Tag Archives: flock

Not Many Good Photos Today, 12-02-18

I got up around 6:30 this morning, and decided I’d try going out to the Sacramento and Colusa National Wildlife Refuges. It’s a long drive and I wasn’t sure how Wilson (my tumor)  would react to sitting in a vibrating thing, accelerating and decelerating for hours at a time. I tried going without any pain pills, too, but that didn’t last. Around 9:00 am I had to take one of the ibuprofen. Otherwise, Wilson pretty much behaved himself.

It was foggy in some spots along the highway, but otherwise chilly and mostly sunny all day. It was about 38° when I headed out and remained in the 40’s at the refuges. When I got back to Sacramento in the afternoon, it was about 54°.

On my way to the refuges, I counted 24 raptors along the highway. Most of them were Red-Tailed Hawks, but there were also 4 Turkey Vultures and 3 Kestrels in the mix.

I got to the Sacramento refuge around 9:00 am, which is really “too late” to see anything really good. Most of the birds had finished their breakfasts already and were hunkering down to digest their meals. I didn’t feel like I got any really good photos of anything, and I also felt I was rushed because there were so many other cars on the auto-tour route. So, it was kind of a disappointing day.

The Snow Geese and Ross’s Geese are dominating the landscapes right now, and their noise was defending at times. Soooo many birds!

I was hoping to see some eagles, and I did, but they were about a block away form the car on a small island in the wetland area adjacent to the last park-and-stretch point.  There was an adult Bald Eagle and two juveniles who were eating what looked like a downed Snow Goose. The juveniles looked like they were different ages; one about 2 years old, the other about 3 years old. When they were done eating, they flew off, and the adult eagle moved over to the carcass. While it was eating, it was approached by a seagull, then a Turkey Vulture, then a Raven… and the eagle was actually pretty tolerant of them. I got some of it on video, but because of the distance of the birds, the images aren’t very crisp.

I WAS able to get some nice scenery shots along the route and was happy to see snow on Snow Mountain (the northernmost end of the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument).

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos (even though I’m not really pleased with any of them.)

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.

Two Preserves in One Day, 10-11-18

DAY 6 OF MY VACATION.  I got up around 6:00 am and headed out with Sergeant Margie to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. I stopped first to put gas in the car and grab something from Jack’s to eat for the day (I usually get a breakfast sammich, and that lasts me for the whole day – until I get home again.) It was 49º when I left the house and 70º by the late afternoon, so the weather was beautiful. I got through the Sacramento refuge relatively quickly, so I also stopped at the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge afterward.

Neither of the refuges have a lot of water in them yet, so there weren’t as many birds in either one as there might be when the wetland areas are actually wet.  I did see a lot of Greater White-Fronted Geese, but no big flocks of the other waterfowl.

There were a lot of Red-Tailed Hawks on the Sacramento refuge, and I also saw a Northern Harrier on the wing, and a Great Horned Owl. The owl was hidden among the branches of the same tree on top of which a hawk was sitting, but the branches were too dense to get a decent photo of the owl.

At one point, I came upon a flat area where a lot of egrets were gathered, eating bugs and crayfish in the very shallow water.  There were Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets and Cattle Egrets all in the same field, and along with them were lots of other birds including White-Faced Ibis, Killdeer, Greater Yellowlegs, and even some Long-Billed Curlews. The curlews were a cool surprise; you hardly ever get to see them on the preserve.

CLICK HERE to see the full album of photos.

I was stalking a Blue-Eyed Darner dragonfly along the tules on the side of the auto-tour route hoping it would land so I could get a photo of it. It finally came to a rest, and just as I drove up close enough to get a photo, a pheasant flushed out of the tules, almost hit the car, and flew away… scaring the dragonfly at the same time. Dang it! Hah!  I was rewarded later, though, when I found a pair of Green Darners sitting on some floating tules in the water. The female was laying her eggs in the water and along the sides of the tule, and I was able to get photos and a little video of that.

Dragonfly laying eggs: https://youtu.be/PNq-oonzPtM

Squirrel gathering and burying acorns: https://youtu.be/YsWir-LOVZI

On the Colusa refuge, the standout critter was a male Great-Tailed Grackle. He was standing on top of a large pile of tules, singing a variety of songs. I got photos and video of him. There were also quite a few Great Blue Herons at that refuge. I also saw a crayfish that I think was carrying eggs. I could see clumps of “stuff” hanging off the swimmerets on the underside of her tail. (The substance that glues the eggs to the swimmerets is called “glair”.) And there was a wooly caterpillar running across the road, and I got some photos of it, too.

I felt the day was a successful one, even though the wetlands are anywhere near their prime condition yet. Sergeant Margie did great for the whole trip. He sleeps most of the time but gets out to pee and poo along the way.  The Sacramento and Colusa refuges allow dogs as long as they’re on a leash. Most other wildlife areas don’t let dogs in under any circumstance, so it’s neat when I can bring him along with me.

I got back home a little after 3:00 pm.

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.

Yellow-Billed Magpies and Other Critters, 06-24-18

I headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve. It was 68º when I left the house, and 75º when I got back home a little after 9:00 am.

The first thing I saw when I got to the preserve was a huge flock of Yellow-Billed Magpies foraging for bugs and seeds on the lawns near the payment kiosk. I parked in the little parking lot there and took a lot of photos. The magpies hardly ever sit still, so it’s always neat when I can get some decent shots of them. Most of them seemed to have yellow patches around their eyes. That’s not uncommon, especially if they’re molting.

CLICK HERE to see the full album of photos.

There were more deer out this time than there were the past several times I’d gone to the preserve. Mamas are now showing up with their babies. I saw one doe with a fawn that was maybe four to six months old; out of its spots but still snack-sized.

And in another spot, I saw a mom with a newborn, but she was hiding him really well and I couldn’t get any good photos of him. She was down in a shallow gully between two hills and in the shade. Smart mama.

There were lots of California Ground Squirrels out and about. I saw one, though, who looked like it had a broken left rear leg… and whatever injury there was, was being harassed by flies. I couldn’t tell for sure, but it looked like part of the bone was poking through the skin, and the leg and foot were badly swollen. There were other wounds on its body; spots where the fur had been rubbed off or torn out. I wonder if it had been grabbed by hawk or Coyote and then freed itself – at the cost of its leg. I could tell it was in pain by the way it moved, but it was very stoic – no squeaking or crying. Poor squirrel; I wish I could have caught it and taken it to a vet or something.

I could hear the Red-Shouldered Hawks in the preserve screaming at each other, but only caught glimpses of them in flight. No photos of those guys today.

I came across a very small Velvet Ant, all fuzzy and golden. There are hundreds of species of Velvet Ants, so identifying them can be hard. Although they’re called “ants”, they’re actually a kind of wingless wasp – and they carry a very painful sting. According to one article: “In some areas, velvet ants are known colloquially as ‘cow killers’ because their venom packs a painful punch. In addition, their ‘sting’ – the scientific term for what many of us refer to as a ‘stinger’ – is agile and half as long as the wasp itself. This enables the insect to inject venom into a predator from varied angles and free itself.” So, look but don’t touch.

There were also signs along the trails warning hikers about the high-danger of rattlesnakes this time of year, and also a spot where some Yellow-Jacket Wasps had built a nest in the ground. Nature can be tough in the summer!

As I was leaving the preserve, I saw an Acorn Woodpecker drinking out of the water fountain by the nature center. Hah! Smart bird!

As an aside: I read a blog by Ron Dudley every day. He’s a fantastic nature photographer. His most recent post included information about a long-term Citizen Science project headed by Doug Tallamy, PhD, of the University of Delaware that’s been going on since about 2013. He’s trying to determine what birds eat, most specifically what invertebrates they eat, so he’s asking for people to send him photos of birds with insects and other such critters in their beaks. I’d recently taken quite a few of those — including one today of a Spotted Towhee — so I sent them off to him and also gave him a link to my Flickr account, saying he could use any of the photos there in his study if he wanted to. Citizen collect the data (in this case, the photos and forward it on to the scientist for study… that’s what Citizen Science is all about. (http://www.whatdobirdseat.com/)

Birding at the Cosumnes Preserve, 02-01-18

I was invited to go for a birding walk at the Cosumnes River Preserve this morning, so I went to that before getting on with my normal work stuff.

On my way to the preserve, I thought I saw a dead Bald Eagle along the side of the highway. I was going by at 70 mph, though, so I only caught a glimpse of it, but I thought I definitely saw a bird with a black body and a white head… I would’ve stopped to double-check it, but there was too much traffic. Even if I HAD stopped for it, if it WAS a Bald Eagle, I think I’d have to turn the carcass over to the Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. I have a “salvage” permit (so I can pick up road kill if I want to), but eagles have a lot of extra laws protecting them – even when they’re dead. I think only Native American can keep the feathers and the bones…

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

When I got to the preserve, I took the long way to the first parking lot by going around Bruceville and Desmond Roads where the rice fields and the wetland meet. There were quite a few raptors out, but I only got photos of a couple of them: a Red-Tailed Hawk and some American Kestrels. There was also a Northern Harrier sitting along the side of one of the rice fields – but I only got a blurry photo of it because it was so far away. And there was a Red-Shouldered Hawk, too, but it flew off before I could stop the car and get a photo.

At the preserve, I just walked the boardwalk trail and around the ponds but I still was able to see quite a few species including: a Loggerhead Shrike, Red-Winged Blackbirds, White-Crowned Sparrows, Golden-Crowned Sparrows, a few Greater Yellowlegs, a couple of American Wigeons, Northern Pintails, and lots and lots of American Coots including a dead one.

The dead bird was lying in a mass of its own feathers right beside the trail – and next to an otter slide. Whatever had killed the bird had grabbed it by the neck and just started to rip the feathers away before it took off and left the bird behind. Otters don’t eat birds, so I thought maybe it had been attacked by a fox or weasel or something like that – or maybe someone’s small dog. It wasn’t “shredded” as though it had been attacked by a larger animal like a coyote; they’re not “delicate” with their prey. And I don’t think a hawk or eagle got the Coot because they don’t grab prey by the neck; they go for a body slam and hold, and then rip out the soft spots first – not the feathers around the next. It was weird. I wish I had more “forensic” skills.

I also saw some Cinnamon Teals, lots of Green-Winged Teals, and one Blue-Winged Teal, Northern Shovelers, Gadwalls, several Killdeer, a Wilson’s Snipe hiding in the tules, some American Pipits, lots of Brewer’s Blackbirds, several Black Phoebes, and two different kinds of Warblers: some Myrtle Warblers and an Audubon’s Warbler. They used to be lumped together and referred to as Yellow-Rumped Warblers, but since 2016 the Yellow-Rumped Warblers (affectionately referred to as “Butter Butts”) where broken out into four species based on their field markings (coloration) and breeding ranges. The Myrtles have a white throat, and the Audubon’s have a yellow throat. There are also Black-Fronted Warblers found in Mexico, and Goldman’s Warblers that only live in Guatemala.

The sightings continued this morning with lots of Snow Geese, some Sandhill Cranes, Long-Billed Dowitchers, Black-Necked Stilts, lots of tiny Dunlin, a Herring Gull, several Marsh Wrens singing amid the tules, and some Song Sparrows, Greater White-Fronted Geese, a Tree Swallow and Western Meadowlarks. I also saw two Great Egrets.

One was sitting up in a tree preening itself. It was in its long trailing breeding plumage, but didn’t have its neon-green face yet. The other wasn’t in breeding plumage, and was hunting along the side of the road. I saw it catch several crawdads. I ate two of them, but let the third one go because it was so large and aggressive. I guess the birds wasn’t hungry enough to bother with food that could fight back. Hah!

So that was, what… almost 40 species? A good birding day.