Tag Archives: Great Egrets

Still Not a Lot of Variety Yet, 11-12-18

I got up around 7:00 am, fed the dog his breakfast, and then went out to the Cosumnes River Preserve for a walk. There was still a lot of smoke in the air from the Camp Fire.

The preserve still doesn’t have enough water in it, so it was something of a disappointment, but I did get to see several different species of birds including fly-overs of small flocks of Sandhill Cranes and Tundra Swans. In their Facebook posts, the preserve had been talking about large flocks of Snow Geese in the surrounding rice fields, but I didn’t see any.  There were loads of greater White-Fronted Geese, though.  I also saw a few

The Coots were out feeding near the viewing platform of the boardwalk area, and I got to do my naturalist thing when two older women walked up and asked me if the “black birds were Moor Hens”.  I told them about the Coots and the Gallinules (moorhens) and how they were different, and then was able to point out a Northern Pintail to them, and a Black Phoebe. So, they got a free lesson today.  There was also some kind Rail near the viewing platform, but she flew off into the tules before I could get a really good look at her.  Maybe a Virginia Rail, but I’m not sure. It seems early in the season to see one of those.

I also saw Red-Winged Blackbirds, Killdeer, and Black-Necked Stilts which are all kind of ubiquitous in the area, along with a few  White-Crowned Sparrows, Savannah Sparrows, Western Meadowlarks, Northern Shovelers, House Finches, Great Egrets, Cinnamon Teals, Green-Winged Teals, a Greater Yellowlegs, some American Pipits, two or three Wilson’s Snipes, Red-Tailed Hawks, a Red-Shouldered Hawk, some male Lesser Goldfinches, and Song Sparrows.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

I was surprised when a small flock of Cedar Waxwings flew in and occupied the oak trees along the slough for a while. They’re primarily berry-eaters, and there were no berries around the slough this time of year.

As I was leaving the boardwalk area of the preserve, I stopped to use the little outhouse there, and found a couple of female praying mantises that apparently had just laid their egg cases on the side of the building. I also found a mud bird’s nest (probably a Phoebe’s) and some wasps’ nests (both from Paper Wasps and Mud-Dauber Wasps). I walked for about 3 hours and then headed back home, getting there around noon.

I Helped Lead a Tour of the SNWR, 11-12-16

I had to work today — helping to lead an auto-tour of the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge — so I was up at 5:00 and out the door by 5:30 am.  I stopped at a gas station on my way, filled up the tank, and got some munchies for the road, and then headed over to the Denney’s off of West Street in Woodland to meet up with my coworker Nate and the folks who were coming on the tour.  I’d gotten there early enough to order a small breakfast and get it in a to-go box.  I ate what I could of it out in the car, and then saw Nate and the others gathering outside the parking lot on the street, so I drove over there to meet them.  I handed out guide books and directions to the refuge, and we were all on the road by a little after 7:00 am.  There were seven people in our group (besides my coworker Nate and me) but only three of them were birding “newbies” who had never been to the refuge before.  The rest of them were avid birders, some from Yolo Audubon…

CLICK HERE to see the full album of photos.

CLICK HERE to see additional photos from other photographers.

We arrived at the refuge around 8:00 am, had folks pay for their vehicles at the kiosk and then we met at the inside parking lot before heading out along the auto tour drive. Although there were birding experts willing to drive with the non-birders.  Most of the non-birders chose to drive their own vehicles by themselves.  I had one “newbie” birder who went with me, a gal named Colleen.  Along the way, I was able to help point out birds to her, and name the species and tell her some fun facts… and I was so busy doing that, that I didn’t take very many photos while I was out there… and I forgot to eat lunch.

Along the auto tour there are three park-and-stretch places where you can get out of your car and look around.  I had brought my spotting scope me… but the experienced birders had brought ones of their own and had them set up before I could even get mine out of my car.  But that was okay; at least everyone got to see some of the birds up close.  As we watched one Red-Tailed Hawk who was sitting on the ground, warming up as the sun came up and burned through the low clouds, about 10 Jackrabbits popped up all around the bird and ran circles around it then scattered into the low brush and tules.  Hah!  We also saw a Raven come in for a landing with a large bit of what we assumed was a vole, in its beak, and watched it eat its breakfast before driving on… The folks from Yolo Audubon had also brought additional guide books, and used them to help the newbies to more effectively identify the hawks they were seeing (along with the guide books I also provided to guests who wanted them).

Throughout the tour I was to point out and help folks identify a Cooper’s Hawk, Red-Tailed Hawks, Northern Harriers, Song Sparrows, House Sparrows, White-Crowned Sparrows, ravens, Mallards, Northern Pintails, Green-Winged Teals, Cinnamon Teals, Northern Shovelers, Greater White-Fronted Geese, White-Face Ibis, Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, a Great Blue Heron, Turkey Vultures, Black Phoebes, Eared Grebes, Yellow-Rumped Warblers, Bufflehead ducks, Pied-Billed Grebes, American Coots, Canada Geese, a Peregrine Falcon, American Wigeons and American Pipits, and the Snow Geese (which were out in force today).  Among the regular totally white-bodied snow Geese was a single “dark morph” Snow Goose.  It had a white head, but it’s body was dark steely-grey.  A VERY cool sighting… but it was pretty distant (for my camera) and I didn’t get any really good shots of it.  I told everyone in our group that they had to share what they photos they took with us, so we could post them to Facebook.

In the non-bird species, along with the jackrabbits, we saw Columbian Black-Tailed Mule Deer, California Ground Squirrels, a Western Pond Turtle, a Western Fence Lizard, webs from “ballooning” spiders, and the nest of Paper Wasps. So it was an interesting excursion.  Some of the newbies had never been to the refuge before, and were excited to come back later in the season.

Vacation Day 14: Cosumnes River Preserve

DAY 14 OF MY VACATION.  Around 8:00 am I headed over to the Cosumnes River Preserve for the second time this week.  They’ve gotten more of their water in already. I think they flooded a couple of extra fields because they were having a “Ducks in Scopes” and nature photography thing going today.  They thought they’d have to cancel the activities because of rain, but although the clouds threatened, it was a rainless 65° there.  I steered clear of the groups of people – they make so much noise, they scare off all of the birds – and sort of made my own path around the front half of the refuge. (I might go back tomorrow, to do the river walk there; we’ll see what the weather is like.)

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

I saw a couple of Red-Tailed Hawks.  One of them was sitting in the top of a tree BEHIND all the people who had their birding scopes set up.  I didn’t tell anyone he was there, and just got a bunch of photos of him from different angles before moving on.  Y’gotta pay attention to what’s around you, folks! Hah!

Among the ducks, I saw the usual suspects including Northern Shovelers and Pintails, Green-Winged Teals, and Cinnamon Teals.  And among the other shorebirds, I saw Greater Yellowlegs, Black-Necked Stilts, Long-Billed Dowitchers, Dunlins, and tons of America Coots. There were also White-Crowned Sparrows, Golden-Crown Sparrows, Lesser Goldfinches, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Savannah Sparrows and Black Phoebes.

Along the wetlands walks, the oak trees were still sporting some wasp galls, and the poison oak was looking very Christmasy in red and green. The rain is also waking up the lichen, which is starting to fatten up, stretch out and reproduce.

I saw several groups of Sandhill Cranes fly overhead, so I tried to watch where they landed and then went over to where I thought they might be.  They usually keep pretty far away from the roads and walkways, but I was able to get some photos of a small group of them that were making their way across the top of a levy.  Most of the time they had their butts toward me, but I did get a few side-view shots when they turned their heads.  In that same area I came across a couple of Great Egrets, so I got some shots of them, too.

As I was heading out of the area, I caught glimpse of a large bird sitting on top of a pile tules – and it looked awfully “pale”.  I thought it might be a juvenile Bald Eagle because of its size, but I only got photos of the back of its head, so I couldn’t see what the eye-ridge or beak looked like.  Now, I’m not sure if it was an eagle or just a really big super-light-morph Red-Tail – or something else.  When it took off flying, much of its tail was white (which would be indicative of an eagle)… but I’m still not sure.  If it was a juvenile Bald Eagle it would be REALLY unusual for this area.

Anyway, I was at the preserve for about 3½ hours and then headed back home.

Vacation Day 9: Colusa and Sacramento National Wildlife Refuges

DAY 9 OF MY VACATION.  I was up around 6:30 am and headed out with the dog to the Colusa and Sacramento National Wildlife Refuges…

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

At the Colusa refuge, which I went to first, I was surprised to see water in the pond near the viewing platform.  Last week when I was there, there was no water at all.  Two guys with large-lens cameras were setting up on the deck when I got there.  There weren’t a whole lot of birds to see yet, but they were taking photos of the fly-in of White-Fronted Geese.

Although the water is coming in, what birds are there are not very close to the auto-tour road along the levies yet (because the water is still shallow and isn’t in all the areas it should be) so getting photos with my gear wasn’t easy.  The difficulty was compounded by the glare of the early morning light coming through breaks in the clouds and fog.  I was kind of disappointed in the picture I got there.  Still, I got to see a Loggerhead Shrike, Greater White-Fronted Geese, some,  Greater Yellowlegs, Gadwalls, Pintails and Mallards, a couple of Red-Tailed Hawks – including one that landed in a tree right over my car and stared down at me! – a Long Billed Curlew, some Turkey Vultures, Black-Necked Stilts and a couple of immature Common Gallinules.  I was also surprised by a few Sandhill Cranes, and got to see both mature and immature Black-Crowned Night Herons sitting in their morning roost trees.

That drive took me about an hour. Then I headed to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge which is about 20 miles further north up the highway. The big news at that refuge is that the flocks of Snow Geese have arrived there.  There were only a handful of them last week; today there were hundreds of them… but they were mostly far away because, as with the Colusa refuge, the water in this refuge isn’t at full capacity yet, so the birds stay pretty far away from the touring road.

Along with birds similar to those I saw in Colusa, I saw several Great Egrets, some Red-Eared Slider Turtles and Western Pond Turtles, Killdeer, American White Pelicans, a few White-Faced Ibis, a Peregrine Falcon, and loads of Red-Winged Blackbirds.  A few California Ground Squirrels stopped and posed for me, and I got to see a female Belted Kingfisher chase off both a Turkey Vulture and a Red-Tailed Hawk from a tree in the middle of a pond where she was fishing.  Tough little broad!

At one point, I’d stopped to get some photos of a little Savannah Sparrow on the side of the road, and then saw about six River Otters scurry across the road in front of me. By the time I got the camera up, they were already disappearing into the brush. Dang it!

By the time I was done going through the Sacramento refuge it was around 2:30 pm, so I headed back to Williams, got a sandwich and then headed over to the hotel.

Vacation Day 4: American River Bend Park

Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillars. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillars. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

Vacation Day Four.  I got up around 6:30 this morning and headed over to the American River Bend Park for a walk..  It was in the 60’s (around 63° by the afternoon) and partly cloudy all day.

I wasn’t looking for anything in particular at the park; just wanted a long nature walk.  But I still ended up taking several hundred photographs.  I found a couple of birds’ nesting cavities including that of a White-Breasted Nuthatch and a House Wren who were both nesting in the same tree, but in different holes in the tree. That was kind of neat.  Along the river I also saw some Common Mergansers, Great Egrets, Canada Geese, Acorn Woodpeckers, and a Great Blue Heron.

I also came across a group of six jackrabbits.  They were cavorting around the picnic tables in the park… so cute.  One of them, though, had a deformity on its cheeks that looked like some big canker busted and then turned all black and leathery.  Eeew.  I did a little research to see if I could find some information about the condition, but I couldn’t find anything… The search will continue.

On the insect front: The Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillars are hatching out all over the park, and some of them are fattening up quickly.  I came across one of the caterpillars with something that really surprised me.  I knew that when they’re large enough to pupate, the caterpillars spin a line of silk, attach it to a substrate (like a branch) and wrap it around their shoulders… but this one had spun a mat of silk underneath it. I’d never seen that before, and couldn’t find anything written about it.  It was so odd, I tried getting photos of it, but the caterpillar REALLY didn’t like my putting it on its back to get the photos… At first I thought maybe it was dragging someone else’s silk after it, but when I rolled the caterpillar onto its back, I could see the silk attached to its belly.  The belly area, though, is not where their spinners are so… I’m still very confused about it.  Maybe it blundered onto a super-sticky spider’s web that stuck firmly to it or something.  I don’t know. I’ll have to keep researching.  Speaking of these caterpillars, I found a really neat video of the on YouTube so you can see how they grow and how they spin the silk shoulder-wrap before they form their chrysalis.  I’ve seen them in the torpid state, just after they’ve spun the silk but before the chrysalis is formed.  I would LOVE to watch and film the whole process in the wild sometime.

Anyway, here’s the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u2cE86AA1q0.

There were also lots of Ladybug (ladybeetles) and their larvae showing up now, Snakeflies, Crane Flies, all sorts of beetles, and other critters.  I also came across some Scarab-Hunter Wasps.  They’re rather large wasps that are kind of “hairy” all over.  The adults eat pollen and nectar, but they lay their eggs in the beetle larvae and the kids grow up eating the larvae… You find them hovering low over the ground where they “listen” for the sound of the grubs under the surface.  Then they uproot the grubs to lay their eggs in them… So they’re carnivores that grow into vegans as they mature.  Hah! Nature is so weird sometimes. I also found a few spider egg sacs.  I’m not adept enough, though, to tell what species of spider left what sac…

The wildflowers are also blooming along the river, mostly Miniature Lupine, Monkey Flowers, Poppies, Vetch, Pink Grass, and Stork’s Bill.  So, there was something interesting or pretty to see no matter you looked.

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I walked for about 3½ hours and then headed back to the house. I picked up a few groceries at the store on the way, unpacked stuff when I got home, and put in load of laundry before crashing with the dogs.

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.