Tag Archives: Coots

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.

Day 1 of a 2-Day Excursion, 07-15-16

After work, I headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge with the dog, and we made a fast pass through it in the scorching afternoon heat.  On the way there, I was surprised by the number of Sulphur butterflies were out and about; at one point, about a dozen of them impacted with my windshield.  *Sad emoji*…  Wild animals are smarter than humans: not too many of them were out in the heat… and a grasshopper jumped into the car through the open window and sat on the A/C vent.  Hah!  On the water in the permanent wetlands part of the refuge, I did get  to see American White Pelicans, grebes, geese and other water birds… and m’jillions of Variegated Meadowhawk dragonflies and blue damselflies.  Of the Variegated Meadowhawks, I got a couple of photos of the males doing their tail-up threatening stance on top the of the tules; it’s a kind of territorial display.  Very cool.

The Great Egrets, which I’ve had trouble getting close-ups of for some reason this year, seemed to be out and more photo-ready today. One actually flew into a tree right next to the auto tour and posed for me for a while.  To get photos of him, though, I had to lay down across the front seat of the car and shoot out the passenger side window.  What we won’t do for photography!  I noticed he had a leaf stuck to one of his knobby knees, and wondered if that was the egret equivalent of walking out of a bathroom with toilet paper stuck to your shoe…

I also saw what I think was a mama Pintail Duck scooting across the surface of the water with her ten – count ‘em, ten – fledglings.  As I got a distance shot of them and some video, I was struck by the notion that although the wetland area looked relatively “small” to me, to that mama ad her babies, as small as they were, the water must’ve looked never-ending…

At one point, I saw what looked like a striped feather stuck in between some dead tules. I took photos of it just because it looked “pretty”… when I got home and went through my photos, I realized it was actually the caterpillar of a Red Admiral butterfly.  Hah!

The real surprise of the day, though, was seeing a Green Heron flying straight toward the driver’s side of my car.  I stopped, and the bird landed on rocks in a slough on the side of the auto-tour road.  Yay!  I was able to get quite a few photos of him.  Green Herons are small, about the size of a kid-sized football, so in the vast expanse of the wetlands, they’re hard for me to find at the refuge.  (I see them a lot at the American River and William Land Park, but this was actually the first time I’d spotted on at the refuge.)  That was a nice way to end the tour.

You can see the album of photos and a video by CLICKING HERE.

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 Quick Trip on Friday, 05-27-16

Young male Mule Deer. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.
Young male Mule Deer. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.

After work I took another quick run up to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  (You knew I couldn’t keep away…)  I drove through pretty quickly, so I didn’t see a lot but I did get photos of several different bird species, including American White Pelicans, Marsh Wrens, and some Black-Crowned Night Herons and Grebes. Oh, and I saw a Brown-Headed Cowbird.

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Egrets & Herons: 2 Voles: 0

Great Egret tries to swallow its catch. © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Great Egret tries to swallow its catch. © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

I’m feeling better today; got through the whole night without drugs and without coughing.  I got up around 6:30 and headed out with Sergeant Margie to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  It was foggy and chilly (around 48°) in Sacramento, but pretty clear and a little bit warmer (56°) by the time I got to Willows.

At the refuge there were hardly any other people (I only saw 2 cars on the auto tour), so I felt like I practically had the whole place to myself.  I saw mostly egrets and herons on the auto tour.  I got some good video snippets of one Great Egret catching and eating what looked like a large water vole (the tail was too short to be a rat).  It stabbed at the vole several times with its dagger-like beak and dunked it under water a couple of times to drown it (and, I think, to make it easier to swallow.)  Later on, I also saw a Great Blue Heron catch a vole about the same size as the one the egret got.  Rather than stabbing and drowning it, though, the heron took the vole and shook it violently (I think to severe the spiral cord from the brain) and then moved it toward the back of its mouth where it could crush it with its beak.  Not a good day for the voles…

 

 

I also got to see one adult Bald Eagle in the distance, and came up on one of the juvenile eagles again while it was eating.  It was up in a tree over the auto-tour road and didn’t like the fact that a car had come by to disturb it.  So, it dropped some of its meal onto the top of my car, from where it bounced off and hit the road next to my driver’s side window.  A Coot.  Eew. Then the eagle flew off.

I saw a couple of different kinds of hawks, but most of them were too far off to get any photos.  I did get a short snippet of video of a large Red-Tailed Hawk buzz-bombing a small flock of Coots.  He’d strafed them twice before I could get my camera focused on him, so I only got one of the three runs, but he was persistent.  I later found him sitting in a tree near the auto-tour road and got a few photos of him.

At the turnout near the viewing platform (about halfway through the auto tour route) I got out with the dog, and we could hear two Ring-Necked Pheasants croaking at each other.  They’re really loud, and their call is unmistakable, so I was hoping I’d be able to see at least one of them.  I went up onto the top of the viewing platform, and saw one of the pheasants – a large male, making his way through the tall grass, snacking on leaves as he went along.  I got a tiny bit of video of him, but, man, those things move fast!

When I was done with the auto tour, it was still kind of early (around 10:00 am), so I decided to go to the Colusa National  Wildlife Refuge again to see if the Black-Crowned Night Herons were still hanging around there.  They were… but by that time in the morning, they’re all sleeping.  I need to get to the refuge near dusk or dawn, so I can see them when they’re moving around and hunting.  Unlike the Great Blue Herons, the Black-Crowned Night Herons are real heavy and stocky with a short neck and football-shaped body.  They’ll eat almost anything, and are known to predate duck nests.  Their loud “wok” call is very easy to identify.  We’re getting near their breeding season, and sometimes they’ll forage during the day if they have a lot of babies to feed so I’m hoping that eventually I’ll get some decent photos of them…

When I came to the area where the Black-Crowned Night Herons were all sleeping in their trees along the slough, a Great Egret and Great Blue Heron flew down right in front of my car, so I was able to get some close-ups of them.  Among the other birds I saw was a Eurasian Wigeon, different from the American Wigeons that are abundant this time of year, the Eurasian Wigeon has a rust-colored head instead of the gray/green head the Americans have.  This was the first Eurasian Wigeon I’d seen, so I got to add him to my species list.

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When we were done with the tour at the Colusa refuge, Sergeant Margie and I had lunch at the picnic tables near the entrance to the refuge: chicken, apricots and tea.  Then we headed home.  It was a nice day.  It’s so great to be feeling well enough to get outside again…

Birds and Racoons on Saturday

Raccoon. © Copyright 2016, Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Raccoon. © Copyright 2016, Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

I got up around 7:00 this morning and headed out with Sergeant Margie to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  It was overcast and rainy, so I wasn’t expecting to see a lot, but I wanted to get out anyway.

The drive was uneventful, and I got to preserve in about 90 minutes (which is par). It was misting and drizzling when I got there, but the rain let up after a few hours.  Shooting photos through the drizzle was a bit difficult.  I don’t have any way to shut off the auto-focus on my camera, and the camera sometimes got confused, focusing on the rain instead of the subject.  The rain also keeps some of the birds snuggled down on the ground.  Some of the raptors were out – including a couple of Merlins, several Red-Tailed Hawks, Turkey Vultures, and a Peregrine Falcon — many of them trying to shake off the rain and dry off their feathers (to little avail, since the mist kept getting them wet.)  I also saw a lot of Bald Eagles, but they were all at a distance or in flight, so I didn’t get any really good pictures of them.  I did watch a pair doing their mating dance in the air during which they lock talons and tumble down to the ground, separating just before they crash.  That’s soooo neat to see.  I also saw the male of this pair fly over to an area where Ravens and Turkey Vultures were gathered.  There must’ve been something tasty there to eat.  The male eagle horned his way into the small group of scavengers, snagged a tidbit and flew it over to the female.  I couldn’t see if she accepted it, because she was down in a kind of gully and I could only see her head…  These are the moments when I wish had one of those cameras with a lens as long as my arm…

At one point a big Raven flew into a tree right over the car, and I had to lay down in the front seat and tip the camera out the passenger side window to get photos of him.  They weren’t very good – because you’re kind of looking up his skirts in the shots – but at least I got something.  I found several groups of Turkey Vultures – called “a wake” – sitting in trees or along the fence-lines, some in their “heraldic pose” with their wings held out to either side of them.  They usually do that to get warm — trying to soak up sunlight with their black plumage – but with the overcast that effort was kind of wasted.

There were, of course, a lot of usual suspects: Red-Winged Blackbirds, sparrows, ducks and geese, a few ibis, Coots, a Gallinule, some Ring-Necked Pheasants, a Great Egret, and grebes… and a handful of American White Pelicans in the distance.  I also caught a glimpse of an American Bittern.  He flew up out of the reeds alongside the car, but it was so fast, I didn’t get any pictures of him.

The highlight was getting to see a couple of raccoons.  One was in a gully along the side of the auto-tour track, moving in and out among the tules.  Most cars passing by didn’t even see him, and drove right past him.  I didn’t get many still shots of him (because he was so well hidden), but I did get some video snippets of him.  A second raccoon was further along the route, in behind a chick-wire fence near one of the pumping stations on the wetlands.  He was soooo bedraggled-looking, skinny and wet from the rain.  Not a happy camper.

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I ended up with some good photos for the day, and a lot of mediocre ones, but I hadn’t been expecting much from the trip, so that was okay.