Tag Archives: Buckeye

Lots of Nesting Birds, 04-15-18

I was up around 6:00 this morning.  It was supposed to rain here today, so I thought I’d better get out early if I wanted to get a nature walk in before the clouds got organized. I went over to the American River Bend Park because it’s close by (no long-distance driving) and I wanted to check on mama Great Horned Owl again.

Mama Great Horned Owl was still in her nest with her three owlets. The owlets are now starting to get their primary wing feathers in and they’re very itchy.  I saw mom helping her oldest owlet preen a bit and give him bite-kisses all over his head and neck. So cute!  I notice that when mom is around her babies, she often holds her plumicorns back against her head.  I wonder if that’s a communication thing…

After I walked around for a while, I went back to check on the nest and mom was gone. She must’ve been out hunting…

CLICK HERE for an album of today’s photos.

In a green area across the trail from the owls’ nest, I watched a House Wren singing from on top of an old snag… and then followed him as he flew over to where the nest was.  I got some photos of the wrens poking their heads out of the nesting cavity, and while I was doing that, I noticed that to my right, there were some Tree Swallows in an adjacent tree where they, too, were setting up house in a tree cavity. They were trying to line the cavity with twigs and stuff, but kept getting interrupted by a pair of Nutthall’s Woodpeckers who, apparently, wanted the same cavity the Tree Swallows had. So, just in that small area, I got to see three different species of birds AND their nests.  In the same area, a few yards away, was a second Tree Swallow nest… and I got some photos of that one, too.

While I was doing that, I was near enough to my car to lean on it and rest a little bit… and saw something flash to the ground to my right. I looked over there and saw that there was some hair fluff – like someone had brushed out their dog and left all of the undercoat hair there. There was a tiny White-Breasted Nuthatch grabbing up mouthfuls of the hair and flying off with it to feather its nest. I tried to see where it flew off to, but lost it in the tangle of branches. It came back several more times for the fluff, so I was able to get photos and a little video snippet of it in action.

A few minutes later, when I moved to step away from my car, I could hear a hummingbird nattering away, and saw it collecting bugs from the side of a tree. I followed after it, and was just barely able to make out its tiny nest in a scraggly tree on the other side of the trail. The nest was covered in lichen and blended right into the lichen-covered bark of the tree, but I still managed to get a few shots.

In one area, there were quite a few Scarab-Hunter wasps flying low to the ground. They have special heat-sensors in their abdomens that allow them to detect the body-heat of grubs under the surface of the dirt. When they find a grub, they land, and stick their ovipositor down through the dirt into the grub and lay their eggs in it. Cool, huh?

There were also quite a few Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies around (mostly males today), and one of them landed on the front of my jacket. I was worried he’d get squished by the shoulder strap of my carry bag, so I set him on my shoulder (on the side opposite the strap) and he stayed there for quite a while, hitching a ride while I walked. He even climbed up onto my head for a bit before taking off to sun himself in the grass. I also found more butterfly eggs today, but no caterpillars yet…

I got a pretty good shot of an orb-weaver spider’s web, and also noted that the Oak Apple gall wasps are starting to lay their eggs on the Valley Oaks. New fat, round, green galls are appearing on the trees…

At another point during my walk, I could hear a California Quail shouting out his “Chi-ca-go!” call, and looked all over for him. I finally caught sight of him off the side of the trail and down on the sandy shore of the river. He was pretty far away, but I still managed to get a photos of him before he scurried off into a tangled bit of shrub.

There were a lot of Fox Squirrels around today, “barking” at me from trees almost everywhere I walked. They’re so funny. They’re teeny, but they bark at something as big as me expecting me to be intimidated by their sound. They’re like the Chihuahuas of the Forest.

I walked for about 3 hours and then headed back home.

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.

After a 24-Hour Shift, I Needed a Nature Break

After breakfast on Friday, I checked out of the hotel where I worked on the Big Day of Giving for a 24 hour shift, and went in to the Tuleyome office to unpack stuff that had to be returned there, went through the mail, and sent off some emails… Then I headed back home. I felt I needed a nature fix to help clear my tired, fuzzy brain, so I stopped briefly at William Land Park, to walk through the flowers and see the duckies there.

CLICK HERE to see an album of photos and videos.

The WPA Rock Garden there is looking lovely this time of year; lots of different flowers and trees in bloom. Between the flowers, the fennel plants and the Spice Bush, the air was filled with fragrance…

Around the pond there were the standard ducks and geese, including one pair of ducks with 10 ducklings. The pair was made up a male Mallard and a larger female Cayuga-Swedish Blue hybrid, so some of the duckling had Mallard markings, and some of the babies were all black with tufts of yellow on them. The cutest thing about the babies was that some of them had black legs and toes, but the webbing between the toes was bright yellow, as was the underside of their feet… Mallards hybridize easily, and most of the ducks around that pond have intermixed at least once, so there are a lot of “odd ducks” walking around the pond.

I also saw a baby Red-Eared Slider Turtle in the water, about the size of a 50¢ piece swimming in the water. It followed me for a bit, then swam off, then came to the surface, then swam off again… It made me smile (even though that species of turtle is actually invasive.)

I walked for about an hour and then went on to the house.

Muskrat, Baby Grebes and a Jillion-Million Dragonflies

Monarch Butterfly on teasel. ©2016 Copyright, Mark K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Monarch Butterfly on teasel. ©2016 Copyright, Mark K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

Even though it’s my day off, I wanted to beat the heat as much as possible and got up around 5:00 am to head off to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  I had to stop twice on the way: once to put gas in the car, and once to stop at a rest stop and unload my morning coffee.  Hah!

The first thing I saw when I drove into the refuge was a Great Blue Heron poking its head up over the tules to watch my car drive in.  Then for the most part it was all the usual suspects like jackrabbits and Cottontails, thousands (literally) of Variegated Meadowhawk dragonflies – so many, in fact, that I got bored taking photos of them — and another en masse explosion of blue damselflies, some California Ground Squirrels, Coots, cormorants, Pelicans, Pied-Billed Grebes (their songs were coming from everywhere), seagulls and other birds. I also saw skippers, Monarch Butterflies, Crescent, Buckeye, Painted Lady and West Coast Lady butterflies, and Cabbage White butterflies among the other bugs.

Oh, and I did see my first juvenile Coot today.  The Coots are always all over the place, but I’ve never seen a baby one – and this was the first time I’ve seen a juvenile, so they must guard their babies really well!

The orb-weaver spiders had created webs that covered whole areas between the tules, like a sticky obstacle course.  In one spot, I was trying to get a photo of an American White Pelican on the water, and the camera couldn’t “see” past the giant spiders in their webs in front of it… So I got a nice of photo of a spider with a totally blurry pelican behind it.  Hah!  The spiders had actually managed to capture quite a few dragonflies; the carnage was everywhere. One spider actually managed to parachute over to the car and drop down inside through the open window.  Yikes!  I don’t usually mind spiders, but that sucker was HUGE!  And I don’t know where he ended up…  Eew.

On some of the teasel, I saw what looked like white “globs” on the flowering heads.  I couldn’t tell what they were (you can’t leave your vehicle to investigate things on the auto-tour) but I took photos of them anyway.  When I got home, I processed the photos and realized the globs were actually pure white Crab Spiders.  They seemed so shockingly bright and obvious to my eye when I saw them – but then I remembered that these spiders give off an ultraviolet signature that generally masks them from their prey (which can see into that part of the spectrum).  Cool.

We’re just starting to see the exuvia from the larger dragonflies now clinging to the tules near the water.  There should be a lot of big darners out in another week or so, I’d imagine.

There were a few unexpected surprises along the auto-tour route: (1) a large muskrat made to swim-by’s alongside my car in the permanent wetlands area.  I got videos of his going in both directions.  The first time around, he was swimming and chewing on something at the same time.  The next time I saw him he was absolutely covered in eel grass and other vegetation; I had to laugh, he looked so funny.  I wonder if it was building a “nest” somewhere.

CLICK HERE for the muskrat video.

(2) I also got some video of a pair of Clark’s Grebes in the water.  The video sucks eggs (because the subjects were soooo far away, and the camera had to try to focus through heat waves coming up from the ground), but if you look closely, you’ll see first one and then two little white fuzzy black-beaked babies on mama Grebe’s back! They’re soooo cute!

CLICK HERE for the Grebe video.

And surprise number (3) was when a river otter ran past the road in front of the car – followed by its baby!  I’d never seen a baby otter before.  They moved to fast, though, I couldn’t get pictures of either one of them.  Rats!

Oh, at one point, I could see some male mule deer off in the distance – all in their velvet – and was totally shocked when one of them stood up among them and I could see his rack of antlers.  I swear those antlers were as long as his legs were!  I’d never seen ones sitting up so tall on a deer’s head.  I got some photos (but they were all shitty because the deer were so far away); I’ll try to post one to the photo album anyway so you can see it.

CLICK HERE to see an album of more photos.

I only made one pass through the refuge – because by noon it was already in the 90’s out there, and I didn’t think I’d see much of anything else in the heat.  I headed home and got there without incident.  I crashed with the dogs for a little while and then watched some TV and went through all of my photos

A Beaver, Babies and a Bison Snaketail

Beaver. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.
Beaver. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.

I got up around 5:45 this morning and headed out to the American River Bend Park for a walk.  I hadn’t been out there for quite a while, and wanted to see if the water plants were growing along the banks yet, and if the Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillars were starting to make their chrysalises.  No to the first one – sort of – and yes to the second one.  The weirdest sight was when I first drove into the park.  A female ranger was out by the kiosk and asked me to stop, so I did… And from across the driveway comes a mama Wild Turkey and her six fuzzy babies – and a male Peacock all walking along right in front of my car.  I couldn’t get my camera out of its bag fast enough to get any photos.  Dangit!  I wondered if this was the same Peacock I’d seen chasing the female turkeys several weeks ago… and if the babies could have been his.  The ranger said she didn’t think they could interbreed, but…  both birds are Galliformes, aren’t they?  I mean, peacocks are more closely related to turkeys than turkeys are to chickens…  What would you call the hybrids?  Teacocks? Perkeys?  Hah!  Wish I could keep an eye on that group and see how the babies look when they fledge…

When I pulled the car in further down the road and parked, I was right next to a tree where there were a lot of Acorn Woodpeckers, and I got some photos (and a little video) of one sitting in the nesting cavity.  At first glance I thought it was a female sitting on her nest, but it was a young male, so it must’ve been a fledgling not ready to get up yet.  Sleepy boy.

Then I came across some very tiny, shiny black beetle-like things on the leaf of a live oak tree.  I’d never seen anything like them; they seemed to have suck an odd shape and what looked like white spots in between the body segments.  I thought they must have been the larva stage of something, so I posted photos to BugGuide.net to see if someone there could identify them for me…

My next big find was spotting a large beaver eating roots and greens along the bank of the river.  It was right up the bank from me, and I was so surprised to see it that I just pointed my camera at it and started shooting.  I got some shaky lurching video of it, and a few still shots.  That was the closest I’d ever been to a live beaver.  It was exciting.  I think he would have stayed there for a while longer had I not tripped on one of the stones on the shore and startled him.  He took off into the water, slapping his tail down to make a big splash as he left.

Female Common Merganser and babies. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.
Female Common Merganser and babies. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.

Then I saw a female Common Merganser coming down the river with TWENTY little red-headed babies in tow.  The stronger ones were able to climb up onto her back when she sped up trying to get past me… Beyond. Cute.

Later on while I was stopping by an old Cottonwood tree to get some photos of lizard, a big male Twelve-Spotted Skimmer dragonfly decided to fly in and rest on a nearby branch, so I got some photos of him, too.  Further along, I saw a Bison Snaketail dragonfly land in the dried grass along the side of the trail.  I got some photos, but because the dragonfly is almost the same color as the grass, they don’t really show off how cool the dragonfly is…

Then I drove the car a little further into the park and walked along the trail that follows the river but stays well above it.  The water was high in the river and running pretty fast, so I didn’t see a lot birds on the shore… just a few Mallards and Canada Geese.  What I was really looking for on this part of the trail, though, was the Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillars.  During this time of the year they’re finishing up gorging themselves and turning their attention to getting up off the ground and forming their chrysalises.  I found lots of them.  Some still undulating around, some going into their torpor stage, and some already encased in their chrysalises.  While I was checking out the caterpillars on one tree, I was startled when a mama Tree Swallow flew past my head and went into her tree-cavity nest right across the trail from me.  I got some photos of her checking me out… along with some shots of the butt of a small House Wren who had a nest in the tree across from the Swallow’s nest.

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On my walk, I also came across several mule deer, a Killdeer, an Ash-Throated Flycatcher, some Scrub Jays, fly-overs by a few Great Egrets and what looked like an immature Black-Crowned Night Heron, and a few different plants, flowers and galls. So it was a very eventful and productive walk.  I was out there for about 3½ hours and then headed out.

Some Shinrin-yoku after the BIGDOG on Wednesday

Mallard Duckling. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Mallard Duckling. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

Well after the debacle that was this year’s Big Day of Giving (CLICK HERE to read more about it) and my working a 20 hour shift for Tuleyome on Tuesday and a 10 hour shift on Wednesday trying to keep donors engaged and happy, I was exhausted in every aspect of my being, so I shut off the computer and my phone and took a walk in nature for a little while.

Nature heals.  It’s been documented.  The Japanese call it “shinrin-yoku” (forest bathing / walking) and it always seems to work for me.  I couldn’t get out to a forest today, but I did manage to get over to the WPA Rock Garden and duck pond.  Saw lots of beautiful flowers, interesting bugs, and cute ducklings and goslings… got some fresh air… walked around for a little over an hour to get my body moving again after sitting hunched over in front of a computer for 2 days.  Just what I needed.

Here’s a video of some fry in the pond.

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If you want to learn more about the healing effects of nature on the body and mind here are a few articles you can read: