Tag Archives: Brewer’s Blackbirds

Eagles, Ravens and More, 01-28-19

I wanted to get up a little early today so I could head out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge… The drive to the refuge is a long one: 2 hours there, 2 hours back, and about 4 hours of driving around the auto tour route. That’s a LOT of car time, sitting in a folded-up position. I haven’t done it since just before my surgery and didn’t know if my core could handle that yet. Well, I found out. It can’t right now.

I was okay on the drive there, but halfway through the auto tour route, I started to ache, and by the time I got back to the house I was in pain. Dang it! I thought I was doing so well. Gotta work more on the exercise and core stuff I guess.

Anyway, after putting gas in the car and stopping to pick up something for my own breakfast, the dog and I got to the refuge around 7:00 am. The sun was just coming up, so I got some red-sky photos. Because the light was so “low” and there was some cloud cover, the camera gave me fits all day. The cloud-glare bounced off the water and played havoc with the light meter/auto focus dealie, and I struggled to get the photos I wanted, sometimes failing miserably which was very frustrating. So, rather than relaxing me, I was kind of stressed out periodically throughout the drive.

Still, I did manage to get SOME halfway decent images. CLICK HERE to see the full album.

The standouts for the day were the Bald Eagles and Ravens. I saw about 5 eagles, including a bonded pair and a juvenile (maybe 2 or 2 ½ years old). One of the eagles was sitting what I generally call “the eagle tree” because you can often find one sitting in it.

It’s sometimes hard to get photos of the birds in that tree because it’s a tall one that sits on the right-hand side of the road. You either have to lay down in the front seat and shoot out the passenger-side window or turn the car at an angle that puts your driver’s-side window to the tree (and blocks the whole road). There were no other cars on the road at the time, so I chose to block it. (Didn’t think my core could handle my lying down in the seat and twisting to shoot out and up into the tree.) I was surprised to find that in that tree, on a few branches below the eagle, there was also a Cooper’s Hawk. You don’t really realize just how truly big the eagles are until you see one beside a hawk. Wow!

The rest of the eagles were near the end of the auto-tour route. The bonded pair were in a distant tree, sitting near the top of it, near the last park-and-stretch area. Because they were so far away it was hard to get any good close-ups of them with my camera. And because of the cloud-glare, their white heads tended to vanish against the white sky, so finessing the camera’s iris was tricky. I liked watching the pair, though. They sat side by side, surveying the surrounding wetlands, periodically touched beaks like they were kissing and groomed one another.

The last two eagles, an adult and the juvenile, were sitting up in the eucalyptus trees along the exit route. The juvenile, which was much more visible than the adult because it was sitting out near the end of some branches, at first looked like a mottled shadow against the twiggy branches, but then seemed to reveal itself as I got closer to it. So cool!

I also got to see three ravens. Two were of a pair that landed together in a tree near the end of the auto tour route. One was kind of bedraggled-looking; some of its feathers were on inside out. And the other flew up with it, offering it a treat I couldn’t quite make out. The treat-bearing one flew off again, and the bedraggled-looking one stayed behind, cawing loudly in the direction in which the other had left.

Even though I wrestled with the camera all day, I was still able to see over 30 different species of birds and animals while I was out there, so I still chalk it up as a “good” viewing day.

Two Preserves in One Day, 10-11-18

DAY 6 OF MY VACATION.  I got up around 6:00 am and headed out with Sergeant Margie to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. I stopped first to put gas in the car and grab something from Jack’s to eat for the day (I usually get a breakfast sammich, and that lasts me for the whole day – until I get home again.) It was 49º when I left the house and 70º by the late afternoon, so the weather was beautiful. I got through the Sacramento refuge relatively quickly, so I also stopped at the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge afterward.

Neither of the refuges have a lot of water in them yet, so there weren’t as many birds in either one as there might be when the wetland areas are actually wet.  I did see a lot of Greater White-Fronted Geese, but no big flocks of the other waterfowl.

There were a lot of Red-Tailed Hawks on the Sacramento refuge, and I also saw a Northern Harrier on the wing, and a Great Horned Owl. The owl was hidden among the branches of the same tree on top of which a hawk was sitting, but the branches were too dense to get a decent photo of the owl.

At one point, I came upon a flat area where a lot of egrets were gathered, eating bugs and crayfish in the very shallow water.  There were Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets and Cattle Egrets all in the same field, and along with them were lots of other birds including White-Faced Ibis, Killdeer, Greater Yellowlegs, and even some Long-Billed Curlews. The curlews were a cool surprise; you hardly ever get to see them on the preserve.

CLICK HERE to see the full album of photos.

I was stalking a Blue-Eyed Darner dragonfly along the tules on the side of the auto-tour route hoping it would land so I could get a photo of it. It finally came to a rest, and just as I drove up close enough to get a photo, a pheasant flushed out of the tules, almost hit the car, and flew away… scaring the dragonfly at the same time. Dang it! Hah!  I was rewarded later, though, when I found a pair of Green Darners sitting on some floating tules in the water. The female was laying her eggs in the water and along the sides of the tule, and I was able to get photos and a little video of that.

Dragonfly laying eggs: https://youtu.be/PNq-oonzPtM

Squirrel gathering and burying acorns: https://youtu.be/YsWir-LOVZI

On the Colusa refuge, the standout critter was a male Great-Tailed Grackle. He was standing on top of a large pile of tules, singing a variety of songs. I got photos and video of him. There were also quite a few Great Blue Herons at that refuge. I also saw a crayfish that I think was carrying eggs. I could see clumps of “stuff” hanging off the swimmerets on the underside of her tail. (The substance that glues the eggs to the swimmerets is called “glair”.) And there was a wooly caterpillar running across the road, and I got some photos of it, too.

I felt the day was a successful one, even though the wetlands are anywhere near their prime condition yet. Sergeant Margie did great for the whole trip. He sleeps most of the time but gets out to pee and poo along the way.  The Sacramento and Colusa refuges allow dogs as long as they’re on a leash. Most other wildlife areas don’t let dogs in under any circumstance, so it’s neat when I can bring him along with me.

I got back home a little after 3:00 pm.

Yellow-Billed Magpies and Other Critters, 06-24-18

I headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve. It was 68º when I left the house, and 75º when I got back home a little after 9:00 am.

The first thing I saw when I got to the preserve was a huge flock of Yellow-Billed Magpies foraging for bugs and seeds on the lawns near the payment kiosk. I parked in the little parking lot there and took a lot of photos. The magpies hardly ever sit still, so it’s always neat when I can get some decent shots of them. Most of them seemed to have yellow patches around their eyes. That’s not uncommon, especially if they’re molting.

CLICK HERE to see the full album of photos.

There were more deer out this time than there were the past several times I’d gone to the preserve. Mamas are now showing up with their babies. I saw one doe with a fawn that was maybe four to six months old; out of its spots but still snack-sized.

And in another spot, I saw a mom with a newborn, but she was hiding him really well and I couldn’t get any good photos of him. She was down in a shallow gully between two hills and in the shade. Smart mama.

There were lots of California Ground Squirrels out and about. I saw one, though, who looked like it had a broken left rear leg… and whatever injury there was, was being harassed by flies. I couldn’t tell for sure, but it looked like part of the bone was poking through the skin, and the leg and foot were badly swollen. There were other wounds on its body; spots where the fur had been rubbed off or torn out. I wonder if it had been grabbed by hawk or Coyote and then freed itself – at the cost of its leg. I could tell it was in pain by the way it moved, but it was very stoic – no squeaking or crying. Poor squirrel; I wish I could have caught it and taken it to a vet or something.

I could hear the Red-Shouldered Hawks in the preserve screaming at each other, but only caught glimpses of them in flight. No photos of those guys today.

I came across a very small Velvet Ant, all fuzzy and golden. There are hundreds of species of Velvet Ants, so identifying them can be hard. Although they’re called “ants”, they’re actually a kind of wingless wasp – and they carry a very painful sting. According to one article: “In some areas, velvet ants are known colloquially as ‘cow killers’ because their venom packs a painful punch. In addition, their ‘sting’ – the scientific term for what many of us refer to as a ‘stinger’ – is agile and half as long as the wasp itself. This enables the insect to inject venom into a predator from varied angles and free itself.” So, look but don’t touch.

There were also signs along the trails warning hikers about the high-danger of rattlesnakes this time of year, and also a spot where some Yellow-Jacket Wasps had built a nest in the ground. Nature can be tough in the summer!

As I was leaving the preserve, I saw an Acorn Woodpecker drinking out of the water fountain by the nature center. Hah! Smart bird!

As an aside: I read a blog by Ron Dudley every day. He’s a fantastic nature photographer. His most recent post included information about a long-term Citizen Science project headed by Doug Tallamy, PhD, of the University of Delaware that’s been going on since about 2013. He’s trying to determine what birds eat, most specifically what invertebrates they eat, so he’s asking for people to send him photos of birds with insects and other such critters in their beaks. I’d recently taken quite a few of those — including one today of a Spotted Towhee — so I sent them off to him and also gave him a link to my Flickr account, saying he could use any of the photos there in his study if he wanted to. Citizen collect the data (in this case, the photos and forward it on to the scientist for study… that’s what Citizen Science is all about. (http://www.whatdobirdseat.com/)

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.

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.

There are Still a Lot of Birds at the SNWR

American Avocet. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
American Avocet. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

Up at about 6:00 am and out the door by 6:30 with Sergeant Margie to go over to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  I got there right around 8:00 o’clock and had the whole place to myself for a couple of hours before anyone else showed up.  Like the Colusa preserve, some of the wetland areas in this larger preserve are also drained and dried out already, but they have a loop open that lets you drive around some of their permanent wetland area, so although you don’t get to see a ton of birds, you do get to see some… and a few of them are ones that I can’t see along the American River.

The drive started off with good views of Killdeer and some American Avocets (which I think are such pretty birds), Greater Yellowlegs and Red-Winged and Brewer’s Blackbirds.  There were  lots of jackrabbits along the auto-tour route along with some chubby little Cottontails (which look like babies next to the big jacks.)  And lots of ground squirrels.  I didn’t see any raccoons this time out, but I did see a few deer. Oh, and I saw some pond turtles and Western Fence Lizards.

There are still a lot of wildflowers in bloom – mostly Goldfields and Fiddleneck – and the Poison Hemlock is starting to rise along with the Milk Thistle and other weeds.

Marsh Wrens were everywhere in the tules, chattering away and tucking in the loose ends of their nest construction. Between them, the blackbirds, and the Meadowlarks, some spots were really NOISY!  There  were quite a few Ring-Necked Pheasants out and about adding their loud rusty-hinge croaks to the cacophony, and in some places the Double-Crested Cormorants were grunting like pigs.  I’ve gotten so I can tell some of the birds by their sound without seeing them… Speaking of the cormorants: a lot of the breeding adults have their “double-crests” showing now and it makes the birds look like they have really fluffy eyebrows (or very long eyelashes).  Hah!

There were, of course, American Coots all over the place and many White-Faced Ibises among the other ducks: Northern Shovelers, Cinnamon and Green-Winged Teals, a few Buffleheads and a solitary female Goldeneye, and some Ruddy Ducks.  I did see another American Bittern today… and heard another one doing its pumper-lunk call in the reeds… but I couldn’t see that one.  Toward the end of the drive, I came across some American White Pelicans.  But the stand-out sighting for the day (for me anyway) was getting to see a pair of Clark’s Grebes do part of their courtship ritual where they bob their heads at on another then get up and run across the top of the water in tandem.  I’d seen photos and video of that before, but had never witnessed it myself.  I only got a few seconds of it on video but it made my day. I’ll have to get back there in the next few weeks to see if I can see any more courtship behavior. There  were also some Western Grebes and Pied-Billed Grebes out on the water, too.  Most of them were too far away to get any really good shots of them, but it’s still always fun to see them.  It’s sometimes difficult for me to tell the Clark’s Grebes from the Western Grebes because they look almost identical.  The only real difference is that on the Clark’s Grebe the eyes are surrounded by white and on the Western Grebe the eyes are surrounded by black.

Here’s the Grebe videohttps://youtu.be/jpGUjuwigu0

Clark's Grebes versus Western Grebe. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Clark’s Grebes versus Western Grebe. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

Also saw some Great Egrets and Snow Egrets.  And as I was heading out the refuge, I came across a large hawk sitting on a stump – apparently just waiting there to have her picture taken. Hah! – and a Common Gallinule, an adult one sporting a red shield on the front of its face. The red of the shield was so intense that my camera freaked out over it, so all of the face-on shots took on a kind of “glowing” effect.  By that time, too, the sun had been up for a while and things were getting warm, so the camera had to fight through distortions caused by heat waves.  When conditions get like that, it’s time to go home…

I got back to the house around 2:30 pm, cooked up some chicken thighs and an ear of corn for supper, and collapsed with the dogs.

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