Tag Archives: Golden-Crowned Sparrows

A Western Screech Owl and Other Critters, 02-24-18

Brrr.  It was 32º this morning when I headed over to Lake Solano Park for a walk and a pre-field trip photo session.  This is the park where I had fallen earlier this month, so I was very much on my guard while I was there.  I got to the park without any ado, and had the parking lot all to myself when I arrive (around 8:00 am), so I was able to park in an easily accessible place. Score!  The rest of my morning went along well, too… and I didn’t fall down once. Hah!

At the park, I was accosted by a peacock looking for handouts when I first got out of my car, but then I didn’t any of the peafowl again throughout my walk (although I could hear them calling to one another across the park).  It was cold enough there in the early morning that some of shallower water was frozen solid.

Bufflehead ducks seemed to be everywhere I looked in the river, females with males around them doing their head-bobbing thing and bullying each other. I also saw Mallards, American Wigeons, some Wood Ducks and lots of Common Goldeneyes. I saw quite a few Great Blue Herons, including one that was very cooperative and let me walk to within about 10 fee of it while it waded in the water.

There are always Canada Geese at the park, but I was surprised to find a pair that were actually hybrids, crossed with Greater White-Fronted geese, so their coloring was way off. As Billy Crystal would say, “This is what happens when cousins marry.”

Along with the ubiquitous Acorn Woodpeckers, I also saw several Northern Flickers (although I had a lot of trouble getting photos of them because they were up so high in the trees and kept moving around), and some Nutthall’s Woodpeckers (a male in one tree and a female in another). And there were California Scrub Jays all over the place; some stashing food in the ground, some picking up twiglets for their nests.

I also saw a Cedar Waxwing (that wouldn’t turn around, so all I got was the back of its head), several Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets, Spotted Towhees, Golden-Crowned Sparrows (eating the flowers off what I think was a fruitless pear tree), Song Sparrows, Pied-Billed Grebes, a few Hooded Mergansers, several Crows, Black Phoebes, a couple of Myrtle Warblers and a Eurasian Collared Dove.  I was teased by Belted Kingfishers all morning, flying back and forth along the shore of the river, but never on the side on which I walking… and they’re so freakin’ fast! I just barely got some a really bad photos of a female in a tree.

I was surprised and happy to see several Phainopepla in the park, both males and females. But the best sighting of the day was of a tiny Western Screech Owl.  I would have completely missed him if a birder-lady hadn’t pointed him out to me… “See the tree with the blue mark on it?” She said. “Now look up where the knots are on it.” Wow!  Amazeballs. He was sitting with his butt in a hole in the side of the tree, dozing, and opened his eyes just a slit to look at me when I took some photos of him. Think of an owl the size of your palm – that’s how little he was.

Find the owl.

Among the plants I could easily identify were Pipevine, Manroot Vine, Miner’s Lettuce and Burr Chervil, tules, cattails… y’know, the usual suspects.

I also saw my first Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly of the season, and got it to sit on my sleeve for a little while so I could take some photos of it.  I think it like that the coat was WARM on such a chilly morning. I could tell by the amount of blue on her hind wings that it was a female.

Here is an album of photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mkhnaturalist/albums/72157690848390452

I walked for about 4½ hours, which is way past my limit, so I was exhausted and achy by the time I got back home.

Mostly Starlings and Goldeneyes, 12-26-17

I headed over to the American River Bend Park for a walk. It was 34º when I got there, and got up to about 53º when I headed back home.

I wasn’t expecting to see a lot – we’re kind of “between seasons” at the river; all of the birds haven’t migrated in yet and it hasn’t rained enough for the fungi to come out – but the walks themselves always do me good. When I first got there, a light fog was still hanging over the river, so I went to the shore first to try to get some photos of that. Since the flooding earlier this year, the water had receded enough so that the riverside trail was passable again. (At the height of the flood, the river was right up to the trailhead, and beaver had floated up to chew on trees that normally wouldn’t have access to.)

Here is the album of photos and video snippets.

The flood has left its mark, though, with toppled down trees, scraggly flotsam high in the scrub brush and branches of still-standing trees, and rearranged rocks and sandbars. Still, the path was recognizable and I was able to make it through without incident. In places along the way, I could see the tracks of others who had walked along it: humans, dogs, deer, and what might have been a bobcat – fat rounded “fingers” with no toenails.

The trail let out close to what’s now the riverside, but I had to walk over tons of river rocks to get to the water. The rocks are all smooth and beautiful, but are a pain for me to walk across. My arthritis is welding all the bones in my feet together, so my feet don’t bend like they normally should anymore. Traversing uneven ground is a misery for me, but the few photos I got of the fog and a few birds were worth it.

The first creature I saw was a young Herring Gull, preening at the very end of a sandbar. He looked cold and sleepy, waiting for the morning sun to burn through the fog some more so he could warm up. Further up the shore was a Great Blue Heron, puffed up and hunkered down against the chill in the air, but still keeping an eye on the water in case breakfast swam by.

A little further up was a female Common Merganser floating on the water. And then I saw the Goldeneye ducks: mostly females, but several males, too.

Along with the Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula), I also caught sight of a Barrow’s Goldeneye (Bucephala islandica), distinguishable by the shape of the blotch on the face of the male. On the Common goldeneye, the blotch is round, and on the Barrow’s it’s like a paint-stroke. The Barrow’s also has “blocks” of white along the wing-line. We don’t get to see Barrow’s Goldeneyes around here much, so it’s always a treat when they show up. I was hoping the boys would do their flip-head dance for the girls, but they were all more interested in eating than in displaying. I got photos (and a little video) of all of them through the haze of the fog.

The other bird species I saw a lot of today were the European Starlings. In several spots, I saw them checking out nesting cavities in trees, going in and out, and talking to each other. I also saw quite a few California Scrub Jays, and one of them posed nicely for me on the humped back of a curved branch. In another park of the park,

I came across an area where smaller birds were trying to get to the last seeds on the now-dead star thistle: Spotted and California Towhees, Dark-Eyed Juncos, Golden-Crowned Sparrows and Lesser Goldfinches. What was surprising was that I didn’t see a lot of Acorn Woodpeckers or Canada Geese. They’re kind of ubiquitous, so to NOT see them is unusual.

Along my walk I also came across some Gouty Stem Galls, the leftover cocoon of a Tussock Moth caterpillar, the chrysalis of a Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly, and a few Deer Shield mushrooms. I walked for about 3 hours and then headed home .

A Beaver Sighting… and Other Critters, 12-23-17

I gave the dog his breakfast and let him out to go potty, then I headed over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk.  It was about 38º when I got there, and about 48º when I left.  Anything around 50º is actually a really pleasant walking temperature. As I was walking through the preserve, I saw a large group of people moving along other trails around me.  I think it might have been from their naturalist class, but I’m not sure. The group was moving very quickly and making a lot of noise, so I bet they didn’t get to see much of anything on their too-quick, too-loud hike… When I lead my naturalists groups out into the field, we’re going to move super-slowly and keep the chatter down…

Here is the album of photos and video snippets from today.

There were a lot of deer out today.  I saw one of the bucks reaching up into a tree to try to snag some of the still-tender leaves from it. It stood up on its hind legs, ad used one its front legs to brace itself against the tree as it reached up.  I tried to get photos and video of it, but he was too obscured by grass and twiglets and the camera didn’t know what to focus on.

In the meadow area, the big 4-pointer buck was holding court. There were three younger bucks in the meadow along with two does (one looking very pregnant) and a fawn. The younger bucks were challenging each other, but when the big 4-pointer walked up to them, none of them even tried to challenge him. They just backed down or turned away.

A little further up the trail, I saw the buck I’d seen several times before sitting among the tall weeds and twigs. He’s the one who has one foreshortened antler. The last time I saw him, he still had his tall antler intact and been wrestling with the other young bucks.  Today, though, he looked thoroughly beaten. His tall antler was broken off, and the whole top of his head looked like it had beaten down to the skull.  He was still alive and wasn’t “bloodied”, and his eyes looked clear, but he’d obviously taken an horrible beating at some point over the week.

As I was walking along the river side, I saw what I first thought was a log floating in the water. But then I realized the “log” was moving against the current, not with it, so I rushed (as fast as my chubby body will rush, hah!) down closer to the shore and realized it was beaver swimming in the water!  I tracked it upstream, and where it came close to the shore on my side of the river, then it made a sharp right and swam across the river to the other side.  I was hoping to be able to see it come up onto the river bank, but I lost track of it when it ducked under the surface.  So neat to see one of those guys, though!  I got several video snippets of it along with some photos.

Walking back downstream, I saw that the Great Blue Heron I’d seen there a week or so ago had returned and was dozing in its favorite spot.  It flew off before I could get around to the front of it to get some better photos, but then I was able to see a teenage Turkey Vulture and its parent eating some dead salmon on a sandbar – with a Herring Gull standing around looking for handouts.  I knew one of the vultures was a teenager because, although it was fully fledged, it’s beak hadn’t turned completely white yet.  While I was video-taping the birds, I also noticed a tiny Spotted Sandpiper, run up behind them and then flit away.

When I stopped to try to get a photo of a Red-Breasted Sapsucker, it flew off just as a Red-Shouldered Hawk flew down into the tree across the trail from me. It was literally at eye-level and only about 20 feet away from me. It was partially obscured by a branch, but it was still neat to see one that close.

As I was leaving the preserve, I saw another Red-Shouldered Hawk sitting on the ground.  I think it had gone after a vole or something and then the vole ducked underground… As I approached the bird, it flew up into a tree, and I was able to get some photos of it before it took off over the preserve.

I walked for about 3 ½ hours and head back home.

Mostly Bucks in Rut, 12-09-17

Up at 5:30 am to let the dog out to pee, then we went back to bed for about an hour before I got up again and went over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk.

It was literally freezing, 32º, at the river, and much of the preserve was covered in fog. The fog was very thick at the river side, which made for some interesting photos, especially as the fog started to lift as the sun came up further in the sky. There was a Great Blue Heron sitting on the bank among some scraggly vegetation. He remained still for quite a while and I was able to photograph him from different sides. He kept an eye on me, but remained where he was, trying to warm up before flying anywhere I guessed.

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

The majority of the rest of my photos today were of the Mule Deer. I came across the big 4-pointer buck who was tailing a female, and later came across three younger bucks (two 2-pointers and one spike buck) all sparring among a group of does (who pretty much ignored the boys). I was able to get some video snippets of the sparring contests, and also got some photos but those were more difficult because when the bucks spar, they drop their heads down close to the ground and shove each other back and forth… and when the vegetation around them is kind of tall, I’d lose the bucks in it. Every now and then, though, the bucks would lift up their heads and pose, looking handsome. I got quite a few of those shots.

On my way out of the preserve I found a spike buck browsing in the tall grass, but close to him, just to his left, was a California ground Squirrel gathering up face-fulls of grass and other vegetation to use as nesting material. This is kind of early for them to be breeding in this area, but not unheard of. In Southern California they start breeding in December, and in the Central Valley they usually don’t start until February and then go through April. Changes in breeding seasons is part of what I’ll be able to study more and understand better after I get certified in the phenology course…

I walked for about 3 hours and then headed back home.

Vacation Day #13: Nimbus Fish Hatchery

DAY THIRTEEN OF MY FALL VACATION… I got up a little before 7:00 am and headed out to the Nimbus Fish Hatchery. I knew they had the salmon gate open, so I wanted to see if I could spot any of them; and I wanted to see if the migrating birds were around there yet. The weatherpeople forecast clouds and rain for today, but when I went out it was mostly sunny and around 53º… and it stayed nice all the while I was outside.

At the hatchery, there weren’t hardly any waterfowl.  I saw some Mallards, a couple of Great Blue Herons and some Great Egrets, along with several Double Crested Cormorants but no other ducks or geese. There were a lot of different kinds of sparrows out there, though, and I saw House Sparrows, White-Crowned Sparrows, and Golden-Crowned Sparrows. There were also Acorn Woodpeckers around and lots of Starlings. I saw one Starling poking its head out of its nesting cavity… which was too near the Acorn Woodpeckers, and they were fussing about it. The big surprise was seeing a small flock of Cedar Waxwings.

A one place along the trail there was a huge fig tree, and the leaves were dotted with clusters of Assassin Bug egg cases. Yikes!  The fig was just starting to get fruit on it. Coffeeberry trees along the route were burgeoning with berries, though, just in time for the Waxwings (who eat berries almost exclusively).

The raceways were full of trout and salmon. When I was walking around the trout raceways, one of the rangers came up to me and handed me a big (16 oz) cup filled with fish food so I could feed the fry.  “You’re the first kid we’ve had through here today,” he said as he handed me the cup.  Hah! He said there were currently over 3-million trout in the raceways (everything from fingerlings to adults), and in another month or so they’d be pulling them all out and depositing them in tanker trucks to take to the lakes and ponds all over the area. None of the trout form there go into the rivers.

The fish are used to being fed by hand (or by another truck that goes between the raceways and blows food at them like a huge leaf-blower). Whenever I leaned in over the side of the raceways to look at them, they’d all rush to the edge and splash around expecting food. When you toss food to them they all attack it at the same time and it’s gone within seconds.

Also in the raceways were about four Green Herons. The raceways are completely surrounded and covered by chain link fencing, but someone must’ve left a door open and the smart herons rushed in.  Once they’re in there it’s hard to get them out, but there are literally millions of fish for them to eat, so it’s not like they’d starve.

When I went over to the salmon side of the hatchery, I was surprised to find that they were actually collecting and “spawning” the Chinook Salmon that were coming up the ladder. I didn’t think they were doing that until December, so it was a treat to be able to see it so early in the season.

Here are some pix: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mkhnaturalist/albums/72157686356492352

Video #1: https://youtu.be/6gf0-kdqX-w

Video #2: https://youtu.be/92TwnHBQsgU

When they bring the salmon up to take the eggs, they kill them (because they’re at the end of their life cycle anyway).  There was one hug female in the mix –- she must’ve weighed 40 to 50 pounds – and the rangers said she probably had 10,000 eggs in her belly. (A normal take is about 5,000 per female.) The bodies of the fish that are killed, are tagged and sent to Washington state where they’re used in dog food and made into fertilizer, so they’re “recycled” and not wasted.

I walked around the hatchery grounds and trails for about 3 ½ hours and then headed 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.