Tag Archives: great horned owl

My First Glimpse of Fawns This Year, 07-02-19

I got up around 5:30 this morning so I could get over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve and begin my monitoring of my milkweed plot there for evidence of Monarch Butterflies. I finished that (with the help of my friend and co-naturalist Roxanne Moger) around 8:30.

It was still relatively cool outside, so Roxanne and I decided to put our tools back into our car and walk for a little while.  We came across some cooperative squirrels and a Desert Cottontail rabbit, and also checked out the tree where I’d seen the feral beehive earlier.  There were about three times as many bees at the spot, so I’m assuming the queen has decided to set up shop there.

 The surprise sighting was coming across another doe – with twin fawns!  She was keeping them well-hidden in the shade and tall grass, but we were able to catch glimpses of them. And we couldn’t help but chuckle when the babies went stotting through the grass with mom chasing after them.  They’re so tiny but soooo active! They’re the first fawns I’ve seen this year and that’s always exciting.

As we were leaving the preserve, I could hear a Ground Squirrel’s alarm call and looked around to see if I could spot what the trouble might be. I saw movement overhead and spotted an adult Red-Shouldered Hawk fly overhead. It landed in a nearby tree and then sat there for quite a while, so we were able to get quite a few photos of it.  So, even though our walk was only a single loop, we got to see quite a bit… which is always fun.

An adult Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

We walked for about 2 hours before calling it quits and going to breakfast.

Species List:

  1. Asian Ladybeetle, Harmonia axyridis,
  2. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii,
  3. Black Walnut Erineum Mite gall,
  4. California Bay, Umbellularia californica,
  5. California Black Walnut, Juglans californica,
  6. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi,
  7. California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana,
  8. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica,
  9. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis,
  10. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus,
  11. Common Green Lacewing, Chrysoperla carnea,
  12. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis,
  13. Coyote Mint, Monardella villosa,
  14. Crown Whitefly, Aleuroplatus coronata,
  15. Desert Cottontail, Sylvilagus audubonii,
  16. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger,
  17. European Honeybee, Apis mellifera,
  18. European Praying Mantis, Mantis religiosa,
  19. Feral Honeybees, Apis mellifera,
  20. Goldwire, Hypericum concinnum,
  21. Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus,
  22. Green Leafhopper, Empoasca sp.,
  23. Green Stink Bug, Chinavia hilaris,
  24. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni,
  25. Jumping Spider, Hentzia sp.,
  26. Lords-And-Ladies, Arum maculatum,
  27. Meadow Spittlebug, Philaenus spumarius,
  28. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus,
  29. Oleander Aphid, Aphis nerii,
  30. Pumpkin Gall Wasp, Dryocosmus minusculus,
  31. Red Mite, Spider Mite, Tetranychus urticae,
  32. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus,
  33. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia,
  34. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa,
  35. Spotted Lady’s Thumb, Persicaria maculosa,
  36. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  37. Trashline Orb Weaver Spider, Cyclosa conica,
  38. Twenty-spotted Lady Beetle, Psyllobora vigintimaculata,
  39. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata,
  40. Yarrow, Achillea millefolium,
  41. Yellow Sac Spider, Cheiracanthium mildei,

Bugs and Birds Mostly, 05-29-19

I got up at 5:30 this morning. I would have slept in a tiny bit more, but Sergeant Margie needed to get outside to pee. Since I was up, I decided to stay up and head over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk. It was about 55° when I got there, and almost 70° when I left.

I saw a lot of the usual suspects at the preserve. Still very few deer around; the boys are off getting their antlers and the girls are off getting ready to give birth to their fawns.

CLICK HERE to see the album of photos.

I did get to see another pair of Mourning Doves working on their nest. I saw the male first, along the trail picking up twigs and bits of dried grass and flying them over to the female. She was sitting in the back of a half-fallen branch of a tree, tucked in a broken bit of bark. Smart girl!

Later on, along the trail, while I was watching a young Fox Squirrel, a California Ground Squirrel showed up, and then a Scrub Jay landed nearby with a green plum in its beak. Wow, lots of photos just within a few feet of one another. I love moments like that.

I walked for about four hours and then headed home.

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus,
  2. American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus,
  3. Azolla, Water Fern, Azolla filiculoides,
  4. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii,
  5. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
  6. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum,
  7. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus cerulea,
  8. Bush Katydid, Scudderia furcate,
  9. California Brodiaea, Brodiaea californica,
  10. California Dandelion, Taraxacum californicum,
  11. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi,
  12. California Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta,
  13. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica,
  14. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus,
  15. Darkling Beetle, Eleodes dentipes,
  16. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger,
  17. Eastern Gray Squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis,
  18. Elegant Clarkia, Clarkia unguiculata,
  19. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris,
  20. Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus,
  21. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon,
  22. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni,
  23. Italian Thistle, Carduus pycnocephalus,
  24. Lace Lichen, Ramalina menziesii,
  25. Little Black Ant, Monomorium minimum,
  26. Live Oak Erineum Mite gall, Aceria mackiei,
  27. Live Oak Gall Wasp, 2nd generation, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis,
  28. Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos,
  29. Mock Orange, Philadephus lewisii californicus,
  30. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura,
  31. Mugwort Weevil, Scaphomorphus longinasus,
  32. Mule Fat, Baccharis salicifolia
  33. Northern Saw-Whet Owl, Sophia, Aegolius acadicus,
  34. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii,
  35. Platygaster, Platygaster california,
  36. Plum, Prunus subg. Prunus,
  37. Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum,
  38. Red Mulberry, Morus rubra,
  39. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus,
  40. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia,
  41. Rose Clover, Trifolium hirtum,
  42. Rusty Tussock Moth, Orgyia antiqua,
  43. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa,
  44. Southern Alligator Lizard, Elgaria multicarinata,
  45. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor,
  46. Wand Mullein, Verbascum virgatum,
  47. Western Carpenter Ant, Camponotus modoc,
  48. Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
  49. Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa

Behind-The-Scenes “Natives” Tour, 04-18-19

Today, I was treated to a behind-the-scenes “natives” tour at the reptile house and got to visit with a Burrowing Owl at the Sacramento Zoo.  There were two school buses full of kids there, so I didn’t hang around much after the tour, but I still got to see and learn some cool stuff.  My tour guides were Kathryn, a keeper named Bill (who did all the reptile house stuff) and a keeper named Mike who showed me the Burrowing Owl.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

Inside the back of the reptile house it was warm and kind of humid (which is what most of the reptile need to feel comfortable). The place is laid out like a snake, in a serpentine pattern, with the back sides of the habitat enclosures along the outer walls and other tanks and materials along the center spaces and inside walls. Each enclosure has pouches on the door with cards that tell when the animals’ feeding scheduled are and what work has taken place during the week, and also give the keepers detailed information on each animal inside the enclosure.  Some of the enclosures have one or two specimens inside, but others, like the one for the tiny Dart Frogs, can have a dozen individuals in them. Somehow – usually by color pattern – the keepers can tell who each individual is.  Everybody gets weighed about once a week to make sure they’re on track physically.

The first thing I had to do when I got inside the reptile house was dip the soles of my boots in a disinfectant bath to make sure I wasn’t tracking in anything that might harm the animals inside. (And we did the same thing just before leaving the building.)

Some of the critters don’t get enough UV light inside their enclosures (because the light is set in the ceiling of the enclosures and the animals (like turtles) can’t climb up to it.  So, sometimes the critters are taken off exhibit and allowed to bask under UV lights in separate terrariums to make sure they get all the “sun” they need. When I was there, they had some handsome Hamilton’s Pond Turtles (Geoclemys hamiltonii) doing the basking thing. The Hamilton’s have beautiful black-and-white polka dotted faces. I don’t remember ever seeing them before, so getting to meet a couple of them was a treat.  [They’re native to the Ganges, not California.]

I also got to see the Venomous Bite Alarm: a red phone that automatically connects directly with the local fire department.  So, if a keeper or a guest gets bitten by a venomous snake, all someone has to do is knock the receiver off the phone and an alert goes out to emergency personnel who are dispatched immediately.  All of the enclosures that hold the venomous snakes also have red warning cards on them, and a garbage can underneath the door, so if the snake lunges out at someone, it falls into the can instead of on a person.  Sometimes, the low-tech stuff is what works best.

And I got to see the food room for the reptile house, which is kept separate from the food storage for the other animals in the zoo because it’s comprised mostly of live insects and small frozen mice. There were egg crates crawling with live crickets and bottles of different kinds of worms… Some of the creatures, though, are vegetarians, so there are also greens, small flowers and other goodies for them to eat.

The tour was so cool! I got so much information from the staffers, that I don’t know if I’ll remember it all. But I’ll give you some of the highlights.

I got to see the zoo’s California Newt (Taricha torosa), our state’s endemic newt (found here and nowhere else on earth).  The are considered a Species of Special Concern because their numbers are dropping due to habitat loss and having to deal with invasive species like Bullfrogs and Red-Eared Slider Turtles. They’re often confused with Rough-Skinned Newts and Red Bellied Newts, but although they’re all from the same genus, they are separate species.

The newt’s poison (which it excretes through its skin) is so potent, it can kill a dog within 4 minutes. It’s believed that the Common Gartersnake is immune to the toxin.

California Newts breed in February and March in the wild. To keep the newts from going into breeding mode with its associated “water drive” (that causes them to leave their terrestrial homes to go find water in which to breed, preferably the same water source in which they were born) the zoo controls the temperature of their habitat to “skip” the spring and jump from winter directly to a cool summer.  So far, depriving the newts of their spring time doesn’t seem to adversely affect them.  Because their habitat had to be kept cooler and drier than the rest of the reptiles’ habitats, they have their own room that’s kept around 65° for most of the year.

Like the California Newt, the California Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma californiense) prefers the cool weather, too, so it’s kept in the same enclosure as the newt.  It’s also a native and endemic species. It’s considered an Endangered Species and is gone from most of the state.  A “mole salamander”, it spends most of its life underground and only comes out for any extended period of time to breed.  Although they go through courtship rituals, the males and females don’t actually touch one another to reproduce. The males deposit balls of sperm on the ground or in the water, and the female then drags her body over it.

They breed in vernal pools which are temporary water features, so the baby salamanders either have to develop, absorb their gills and start breathing with their lungs before the pools dry up, or they have to “overwinter”, buried under the ground in a sort of stasis that can last for a year or more and then finish developing the next spring. Amazing.

The spots on their bodies can change as they age, but are always unique to each individual, so the keepers at the zoo can tell who’s who by looking at and tracking the spots.

Next up was the California Giant Garter Snake (Thamnophis gigas). A threatened species, and another endemic one, they’ve lost about 98% of their habitat (!) so there are a lot of efforts throughout the Sacramento Valley to try to reestablish habitat for them – and a lot of that is in and around rice fields. The zoo got their female, which is the snake I met, from a farm after she’d been accidentally run over by some of their equipment. Her body has scars on it she’s blind in one eye, and a good portion of her tail is missing… but she was very mellow and seemed very comfortable with her keeper, who said that these snakes, despite their size, aren’t as aggressive as other gartersnakes and seldom bite. Their defense mechanism is to dive under water (they spend the majority of their time in or around water) or “skunk” their attacker with musk from their cloaca.

The Giant Gartersnake can grow up to 5½ feet long, and although some of the other gartersnake species can get almost as long as the Giants, they don’t have the Giants’ girth. These are thick snakes, like rope. Their diet is mostly made up of aquatic species, lots of fish and frogs.

Then I got to meet one of the zoo’s Common Chuckwallas (Sauromalus ater), a big male with orange staining on his back. I always forget that we have these guys live in this state. I always think of them being from Arizona or Nevada… They do “push-ups” like our Western Fence Lizards do as a warning and territorial display, but their main defense is their skin.  They have extra skin hanging from their sides that they can inflate, like a balloon, when they feel threatened. Usually, they’ll climb into a rock crevice, inflate their bodies to wedge themselves in, and wait for whatever is bothering them to leave.  Bill, their keeper, said he could tell what their mood was like just by how they felt in his hands. The male Chuckwalla was super docile, and I bet he could have gone to sleep if Bill hadn’t kept moving him this way and that so I could take photos of him.

They have special longer scales around their ears (tympanic membranes) to protect them when the lizard digs into the ground or wedges itself in rocks. And they also secrete excess salt from their nose – which Bill says then then rub onto the front of the glass of their enclosure, dirtying up the glass with their salty snot. Hah!

Although they have a pair of Chuckwallas, a male and a female, the male has yet to fertilize any of the eggs the female lays.  Sometimes, they can tell the female is pregnant with eggs, but then she reabsorbed them into her body before they get laid because they don’t get fertilized. Interesting.

Their diet consists of nothing but veggies, and I got to see some of their feeding dishes with included a variety of greens and little flowers, and some protein powder.

Next up was the Pacific Pond Turtle (Actinemys marmorata), California’s endemic turtle which is considered a “vulnerable” species. It’s lost a lot of its territory to the invasive Red Eared Slider Turtle which was brought into California for the pet trade, but then – when people found out how difficult water turtles are to keep – they were just dumped in the wild.

Unlike the Slider Turtles, the Pond Turtles have smooth marginal scutes (the “scales” along the edge of the shell in the rear) and they don’t shed their scutes. Instead, to grow, the scutes add rings to the outer rim of each one (like the rings of a tree). Like the Slider Turtles, male Pond Turtles wave their fingernails in front of the female’s face as part of the courtship ritual.

There are a couple of different ways to tell the males from the females at a glance. The easiest way it to look at the skin under the chin: if it’s a plain creamy color, it’s a male; if it has spots, it’s a female.  The female’s cloaca is also closer to the edge of the shell than the male’s is.  Both sexes have flat plastrons (the bottom half of the shell).  In some other turtle species, the female’s is flat, and the male’s is concave (so he can climb up on top of the female’s shell without rocking off).

As an aside: the Sacramento Zoo is the only zoo in the country that has a clutch of natural-born Pond Turtles. There’s a pond on the zoo property that local wild turtles went into and where they had their babies. At first, the zoo staff didn’t know that they were there, but then they saw crows snatching the babies out of the water, so the staff rushed in to rescue the little ones and now keep them as exhibit animals °and breeding stock.

When we were done with the reptile house visit, Kathryn walked me out to behind the amphitheater where their teaching animals are housed.  These included Cameron the Bateleur Eagle, Foster the Laughing Kookaburra, Charlie the Great Horned Owl, and sister Burrowing Owls, Sapphire and Ruby.

Cameron greeted us by lifting her hackles and bowing down on her perch. Rather than it being a threatening gesture, what she was actually doing was asking for someone to scratch her neck. Hah!  Charlie was being quiet in his enclosure, peeking out between some lengths of fire hose. He was a rescue and release owl who refused to fly off when he and his fellows were released in the wild. He just sat on the ground, preferring to be with humans than other owls.  Mike the keeper who looks after the educational animals, said that it’s the breeding season right now, so a lot of wild owls have been flying into the trees around Charlie’s enclosure eyeing him and hooting to him. Hah!

What I really wanted to see were the Burrowing Owls (Athene cunicularia), and Mike brought out one of them on the glove so I could get a close look at it. The zoo has several Burrowing Owls, but the educational ones are sisters, Ruby and Sapphire. Ruby was being anti-social this morning, so Mike brought out Sapphire. She was super mellow, and just sat on his hand, looking around while he talked about her.  (He said she has the worst mouth-breath, but I didn’t notice that. Hah!)  The owls, which are native to California, are losing their habitat all over the state, so they’re considered a vulnerable species and Species of Special Concern.

In most raptor species, the females are larger than the males, but this isn’t true of the Burrowing Owls. Males are larger and have a lighter color than the females.

It was so great to see all of the animals up so close. I got to touch most of them (except for the newt and the owl) and took photos of everyone. It was a fun tour; I’m so glad I was able to do it.