Tag Archives: hawk

The Butterfly was a Surprise, 10-09-18

DAY 4 OF MY VACATION.  I got up around 6:30 this morning and headed over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve again for my walk. It was 53º when I got to the river, and the temperature got up to 84º by the late afternoon.

There were a lot of deer near the front gate area, on the hillside beside the nature center: a doe with a fawn, a few more does, and a pair of young bucks. The buck pestered the doe with the fawn, but she was having none of it. The boys sparred a little, too. Further on along the trail I found the bog bucks, sitting in their favorite grassy spot, and came along another female with a single fawn on the Meadow Trail.

At another part of the trail, I could hear a Wild Turkey giving off an alarm call. The turkeys do that frequently, but usually get over whatever is startling them and stop making noise within a few seconds. This turkey’s call was persistent. After a few minutes, when it didn’t stop, I hurried over to where the sound was coming from to see if I could tell what the bird’s issue was.  I found the turkey that was hollering and took some video of it.

CLICK HERE to see the full album of photos.

Then I looked around – and found what the turkey was upset about. On the opposite side of the trail from the bird was a large (and gorgeous) coyote. It came out from behind a tall pile of twigs and branches, walked past me and down the trail. I bet that coyote had been stalking the turkey from a distance, and the turkey could see it and was warning other turkeys of the coyote’s presence. This was near the same area where, on two occasions, I’d found evidence of turkeys being taken down and eaten by coyotes.

A little further down that part of the trail, I found a wake of Turkey Vultures sitting in a dead tree. There was also one vulture that was off by itself in another tree, half-raising its wings to warm its joints in the early morning sunlight.

Once again, I came across a lot of the squirrels, most of them eating or stashing nuts and acorns for later. One California Ground Squirrel let me get pretty close to its burrow where it was stuffing its cheek pouches with acorns it found on the ground and burying them near the entrance to its burrow. I got both photos and a little video snippet of that guy.

One really odd thing I saw today was a butterfly. It’s late in the season for any of those guys, but beyond that, this butterfly looked something like a Painted Lady, but it was missing the spots on the hind wings – and there was a thin line of blue iridescence at the point where the hind wings met. I looked up all of the butterflies in the Vanessa genus, including the Admirals, and I can’t find one with the markings on the butterfly I saw today. So, I’m not sure the species identification.

I walked for about 3 hours and then headed home.

Lots of Surprises at the Refuge Today, 05-23-18

I went out looking for field trip sites for the naturalist class.  I timed the trip(s) from Woodland, not the house in Sacramento, and to Anderson Marsh it takes a little over 90 minutes.  To Clear Lake State Park it’s another 30-45 minutes. (I just went past the main gate and didn’t go in.)  – and then finding somewhere to park and finding the trail heads might take up another 30 minutes.  That’s just too much time in the car and not enough time walking.  If we had a campout there it might be doable, but otherwise, no.

Anderson Marsh might be an option, but still, it might be easier on folks if we did an overnight in Williams and tackled the marsh from there. (It’s up Highway 20, to Highway 53.) I want to make that run one more time to see if it’s really feasible.  The crappy thing is: I wanted to go out onto the trails at the marsh, but although they let dogs in the parking lot, they don’t allow them on the trails. I wasn’t leaving Sergeant Margie alone while I did some walking.  I should have checked that before I brought him with me.

So, I felt like the first part of my morning was kind of a bust. There are caves and a geothermal plant up there, too, but I didn’t go to check them out. Instead, I turned the car around and headed back to Williams.

Since, I was already in the area, I went over to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge and made a quick run through the auto-tour there. I was MUCH more successful there than I was in Lake County. The drive seemed full of surprises.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

At one point along the auto tour route, I saw a pair of Killdeer along the side of the road.  Mama started doing her “broken wing” act, so I knew there must have been a nest near the road somewhere. (Killdeer like to nest in gravel, and their eggs look like little speckled rocks.) The surprise was, though, when I saw a tiny, fuzzy Killdeer baby running across the road! They’re so small, it’s hard to see them unless they’re moving. It crouched down in the gravel in the middle of the road, and I was soooo worried that I might accidentally run it over, so I very slowly pulled the car off to the side of the road (still worrying that a nest might be there.)  The baby ran around and stomped its tiny feet on the ground, peeping for mom.  Mama finally showed up, peeping loudly, and had the baby follow her back to the nest (behind my car and down the road a little way.)

Surprise #2 was seeing eagle at the preserve. They’re usually gone by March, so seeing them in May was completely unexpected. I saw an adult and what I thought was a juvenile Bald Eagle picking at a Snow Goose carcass. The juvenile eagle flew across the now-empty large pond (on the extension loop) and landed in a tree right along the side of the road – so I was able to get some photos of him. As I looked over the photos, it struck me that this wasn’t a juvenile Bald Eagle at all; it was a young Golden Eagle. The giveaway was the feathering that went all the way down its legs to its feet.  Cool!  I’d never seen a Golden Eagle out there before.

Surprise #3 was a muskrat. I saw something moving in the water in a slough along the side of the road, and it was at a distance, so I wasn’t sure what I was seeing. I videod it before it disappeared under the surface of the water. At first, I thought it had been a Pied-Billed Grebe floating low through the water, but when I took a closer look at the footage, I found it was a muskrat, swimming with its nose above the surface.  I think I also located where the entrance to its push-up was, so I’ll check that out the next time I’m there.

Surprise #4 was seeing a gorgeous Valley Garter Snake sitting the shore next to the water, warming itself in the sun. Usually, the snakes zip away and all I get is a photo of their side or the end of their tail as they disappear into the water or the brush. This snake sat still, and I was able to get a lot of pictures of it, even its face.

Surprise #5 was seeing a fawn that looked like it was “right out of the box”, maybe only a day or two old. It was very small – but bounding, jumping and curious – and still had its newborn blue eyes.  It was following after its mom who was walking through a stand of cocklebur. The baby was so little, he’d disappear under the big leaves of the cocklebur, then appear again a few feet away.

Surprise #6 was a California Ground Squirrel that ran out near the side of the road with a huge Milk Thistle flower-head in its mouth. I stopped the car and watched as the squirrel held onto the head, ripped through the back it, to avoid the spines on it, and pulled out all of the seeds.  It struck me as funny: it looked like a bridesmaid who had caught the bouquet and then ATE it. Hah!

I saw several American Bitterns flying overhead but none on the ground, a hawk flying off with its kill (with a Crow chasing it), a fledgling Northern Harrier sitting on the ground with whatever it had been able to catch, and Marsh Wrens singing (and one building a new nest). I also caught a glimpse of Orioles and got some good shots of a Blue-Winged Teal, among other critters.  It was a nice way to end the day.

Lots of Wrens and Squirrels, 03-24-18

Around 6:30 am I headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge with the dog. They’ve opened the loop to the permanent wetlands area, so I wanted to see what that looked like these days – and I needed a nature fix. The mountains around us, which aren’t too terribly tall, had snow on their summits, and a light dusting of snow all down their flanks (which had pretty much melted by the end of the day today). It was 44º when I got to the refuge and around 51º when I headed back home. Clear and bright, though. I got some nice scenery shots while I was out there.

I saw most of the usual suspects while I was out on the preserve; and for the most part I had the place all to myself. I only saw two or three other cars on the auto route when I was driving it (although, a phalanx of cars showed up just as I was leaving. I assumed it was a birding group who were there to see the fly-out at dusk.)

CLICK HERE for the album of photos and videos.

Jackrabbits and Cottontails were out, and I also got a glimpse of a Striped Skunk and a small herd of mule deer. Otherwise, it was mostly birds. The huge-huge flocks are gone now, but there’s more variety in the different kinds of species you can see out there (if you know where and how to look for them.)

I saw American Coots, American Wigeons, Killdeer, Red-Winged Blackbirds, several Great Egrets, Western Meadowlarks, some Northern Harriers, White-Faced Ibis, Great Blue Herons, Song Sparrows, Green-Winged Teals, Northern Shovelers, White-Crowned Sparrows, a couple of Red-Tailed Hawks, lots of Double-Crested Cormorants, Pied-Billed Grebes, Ruddy Ducks, Ring-Necked Ducks, Cinnamon Teals, Golden-Crowned Sparrows, a Belted Kingfisher, Audubon’s Warblers, Black-Necked Stilts, Tree Swallows, Long-Billed Dowitchers, Snowy Egrets, Gadwalls, a Red-Shouldered Hawk, some Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Goldfinches, House Sparrows, an Anna’s Hummingbird, and several Crows. And, of course, this time of year the Marsh Wrens are out everywhere building their nests and singing their buzzy songs trying to attract females. I got lots of photos of them.

At one spot along the route, I came across an area where there were several Ibis and Snow Egrets gathered, and a Great Egret standing nearby. One of the Ibis caught a crayfish in the water, but as soon as it lifted it up, about three of the Snowy Egrets went after it, making the Ibis drop its meal. One of the Snowys picked it up and tried to fly off with it, but then the great Egret flew over and body-slammed the Snowy making it drop the crayfish, too. The Great Egret then had to search through the turbid water to find the crayfish again so he could eat it himself.

I saw only one of the Ibis starting to get its white breeding face, and the Snowy Egrets I saw aren’t showing any signs of their breeding plumage yet. But some of the Great Egrets are… and their faces are turning neon green: a signal to other Great Egrets that they’re ready and available for mating.

I also got quite a few photos of California Ground Squirrels. I’m just enamored with those little guys. If I had the time and funding, I’d love to be able to a long-tern field study on them. This is the time of year when the females have all set up their natal chambers in their burrows and are lookin’ for love. I saw one pair of the squirrels though in which the female was not at all interested in the male who kept harassing her. Maybe she already had babies in her burrow she needed to take of, or she just wasn’t that into him, but their antics were hysterical to watch. I got a little bit of it on video and in photos, but they just don’t do the comedy justice. The male first approached the female from the front, sniffing at her, reaching out to her with a paw, touching his nose to hers. But when he tried to move in further to get a whiff of her goodies, she jumped straight up into the air about a foot and ran off. The male chased her, and the two of them went running down the road in front of my car, tails up, the male body-slamming the female occasionally to try to get her to slow down or stop for him. More jumping. More running. Then they took a break for about a second before the male tried to approach the female again and… More jumping. More running. Hah! It was exhausting to watch them. I don’t know if he ever got her or not, but it was valiant effort.

The permanent wetlands loop was kind of disappointing. They’re redone the dirt road there and cut down all of the tall grass and most of the roadside vegetation. That makes viewing easier, but because there aren’t any places now near the road with high vegetation, there’s no place for the critters to hide or eat or build nests. So there was “nothing” to see. The refuge is also going to drain the big pond there, which means for a brief period of time, as the waters shrink and the water-living bugs and crustaceans are forced into a smaller and smaller living space, the birds will have a feast. When that happens there will be a lot of activity and photo ops. But the draining of that pond also means that the Clark’s and Western Grebes won’t be able to build their floating nests on the water – which is usually a big draw for photographers. So, this might be a disappointing year for photographers at the refuge.

((The draining of the pond is done about every years to get rid of the invasive carp who get into the basin when the area floods and then get trapped there when the flood waters recede. The refuge also has to till the pond bottom to expose it to the sun, so that all of the bacteria and viruses in the accumulated bird droppings can get irradiated.))

I was at the refuge for about 5 hours and then headed back home.

Birding at the Cosumnes Preserve, 02-01-18

I was invited to go for a birding walk at the Cosumnes River Preserve this morning, so I went to that before getting on with my normal work stuff.

On my way to the preserve, I thought I saw a dead Bald Eagle along the side of the highway. I was going by at 70 mph, though, so I only caught a glimpse of it, but I thought I definitely saw a bird with a black body and a white head… I would’ve stopped to double-check it, but there was too much traffic. Even if I HAD stopped for it, if it WAS a Bald Eagle, I think I’d have to turn the carcass over to the Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. I have a “salvage” permit (so I can pick up road kill if I want to), but eagles have a lot of extra laws protecting them – even when they’re dead. I think only Native American can keep the feathers and the bones…

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

When I got to the preserve, I took the long way to the first parking lot by going around Bruceville and Desmond Roads where the rice fields and the wetland meet. There were quite a few raptors out, but I only got photos of a couple of them: a Red-Tailed Hawk and some American Kestrels. There was also a Northern Harrier sitting along the side of one of the rice fields – but I only got a blurry photo of it because it was so far away. And there was a Red-Shouldered Hawk, too, but it flew off before I could stop the car and get a photo.

At the preserve, I just walked the boardwalk trail and around the ponds but I still was able to see quite a few species including: a Loggerhead Shrike, Red-Winged Blackbirds, White-Crowned Sparrows, Golden-Crowned Sparrows, a few Greater Yellowlegs, a couple of American Wigeons, Northern Pintails, and lots and lots of American Coots including a dead one.

The dead bird was lying in a mass of its own feathers right beside the trail – and next to an otter slide. Whatever had killed the bird had grabbed it by the neck and just started to rip the feathers away before it took off and left the bird behind. Otters don’t eat birds, so I thought maybe it had been attacked by a fox or weasel or something like that – or maybe someone’s small dog. It wasn’t “shredded” as though it had been attacked by a larger animal like a coyote; they’re not “delicate” with their prey. And I don’t think a hawk or eagle got the Coot because they don’t grab prey by the neck; they go for a body slam and hold, and then rip out the soft spots first – not the feathers around the next. It was weird. I wish I had more “forensic” skills.

I also saw some Cinnamon Teals, lots of Green-Winged Teals, and one Blue-Winged Teal, Northern Shovelers, Gadwalls, several Killdeer, a Wilson’s Snipe hiding in the tules, some American Pipits, lots of Brewer’s Blackbirds, several Black Phoebes, and two different kinds of Warblers: some Myrtle Warblers and an Audubon’s Warbler. They used to be lumped together and referred to as Yellow-Rumped Warblers, but since 2016 the Yellow-Rumped Warblers (affectionately referred to as “Butter Butts”) where broken out into four species based on their field markings (coloration) and breeding ranges. The Myrtles have a white throat, and the Audubon’s have a yellow throat. There are also Black-Fronted Warblers found in Mexico, and Goldman’s Warblers that only live in Guatemala.

The sightings continued this morning with lots of Snow Geese, some Sandhill Cranes, Long-Billed Dowitchers, Black-Necked Stilts, lots of tiny Dunlin, a Herring Gull, several Marsh Wrens singing amid the tules, and some Song Sparrows, Greater White-Fronted Geese, a Tree Swallow and Western Meadowlarks. I also saw two Great Egrets.

One was sitting up in a tree preening itself. It was in its long trailing breeding plumage, but didn’t have its neon-green face yet. The other wasn’t in breeding plumage, and was hunting along the side of the road. I saw it catch several crawdads. I ate two of them, but let the third one go because it was so large and aggressive. I guess the birds wasn’t hungry enough to bother with food that could fight back. Hah!

So that was, what… almost 40 species? A good birding day.

Bitterns and Otters Made My #OptOutside Day, 11-24-17

I got up with the dog around 5:30 am and we immediately headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  This is #OptOutside day; rather than doing Black Friday shopping, I’m spending the day outdoors. It was around 50º when we left the house and 61º when we got back home in the afternoon.

It was super-foggy on the way to the refuge, and the fog lingered to some extent for most of the day… which made photo-taking a challenge at times. There were a lot of the usual suspects at the Sacramento refuge: Killdeer, Golden-Crowned Sparrows, White-Crowned Sparrows, Turkey Vultures, House Sparrows, a Peregrine Falcon, Northern Shovelers, Greater White-Fronted Geese, Gadwalls, Northern Pintails, Mallards, Western Meadowlarks, Northern Harriers, Red-Winged Blackbirds, American Coots, Snow Geese, Ross’s Geese, Black Phoebes, Red-Tailed Hawks, Great Egrets… There were two standouts for the day though, and they were within a few feet of one another.

I stopped at a spot where two sloughs intersect, near the gate for the extended loop section of the auto tour route. I found an American Bittern in one of the sloughs, treading on the aquatic vegetation, looking for fish and crayfish. As I was photographing it and taking some videos, I could hear something gurgling in the water to my right. I looked over and could see the vegetation moving; something was underneath it. I focused the camera on that spot and saw a River Otter poke its head up to look around!  It ignored the Bittern – who in turn ignored the otter – and ducked back under the plants again.  A few seconds later, two otter heads popped up… and then three!

The otters all swam down the slough and climbed up onto the side of it. And then a fourth otter appeared! A whole family. They posed on the bank for a little while, and then disappeared into another section of wetland.  I looked back behind me, and the Bittern was still there, fishing away. It was completely oblivious to the otters. Hah!  I saw another Bittern further along the auto-tour route, in among the tules, but didn’t see the otters again.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos and video snippets.

I finished the route early (around 10 o’clock), so I decided to go over to the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge to check things out there. That refuge is much smaller than the Sacramento one, and usually not as interesting, but there are some birds that I see there that I don’t see at the Sacramento refuge (like Wigeons and Gallinules). The Colusa refuge isn’t full of water yet, and there weren’t many birds at the viewing platform there, so it wasn’t as “fun” a diversion as the Sacramento refuge was. I was through the Colusa refuge within about 90 minutes, and headed straight home from there.

Juvenile Hawk in the Backyard

You never know what nature is going to show you…

When I went into the garage to move the clothes from the washer to the dryer, I noticed a large bird in the backyard.  I got my camera and tried to get some pictures of it. They weren’t very good because I was shooting through the glass of the kitchen window, but I could tell that it was a large juvenile Red-Shouldered Hawk. It had killed a rat and was trying to figure out how to get a good hold of it so it could fly off with it.  When I took the camera outside to try to get a better shot, the hawk flew up onto the fence with the rat in tow, and then took off.  It’s really unusual to see a hawk of that size in our neighborhood – but there must be enough food, i.e. rats, around for it to eat or it wouldn’t be here. It was a cool treat to be able to see it.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.