Tag Archives: hawks

Things are Getting Interesting at the Wildlife Refuge, 10-28-17

At the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, the wetlands areas aren’t completely flooded yet, so it’s not as full of birds as it could be… but there were a lot of the early-arrival species like the White-Fronted Geese, Snow Geese, Ross’s Geese, Northern Pintails, Northern Shovelers, and Gadwalls. I also saw a few different species of sparrow including Song Sparrows, White-Crowned Sparrows, and Savannah Sparrows, a Dark-Eyed Junco, and a Nutthall’s Woodpecker. Among the other birds I saw – like the Wilson’s Snipes, Killdeer, Black-Necked Stilts, and American Pipits — a nice surprise was spotting the local Peregrine Falcon who was sitting up in “the eagle-tree”. He was obscured by branches and twigs, but I got a few fair photos of him.

Later on, I came across a trio of mule deer browsing in the tall grass and weeds.  One was a male, a two-pointer, and I couldn’t see any details but could tell there was a big lump – like a knot made out of hide — on the side of his head near one of his eyes. It looked like the eye was missing, but I’m not sure; it could have just been that the knot was casting a shadow over the eye socket. It didn’t seem to inhibit the buck or interfere with his ability to move around…

The big surprise of the day, though, was when I saw a skunk moving along the tules and weeds on the edge of one of the wetland ponds, and stopped to take some photos and video of it. As I watched it, I could hear it nattering angrily at something and thought maybe there was another skunk or a snake or something near it in the weeds…  When a raccoon climbed out over the vegetation and moved gingerly past the skunk I had to laugh.  I wasn’t expecting that at all!  You can see the video here: https://youtu.be/yrja6wSMtxA.

I saw another raccoon further along the auto tour route near the large viewing platform.  I heard first as it went scuffing through the fallen dried leaves under the platform, and then saw it as it was walking away along the edge of the slough near the base of the platform.

Here is an album of pix: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mkhnaturalist/albums/72157665598291929

I was at the refuge for about 3 ½  hours and then turned around and headed back home.

Lots of Hawks, Ducks, Geese and an Eagle!

Up at 6:30 again this morning, and I was out the door heading for the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge before 7:00.  It was 38° when I left the house, and was bright, sunny, and chilly all day.  Never got over 54°.  I love this kind of weather!  I had originally planned to go Lake Solano Park today, but something inside me insisted I go the SNWR instead… and I’m glad I did.  Got to see my first Bald Eagle of the season!

CLICK HERE to see the photo album.

The drive to the refuge was unremarkable; I had to stop and put gas in the car, and got some Jack breakfast stuff to eat, then was off again.  It was so clear out, you could see a lot of the foothills and smaller mountains around the valley.  Snow Mountain actually had snow on it… and I could see Mount Lassen in the distance, snow-covered, too… On the way, I counted 15 hawks along the highway…

I got to the refuge around 9:00 am, and juts as I drove into the first lot where the payment kiosk is, I saw a Great Egret fishing in the slough. As I crept forward a little bit to try to get some photos of it, I realized there was a smaller Snowy Egret standing behind it.  A two-fer! That was a nice way to start the morning!  I saw several more egrets along the way.

You could see the silhouette of the Sutter Buttes along the eastern horizon with a layer of fog crawling along below them.  It was neat to see the flocks of geese fly in and land across that backdrop…

An odd happenstance: I came across a flock of American White Pelicans that decided to WALK across the auto-tour route rather than fly… until they spotted my car.  Then little by little they all took off.  Another stunner: I stopped under a big willow tree where I usually see Northern Harrier Hawks.  Today there were no hawks, but there WAS a huge Great Horned Owl sitting up there!  It was dozing, its eyes open just a slit, and it was so well camouflaged it was hard to see it among all the little twiglet branches, but I did get a few photos of it.  I had a similar encounter with a Red-Tailed Hawk that was so covered by branches and stems, I could barely see it…

At another point on the route, something stirred up the Snow Geese, and they filled the air, flying and squawking and carrying on for the longest time.  Most of them settled in the “back 40”, fields a little further away from the auto-tour route which made taking photos a little difficult.  But among the Snow Geese were juveniles (once called “Blue Geese”) and some odd dark-morph ones.

Lots of Jackrabbits here and there, most of them trying to hide out in the tall dead grass or thickets because there were hawks everywhere.  I also saw a little American Kestrel.  I came across a few California Ground Squirrels, and got some close-up shots of one of them.  I also saw a Striped Skunk but – dang it! – it ducked down into its burrow before I could a picture of it.  I have no luck with skunk photos…

Among the ducks were most of the usual suspects: Mallards, Northern Pintails, Northern Shovelers, Green-Winged Teals, Cinnamon Teals, and a few Buffleheads.  The Buffleheads were too far away to get any descent still shots of them, but I did get a little video of them diving and popping up in the water. Oh, and I also found some Ring-Necked Ducks (which actually have a ring around their bill); a small group of males and females.  Later, while I was taking some photos of a group of American Coots, two White-Faced Ibis flew in, so I got a little bit of video of them… I didn’t realize it until I got home a looked through my photos, but I got a fuzzy photo of a Blue-Winged Teal, too.  He was slumming with the Mallards.  Hah!

Among the smaller birds were Western Meadowlarks, Song Sparrows, Black Phoebes, and White-Crowned Sparrows.

I didn’t see the eagle until the very last part of the route, just before you head back to the nature center.  It was sitting in a eucalyptus tree above my head, and I had to do contortions out the driver’s side window to get pictures of her.  I assumed it was a “she” based on her size, and the “depth” of her beak.  (In males, the beak opens up to just in front of the eye; in the female it’s deeper, and opens up to the mid-eye, or even behind the eye.)  An older couple came up in a car behind me and at first seemed aggravated that I was stopped near the middle of the road, then they realized the eagle was up there, and I saw huge smiles cross their faces. The hubby leaned outside the driver’s side window of their car to get some photos, too.  That was a great way to end the run.

By the time I got to the front gate of the SNWR it was only about 11:30 am, so I decided to head over to the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge before heading home.  It’s on the way; just outside of the town of Williams.  At Colusa, I saw pretty much the same species of ducks and geese, except for some American Widgeons and the Black-Crowned Night Herons.  There  were also a lot of Great Blue Herons along the sloughs, and I was able to get some fairly good shot of them.

There were also lots of hawks, too, and at one point I stopped to watch a big Red-Tailed Hawk trying to manage a Coot it had been successful in catching. The Coot was too large to eat at all once, and too heavy to fly away with, so the hawk wasn’t sure what to do.  It ate as much as it could, then flew off into a nearby tree – where two other hawks and a Turkey Vulture were sitting, waiting for leftovers. After a few second, the first hawk flew back to its kill, and flew-dragged the Coot off onto a small knoll in the middle of a wet area.  There, the hawks kind of posed for me and I got some really good shots of it with its prey.  I got some video of it spreading its tail and raising its head-feathers to make itself look more formidable.  Such a handsome animal!

I left the Colusa refuge around 1:30 and then headed home.

And here are some video snippets:

Birds, Deer and Dragonflies at the Refuge, 08-27-16

I got up around 5:30 this morning and headed out with the dog to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. It was in the 50’s when we left the house, and got up to about 81° by the late afternoon; so it was a nice day.  I also had the whole refuge to myself; didn’t see another car or person all the while I was out there which was double-nice.

This is one of the last weekends the refuge will have its extension loop open, so I wanted to make sure to be able to see that.  It was nice to see that the refuge is already pumping water into the seasonal wetland areas (which is kind of unusual for August): the more water there is, the more birds there are to see.  Some of the ducks, especially Pintails, were moving in already.  I also saw a few Widgeons, Ruddy Ducks, and Northern Shovelers.

CLICK HERE for an album of photos from the day.

I saw three sets of mule deer.  One was a male with two females (which may have been his mom and sibling), another set was a mama with her two fawns (that were just growing out of their spots, and the third set was a mama and her yearling. What struck me about these deer was that their coats were a lot lighter than the coats of the deer near the American River. They were almost a bright straw color rather than tan…

There were all sorts of grebes out on the water: Pied-Billed Grebes, Clark’s Grebes and Western Grebes.  The little white fuzzy babies are now fledglings; still paler than their parents but getting big.  I got a video snippet of one parent feeding a fish to its baby, er, teenager…

CLICK HERE for a video of a scruffy-looking juvenile Pied-Billed Grebe.

 CLICK HERE for a video of a Clark’s Grebe feeding its baby a fish.

I saw a family of otters around the permanent wetland area, but they moved so fast, I couldn’t get any decent photos of them. Once I saw them running across the road, and at another spot, they poked their heads out of the water right down from my driver’s side door.  Each time, I pulled my camera up to get photos of them, they whisked away out of sight.  Rrrg! That’s nature photography for you.

Sergeant Margie and I lunched in the car halfway through the auto-tour route by the viewing platform: ham and cheese with crackers.  Then we went on…

At one point along the route, a mother raccoon and her four babies came waddling down the road right toward me.  I didn’t want to startle them, so I put the car in park and watched them through the windshield. Filming and photographing through the windshield sucks, but it was still fun to see them.

CLICK HERE for a video of the raccoons.

There were a lot of American White Pelicans around, flying, swimming, fishing, standing around – including some juveniles with pink bills.  It’s so fun to watch them when they’re fishing together; like synchronized swimming.

CLICK HERE for a video of the Pelicans.

There weren’t as many dragonflies out and about as during previous visits, but I still got photos pf Variegated Meadowhawks, Black Saddlebags, Blue-Eyed Darners, Green Darners, and some Pondhawks.

Juvenile Red-Shouldered Hawk. © 2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.
Juvenile Red-Shouldered Hawk. © 2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.

The best photo I got for the day was of a hawk.  It was one of the last photos of the day; the bird was just sitting in a tree on the side of the road, looking handsome.  It was a nice day.  The drive back to Sacramento was without incident and we made it home a little after 2:00 pm.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

Saturday at the Cosumnes Preserve

I got up around 6:30 this morning and eased into my day with some coffee and a light lunch before taking out the trash, getting loads of laundry going, and heading out to the Cosumnes River Preserve around 7:45 am.  It was about 36° outside and overcast.  The Preserve was hosting a couple of events today, so there was an unusual amount of traffic.  Along Desmond road there was the normal “birding” crowd, but added to that was a bunch of people looking for where they were supposed to meet for a kayaking excursion. 

Wilson's Snipe. © Copyright 2015 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Wilson’s Snipe. © Copyright 2015 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

Along the road, I came across a Wilson’s Snipe sitting in a shallow hollow very close to the pavement.  I’d never seen these birds come so close to the road before, and worried that it was sick or injured.  It moved around, though, and it’s eyes seemed bright.  Maybe it had hunkered down during the night to get warm, and then was afraid to move when it woke up to find cars cruising by it… I also saw several hawks, and Red-Winged Blackbirds, Meadowlarks, and all of the usual ducks and geese found around there.  After a short drive, I kept going toward the Preserve.

I couldn’t find any place to park near the nature center, so I went over to their boardwalk area and parked there.  In the ponds along the boardwalk were Coots and Pintails, Black Phoebes, Canada Geese and Northern Shovelers… and an usually large number of Green Teals.  I don’t remember seeing so many of those in one place there.  And there was also a little male Kestrel who posed for me on top of a tree.  My big find of the day, though, was a Sora (Porzana Carolina); it’s related to rails and coots.  I’d never seen or photographed one before so I was jazzed when this little fat bird walked out and around the tules right in front of me.  It moved so fast I only got a few still shots of it, but I also got a good video snippet, so I was happy with that.  When I first saw it, I saw it from behind, and with its white tail lifted up, I thought at first I was seeing a waterlogged cottontail bunny, and kept thinking to myself, “Why is there a rabbit out here in the water?”  Then I realized it was actually a bird.  Hah!

Here’s the video: https://youtu.be/-ezuw2eMMKU

At another point I was photographing the mistletoe growing on a willow tree, and saw some wispy reddish stuff that seemed to be growing out of the top of it.  It was high up in the tree, so at first I couldn’t get a very good look at it and didn’t know what it was.  When I changed my position a little bit I realized it was a squirrel’s tail.  D’oh!  Thought I’d found something really “alien” there for  second.  The squirrel was sitting up there just munching away on the mistletoe berries. I know mistletoe is toxic to humans, so I did some reading on it when I got back home.  According to the US Geological Survey website, mistletoe is high in protein and squirrels “are deliriously fond of the plant”.  Well, cool.  I learned something new.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On my way back to the car, I passed what must’ve been a lesbian birding group (all women holding hands; so cute).  They were trying to identify the ducks they saw and literally got every one of them wrong.  Apparently, their phone app wasn’t at all accurate.  I helped the with a couple of them, and showed them how to pick out certain features of some of them so they could remember them in the future.  They thanked me… and as I walked on an Asian couple stopped me and asked me if I knew what “those things are on the tree”?  They were pointing to the Oak Apple wasp galls.  So, I told them what the things were and how they were formed.  Someone in the lesbian group said, “You should be a docent here!”  I told her, I’d looked into that, but they always have their educational days on days when I work or have other stuff planned.  “Maybe when I retire…”

“Raptors by Boat” Tour

Around 10 o’clock I headed off to Lodi for the Sandhill Crane Festival “Raptors by Boat” excursion.  Because I’d never been there before I wasn’t sure how long the trip would really take or if I’d be able to find the place, so I gave myself a little less than 2 hours: 1 hour for the drive, 20 minutes to get lost, find the place and find a place to park, then another 20 minutes to find the check-in station and wait in line for the tour to start.  Well I didn’t get lost – which is a plus – and although parking was a bitch, I did manage to find a nearby side street to park on, so I had about 30 minutes to kill before standing in line.  The “festival” was really a much smaller event than I was anticipating.  It consisted of the tours and classes at the Lodi town hall center, and a small room full of vendors.  There was only one sign outside of the building announcing that the festival was taking place there.

As I was walking up to the front door of the hall lobby, I saw a lot of Western Bluebirds in the trees, along with some Dark Eyed Juncos.  Inside the doors was a big checklist of the birds and critters people could see on the tour, so I checked off the two bird species I saw before I even got in the door.  The vendors were mostly from surrounding conservation groups and local artists (some of whom did spectacular work).  I wanted to buy some things, but didn’t have the funds for them this weekend. (I get paid next weekend. Sigh.)  The rooms being used for the festival were directly adjacent to an art gallery, too, so I peeked in there.

When it came time for everyone to line up and check in for the tour, we were all handed a map and told we were going to drive out to the boat at the Pardee Reservoir ourselves—there was no van or bus to take us.  I knew it was going to take at 2 hours for the round trip and about 3 hours for the boat tour – which meant we wouldn’t get back to Lodi until after dark.  There was no way I was going to drive out to the middle of nowhere and then try to find my way back in the dark, so I told the group leader I was going to need a ride.  A 30-ish couple, Ramona and her hubby Rick, said they would drive me.  ((If they hadn’t offered, I wouldn’t have gone on the trip.  I don’t like driving out to the middle of nowhere by myself, when I’m not sure where I’m going.  And I hate driving in the dark.  The festival needs to TELL people things like this in advance, or charge an extra $20 a head to pay for van rentals.)) 

The drive took us up into the foothills well outside of Lodi, through some little “hick towns” and past the giant Cherokee Reservoir to the smaller Pardee Reservoir (which is still pretty big).  Ramona and Rick were quiet but good natured people, so the drive was nice.  They both has a gentle quirky sense of humor, and got excited about things like the retro 1950’s-looking McDonald’s in town and the cows in the pastures along the road.  They called the calves “cow kittens”  Hah!

To thank them for being my chauffeur, I told them that I would pay to fill up their gas tank for their trip back home if they’d let me; they were very grateful for that.  Ramona was excellent at following the directions to the reservoir so we got there in the middle of the pack of cars. ((You’d think, too, that the festival people would supply 2 vans for transport, rather than causing a huge waste of gasoline and impacting the environment with the trammeling and exhaust of the 10 cars they made drive out to the reservoir.))  On our way we saw a dead deer on the side of the road with a big Turkey Vulture sitting on top of it.  It went by too fast for me to get a photo (and on the way back, it was dark, so we missed that opportunity.)

Anyway, at the Pardee Reservoir – which is closed to the public during this time of the year – we waited at the gate for the tour leader, a ranger named Charles, a handsome 30-ish bald man with a sweet disposition.  He even brought homemade cookies for us to snack on.  He opened up the gates for us, and then escorted us down to where the boat launch was.  The water level in the reservoir was unusually low (only at 60% of capacity instead of its normal 90%) because all of the cold water from the bottom of the reservoir had been drained off into the Cherokee Reservoir to attract spawning trout and salmon.  So, we had to walk down the bank a distance and climb onto the boat – a 2 pontoon houseboat piloted by another young handsome man named Matt.

As I said, I’d never been to this place before, and I was immediately struck by the eerie beauty of all of the exposed rock formations.  The reservoir was dug out of hillsides that are predominantly slate and the sheet of slate were stacked up at all angles along the shore like decks of cards.  In some areas, stands of the shale were bleached white and looked like alien dinosaur bones.  The place would be great for fossil-hunting expeditions, I’m sure.

Copyright © 2015, Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2015, Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.

The first and last parts of the boating tour were pretty much BOR-ING, but the middle part of it was awesome and made up for that.  Matt drove the boat into a large alcove (where he almost grounded us on a sand shoal) and there we saw some hawks, Common Mergansers, Grebes, Canada Geese, Golden Eagles and Bald Eagles, deer, river otters, and other small shorebirds.  The Bald Eagles were all first through third year birds, so they didn’t have their white heads yet.  (They get the white head when they’re about 4 years old.)  They flew back and forth over the boat, landing on trees or rocks on the shoreline and posed for us.  It was funny to be on a boat during this because people would all rush to one side to photograph the birds from there – and the boat would tip that way – and then the people would all run to the other side of the boat to see something else – and the boat would tip to that way.  Lots of “rocking the boat” on this trip which made photo-taking a little difficult at times.  No one got seasick, though; I think that was because the boat was so open and the shoreline was always in site… I tried to stay in a center area as much as I could, and shot photos through and around people; although I DID venture to the railing on occasion, especially when someone spotted the otters.

Copyright © 2015, Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2015, Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.


What was funny, too… Remember how I’ve been telling you in earlier posts that I’m having trouble getting photos of Belted Kingfishers?  Well, EVERYONE of this boating trip said they were having the same problem.  The birds seldom sit still long enough for you to get any shots of them.  As we were going along the shore of the reservoir, we spotted about 6 Belted Kingfishers, and as soon as we focused or cameras on them, they took off.  It became kind of a game.  Everyone laughed about it.

Even though we didn’t do any real walking or hiking, the drive and all of the fresh air had us all yawning on the way back to the boat launch area.  There was a Loon in the water there, but like the Kingfisher, he wasn’t cooperating for photos and would dive down every time someone tried to snap his picture.  We all disembarked on the shore, and thanked Charles and Matt, and then everyone headed home.  Ramona and Rick drove me back to the festival hall in Lodi and stayed for a little bit to see if any of the vendors were still around.  I walked to my car and headed home – in the dark.  I got lost a couple of times, but realized my missteps right after I made them, so I was able to get back on track.  I got home around 7:00 pm.  Phew!  A long day… but I really enjoyed seeing the eagles.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.