Tag Archives: Columbian black-tailed mule deer

From Ants to Deer to Tadpoles, 06-09-18

I got up around 6:00 am and headed off to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for my walk. We kind of in between seasons right now: not quite spring anymore, not quite summer yet. So, there’s not a whole lot of stuff to see until the galls start showing themselves more, and the baby deer are born… Still, I was able to get photos of quite a few things.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

There was a stage and lots of half-put-away tables out in front of the nature center. There had been an art auction the evening before, and things were still in a jumble out there. It looks, too, like work was started re-doing the tule huts in their replica of a Maidu Village. I also noticed some new signs around the nature center warning people of rattlesnakes (which like to hide under the low eaves of the building and in the rock formations around it in its gardens. Better late than never I suppose…

There were bachelor groups of gobblers out on the grounds, and they apparently took issue with my new hat. It has a very wide brown brim – and maybe it looks like a fanned turkey-tail to them. Several of the males cautiously approached me, and when I gobbled at them, they gobbled back. Hah! At least none of them tried to run me off.

There were no Monarch Butterfly caterpillars on any of the Showy Milkweed blooming, but there were lots of yellow Oleander Aphids and Bordered Plant Bugs around. Those are the ones with the babies that look like dark iridescent balls wit a red mark on the back. I wonder why nature chose such a showy baby for such an unassuming adult…?

Not a lot of deer around right now. I think the females are off having babies, and the males are sequestered away in their own bachelor groups somewhere else along the river. I did see a couple of does out browsing by themselves, but no others.

Lots of coyote scat, though, and a multitude of Harvester Ants gathering seeds and hauling them back to their nests.

At one point during my walk, I saw a Red-Shouldered Hawk –- a male, based on its dark coloring — come flying through the trees straight at me. It flew over my head and landed in a tree to my left. I was able to get a few photos of it before it took off again.

I also found another European Starling nesting cavity with fledglings poking their heads out of the hole, making rasping sounds at their parents. I saw one of the adult birds bring the kids some mulberries.

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

First Flame Skimmer of the Season, 05-12-18

I was out the door and off to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve once more to check on the development of the Monarch Butterfly caterpillars – and get some fresh air and exercise in, of course.

Before I left the house, I noticed there were a few Yellow-Billed Magpies out foraging in the neighbor’s yard, so I took some photos of them before they flew off.   When I got to the nature preserve, the first thing I saw was a small flock of male Wild Turkeys. They were parading and strutting around a single female who was more interested in finding breakfast than dealing with the boys. Hah!

I put on insect repellent, but there are these tiny, black, winged no-see-ums that forge through the repellant anyway and bite HARD. I don’t know what the species is, but I really dislike those things. They get all over you… creep me out worse than the ticks.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

In the small pond by the nature center, the Bullfrog tadpoles are starting to change from water-breathers to air-breathers, and they popped up to the surface periodically to gulp in some air before retreating back down into the water. All you can see through the murky water when they come up is their pale belly and their big mouths. So funny.

The Monarch caterpillars grew a lot over the week, so many of them where about as long as my index finger. There were still a lot of babies, though, so the preserve should have a good crop of new butterflies in a couple of weeks.  This is the time of year when birds are making and feeding babies, but they leave the Monarch and Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillars alone – because the caterpillars are packed with noxious poisons from the plants they eat. I found one new Pipevine Swallowtail chrysalis on the side of an oak tree already. No sign of the gold-bejeweled Monarch chrysalises yet.

I also got photos of the first Flame Skimmer dragonfly I’d seen this year. They’re such neat looking things. The dragonfly sat long enough and still enough that I was able to get some close-ups of its wing-structure.

I later watched some Harvester Ants bring in new seeds and stuff, and remove old seeds and whatnot from their in-ground bivouac. It seems like they were transferring the old stuff to a different part of the nest through an extra hole in the ground.  Looking more closely I could see that they also removed the dead bodies of some rival ants… And some members of the colony apparently didn’t read their emails because they were bringing the new seeds in through a hole that was “exit only”. It was a crack-up watching them.

There weren’t too many deer out today, but I did see a lone doe, and a young buck who looked like he’d been attacked by wasps. His chin and bottom lip were swollen which made him look kind of goofy. There are ground-dwelling Yellow-Jackets that have hives all over the preserve; maybe this guy was browsing too close to one of those.

Come to think of it, one of the Red-Shouldered Hawks I came across today had a swollen eye – like can be rough out in Nature. The swelling didn’t seem to interfere with the bird’s eyesight or it’s ability to navigate; and it didn’t look like the bird was blind on that side, so maybe it was a temporary impairment.

As I was on my way out of the preserve, I saw some of the docents doing a presentation for a small group of Scouts with their animal ambassador, “Orion” a young Swainson’s Hawk. According to the Effie Yeaw website: “…Orion was dropped off at the UC Davis Raptor Center with a broken wing in 2017. Although his injuries healed partially, there were some lingering issues that would prevent him from completing the long migration down to Argentina. It was also discovered that Orion was an imprint, or lacking a natural fear of humans, and therefore dependent on people for his survival. However, this resulted in an easier transition for Orion to become one of our amazing animal ambassadors…”

I’d walked for about 3 hours, and then headed home for the day.

Second Photo-Walk with the CalNat Graduates, 05-05-18

I left the house about 7 o’clock to go to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a second photo-outings with my naturalist class graduates .

We had lots of time to practice with lighting and focus settings. There was an overcast that sort of “diffused” the light so we weren’t dealing with harsh shadows or glare most of the time we were out. The insects are all out doing their thing, and we got to see some katydid nymphs, lots of Pipevine Swallowtail, Tussock Moth and Monarch butterfly caterpillars. I was surprised the Monarch babies were out so early. Last year, they didn’t show up until almost October!

The Lady Beetle larvae and pupa were out in force, too, and all of them gave us lots of practice with macro settings and close-up shots.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

The Tree Swallows were very cooperative and posed for lots of photos. We also saw a couple of Red-Shouldered Hawks that sat still for quite a while, letting us shoot them from different angles. Mama R-S H was up in her nest, but we only caught glimpses of her head and tail. I also spotted a Cooper’s Hawk dashing through the trees, but only got a handful of bad photos of it before it took off again.

We saw a small herd of mule deer, but not as many as we normally might at the preserve. I figured maybe the pregnant moms were off having their babies and so were making themselves scarce.

On our way back to the nature center we saw a firetruck, ambulance and police car pull up next to the building. By the time we got to the center, the emergency personnel were gone, but there were two docents with snake hooks and a bucket poking and prodding along the stone in the nature flower garden by the Maidu Village. A young girl had been bitten by a rattlesnake (thus the ambulance) and the docents were trying to locate it. They found it rather quickly and deposited it in the bucket – and let us take photos of it before carrying it off to show it to a Ranger. The snake will be relocated but will not be killed. It was a young one, almost “cute”.

The docents were quick to reiterate that the notion that young rattlers are more dangerous than adult ones is a complete myth. Young rattlesnakes’ venom sacs are so small that even if they gave you everything they had in a single bite, it wouldn’t amount to much. It also takes a long time for a rattler to produce venom between bites, and without it they’re pretty vulnerable, so they don’t discharge venom unless they have to and control what they do discharge – even the baby rattlers.

When we’d started on the walk it was about 53º at the preserve, but by the time we left, around 1:00 pm, it was 80º and we were ready to quit for the day. Too hot for walking! We sat around the picnic area for a little while, sharing looks at the photos we all got on our cameras… and finding several more Tussock Moth caterpillars. #CalNat

Wrens, Tree Swallows and… Pronghorns, 04-29-18

Things didn’t go quite as planned today, but it was okay.  Up around 6:00 am and off to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. I had intended to go out Highway 20 to search for wildflowers, but the season is almost passed around here, so I drove on to the refuge instead.  It was 49º when I headed out and about 66º on my way back. The sky was full of big sofa clouds and there was a slight breeze all day. Very pretty.

At the refuge, the large pond has been drained down to almost nothing, so there’s nothing to see, really, along that extra loop right now. It’s a disappointment. Without the water there are no dragonflies, no grebes nesting on their floating mats, no rafts of pelicans fishing… Just a big dirt hole with deer tracks running across it.  Still, the trip wasn’t a complete waste. When I started the auto-tour route, I was greeted with the sight of a male American Goldfinch in the tall grass, eating seeds. They’re much brighter than the Lesser Goldfinches I usually see around there. Very striking.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

I also got to see several of the male Marsh Wrens successfully luring females to their construction sites. The males build several different nests close to one another, and then let the female decide which one she likes best. Two of the males I saw had females working to line the nests with soft grass and feathers.  I also watched as another male worked frantically to build a nest, not out of cattail skins (like most of the other nests), but of green weeds and bits of wet stick.  He was really struggling. The green weeds were thin and leafy and wouldn’t bend or sit the way he wanted them to. When he brought the stick in, he tried it in several different spots and just couldn’t seem to get it into the right spot. I got some photos and video snippets of all of this.  I also came across one male Marsh Wren without a tail.  Usually the males “flag” with their tail and hold it upright when they sing. This guy had nothing to work with. I don’t know if the tail feathers had molted out and not regrown yet, or were pulled out by some other critter that tried to make the small bird its meal… I wonder if being tailless will impact on the little guy’s ability to find a mate.

Seriously. I wished I could stay there longer, and study it all more. Where’s my millions, Universe? I want to be able to retire and do naturalist stuff full time!

At another spot along the route, by the big viewing platform, I found a pair of nesting Tree Swallows. Mom and dad took turns patrolling the nest and going out to look for food. I couldn’t hear any babies, though, and the parents didn’t seem to be bringing whatever food they found back to the nest. Maybe mom is still building up enough protein to lay eggs; or maybe the chicks aren’t hatched yet – but far enough along so that mom doesn’t need to be sitting on the nest all of the time. More questions left unanswered because I can’t get out there long enough to do a definitive study. I need to look for research grant funding…

There were lots of ground squirrels out, and a couple of them posed for me.  And I came across several “wakes” of Turkey Vultures.  On group was perches on a gate with huge tufts of poison hemlock growing up all around them. That made for an unusually creepy yet lovely photograph.  Who knew vultures could look so pretty?

Here is the album of pix from today:  https://www.flickr.com/photos/mkhnaturalist/albums/72157695871401034

The big surprise of the day, though, was at the end of the day as I was heading home. Just off Road 68, where the I5 onramp is there was a herd of … wait for it… Pronghorns! I knew there were pronghorn in California, but I’d never seen one. This was a small herd and they were walking through a recently plowed agricultural field. It was such a surprise that it actually took my brain several seconds to understand what I was looking at. An amazing sight.

Photo Tour #1 with the Naturalist Class Graduates

I got up around 6:00 am and was out the door a little after 7:00 to go to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve.  I’m leading a photography walk with some of my naturalist class graduates today. From the Nona Way house, it takes about 45 minutes to get there. From the Hollygrove house today, it still took 45 minutes because Friday morning traffic on Watt was horrible.  It took me 10 minutes just to get through one intersection. Yikes!

The weather was beyond gorgeous today: sunny, breezy and in the low 70’s. Lissa remarked that it could stay like this for the rest of the year if it wanted too. That wouldn’t make for much plant and animal diversity, but sure would be nice for us humans. Hah!

When I got to the preserve, three of the graduates were there and two more joined us later so that was nice.  There was a lot to see out there today, but we needed to finish by noon, so we didn’t get very far through the preserve.  Even with the abbreviated route, we saw lots of wildflowers, deer, insects, birds and even some raccoon tracks in the mud around a small pond.

While we walked, I showed the group how change the lighting to get better shots, how to use a macro lens to focus on the small stuff – and how to get the automatic cameras to focus on what YOU want it to focus on, and how to frame the subject(s) in a photo BEFORE you take it so you don’t have to crop it so much afterwards.  The stars of the day, as far as subject matter goes, were the insects. We found some really unusual-looking guys including a species of long-horned beetle, a pink and white moth, and a semi-iridescent beetle we couldn’t readily identify. Because there are literally millions of insects, getting a proper ID is a daunting task even for the experts.

We also got to watch a pair of Black Phoebes bring insects to their nest full of fledglings. Mom and dad took turns flying back and forth to feed the kids. I saw one of the parents m with a large hoverfly, and another one with a large bright green worm. Those kids get fed well!  Because we were standing near the where the next was, the parents would stop and sit for a little while before transporting the food directly to the kids. This gave us the opportunity to gets some good close-ups and still shots of them.  We could also see the babies in the nest – almost fully fledged already, they looked too big to still be hand-fed by their folks. This particular pair of Phoebes have been nesting under the eaves of the nature center at the preserve for years. They come back season after season.  Their nests are mud cups filled with grasses and other soft plant fibers.

We found the Red-Shouldered Hawk’s nest on the Pond Trail. We could hear mama calling from the nest but couldn’t get an angle on the structure that allowed us to see her. she must be sitting eggs at the moment.  And we found several tree cavity nests of wrens, Starlings, and Acorn Woodpeckers (some of them in or near the same tree).

We also got to see some Ash-throated Flycatchers. Besides being pretty birds, these guys are kind of special because they don’t drink water. They get what fluid they need from the stuff they eat.

Among the deer we saw, I believe one of them was very pregnant and may have been experiencing some early contractions. She’d walk along and life her tail like she wanted to defecate, but nothing came out.  Might be seeing some fawns in the next month or so!

On our way out of the preserve, one of the graduates and I loitered around the small pond again and tried to get photos of the Bullfrog tadpoles and crawfish under the water.  Getting the camera to focus past the surface of the water is always an interesting trial… and I can never really tell if I got the shots I want until after I get the photos home and download them, so I can see them better.

We finished up our walk around noon. #CalNat

A Partially Blind Deer at the Preserve, 04-12-18

I had to get another nature fix today before finishing off all of the packing and taking stuff to the thrift store for them to recycle, so I went over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, just open to whatever Nature wanted to show me today.

In front of the nature center building, the native plants garden was in full bloom: redbud, bush lupine, seep monkey flowers, California poppies, Buckbrush. Very pretty. And the air was filled with birdsong: sparrows, hawks, woodpeckers, wrens, nuthatches, finches… and the gobble of Wild Turkeys. Such a nice springtime morning! I really needed that.

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

The mule deer were out and about, and the bucks are already sprouting their new set of antlers. Some of them just had little nubbins, but on others you could already see the velvet growing. One of the deer I saw was blind on one side, but that didn’t seem to hamper its ability to get around.

I was alerted by the soft cries of a female American Kestrel to her perch on a high branch of tree, and realized she was calling to her mate. The little male flew up to her, they mated for a while, and then both sat for a bit. The male then kept flying back and forth between the tree where the female was and another tree nearby. I don’t know if it wanted the female to follow it or if he’d found a good nesting for her and wanted her to check it out, but she wasn’t budging. She kept “whining”, like a baby bird asking for food. It’s not unusual for a male to offer food to a female during the courting season. While I was watching and photographing the kestrels, some of the Wild Turkeys decided to take that moment to fly down from their night roosts in the trees to the ground… and several of them whizzed right by me. I don’t get to see the turkeys in flight very often, so that was neat to see – even though I was worried that some of them might crash right into me. They’re big birds!

I was surprised by the number of wildflowers throughout the preserve. I’ve never seen so many there. There was one shallow field that was filled with miniature lupine. I waited for the deer to find it so I could get some photos of them grazing there: all that pretty dark blue around them…

The Red-Shouldered Hawks that usually have a nest right next to the nature center have seemingly opted out of that one for this year. They’d been using that one for several years straight, and it might be overrun with mites and crud right now. I had seen them during the fall working on another nest near the water-post 4B on the Pond Trail, so I checked over there, and sure enough, a mama was occupying that nest.

Unlike the nest near the nature center, however, the one on the Pond Trail is very hard to see. I only saw the very top of the mama’s head poking up above the rim of the nest and could hear her screeching to her mate… When they occupied the nest near the nature center, you could get a good view of it and see a good deal of the mom and babies. Their current nest is going to make that kind of viewing almost impossible. Still, I’m glad they’re there.

I also came across a pair of young Cooper’s Hawks. I don’t know if they were courting or what, but they seemed to stick close to one another.

Further along the trail, I found the nesting cavity of a pair of Oak Titmice and a House Wren. The wren was still adding nesting materials to the inside of the cavity, so I got some photos of it with twigs in its beak.

I saw a lot of Fox Squirrels (Tree Squirrels) running around and stuffing their faces with food, but didn’t see much of the California Ground Squirrels today. There were Western Fence Lizards (Blue Bellies) all over the place doing their push-ups, but it seemed like every time I was able to focus the camera on them to get some footages of their exercises, they stopped moving. Hah!

I DID catch a glimpse of a coyote, though, a skinny female who – by the look of her teaties may have recently given birth. I saw her head moving through the tall grass, and trained my camera on a spot where I thought she might emerge and take to the trail in front of me. She did! And I was able to get a little video snippet of her before she caught sight of me and disappeared again. I had a similar experience with a Black-Tailed Jackrabbit: he came running through the grass, saw me, and then high-tailed it back the way he’d come. Hah-2!

The only disturbance while I was out on the preserve was the sound of screaming children. Apparently, the nature center was holding some events there and there were groups of kids all around it – some of them brandishing Native American weapons as part of a learning exercise. (Yikes!) After encountering one group of the kids, I left the preserve. They were scaring off all the wildlife – and me.