Tag Archives: Great Blue Herons

A Wednesday Walk at Lake Solano Park, 11-07-18

I got up around 6:00 this morning and headed out to Lake Solano Park for Tuleyome’s scheduled “Wednesday Walk” there. I stopped in Woodland to pick up some stuff for lunch, and then continued on to the park, arriving there just a little bit before 8:00 am.

When I drove into the main gate, I was astonished to see the gates closed and PARK CLOSED signs up. My coworker Nate was across the street in the camping area and came over to my car to let me know that, unbeknownst to him, the park was shut down because they were doing spraying for invasive species. The camping ground side of the park was open though.

I tracked down a ranger and asked him if it was okay for us to park in their overflow lot (which is usually only for 30-minute-parking) because our group couldn’t access the park for our schedule d event. He said that would be okay as long as we still paid the day use fee ($6 per car) and put the day use ticket on our dashboards with “Ranger OKed” written on them. So, we did that, and ended up with about 9 people on the walk.

The trail along Putah Creek on the campground side of Lake Solano isn’t as “manicured” as the one on the park side, and it gets a little gnarly toward the end of it where it abuts private land. We had two older ladies with us who weren’t able to walk long distances, so I stayed pretty much at the back of the group with them, identifying birds for them and showing them things like galls, midges, and other stuff along the way.

About halfway down the trail, the ladies decided they’d better turn back before they got too tired, so once they were gone, I caught up with Nate and the rest of the group. I thought it was funny that throughout the walk, some of the participants kept coming back to me to ask questions rather than deferring to Nate (who knows just about as much as I do about nature areas); I guess I looked “knowledgeable” or something.

One of the folks asked more about our naturalist course, and a couple of other people asked about our trail camera project… so the publicity I’m doing for those in local newspapers is having some effect, and that’s always good to know.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

We walked for about two hours before getting back to our cars. I was kind of disappointed in the wildlife showing there: not a lot was going on. But we did see Acorn Woodpeckers, Northern Flickers, Scrub Jays, a Eurasian Collared Dove, lots of Mallards, Buffleheads and Canada Geese, several Great Blue Herons, some Double-Crested Cormorants, Spotted Towhees, and a few Pied-Billed Grebes. We had wanted to take the group to the park side of the lake, so they’d have a chance to see the Western Screech Owl that often sleeps there, but, no… the spraying was going on.

One odd thing we saw was a small group of Bushtits clinging to the side of the nature center, picking at what I first thought was splotches of dark mold. I couldn’t understand why the little birds were so interested in that. As we got closer, though, we realized that the splotches were not mold but rather clumps of small dark midges (bugs) that had gotten caught in the cobwebs on the building. Smart birds! They had whole buffet of midges to eat!

A Very Conspicuous Great-Tailed Grackle, 05-26-18

I got up at 5:00 today, even though it’s the weekend, because I wanted to get back to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge for a longer trip around the auto-tour there.  It was overcast and drizzling all morning, and the sun didn’t come out until just about when I was ready to leave the refuge.  I stopped off at the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge and spent about an hour there before heading onto the Sacramento refuge.

At the Colusa refuge, I was surprised to see a large flock of sheep near the front gate. Sheep and goats are often brought in to help clear the landscape of overgrowth and noxious weeds – because they eat anything. I saw several American Bitterns there, many of them on the ground among the tules. They were too far away to get really photos of them, but I managed to get a few so-so shots.

Most of the ground at the Colusa refuge are dry – no standing water – so it can be difficult to see much of anything.  I did get to see a lot of Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets and Great Blue Herons there, along with several crayfish chimneys, pheasants and a young Pied-Billed Grebe that was still sporting its striped face. The neatest sighting was that of a young coyote loping across the fields.

At the Sacramento refuge I was first inundated by sightings of Black-Tailed Jackrabbits, Desert Cottontails and California Ground Squirrels, and I thought that was all I was going to be able to see there today. Eventually, the place “opened up” to me and I was able to get photos of other critters, too. What was really nice was that I literally had the place all to myself. Didn’t see any other vehicles (besides the rangers’) until just before I was ready to leave. So, everything was nice and quiet, and I didn’t feel rushed.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

Of the ground squirrels, I saw, I came across one that exhibited a behavior I’d never seen before. It raised itself up on its hind legs, into a standing position, and then rubbed its head and face against a twig. I don’t know if it was transferring scent or just had an itch (it looked a bit mangy), but it was neat to see.

At one point, I stopped because I saw something “odd” on one side of a slough. I couldn’t get a good look at it, even with the telephoto it was sitting on the bank closest to the road, among the tules, with its back toward me. I kept an eye on it, and eventually it dipped down into the water in the slough… a muskrat! It played “keep away” for quite a while, ducking under the surface of the water just as I got the camera focused on it. After a while I tried to anticipate where it might show up next and was rewarded with some video footage of it. Phew!

The other cool find of the day was seeing a male Great Tailed Grackle walking along the rails of a wooden fence.  It was calling and posturing all along the way. I got some video footage (so you can hear the sounds it made) and some fairly good still shots… and I got to see some male Ring-Necked Pheasants sitting a tree. I’d never seen them in tree before; I usually sot them on the ground. They’re large colorful birds, so when they’re up in a tree they’re very “exposed”. There must’ve been something on the ground that scared them.

When I stopped to get some photos of a large bullfrog in the water, I saw something else beside it that I couldn’t identify at the time. I took photos and video of it and when I got home, I looked at it over and over again trying to figure out what I was looking at. I finally decided it was a pair of freshwater snails or whelks laying eggs on a rock… So weird…

I left the refuge around noon and was back home around 2:00 pm.

Vacation Day One: Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

Western Pond Turtle. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Western Pond Turtle. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

Vacation Day One.  I got up around 6:00 am and took off to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge with the dog.  It was supposed to be overcast and wet all day – and it was, but in Willows the rain was mostly a very light “mizzling” rain (heavier than mist but not really a drizzle) that turned itself on and off throughout the day.  I only had to close the car windows once to keep heavier rain out, and even then it was just for a few minutes.  The rest of the time, I was able to keep the windows open.  Because it was cool – around 53° — I also had the floor vents in the car open and the heater on blowing warm air onto my tootsies.  The cool thing about photographing when it’s overcast is that you don’t have to deal with glare and deep shadows, and that puts everything on the same “scale”.

The wildflowers were starting to winnow away at the preserve, and the grasses, vetch, teasel and other thistles, toyon bushes and other plants – like Hemlock – are starting to build up and bloom… in some places I had Killdeer running alongside the car on the gravel auto-tour road.  They make nests out of the gravel and their eggs look just like little stones.  I worry that some of them are building nests on the road, and they’ll get squished by the cars.  I guess it comes down to “survival of the smartest”; the birds “stupid” enough to build nests in the probably won’t generate many (if any) offspring… There were Jackrabbits in abundance, too.  In one place there were five of them all running and hopping around together.  Since jack’s are generally solitary animals, I assumed the group was a mom and her nearly-grown offspring… Meadowlarks, Marsh Wrens and blackbirds were singing from everywhere.  I got a little video snippet of the Meadowlark song… Among the blackbirds, I also saw my first Yellow-Headed Blackbird – a female who was hunkered down in the tules trying to keep warm… It was such a shock to see her among all the Red-Winged Blackbirds that at first I didn’t know what to make of her…  And I think I spotted by first Loons, too, but they were so far away the photos aren’t all that good.  I think they were whether young Common Loons or Pacific Loons.  They had brown heads…

Saw a couple of Red-Tailed Hawks, and several American Bitterns, including one walking through the tall grass toward the tules, and I heard several other Bitterns give out their “pumper-lunk” calls from amid the overgrowth.  I don’t remember ever seeing (or hearing) this many of them before. I wonder of “climate change” has dumped them all into this area this year… Came across a Striped Skunk running through the grass alongside the road.  He came out of nowhere and was moving so fast I hardly had a chance to get my camera on him and ended up with a bunch of blurry photos.  Sigh.  I need to be “faster than Nature” to get good shots sometimes… And there were Ring-Necked Pheasants everywhere.

I also saw Double-Crested Cormorants, a few Snow Geese, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Herons, several Kingbirds (Cassin’s, I think, rather than Western, because the head was kind of a dark charcoal gray), loads of American Coots (of course; they’re kind of ubiquitous), several Western Pond Turtles, Cinnamon Teals, a Purple Finch (They are actually red, not purple.), a few Mourning Doves, House Sparrows, some Long-Billed Dowitchers, Greater Yellowlegs, Mule Deer, Clark’s and Western Grebes,  some Green-Winged Teals, Turkey Vultures, and a few Northern Harriers.  So, even though the weather wasn’t the best, there were a lot of things to see and photograph.   I think I ended up with something like 550 photos!

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By the time I was done in the refuge, it was already around 2:30 pm and I wasn’t looking forward to the 2 hour drive back to Sacramento, so I drove in to Williams and the dog and I did an overnight at the Ramada Inn there.  We shared a Subway sandwich and then hit the hay.

Pheasants and Other Birds on New Year’s Day

Male Ring-Necked Pheasant. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Male Ring-Necked Pheasant. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

Happy New Year!  I slept right through whatever midnight madness happened outside of the house.  Marty said the neighbor’s shot off fireworks, but I didn’t hear them.

Apparently, Sergeant Margie slept through the noise, too, which is just as well.  Fireworks freak him out in his old age.

I headed out with him to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge again around 7:30 am.  I  thought that if everyone was still stoned from their New Year’s Eve celebrations, there would be no one at the preserve.  Wrong.  There were people everywhere, and because of that and the stiff north wind that was blowing, if was hard to get any photos.  No eagles were in sight, and a lot of the other raptors were snugged up in trees or on the ground to get away from the wind.  At one point along the auto tour four cars blocked the entire road.  Their drivers were trying to get pictures of a Cooper’s Hawk sitting on the ground… but it was so incredibly rude of them to block the whole road that people lining up in cars behind me actually started honking (a “no-no” on the auto tour because it frightens the birds).  One car in front of us finally moved so the rest of us could squeeze past it, and the hawk flew off just as I drove by it.

Earlier in the drive, I saw a pair of Harrier Hawks trying to get their young fledgling to fly, but he sat on the ground and didn’t want to budge – the wind was too strong and kept knocking him around.  Some of the photos I took showed how much the winds stirred up the water in the flat wetland – making the surface really choppy, and creating small waves.  During this visit, I also saw mule deer, Loggerhead Shrikes, Pied-Billed Grebes, Black Phoebes, Eared Grebes, Ring-Necked Ducks, a sleeping American Wigeon floating on the water like a bobber, Red-Tailed Hawks, Ruddy Ducks, Northern Shovelers, Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Ring-Necked Pheasants, Snow Geese, White-Fronted Geese, Bufflehead ducks and others.

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I left the reserve around 12:30 and got back home a little after 2:00 pm

Mostly Pix of a Great Blue Heron on the River

Great Blue Heron. Copyright © 2015 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Great Blue Heron. Copyright © 2015 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

I went out to the American River Bend Park around 9:00 am, and it was still cold (about 35°).  The sun was out for a little bit, but then a thick overcast rolled in and covered it up.  I had gone on my walk with no real agenda in mind; just wanted the exercise and to see whatever Nature wanted to show me today.  Two people with dogs passed me on the trail and both of them remarked that there was a pair of coyotes behind them on the trail, stalking them, and that nothing seemed to intimidate them.  One guy described the pair as “brazen”.  Being the idiot that I am, I immediately turned around and went back along the trail to find the coyotes.  I never did find them, but I did get to see a lot of birds along the river’s edge, and also came across a large Mule Deer buck napping in among the trees.

Among the birds I saw were Bufflehead and Goldeneye Ducks, Great Blue Herons, seagulls, Snowy Egrets, Mallards, Lesser Goldfinches, a Spotted Sandpiper, a Belted Kingfisher, Oak Titmice, and lots of Turkey Vultures.  Some of the Vultures were sitting up in the trees, and  actually had frost clinging to some of their feathers.  Other vultures I saw were standing on the rocks in the river eating fish leftovers. One of the Great Blue Herons was also eating fish leftovers – including big segments of bones — from the rocks and stood and posed for me for almost 20 minutes.  Got LOTS of photos of that guy.

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In the non-animal realm, I also got some photos of rust fungus (Puccinia baccharis?) erupting out of the stems of a coyote brush.  I’d seen stem galls created by midges, wasps, and mites, but had never seen ones created by fungus before.  They were kind of cool: swellings in the stem filled with rust-colored spores that were erupting out through gaps in the wood…  Nature is so… variable.

I walked for about 2 ½  hours and by the time I headed back home it was in the 40’s.

Herons, Egret and Beaver at the American River Bend Park

I was able to sleep in a little bit this morning, but was still out the door by about 6:15 am.

I went over to the American River Bend Park and walked around for about three hours.  Parts of the bike trail were closed off while it’s being repaved, and there were detours all over for the bikers… but some of them decided to ride their bikes on the nature trails (where I was walking, and where the bikes are not allowed) so that kind of irritated me.  I’d get my camera lined up to take a photo and some biker would come up behind me and yell, “On your left!”  Rrrrgh!

While I was on the trail, I inadvertently thwarted two hawks’ attempts at breakfast.  I walked up on one hawk that was sitting on the ground.  When it saw me it took off… and so did the jackrabbit it was sitting on. Oops!  Then when I was walking along the bank of the river I saw a Belted Kingfisher flying ahead of me… and I spooked a hawk that flew out of a tree from behind me.  It tried making a grab for the Kingfisher in mid-air, but because I’d startled it, it was off on its trajectory, and missed its meal by just an inch or so.  In between those two incidents, I came across a place on the trail that was covered in bird feathers.  A fox or hawk had been successful in killing a bird, but had snapped the head off and left it behind.  A Mourning Dove by the look of the head.  The attack must’ve been recent, too, because the bird’s eyes were still intact, and the blood was still red and not fully congealed.  I know it sounds weird, but I thought the head was so beautiful, I wanted to keep the skull, so I wrapped it in a receipt inside my carry bag and took it home.

Along the trail, I also came across a couple of Great Blue Herons, a Great Egret, and some Common Mergansers, along with dragonflies and other small critters.  The cool find of the morning, though, was when I was heading back to the car.  I looked down from the trail to the bank of the river below and saw something large and hairy rummaging around in the water.  Even with my telephoto lens, it was hard for me to make out what it was, so after taking a few still shots, I started taking video of it.  It turned out to be a large beaver that was eating freshwater clams along the bank.  It rolled up in the water, chewing on the clam, and then dove under the surface again.  I was able to see it moving under the water for a while, then lost it.  Cool!

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Here’s the beaver video snippet: https://youtu.be/luROAWjxW-g