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Summer 2019 CalNat Class #6, 07-12-19

Around 11 o’clock, my co-instructor Bill Grabert and I took all of our stuff over to the library to set up for the Certified California Naturalist class, and our guest speaker arrived around the same time: Jenny Papka of Native Bird Connections.  She’d done a lecture for our winter class earlier this year so she kind of knew the drill. She set up her bird stuff while we finished setting up the classroom.

Jenny brought a Peregrine Falcon, a Swainson’s Hawk and her Eurasian Eagle Owl with her this time. Since she was ready to go when the students arrived, we just let her go first and did our announcements when she was finished. We also to a break when she was done, so the students could get photos of the owl and the props Jenny had brought with her.

 About halfway through Jenny’s presentation, our volunteer Roxanne Moger arrived with a box of bird’s nests she’d gotten from a retired teacher, and a HUGE live sphinx moth caterpillar in a jar. She’d been cutting down some grape vines for her neighbor and found the caterpillar on them.  Super cool.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

It kind of looked like a tomato hornworm, but was gray instead of green and had a eye-spot on its rump. I’m not sure but I think it’s the caterpillar of an Achemon Sphinx Moth (Eumorpha achemon).  They’re the kind of caterpillar that pupates underground, though, so Roxanne will have to put a couple of inches of dirt in the bottom of the jar, so the caterpillar can bury itself when it’s ready.  It might overwinter under the dirt, so we may not be able to see it until next year…            

After the break, Bill did the chapter on forest management, and I did a module on bird species identification.

So Many Squirrels, 10-16-18

DAY 11 OF MY VACATION. I headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk.

On the way out of the neighborhood, I saw what looked like a pair of squirrels or something “fighting” near a sewer grate. I stopped to take a closer look and realized it was actually two racoons trying to squirm their chubby butts through the openings in the grate, so they could get into the sewer. I was shocked but also amused. I thought for sure they were too fat to fit, through the grate, but they actually made it! Hah! So, now I know where the neighborhood raccoons hang out during the day. (When the rains start, they’re going to have to find somewhere else to live.)

My diverticulitis pain was bad (around an “8”) but I thought I could walk it off. No such luck. It actually got worse a couple of times, and the pain referred down into the front of my thighs during those moments, making walking somewhat difficult. Ugh! So, I was distracted by the pain throughout my walk.

It was only about 44º at the river when I got there, and I actually had to wear a jacket for most of the time I was out there. The river was steaming when the sun came up over the hillsides; and at one point, when I was walking the trail, I came across a bachelor group of Wild Turkeys, and could see their breath streaming out of their beaks. Chilly!

I don’t know if the pain-distraction was a factor, but it seemed like I didn’t see much of anything today – except for squirrels. There were a LOT of squirrels: Eastern Fox Squirrels, Gray Squirrels, California Ground Squirrels… They were all over the place – including the babies I’d seen a few weeks ago. The deer; not so much.

I also saw some Cooper’s Hawks and got photos and video snippets of a Red-Shouldered Hawk in the meadow area, both on the ground and in a nearby tree. It was watching the field from the trees and would fly down to grab little things in the grass, then fly back up to the trees again. I think I saw it catch a few Jerusalem Crickets.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

I walked for about 3 hours, but it was a slow walk, and I could hardly wait to get back home to lie down.

A Baby Hawk! And Other Stuff, 05-11-17

DAY 6 OF MY VACATION. I got up around 6:30 this morning and headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for my walk.  It was another gorgeous day, weatherwise – I’m lucking out so far on this vacation with great weather – 55º when I headed out, and up to 70º by the late afternoon.

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

The first thing I saw when I went into the preserve was a Yellow-Billed Magpie bopping along a lawn area. They’re endemic to the Central Valley (found here and nowhere else on Earth), so it’s always fun to see one… Then I saw a mama mule deer with a yearling, a little boy just starting to get his antlers.  He was very skittish, and ran off behind some brush, but mom was calm and just stood her ground while I walked past her.  She looked pregnant  — it’s that time of year.

I came across several House Wren nests, and watched as one pair of parents double-teamed to get their babies fed. Dad would bring them bugs then fly off, mom would bring them bugs then fly off, dad would sing in a nearby tree and the babies would answer him with creaky little croaking calls, mom would bring them more bugs, dad would fly into the nest to grab the fecal sacs and dump them outside the nest…  I think I stood there for almost 20 minutes just watching the parents fly back and forth…

At another nest, the Wren parents were having a fit because a Fox Squirrel had figured out which tree cavity their nest was in, and was trying to rip into it to get to the eggs.  The entrance to the next was on the underside of a branch that was hanging low near the ground.  I tried to get video of it, but there were weeds in the way, so it’s hard to see anything.  The squirrel wasn’t successful in getting at the eggs – at least nit while I was watching it… You normally think of squirrels as nut- or seed-eaters, but their diet is very varied and often includes birds’ eggs, fruit, and insects…

The one thing I was hoping to see at the preserve was the Red-Shouldered Hawks who have a nest near the nature center there, but when I started out on my walk, I couldn’t see the birds (or the babies I was hoping they had).  Last year, they had two babies.  On my way out of the preserve, though, I looked up and could see the fluffy white head of a baby poking up from the edge of the nest.

I walked around until I could get a better view of the nest, and was awarded with a view of the baby – starting to fledge – as it stood up and walked across the nest.  Then mama flew in to check on him… and I could hear papa screeching from somewhere nearby.  As I continued to watch the nest, I realized there were TWO chicks in the nest not just one… So the parents had twins again!  That was a nice way to end the walk!

A Western Tanager and Others, 04-30-17

I got up around 6:15 and was out the door by 6:30 to head over to the American River Bend Park for a walk.  It got up to 82º today.

At the River bend Park, the elderberry bushes are getting their flowers on them, and the buds on the Buckeye trees are just starting to open. Pipevines, grape vines and manroot vines abound, many of them vying for the same spots in the sun; and the black walnut trees are heavy with catkins. I was hoping to get some photos of Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly eggs, and was a little surprised to find that the caterpillars had already hatched out of most of them!  There were little first and second instar caterpillars everywhere…

CLICK HERE TO SEE THE ENTIRE ALBUM. More videos will be added shortly.

I also got to see a few Tussock Moth caterpillars, which are always cool. I even got one to crawl on my hand for a little while… (They’re the moths in which the female is wingless.  She sit in the tree she was born in and waits for the males to come to her.)

And I also came across an area where a bunch of Elder Moth caterpillars (a kind of cutworm) were coiled up on young elderberry bushes; some had curled themselves into the leaves, and one leaf curl had a shiny new pupa case in it… Neato.  [The Elder Moths are white and super-fuzzy and have green “staining” on their wings.]

A couple of other cool things happened on this walk, as well.  The most exciting was when I was trying to get photos of a pair of Bewick’s Wrens that were bringing food to their hatchlings.  The wrens were nesting in a tree cavity BUT, the tree was lying on its side on the ground, so they had to go through grass to get to the opening.  I was trying to figure out how to shoot through the grass and eliminate the heavy shadows around the opening to the nest, when I heard screeching in a tree behind me. I turned around to find a handsome Cooper’s Hawk up in the tree… and as soon as I looked at it, it started buzz-bombing me.  It dove straight at my head, so I lifted my camera up to deflect it.  Then it landed up in another tree, and I was taking photos of it there, it dove at me again… and again… and again… first from one direction, then from another. I don’t know if I was too close to its nest, or if it had a fledgling on the ground, or if I was too close to its breakfast, but it was NOT happy.

I got as many photos of it as I dared, and then walked off before it had the chance to gouge out my eyes.  (I tried getting video of it. I got a few frames of it screaming and diving at my head, and then the rest of the video is just a bunch rapid shaking and me shouting in exclamation.  I might add that to the album just because it’s funny.

I never did get a photo of that wren’s nesting site; maybe next time. But I did get some video of wrens singing and “beeping”, so that was something of a consolation.

Another cool thing: I saw some European Starlings picking stuff off the side of a tree, so I went over to see what so interesting to them.  A huge portion of the tree was literally covered in ants; a whole bivouac of them including some winged ones. I don’t know if they were moving in or moving out, but there were hundreds of them.  While I was getting some video of that, I noticed something “yellow” in the periphery of my vision, so I looked up and… Wow, it was a gorgeous Western Tanager! I’d never seen one at the park before.  It grabbed some of the winged ants and flew off, and then came back and sat on the low branch of a nearby tree for quite a while. In order to get pictures of it, I had to shoot through the leaves of the tree closest to me, a little hole about the size of my fist, and then get the camera to focus on the bird and not the leafy edges of the hole.  I got quite a few good photos, including a cute one of the bird cocking its head to one side. I was super-pleased.

Aaaannnd… I also got to see an Ash-Throated Flycatcher. He was sitting on the top of a small, broken, dead  tree trunk, but his back was to me so, all I could see with this powderpuff of feathers on the top of his head.  Then the bird flew off into another branch, and I could see its whole body… Yep, Flycatcher.  They’re not uncommon birds, but I think I’ve only seen maybe three or four altogether at the River Bend Park.

On the way out of the park, I walked by a spot where a couple of Tree Swallows were making all sorts of noise. That always alerts me to the notion that there’s a nest nearby, and sure enough, I was able to spot it as one of the birds exited the cavity.  I had to climb over a (very low) fence and then find a position where I could view the tree without interfering with the birds and watched it for about 10 or 15 minutes. I got quite a few photos of the birds in and near the nest hole… and even watched as one of them chased off an interloper when it got too close. That was a nice way to end the walk.  (I actually walked for a little more than 3½ hours before heading home.)