot on the street, so I drove over there to meet them.  I handed out guide books and directions to the refuge, and we were all on the road by a little after 7:00 am.  There were seven people in our group (besides my coworker Nate and me) but only three of them were birding “newbies” who had never been to the refuge before.  The rest of them were avid birders, some from Yolo Audubon…

CLICK HERE to see the full album of photos.

CLICK HERE to see additional photos from other photographers.

We arrived at the refuge around 8:00 am, had folks pay for their vehicles at the kiosk and then we met at the inside parking lot before heading out along the auto tour drive. Although there were birding experts willing to drive with the non-birders.  Most of the non-birders chose to drive their own vehicles by themselves.  I had one “newbie” birder who went with me, a gal named Colleen.  Along the way, I was able to help point out birds to her, and name the species and tell her some fun facts… and I was so busy doing that, that I didn’t take very many photos while I was out there… and I forgot to eat lunch.

Along the auto tour there are three park-and-stretch places where you can get out of your car and look around.  I had brought my spotting scope me… but the experienced birders had brought ones of their own and had them set up before I could even get mine out of my car.  But that was okay; at least everyone got to see some of the birds up close.  As we watched one Red-Tailed Hawk who was sitting on the ground, warming up as the sun came up and burned through the low clouds, about 10 Jackrabbits popped up all around the bird and ran circles around it then scattered into the low brush and tules.  Hah!  We also saw a Raven come in for a landing with a large bit of what we assumed was a vole, in its beak, and watched it eat its breakfast before driving on… The folks from Yolo Audubon had also brought additional guide books, and used them to help the newbies to more effectively identify the hawks they were seeing (along with the guide books I also provided to guests who wanted them).

Throughout the tour I was to point out and help folks identify a Cooper’s Hawk, Red-Tailed Hawks, Northern Harriers, Song Sparrows, House Sparrows, White-Crowned Sparrows, ravens, Mallards, Northern Pintails, Green-Winged Teals, Cinnamon Teals, Northern Shovelers, Greater White-Fronted Geese, White-Face Ibis, Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, a Great Blue Heron, Turkey Vultures, Black Phoebes, Eared Grebes, Yellow-Rumped Warblers, Bufflehead ducks, Pied-Billed Grebes, American Coots, Canada Geese, a Peregrine Falcon, American Wigeons and American Pipits, and the Snow Geese (which were out in force today).  Among the regular totally white-bodied snow Geese was a single “dark morph” Snow Goose.  It had a white head, but it’s body was dark steely-grey.  A VERY cool sighting… but it was pretty distant (for my camera) and I didn’t get any really good shots of it.  I told everyone in our group that they had to share what they photos they took with us, so we could post them to Facebook.

In the non-bird species, along with the jackrabbits, we saw Columbian Black-Tailed Mule Deer, California Ground Squirrels, a Western Pond Turtle, a Western Fence Lizard, webs from “ballooning” spiders, and the nest of Paper Wasps. So it was an interesting excursion.  Some of the newbies had never been to the refuge before, and were excited to come back later in the season.

Vacation Day 14: Cosumnes River Preserve

DAY 14 OF MY VACATION.  Around 8:00 am I headed over to the Cosumnes River Preserve for the second time this week.  They’ve gotten more of their water in already. I think they flooded a couple of extra fields because they were having a “Ducks in Scopes” and nature photography thing going today.  They thought they’d have to cancel the activities because of rain, but although the clouds threatened, it was a rainless 65° there.  I steered clear of the groups of people – they make so much noise, they scare off all of the birds – and sort of made my own path around the front half of the refuge. (I might go back tomorrow, to do the river walk there; we’ll see what the weather is like.)

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

I saw a couple of Red-Tailed Hawks.  One of them was sitting in the top of a tree BEHIND all the people who had their birding scopes set up.  I didn’t tell anyone he was there, and just got a bunch of photos of him from different angles before moving on.  Y’gotta pay attention to what’s around you, folks! Hah!

Among the ducks, I saw the usual suspects including Northern Shovelers and Pintails, Green-Winged Teals, and Cinnamon Teals.  And among the other shorebirds, I saw Greater Yellowlegs, Black-Necked Stilts, Long-Billed Dowitchers, Dunlins, and tons of America Coots. There were also White-Crowned Sparrows, Golden-Crown Sparrows, Lesser Goldfinches, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Savannah Sparrows and Black Phoebes.

Along the wetlands walks, the oak trees were still sporting some wasp galls, and the poison oak was looking very Christmasy in red and green. The rain is also waking up the lichen, which is starting to fatten up, stretch out and reproduce.

I saw several groups of Sandhill Cranes fly overhead, so I tried to watch where they landed and then went over to where I thought they might be.  They usually keep pretty far away from the roads and walkways, but I was able to get some photos of a small group of them that were making their way across the top of a levy.  Most of the time they had their butts toward me, but I did get a few side-view shots when they turned their heads.  In that same area I came across a couple of Great Egrets, so I got some shots of them, too.

As I was heading out of the area, I caught glimpse of a large bird sitting on top of a pile tules – and it looked awfully “pale”.  I thought it might be a juvenile Bald Eagle because of its size, but I only got photos of the back of its head, so I couldn’t see what the eye-ridge or beak looked like.  Now, I’m not sure if it was an eagle or just a really big super-light-morph Red-Tail – or something else.  When it took off flying, much of its tail was white (which would be indicative of an eagle)… but I’m still not sure.  If it was a juvenile Bald Eagle it would be REALLY unusual for this area.

Anyway, I was at the preserve for about 3½ hours and then headed back home.

Jackrabbit City at the Refuges

Black-Crowned Night Heron. Copyright ©2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Black-Crowned Night Heron. Copyright ©2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

I got up around 6:00 am and headed out with Sergeant Margie to the Colusa and Sacramento National Wildlife Refuges.  It was a little chilly and clear in Sacramento, but in Willows and Colusa it was hazy and the overcast deepened as the day went on.  Got up to about 68°.

I wanted to get to the Colusa refuge early to see if I could get some photos of the Black-Crowned Night Herons in action (rather just sitting in their sleeping trees).  They hunt by night and sleep during the day.  Even getting there around 7:30 I wasn’t there early enough; they were already back “in bed” dozing away in the trees.  Some were a little further out on the edge of the branches than I’d yet seen them so I was about to get a few more clearer photos of them.  I’d really like to see them out on the water, though…

As soon as I drove into the Colusa refuge I saw a large coyote moving across a field and then realized there was another one sitting nearby in the grass.  Further along, I saw two raccoons moving through the marshes and in other areas I saw mule deer napping in the grass.  Lots of other critters out there today, too, including: Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, American Wigeons, Gadwalls, Pied-Billed Grebes, Ring-Necked Ducks, House Sparrows, Ring-Necked Pheasants, Red-Tailed Hawks, American Coots, Black Phoebes, White-Faced Ibis, Ross’s Geese, Northern Harrier, European Starlings, Red-Winged Blackbirds, a Tri-colored Blackbird, Western Pond Turtles, White-Fronted Geese, Northern Shovelers, Pintails, Jackrabbits, Tree Swallows, Western Meadowlark, and some slime mold.  Among all the usual geese and ducks, I also saw a dark-morph/blue-phase Snow Goose hanging out with the other Snow Geese but sticking out like a sore thumb among them.  I’d never seen one of them before.  I also saw my first Tri-Colored Blackbird (sort of like a Red-Winged Blackbird but with a white trim on its epaulet).  Those were cool.

As I was driving along, a guy pulled up beside me with a blue jeep and asked if I’d seen the eagle there.  Eagle?  Uh, no.  I’ve seen them at the Sacramento refuge, but not at Colusa.  The guy said he thought he’d seen an Golden Eagle there yesterday and was looking for it again.  Wow, it would be neat to see one of them around there!

The dog and I also took the sort one-mile trail along the back of the slough and platform area.  There’s another smaller platform you can walk out onto along the way.  It’s all kind of scraggly and messy along the trail, but I understand that they have the detritus along the sides of the trail to keep people from leaving it and going nearer to the water.  It’s a flat, well-marked trail that’s easy to walk so it’s suitable for all fitness levels.

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Then it was off to the Sacramento refuge for more birding.  I didn’t see any eagles, but the first bird that greeted me as I drove in was a beautiful Avocet.  I hardly ever get to see them; they’re such lovely birds.

It was jackrabbit-city along the auto tour there, too.  I saw several large groups, and a few came right up to the edge of the road before zig-zagging away through the grass.  I also saw some large groups of turtles trying to sun themselves in the partly-cloudy light. Nothing else but the usual suspects along the way, but it was still a nice drive.  By about 1:00 pm we were headed back to Sacramento and got to the house by 2:30.