Tag Archives: herd

A Frosty Morning Walk, 02-06-19

Around 7:30 am I headed over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk.  It was a very chilly 31°when I got there, and there were some areas where everything was covered with a heavy frost.  I was glad my heavier coat was in the back seat of the car! There were only a few people on the trails as I was walking, including a small group of birders with binoculars and a spotting scope. I tried to avoid them as much as I could so I wouldn’t interfere with whatever it was they were trying to view.

Early along on my walk, I watched a pair of loudly honking Canada Geese fly over my head, circle around, and then land in two different trees along the trail. I’d never seen the geese perch in trees before, so I tried to get a closer look at them.  I think they were maybe an adult and a juvenile, and the juvenile had gotten tired of flying and couldn’t fly anymore.  He was on the tree closest to me; I could see that his face-patches, which are bright white on the adults, was sort of light gray (which is why I assumed he was a juvenile), and he seemed exhausted. Geese aren’t really made to perch in trees, and he was fumbling around a bit on the stump he’d chosen to land on.  The other goose was higher up in another tree across from him.  They honked at each other, back and forth, for several minutes. Then they took off in tandem and flew over to the river side where they landed once more on the rocky shore. I’m hoping these are resident geese that can go live on the lawns of the golf course and aren’t migrating anywhere. They younger goose couldn’t manage any kind of long-time flying…

CLICK HERE to see the album of photos.

I also watched a young Eastern Fox Squirrel running around on a cottonwood tree. At several points, the squirrel stopped, held onto the bark with its hind legs, and extended its front legs out in front of it away from the tree.  It looked like he was doing an augmented form of “planking”, using gravity to stretch his back out. I’d never seen that behavior before either, so that was two “firsts” for the day.

Further along the trail, I crossed paths with the birding group, and they pointed out a male Downy Woodpecker to me that I would have missed if they hadn’t shown it to me.  So, thanks for that.

Around the same area, I saw a Red-Tailed Hawk that was first sitting on the top of a tree and then joining the Turkey Vultures in their winding “kettle” flight up along the warm air drafts.  Below them, in another tree, was a Red-Shouldered Hawk.  At first I thought it was blind in one eye or missing eye. Closer inspection of the photos I took of it proved, though, that its right eye was just surrounded by gunk. So, it might have had an infection, but it still had its eye.

I saw a lot of deer again today, small herds of about 10 to 12 deer each in different parts of the preserve.  The adult males are still sporting their antlers, and I saw quite a few 3- and 4-pointers out there.  I also saw a young male that just had little nubbies where his first-year antlers had been’ one of the pedicles looks raw, so I assumed that he’d probably had his antlers knocked off very recently. He also had an oddly formed face, like his nose had been broken at one point or something. He had a visible underbite; his bottom jaw and teeth protruding beyond his upper row of teeth. A very distinctive-looking boy.

Even though it was chilly outside, I really enjoyed the fresh air and the movement. The only thing that was temporarily was aggravating was the fact that my camera stalled out and wouldn’t take multiple shots in a burst after about an hour or so.  That usually happens when the data card is too full to process anymore incoming information. So, I had to replace the original data card with a back-up one I had in my bag. My back up card was still in its packaging, though, so I had to struggle opening it up – with cold fingers, and the tiny knife on my keychain. Ugh!  Once I got the cards switched out, I was able to continue to take photos without interruption.

As I was going out of the park, there were truckloads of kids around the nature center, some of them screaming and running around. I heard two of their chaperones yell, “Leave the turkeys alone!!” and could hear the Wild Turkeys gobbling excitedly.  I went closer to where the turkeys were – intending to protect them from the children – just as the chaperones got their heinous charges under control and were walking away from where three gobblers were standing.  Once the kids were gone – out through the front of the preserve and across the road to an open field – the turkeys settled down and walked up to the doors of the learning center where they (once more) started strutting and posturing to their reflections in the glass doors.

After a few minutes, a small group of seniors came up and stood behind me to watch the birds. One of them said, “Oh, look. They’re looking for food.”  I explained that, no, they’re “in strut”, and then explained how the males posture, fan their tails, drop their wing feathers to the ground… what the snood on the face was… why their faces looked blue/white and their caruncles were bright red… A teaching moment. The seniors all got their phones out and started taking photos of the birds. All the while, the turkeys moved in and out of bright sunlight, making the feathers on their bodies gleam with copper, orange and green iridescence. They’re really quite beautiful.

All in all, I walked for about 3 hours before heading home.

Deer, Squirrels and Vultures on 10-27-18

I got around 6:30 am and headed over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve. It was a little foggy and about 49º at the preserve when I got there but went up to about 77º by the afternoon.

The first thing I saw when I got into the preserve was a large 3-pointer buck. He was moving through the meadow with the fog around his flanks and ankles. He was really too far away to get any super good photos of him, but I was still able to get a handful of fairly good images.

Then I came across a group of females, one fawn and a spike buck. Because the group was so close to one another, I was able to get a few two-fer shots which I always like. One female stepped forward to act as a barrier between me and the rest of the group. She eventually crossed the trail and hung out in the shallow pasture on that side. Among the deer there, I’m able to recognize a few individuals, especially one with a very long face. That one was a part of this group, so I was able to get photos of her. The deer seemed fine with me there (all dressed in black and not moving much) but were startled when a pair of other walkers came by (dressed in more brightly colored clothing and walking somewhat quickly).

The “shy mama” deer and her fawn were on the other side of the preserve. She doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to introduce her baby to the rest of the herd.

There were a LOT of Turkey Vultures out thus morning, including a couple of juveniles (with their steel-black beaks). At one spot I was able to see seven or eight of them all standing with their wings out in the “heraldic” pose. I think they’re such neat birds.

I also saw quite a few Northern Flickers out today, a Red-Shouldered Hawk hunting in the same field he was the last time I was out at the preserve, and a Cooper’s Hawk that only show me its back. I caught a glimpse of a coyote but was unable to get any photos of it.

I was able to get some video footage of an Eastern Fox Squirrel worrying the meat out of an old black walnut shell, and more footage of a California Ground Squirrel pealing and eating an acorn, and another Ground Squirrel working on the front of its burrow. I’m always fascinated by how well and quickly they can manipulate things with their front paws.

Showy Milkweed is all dying right now and going to seed. Only one or two Monarch caterpillars early in the year and nothing this fall. Much less than last year.

I walked for about 3 hours and then headed back home,

Cooper’s Hawk Catches a Woodpecker, 09-21-18

I headed over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for my walk. It was mostly the usual suspects out: deer, birds, lizards, squirrels… But I got to see a Cooper’s Hawk knock a young Acorn Woodpecker out of a tree, tackle it on the ground on the trail in front of me, and then fly off with it! I was able to find it a few seconds later in a tree overhead and got some photos. Those things move so fast when they’re on the wing, I hardly had time to get my camera up before the hawk grabbed its breakfast and flew off with it again. Amazing.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

I also saw a Gray Hairstreak Butterfly. They’re tiny things, but so cute… and this seemed like such an odd time of year for one to be out that I had to try to get a photo of it.

I walked for about 3 ½ hours and then headed back home.

Lots of Mother-and-Fawn Love at the Preserve, 08-26-18

Up at 6:00 am and over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve again by 6:30 am.  In the summer I usually mix it up: Effie Yeaw, the Cosumnes Preserve, the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, etc. But there’s no water at the Cosumnes Preserve or the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge this year, so I’ve been spending more time going to Effie Yeaw than I normally would…

At the preserve, it was sort of slow-going at first. I wasn’t seeing much of anything, so I focused on the oak trees and looked for galls.  I was able to find a gall I’d been seeking for years on a Blue Oak tree: the Plate Gall of the wasp Liodora pattersonae. It looks like a flat green scale with a dot in the middle. The problem was, all of the specimens were high above my head on the leaves, so it was hard to get a good close-up shot of them.  I also saw Pumpkin Glass, Red Cone Galls, Saucer Galls, Disk Galls, Spiny Turban Galls, and Oak Apple galls, among others.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

As I was heading out of the preserve, I came across a herd of deer made up mostly of does, a single fawn (still in its spots) and a young male in his velvet.  The fawn and its mother went through a mutual grooming routine that was so lovely, I got photo after photo of it. So gentle and graceful.  I could have watched them all day.  I also found another 2-pointer buck who was already out of his velvet and sporting his new shiny antlers.  All of the boys will be going into rut over the next few months.

One thing I’ve noticed since I’ve been going out to the preserve each week is that there seems to be some kind of regulation of the tadpoles in the small pond by the nature center going on. It looks like the preserve is either killing or relocating the bullfrog tadpoles as soon as they start to sprout legs.  Bullfrogs are an invasive species, yes, but half of the fun of stopping at the pond is to see and hear the frogs.  I don’t know if it’s some kind of latent “birth control” the center is doing, or if they’re trying to get more dragonflies and other water-borne insects into the pond (so are regulating the number of tadpoles there), but it’s sad not to see any fully fledged frogs…

I walked for about 3 ½ hours, and as I was heading home it was still 66º outside. Nice.

Wrens, Tree Swallows and… Pronghorns, 04-29-18

Things didn’t go quite as planned today, but it was okay.  Up around 6:00 am and off to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. I had intended to go out Highway 20 to search for wildflowers, but the season is almost passed around here, so I drove on to the refuge instead.  It was 49º when I headed out and about 66º on my way back. The sky was full of big sofa clouds and there was a slight breeze all day. Very pretty.

At the refuge, the large pond has been drained down to almost nothing, so there’s nothing to see, really, along that extra loop right now. It’s a disappointment. Without the water there are no dragonflies, no grebes nesting on their floating mats, no rafts of pelicans fishing… Just a big dirt hole with deer tracks running across it.  Still, the trip wasn’t a complete waste. When I started the auto-tour route, I was greeted with the sight of a male American Goldfinch in the tall grass, eating seeds. They’re much brighter than the Lesser Goldfinches I usually see around there. Very striking.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

I also got to see several of the male Marsh Wrens successfully luring females to their construction sites. The males build several different nests close to one another, and then let the female decide which one she likes best. Two of the males I saw had females working to line the nests with soft grass and feathers.  I also watched as another male worked frantically to build a nest, not out of cattail skins (like most of the other nests), but of green weeds and bits of wet stick.  He was really struggling. The green weeds were thin and leafy and wouldn’t bend or sit the way he wanted them to. When he brought the stick in, he tried it in several different spots and just couldn’t seem to get it into the right spot. I got some photos and video snippets of all of this.  I also came across one male Marsh Wren without a tail.  Usually the males “flag” with their tail and hold it upright when they sing. This guy had nothing to work with. I don’t know if the tail feathers had molted out and not regrown yet, or were pulled out by some other critter that tried to make the small bird its meal… I wonder if being tailless will impact on the little guy’s ability to find a mate.

Seriously. I wished I could stay there longer, and study it all more. Where’s my millions, Universe? I want to be able to retire and do naturalist stuff full time!

At another spot along the route, by the big viewing platform, I found a pair of nesting Tree Swallows. Mom and dad took turns patrolling the nest and going out to look for food. I couldn’t hear any babies, though, and the parents didn’t seem to be bringing whatever food they found back to the nest. Maybe mom is still building up enough protein to lay eggs; or maybe the chicks aren’t hatched yet – but far enough along so that mom doesn’t need to be sitting on the nest all of the time. More questions left unanswered because I can’t get out there long enough to do a definitive study. I need to look for research grant funding…

There were lots of ground squirrels out, and a couple of them posed for me.  And I came across several “wakes” of Turkey Vultures.  On group was perches on a gate with huge tufts of poison hemlock growing up all around them. That made for an unusually creepy yet lovely photograph.  Who knew vultures could look so pretty?

Here is the album of pix from today:  https://www.flickr.com/photos/mkhnaturalist/albums/72157695871401034

The big surprise of the day, though, was at the end of the day as I was heading home. Just off Road 68, where the I5 onramp is there was a herd of … wait for it… Pronghorns! I knew there were pronghorn in California, but I’d never seen one. This was a small herd and they were walking through a recently plowed agricultural field. It was such a surprise that it actually took my brain several seconds to understand what I was looking at. An amazing sight.

Deer, Deer and More Deer on My Rainy Birthday Walk, 01-22-18

Day 4 of my 4-day Birthday Weekend. Happy birthday to me!

I got up around 5:30 this morning to a dense overcast and drizzly rain. I waited until the sun came up a little bit more before heading over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk.

Because it was chilly (around 45º) and drizzling, I didn’t expect to see much or get many photos, but I needed the fresh air and little bit of exercise my walks afford me. I was kind of surprise, then, when I came across the deer – LOTS of them – out browsing in the grass despite the rain. The fawns weren’t too happy about it, but the other deer didn’t seem to mind.

CLICK HERE to see the full album of photos and video snippets.

One group was made up of does and young bucks, and some of them were standing stalk still in the grass, all looking in the same direction, and one of them was giving out a loud, snorting alarm.I couldn’t see which one was making the noise, but I think it was one of the old does. The snorting was very loud, and I tried to see what might have spooked her. Before I get a look, however, the lead doe turned and bolted through the forest and the others scrambled after her…

Later on the trail, I came to spot that smelled strongly of cat urine, and I found some scratch marks in the mud (along with the smell) that I think might have been made by a Bobcat. Maybe that’s what frightened the deer…

At another spot, I came across a mama deer grooming her fawn. The fawn refused to take its eyes off of me – I think it was confused (or mesmerized) by my umbrella – even as its mom licked its head and throat, cleaning its fur and lapping up the rain water from it.

Then, as I was on my way out of the preserve, I saw a large group of does and bucks run straight up the steep incline from the front of the preserve to the residential houses at the top of the hill. That hill is probably at a 80º angle from the forest floor. I don’t know how the deer managed the climb, but they did it nimbly and quickly.

The only other critters I saw were several California Scrub Jays, a Red-Shouldered Hawk, and a bachelor flock of Wild Turkeys. I’d seen a flock of females outside of the preserve on the residential streets, but all the boys seemed to be inside the preserve. One was trying to get others to challenge it, but no one was in the mood to fight. Several of the boys stood and posed for me, so I got quite a few photos of them.

It was a wet walk, but a nice one.