Tag Archives: Cottontail Rabbit

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.

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.

Escaping from the Zantis at the Sacto Refuge, 04-03-18

The dog and I got up at 6:30 am and headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge to get a nature fix and to escape the “Zantis” (termite inspectors) coming to the house today.  It was 49º when I left the house, and got up to 80º by the late afternoon.  It’s too early in the year for 80-degree-weather!

CLICK HERE to see the album of photos and video snippets.

On the way to the refuge, along the highway, I saw the carcasses of a red fox (!) and a raccoon. I always kind of punch myself when I see road kill. I have permits to pick up the carcasses if I want to so I can use them for the naturalist class – but I always forget to bring a copy of the permits with me. D’oh! The skulls would have been awesome…

At the preserve, I got to see a raccoon (stepping gingerly through the low water) but no foxes. I think the last time I saw a live fox was at the Shasta house. I HEARD some at Lake Berryessa last year, but I didn’t see them…

When I first drove into the preserve, before I even got to the kiosk, I saw a group of Turkey Vultures sitting on the railroad tracks. I couldn’t see if they’d found something to eat or not, but they all took off as soon as they realized I’d stopped to photograph them.  I came across another pair of Turkey Vultures further along the auto tour route. They were sitting near the ground on a stump, but once again, as soon as I approached to take photos, they took off.  What was really freaky was that a few seconds after the vultures left and Red-Tailed Hawk burst out through the tall greenery around the stump! The only thing I can think of was that the hawks chased something down and killed it, and when the vultures moved in to try to steal the meal, the hawk pushed it further into the shrubbery…

Along the auto tour route, I could hear the “pumper-lunk” call of Bitterns, but wasn’t able to see any of them. I could also hear  Great Tailed grackle singing his variety of songs, and looked all over for him. I finally found him in a tree, and got some video of him, but he was obscured by branches. So you can see him very well, but you CAN hear him.

Too Windy at the Refuge, 04-28-17

I’d gotten the okay from my boss to work from home of Friday.  I checked in with office stuff on-and-off via cellphone and email  in the morning, and then did some more work from home in the afternoon, but spent several hours in between driving around the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  It was way too windy there, so I didn’t get to see a lot of stuff, but it was still nice to get outside and into the fresh air.

CLICK HERE for an album of photos and videos.

Because the wind was blowing so hard, my subjects kept moving which made focusing on anything difficult, and at other times, the wind would latterly knock my camera to the side or back into my face, which also hampered picture taking and videoing.  So, I didn’t get as many choice photos as I would have liked.

I did see, in the distance a mama Mallard and what looked like 13 ducklings… It was hard to count them because they kept moving around…

For a minute, I saw a Red-Tailed Hawk in a tree. It’s crop was so full it looked like it had swallowed a tennis ball.  I think it was hoping to just rest in the top of the tree and digest its meal, but a pair of Kingbirds wanted that tree to nest in, and they mobbed the hawk until it flew off…

I also got to see a pair of American Bitterns. They had come out to the edge of the auto-tour road to challenge one another.  Both were doing their “pumper-lunk” calls, but by the time I got the car stopped and my camera primed, they were quiet… and one of them walked off into the tules where I could barely see him.  (Sometimes yet get the pictures; sometimes you don’t.)

Later in the tour I came across a roadkill, which is kind of unusual on the auto tour route because most cars are usually going less than 5 miles per hour. This was a full hit-the-critter-and-roll-it-inside-out kind of roadkill.  By the looks of the tail and the clawed back foot, I’m assuming it had been a muskrat. I wanted to take parts of it home with me – but I don’t have my collections permit yet, and besides you’re not allowed to get out of your car on the tour. Dangit!

A little further up the route, I came across a pair of Black Tailed Mule Deer sitting in a dry culvert, sunning themselves out of the wind.  One was a young male with black “nubbies” where is antlers will come in over the summer; the other was a female. They both lifted their heads to look at me, but didn’t get up.  They were comfortable where they were.

I’m used to seeing all of the Marsh Wren nests in tules, but today I saw a few that were really quite interesting in their construction. One seemed to complete with a grassy ‘handle” on top.  I’d love to be able to just camp out along a stretch of tules at the refuge and film the construction process… and try to figure out what attracts the females to a particular nest when there are so many options available to them.

 

Vacation Day 1: Cache Creek Conservancy Nature Preserve

DAY 1 OF MY VACATION. Around 8:00 am I headed out to the Cache Creek Conservancy’s nature preserve.

They only open up the preserve on a weekend about once a quarter, so when it opens up, I try to get over there. I got there just as they were opening the gates, so I got first pick of a parking space in the very-limited-parking lot adjacent to the walking trails.  I don’t usually see a whole lot when I’m there. Their riparian area is pretty small and is mostly willows and cottonwood trees (with only a few scattered oaks). I knew they were working on expanding their trail system, though, so I thought I’d check it out.

CLICK HERE for an album of photos.

In and around the small wetlands area, I saw Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons along with a few Pied-Billed Grebes and lots of blackbirds, some Northern Flickers, and White-Crowned Sparrows.  I got a little video snippet of a young grebe trying to eat a crawfish.

At one point along the trail I saw a big Red-Tailed Hawk strafe and knock down a Cottontail rabbit.  It hit the rabbit so hard it broke its neck.  By the time I got close enough to it to take photos, the hawk flew off into the nearby trees, but left his meal behind.  I checked out the rabbit to make sure it was suffering and, nope, it was dead.  Eyes still open.  It only had a few bites taken out of it from the hawk – which I’m sure went back to the rabbit as soon as I was away from there.

I also saw a Northern Pike in the wetlands area.  It was moving around in a shallow pond, so I could see the water being slowly agitated but at first I couldn’t see clearly what was causing the agitation.  I took a few videos and watched them all in slow motion when I got home.  The dorsal part of the fish would come to the top of the water – a slightly humped back and sort of yellowish-olive patterned body — then I’d see the tip of its tail fin poke out above the surface.  The fish must have been 2 feet long, easily.  Those guys are super-efficient predators that eat just about anything.  I wonder if the conservancy knows they’re in the pond.

It’s just about the end of the gall season, but there were still some clinging to the leaves of trees and scattered on the ground.  There were two I hadn’t seen or photographed before, so that was cool.  The little round ones were called – duh — Round Galls (Besbicus conspicuous), and the other one I saw was along the edges of the leaves of the Cottonwood Trees.  Now, I’d seen the Petiole galls before (lots of them) that form at the base of the leave and are caused by a species of aphid (Pemphigus populicaulis), but I’d never seen the ones that formed along the edges.  I took a bunch of photos and when I got home, I looked them up in my trusty galls books and I actually had some trouble finding it.  It’s a kind of “leaf curl” gall also caused by an aphid (Pemphigus sp.) but the exact species wasn’t specified.  I’ll have to do more research. There were also a lot of Jumping Galls (Neuroterus saltatorius ) still clinging to the leaves of some of the oaks.  Along with the willows, cottonwood trees and Valley Oaks, I also came across some very late-blooming Rock Phacelia (Phacelia egena), Vinegarweed (Trichostema lanceolatum), Cocklebur, Chicory and Tree Tobacco (Nicotiana glauca) – an invasive species.

I got to see a pair of mule deer, but couldn’t get very close to them before they were off, dashing toward the river side…  I walked for about three hours and then headed back to the car.

 

Vacation Day One: Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

Western Pond Turtle. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Western Pond Turtle. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

Vacation Day One.  I got up around 6:00 am and took off to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge with the dog.  It was supposed to be overcast and wet all day – and it was, but in Willows the rain was mostly a very light “mizzling” rain (heavier than mist but not really a drizzle) that turned itself on and off throughout the day.  I only had to close the car windows once to keep heavier rain out, and even then it was just for a few minutes.  The rest of the time, I was able to keep the windows open.  Because it was cool – around 53° — I also had the floor vents in the car open and the heater on blowing warm air onto my tootsies.  The cool thing about photographing when it’s overcast is that you don’t have to deal with glare and deep shadows, and that puts everything on the same “scale”.

The wildflowers were starting to winnow away at the preserve, and the grasses, vetch, teasel and other thistles, toyon bushes and other plants – like Hemlock – are starting to build up and bloom… in some places I had Killdeer running alongside the car on the gravel auto-tour road.  They make nests out of the gravel and their eggs look just like little stones.  I worry that some of them are building nests on the road, and they’ll get squished by the cars.  I guess it comes down to “survival of the smartest”; the birds “stupid” enough to build nests in the probably won’t generate many (if any) offspring… There were Jackrabbits in abundance, too.  In one place there were five of them all running and hopping around together.  Since jack’s are generally solitary animals, I assumed the group was a mom and her nearly-grown offspring… Meadowlarks, Marsh Wrens and blackbirds were singing from everywhere.  I got a little video snippet of the Meadowlark song… Among the blackbirds, I also saw my first Yellow-Headed Blackbird – a female who was hunkered down in the tules trying to keep warm… It was such a shock to see her among all the Red-Winged Blackbirds that at first I didn’t know what to make of her…  And I think I spotted by first Loons, too, but they were so far away the photos aren’t all that good.  I think they were whether young Common Loons or Pacific Loons.  They had brown heads…

Saw a couple of Red-Tailed Hawks, and several American Bitterns, including one walking through the tall grass toward the tules, and I heard several other Bitterns give out their “pumper-lunk” calls from amid the overgrowth.  I don’t remember ever seeing (or hearing) this many of them before. I wonder of “climate change” has dumped them all into this area this year… Came across a Striped Skunk running through the grass alongside the road.  He came out of nowhere and was moving so fast I hardly had a chance to get my camera on him and ended up with a bunch of blurry photos.  Sigh.  I need to be “faster than Nature” to get good shots sometimes… And there were Ring-Necked Pheasants everywhere.

I also saw Double-Crested Cormorants, a few Snow Geese, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Herons, several Kingbirds (Cassin’s, I think, rather than Western, because the head was kind of a dark charcoal gray), loads of American Coots (of course; they’re kind of ubiquitous), several Western Pond Turtles, Cinnamon Teals, a Purple Finch (They are actually red, not purple.), a few Mourning Doves, House Sparrows, some Long-Billed Dowitchers, Greater Yellowlegs, Mule Deer, Clark’s and Western Grebes,  some Green-Winged Teals, Turkey Vultures, and a few Northern Harriers.  So, even though the weather wasn’t the best, there were a lot of things to see and photograph.   I think I ended up with something like 550 photos!

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By the time I was done in the refuge, it was already around 2:30 pm and I wasn’t looking forward to the 2 hour drive back to Sacramento, so I drove in to Williams and the dog and I did an overnight at the Ramada Inn there.  We shared a Subway sandwich and then hit the hay.