Tag Archives: dragonflies

Standouts: a Lorquin’s Admiral and a Wilson’s Snipe, 11-03-18

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.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

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.

Ibis Rookery at the Water Plant, 07-03-18

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.

A Lovely Saturday at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

Lots to share today…  I got up around 5:45 this morning and headed out with the dog to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. It was actually overcast when I left the house, nice and cool.  The temperatures stayed pleasant throughout the day: around 80° with a cool breeze by the late afternoon.

I was taking a chance that the extended loop at the refuge would still be open for the Labor Day weekend, and my gamble paid off.  (I think they’re actually closing the loop on September 10th.) I wasn’t looking for anything in particular; just looking around to see what Nature wanted to show me today.  That kind of outing is always really relaxing for me.  When you’re not expecting anything, then anything can be a surprise.

CLICK HERE to see the full album of photos from today.

The first critter we saw was a Turkey Vulture sitting in a eucalyptus tree near the parking lot, just casing the joint and relaxing in the shade.  Then there was a series of jackrabbits (and Cottontails, but they moved to fast for me to get any photos of them). I also came across some mule deer, including a fawn that was separated from its mom. (I think she was foraging along the side of a nearby slough.) It’s not unusual for the youngsters to be left alone for short periods of time, so I wasn’t worried about the little guy.

At one point along the auto-tour route, I came across a pair of young female Ring-Neck Pheasants foraging in the dried grass along the edge of the road.  I parked the car and watched them for a little while. One of the pair was pretty skittish, but the other one didn’t seem to mind that I was there – as long as I didn’t move. Toward the end of the route, I also came across a more adult female pheasant and got a tiny bit of video of her. The males are more elaborate-looking, but I love the patterns on the feathers of the females. It looks like each one was paint individually…

CLICK HERE for a video of the young pheasants foraging.

CLICK HERE for a video of the mature female pheasant. You can hear in this one how much the wind had picked up.

There were  a lot of Clark’s and Western Grebes on the water in the permanent wetlands area, most of them trying to feed their voracious children.  You could hear the kids “yelling” for food all along that part of the route: high-pitching whining cries that got louder whenever their parents came up from a dive with a bug or small fish for the kids to eat.  I got several video snippets of that. Some of the parents were more successful at finding a meal for the kids than others.  I watched one Western Grebe that came up with a bug or a fish every time it dove down for something; and I watched another parent that came up empty-handed every time. The kids were all able to recognize their own parent, too, so the ones that weren’t getting fed by their parents never went after the adults who came up with fish every time.

I also watched while one “teenager” preened while it waited for its parent to bring it food.  I’m always fascinated by the way the grebes’ legs and feet are  attached to its body.  The legs don’t sit underneath in the center of the bird’s like they do in most bird species; instead, they’re positioned near the back of the bird’s body which makes them great swimmers, but rather clumsy on land. They also have lobed (not webbed feet) and often lift their feet out of the water to shake them off… or even lift the whole leg out of the water and bend it over their back to tuck the foot in under the wing (called “foot-shipping”). It looks really goofy when they do this.  I have a little bit of video of this so you can see what I mean.

CLICK HERE for a video of the “foot shipping” juvenile Grebe.

CLICK HERE for a video of a juvenile Clark’s Grebe getting fed by its parent.  turn the sound up and you’ll hear the high-pitched call from the juvenile.

CLICK HERE for a video of a juvenile who got separated from its parent and then had to rush to get its meal. In the background of this video you can hear the harsh calls of a flock of Common Terns that were circling and swooping overhead.

 

There were lots of American White Pelicans out today, some just napping, some preening, some fishing in large groups.  Alongside them were Double-Crested Cormorants. When the temperature started to rise, the cormorants would gape and make their throats waggle (gular fluttering) to cool off a bit. I also saw (and got a little video of) some of the juveniles sparring with one another: opening their hooks beaks and rattling them against one another’s while their grunted.  There was also one of the cormorants that picked up feathers and carried them over to other cormorants in the flock. I saw him do this with a scraggly black feather and white gull feather… But I haven’t been able to find anything that describes this behavior or why the cormorant was doing it.  It was a juvenile, so I don’t think it was any kind of “courting” behavior… and I didn’t see it eat the feathers (like the grebes do sometimes to aid in their digestion), so I was stumped.  Fascinated, but stumped.  I wish I had more time to just sit out in nature and view/video more of the behavior stuff… I find it all so interesting.

CLICK HERE for a video o the pelicans feeding.

CLICK HERE for the video of the sparring juveniles. Turn the sound up to hear the sounds the birds are making.  You can also see some Gadwalls in this clip.

CLICK HERE for a video of the cormorants doing their “gular fluttering” thing.

Among the other birds, we got so see Great Egrets, a lone Red-Tailed Hawk, Ring-Billed Gulls, Pied-Billed Grebes, a few Ruddy Ducks, a female Ring-Necked Duck, a Greater Yellowlegs, and a pair of White-Faced Ibis feeding in the shallows alongside the road. The sun was behind them, though, so I didn’t get very good shots of them.

I also got photos of a few different dragonfly species and other “incidental” stuff like wasps and bindweed… whatever looked interesting at the moment.

The best “find” of the day for me was coming across a small group of river otters.  They’d found a cache of fish (and bullfrogs, I think) near the shore and were chowing down.  I got a little video of them crunching away at their catch. It’s so hard to get clear photos of the otters when they’re in the water because they move so swiftly; and then they’ll disappear under the surface and pop up again somewhere else… I never know where to point the camera.  Hah!

CLICK HERE for a video of the otters eating.

CLICK HERE for a video of the otters swimming.

The dog and I headed back home around noon and got to the house a little after 2:00 pm.

Looking for Dragonflies

A Widow Skimmer and male Common Pondhawk  face off against one another. ©2016 Mary K. Hanson.  All rights reserved.
A Widow Skimmer and male Common Pondhawk face off against one another. ©2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

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.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

 

Saturday Morning at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

Juvenile Widow Skimmer. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.
Juvenile Widow Skimmer. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.

I got up around 5:30 and left the hotel to get over to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  The windy was blowing a gale out there this morning, though, so I wasn’t expecting to see much of anything.  There was no one else at the refuge that time of day, and I actually didn’t see another car until about noon as I was getting ready to leave.

Along the auto-tour route, the jackrabbits were up, and I also came across a couple of Striped Skunks – but those little guys can really MOVE, so all I got was blurry photos of them. At one point, one of them got pissed off because I was “chasing” it with my car, and it stopped an aimed his butt at me to warn me off.  Hah!  I finally did manage to get a short video snippet of it, but that was all.

Along with the usual contingency of ducks and geese, I got to see the American White Pelicans again – most of them napping on a small island in the middle of the permanent wetlands area. And I got some photos of the little red House Finch picking up thistle-seeds from the ground.

The dragonflies surprised me.  Because of the hard wind, I didn’t think I’d see many of them, but they were smart and fly close to the ground on the lee side of the tules to shield themselves from the wind, so I got some more photos of them, including some Widow Skimmer dragonflies, some adults and some juveniles who hadn’t fully developed their deep wing staining yet or gotten the greyish-blue pruinescence on their abdomen (so they were still striking black and yellow)… I saw several of the smaller dragonflies caught up in spider’s webs, and got a little video snippet of a spider racing out to sting and wrap a dragonfly in silk before it could wriggle free.

Among the other insects, I also got some photos of Painted Lady butterflies and a Red Admiral butterfly feeding on the teasel flowers.  And there were Cabbage White butterflies all over the place… On my way out of the refuge later, a tiny Crescent butterfly flew into the car and walked along the dashboard before leaving again…

At the permanent wetlands area, the mother Clark’s Grebe that I’d filmed yesterday moving her eggs around on her floating nest, was off the nest this morning (and I got photos of the eggs).  The winds had kicked up small waves on the water and the waves were wreaking havoc on the floating nest.  Mom and dad worked to try to add more grass to the nest and shore it up a bit, and eventually mom got back onto it, but it looks to me like her weight pushed the eggs under water… so I don’t know if they’re going to make it.  (Other grebes on their mats that I could see dotting the water seemed to be fine.)  I also saw another pair of grebes working on their nest (no eggs yet).  They had a good start on it and were working hard despite the waves.

The abandoned nest I saw yesterday was still there but the eggs were gone.  There was a pair of Pied-Billed Grebes checking the nest out, but I just thing that one’s too close to the road and will remain un-lived-in for the season.

I also saw a large “straw” nest in a tree along the route and was stymied by it for a while.  It was all grasses and small twigs with a hole in the side of it.  After doing some research, I decided it must have been an Oriel’s nest.  Now, usually Oriel’s nests are really easy to distinguish; they hang like purses or socks from branches.  But this one was up against the trunk of the tree – an unusual but not unheard of placement.  According to Cornell’s “All About Birds” site: “… The distinctive nest usually hangs below a branch, but is sometimes anchored along a vertical tree trunk…”

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The dog and I also walked one of the shorter trails at the refuge before heading home.

Friday Afternoon at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

Female Variegated Meadowhawk dragonfly. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.
Female Variegated Meadowhawk dragonfly. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.

After work, I headed over to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge as I’d planned.  It was about 77° there, so not too bad.  Just as I started the auto-tour route, I saw a lean jackrabbit who posed on the side of the road for me, and an adult Great Horned Owl sitting a tree about 100 feet away.  The big news seemed to be the larger dragonflies which are starting to come out everywhere in the refuge.  I saw Blue Dashers, Black Saddlebags, Variegated Meadowhawks, a Green Pondhawk and several Widow Skimmers.  Very cool.  As for other insects, I also saw Hoverflies, some big Orb-Weaver Spiders, some Painted Lady Butterflies, and a White-Striped Sphinx Moth.  I also got a few photos of a pair of damselflies mating.

At one stop along the route I saw a snake – or what I believed to be  snake – in the water along the edge of the wetland area.  It was limbless, but it was all pale grey with no other discernable markings on it.  I know garter snakes hunt in and around the water, but this one wasn’t marked like a garter snake at all.  Then I wondered if it was a legless lizard… but they don’t usually live in habitats like this.  So, I don’t know what it was – and I didn’t get any photos of it because by the time I realized it was there and got my camera focused, it had ducked in between several rocks.  Dang it!

As I was driving along, two cars kept tailgating me.  There was enough room for them to go around, but they just kept riding my rear bumper, like they were trying to crowd me and force me to drive through more quickly.  I pulled off to the side of the road as I could, put the car in park and turned off the engine.  It took them a few minutes to figure out I wasn’t budging, and they finally drove past me.  I saw both cars ahead of me later on, and people got out of both of them to take photos – which is against the rules of the park.  So I took photos of the offenders – AND their license plate numbers – and emailed them to the refuge rangers.

Anyway, driving along I saw the usual suspects – ducks, geese, seagulls – and came across some adult and juvenile Pied-Billed Grebes.  All along the last part of the extra loop around the permanent wetlands, I also saw quite a few Clark’s Grebes building and sitting on their nests.  I got still shots and a couple of video snippets.

CLICK HERE FOR SOME VIDEO of the mama grebe adjusting some of the vegetation on her nest before she sots down on her eggs.  Notice that when she sits, she exposes her almost featherless belly which she’ll press against the eggs to keep them warm.

One sad discovery – and I wonder if it was in reaction to the stupid people getting out of their cars to get closer to the birds – I found one nest very close to the road that had eggs in it… but the parents were nowhere to be seen.  I hope it wasn’t completely abandoned.

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I did the whole auto-tour route far more quickly than I normally do –(took 2 hours instead of 4) — so I could get to my hotel by check-in time, so I didn’t linger much anywhere.  I’ll go much slower tomorrow.

The dog and I stayed at the Ramada Inn in Williams (about 20 minutes from the refuge).  I had picked up some food from The Nugget before I left Woodland, so I had some of that for supper – and gave the dog a can of his favorite dog food.  Then we crashed for the rest of the day…