Tag Archives: environment

A Gorgeous Coyote, 07-27-18

I headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk. It was about 61º when I left the house and got up to 103º by the late afternoon. The air throughout Sacramento County is dense and hazy with the smoke from the 45,000-acre Carr Fire (more on that later) even though the fire is about 180 miles away.

At the preserve, I was at first kind of disappointed that I wasn’t seeing very much, but then Nature “opened the doors”, and I got good shots of a Red-Shouldered Hawk, a mama deer and her twin babies, dragonflies, and a mama coyote and glimpses of two of her pups.

I saw the young coyotes first. They were “hunting” along the trail in the tall grass. They’re so cute when they do that: standing still with their ears pricked forward and then play-pouncing on whatever they found in the grass. I was only able to get some very short video snippets of them; when they saw me, they took off. Then a little further down the trail, the mama coyote came out and crossed the trail right in front of me. I was able to get quite a few still shots of her as she paused periodically on her way across a meadow to look at me. She was soooo beautiful.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

When I saw the mother deer and her babies, I again saw the babies first. They came bounding out from behind a tall brush pile of downed trees and twigs, feeling their oats and playing, and mom followed after them. The fawns came running out toward me, but then when they realized I was another animal, they went bouncing back to mom. Made me smile.

I didn’t see the fawn that had the cough today, although I did see his mom browsing in her favorite spot. I worry that he didn’t make it… but the preserve is about 100 acres wide, so maybe I just missed him today…

I walked for about three hours and headed back home.

A Fast Run at the SNWR, 02-22-18

After my work appointment this morning, I had lunch in my car and took a quick run out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge to clear my head and get some fresh air before the predicted rain came in. I usually do the auto tour in 4 hours; today I zipped through in just 1… but I still got to see this guy (a juvenile Bald Eagle) before I headed back home and finished my work for the day.

Muskrat vs. Snake, and an Eagle, 06-03-17

The dog woke me up a little bit before 5:00 am, and once I’m up it’s almost impossible for me to go back to sleep, so… I just stayed up and then headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  It got up to about 80º today, but was overcast all day as well. Weird.  I like the overcast though; it makes outdoor picture-taking a lot easier. You don’t have to fight against glare and harsh shadows.  It also confuses the wildlife a little bit (they think it’s earlier in the morning than it really is, so they’re active a little while longer than they normally would be.)

CLICK HERE for the complete album with videos.

The drive to the place was uneventful, and I got there a little before 7:00 am.  When I stopped at the first park-and-stretch area, I was taking some video of a little Marsh Wren at its nest and could hear the woop-woop-woop calls of Pied-Billed Grebe and the deep cello-call of bullfrogs all around me.  For a long time, I was the only person on the trail, so it was just me and critters…

There  were lots of jackrabbits and cottontail rabbits everywhere. At one point along the auto-tour there were about 10 of them running helter-skelter all over the road and into-and-out-of the tall grass.  I got a video snippet of some their antics.  It just made me smile to watch them having so much fun… I came across one little Cottontail that had both of ears “cropped”; the tips were totally gone.  I’ve seen some rabbits with one damaged area, but never one with two.  It looked like something had bitten them off… and in another spot, at the park-and-stretch area near the viewing platform, I found a Cottontail who didn’t seem too concerned about my walking around it. It even stretched out on the gravel to warm its belly.  (Well, it WAS the park-and-stretch area afterall. Hah!)

I saw a lot of otters on the road ahead of me, but didn’t get any close-ups of any of them (they move so fast!) And one spot, it looked to me like the otter was rolling in either otter poop or raccoon poop.  To each his own…

One of the big surprises of the morning, though, was coming across a Bald Eagle.  They’re somewhat common at the preserve in the winter, but by the summer they’re usually all a little further north or up in the mountains.  When I first saw it (at a distance) I thought it was just a Turkey Vulture; all I could see were its dark back and shoulders.  But then as I got closer to it, it raised its white head and I could tell it was an eagle.  I took dome distances shots of it, and then moved the car up closer, inch by inch, hoping it wouldn’t fly off before I could get some decent photos of it.  I was lucky.  It sat right where it was for several minutes and let me a bunch of pictures before it got bored with me and flew off.  Later, as I continuing down the auto tour route, a women drover he car up next to mine and said she had spotted the eagle on the little island the cormorants and Pelicans often rest on and was heading up to take pictures of it.  I told her it had already posed for me, but I’d go check out the island, too, when I got closer to it.  The woman drove past me and hurried up the road… but she didn’t stop for very long once she reached the spot she wanted, so I assumed that she didn’t get the photos she was hoping to.

I had stopped my car where I was because I was trying to get photos of some juvenile Widow Skimmer and blue Pondhawk dragonflies that were flying among the weeds and tules along the shore of the permanent wetland pond.  It’s a tiny bit early in the season for them. Over the few months there should be tons of dragonflies and damselflies out there… Among the other insects, I also saw some Yellow-Faced Bumblebees, lots and lots of Painted Lady and West Coast Lady butterflies, Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies, Common Buckeyes, Cabbage Whites, some Sulphur butterflies, White-Lined Sphinx Moths and a tiny Crescent butterfly.  Among a crop of phacelia, I also found a large group of what I think were Salt Mars Caterpillars (which grow into large white moths with black speckles on the wings). It’s so hard to tell, though.  I haven’t found a really good book on caterpillars yet; they are so many species…

By the time I got to the spot where you can see the “Pelican island” it was totally vacant; not a single bird on it.  And that VERY unusual. There are normally lots of birds gathered on it… But if the Bald Eagle had flown over it or actually landed on it (as the woman who’d driven past me had suggested), then I wasn’t entirely surprised by the vacancy.  Most of the birds in the refuge will duck-and-cover if a hawks flies over.  But when the eagles show up, everything scatters…

My other big surprise of the day was when I found a Muskrat swimming in the water, munching on water vegetation.  It was pushing its way into some tules, and in doing so dislodged a small garter snake that had been sunning itself there. The snake fell into the water right in front of the muskrat.  The muskrat startled, but didn’t stop eating and the snake swam away.  It was the second of two snakes I saw today.  Like the otters, though, the snakes move so fast it’s hard for me to get any pictures of them…

It took me about 5 hours to do the 6 mile loop, and then I didn’t get home until around 1:30 pm… During the last hour or so of my drive I could feel my throat getting really and scratchy, and by the time I got the house, I knew cold was coming on.  Dang it!

American Bitterns Pumper-Lunking on Sunday

I was up at 6:00 am and out the door before 6:30.  It was my original intention to do some more wildflower hunting, but on the way to Highway 20 I got lost in my thoughts and missed the turn off (D’oh!), so I continued up the highway to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge and spent the morning there instead.  The weather was lovely (mostly sunny; 51º when I got there, 70º by the time I left).

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

We’re right at the beginning of the breeding season, so lots of bird are starting to pair up, build nests, and claim territory.  I saw a lot of Great-Tailed Grackles flying overhead (and some American White Pelicans, too), and although I could hear the grackles occasionally singing their broad range of odd songs, I didn’t see any of them on or near the ground so I didn’t get any photos of them. I also saw a young garter snake and a green-tinted Western Racer snake, but they moved too fast for me. By the time I got my camera focus on them, they were gone into the brush.  I’d never seen a Western Racer before, so that was neat to see one for the first time.  When I initially saw it, I thought it was a tule on the auto-tour route… but then it moved.

A lot of the wildflowers and vernal pool flowers at the refuge were in bloom, so in area the ground was a patchwork of yellow Goldfields, orange Fiddleneck, white Popcorn Flowers and purple Dowingia… so pretty. There’s also wild mustard and Poison Hemlock, Blessed Milk Thistle, Italian Thistle, and Teasel blooming everywhere – just in time for the pollinators to wake up.

I saw only a few dragonflies, but it’s still early in the season for them. The Painted Lady and West Coast Lady butterflies on the other hand were everywhere. I bet I saw 20 of them just around the permanent wetland area.

There were jackrabbits and Cottontails bounding all over the place, and I got a few good shots of some California Ground Squirrels.

I didn’t see many babies today, just a pair of Canada Geese with their little troop of goslings, but it’s still early in the season.

The highlight of the day was seeing an American Bittern in the tall grass “booming”.  I don’t know why it’s called “booming” because the call has its own name but… whatever.  To stake out their territory, the Bitterns give out a loud complex call called the “pumper-lunk” call.  The bird claps its bill several time, sucking air into its esophagus, and then expels the air by compressing its neck – making a loud burbling sound, sort of like a melodious burp.  The one I was watching did his call five times, and I was able to get video of two of the calls.  Made. My. Day.  Here’s one of the videos of it: https://youtu.be/cg0HDZ2lhbw.

The odd moment of the day came when I saw something with long brown, black and white fur moving through the long grass.  I could see that it was moving nose-down along the ground, but because the critter never lifted its head, I couldn’t tell what it was.  I was thinking it was probably a Striped Skunk, but the brown shades were throwing me off… then I was thinking badger (but the fur was too long)… or maybe even porcupine (but they’re usually much larger, and the video proved that I was seeing fur and not quills)… So I’m settling on skunk, but I’m still not certain.

In another “what is that?” moment, I saw the dorsal fin and tail fin of a Northern Pike in one of the slews.  I know I’ve said it before, but those guys are brutal; they’ll eat anything.  They come up into the sloughs when the area gets flooded, then when the water recedes again, they get trapped.  They’re fast and powerful, though… and can move even in shallow water, so once they’re in the sloughs they prey on everything, including birds…

On the viewing platform, I came across a pair of Western Fence Lizards, that were challenging each other: doing pushups, body slamming one another, staring each other down.  I got some of the interaction on video.  The two males were very mature – showing off why they’re also called “Blue Bellies” – and had lots and lots of blue on their bodies, even along the back and on the head.  I’ve never ones that were this colorful before.  When the winner of the contest was done with his rival (who ran off) he decided that my blue-green walking shoes were an enemy, too, so he ran up as close to me as he dared and started doing pushups again.  Hah!  I let him win and walked away – after I got some video and photos of him.  In the same area, I found a melanistic Western Fence Lizard, a dark pitchy-gray one sitting on a branch sunning himself.  He was such a contrast to the brightly colored one, I had to get his photo, too.

I’m usually not too thrilled about seeing Black Phoebes, mostly because they’re so ubiquitous around here, but I caught sight of one carrying grass for its nest.  It perched on a limb of a tree and sat there for a while, letting me get some pretty good photos of it.  And the Kingbirds were out in force. I got some good shots of them, too.

Another good bird-moment was when I saw some American Coots playing “keep-away” with a crawfish.  One has caught it and was trying to eat it when a second Coot rushed up and grabbed it.  Coot #2 swam off with its prize, but as soon as it stopped to eat, Coot #3 rushed up and took it… When it comes to lunch, these guys aren’t polite.  Hah!

I stayed at the refuge for about 4 hours and then headed back home to crash with the dogs… So I didn’t see much in the way of wildflowers, today, but it was still a nice day out in nature…

Egrets, Beaver Sign and a Deer with One Antler

It rained overnight and was mostly cloudy and drizzly on and off all day today.  I got up a little after 6:00 am and headed over to the American River Bend Park to see how the water levels are looking there.  I took an umbrella but only had to use it for a little while. And it’s on its last legs so it kept turning inside out all by itself, without any wind prompting it.  Time to get a new one…

Because it was chilly (about 45°) and mizzling, I didn’t get to see a lot of critters, but I did see more beaver-sign along the river – which has receded considerably.  In some places there is now the long swath of gravel before you get to the water. But in that swath is a lot of sand that got churned up and deposited when the river was raging, and a lot of debris: tree limbs, flotsam, garbage…

Anyway, back to the beaver stuff.  I found old scat, and another tree that had been gnawed almost all the way through.  What was weird was that under the spot where the beavers had been chewing the trunk was covered with white, frothy, almost rubbery stuff that looked like latex.  But cottonwoods don’t product latex.  So what was the stuff?  When I got home, I did some research and I think the beaver-wounded tree was suffering from “Alcohol Flux Syndrome” a bacterial infection that was probably living in the tree well before the beaver got to it.  One of the symptoms is white frothy foam that exudes from the bark and smells like fermentation…  This stuff actually had a faint odor to it but it was more like the smell of Elmer’s glue than fermentation…  When I touched it, it felt like rubber, and when I pulled a section away from the bark, you could see froth left behind on the tree…  Weird.

CLICK HERE for the entire album of photos and video snippets.

The manroot vines and pipevines are all going great guns and should be ready for the butterflies and caterpillars when they emerge (probably sometime later this month).  And there was one spot along the muddy bank where I thought I found bobcat tracks.  I was trying to get a photo of them, but the ground under my feet there was so slippery with muck that I couldn’t keep my balance.  I got a couple of shots, but you can’t really tell much from them.

At another spot, I came across a Great Egret and a Snowy Egret fishing in a still pond that had been left behind when the river receded.  Lots of tiny fish must’ve been trapped in the pool because I got video of the Snowy Egret catching about a dozen fish in less than two minutes.  I don’t know if the Great Egret was just super-picky about wat he’d eat or if he just sucked at fishing; I didn’t see him catch anything.  Both egrets were coming into their breeding plumage: long trailing and curling feathers down their back and over their tail.  So pretty.

I also came across a small herd of mule deer which included a buck that had lost one of his antlers. (They shed them this time of year.) The lack of symmetry didn’t seem to bother him or interfere with his ability to walk or graze, but it sure looked funny.

I walked for about 2 hours and then headed back home.

Hawks, Deer and a Handsome Turkey

Up at 6:30 am again.  It was colder today (32° when I headed out), but we didn’t have any rain.  Overcast broke up by the afternoon to show off blue sky, brought sunshine and a few fluffy clouds…

I headed over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for my walk today, and for the first two hours pretty much had the whole place to myself.  It was cold enough so there was still frost on the ground, and as the sun came up further in the sky, fog developed close to the ground in some places… I had on a long-sleeved shirt and a jacket, but had to keep my hands in my pockets as I walked to keep them warm; only taking them out when there was something to photograph.

CLICK HERE to see the full album.

I was greeted by a Spotted Towhee and then heard the Red-Shouldered Hawks screeching, so I went to check out their nest.  I think they have nestlings already – because mom doesn’t sit non-stop – and I saw her leave the nest and come back with a snake… which may have been her own breakfast snack, but I think she was feeding babies.  Because of the way the nest sits up in its tree, I can’t see down into the nest… so I can’t see any babies until they get big enough to lift their heads up over the side of the nest…  But mama is always fun to watch (and papa was right nearby, too), so I think I was standing under their tree for 15 or 20 minutes, just watching and listening to them…

Then I heard a ruckus in a nearby tree and saw some Acorn Woodpeckers trying to oust a European Starling from “their” tree.  The Starling was pretty brazen, flying to and from the tree, ducking into a nest hole and daring the Woodpeckers to touch her.  One of the Woodpeckers kept poking its head into the hole, trying to stab and harass the Starling but the Starling wasn’t budging…  I came across a few other Starling nest-holes along my walk. They seemed to be all over the place…

I also got to see California Towhees, a couple of Northern Flickers, Golden-Crowned Sparrows, and Mourning Doves.

At one point along the trail, I came across a small herd of mule deer (mostly moms and their kids) and a flock of female Wild Turkeys.  I stood in one spot and got photos from all around me.  It was neat; 360° nature.  As I was taking photos, a buck (sans antlers) walked into view and a male Wild Turkey came up the trail in full strut…  I got quite a few good shots of everyone. Some of the deer were pretty scruffy-looking, almost “mangy”, but I think they’re shedding their winter coats right now…  I also got to see some California Ground Squirrels and tree squirrels along the way.

I walked for about 3 hours (which is pretty much my limit), and headed back to the house, stopping at BelAir and picked up some stuff for lupper.