Tag Archives: Cottontail

A Few Birds at the Cosumnes Preserve, 03-24-19

I got up around 6:30 and headed over to the Cosumnes River Preserve to see how things are shakin’ there.  It was about 44° when I headed out.

I was actually kind of disappointed. Even through a 4-hour walk which really taxed my body, I didn’t see as much stuff as I was hoping to. The ponds near the boardwalk parking lot were virtually empty. Handfuls of birds here and there; most of them out of range of my camera. Along the river trail I startled a Cottontail who, if he had been still, I would have passed by completely. But he decided to make a dash for it, then stopped out in the open. Must’ve been a young one; the adults know better than that.

I also got to see a Black Phoebe mining mud, I guess, from UNDER the boardwalk (I guess all of the other mud in the place wasn’t good enough for her). When she flew in under the boards, her wings and tail dipped in the water, and Phoebe feathers aren’t waterproof so she was kind of endangering herself with every dip.

Now, I assumed she was pulling mud OUT of there, but she may also have been creating a nest under the boards – although that seems really weird to me. If she was constructing her nest under the boards, it could be ruined if the water level in the ponds rises again (or the place gets flooded again). Phoebe nests are made primarily of mud, so if one got wet it would disintegrate, and the eggs or nestlings would drown.

I wished I could’ve gotten a camera under there to see what was really going on.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

There also seemed to be an inordinate number of Audubon’s Warblers all over the property… and the Tree Swallows were vying for nesting spots in the bird boxes and the trees. But otherwise, I felt the trip was kind of a bust.

Species List:

1. American Coot, Fulica americana
2. American Pipit, Anthus rubescens
3. American Robin, Turdus migratorius
4. American Wigeon, Anas americana
5. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
6. Ash Tree, Oregon Ash, Fraxinus latifolia
7. Audubon’s Warbler, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata auduboni
8. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
9. Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
10. Boxelder Tree, Acer negundo californicum
11. Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus
12. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
13. Cinnamon Teal, Anas cyanoptera
14. Cottontail, Desert Cottontail, Sylvilagus audubonii
15. Dock, Curly Dock, Rumex crispus
16. Fennel, Sweet Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare
17. Freshwater Snail, Bithynia tentaculata
18. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
19. Great Egret, Ardea alba
20. Greater Yellowlegs, Tringa melanoleuca
21. House Finch, Passer domesticus
22. Jointed Charlock, Wild Radish, Raphanus raphanistrum
23. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferus
24. Long-Billed Dowitcher, Limnodromus scolopaceus
25. Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos
26. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris
27. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
28. Northern Pintail, Anas acuta
29. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata
30. Oak Apple Gall Wasp gall, Biorhiza pallida
31. Oakmoss Lichen, Evernia prunastri
32. Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
33. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
34. Ring-Necked Duck, Aythya collaris
35. Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Regulus calendula
36. Hummingbird Sage, Salvia spathacea
37. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula
38. Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia
39. Spider’s Web, Spotted orb weaver, Neoscona crucifera
40. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
41. Tadpoles, California Tree Frog, Pseudacris cadaverina
42. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
43. Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus var. occidentalis
44. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
45. White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys
46. White-Faced Ibis, Plegadis chihi

More Spider Photos Than You Need… and some other critters, too.

It was supposed to get over 100º today, but I wanted to get over to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge to test out my new camera there so… I got up at 4:00 am.  Yeah, I know. Four-fricking-A.M.  It eventually made it to 102º

I took the dog with me and we got to the refuge around a quarter of six, just as the sun was coming up.  Usually, this time of year, there aren’t a whole lot of birds at the refuge, but there are resident ones around the permanent wetlands area.  That’s also the best place to spot lots of dragonflies, damselflies and spiders… So, most of my photos from today were of those guys.

Right off the bat, I spotted some Great Horned Owls: two fledglings and their mother.  They were across a field and in the shade of some trees, so from where I was, they just looked like dark blobs.  (When you do a little birding you get so you can tell which blobs are “important” and which ones aren’t.) I aimed the new camera at the blobs and got some so-so photos of the owls.  They would have been better if I hadn’t been so excited and “greedy” and zoomed in on them so much.  At that distance, the lens needs time to adjust itself so it can focus properly, but I was pushing it; “Get closer! Get closer!”

I learned today that I need to pull back more, and let the camera do its thing rather than trying to force it.  Still, I got some photos of the owls that I wouldn’t have gotten at all if I didn’t have the new camera, so even though they’re not great, they’re still “something”… I’ll get better with more practice and more patience.

There were LOTS of jackrabbits and cottontails around, and TONS of orb weaver spiders and Variegate Meadowhawk dragonflies. They were everywhere!  I tried doing some super-close ups of the insects and some of them turned out pretty good.  I got a video snippet of one of the dragonflies cleaning off its eyeballs and trying to get spider web out of its “teeth”. Hah!  There were also quite a few white Crab Spiders (Mecaphesa sp.), Cabbage White butterflies, some Buckeye butterflies and a lot of Skippers flitting around in the heat.

At one point, I saw the silhouette of a female Ring-Necked Pheasant standing up in a tree… and then I saw her poults running back and forth across the road in front of me.  They moved really fast, so I didn’t get many photos of them, but it was still cool to see the little guys.  Like Turkey poults, I hardly ever get to see pheasant poults…

In another spot, I saw a bunch of Barn Swallows sitting on the road, eating the early morning bugs. And in a nearby tree, Tree Swallows were teaching their kids how to fly and catch stuff.  The youngsters kept going back to the tree-cavity nest and looking into it as though they wanted to get back in there and just watch TV or something.  Hah-2!

Here are some pix and video snippets: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mkhnaturalist/albums/72157683669582143

Some misses: I saw a gorgeous male Yellow-Headed Blackbird standing up in the tules, but he flew off before I could get a photo of him.  I also saw a pair of Clark’s Grebes doing their courtship dash across the top of the water (!), but I was struggling to get the camera from still shot mode into video mode, and only got the last second or two, just as they finished running and flopped down into the water.  Dang it!  I need to be faster than that!

I was through the auto tour at the refuge by about 10:30 am and it was already 93º there, so I headed back home and made it to the house around noon.  I ordered some sushi lunch (there’s finally a place that delivers out here in “the hood”) and then the dog and I just crashed for the rest of the day.

More Photos from the Sacramento Refuge

Here are some more photos from the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  CLICK HERE to see the album.

I got a video snippet of a muskrat.  It waddled up onto the auto-tour road, grabbed some green vegetation and went back into the tules.  I wonder if it’s setting up a “nest” there.  Where they’re able to, muskrats will burrow into the bank and set up a nesting hole in the ground (with an entrance to the water). If they can’t do that, then they’ll create a structure called a “push-up” made of reeds, vegetation and mud… There are heaps of dead tules in places along the edges of the wetland areas at the refuge, including several of them along the auto-tour route, which I think might make building a push-up really easy for the muskrats…

I saw some Great Horned Owls dozing in a tree, but they were so obscured by branches and twiglets that the camera couldn’t figure out what to focus on, so I couldn’t get any decent photos of them.  And I saw a Killdeer running and squawking along the edges of a slough.  At first I didn’t know what it was excited about, but then I could see it had some babies with it. One of the youngsters was loitering along the water’s edge, and mom was having a fit because it wouldn’t follow her.  Hah!

I also came across a pair of Double-Crested Cormorants (on the little island they often share with the pelicans and ducks), and watched while one of them did a jumping and barking kind of dance around the other before it took off and landed in the water behind the island. I’d never seen that behavior before, so I looked it up.

“…Ritualized agonistic displays are associated with takeoff and landing in both sexes. Before takeoff, individual stretches neck in direction it wishes to go, inflates head and neck and gives t-t-t-t-t call through almost-closed bill. Before landing, often calls urgurgurg and gives Kink-Throat Display, which is given also during working of nest material; lowers hyoid apparatus, making orange pouch conspicuous. Immediately after landing, gives characteristic post-landing display in which it holds head horizontally and slightly below arched and inflated neck. These displays also precede and follow a hop, which functions as symbolic or reduced flight, and occurs in various social contexts…” (https://birdsna.org/Species-Account/bna/species/doccor/behavior) Hah!  How interesting!

The one thing I saw a lot of out there today was insects: lots of butterflies, dragonflies and spiders.  I was happy to see one beautiful Anise Swallowtail, and I also saw some Monarchs, but none of them sat still long enough for me to get photos of them. Among the other insects spotted today were: Variegated Meadowhawks, Garden Orb Weavers, Widow Skimmers, Common Buckeyes, West Coast Ladies, Cabbage Whites and Sulphurs, a Meadow Katydid nymph, Crescent butterflies, Painted Ladies, Pipevine Swallowtails and Yellow-Faced Bumble Bees.  I also found a dead Green Darner dragonfly that was pretty well desiccated by the heat. It’s always sad to find them dead, but the find gave me the opportunity to get some close-ups of the dragonfly’s head and eyes…

Muskrat vs. Snake, and an Eagle, 06-03-17

The dog woke me up a little bit before 5:00 am, and once I’m up it’s almost impossible for me to go back to sleep, so… I just stayed up and then headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  It got up to about 80º today, but was overcast all day as well. Weird.  I like the overcast though; it makes outdoor picture-taking a lot easier. You don’t have to fight against glare and harsh shadows.  It also confuses the wildlife a little bit (they think it’s earlier in the morning than it really is, so they’re active a little while longer than they normally would be.)

CLICK HERE for the complete album with videos.

The drive to the place was uneventful, and I got there a little before 7:00 am.  When I stopped at the first park-and-stretch area, I was taking some video of a little Marsh Wren at its nest and could hear the woop-woop-woop calls of Pied-Billed Grebe and the deep cello-call of bullfrogs all around me.  For a long time, I was the only person on the trail, so it was just me and critters…

There  were lots of jackrabbits and cottontail rabbits everywhere. At one point along the auto-tour there were about 10 of them running helter-skelter all over the road and into-and-out-of the tall grass.  I got a video snippet of some their antics.  It just made me smile to watch them having so much fun… I came across one little Cottontail that had both of ears “cropped”; the tips were totally gone.  I’ve seen some rabbits with one damaged area, but never one with two.  It looked like something had bitten them off… and in another spot, at the park-and-stretch area near the viewing platform, I found a Cottontail who didn’t seem too concerned about my walking around it. It even stretched out on the gravel to warm its belly.  (Well, it WAS the park-and-stretch area afterall. Hah!)

I saw a lot of otters on the road ahead of me, but didn’t get any close-ups of any of them (they move so fast!) And one spot, it looked to me like the otter was rolling in either otter poop or raccoon poop.  To each his own…

One of the big surprises of the morning, though, was coming across a Bald Eagle.  They’re somewhat common at the preserve in the winter, but by the summer they’re usually all a little further north or up in the mountains.  When I first saw it (at a distance) I thought it was just a Turkey Vulture; all I could see were its dark back and shoulders.  But then as I got closer to it, it raised its white head and I could tell it was an eagle.  I took dome distances shots of it, and then moved the car up closer, inch by inch, hoping it wouldn’t fly off before I could get some decent photos of it.  I was lucky.  It sat right where it was for several minutes and let me a bunch of pictures before it got bored with me and flew off.  Later, as I continuing down the auto tour route, a women drover he car up next to mine and said she had spotted the eagle on the little island the cormorants and Pelicans often rest on and was heading up to take pictures of it.  I told her it had already posed for me, but I’d go check out the island, too, when I got closer to it.  The woman drove past me and hurried up the road… but she didn’t stop for very long once she reached the spot she wanted, so I assumed that she didn’t get the photos she was hoping to.

I had stopped my car where I was because I was trying to get photos of some juvenile Widow Skimmer and blue Pondhawk dragonflies that were flying among the weeds and tules along the shore of the permanent wetland pond.  It’s a tiny bit early in the season for them. Over the few months there should be tons of dragonflies and damselflies out there… Among the other insects, I also saw some Yellow-Faced Bumblebees, lots and lots of Painted Lady and West Coast Lady butterflies, Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies, Common Buckeyes, Cabbage Whites, some Sulphur butterflies, White-Lined Sphinx Moths and a tiny Crescent butterfly.  Among a crop of phacelia, I also found a large group of what I think were Salt Mars Caterpillars (which grow into large white moths with black speckles on the wings). It’s so hard to tell, though.  I haven’t found a really good book on caterpillars yet; they are so many species…

By the time I got to the spot where you can see the “Pelican island” it was totally vacant; not a single bird on it.  And that VERY unusual. There are normally lots of birds gathered on it… But if the Bald Eagle had flown over it or actually landed on it (as the woman who’d driven past me had suggested), then I wasn’t entirely surprised by the vacancy.  Most of the birds in the refuge will duck-and-cover if a hawks flies over.  But when the eagles show up, everything scatters…

My other big surprise of the day was when I found a Muskrat swimming in the water, munching on water vegetation.  It was pushing its way into some tules, and in doing so dislodged a small garter snake that had been sunning itself there. The snake fell into the water right in front of the muskrat.  The muskrat startled, but didn’t stop eating and the snake swam away.  It was the second of two snakes I saw today.  Like the otters, though, the snakes move so fast it’s hard for me to get any pictures of them…

It took me about 5 hours to do the 6 mile loop, and then I didn’t get home until around 1:30 pm… During the last hour or so of my drive I could feel my throat getting really and scratchy, and by the time I got the house, I knew cold was coming on.  Dang it!

The Universe Played Keep-Away, But I Still Got Photos, 05-12-17

DAY 7 OF MY VACATION. I go up around 5:00 this morning and headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge again.  It was another beautiful day as far as the weather went: 48º when I headed out; 73º by the late afternoon with a slight breeze all day.

CLICK HERE to see the entire album of photos and videos.

I got to the refuge around 7:30 am… and it was a kind of frustrating, disappointing day.  It was like the Universe was playing “keep away” all the while I was out there.  You know, that horrible “game” wherein someone takes your hat, dangles it out in front of you, and then snatches it away just as you reach for it.  It was like that.  Oooo, there’s an otter in the water… but as soon as I trained my camera on it, it was gone.  Oooo, there are two Bitterns… but they’re in the tall grass and the camera refuses to focus on them.  Oooo, there’s a Yellow-Headed blackbird… and it flies away.  Oooo, there’s a Bullock;s Oriole… and won’t sit still. Oooo, listen! You can hear the calls of a Great-Tailed Grackle… but it never comes out where you can see it long enough to get a photo…  Even the ground squirrels wouldn’t pose for me.

Guh! It was like that ALL DAY.  It seemed like I was “fighting” with nature and the camera every minute.  It was the most unproductive photo day I’ve ever had out on the refuge.  So frustrating.  I was getting more and more pissed off as the day went on… And, of course, that kind of negativity broadcasts out, and then none of the critters want to come anywhere near you… *Sigh*

There were a couple of “yay” moments, however.  I was hoping to see at least one White-Striped Sphinx Moth flitting around the blooming thistles and teasel; it’s the right time of the year for them to wake up and start flying. Well, as soon as the sun started warming up the air, I saw about a dozen of them at different points along the auto tour; sometimes two or three at a time.  That was cool!

And on my way out of the refuge, I came across a Black-Crowned Night Heron fishing in a slough… and he was close enough and cooperative enough that I was able to get photos and video of him… While I was filming him, a pair of American Bitterns landed onto the side of the slough: one with its white shoulder feathers extended.  They lighted on the ground for a moment and then took off again… That white-shoulder display is part of their courtship ritual, but they went by so fast, I only barely got a few frames of the male’s display (and no images of the female).  At another spot, I also saw a male Common Gallinule fan his tail for a female… So, the day wasn’t a total waste.

Oh, and the little Killdeer I saw the last time I was there who had built her nest close to the road on the auto-tour route, was still there. And she had 4 eggs now instead of the two I saw the last time.  So, that was nice.

American Bitterns Pumper-Lunking on Sunday

I was up at 6:00 am and out the door before 6:30.  It was my original intention to do some more wildflower hunting, but on the way to Highway 20 I got lost in my thoughts and missed the turn off (D’oh!), so I continued up the highway to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge and spent the morning there instead.  The weather was lovely (mostly sunny; 51º when I got there, 70º by the time I left).

CLICK HERE to see the whole album of photos and videos.

We’re right at the beginning of the breeding season, so lots of bird are starting to pair up, build nests, and claim territory.  I saw a lot of Great-Tailed Grackles flying overhead (and some American White Pelicans, too), and although I could hear the grackles occasionally singing their broad range of odd songs, I didn’t see any of them on or near the ground so I didn’t get any photos of them. I also saw a young garter snake and a green-tinted Western Racer snake, but they moved too fast for me. By the time I got my camera focus on them, they were gone into the brush.  I’d never seen a Western Racer before, so that was neat to see one for the first time.  When I initially saw it, I thought it was a tule on the auto-tour route… but then it moved.

A lot of the wildflowers and vernal pool flowers at the refuge were in bloom, so in area the ground was a patchwork of yellow Goldfields, orange Fiddleneck, white Popcorn Flowers and purple Dowingia… so pretty. There’s also wild mustard and Poison Hemlock, Blessed Milk Thistle, Italian Thistle, and Teasel blooming everywhere – just in time for the pollinators to wake up.

I saw only a few dragonflies, but it’s still early in the season for them. The Painted Lady and West Coast Lady butterflies on the other hand were everywhere. I bet I saw 20 of them just around the permanent wetland area.

There were jackrabbits and Cottontails bounding all over the place, and I got a few good shots of some California Ground Squirrels.

I didn’t see many babies today, just a pair of Canada Geese with their little troop of goslings, but it’s still early in the season.

The highlight of the day was seeing an American Bittern in the tall grass “booming”.  I don’t know why it’s called “booming” because the call has its own name but… whatever.  To stake out their territory, the Bitterns give out a loud complex call called the “pumper-lunk” call.  The bird claps its bill several time, sucking air into its esophagus, and then expels the air by compressing its neck – making a loud burbling sound, sort of like a melodious burp.  The one I was watching did his call five times, and I was able to get video of two of the calls.  Made. My. Day.  Here’s one of the videos of it: https://youtu.be/cg0HDZ2lhbw.

The odd moment of the day came when I saw something with long brown, black and white fur moving through the long grass.  I could see that it was moving nose-down along the ground, but because the critter never lifted its head, I couldn’t tell what it was.  I was thinking it was probably a Striped Skunk, but the brown shades were throwing me off… then I was thinking badger (but the fur was too long)… or maybe even porcupine (but they’re usually much larger, and the video proved that I was seeing fur and not quills)… So I’m settling on skunk, but I’m still not certain.

In another “what is that?” moment, I saw the dorsal fin and tail fin of a Northern Pike in one of the slews.  I know I’ve said it before, but those guys are brutal; they’ll eat anything.  They come up into the sloughs when the area gets flooded, then when the water recedes again, they get trapped.  They’re fast and powerful, though… and can move even in shallow water, so once they’re in the sloughs they prey on everything, including birds…

On the viewing platform, I came across a pair of Western Fence Lizards, that were challenging each other: doing pushups, body slamming one another, staring each other down.  I got some of the interaction on video.  The two males were very mature – showing off why they’re also called “Blue Bellies” – and had lots and lots of blue on their bodies, even along the back and on the head.  I’ve never ones that were this colorful before.  When the winner of the contest was done with his rival (who ran off) he decided that my blue-green walking shoes were an enemy, too, so he ran up as close to me as he dared and started doing pushups again.  Hah!  I let him win and walked away – after I got some video and photos of him.  In the same area, I found a melanistic Western Fence Lizard, a dark pitchy-gray one sitting on a branch sunning himself.  He was such a contrast to the brightly colored one, I had to get his photo, too.

I’m usually not too thrilled about seeing Black Phoebes, mostly because they’re so ubiquitous around here, but I caught sight of one carrying grass for its nest.  It perched on a limb of a tree and sat there for a while, letting me get some pretty good photos of it.  And the Kingbirds were out in force. I got some good shots of them, too.

Another good bird-moment was when I saw some American Coots playing “keep-away” with a crawfish.  One has caught it and was trying to eat it when a second Coot rushed up and grabbed it.  Coot #2 swam off with its prize, but as soon as it stopped to eat, Coot #3 rushed up and took it… When it comes to lunch, these guys aren’t polite.  Hah!

I stayed at the refuge for about 4 hours and then headed back home to crash with the dogs… So I didn’t see much in the way of wildflowers, today, but it was still a nice day out in nature…