Tag Archives: dark-eyed junco

Turkeys in Trees and Lots of Deer Everywhere, 11-26-18

Around 7:15 am I went over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve again for a walk. When I first walked in, I saw a small group of deer collected behind the classroom facility across from the nature center. There was one of the 3-pointer bucks back there, rubbing his head against some of the scrub brush (to transfer his scent) and showing off to the couple of does that were near him. I would have missed him completely if he hadn’t made such a fuss over the bushes, rattling and shaking them with his rubbing.  I climbed up onto the stone bench next to the building to look over the plants around there and see him.  He lifted his head up high a couple of times to check me out but otherwise ignored me. He was more focused on trying to impress the gals.

One of the does had a springtime fawn with her, so she wasn’t interested in the buck, and kept moving around to keep him away from her baby. The other doe didn’t seem overly impressed with him either. She walked through a garden to nature center, lifted some of the tomato cages they have around young plants there (to protect them from the deer), and ate the no-longer-protected plants. Hah!  What a brat!

Further along the trail, I came across another buck that was sitting on the side of the trail. He looked pretty good but had a rosy spot on the tip of his nose that he might’ve gotten from jousting.  He just sat there in the grass and let me get pretty close to him to take photos. He stayed where he was until a pair of does came down the trail and caught his eye.  He got to his feet as soon as they sauntered by, and just when he was approaching them, the big 4-pointer buck came across the field and ran the other buck off.  So, the younger buck’s wait was for naught.

On a different part of the trail, I found the buck with the damaged antler. He was standing amid some fallen logs and scrabbly brush… and it took me a while before I realized there was a doe sitting in the grass on the other side of the log. When I went to get some photos of her, the buck poked his head under the log to keep his eye on me.  On the other side of the trail, I also noticed a young spike buck who was sitting in the tall weeds where the larger buck couldn’t see him. When the doe decided to get up and walk away, the older buck followed her… and the spike buck followed him. Stalker.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

The Wild Turkeys were out in force again. The males are all in strut, showing off to one another and the ladies. Although most of the time they were just posturing at or bluffing one another, I saw a couple of short fights break out among them. They chase one another around, jump up and use the heavy spurs on the sides of their legs to whack one another. You can hear the “crack!” when they make contact all over the preserve; it’s actually louder than the sound made by the deer when they joust.

I was surprised, though, to see about a half dozen of the turkeys way up in the trees over the trail. They were complaining to one another, so I assumed there was something on the ground (a cat or coyote) that was distressing them. After about 15 minutes, I saw them all fly down, crossing over the tops of other trees and landing in a shallow field. They’re big birds and tend to glide rather than flap-and-fly, so they don’t make a whole lot of noise until they get close to the ground, set their feet down and run to a stop.

About halfway through my walk, I was irritated by the fact that the continuous-mode setting on my camera (that takes photos in a burst of 5 shots) decided to stop working. It would take a burst of photos and then stall – the whole camera would freeze up and I couldn’t get it to release unless I took the battery out of it to make it stop.  After quite a while of this nonsense, I set the camera to single-shot, but I hate taking photos like that because there’s a second or two between each photo that you have to wait until the camera resets itself and is ready for the next shot. It’s apparently a problem for my type of camera when I take a lot of photos. The scan disk card isn’t “fast” enough to handle all of the data and the buffer fills up and makes the camera crash. So, I need to get a faster card.

I was in single-shot mode when I came across an Acorn Woodpecker that I wanted to get photos of. As I finished with those shots, I saw that on another branch on the same tree there was a Red-Shouldered Hawk. The bird was polite enough to sit for me and I was able to get quite a few good shots of him.  When nature sits still, single-shot mode works pretty well. Hah!

I walked for about 3½ hours.

That Rattlesnake was a Surprise, 11-24-18

I headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve around 8:00 am.  It was overcast, around 58°, and mist-raining when I got there, but the mist stopped shortly after I arrived. I was able to do a slow 3 hour walk but couldn’t cover as much ground as I normally could. Saw lots of different birds today. That’s not unusual since the migrations are going on right now.  Within the first few minutes of my arriving, I got photos of Ruby a Crowned Kinglet, Golden-Crowned Sparrows and California Towhees.  I also saw several Bewick’s Wrens, an American Robin, California Scrub Jays, Western Bluebirds, Mourning Dives, the ubiquitous Acorn Woodpeckers, and a small flock of Dark Eyed Juncos (in what looked like both the “slate” and “Oregon” color forms).

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

On the river, I saw Canada Geese, Mallards, a Snowy Egret, some Bufflehead ducks, and a female Common Merganser. In the river, I also saw the humped backs and dorsal fins of some salmon… but every time I tried to get a photo of that, the fish ducked down under the water again.

The Wild Turkeys were out en masse. This time of year, the males are showing off a lot, and it seemed like the flock I was looking at actually broke along “gang” lines: one part of the flock intimidating and chasing off the other part. I got some still shots of them and some video snippets.

I saw the melanistic Eastern Fox Squirrel again. He was down on the ground but kept himself well hidden in the tall dried grass and weeds, so I didn’t get any real picture of him.  There were also California Ground Squirrels, Western Gray Squirrels, and “normal colored” Fox Squirrels in abundance.

Among the deer I saw today, most of them were the big bucks, so lying down in the grass, some following after females. There’s a young spike buck that thinks he’s the bees’ knees and walks right up into the big bucks’ harems to try to lure the girls out. They ignore him, but he’s persistent. Gotta give him props for that.  Another one of the bucks I saw looked badly beaten up. One of his antlers had cracked off close to the pedicle (and the break looked so clean it looked like it could have been done with a saw). He had battle scars and shallow gouges on one shoulder and walked with a slight limp. The Rut can be rough!

At one point along the trail, I stopped to get a photo of some Sulphur Shelf Fungus and saw what I though was an odd light-and-dark pattern on the ground. I couldn’t tell what I was looking at with the naked eye, so I zoomed my camera in to take a closer look.  Oddly enough, it was a rattlesnake!  It’s super unusual for those guys to be out when it’s “cold”; most of them have gone underground into their hibernacula already.  While I was taking photos of the snake, careful not to get too close (even though I knew that in the cool air he’d be pretty torpid), a family group (grandparents to little grandchildren) came by and I got to do my “naturalist” thing for them. I explained how rattlesnakes were ectothermic and usually slept during the winter months in a state called brumation (which is like hibernation for warm-blooded animals), blah, blah, blah.   And the mother with the little girls in the group said, “That’s neat… but we’re going to stay on the other side of the trail for now.” Hah! Good call.

The recent rain has brought out some of the early season fungi and I was able to find jelly fungus and Barometer Earthstars here and there. The rain also fattened up the mosses and lichen so parts of the forest are looking green already even as the fall colors start showing off.

As I mentioned, I walked for about 3 hours and then headed back home.

Butterflies, Wrens and Some Leucistic Wild Turkeys, 03-18-18

I went to the American River Park, and I was having some trepidation about that, since the last time I went there my window got smashed.  But I wanted to check on the Great Horned Owl I’d seen there, and I wanted to see if the manroot vines and pipevines were out in force yet.  It was a cold 36º outside I had to wait for the frost on my car to melt before I could head out. It was bright all day but with that kind of high overcast that makes everything look “glary”.

The very first thing I saw when I got into the park was the mama Great Horned Owl sitting on her nest – and white-fluff owlet sitting up against her belly! The nest is pretty high up, and there are only a few places where you can get any kind of an unobstructed view of it, so my photos aren’t very good (in fact, some are crappy).  The baby kept lying down and moving around; and because he’s so short, it’s hard to see him over the rim of the nest.  There might have been 2 babies in the nest, which is typical for this species of owl, but I can’t be certain.  One, for sure, though.  I got a (crappy) video snippet of the mom ripping stuff off some dead thing in the nest and feeding it to the baby, and some still shots of the mom with a bit of fluff sitting next to her. In a few of the photos you can just make out the owlet’s eye…

As the sun came up further in the sky, you could see steam rising from the cold forest floor… kind of spooky-looking.  As it got brighter, all the birds starting singing from everywhere: wrens, woodpeckers, hawks, mourning doves… everyone adding their sound to the jazz ensemble…  It was the day for House Wrens, that’s for sure. They were all over the place, singing and buzzing away.  Those tiny birds sure make a lot of LOUD noise. There were also a lot of Tree Swallows around, too. I think they were vying for who got what tree, and it seemed like a lot of aerial fights were taking place.

The Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies are finally waking up along the river.  Some were flitting around, some were sitting in the grass waiting to warm up, and a few of them looked like they’d just emerged from their chrysalises.  Their wings weren’t fully straightened out yet… At one point, I was mobbed by three of them. Two landed on the front of my coat and one, I was informed by a passerby, landed on the back of my coat. I think they liked that it was both green and warm.  I got the two in front to climb down onto my hand so I could get photos of them. I don’t know what happened to the guy riding in the back. Hah!

Among the Wild Turkeys I saw today, with all the males strutting around, I saw two leucistic ones.  Not true albinos, they still lack most of their pigment, and come out black and white.   I also saw Western Bluebirds, Scrub Jays, Gold Finches, some Audubon’s Warblers, a Dark-Eyed Junco, a Nutthall’s Woodpecker, Acorn Woodpeckers, and Northern Flickers. Oh, and I got a photo of a Brown Creeper today. I think it’s the first decent photo I ever got of one, so that was a plus.

CLICK HERE for an album of photos.

At another point along the trail, I came across an Anna’s Hummingbird. She was flying among a stand of dead star thistle, pulling the fluff off of the old flowering heads. She then flew waaaaay up into a tree to my left, and pushed the fluff into a tiny nest she was building. It was so far up, I couldn’t get a photos of it. But for the next few minutes I watched her return two more times to the thistle to grab fluff. Then she flew into the branches of a tree over my head, and starting plucking off bits of spider webs and lichen. With one mouthful of spider web, she also got a tiny spider and didn’t seem to quite know what to do with it. She couldn’t eat it because then she’d have to eat the web from which it was trailing. Eventually, she just flew off with the spider in tow. Hah!

Along the river I spotted some Snowy Egrets, a pair of Belted Kingfishers, a Spotted Sandpiper (who didn’t have his spots yet), several Goldeneye ducks, Common Mergansers, Mallards, and some Double-Crested Cormorants (one had crests, the other didn’t).

I also saw a few mule deer, two sitting in the grass and one standing up. Seems like all of the deer are across the river at the Effie Yeaw preserve these days. I hardly see any of them at the River Bend Park anymore.

The manroot vines were in full blossom, and the pipevine vines are starting to branch out. The redbud trees are also starting to open their blossoms; in another week or so they should be spectacular.

I walked for about 4 ½ hours, which is really too long for me. By the time I left the park it was 58º.

Mostly Starlings and Goldeneyes, 12-26-17

I headed over to the American River Bend Park for a walk. It was 34º when I got there, and got up to about 53º when I headed back home.

I wasn’t expecting to see a lot – we’re kind of “between seasons” at the river; all of the birds haven’t migrated in yet and it hasn’t rained enough for the fungi to come out – but the walks themselves always do me good. When I first got there, a light fog was still hanging over the river, so I went to the shore first to try to get some photos of that. Since the flooding earlier this year, the water had receded enough so that the riverside trail was passable again. (At the height of the flood, the river was right up to the trailhead, and beaver had floated up to chew on trees that normally wouldn’t have access to.)

Here is the album of photos and video snippets.

The flood has left its mark, though, with toppled down trees, scraggly flotsam high in the scrub brush and branches of still-standing trees, and rearranged rocks and sandbars. Still, the path was recognizable and I was able to make it through without incident. In places along the way, I could see the tracks of others who had walked along it: humans, dogs, deer, and what might have been a bobcat – fat rounded “fingers” with no toenails.

The trail let out close to what’s now the riverside, but I had to walk over tons of river rocks to get to the water. The rocks are all smooth and beautiful, but are a pain for me to walk across. My arthritis is welding all the bones in my feet together, so my feet don’t bend like they normally should anymore. Traversing uneven ground is a misery for me, but the few photos I got of the fog and a few birds were worth it.

The first creature I saw was a young Herring Gull, preening at the very end of a sandbar. He looked cold and sleepy, waiting for the morning sun to burn through the fog some more so he could warm up. Further up the shore was a Great Blue Heron, puffed up and hunkered down against the chill in the air, but still keeping an eye on the water in case breakfast swam by.

A little further up was a female Common Merganser floating on the water. And then I saw the Goldeneye ducks: mostly females, but several males, too.

Along with the Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula), I also caught sight of a Barrow’s Goldeneye (Bucephala islandica), distinguishable by the shape of the blotch on the face of the male. On the Common goldeneye, the blotch is round, and on the Barrow’s it’s like a paint-stroke. The Barrow’s also has “blocks” of white along the wing-line. We don’t get to see Barrow’s Goldeneyes around here much, so it’s always a treat when they show up. I was hoping the boys would do their flip-head dance for the girls, but they were all more interested in eating than in displaying. I got photos (and a little video) of all of them through the haze of the fog.

The other bird species I saw a lot of today were the European Starlings. In several spots, I saw them checking out nesting cavities in trees, going in and out, and talking to each other. I also saw quite a few California Scrub Jays, and one of them posed nicely for me on the humped back of a curved branch. In another park of the park,

I came across an area where smaller birds were trying to get to the last seeds on the now-dead star thistle: Spotted and California Towhees, Dark-Eyed Juncos, Golden-Crowned Sparrows and Lesser Goldfinches. What was surprising was that I didn’t see a lot of Acorn Woodpeckers or Canada Geese. They’re kind of ubiquitous, so to NOT see them is unusual.

Along my walk I also came across some Gouty Stem Galls, the leftover cocoon of a Tussock Moth caterpillar, the chrysalis of a Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly, and a few Deer Shield mushrooms. I walked for about 3 hours and then headed home .

Mostly Snipes on Christmas Eve

I did some journaling and checked my email before heading over to the Cosumnes River Preserve

The temperature gauge said it was 38º at the preserve, but it felt much colder than that. My fingers were “freezing” every time I took some photos, and I had to stop now and then to plunge my hands into my pockets until they thawed out again. Brrr!  It remained overcast for the whole day and never got above 50º (lingering around 45º for quite a while).

I walked around the main wetland area near the boardwalk, then crossed the street, and took the wetland path down to the nature center, then back up to the boardwalk area again.  There didn’t seem to be very many birds out, but considering the chill, I wasn’t really surprised.

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

I did get to see a LOT of Wilson’s Snipes; they seemed to be everywhere. And I also got to see some Ring-Necked Ducks which I think are so handsome. The males have an iridescent brown ring around their neck, but you can’t see it unless the duck lifts up its head and stretched its neck (usually to show off to the females). They’re always a treat to see because they’re only in this area for a short time each winter.

There  were also a couple of Turkey Vultures who had found dead stuff to snack on. One looked like it was working on the carcass of a Coot, but the other one looked like it had a goose. The thing was too big for the vulture to lift or move…

On the wetland trail I found some earthball fungus commonly called “Dead Man’s Foot” because it looks kind of like a rotting toe-less foot sticking up out of the ground. The things are gross, but they’re interesting at the same time. As they mature and ripen, the whole thing turns into a huge lump of brown spores…  I also found some mistletoe (how appropriate) that was full of berries, so I pulled down a sprig to get some photos of it… and then left it for the birds and squirrels who love those things.

I walked for about 3 hours and then headed back to the house.

Mostly Lots of Deer and Bucks with Wonky Antlers, 11-18-17

I wanted to sleep in a little bit today, but my dog Sergeant Margie wanted to get up to pee at 5:30 am. So, I let him out and went back to bed. Then he sat on the bed staring at me: he also wanted his breakfast. Hah! It’s a good thing he’s so cute…

I got up again and fed him.  And then since I was up anyway, I got dressed and headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk.  It was 39º at the house when I left, and 37º at the preserve when I arrived.  As the sun came up, it stirred up some ground fog and mist; I stopped several time just to watch the steam rising from the bark of trees and stumps.

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

I saw a lot of deer today, including a spike buck (one-pronged antler), a buck with a broken antler (The rut was apparently pretty rough on some of the boys this year.), 2 bucks with oddly matched antlers, and a handsome 3-pointer who was nosing around a receptive doe.  I followed that pair for a while – making sure I never got between the buck and the doe – but they wandered off into the thicket and I eventually lost sight of them.

There was one spot where I came across some does sitting out in the grass in the morning sun. I was  able to get within just a few feet of them. And I noticed that one of them had stashed a fawn in the higher glass to my right. As I was taking photos of them, a third doe appeared, followed closed by one of the bucks with and odd set of antlers.  One antler was full-size but was “swooping” and spoon-shaped at the end, and the other was completely stunted. At first I thought maybe it was broken, but the terminal end of it was too smooth… This buck also walked with a distinctive limp.

Antler abnormalities are somewhat common, but because they’re all so different, it’s hard for scientists to determine the exact cause of them. Some antlers can come out misshapen if the pedicle (the point where the antler fits onto the head) is damaged or just grows in a weird shape. Others can look odd if damage is done to the antlers when they’re in the velvet stage (as they’re forming), and for some reason, misshapen antlers is also often associated with damage to the buck’s hind leg. In the same area as the limping buck, I saw another one with a mismatches pair of antlers: one had four points and the other only had two… [[As an interesting aside, I also read that hunters had come across what they thought were female deer with antlers… but genetic testing on the deer showed that although the deer had external female parts, they were actually genetically males.  Transgender deer.  Who knew?!]]

After a short while, all of the deer in that area startled. I knew they weren’t responding to me because they could all see me and had allowed me to get close, so I looked around to see what might have set them off.  And then I saw a thick-coated coyote chasing after a jackrabbit. His rushing path took him right past the deer.  The females all jumped up onto their feet and ran to where the fawn was sitting in the grass and surrounded him until the coyote was out of sight.  I wish I had been able to get that on video…

It’s interesting to me how different deer react differently to my presence. Some ignore me or let me come within touching-distance of them; others run away stotting as they go; and other try to “hide” between trees or clumps of grass while all the while keeping an eye on me.  Makes for some thought-provoking photo ops.

At another spot along the trail, I came to the tree that had held the wild bee hive for a few weeks (before the queen took off to find another spot). The opening in the tree is still surrounded by the bees’ “propolis” (hardened wax and plant resin the bees chew and then build up around the exterior of the hive to stave off bacteria) and I could see insects flying into and out of the hole… not as many as when the bees were there, but still a presence.  I walked up to the tree to check it out and found a lot of black ants crawling around the opening.  They were joined by several Yellow Jackets.  Having been stung already this year by the wasps, I kept back away from the tree, but took some photos and a little bit of video.  The wasps were obviously checking the spot out (if they hadn’t already moved in.) Nice of the honey bees to make the place inviting to them.

I also saw quite a few Wild Turkeys today, along with Acorn Woodpeckers, California Scrub Jays, a male quail, Dark-Eyed Juncos and a few other birds. The surprise for me today, was seeing some male Goldeneyes in the river, diving and fishing around one another.  They were too far away for me to get any really good photos of them, but it was nice to see them… It means all of the migrating waterfowl are moving into the region.

I walked for about 3 hours and then headed back to the house.