Tag Archives: ground squirrel

Lots of Exuvia Today

Damselfly exuvia on a tule frond. © Copyright 2016, Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
All of the “white stuff” you see on this tule is the exuvia of dozens of damselflies. © Copyright 2016, Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

I had planned on sleeping in a bit today, but woke up around 5:00 am anyway, so I got up about 5:30 and then headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  It was about 53° when I left the house and got up to about 77° by the late afternoon.  We had a breeze for most of the day so it was actually quite nice outdoors.

I put some gas in the car and then continued on toward Willows and the refuge. Whereas some days provide me with a lot Kingbird photos, or squirrel or jackrabbit photos, today I got a lot of Western Fence Lizard pictures.  Those guys were out everywhere.  I even came across a mating pair.  Lizard-porn.  Hah!

This rock looked like a rabbit to me.
This rock looked like a rabbit to me.

The other big attractions (for me anyway) was being able to photograph several  large dragonflies and finding LOTS of damselfly exuvia (the skin they shed when they emerge from the water and transform into winged damselflies).  I also found a few damselflies that had just shed their skin and didn’t have their wings entirely pumped up yet.  The exuvia looks so neat to me.  It’s the exact shape of the damselfly naiade, but is hollow and looks like a ghost or a reflection of the insect.  So cool!

Around that same area, I also came across a male Great-Tailed Grackle that actually followed my car for a while as he sang for the females.  He paused among the tules in a few locations and did some displaying and more singing.  He was really entertaining!  I got a few video snippets of him, and at one point he took a break from his songs to eat damselflies… A snack between concerts.

There were plenty of jackrabbits and cottontails, of course, but not so many of them posed for me today.  I also had to deal with a particularly shy Common Gallinule. It was way down in the tules along the bank and I was practically shooting at it “blind”.  Somehow the camera managed to get some photos in focus.  I was so pleased.  I was likewise hindered by the tules when I saw a joined pair of Green Darner Dragonflies land on the water.  I held the camera out the window, over my head, trying to get the camera’s eye over the top of the tules, and shot straight down at the water… and I somehow got the shot I wanted of the female dragonfly laying her eggs in the water.  Miracle.  I even got a shot of another male coming into the frame and the first male chasing it off – while still attached to the female. Woah!.

The Great Horned Owl owlets were out of their nest and sitting on an open branch of their tree.  Mom wasn’t with them the first time I passed them, but she was there when I went by again later.  The owlets are the same size as their mom now, just… “fluffier”.  You can tell by looking at the owlets which one is a little bit older than the other.  Great-Horned Owls usually lay their eggs several days apart… so there’s always a least one in the nest that’s older than the others. The mother hawk and her fledgling were in their own nest this morning, too.

I saw several mule deer, including a young male who was coming into his “velvet” (getting his new antlers; they were stubby but very visible on his head). I also came across a young Turkey Vulture who was sitting on the edge of an open gate holding his wings out to the sun to warm himself up.  He actually stayed there long enough for me to get a few close-up shots of him.

At other points along the auto tour, I’d stop and just listen to the sounds around me: Red-Winged Blackbirds and Meadowlarks singing, egrets croaking, grebes woo-woo-wooing, Night Herons doing their brisk “wok!” call… It’s a jungle out there, man.  I loved it.

CLICK HERE for a video of the Great-Tailed Grackle singing.

CLICK HERE for a video of a Marsh Wren singing.

On my way out of the refuge, I drove past one of the sloughs and could see something big and dark moving under the surface of the water, but I couldn’t tell what it was.  I parked the car and craned over the passenger side seat and out the window to see if I could get a better look at it.  Definitely some kind of large fish… but the shape wasn’t right to be a catfish…  I think it might have been a young Northern Pike!  If it was a pike, then anything else living in the water is in trouble; those guys are aggressive hunters.  It never came all the way to the surface, though, so I couldn’t really tell for certain.

There was also one spot, just before the exit, where I stopped to look into the drainage ditch – because you never know what you might find in there – and I spotted a Black-Crowned Night heron lurking in the shade.  Someone came up behind me in her car and flashed her lights for me to get out of her way.  Uh – I’m photographing here!  Grumbling, I drove up the road a little distance and pulled over for her to pass, and then backed up to the ditch again so I could get a few more shots of the heron.  They weren’t great, but at least I got them.

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Around 2:00 pm I headed back to Sacramento and got home around 3:30 pm.

A Day of Nature for Me and the Dog, Saturday 05-07-16

Male Ruddy Duck. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Male Ruddy Duck. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

I turned off my phone and computer today, and headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge for a “nature day” –  just me and the dog.  It was totally overcast and drizzling on and off all day, but I didn’t care.  I just needed to unplug with Sergeant Margie.

I got to the refuge around 7:30 am and because it was overcast and rather “dark” a lot of the critters were tricked into thinking it was a lot earlier than it really was, so I got to see the Black Crowned Night Herons flying off to their daytime roosts (but no good photos, sadly), and caught a raccoon heading off to its den. Because of the inclement weather there were no other guests at the refuge all the while I was there (or at least I didn’t see anyone else), so I felt like I had the whole place to myself.  I could drive down the auto tour route as slowly as I wanted to without be hurried or interfered with by other drivers.  That’s always soooo nice.

There were lots and lots of Jackrabbits and cottontails everywhere, and I got to see some mule deer, too.  Kingbirds also seemed to be all over the place today, and often landed in the tules or overgrowth alongside the auto tour route to “pose”.  Most of the time they just flit away when they see people but today they were very cooperative…  Some of my videoing and photo-taking throughout the day was impeded by rain and thick blinds of tules (the camera doesn’t know what to focus on, so I get a lot of blurring going on.)  I’m no “National Geographic” photographer or videographer to be sure, but I was pleased with what I got…

From the auto tour route, I could see a nest way off in the distance and I thought I could see birds in it, so I snapped some photos (even though I knew they’d be crappy) just to see if I could get a better look at the occupants.  As far as I could tell it was a hawk’s nest, and a fuzzy white fledgling hawk was looking out from one side of it, and the adult was looking out the other side.  Cool!  I also checked out the nest of the Great Horned Owl that I’d seen the last time I was at the refuge.  At first mama was absent but there were TWO huge fat owlets sitting in the nest.  When I went by the nest again later in the morning, Mom had come back later to sit with the babies… I have no idea how they all fit into that nest!

I saw a lot of Bitterns in flight, mostly in pairs, but didn’t get any good shots of them because they flushed so fast and flew so quickly.  In one spot, a flock of American White Pelicans was paddling through an area where the Bitterns were trying to feed, and rousted them out.  Feathers everywhere…

Later along the auto tour route I came across a “cooperative” of Canada Geese (a huge contingent of goslings overseen by several adult birds). They were on the road in front of me, and took off running.  The adults could’ve flown off the road into the water if they’d wants to, but they didn’t want to abandon the goslings, so they ran and ran and ran until the found a place where the goslings could safely to the water.  I worried about the babies running so hard for what seemed like “forever” (it was actually only a minute, but it seemed to take longer).  When they got to the water, all the adults regrouped and got all the kids together again…

Here’s a short video of the run.  Please excuse the blurred quality.  The geese were running slightly uphill in front of the car and the video was taken through the windshield.

When I drove by the permanent wetlands area, I got to see a lot of courtship displays among the different birds.  Some of the male Ruddy Ducks were in their full regalia – rust-red feathers and blue beaks – and were thrumming their beaks against their chests to make the water bubble and swirl around them.  (I got photos and a little video of that.) Here’s a video of the Ruddys.

I also got a little video of the Clark’s Grebes doing their courtship run across the top of the water, and the males offering eelgrass to the females for their floating nests. Here’s a video of a male Grebe presenting grass and here’s a video of the Grebes courtship run. Again, these aren’t high-quality but you’ll get the gist of things.

Then I saw some black s-shaped things in a tree nearby, and turned to focus on them.  They were male Great-Tailed Grackles doing displays for the females, elongating their necks and vocalizing (with a wide variety of sounds). They left the tree and flew into the tules to sing some more, then they flew down onto the ground and tried dancing around a female who was gathering grasses for her nest. Here’s a video snippet of a pair of males singing.  Turn the volume up as high as you can.  They were pretty far away, so they’re kind of hard to hear.

I felt kind of bad for some of the male birds.  Female birds can be so particular about who they choose as their mates, and the males try soooo hard to impress them – often to be rejected or simply ignored.  There was one male Gadwall who was head-bobbing to a female, and all she wanted to do was preen.  Hah!

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Oh, and here is a video snippet of some Snowy Egrets.  You get to see one them lift its long breeding plumage at another one who gets too close it.

I figured I saw over 35 species of plants and animals today.  It was a long leisurely drive with my dog and nature… just what I needed after a stressful week.

 

Vacation Day 7: Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve

Mule Deer. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Mule Deer. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

Vacation Day Seven. I got up around 7:00 this morning and headed over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for my walk.  It was lovely outside: in the 50’s, sunny and breezy.  There wasn’t a lot to see this trip, but the walk was really nice.  My favorite photo of the day was of a Starling perched outside of its nest hole. The picture was hard to get because the sunlight was right behind the tree where the Starling was (which made everything look black).  The dark bird in the intense shadow was hard to see, so I had to open up the iris of the camera to let more light in… which then washes out the bright background…  I got photos of a Red-Shouldered Hawk nest, and I could hear mama hawk screeching inside of it, but she never lifted her head up enough for me to get a picture of her.  There were a few mule deer around, but they were all napping in the grass, so I got photos of the top of their heads.  Hah!

I also got some good shots of coyote scat that I’ll use in my next “Cool Stuff on the American River” book.  Naturalists get excited about stuff like that. Hah-2!

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There are Still a Lot of Birds at the SNWR

American Avocet. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
American Avocet. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

Up at about 6:00 am and out the door by 6:30 with Sergeant Margie to go over to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  I got there right around 8:00 o’clock and had the whole place to myself for a couple of hours before anyone else showed up.  Like the Colusa preserve, some of the wetland areas in this larger preserve are also drained and dried out already, but they have a loop open that lets you drive around some of their permanent wetland area, so although you don’t get to see a ton of birds, you do get to see some… and a few of them are ones that I can’t see along the American River.

The drive started off with good views of Killdeer and some American Avocets (which I think are such pretty birds), Greater Yellowlegs and Red-Winged and Brewer’s Blackbirds.  There were  lots of jackrabbits along the auto-tour route along with some chubby little Cottontails (which look like babies next to the big jacks.)  And lots of ground squirrels.  I didn’t see any raccoons this time out, but I did see a few deer. Oh, and I saw some pond turtles and Western Fence Lizards.

There are still a lot of wildflowers in bloom – mostly Goldfields and Fiddleneck – and the Poison Hemlock is starting to rise along with the Milk Thistle and other weeds.

Marsh Wrens were everywhere in the tules, chattering away and tucking in the loose ends of their nest construction. Between them, the blackbirds, and the Meadowlarks, some spots were really NOISY!  There  were quite a few Ring-Necked Pheasants out and about adding their loud rusty-hinge croaks to the cacophony, and in some places the Double-Crested Cormorants were grunting like pigs.  I’ve gotten so I can tell some of the birds by their sound without seeing them… Speaking of the cormorants: a lot of the breeding adults have their “double-crests” showing now and it makes the birds look like they have really fluffy eyebrows (or very long eyelashes).  Hah!

There were, of course, American Coots all over the place and many White-Faced Ibises among the other ducks: Northern Shovelers, Cinnamon and Green-Winged Teals, a few Buffleheads and a solitary female Goldeneye, and some Ruddy Ducks.  I did see another American Bittern today… and heard another one doing its pumper-lunk call in the reeds… but I couldn’t see that one.  Toward the end of the drive, I came across some American White Pelicans.  But the stand-out sighting for the day (for me anyway) was getting to see a pair of Clark’s Grebes do part of their courtship ritual where they bob their heads at on another then get up and run across the top of the water in tandem.  I’d seen photos and video of that before, but had never witnessed it myself.  I only got a few seconds of it on video but it made my day. I’ll have to get back there in the next few weeks to see if I can see any more courtship behavior. There  were also some Western Grebes and Pied-Billed Grebes out on the water, too.  Most of them were too far away to get any really good shots of them, but it’s still always fun to see them.  It’s sometimes difficult for me to tell the Clark’s Grebes from the Western Grebes because they look almost identical.  The only real difference is that on the Clark’s Grebe the eyes are surrounded by white and on the Western Grebe the eyes are surrounded by black.

Here’s the Grebe videohttps://youtu.be/jpGUjuwigu0

Clark's Grebes versus Western Grebe. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Clark’s Grebes versus Western Grebe. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

Also saw some Great Egrets and Snow Egrets.  And as I was heading out the refuge, I came across a large hawk sitting on a stump – apparently just waiting there to have her picture taken. Hah! – and a Common Gallinule, an adult one sporting a red shield on the front of its face. The red of the shield was so intense that my camera freaked out over it, so all of the face-on shots took on a kind of “glowing” effect.  By that time, too, the sun had been up for a while and things were getting warm, so the camera had to fight through distortions caused by heat waves.  When conditions get like that, it’s time to go home…

I got back to the house around 2:30 pm, cooked up some chicken thighs and an ear of corn for supper, and collapsed with the dogs.

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Friday at the SNWP was Kind of a Bust

I got up around 6:00 this morning and headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Preserve in the hopes of being able to get some more baby Grebe photos there.

The drive there was pleasant enough, but I was thoroughly aggravated to find that the loop to the permanent wetlands area was closed…  and it’s the only portion of the preserve right now that has any large accumulation of water or birds in it.  There was nothing on their Facebook feed or on the entrance to the car tour itself that let you know that the loop was closed, so… it was a four-hour round trip for pretty much nothing… What was doubly aggravating is that the preserve had some of its big lawn mowers and tractors working around the driving tour area, kicking up clouds of dust — ((I had to close the windows and shut the vents on the car at one point to keep from getting covered with dirt.)) — and scaring off what wildlife there might have been to see along the way…  Surely, they could do that stuff in the evening or very early morning before visitors show up at the preserve.  Grrrrrr!  

I did get to see a few deer, jackrabbits, squirrels and a few other critters (most of them in areas that were hard for my camera to reach), but not nearly enough to make the 4-hour round trip drive really worthwhile.  Pissed me off…

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I guess a lot of people complained about the closure because the preserve posted later today on Facebook that they’re in the process of flooding the rest of wetlands area starting on October 1st… but until then, there will be nothing to see… (And no reason to drive out there)  I’m planning to take a couple of weeks off in late October, so maybe by then the drive will be worthwhile.