Tag Archives: Colusa National Wildlife refuge

At the Sacramento and Colusa Wildlife Refuges, 05-06-19

Certified California Naturalist, Roxanne Moger and I went out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge around 6:00 am this morning. The weather was beautiful today, but there wasn’t a lot to see at the preserve. We’re kind of in between seasons, so the large flocks of birds have all left, but the insects (like dragonflies, damselflies, and orb-weaver spiders) haven’t arrived yet. We did see swarms of Painted Lady butterflies and some Cabbage White, but none of the other species normally seen there in the late spring/early summer.

Roxanne did all the driving, but we stopped a couple of time to get out of the car and walk parts of the trail or explore the boundaries of the park-and-stretch areas. Some of the vernal pools on the site were in bloom: all golden yellow and purple with Goldfields and Downingia. Just beautiful.

Although the species list at the end of the day wasn’t as long or as varied as I’d like, I did like the fact that I saw a few things I’d never seen before and learned more about some species than I’d known before. That’s what really makes these outings fun.

A large fly landed on the passenger side mirror of the car partway through the auto-tour and at first I thought it was a Robber Fly (those guys are pretty big). We were both intrigued by the fly’s huge goggle-like eyes and his tenaciousness.  He held onto that mirror for quite a long time.

When I got home, I looked up the fly to see if I could find its scientific name and found that it was actually a male Striped (or Lined) Horsefly, Tabanus lineola. I’d never seen one before. And, of course, once I find something new to me, I have to research it more.  Never having encountered a Horsefly before, I was surprised to learn that although the males drink nectar, the females drink blood (usually from large mammals like livestock). She had scissor-like mouth parts that slice into the skin so she can get to the blood. This species is usually found along the east coast and Gulf of Mexico, so it was something of a surprise to find it here… assuming I got the ID correct.

We also got to see a male Red-Winged Blackbird flaring his epaulets at a female, and a pair of Brown-Headed Cowbirds performing what we thought was courtship behavior.  The two birds sat across from one another, then one ruffled its feathers, opened its wings a bit and bowed down at the other, and the other responded in kind.

Roxanne and I inferred the behavior was “courtship” but, from what I read, after I got home, what we were seeing was actually two males trying to outdo one another in a machismo contest.  Apparently, the females don’t respond well to the males’ bows, which they see as aggressive, so the males only bow to one another. (You can read more here.)  The males open their wings to one another, and to females, to show how mature they are. Juveniles have pale markings on the inside of the wings.

You can see the video snippet I took of the birds HERE.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

And we found a couple of Black Phoebe nests, one stuffed full of babies who were almost fully fledged. They were stacked up, one on top of the other, with their tails sticking out over the edge of the nest. And toward the end of the auto tour route we came across a dead tree where there was a Western Meadowlark, a Red-Winged Blackbird and a tiny Song Sparrow all singing their respective songs.

We caught glimpses of American Goldfinches and Bullock’s Orioles, and hear Bitterns, but didn’t see any. One oddity was sighting a Mute Swan in the permanent wetlands area. That was odd because swans hardly ever go into the refuge, and Mute Swans are actually an invasive species. Unlike the Tundra Swans, the Mute Swans are super-aggressive and destroy the habitat they live in by ripping up water-plants from the roots.

When we were done at the Sacramento refuge, we decided to go over to the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge to show Roxanne the day-roost of the Black-Crowned Night Herons at the end of the auto-tour there. We were astonished to discover that the auto-tour there was roped off so no one could get to it… but the rope and signage was only visible AFTER you entered the refuge and started driving down the route. Stupid. They should have put the signs on the front gate or in the parking area.  A “manager” who showed up a little while after did, said that the auto-route was shut down because they were short handed and couldn’t patrol it well enough. Sad.

So, we didn’t do that tour and instead walked around a little bit in the native flower garden they have near the restroom facility.  Along part of a path near the garden, Roxanne found some galls we’d never seen before: the gall of the Elm Balloon-Gall Aphid, Eriosoma lanuginosum.

According to what I’ve read, the galls are initiated by a “fundatrix”, a parthenogenetic female aphid whose presence causes an extreme enlargement of the soft cell tissue on one side of the leaf. The galls are hollow and feel rubbery. They start out green and are covered with fine white hairs (which we saw) and turn brown as they age.

Inside the gall the fundatrix has her babies which are wingless and yellow until they mature. There can also be second generation aphids, called “alates” (usually winged individuals) which are dark green to black and wax powdered. Not all of the adults grow wings, however, and wing-growth seemed to be associated to crowding inside the galls, a short supply of food, and/or changes in the environment. Nature is so cool!

After walking around a bit, we headed back home to Sacramento and got there around 3:00 pm.

Species List:

1. American Avocet, Recurvirostra americana,
2. American Bittern, Botaurus lentiginosus,
3. American Coot, Fulica americana.
4. American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos,
5. American Goldfinch, Spinus tristis,
6. American Robin, Turdus migratorius,
7. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna,
8. Annual Yellow Sweet Clover, Melilotus indicus,
9. Arches Moth, Habrosyne sp.
10. Bird’s Foot Trefoil, Lotus corniculatus,
11. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
12. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus,
13. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum,
14. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus cerulea,
15. Bristly Oxtongue, Helminthotheca echioides,
16. Brown-Headed Cowbird, Molothrus ater,
17. Bullock’s Oriole, Icterus bullockii,
18. Bur Clover, Burr Medic, Medicago polymorpha,
19. California Flannelbush, Fremontodendron californicum,
20. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi,
21. California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica,
22. California Wild Rose, Rosa californica,
23. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis,
24. Cinnamon Teal, Anas cyanoptera,
25. Clark’s Grebe, Aechmophorus clarkia,
26. Cleveland Sage, Salvia clevelandii,
27. Common Mustard, Brassica rapa,
28. Convergent Lady Beetle, Hippodamia convergens,
29. Curly Dock, Rumex crispus,
30. Damselfly, Pacific Forktail, Ischnura cervula, (dots on thorax)
31. Damselfly, Sooty Dancer, Argia lugens, (no blue tip; rings around segments)
32. Desert Cottontail, Sylvilagus audubonii,
33. Dogtail Grass, Cynosurus echinatus,
34. Elm Balloon-Gall Aphid, Eriosoma lanuginosum,
35. Eurasian Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto,
36. Field Elm Tree, Smooth-Leaf Elm, Ulmus Minor,
37. Foothills Penstamon, Penstemon heterophyllus,
38. Foxtail Barley, Hordeum murinum ssp. glaucum,
39. Fremont Cottonwood Tree, Populus fremontii,
40. Fuller’s Teasel, Wild Teasel, Dipsacus fullonum,
41. Goldfields, Contra Costa Goldfields, Lasthenia conjugens,
42. Great Egret, Ardea alba,
43. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons,
44. Greenbottle Fly, Lucilia sericata,
45. Himalayan Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus,
46. Hood Canarygrass, Phalaris paradoxa,
47. Hoover’s Downingia, Hoover’s Calicoflower, Downingia bella,
48. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus,
49. House Sparrow, Passer domesticus,
50. Jimson Weed, Datura stramonium,
51. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous,
52. Large Oxtongue Aphid, Uroleucon picridis,
53. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris,
54. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura,
55. Mute Swan, Cygnus olor,
56. Narrowleaf Milkweed, Asclepias fascicularis,
57. Northern Paper Wasp, Polistes fuscatus,
58. Northern Pintail, Anas acuta,
59. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata,
60. Oleander Aphid, Aphis nerii,
61. Pacific Pond Turtle, Western Pond Turtle, Actinemys marmorata,
62. Pacific Tree Frog, Chorus Frog, Pseudacris regilla,
63. Painted Lady Butterfly, Vanessa cardui,
64. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps,
65. Plantain, Ribwort, Plantago lanceolata,
66. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum,
67. Purple Finch, Haemorhous purpureus,
68. Purple Needle Grass, Stipa pulchra,
69. Rabbit Tail Grass,Hare’s Tail Grass, Lagurus ovatus,
70. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis,
71. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus,
72. Rush, California Bulrush, Schoenoplectus californicus,
73. Sedge, Pennsylvania Sedge, Carex pensylvanica
74. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciose,
75. Silverpuff, Microseris acuminata,
76. Snow Goose, Chen caerulescens,
77. Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia,
78. Striped Horsefly, Tabanus lineola,
79. Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus,
80. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura,
81. Valley Popcorn Flower, Plagiobothrys canescens,
82. Varied Carpet Beetle, Anthrenus verbasci,
83. Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum,
84. Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
85. Western Kingbird, Tyrannus verticalis,
86. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta,
87. Willow, Gooding’s Willow, Salix gooddingii

Not Many Good Photos Today, 12-02-18

I got up around 6:30 this morning, and decided I’d try going out to the Sacramento and Colusa National Wildlife Refuges. It’s a long drive and I wasn’t sure how Wilson (my tumor)  would react to sitting in a vibrating thing, accelerating and decelerating for hours at a time. I tried going without any pain pills, too, but that didn’t last. Around 9:00 am I had to take one of the ibuprofen. Otherwise, Wilson pretty much behaved himself.

It was foggy in some spots along the highway, but otherwise chilly and mostly sunny all day. It was about 38° when I headed out and remained in the 40’s at the refuges. When I got back to Sacramento in the afternoon, it was about 54°.

On my way to the refuges, I counted 24 raptors along the highway. Most of them were Red-Tailed Hawks, but there were also 4 Turkey Vultures and 3 Kestrels in the mix.

I got to the Sacramento refuge around 9:00 am, which is really “too late” to see anything really good. Most of the birds had finished their breakfasts already and were hunkering down to digest their meals. I didn’t feel like I got any really good photos of anything, and I also felt I was rushed because there were so many other cars on the auto-tour route. So, it was kind of a disappointing day.

The Snow Geese and Ross’s Geese are dominating the landscapes right now, and their noise was defending at times. Soooo many birds!

I was hoping to see some eagles, and I did, but they were about a block away form the car on a small island in the wetland area adjacent to the last park-and-stretch point.  There was an adult Bald Eagle and two juveniles who were eating what looked like a downed Snow Goose. The juveniles looked like they were different ages; one about 2 years old, the other about 3 years old. When they were done eating, they flew off, and the adult eagle moved over to the carcass. While it was eating, it was approached by a seagull, then a Turkey Vulture, then a Raven… and the eagle was actually pretty tolerant of them. I got some of it on video, but because of the distance of the birds, the images aren’t very crisp.

I WAS able to get some nice scenery shots along the route and was happy to see snow on Snow Mountain (the northernmost end of the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument).

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos (even though I’m not really pleased with any of them.)

Standouts: a Lorquin’s Admiral and a Wilson’s Snipe, 11-03-18

I left the house with the dog around 5:30 am to head out to the Sacramento and Colusa National Wildlife Refuges. It was already 62º there and was windy; not a strong blow-you-over wind, but strong enough so that it kept a lot of the birds hunkered down to keep warm. Neither refuge is at full water capacity yet, so there were long areas of nothing but dried grass and tules. In another month or so, viewing should better.

At the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, the first thing I saw was a Black-Tailed Jackrabbit using a stand of tules as a windbreak. I saw several Red-Tailed Hawks in the trees, saw some American Kestrels on the wing, saw a Northern Harrier on the ground, and lots of Turkey Vultures surfing the wind currents. One of the Red-Tails was so huge, I thought at first that it might be an eagle; the female Red-Tails can get REALLY large. I also heard but didn’t see a Red-Shouldered Hawk.

Lots of Song, Savannah and White-Crowned Sparrows were out along with huge flocks of Snow Geese, Greater White-Fronted Geese, and Northern Pintail ducks. I also saw several Ross’s Geese – which look like Snow Geese, but they’re smaller and don’t have the black “grin patch” on the beak. Among the other ducks were Northern Shovelers (some still in their eclipse plumage), American Wigeons and Gadwalls. The Pintails always out-number the other ducks this early in the season as they’re the first to arrive.

Some areas along the auto-tour route were laden with the thick sticky webbing spiderlings use to “balloon” along the landscape. Long strands and bunches of “spider snot” seemed to be everywhere.

Two standouts at the Sacramento refuge were a Loggerhead Shrike and a Lorquin’s Admiral butterfly. The Shrike had posted itself on some dead cattail stems and as I watched it impaled a large insect on a shard along the side of the stem. Then it manipulated the insect a little bit with its beaks and feet before eating it. I think the insect was a big grasshopper, but I couldn’t get a really good look at it. Shrikes are referred to as “butcher birds” and “songbirds with the heart of a raptor” for their hunting and butchering behaviors.

The Lorquin’s Admiral was a huge surprise. It’s very late in the season for them to be out. This is a kind of butterfly that has several “flights” throughout the year, and they feed on nectar from California Buckeye trees, but they also like bird feces. Ugh. No accounting for taste! What’s cool about these guys is that even though they’re basically made out of “fuzzy air”, they’re super-aggressive and will fight protect their territory. Sort of like getting sucker-punches by a paper doll. Hah! The caterpillars roll themselves up in the leaves of willow trees (among others) and overwinter in them.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

At the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge, I saw a lot of the same birds that I did at the Sacramento refuge, but the standout was a Wilson’s snipe and flew up right next to the car and walked around the muddy ground there. Every once in a while, the bird would tilt its head to look up at me as I frantically snapped photos of it through the driver’s side window of my car.

On our way out of the auto-tour route at this refuge, I saw a pair of young Columbian Black-Tailed Deer grazing on the berm that was covered with geese and ducks. The deer didn’t seem to mind it when I stopped my car next to the end of the berm to take some photos and video of them, but when another car came up behind mine, they startled. I was surprised when, instead of running away up the berm through the flock of birds, both deer came charging down the berm right toward my car. I was afraid they were going to hit it. But they both veered off, one after the other, and crossed the auto-tour route road in front of my car – kind of using my car as a shield – before they jumped into the trees and overgrowth on the opposite side of the road. Wow. Got my heart going for a little bit. I don’t know what it was about the other car that made them so afraid.

When I was done with the auto-tour route, I parked near the restroom facility and then took Sergeant Margie out on his leash to stretch his legs. ((Dogs are allowed on the preserve, as long as they’re in your car or on a leash.)) I started down the trail that runs along between a large wetland area and a slough (so you have water on both sides) and was happily surprised to see that Sergeant Margie was able to handle walking a half mile in and a half mile back to the car (one mile round trip). He hasn’t been able or willing to do any kind of “long” walk for almost a year.

I think it helped that the temperature outside was comfortable and the trail was flat and covered with soft leaves. His tongue was hanging out when we got back to the car, but he wasn’t coughing or complaining. I gave him some lunch and a big drink of water before we headed back home.

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.

A Very Conspicuous Great-Tailed Grackle, 05-26-18

I got up at 5:00 today, even though it’s the weekend, because I wanted to get back to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge for a longer trip around the auto-tour there.  It was overcast and drizzling all morning, and the sun didn’t come out until just about when I was ready to leave the refuge.  I stopped off at the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge and spent about an hour there before heading onto the Sacramento refuge.

At the Colusa refuge, I was surprised to see a large flock of sheep near the front gate. Sheep and goats are often brought in to help clear the landscape of overgrowth and noxious weeds – because they eat anything. I saw several American Bitterns there, many of them on the ground among the tules. They were too far away to get really photos of them, but I managed to get a few so-so shots.

Most of the ground at the Colusa refuge are dry – no standing water – so it can be difficult to see much of anything.  I did get to see a lot of Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets and Great Blue Herons there, along with several crayfish chimneys, pheasants and a young Pied-Billed Grebe that was still sporting its striped face. The neatest sighting was that of a young coyote loping across the fields.

At the Sacramento refuge I was first inundated by sightings of Black-Tailed Jackrabbits, Desert Cottontails and California Ground Squirrels, and I thought that was all I was going to be able to see there today. Eventually, the place “opened up” to me and I was able to get photos of other critters, too. What was really nice was that I literally had the place all to myself. Didn’t see any other vehicles (besides the rangers’) until just before I was ready to leave. So, everything was nice and quiet, and I didn’t feel rushed.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

Of the ground squirrels, I saw, I came across one that exhibited a behavior I’d never seen before. It raised itself up on its hind legs, into a standing position, and then rubbed its head and face against a twig. I don’t know if it was transferring scent or just had an itch (it looked a bit mangy), but it was neat to see.

At one point, I stopped because I saw something “odd” on one side of a slough. I couldn’t get a good look at it, even with the telephoto it was sitting on the bank closest to the road, among the tules, with its back toward me. I kept an eye on it, and eventually it dipped down into the water in the slough… a muskrat! It played “keep away” for quite a while, ducking under the surface of the water just as I got the camera focused on it. After a while I tried to anticipate where it might show up next and was rewarded with some video footage of it. Phew!

The other cool find of the day was seeing a male Great Tailed Grackle walking along the rails of a wooden fence.  It was calling and posturing all along the way. I got some video footage (so you can hear the sounds it made) and some fairly good still shots… and I got to see some male Ring-Necked Pheasants sitting a tree. I’d never seen them in tree before; I usually sot them on the ground. They’re large colorful birds, so when they’re up in a tree they’re very “exposed”. There must’ve been something on the ground that scared them.

When I stopped to get some photos of a large bullfrog in the water, I saw something else beside it that I couldn’t identify at the time. I took photos and video of it and when I got home, I looked at it over and over again trying to figure out what I was looking at. I finally decided it was a pair of freshwater snails or whelks laying eggs on a rock… So weird…

I left the refuge around noon and was back home around 2:00 pm.

Decompression Time at the Wildlife Refuges

The dog and I headed to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge one day this week to decompress. Sometimes you just need to listen to your body and do what it wants…

We stopped at the Colusa refuge first (which is right on the way), and drove the auto tour there. Not a lot to see, really, but their ponds are starting to fill in nicely. Finally. I did see some female pheasants, several egrets, and lots of White-Faced Ibis among the usual suspects. The best find there was seeing a Red-Tailed Hawk and a Turkey Vulture sitting in the same tree.  The hawk had a dead Coot it was having for breakfast, and the vulture was sitting nearby hoping the hawk would drop something.

Oh, and I also saw a Great Egret with a vole it had just caught. The vole was still kicking when the egret swallowed it down.

Then we went on to the Sacramento refuge. There were lots of Black-Tailed Jackrabbits around, scurrying from one place to another, but the California Ground Squirrels aren’t out yet. (This is the time of the year when they have their babies, so most of the squirrels are still underground.) We saw most of the usual ducks and geese, both Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets, lots of Coots and Killdeer, some little Warblers, Pacific Pond Turtles, the last remnants of the Snow Geese flocks, and Ruddy Ducks. We came upon a Red-Tailed Hawk that was preening itself and didn’t mind if we watched, so I got some video and lots of photos of him (including one where he’s looking down between his legs at us. (Hilarious.)

CLICK HERE to see the album of photos.

The Marsh Wrens were out singing, and the Pied-Billed Grebes were hooting.  I came across one Marsh Wren that looked kind of odd to me; it’s coloring was different than I’m used to seeing. There were speckles all over its back.

When I got home, I posted a photo of it to a bird-identification group on Facebook, and they confirmed it was a Marsh Wren. Unbeknownst to me, the wrens actually have a few color variations, and this was one of the variations I hadn’t really seen or noticed before. So that was a first and a learning moment. I saw a few more female pheasants here, along with way too many Black Phoebes and a Great Blue Heron.  But here, the best find of the day was a Bald Eagle. I didn’t get many photos of it because it was high overhead in a tree, and I couldn’t get a good angle on it, but those guys are always great to see.