Tag Archives: cottontail rabbits

Mostly Wrens and Squirrels, 05-16-18

I was up around 6:00 am and took the dog with me over to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. I encountered clouds along the way, but none of them amounted to anything where I was traveling. Back in Sacramento, however, they apparently got really organized and the city had rain, thunder and over 100 lightning strikes in the morning (just after I left). Wow!

At the refuge: because the big pond in the permanent wetland area is drained, there isn’t really a lot of anything to see there right now. Usually, there are frogs and snakes and all manner of birds around the pond, dragonflies and damselflies, a multitude of spiders, otters and muskrats…

Right now, the pond is like a PRAIRIE. Dried up with short vegetation sprouting throughout it and little mud holes here and there. It’s hard to get wetland wildlife photos when there’s no water! The geese were actually GRAZING where the pond should have been. *Sigh*

Still, I managed to get photos of some cottontails and California Ground Squirrels, and Marsh Wrens at their nests. I sat parked along the auto tour at one point for about 30 minutes, just watching a pair of the wrens. The male was out singing away, while the female flew beak-fulls of dried grass to the nest she’d chosen and arranged it inside. Once, while I watched, the male went up to the next and stuck his head, checking out the female’s work. When she came back with a mouth full of twiglets, he flew off singing again. The opening to the nest was turned away from the car, so I couldn’t see in to see what she was doing. Danged smart little birds.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

The California Ground Squirrels seemed to be everywhere. They should have lots of babies to feed this time of year. As an aside, did you know that in 1918 California launched a campaign to eradicate these native squirrels and even had posters and pamphlets printed encouraging children to join the “army against the squirrels”? “Children, we must kill the squirrels to save food,” a woman on the pamphlet says as she’s smiling. “But use poisons carefully.” The pamphlet included a recipe for strychnine-laced grain as well as suggestions for other extermination methods, such as shooting, drowning, and poison gas. Horrifying (and stupid). The campaign, sanctioned by the state government, actually came from the beef industry which claimed the squirrels were eating all of the grain on which the cattle fed.

I also came across a large creche of Canada Geese (parents, fuzzy goslings and fledglings); about 30 babies altogether(!). This is typical for Canada Geese. One set of adults watches over the group while the other parents feed, and the babies are kept in a group with the youngest in the center and the older ones on the outside. The behavior provides safety in numbers, and also teaches the young ones the concepts of following the leaders and working together – which they’ll need during migration.

In different spots along the route, I was able get good photos of a Red-Eared Slider Turtle and a large Pacific Pond Turtle, so that was nice. For all of my “bitching” about the lack of the big ponds, I did manage to see and count about 43 different species (plants and animals), so the trip wasn’t a waste… And it got me outside, into the fresh air, and focused on something other than my grief over the death of my brother Michael and his wife Sharyi…

On my way out of the refuge, I found a pair of Mourning Doves sitting in a tree, a male and female cooing at each other. They immediately brought Mike and Sharyi to mind, and even as lovely as they were, they brought a tear to my eye…

When I got back to the house it was around 2:00 pm. After a late lunch, I walked around the yard with the dogs and took photos of stuff like the Yellow-Billed Magpies in distant trees, a very fat American Robin (it made me chuckle, it was soooo chubby), and the Genista Broom Moth caterpillars that are currently multitudinous on the broom plant in the corner of the yard. They’re generally yellow-orange caterpillars with clusters of black and white spots on them and long sparse white hairs poking out all over. When the light hits them just right, they look like tubes of orange glass…

When mama moth lays her eggs on the plant, she lays them in clusters, one row overlapping the other, like fish scales. The caterpillars only eat broom, so they’re not a danger to the other plants in the yard. They’re also able to “jump” from one branch to another to escape predators.

Looking for Grebes; Found Just About Anything But

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

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

CLICK HERE to see the album of photos from today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lots of Exuvia Today

Damselfly exuvia on a tule frond. © Copyright 2016, Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
All of the “white stuff” you see on this tule is the exuvia of dozens of damselflies. © Copyright 2016, Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

I had planned on sleeping in a bit today, but woke up around 5:00 am anyway, so I got up about 5:30 and then headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  It was about 53° when I left the house and got up to about 77° by the late afternoon.  We had a breeze for most of the day so it was actually quite nice outdoors.

I put some gas in the car and then continued on toward Willows and the refuge. Whereas some days provide me with a lot Kingbird photos, or squirrel or jackrabbit photos, today I got a lot of Western Fence Lizard pictures.  Those guys were out everywhere.  I even came across a mating pair.  Lizard-porn.  Hah!

This rock looked like a rabbit to me.
This rock looked like a rabbit to me.

The other big attractions (for me anyway) was being able to photograph several  large dragonflies and finding LOTS of damselfly exuvia (the skin they shed when they emerge from the water and transform into winged damselflies).  I also found a few damselflies that had just shed their skin and didn’t have their wings entirely pumped up yet.  The exuvia looks so neat to me.  It’s the exact shape of the damselfly naiade, but is hollow and looks like a ghost or a reflection of the insect.  So cool!

Around that same area, I also came across a male Great-Tailed Grackle that actually followed my car for a while as he sang for the females.  He paused among the tules in a few locations and did some displaying and more singing.  He was really entertaining!  I got a few video snippets of him, and at one point he took a break from his songs to eat damselflies… A snack between concerts.

There were plenty of jackrabbits and cottontails, of course, but not so many of them posed for me today.  I also had to deal with a particularly shy Common Gallinule. It was way down in the tules along the bank and I was practically shooting at it “blind”.  Somehow the camera managed to get some photos in focus.  I was so pleased.  I was likewise hindered by the tules when I saw a joined pair of Green Darner Dragonflies land on the water.  I held the camera out the window, over my head, trying to get the camera’s eye over the top of the tules, and shot straight down at the water… and I somehow got the shot I wanted of the female dragonfly laying her eggs in the water.  Miracle.  I even got a shot of another male coming into the frame and the first male chasing it off – while still attached to the female. Woah!.

The Great Horned Owl owlets were out of their nest and sitting on an open branch of their tree.  Mom wasn’t with them the first time I passed them, but she was there when I went by again later.  The owlets are the same size as their mom now, just… “fluffier”.  You can tell by looking at the owlets which one is a little bit older than the other.  Great-Horned Owls usually lay their eggs several days apart… so there’s always a least one in the nest that’s older than the others. The mother hawk and her fledgling were in their own nest this morning, too.

I saw several mule deer, including a young male who was coming into his “velvet” (getting his new antlers; they were stubby but very visible on his head). I also came across a young Turkey Vulture who was sitting on the edge of an open gate holding his wings out to the sun to warm himself up.  He actually stayed there long enough for me to get a few close-up shots of him.

At other points along the auto tour, I’d stop and just listen to the sounds around me: Red-Winged Blackbirds and Meadowlarks singing, egrets croaking, grebes woo-woo-wooing, Night Herons doing their brisk “wok!” call… It’s a jungle out there, man.  I loved it.

CLICK HERE for a video of the Great-Tailed Grackle singing.

CLICK HERE for a video of a Marsh Wren singing.

On my way out of the refuge, I drove past one of the sloughs and could see something big and dark moving under the surface of the water, but I couldn’t tell what it was.  I parked the car and craned over the passenger side seat and out the window to see if I could get a better look at it.  Definitely some kind of large fish… but the shape wasn’t right to be a catfish…  I think it might have been a young Northern Pike!  If it was a pike, then anything else living in the water is in trouble; those guys are aggressive hunters.  It never came all the way to the surface, though, so I couldn’t really tell for certain.

There was also one spot, just before the exit, where I stopped to look into the drainage ditch – because you never know what you might find in there – and I spotted a Black-Crowned Night heron lurking in the shade.  Someone came up behind me in her car and flashed her lights for me to get out of her way.  Uh – I’m photographing here!  Grumbling, I drove up the road a little distance and pulled over for her to pass, and then backed up to the ditch again so I could get a few more shots of the heron.  They weren’t great, but at least I got them.

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Around 2:00 pm I headed back to Sacramento and got home around 3:30 pm.

There are Still a Lot of Birds at the SNWR

American Avocet. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
American Avocet. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

Up at about 6:00 am and out the door by 6:30 with Sergeant Margie to go over to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  I got there right around 8:00 o’clock and had the whole place to myself for a couple of hours before anyone else showed up.  Like the Colusa preserve, some of the wetland areas in this larger preserve are also drained and dried out already, but they have a loop open that lets you drive around some of their permanent wetland area, so although you don’t get to see a ton of birds, you do get to see some… and a few of them are ones that I can’t see along the American River.

The drive started off with good views of Killdeer and some American Avocets (which I think are such pretty birds), Greater Yellowlegs and Red-Winged and Brewer’s Blackbirds.  There were  lots of jackrabbits along the auto-tour route along with some chubby little Cottontails (which look like babies next to the big jacks.)  And lots of ground squirrels.  I didn’t see any raccoons this time out, but I did see a few deer. Oh, and I saw some pond turtles and Western Fence Lizards.

There are still a lot of wildflowers in bloom – mostly Goldfields and Fiddleneck – and the Poison Hemlock is starting to rise along with the Milk Thistle and other weeds.

Marsh Wrens were everywhere in the tules, chattering away and tucking in the loose ends of their nest construction. Between them, the blackbirds, and the Meadowlarks, some spots were really NOISY!  There  were quite a few Ring-Necked Pheasants out and about adding their loud rusty-hinge croaks to the cacophony, and in some places the Double-Crested Cormorants were grunting like pigs.  I’ve gotten so I can tell some of the birds by their sound without seeing them… Speaking of the cormorants: a lot of the breeding adults have their “double-crests” showing now and it makes the birds look like they have really fluffy eyebrows (or very long eyelashes).  Hah!

There were, of course, American Coots all over the place and many White-Faced Ibises among the other ducks: Northern Shovelers, Cinnamon and Green-Winged Teals, a few Buffleheads and a solitary female Goldeneye, and some Ruddy Ducks.  I did see another American Bittern today… and heard another one doing its pumper-lunk call in the reeds… but I couldn’t see that one.  Toward the end of the drive, I came across some American White Pelicans.  But the stand-out sighting for the day (for me anyway) was getting to see a pair of Clark’s Grebes do part of their courtship ritual where they bob their heads at on another then get up and run across the top of the water in tandem.  I’d seen photos and video of that before, but had never witnessed it myself.  I only got a few seconds of it on video but it made my day. I’ll have to get back there in the next few weeks to see if I can see any more courtship behavior. There  were also some Western Grebes and Pied-Billed Grebes out on the water, too.  Most of them were too far away to get any really good shots of them, but it’s still always fun to see them.  It’s sometimes difficult for me to tell the Clark’s Grebes from the Western Grebes because they look almost identical.  The only real difference is that on the Clark’s Grebe the eyes are surrounded by white and on the Western Grebe the eyes are surrounded by black.

Here’s the Grebe videohttps://youtu.be/jpGUjuwigu0

Clark's Grebes versus Western Grebe. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Clark’s Grebes versus Western Grebe. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

Also saw some Great Egrets and Snow Egrets.  And as I was heading out the refuge, I came across a large hawk sitting on a stump – apparently just waiting there to have her picture taken. Hah! – and a Common Gallinule, an adult one sporting a red shield on the front of its face. The red of the shield was so intense that my camera freaked out over it, so all of the face-on shots took on a kind of “glowing” effect.  By that time, too, the sun had been up for a while and things were getting warm, so the camera had to fight through distortions caused by heat waves.  When conditions get like that, it’s time to go home…

I got back to the house around 2:30 pm, cooked up some chicken thighs and an ear of corn for supper, and collapsed with the dogs.

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Lots of Critters at the Refuge

I was supposed to go to a dragonfly course over this weekend, but just couldn’t face other people as I deal with my grief (over the death of my brother Mark Jr., aka “Beaky”).  My hotel was already paid for, though, so I got up at 5:00 am and headed up north anyway with the dog.

I stopped at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge and went through the driving tour route there.  I was the only person out there; had the place all to myself.  Among the things I was able to photograph at the park included: Killdeer, Mourning Doves, dragonflies and damselflies, butterflies, Jackrabbits and Cottontail rabbits, a big-ass snake, mule deer, Egrets, Great Blue Herons, some Western Grebes sitting on and building their nests in the middle of the water, many-many spiders (including one building its web), Pelicans on three of the “islands”, a Bald Eagle who only sat still long enough for me to get on or two not-so-good shots of it, a mother Raccoon and her five babies (including a “blond” one), Flycatchers, and an otter…  Cool.

There was one Killdeer that “paced” my car for several hundred feet.  I could see it out the driver’s side window, running right along the edge of the trail.  It tilted its head up to look at me now and then.  When I accelerated, so did the bird.  When I stopped, so did the bird.  Goofy thing.  I wonder what it thought it was “challenging”.

And the snake I saw was something of a surprise.  Oh, there are always snakes around and this one was just a Gopher Snake, but it was pretty long – and healthy looking.  It must eat well.  What’s the average distance between the two front tires of a car?  The snake was longer than that.  He came up beside the car, tongue flicking.  The heat of the tires must’ve set him off.  I backed away (so as not to run over him) and took a different route so he could sunbathe at his leisure.

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I finished the tour by about noon, and headed in to the hotel.

Here’s a video of the snake: https://youtu.be/-I6EKdsw3H4

Western Grebes building their nest: https://youtu.be/Jvhe8bX3GI8

Raccoon mama and babies: https://youtu.be/-frsgGx-ZPY

Big-a$$ spider: https://youtu.be/CLWnsRRQ8g4

I’ve decided to try going up to Mount Lassen tomorrow.  When I lived in Old Shasta, Beaky and I climbed to the summit of that mountain (about 11,000 feet).  It took me forever to get up there, but he was patient and stayed with me, even though I was sure he could have made it to the top and back down again before I made it up there; hah!  I remember us watching chipmunks running around with long flags of toilet paper that they’d stolen out of one of the porta-potties on the trail, and taking pictures of what we called the “Belly-Button Rock” and “Velcro Rocks” on the side of the mountain.  And when we got to the summit, Beaky walked out to the skinny, craggy, tippy-top point – despite the hard winds that threatened to knock us down the mountainside — to sign his name in the book there.  When he came back to where I was, we hunkered down among some boulders and ate PB&J sammiches for lunch – which tiny Golden-Mantled attack-squirrels tried to steal right out of our hands.  One of the squirrels got on a boulder above me, and dive-bombed right into my lap to try to grab my sandwich.  Hah-ha-ha-ha-ha. That day is one of my favorite memories of Beaky.  I’ll say goodbye to him up there tomorrow…

Back to the Sac’to Wildlife Refuge on Friday

I wanted to go out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge again today, but knew that if I didn’t get out there early-early it was going to be too hot to see anything… so I got up at 5:00 am and was out the door with the dog by 5:30.

We got to the preserve around 7:00 am just as the sun was coming up through the weird overcast.  The clouds lingered all the while I was there – sometimes as an overcast, sometimes on broken clusters – so that helped to keep the temperatures down a little bit.   There was also a newly-full moon out which made it kind of extra eerie and pretty out there.

For several hours, I was the only person on the auto-tour.  I got some more dragonfly (and “exuvia”) shots, got some video snippets of a female mule deer foraging in the grass, a wasp taking a dragonfly apart, and a small flock of American White Pelicans doing their feeding dance (they dive and scoop in sort-of-unison, then drift for a bit, then dive-and-scoop again; it’s kind of mesmerizing).  I also saw a bald eagle, but was so shocked to see it this time of year, my brain didn’t really process what I was seeing at first, and by the time I got my camera focused on him, he took off.  ((I read later that there’s a couple of permanent resident eagles on the preserve, who hang out there year-round in the areas where the cars can’t go.  So, seeing it on the car-tour route this time of year was kind of special.))  I also got some good shots of Pied Billed Grebes, and saw Common Terns and Marbled Godwits up here for the first time.  I got a few photos of them, but they were so far away the pictures aren’t very good.

Mule Deer Grazinghttps://youtu.be/nUJTWbgMyp8

Pelicans Feedinghttp://youtu.be/KtAAYQA4v-s

I also a small group of bachelor mule deer in their “velvet” – some of them with full racks of antlers.  One was bounding down a gully full of water primrose plants, and then climbed up out of the backside of the gully to follow his friends.  Such huge gorgeous animals… I’m wondering of the mule deer on the preserve are a different subspecies than the ones on the American River.  Their coats look more “red” and they don’t seem to have the black hairs on the top of the head and the ones by the River… Saw lots of jackrabbits and cottontails… Lots of Monarch butterflies.  The refuge has a milkweed garden going and it’s doing a good job at attracting and producing more Monarchs…  I also saw some White-Fronted geese still hanging around the preserve, and I wondered if they were nest-building.  I saw a couple of them pulling weeds and grasses in around their bodies…

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I actually drove the 4-mile auto-tour loop TWICE this time to see if I could find anything new and interesting, but by the second time around, it was already starting to get very muggy, so the critters were fewer and farther between.  By the time I left the refuge it was in the 80’s… and raining (that kind of angel-spit rain that gets your car dirty but doesn’t really shed).  I stopped briefly in Woodland to pick up a few groceries – parking the car in the shade with the A/C running for the dog — and then headed home.  ((Y’know, they need to make car in which you can continue to run the A/C without a key in the ignition… Everyone has that issue with their dogs in the summer months.))