Tag Archives: crows

The Naturalist Course is at Class 8 of 10, 03-29-19

We’re already in week 8 of the 10-week Certified California Naturalist course. Wow!  Next week is the final exam, and the week after that is graduation. Seems like the time just flew by!

The speaker today was Christy Berger who did a presentation on Crows and Other Corvids.  She’s with the Heron and Egret Rescue but has a live rescued crow and does speaking engagements on corvids throughout the area, so we’re having her do her crow thing today and then come back for the summer class to talk about the herons and egrets (because that’s when those birds are nesting and having babies.) she brought her crow Onyx with her. Onyx has an eye condition he’s had since birth so there’s a white film over his eyes all the time, and he’s very sensitive to different kinds of light. Christy gave her talk with a PowerPoint presentation, then had us turn on the room lights and turn off the projector before she brought Onyx out for us to see.  He spent most of the time trying to get his jesses off. Hah!

Christy’s talk focused mostly on crows and ravens, but also included a smattering of facts about different kinds of native corvids such as the endemic Yellow-Billed Magpie and California Scrub Jay.  She talked for about 2 hours, and then the class took a break.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

When everyone came back from the break three of the students presented their capstone projects. Michele Sheehan did one on the interpretive signs she created for the Heather Farm Park in Walnut Creek, CA.  Then Fran Bowman did a presentation on the upgrade of an exhibit she’s doing for the Cache Creek Nature Preserve. They have a mastodon fossil (part of a pelvis and a tusk) and she’s updating the interpretive information on it.  Lastly, Rebecca Rubio-Aliaga did a presentation on the monitoring of Bluebird Boxes she’s doing for Napa-Solano Audubon… They were incredible.  I am so proud of the work they’re doing outside of class!

We also took a moment to thank Roxanne (who had brought candy, grapes and mandarin oranges to share with the class) for all the help she’s given us during the classes and field trips.  We gave her the plaque I’d made and a small felted fox.  She was very touched by the gesture.

Then Bill did his presentation on the last chapter of our textbook, one on “Energy and Global Environmental Issues”. We call it the “sad chapter” because it talks about all of the yucky stuff the environment has to deal with: air and water pollution, fragmentation, fracking, habitat degradation, neo-nic and Round-Up poisons, etc. Bill tried to rush through, hoping we’d get in some species ID time, but he finished right at 4:00 pm. Class over.  As I mentioned, next week is the final exam and the week after that is graduation. The students all decided they’d like to do a potluck for that day, so that should be fun!  #CalNat

At the William Land Park, 08-05-17

I went over to William Land Park to look for bugs and galls. It was still overcast, but a little bit cooler than yesterday when I headed out, around 66º…

When I got to the park, it was actually still “too dark” to take many photos, so I watched the ducks in the pond for a while as the sun rose a little bit higher.  There was also a murder of crows in the tall trees across the street from the park, and watched them gather and squawk at one another.  I heard what I thought was a Barn Owl in another nearby tree, but I couldn’t see it.  There were also hummingbirds chasing each other around, and I got a few photos of one of them drinking sprinkler water off the petals of a rose.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

Then I walked through the WPA Rock Garden and did get to see about three different praying mantises (one large green one, one smaller green and tan one, and then a very small tan one). I believe they were all the same species, just in different stages of growth. They were ll hanging around the sunflowers.  As for galls, there was one Valley Oak on the property that was loaded with Red Cone galls and Spiny Turban galls – and I mean LOADED. Some of the leaves were thoroughly covered in galls.  I was hoping to see some jumping galls, but it’s still a little early in the season for them… maybe in another few weeks, if I’m lucky, I’ll be able to see those.

I walked for about 2 ½ hours and then headed back home.

Testing Out My New Camera, 07-08-17

Around 5:30 this morning, I headed out to the William Land Park to try to get a walk in before it got too warm outside… but it was almost too late to avoid the heat. When I got into the car the outside temperature was already at 77º! There was also a little bit of an overcast, so it was humid, too. (It’s supposed to get up to 106º today. Climate Change sucks the big one.)

I’d gotten a new camera (a Nikon one that’s about half the price of my beloved-and-now-deceased Fujifilm camera) and I was anxious to check it out. All of the buttons are in different places than they were on my Fujifilm but the functionality is about the same. The focal depth for macro (super close up) shots is a little better on the Nikon than it was on my other camera, so I’m actually able to get in closer than I could before, but I need to work on just HOW close “closer” can be. [Some of the close-ups turned out awesome; some were fuzzy because I was “too close”.]

I also have to learn all over again, how to get the camera to focus on what I WANT it to focus on (and not on what the camera wants to focus on itself.)

The WPA Rock Garden at the park is a good place to work on stuff like that, because it offers a wide range of close up and distant photo opportunities.

You can see the album of photos here:

I got some awesome “bug” photos of a Yellow-Faced Bumblebee, Praying Mantis, a Longhorn Bee sleeping on the face of a sunflower, and a Wolf Spider whose eggs were hatching (and the hatched-out little spiderlings were clinging to mama’s butt.) I also came across a large Bold Jumping Spider, and wanted to see if I could get a photo of its iridescent blue-green fangs – and I did, but the focus wasn’t right, so I ended up with the petals of the flower in focus, and the spider in a soft blur on top of them. Gotta work on that.

The telephoto capability of the Nikon is slightly better than my old Fujifilm camera, too. (It’s a 60x, and the Fujifilm was a 50x.) The Nikon is a little “sluggish”, though, in moving the lens to the correct position, so if the subject isn’t sitting still, the camera has trouble tracking it and adjusting the focus. Practice will help me figure that out, though, I think. I tried “chasing” several hummingbirds around… That was humorous. Blurry fuzzballs everywhere.

There was a young Anna’s Hummingbird that was testing out its wings and trying to drink water from the leaves in the garden (which must’ve been watered overnight; the paths were totally muddy). When it sat down on a branch, I was able to get some pretty good shots of it (at about 20 feet away), along with a video snippet of it preening itself. I didn’t know how to set the speed for the video capture, though, so it came out in slow-motion. I’ll have to read up more on that…

I checked out the garden’s milkweed plants – they have Narrowleaf and Showy Milkweed growing in there – but didn’t see any signs of Monarch eggs or caterpillars. Maybe in another week or so…

I also came across some Wood Ducks with babies, a gaggle of Canada Geese that included some fledglings who were half-in and half-out of their baby fuzz, and a Green Heron that was fishing along the edge of the small pond. The heron wasn’t using lures, but it was using a great “stealth” technique (getting down almost on its belly along the edge of the pond to sneak up on tiny fish). It was pretty successful; caught at least three fish and a tadpole while I was watching it… And, of course, there were the ubiquitous Black Phoebes everywhere, and an American Robin with a beak full of bugs for her babies…

I’m so glad to have a camera again!

I walked for about 2 hours and then headed home.

Got to see the Sandhill Cranes at the Cosumnes Preserve

I got up around 6:30 am and headed over to the Cosumnes River Preserve.  It was overcast and 37° when I headed out.  I still have a touch of fever from this flu or whatever it is my body is fighting, but I needed to get outside and get some fresh air.

CLICK HERE to see the entire album of photos, including some of the videos.

The gate to the preserve was still locked, so I drove down Desmond and Bruceville Roads.  There are wetlands and rice fields all along those roads, and sometimes you get to see quite a few birds.  The big draw out there this morning was the Sandhill Cranes. There were quite a few of them eating leftover rice and seeds, including some juveniles that were still in their “rusty” feathers. At one point, I pulled the car off to the side of the road and shut off the engine, so I could hear (and video) the cranes “talking” to one another with their distinctive chattering/guttural calls.  They sound soooo neat… There were also some Great Egrets and a Great Blue Heron out there with them – along with quite a few Greater White-Fronted Geese that were hunkered down in between the cultivated rows in the field to get out of the cold morning breezes.

When a family group – mother, father and adult son – stopped near me, they were trying to figure out what kind of geese they were looking at.  The son suggested Brant’s Geese, but there are no Brant’s Geese this far south, so I suggested he look up the Greater White-Fronted Goose in his guide.  He checked it out. Yep, I was right.  So they followed me around a little bit after that and asked me to identify some other birds they were having trouble with: Savannah Sparrows, American Pipit, and Gadwall ducks…  When that group had walked off, following a different part of the trail, two older women came up and asked me to identify a duck they saw “over there”… A Northern Pintail. I showed them how the male’s tail ends in a sharp point…

So I got to practice some of Certified California Naturalist skills.  Hah!

Here are a few extra videos:

I was out at the preserve for about 4 hours before I headed back home.  I think I counted 21 bird species while I was out there… and I got quite a few video snippets of some of them.  So it was good morning…

Tuesday at the Cosumnes Preserve

Tuesday was Vacation Day 11. I got up about 7:30 this morning and headed out to Desmond Road and the Cosumnes River Preserve by 8:00. It was chilly and overcast all day. I’m not complaining, mind you. I like this kind of weather.
The gates to the preserve don’t open until 9:00, so I spent some time driving up and down Desmond Road to look at the birds. (There are rice fields along that road, along with some of the additional wetlands property owned by the preserve, so usually there’s something to see out there.) I got several photos along the road (including some of the Sandhill Cranes), and then headed over to the wetlands area inside the preserve.
I walked for about 2 hours and could’ve walked a good deal further but my right ankle suddenly started to give me fits. Ever since chemotherapy I’ve had a nerve-damaged toe on that foot and it sometimes causes me problems, but today – as soon as I started to approach a Killdeer in a tree – the whole side of my foot all the way up to my ankle suddenly felt like it was on fire and I could barely walk. Luckily, the car was close enough at the point that I could hobble toward it. I seriously considered for a few minutes, pulling my camping chair out of the trunk and plopping myself down somewhere along the water’s side. I gave up that idea, though, and instead drove myself down to the next parking lot, and walked across the road to a bench there where I could sit at watch the birds. It was there that I caught sight of my very first Blue-Winged Teals.
I’ve seen lots of Cinnamon Teals and Green Teals before, but never saw a Blue-Winged one (even though they’re relatively common), so that was cool. All in all, I got to see: White-Fronted Geese, Greater Yellowlegs, Long-Billed Dowitchers, Wilson’s Snipes, Sandhill Cranes, Great Egrets, American Kestrels, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Killdeer, Brewer’s Blackbirds, Pintails, Green Teals, Coots, Northern Shovelers, a Blue-Eyed Darner dragonfly, White-Crowned Sparrows, Crows, Cinnamon Teals, Black-Necked Stilts, another elusive Belted Kingfisher, Blue-Winged Teals, Mourning Doves and a Red-Shouldered Hawk. I was also surprised to find a lone White Pelican hanging out among the geese. It’s usual to find only one of those guys… and to find one so close to the roadway…

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Oh, also along the way I found some raccoon scat, and the remains of a snake. There was still a long piece of skin intact – although it had dried up in the sun over the past few days – as well as lengths of backbone and some rib bones. Kewl!
After my walk and drive, I went home, took some Aleve for my still-sore ankle and foot, and had some lunch with the dogs.


Saturday 10-24 at Lake Solano Park

Vacation Day 8.  I got up around 7:00 am today, and headed off to Lake Solano Park in Winters around 8:00.  The weather was nice – about 70° — but it felt really humid there, and some haze was still hanging around all the foothills.

There were a lot of peahens out there with their babies today.  Some were little guys, just getting their feathers, and some looked like mini versions of their moms.  So cute!  I’d never seen baby peafowl before, so that was kind of cool.  There were a few males out, too, but they didn’t have all of their long trailing feathers on their tails.  That didn’t stop them from try to display to the females, though… who pretty much just ignored them and pecked at the ground.  Hah! The males are so pretty, I ended up taking lots of photos of them anyway – even without their full tail-fans.   I also came across Scrub Jays, Crows, Great Egrets, a Great Blue Heron, Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Hairy Woodpeckers, Nutthall’s Woodpeckers, Cedar Waxwings, a Red-Breasted Nuthatch, Northern Flickers, and lots of Acorn Woodpeckers. An adult male California Quail jumped up onto the side of an old scag of a tree by the lakeside and did his “Chi-ca-go!” call for me.  I got some good shots of him.

I also got to see a male Phainopepla and about three females all in the same area.  I’ve been trying to get a photo of this bird from the first time I heard about it. The males are iridescent black and the females are sort of buff-gray but they both have long tails and a crest on their heads.  One of the females got close enough so I could get some fairly decent shots of her – right down to her red-orange eyes.  So beautiful.

Then I watched some Bufflehead ducks doing their bobbing-head and splash-and-dash dances for some females.  They were pretty far away, so the video I got is kind of washed out, but they’re soooo funny to watch.  According to Cornell’s “All About Birds” website: “…Males court females by flying over them, skiing to a stop on the water with their crests raised, and bobbing their heads. During the breeding season, territorial birds attack intruders by flying or swimming underwater at them and thrashing at them with their wings. When a pair intrudes into a territory, the territorial male often chases the intruding female while the intruding male chases after them both. Males leave their mates during incubation in order to molt, but return to the same mate multiple years in a row (one of the few duck species in which this is true)…”

The oak trees were dropping acorns everywhere… some of them plopping into the lake scaring the birds.  The toyon bushes and pyracantha bushes were all decked out in their red berries; and the mistletoe was full of berries, too. So fall has “fallen” around the lake.

I found a ragged Monarch Butterfly resting in the weeds, and also came across a caterpillar that kind of freaked me out.  It’s body was black with red spikes like a Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillar, but it’s head and butt were bright orange – absolutely the wrong shape and color for a Pipevine Swallowtail.  I took a lot of photos of it, and when I went home, I tried to figure out what it was.  I’m still not certain, but I think it was a Spotted Fireworm (Choristoneura parallela).  I put in a request to Bugguide.net to see if their people can get me a better ID.  ((Hmmm… the folks at Bugguide.net say it’s a Battus philenor, a kind of Pipevine Swallowtail, but different from the subspecies we have at the American River which is Battus philenor hirsuta.  I’m not sure I believe that, but I’ll accept it for now.))

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When I finished the trail on one side of the park, I was going to continue to on to the trail along the river by the campground (which is across the road from the park), but the entrance was all blocked off.  I looked like they were trying to replace a bridge there (while the water is low).  So that cut about an hour off my walk.  I went back to the car, had a light lunch (crackers, tuna fish, grapes and cucumbers) and then headed back home.