Tag Archives: eclipse plumage

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.

The Water is Filling in at the Cosumnes Preserve, 11-12-17

Around 7:00 am, I headed out to the Cosumnes River Preserve. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular; I just wanted to see how far along they were with getting their wetland areas flooded. It’s maybe a little over half of its water capacity right now. Another few weeks and it should be pretty full.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos and video snippets.

I was surprised, when I got there, to see the gate opened early and the parking lot by the boardwalk almost completely full of cars. LOTS of photographers were out there, some watching the fly in o the Canada and Greater White-Fronted Geese. Another surprise was seeing quite a few Blue-Winged Teals in the pond right by the parking lot. I hardly ever get to see those guys, so it’s always a treat when I do. The males are recognizable by the large, white quarter moon crescent on their face.  In the same area were a few Green-Winged Teals, Northern Shovelers, Pintails, and Coots.

I walked along the board walk to the viewing platform. Because the wetland area isn’t completely flooded yet, there wasn’t a lot to see; mostly sparrows and Red-Winged Blackbirds. But I got another surprise when some Sandhill Cranes circled overhead and couple of them landed in one of the fields nearby. They were too far away to get any close-ups, but I was able to get a few pictures of them – and a video snippet of their crackling calls…

I was only there for about 2 ½ hours before heading back home.

Things are Getting Interesting at the Wildlife Refuge, 10-28-17

At the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, the wetlands areas aren’t completely flooded yet, so it’s not as full of birds as it could be… but there were a lot of the early-arrival species like the White-Fronted Geese, Snow Geese, Ross’s Geese, Northern Pintails, Northern Shovelers, and Gadwalls. I also saw a few different species of sparrow including Song Sparrows, White-Crowned Sparrows, and Savannah Sparrows, a Dark-Eyed Junco, and a Nutthall’s Woodpecker. Among the other birds I saw – like the Wilson’s Snipes, Killdeer, Black-Necked Stilts, and American Pipits — a nice surprise was spotting the local Peregrine Falcon who was sitting up in “the eagle-tree”. He was obscured by branches and twigs, but I got a few fair photos of him.

Later on, I came across a trio of mule deer browsing in the tall grass and weeds.  One was a male, a two-pointer, and I couldn’t see any details but could tell there was a big lump – like a knot made out of hide — on the side of his head near one of his eyes. It looked like the eye was missing, but I’m not sure; it could have just been that the knot was casting a shadow over the eye socket. It didn’t seem to inhibit the buck or interfere with his ability to move around…

The big surprise of the day, though, was when I saw a skunk moving along the tules and weeds on the edge of one of the wetland ponds, and stopped to take some photos and video of it. As I watched it, I could hear it nattering angrily at something and thought maybe there was another skunk or a snake or something near it in the weeds…  When a raccoon climbed out over the vegetation and moved gingerly past the skunk I had to laugh.  I wasn’t expecting that at all!  You can see the video here: https://youtu.be/yrja6wSMtxA.

I saw another raccoon further along the auto tour route near the large viewing platform.  I heard first as it went scuffing through the fallen dried leaves under the platform, and then saw it as it was walking away along the edge of the slough near the base of the platform.

Here is an album of pix: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mkhnaturalist/albums/72157665598291929

I was at the refuge for about 3 ½  hours and then turned around and headed back home.

Vacation Day 3: Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

DAY 3 OF MY VACATION.  I got up around 6:30 am and headed out with the dog for the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  The almost-full moon was still out, shining brightly, and there were big sofa clouds everywhere. A slight breeze continued throughout the day. It got up to about 70° by the afternoon.  It was a beautiful day for a drive.

CLICK HERE for an album of photos from the day.

I got to the refuge around 8:00 am and the first thing that greeted us when we arrived was a Peregrine Falcon sitting up in a tree.  It was kind of far away, so I couldn’t get any detailed shots of it, but I did manage to get a few photos.  There were lots of Jackrabbits around and the Northern Harrier hawks were flying all over overhead, sometimes buzz bombing the flocks of Coots and duck to try to get them to flush…  White-Crowned Sparrows seemed to be everywhere (this must be “their time” of the year) along with Red-Winged Blackbirds, Meadowlarks, a Black Phoebes.  Huge flocks of Greater White-Fronted Geese could be seen sitting on the ground; occasionally taking to flight when something spooked them.  I saw a much smaller flock of Snow Geese in one of the farther fields, but they’re not there in any great number yet.  It’s still early in the migration season, though. Among the ducks I saw Mallards, Green-Winged Teals, Northern Shovelers (still in their eclipse plumage), Gadwalls, Northern Pintails, and American Wigeons… but like the Snow Geese, their numbers weren’t very large yet.

At one point along the auto-tour route I found a Great Egret, a Snowy Egret and a Green Heron all feeding in the same patch of water primrose.  I didn’t see the heron at first because he was in sitting on top of the primrose in the shade and was well-camouflaged by his green and brown feathers. But then the Great Egret sort of shoved him out of the way and he jumped up with a squawk and a the raising if his crown feathers.  Hah!  Later on, I saw a few more egrets and herons in other places.

The surprise was being able to spot a Wilson’s Snipe right along the side of the road in a marshy patch… And very near to it, I also saw a California Ground Squirrel eating the seeds out of old thistle heads.  They were right outside the driver’s side of the car so I was able to get some nice close ups of them.  A funny thing: further down the road, I found a couple of crayfish trying to cross the gravel from one part of the wetlands to another.  One of them only had one pincher left, but he bravely brandished it at the car as I drove by him. So much bluster in such a small creature…

And I got to see a pair of young mule deer. It looked like a yearling and its younger sister.  They were eating among the teasel; their mother a few feet back, hidden in the overgrowth.  Both of the youngsters stopped to look at my car before they turned around and headed back to mom.  So cute.

As I mentioned, it’s still very early in the migration season, and the refuge doesn’t have its full contingent of water yet, so there aren’t as many birds to see just yet as I’d like to see.  Still, it was a nice drive, and I got to see a lot of different critters (if not very closely) so I was pleased.  The dog and I headed back home after a few hours and arrived at the house around 1:30 pm.