Tag Archives: Clark’s Grebes

Looking for Grebes; Found Just About Anything But

I was out the door with Sergeant Margie by about 4:00 am, and drove out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge by way of the gas station and Jack’s.

I got to the refuge just as the sun was coming up, and as I got out of the car Great Blue Herons lurched out from the tops of the surrounding trees where they’d roosted for the night and flew off over my head… and one small bat came flitting around me to check me out. I didn’t get pictures of them, of course, because it was too dark and they moved too fast… As the sub came up, so did the temperatures and by 9:00 am it was already in the 80’. The car did NOT like the heat, and neither did I…

CLICK HERE to see the album of photos from today.

I was hoping the Clark’s and Western Grebes would be doing some courtship stuff, but they were uncooperative. I saw the Great Horned Owls, but they were sitting on top of a distant fence with their backs to me. (So rude! Hah!) And I came across a huge gathering of Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets, but they were behind thick blinds of tules, and I couldn’t get the camera to see through and past the tules to the birds… So that was frustrating…

At one old scraggly tree I came across a bunch of young Tree Swallows and Barn Swallows jousting with each other. They were out catching the early morning bugs over the water and would go to the tree to rest… and argue with one another over who go what branch. This extended into a nearby willow tree where the scuffling continued… While I was watching them I caught sight of a young male Hairy Woodpecker who was testing out his navigation skills. He was pretty scruffy-looking, but seemed to be able to get around okay…

There were dragonflies, damselflies and big orb-weaver spiders everywhere, which is typical for this time of year, but among them I was surprised to get my very first photo of a Twelve Spotted Skimmer dragonfly. I’d seen Eight Spotted Skimmers before, but not a Twelve Spotted one… and I’d never seen any of the spotted skimmers at the refuge before. Usually, I only see them around Lake Solano. They usually seem to be in constant motion, which makes getting a photos of them hard for me. This Twelve Spotted one was parked on the top of a tule among a “flock” of Variegated Meadowhawks, so I quickly got as many picture of it as I could.

Among the birds out there today, I was also surprised to get my first still shot close-up of a Common Tern. (I think it was a Common one; I’m not very good at telling some of them apart.) I got a few good photos of a young Black-Crowned Night Heron who was fishing among the cattails and reeds, some late-in-the-season Snow Geese drifting on the water (juvenile and an adult), and a very cooperative juvenile Mourning Dove. She was sitting in the shade on a ranch near the viewing platform, and stayed right where she was while I got some close-ups of her. The doves have such lovely faces…

I also got some photos of a Great Egret sitting on top of a dead tree. It gaped while I was watching it so I got some photos of its tongue. Heron tongues are so weird-looking. Toward the back, where they attach in the throat, they’re flat, but near the front are arrowhead-like projections which help hold prey in the mouth and allow the birds to use the arrowhead like mini-trowels and shove the prey back from the front of the beak into the gullet…

I headed out of the preserve by about 10 o’clock and was back to the house by noon.

More Spider Photos Than You Need… and some other critters, too.

It was supposed to get over 100º today, but I wanted to get over to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge to test out my new camera there so… I got up at 4:00 am.  Yeah, I know. Four-fricking-A.M.  It eventually made it to 102º

I took the dog with me and we got to the refuge around a quarter of six, just as the sun was coming up.  Usually, this time of year, there aren’t a whole lot of birds at the refuge, but there are resident ones around the permanent wetlands area.  That’s also the best place to spot lots of dragonflies, damselflies and spiders… So, most of my photos from today were of those guys.

Right off the bat, I spotted some Great Horned Owls: two fledglings and their mother.  They were across a field and in the shade of some trees, so from where I was, they just looked like dark blobs.  (When you do a little birding you get so you can tell which blobs are “important” and which ones aren’t.) I aimed the new camera at the blobs and got some so-so photos of the owls.  They would have been better if I hadn’t been so excited and “greedy” and zoomed in on them so much.  At that distance, the lens needs time to adjust itself so it can focus properly, but I was pushing it; “Get closer! Get closer!”

I learned today that I need to pull back more, and let the camera do its thing rather than trying to force it.  Still, I got some photos of the owls that I wouldn’t have gotten at all if I didn’t have the new camera, so even though they’re not great, they’re still “something”… I’ll get better with more practice and more patience.

There were LOTS of jackrabbits and cottontails around, and TONS of orb weaver spiders and Variegate Meadowhawk dragonflies. They were everywhere!  I tried doing some super-close ups of the insects and some of them turned out pretty good.  I got a video snippet of one of the dragonflies cleaning off its eyeballs and trying to get spider web out of its “teeth”. Hah!  There were also quite a few white Crab Spiders (Mecaphesa sp.), Cabbage White butterflies, some Buckeye butterflies and a lot of Skippers flitting around in the heat.

At one point, I saw the silhouette of a female Ring-Necked Pheasant standing up in a tree… and then I saw her poults running back and forth across the road in front of me.  They moved really fast, so I didn’t get many photos of them, but it was still cool to see the little guys.  Like Turkey poults, I hardly ever get to see pheasant poults…

In another spot, I saw a bunch of Barn Swallows sitting on the road, eating the early morning bugs. And in a nearby tree, Tree Swallows were teaching their kids how to fly and catch stuff.  The youngsters kept going back to the tree-cavity nest and looking into it as though they wanted to get back in there and just watch TV or something.  Hah-2!

Here are some pix and video snippets: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mkhnaturalist/albums/72157683669582143

Some misses: I saw a gorgeous male Yellow-Headed Blackbird standing up in the tules, but he flew off before I could get a photo of him.  I also saw a pair of Clark’s Grebes doing their courtship dash across the top of the water (!), but I was struggling to get the camera from still shot mode into video mode, and only got the last second or two, just as they finished running and flopped down into the water.  Dang it!  I need to be faster than that!

I was through the auto tour at the refuge by about 10:30 am and it was already 93º there, so I headed back home and made it to the house around noon.  I ordered some sushi lunch (there’s finally a place that delivers out here in “the hood”) and then the dog and I just crashed for the rest of the day.

More Photos from the Sacramento Refuge

Here are some more photos from the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  CLICK HERE to see the album.

I got a video snippet of a muskrat.  It waddled up onto the auto-tour road, grabbed some green vegetation and went back into the tules.  I wonder if it’s setting up a “nest” there.  Where they’re able to, muskrats will burrow into the bank and set up a nesting hole in the ground (with an entrance to the water). If they can’t do that, then they’ll create a structure called a “push-up” made of reeds, vegetation and mud… There are heaps of dead tules in places along the edges of the wetland areas at the refuge, including several of them along the auto-tour route, which I think might make building a push-up really easy for the muskrats…

I saw some Great Horned Owls dozing in a tree, but they were so obscured by branches and twiglets that the camera couldn’t figure out what to focus on, so I couldn’t get any decent photos of them.  And I saw a Killdeer running and squawking along the edges of a slough.  At first I didn’t know what it was excited about, but then I could see it had some babies with it. One of the youngsters was loitering along the water’s edge, and mom was having a fit because it wouldn’t follow her.  Hah!

I also came across a pair of Double-Crested Cormorants (on the little island they often share with the pelicans and ducks), and watched while one of them did a jumping and barking kind of dance around the other before it took off and landed in the water behind the island. I’d never seen that behavior before, so I looked it up.

“…Ritualized agonistic displays are associated with takeoff and landing in both sexes. Before takeoff, individual stretches neck in direction it wishes to go, inflates head and neck and gives t-t-t-t-t call through almost-closed bill. Before landing, often calls urgurgurg and gives Kink-Throat Display, which is given also during working of nest material; lowers hyoid apparatus, making orange pouch conspicuous. Immediately after landing, gives characteristic post-landing display in which it holds head horizontally and slightly below arched and inflated neck. These displays also precede and follow a hop, which functions as symbolic or reduced flight, and occurs in various social contexts…” (https://birdsna.org/Species-Account/bna/species/doccor/behavior) Hah!  How interesting!

The one thing I saw a lot of out there today was insects: lots of butterflies, dragonflies and spiders.  I was happy to see one beautiful Anise Swallowtail, and I also saw some Monarchs, but none of them sat still long enough for me to get photos of them. Among the other insects spotted today were: Variegated Meadowhawks, Garden Orb Weavers, Widow Skimmers, Common Buckeyes, West Coast Ladies, Cabbage Whites and Sulphurs, a Meadow Katydid nymph, Crescent butterflies, Painted Ladies, Pipevine Swallowtails and Yellow-Faced Bumble Bees.  I also found a dead Green Darner dragonfly that was pretty well desiccated by the heat. It’s always sad to find them dead, but the find gave me the opportunity to get some close-ups of the dragonfly’s head and eyes…

At the Sacramento Preserve on 04-02-17

I headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge to see if there was anything interesting to see.  It was all the usual suspects at the refuge, but I did get to see a Blue-Winged Teal.  I hardly ever get to spot one of those, so that was a nice treat.  Because of the wing there was a lot of “chop” on the water which limited the number of birds swimming in it to just the stronger swimmers. The wind was also knocking butterflies around, and could be heard on the videos I shot.  Not insurmountable, just kind of disruptive.  Still, I saw about 25 different species of birds, which is pretty good for a three-hour viewing session.

Some of the wildflowers are coming out all over the refuge, too, including thick swaths of Goldfields and Fiddleneck, and the pink-headed Squirrel-Tail Barley.  That made for some pretty photos…

CLICK HERE to see the photos and video snippets.

Birds, Deer and Dragonflies at the Refuge, 08-27-16

I got up around 5:30 this morning and headed out with the dog to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. It was in the 50’s when we left the house, and got up to about 81° by the late afternoon; so it was a nice day.  I also had the whole refuge to myself; didn’t see another car or person all the while I was out there which was double-nice.

This is one of the last weekends the refuge will have its extension loop open, so I wanted to make sure to be able to see that.  It was nice to see that the refuge is already pumping water into the seasonal wetland areas (which is kind of unusual for August): the more water there is, the more birds there are to see.  Some of the ducks, especially Pintails, were moving in already.  I also saw a few Widgeons, Ruddy Ducks, and Northern Shovelers.

CLICK HERE for an album of photos from the day.

I saw three sets of mule deer.  One was a male with two females (which may have been his mom and sibling), another set was a mama with her two fawns (that were just growing out of their spots, and the third set was a mama and her yearling. What struck me about these deer was that their coats were a lot lighter than the coats of the deer near the American River. They were almost a bright straw color rather than tan…

There were all sorts of grebes out on the water: Pied-Billed Grebes, Clark’s Grebes and Western Grebes.  The little white fuzzy babies are now fledglings; still paler than their parents but getting big.  I got a video snippet of one parent feeding a fish to its baby, er, teenager…

CLICK HERE for a video of a scruffy-looking juvenile Pied-Billed Grebe.

 CLICK HERE for a video of a Clark’s Grebe feeding its baby a fish.

I saw a family of otters around the permanent wetland area, but they moved so fast, I couldn’t get any decent photos of them. Once I saw them running across the road, and at another spot, they poked their heads out of the water right down from my driver’s side door.  Each time, I pulled my camera up to get photos of them, they whisked away out of sight.  Rrrg! That’s nature photography for you.

Sergeant Margie and I lunched in the car halfway through the auto-tour route by the viewing platform: ham and cheese with crackers.  Then we went on…

At one point along the route, a mother raccoon and her four babies came waddling down the road right toward me.  I didn’t want to startle them, so I put the car in park and watched them through the windshield. Filming and photographing through the windshield sucks, but it was still fun to see them.

CLICK HERE for a video of the raccoons.

There were a lot of American White Pelicans around, flying, swimming, fishing, standing around – including some juveniles with pink bills.  It’s so fun to watch them when they’re fishing together; like synchronized swimming.

CLICK HERE for a video of the Pelicans.

There weren’t as many dragonflies out and about as during previous visits, but I still got photos pf Variegated Meadowhawks, Black Saddlebags, Blue-Eyed Darners, Green Darners, and some Pondhawks.

Juvenile Red-Shouldered Hawk. © 2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.
Juvenile Red-Shouldered Hawk. © 2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.

The best photo I got for the day was of a hawk.  It was one of the last photos of the day; the bird was just sitting in a tree on the side of the road, looking handsome.  It was a nice day.  The drive back to Sacramento was without incident and we made it home a little after 2:00 pm.

Day 2 of a 2-Day Excursion, 07-16-16

Up at 5:00 am.  I know, it’s my day off, but I wanted to get everything packed in the car, get some gasoline, and head out to the refuge again as soon as I could to take advantage of the cool morning air.  (It was about 67° when I got there, and was up to 82° before I left around noon.)  Early-early morning is really the best time to see cool stuff at the refuge… CLICK HERE to see the entire album.

I saw lots of jackrabbits and a skunk (who moved too fast for me to get any photos of), and flocks of White-Faced Ibis flying overhead (again, too fast for me and my camera).  There was one spot, deep in the tules, where I could see Ibis, Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets all gathering and flying in and out… I knew there was a shallow pool there, and I suspected they were all having breakfast.  I lifted my camera up out of the window, and tried to shoot over the tools and thistles.  Still photos weren’t turning out well at all, so I tried shooting a little bit of video.  That turned out a little bit better (although it’s still pretty crummy because the angle and all of the vegetation interference), and you can see one of the Snowy Egrets raising its crown feathers at another one in it.  Here is the snippet.

On “Pelican Island” out in the middle of the wetland area, there were quite a few American White Pelicans, Double-Crested Cormorants, some Black-Necked Stilts and sleepy American Avocets among the seagulls.  Later the pelicans and cormorants left the island to go fishing and I got some photos and video of that.  The pelicans often work together swirling the water so they can catch fish. Today, it seemed like the cormorants showed the pelicans where the fish were, and then as the pelicans worked to swirls up the fish, the cormorants get into the middle of everything and chowed down, too.  I love watching the pelicans when they’re feeding in a group; it’s almost like a choreographed water ballet.  Video of Pelicans fishing.

I also saw Ring-Necked Pheasants, Great Blue Herons, Yellow-Headed Blackbirds (females and juveniles), lots of female Red-Winged Blackbirds, a Turkey Vulture,  pair of female Great-Winged Grackles feeding by the rocks, tons of Coots, some Pied-Billed Grebes, and a group of immature Tree Swallows.  They had all gathered at an old gnarled tree and were eating bugs out of a cavity at the end of one of its stubby branches.  Video of Tree Swallows.

I also spotted several river otters on the road ahead of me, but when I got to the place where they’re entered the water, I couldn’t see them anymore.  Dang it!  Those little guys move fast!  And I got just a couple of photos through the windshield of my first Ribbon Snake (Thamnophis proximus), a kind of long slender garter snake.  It was warming up on the road next to a pool, but when it saw the car coming it slipped into the water and vanished from sight.

Again, there were loads of Variegated Meadowhawks and blue damselflies.  I tried to get some photos showing how many there were, but the pictures don’t really do their numbers justice because the camera can only focus on one small area at a time.  I got a little bit of video of the damselflies, but still… imagine those multiplied a thousand fold and you get some idea of how many there were out there. I also saw some Black Saddlebag dragonflies, blue Pondhawks, and Widow Skimmers.  I’m still trying to get some decent shots of Green Darner and Giant Darners, but they’re few and far between… Oh, I also got a very brief video of a pair of Variegated Meadowhawks as the male flew the female over the top of the water. He’d “tap” her against the water’s surface and with each tap, she’d lay some eggs…  Video of egg-tapping.

And, of course, there were the “cities” of orb-weaver spiders among the tules on the side of the road, Common Buckeye butterflies, Sulphurs, Painted Ladies, some Hairstreaks, and a couple of Monarchs along with a variety of skippers.  I also came across a nest of Paper Wasps in a weird place. By the viewing platform (at the halfway point on the auto tour) there’s a gate that keeps visitors out of the area where one of the photo-blinds are, and in the open top of the fence post was the nest. It looked like they were all busy building new cells (which were all empty right now, as far as I could tell).  The wasps were so focused on what they were doing that they didn’t spook or fly out when I put my camera over the top of the nest to get photos of them.

I got lots of video snippets of the Clark’s Grebes out on the water.  [Please excuse the “shaking” in some of them; I sometimes had to move the car while videoing at the same time.] Some of the females are still sitting on eggs even though their other babies have already hatched, so the dads were doing “taxi service” for the kids a lot of the time.  In one video, the chicks are riding on the back of one of their parents while the other tries to feed them a fish (or flatworm of some kind). The morsel is too big for the babies, though, and they keep dropping it in the water. So the parent retrieves it, “washes it off” and tries again.  Then the fish gets covered with eel grass and crud… and you can almost feel the parent’s frustration with the whole thing.  Here’s that video.

In another snippet, you can see the mother grebe, on her nest, rolling her egg around while dad floats nearby with their chicks on his back.  Cooperative parenting.  [In this video, it looks to me like the dad is actually a Western Grebe, not a Clark’s Grebe like the mother!  The black on his head surrounds his eye – one of the field markings of a Western Grebe.  On the Clark’s Grebe, the eye is surrounded by white, not black.] Here’s that video.

I also have a video snippet of this pair in which the dad first feeds feathers to the babies – [This is normal of the species; the feathers seem to aid in digestion (sort of like the way chickens eat gravel; the gravel sits in the gizzard and grinds up the seeds they eat).] – and then dumps them in the water so he can go fishing. You can then see the babies then try to climb up onto the nest to get warm with their mama. Here’s that video.

Then in another video, I have a snippet of a Clark’s Grebe dad who’d caught a good sized panfish.  Mom came by with the babies on her back, but dad didn’t want to share. The fish was way too big for the kids; I even thought it was way too big for dad to swallow but he somehow managed it, gulping it down whole. Here’s that video.

Further on down toward the end of the auto-tour route, I came across a mother Killdeer.  When she saw the car coming, she dropped to the ground and did her “broken wing” act – which told me she had a nest nearby.  [Killdeer mothers pretend to be injured and roll around on the ground hoping to distract predators from their nests.  When the predator goes after the mom, she flies away at the last second to safety.] But as I looked around, I realized it wasn’t a nest from which she was trying to distract me. She had two new fuzzy hatchlings running along the opposite side of the road!  I’d seen photos of Killdeer chick before, but had never seen one in “real life” before.  They were beyond adorable!  The video I got of them was terrible, because I had to keep moving the camera from one window of the car to another, but I did capture mama’s “wounded” routine.  Here is the video of the Killdeer.

One of the oddest things I encountered all morning was a spot where the water seemed to be “alive” with jumping, plopping creatures.  The critters moved so fast, I couldn’t get any real still shots of them, but I did get a video snippet.  At first I thought they were some time kind of fish, but on closer inspection, I found they were bullfrog tadpoles!  They were getting close to emerging as frogs, and were jumping up to the top of the water to gulp air (as their tadpole gills weren’t functioning at full throttle anymore). Gulping air also helps to make them more buoyant in the water. Super cool! Here is the video of the tadpoles gulping air.

Another neat find was spotting an immature American Bittern in a shallow pond where it was fishing.  I’d actually passed the bird at first, and then caught a glimpse of it in my side-view mirror, so I backed up and watched it for a while.  In order to see it through the tules, I had to open the back passenger side window and hold the camera out behind the front seat on that side of the car.  Holding the camera at such a weird angle strained my shoulder a little bit, but it was worth it, I think.  I got some still shots and a little bit of video of it.  In of the still shots, you can see it’s caught a bullfrog tadpole – and this photo give you some idea of how BIG those tadpoles are. Here is a video of the Bittern.

Oh, I also came across a two different groups of Black-Tailed deer.  The first one was a female with a bum leg traveling with a young male who was in his velvet.  I assumed it was a mother and son pair.  Mom was having difficulty maneuvering; it looked like her left front leg or foot was giving her trouble, and she limped pretty severely.  I couldn’t see her leg or foot, though, because she was traveling in high vegetation.  Eventually, she got tired and just sat down – and all I could see was her ears and part of her head.  I got some still shot, and some video of the male walking through the plants. Here’s that video.

A little further up the road, I came across another female – with two fawns. The babies were just starting to come out of their spots – good sized, but still obviously nursing along with eating their veggies.  They were moving away from me (so I got butt shots of them, mostly), but I could tell what direction they were going in, and knew that the road turned up ahead, so I drove up ahead of them, and got photos of them as they came through the deep vegetation and tules.  They all starting browsing among the cocklebur plants.

Here is a video of mom and the fawns walking away from me.

Here is a video of mom and the fawns walking toward me.

So, although I didn’t get a lot of stuff in the heat of the afternoon on Friday, I got to see loads of interesting stuff this morning.  I left the refuge about noon and got home right around 2:00 pm.  When I got to the house, I unpacked the car, and then the dog and I crashed for the rest of the day.