This was a busy day, but in a fun way. I got up at 5:00 am and headed out to Woodland to go to the ibis rookery at the Woodland-Davis Clean Water Agency facility off of Road 102 and East Gibson Road. Then I headed out to the WPA Rock Garden, and later in the day, I attended a Monarch monitoring training. Phew!
Last year when I went to the rookery, the water was a lot lower in the settling ponds. This year, the water is a lot higher, so all of the scrubby trees and tules the ibises were able to nest in before are now under water, and there was no real shore for them to rest on. All of the birds were clambering to get into the high branches of the few trees that weren’t submerged, and I saw some pretty brutal fights over nesting spots. I also watched as several of the birds pulled dried grasses up from the edges of the pond and flew them over to line their nests.
Some of the ibises, though, had already settled in, and a few of them already had eggs laid in their nests. The eggs are a bright neon-turquoise color so they’re easy to spot even at a distance.
Amid the ibises there were also Great-Tailed Grackles, American Coots (and a few babies), Killdeer, Black-Necked Stilts, Western Kingbirds and Western Meadowlarks. I also saw quite a few Black-Tailed Jackrabbits and Desert Cottontails. I saw Coot courtship behavior, which I’d never seen before. (I’d read about it but never saw it “live”.) The male and female chased after one another with their wings arched up and their tiny tail fanned out to show of the white patches on it. They’re kind of dorky-looking birds to begin with, so seeing them hunched up trying to look sexy was a hoot. Hah!
CLICK HERE to see the album of photos. You can also CLICK HERE to access the feature article I wrote about the rookery in 2018 as published in the Lake County News online newspaper.
I took quite a few photos, but because the sun was coming up behind the birds, a lot of the stuff was in silhouette and I had to force the iris of the camera open to let more light in on the subjects. I might go in again before class one morning to get different light. The area where you view the ibises is relatively small, so I was able to cover it in about an hour or so.
American Coot, Fulica americana,
American Wisteria, Wisteria frutescens,
Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna,
Bear’s Breeches, Acanthus mollis,
Bird of Paradise, tree, Caesalpinia gilliesii,
Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus,
Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus,
Blue Corn-Lily, Aristea ecklonii,
Bush Katydid nymph, Scudderia pistillata,
Butterfly Bush, Buddleja davidii,
California Buckwheat, Eriogonum fasciculatum,
Caper Bush, Capparis spinosa,
Cardoon, Artichoke Thistle, Cynara cardunculus,
Cleveland Sage, Salvia clevelandii,
Common Toadflax, Linaria vulgaris,
Day Lily, Hemerocallis sp.,
Desert Cottontail, Sylvilagus audubonii,
Desert Willow, Chilopsis linearis, (pink flowers)
Dianella, Dianella ensifolia, (blue seeds)
Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis,
Fig, Common Fig, Ficus carica,
French Lavender, Lavandula stoechas,
Garden Snail, Cornu aspersum,
Gerber Daisy, Gerbera jamesonii,
Giant Fennel, Ferula communis,
Golden Feverfew, Tanacetum Parthenium aureum,
Great Mullein, Verbascum Thapsus,
Great-Tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus,
Green Bottle Fly, Lucilia sericata,
Green Lacewing, Chrysoperla carnea,
Grevellea, Grevilerulea sp.,
Jacaranda Tree, Jacaranda mimosifolia,
Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous,
Lacy Phacelia, Phacelia tanacetifolia,
Lavender, Lavandula angustifolia,
Leafcutter Bee, Megachile sp.,
Love-in-a-Mist, Nigella damascena,
Mojave Prickly Poppy, Argemone corymbose,
Money Plant, Silver Dollar Plant, Moonflower, Lunaria biennis,
Myrtle, Myrtus communis,
Northern Catalpa, Indian Bean Tree, Catalpa speciosa,
Painted Lady Butterfly, Vanessa cardui,
Pincushion Flower, Scabiosa atropurpurea,
Pinkladies, Oenothera speciosai,
Rattlesnake Master, Eryngium yuccifolium,
Red Mite, Spider Mite, Tetranychinae sp.,
Rose, Rosa sp.,
Smokebush, Smoke Tree, Cotinus obovatus,
Spice Bush, Calycanthus occidentalis,
Statice, Sea lavender, Limonium perezii,
Steely Wings, Salvia canariensis,
Tree Aeonium, Aeonium arboretum,
Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
Western Kingbird, Tyrannus verticalis,
Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta,
White Lily of the Nile, Agapanthus africanus var. albus,
I left the house with the dog around 5:30 am to head out to the Sacramento and Colusa National Wildlife Refuges. It was already 62º there and was windy; not a strong blow-you-over wind, but strong enough so that it kept a lot of the birds hunkered down to keep warm. Neither refuge is at full water capacity yet, so there were long areas of nothing but dried grass and tules. In another month or so, viewing should better.
At the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, the first thing I saw was a Black-Tailed Jackrabbit using a stand of tules as a windbreak. I saw several Red-Tailed Hawks in the trees, saw some American Kestrels on the wing, saw a Northern Harrier on the ground, and lots of Turkey Vultures surfing the wind currents. One of the Red-Tails was so huge, I thought at first that it might be an eagle; the female Red-Tails can get REALLY large. I also heard but didn’t see a Red-Shouldered Hawk.
Lots of Song, Savannah and White-Crowned Sparrows were out along with huge flocks of Snow Geese, Greater White-Fronted Geese, and Northern Pintail ducks. I also saw several Ross’s Geese – which look like Snow Geese, but they’re smaller and don’t have the black “grin patch” on the beak. Among the other ducks were Northern Shovelers (some still in their eclipse plumage), American Wigeons and Gadwalls. The Pintails always out-number the other ducks this early in the season as they’re the first to arrive.
Some areas along the auto-tour route were laden with the thick sticky webbing spiderlings use to “balloon” along the landscape. Long strands and bunches of “spider snot” seemed to be everywhere.
Two standouts at the Sacramento refuge were a Loggerhead Shrike and a Lorquin’s Admiral butterfly. The Shrike had posted itself on some dead cattail stems and as I watched it impaled a large insect on a shard along the side of the stem. Then it manipulated the insect a little bit with its beaks and feet before eating it. I think the insect was a big grasshopper, but I couldn’t get a really good look at it. Shrikes are referred to as “butcher birds” and “songbirds with the heart of a raptor” for their hunting and butchering behaviors.
The Lorquin’s Admiral was a huge surprise. It’s very late in the season for them to be out. This is a kind of butterfly that has several “flights” throughout the year, and they feed on nectar from California Buckeye trees, but they also like bird feces. Ugh. No accounting for taste! What’s cool about these guys is that even though they’re basically made out of “fuzzy air”, they’re super-aggressive and will fight protect their territory. Sort of like getting sucker-punches by a paper doll. Hah! The caterpillars roll themselves up in the leaves of willow trees (among others) and overwinter in them.
At the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge, I saw a lot of the same birds that I did at the Sacramento refuge, but the standout was a Wilson’s snipe and flew up right next to the car and walked around the muddy ground there. Every once in a while, the bird would tilt its head to look up at me as I frantically snapped photos of it through the driver’s side window of my car.
On our way out of the auto-tour route at this refuge, I saw a pair of young Columbian Black-Tailed Deer grazing on the berm that was covered with geese and ducks. The deer didn’t seem to mind it when I stopped my car next to the end of the berm to take some photos and video of them, but when another car came up behind mine, they startled. I was surprised when, instead of running away up the berm through the flock of birds, both deer came charging down the berm right toward my car. I was afraid they were going to hit it. But they both veered off, one after the other, and crossed the auto-tour route road in front of my car – kind of using my car as a shield – before they jumped into the trees and overgrowth on the opposite side of the road. Wow. Got my heart going for a little bit. I don’t know what it was about the other car that made them so afraid.
When I was done with the auto-tour route, I parked near the restroom facility and then took Sergeant Margie out on his leash to stretch his legs. ((Dogs are allowed on the preserve, as long as they’re in your car or on a leash.)) I started down the trail that runs along between a large wetland area and a slough (so you have water on both sides) and was happily surprised to see that Sergeant Margie was able to handle walking a half mile in and a half mile back to the car (one mile round trip). He hasn’t been able or willing to do any kind of “long” walk for almost a year.
I think it helped that the temperature outside was comfortable and the trail was flat and covered with soft leaves. His tongue was hanging out when we got back to the car, but he wasn’t coughing or complaining. I gave him some lunch and a big drink of water before we headed back home.
The dog and I headed out right away to go into Woodland and look for the water treatment plant before going into the office. One of my naturalist course graduates, Sonjia, had told me there was an Ibis rookery there, so I had to go see it!
Luckily the main gate was open. I overshot the pond area and had to turn around, then went down the gravel road, and took photos from my car and the adjacent field. The air quality was horrible this morning, with all of the wildfires burning around the valley, so everything was tinged an extra shade of red-orange.
At first, I only saw flocks of White-Faced Ibis, Black Necked Stilts and a few other shorebirds, but as I watched I could pick out other individual birds like Tricolored Blackbirds and Yellow-Headed Blackbirds, Killdeer, Mallards, Pied-Billed Grebes, Canada Geese and Great-Tailed Grackles. Some of the grackles were posturing and “dancing” along the side of the road. One of them kept stepping on the tail feathers of the others to mess them up. Hah! I also found some damselflies who weren’t warm enough to go anywhere yet, so they clung to the stems of the star thistle, sometimes several of them on the same plant. Lots of photo ops… but I felt rushed because I had to get to the office by 7:00 am.
CLICK HERE for the full album of photos and video snippets.
A little further along the gravel road was the rookery area itself, with Ibis practically piled on top of one another in their twiggy nests. Because it was so early in the morning, most of the adults on the nests weren’t quite awake yet, but in some of the nests, parents were busy feeding hungry hatchlings. If I come back again later in the week, I’ll come a little bit later in the morning when more of the birds are awake.
I was able to see some of the unhatched eggs in nests; they’re a beautiful turquoise blue color. Both parents help to keep the eggs warm. Some evidence seems to indicate that the males sit on the eggs during the day, and females sit on the eggs in the evening, but they can also switch shifts. Both parents also feed the babies (by regurgitation). While I was watching one nest, I saw mom feeding the kids. Then dad flew in, gave mom his breakfast, and flew off again… and mom fed what dad brought to the kids. Lots of barfing and re-barfing going on in that exchange. Eeew! Hah!
The pairs of adults are supposed to be monogamous, but I don’t know if that’s for life or just for the breeding season. I saw several pairs, some of them interacting very gently with one another. “Allopreening” (mates preening one another) is supposed to reinforce the pair bond.
The baby Ibises have black and white striped beaks and bald heads. They’re so funny looking! And they grab at the parent’s beak to try to get them to open their mouths. Pushy, fussy babies.
In some spots, the female Great-Tailed Grackles were poking around the Ibis’ nests and harassing them. One of them poked its head right in under a mama Ibis who was sitting on the nest, causing her to jump up and turn on it. It’s not unusual for the grackles to be predatory and try to steal eggs from the nests, but this one was awfully bold! (I wonder if the Black-Crowned Night Herons come by in the evening to steal babies and eat them… They’re notorious in this area for stealing and killing local Wood Duck ducklings; sometimes killing for no reason and leaving the ducklings bodies lying around.)
I was out there for about an hour and then had to head off to the office, but that was cool way to start my day.
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.
(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!
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.
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
I got up around 5:00 am even though I didn’t have to work today. Forecasts were for temperatures over 100° by the afternoon, so I headed out early to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge before it got too hot outside. I wasn’t expecting to see a lot of birds; I was looking for dragonflies. Before I even got near the refuge, I found myself driving through thin “clouds” of dragonflies along the freeway. It was like a population explosion of Variegated Meadowhawks; they were everywhere… and lots of them hitting the windshield like tiny soft bullets.
The refuge was full of them, too, especially where the water was still standing. I also saw lots of Widow Skimmers, Blue Dashers, Common Pondhawks (blue males and green females), Green Darners and Black Saddlebags, along with a bunch of blue damselflies. Despite their numbers, getting clear photos of them was a bear. They were usually in among the tules and other plants and all of the background “layers” made it difficult to tell if the camera was focusing on the right one. I snapped off almost 2000 shots and less than half of them were usable. That’s just how it goes sometimes. I also saw other insects like honey bees and bumblebees, and loads of Cabbage White butterflies. There were also some Sulphers, Common Buckeyes, and Painted Ladies.
As I was leaving the loop around the permanent wetland area, I came across some Great-Tailed Grackles. One of the males was feeding a juvenile female what looked like a tadpole he’d brought up from the water. I also saw Kingbirds, Pelicans, Grebes and Red-Winged Blackbirds.