Tag Archives: Egrets

More than 140 Egrets in One Pond!

DAY 9 OF MY VACATION.  I got up around 5:45 this morning and headed out to the Cosumnes River Preserve.  I hadn’t been there in quite a while and wanted to see how things were going there (after all of the recent floods and whatnot).  It was another perfect weather day: 43º when I headed out; 64º when I headed back…

Because I was there so early, I knew the gate to the boardwalk parking area would still be closed, so I found a safe place on the side of the road, as near to the gate as I could get without blocking it, and parked there.  Then I walked into the preserve.  The majority of the water was gone from there, too.  But there were still a few large ponds sitting around… and one of them was brimming with Egrets (most Great Egrets, but several Snowy Egrets as well), all of them glistening white in the early morning sunlight.  I took my time walking up to the pond because I didn’t want to scare the birds off, but they were so busy eating and playing “¿Quién es más macho?” with one another that they didn’t even notice me, and I was able to get pretty close to them. I counted up to 140 egrets before I quit… That is a LOT of birds!

CLICK HERE to see the full album of photos and videos.

After the flood waters from the river recede, the standing ponds are filled with fish, crawdads, frogs, tadpoles and other tasties, and the birds just chow down.  I saw some of the egrets catching fish as big or bigger than my hand… so large I didn’t think the birds would be able to swallow them.  But each one managed to down its catch without totally gagging on it.  I was watching one egret trying to get a carp in the right position to swallow, and the big fish kept smacking the bird in the side of the head with its tail.  Bonk, bonk, bonk…! It wasn’t going down without a fight. Hahaha!

Some of the Great Egrets were still in their long breeding plumage and green faces, and those were the ones who were just walking around trying to be butch; sometimes chasing off other birds, or jumping into the air for three-second foot-to-foot combat.  And all of the birds were making their loud croaking noises; sounded like a herd of hogs…

Also around the egrets were some American Avocets, Common Terns, White-Faced Ibis, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Great Blue Herons, and even a Black-Crowned Night Heron who apparently wanted some breakfast before heading off to its day roost.  There were some Common Terns doing their death-drop into the water to catch fish – I worried about them because the water was shallow; I was afraid they’d break their necks! – and I saw an American White Pelican flying leisurely overhead… I got lots of photos and videos there, and was actually completely by myself for the majority of the time I was on the preserve.  I saw two or three other cars, but no people until just before I was ready to leave, so that was nice, too.

I was reluctant to leave the egrets to walk around the rest of the boardwalk area, but I did. There wasn’t much water around the boardwalk itself but the plants were crazy-prolific: several different kinds of grass, including Canary grass and Rabbit’s Foot Grass, Water Primrose, tules, of course, and small rushes, several different kinds of Smartweed, Jointed Charlock, a couple of different kinds of Flat Sedge, Soap Root, Scarlet Pimpernel, Flat-Faced Downgia… tons of stuff.  Too bad I pretty much suck at botany.

At the end of the boardwalk, the viewing platform was surrounded by a shallow pool, but the rest of the area was pretty much dry.  When I stepped out onto the platform I could hear a raspy squawking coming from the tules and vegetation around the shore of the pond, and I thought it might be a Sora or a Rail but I couldn’t see it. Whatever it was ducked into the vegetation; I could see the plants move as the critter worked its way through them.  So, I decided to leave it for a while and focused my attention instead on the few other birds around the pond.  There was a pair of Canada Geese with their goslings, some more Avocets, Black-Necked Stilts, a pair of Northern Shovelers, and a couple of Long-Billed Dowitchers.  A cute moment with the geese: as soon as the babies realized mom and dad were ambling toward the water, they all rushed out in front of their parents like little kids running toward a beach.

As I was taking photos and video of them, the squawking started again, so I turned slowly to look behind me along the shore of the pond… and there was a mama Virginia Rail!  She moved pretty quickly at first because she was trying to shoo her babies into the tules – two tiny black fuzz-balls.  She might have had more, but I only saw two them. They’re so teeny; they looked like drier lint on a stick. Hah! After that initial showing, I kept an eye and an ear out for her and was able to see her three more times as she dashed out onto the muddy edge of the pond to catch bugs and dig up worms for her kids and then dashed back into the tules to feed them.  While I was watching her, another “old lady” came up onto the platform with her binoculars.  I was going to tell her about the Rail – which is a rare sight at the preserve – but I didn’t want to make any noise for fear I’d scare the Rail away.  [Later, I told two other people I saw as I was heading back to my car about the Rail, so I wasn’t being a total noodge about it.]

I also walked along the sidewalk that acts as a boat ramp and leads you to the river.  I could see all the damage the flooding had done to the ground there, and there was still standing water in many places.  I couldn’t actually get to the boat dock itself because the last fifteen or twenty feet of the ramp to the dock was under water.  And that’s VERY unusual for this time of year.

I saw some American Goldfinches and Bullock’s Orioles as I was heading back to my car.  The Goldfinches were pretty far away, so the photos aren’t the best… and the Orioles refused to pose for me, so I didn’t get any shots of them at all. Still, for the day, I burned through four camera batteries and took almost 2000 photos!  It was a good day.

All in all, I walked for about 4 ½ hours; waaaaay past my body’s limit, so I knew I was going to pay for that with sore feet and ankles for the rest of the day, but I think it was worth to get the shots that I did.

Lots of Critter Encounters

I got up about 6:00 am and immediately headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  After its tune-up and flush yesterday the car was running great.

At the preserve, I noticed they’d just started to flood up some of the seasonal wetland ponds.  It’ll take a month before there’s enough water to satisfy large flocks, but I did see more ducks today than I did the last time I was up there.  Besides those, there were a lot of the usual suspects at the preserve: jackrabbits, cormorants, egrets, herons, dragonflies, pelicans…  But I also saw quite a few ibis today (although I couldn’t get any photos of them because they’d come out of nowhere and then disappear again), and two small flocks of American Avocets (which I also couldn’t get any clear shots of)… those are for next time I guess.

I came across a pair of Green Darner dragonflies in the water.  They were perched on a stick.  The male still had hold of the female, and the female was laying her eggs in the water along the sides of the stick.  Very kewl to watch. According to my research, large female dragonflies like these can lay huge clutches of eggs, and hypoxia triggers the eggs to hatch.  A lot of these Darners are residents (although there are also migratory populations) and it takes about a year for them to become sexually mature.  As this female was laying her eggs, she and her mate kept getting annoyed by Blue-Eyed Darners that wanted in on the action with the female.  They’d buzz in low over the pair and the male Green Darner would shoo them off by flapping his wings and jumping up a fraction off the stick.  He didn’t let go of his female, though, so the Blue-Eyes ones got tired of trying and eventually left the pair alone.  I wanted to get out of the car to see how many eggs the female was laying, but you can’t leave your vehicle on the auto-tour, so… waah.

I also got to see some of the raccoons again, and came across a small family of river otters swimming and rolling around in the water.  Not too many clear shots of them, but I did get some video of the otters (from a distance).  As soon as the otters showed up in the water, the ducks went scrambling in every direction.  And I saw some baby Western Grebes.  One was floating like a bobber in the water between its parents, and another one was pretty well hidden on its mother’s back (but I got some distant video of the papa feeding the chick.  So cute.)  It’s times like this when I bemoan my low-tech camera equipment. Oh, and I also watched two Common Terns harassing a young Great Blue Heron.  I don’t know why, but they kept buzz-bombing him.  Then they’d fly off for a while and then they’d come back to harass him.  I got the distinct impression that they were just jerks.  The heron wasn’t doing anything…

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I stayed in the refuge for about 5 hours before heading back to Sacramento.

None of these videos are very detailed (because the subjects were so far away) but you’ll get the gist of them.

Video of the heron getting harassed: http://youtu.be/tNKtHKXz-Os

Video of the Grebes and their babyhttps://youtu.be/LFbJYdDKZQ4

Video of the otters: http://youtu.be/knWhMJsNsKo

 

 

Lots of Critters at the Refuge

I was supposed to go to a dragonfly course over this weekend, but just couldn’t face other people as I deal with my grief (over the death of my brother Mark Jr., aka “Beaky”).  My hotel was already paid for, though, so I got up at 5:00 am and headed up north anyway with the dog.

I stopped at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge and went through the driving tour route there.  I was the only person out there; had the place all to myself.  Among the things I was able to photograph at the park included: Killdeer, Mourning Doves, dragonflies and damselflies, butterflies, Jackrabbits and Cottontail rabbits, a big-ass snake, mule deer, Egrets, Great Blue Herons, some Western Grebes sitting on and building their nests in the middle of the water, many-many spiders (including one building its web), Pelicans on three of the “islands”, a Bald Eagle who only sat still long enough for me to get on or two not-so-good shots of it, a mother Raccoon and her five babies (including a “blond” one), Flycatchers, and an otter…  Cool.

There was one Killdeer that “paced” my car for several hundred feet.  I could see it out the driver’s side window, running right along the edge of the trail.  It tilted its head up to look at me now and then.  When I accelerated, so did the bird.  When I stopped, so did the bird.  Goofy thing.  I wonder what it thought it was “challenging”.

And the snake I saw was something of a surprise.  Oh, there are always snakes around and this one was just a Gopher Snake, but it was pretty long – and healthy looking.  It must eat well.  What’s the average distance between the two front tires of a car?  The snake was longer than that.  He came up beside the car, tongue flicking.  The heat of the tires must’ve set him off.  I backed away (so as not to run over him) and took a different route so he could sunbathe at his leisure.

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I finished the tour by about noon, and headed in to the hotel.

Here’s a video of the snake: https://youtu.be/-I6EKdsw3H4

Western Grebes building their nest: https://youtu.be/Jvhe8bX3GI8

Raccoon mama and babies: https://youtu.be/-frsgGx-ZPY

Big-a$$ spider: https://youtu.be/CLWnsRRQ8g4

I’ve decided to try going up to Mount Lassen tomorrow.  When I lived in Old Shasta, Beaky and I climbed to the summit of that mountain (about 11,000 feet).  It took me forever to get up there, but he was patient and stayed with me, even though I was sure he could have made it to the top and back down again before I made it up there; hah!  I remember us watching chipmunks running around with long flags of toilet paper that they’d stolen out of one of the porta-potties on the trail, and taking pictures of what we called the “Belly-Button Rock” and “Velcro Rocks” on the side of the mountain.  And when we got to the summit, Beaky walked out to the skinny, craggy, tippy-top point – despite the hard winds that threatened to knock us down the mountainside — to sign his name in the book there.  When he came back to where I was, we hunkered down among some boulders and ate PB&J sammiches for lunch – which tiny Golden-Mantled attack-squirrels tried to steal right out of our hands.  One of the squirrels got on a boulder above me, and dive-bombed right into my lap to try to grab my sandwich.  Hah-ha-ha-ha-ha. That day is one of my favorite memories of Beaky.  I’ll say goodbye to him up there tomorrow…

Un-Wet Wetlands and Lots of Egrets

After I facilitated a volunteer orientation for Tuleyome this morning, I was thinking of running over to my community garden plot to check it out, but I also realized my car was screaming for gasoline… and the gas station and garden are at opposite ends of town.  So I opted to put gas in (and will try to get to garden plot tomorrow).

As I was heading home, I still wanted to do something outside, but I hadn’t brought my walking shoes with me to the orientation… So I decided to go over to the Cosumnes River Preserve because I can see some critters from the car, and can walk around the paved boardwalk area.  I wasn’t expecting to see a lot; most of the wetland area you can get to is already dry and going green with grasses, weeds, and wildflowers.  It’s pretty, but you don’t get a wide variety of birds you’d normally see if the wetlands were actually “wet”.  Still, I got the great treat of coming across some egrets in a deep pond-like culvert along the side of the road.

There was a Great Egret and a pair of Snowy Egrets fishing for frogs and crayfish.  All of the birds were pretty amenable to having me stand on the side of the road and photograph them as longs as I didn’t get too close or move too much.  I got a little bit of video of one of the Snowy Egrets chasing down a meal and then trying to fit it into his mouth and down his throat… and BOTH Snowies also did some displaying for me – lifting up their trailing feathers (like peacocks) and topknots and croaking at each other as they passed one another…  I’d seen photos of this kind of display before but had never seen it firsthand.  It was awesome.  These birds seemed to be a pair; they traveled together, ate together, and snuggled down in a tree top later together…  They were both sporting some “rouge” in the skin above their beaks, but that didn’t show up much in the photos.  The Great Egret flew off at one point and landed at the other side of the culvert… but then he was chased off by a Red-Winged Blackbird that was singing over there.  Guess the blackbird didn’t want to share the stage.  Hah!

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Here is the vocalizing blackbird: http://youtu.be/jMbOBM44dTM
Here is the egrets fishing: https://youtu.be/94d5VPZjZwQ
Here are the Snowies showing off: http://youtu.be/TmWiOBfIqjY

There were wild bull thistles and spotted thistles everywhere, and tons of wild mustard and other flowering things, so there were lots of bees around… and it was pretty.  We’d had a lot of rain last night, and clouds were still threatening in the sky, but had broken up into giant sofa-masses, so I got some neat cloud photos, too.  It was a good spur-of-the-moment excursion.