Tag Archives: House Wrens

Lots of Cavity Nesting Birds, 05-19-18

I got up around 6:00 am and was out the door by 6:30 to go over to the American River Bend Park. I was sure the Great Horned Owl owlets were fully fledged by now and off hunting, so I didn’t expect to see them. I wanted to go out there, though, to see if the Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillars were mature enough yet to start making their chrysalises. It’s apparently still too early for that around here, but I still got to see a lot birds and bugs and other things.

A lot of the usual suspects were out – Wild Turkeys, Starlings, Tree Swallows, Mourning Doves, House Wrens – and I was able to get photos of some of the cavity nesting birds in and around their nests. One pair of wrens was just starting to work on their nest, bringing sticks and soft stuff to line it with; another pair of wrens had babies and were flying food to them every few minutes. Standing nest tot heir tree, I was able to hear the bay birds inside cheeping away. I need to get a camera with a stretchy arm that can reach up and look down into the cavities…

The neat find of the day – even though I didn’t get many good photos because of the lighting and where the birds were – was a Western Bluebird nesting cavity. Both the male and female were feeding their nestlings (which, like the wren babies, I could hear from inside of the tree). Western Bluebirds are shy, though, and move really quickly, especially if they think you’re looking at them. (As brightly colored as the males are, it always surprises me how easily they can disappear into the shadows.) Still, I managed to get some photos of both the mom and the dad and they flew back and forth and brought bugs for their babies. At one point, the papa Bluebird figured I was getting too close to the nesting cavity, and he flew right at me, beak open. I got a few shaky photos of that before I backed off from the tree. I’m there to observe, not interfere…

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

I also found a male hummingbird high up in a tree, and tried to get photos of him, but I couldn’t tell if he was an Anna’s or a Black-Chinned.

I saw some Scarab Hunter Wasps hovering close to the ground, looking for grubs to infest, and some other wasp-like insects that I haven’t been able to identify yet. There are sooooooo many insects with superfamilies, families, and tribes to go through before you ever get down to the genus and species level… They’re really difficult for me to identify properly. I really admire entomologists and their bug and insect proficiency.

One of the odd-ball insects I found was a small wasp-like thing with an iridescent blue thorax, red-orange abdomen, and somewhat clear wings. I was thinking maybe it was a kind of “Digger Wasp”, but I couldn’t find one on Bugguide.net with the right color legs. Maybe a “sawfly”?  I also found a golden fly-like thing with red eyes and an iridescent green thing I think is some kind of cuckoo wasp. I’m not sure. I’ll have to continue the search for the IDs.

I also came across quite a few Tussock Moth caterpillar cocoons. Most of them were already spent (with an opening at one end through which the mature moth emerged), but one was completely intact and had a layer of hard white “fluff” over the top of it. I’d never seen one like that, so I took photos and then did some more research when I got home.

I knew that the female moths (which are wingless) laid their eggs on their old cocoons and then covered the eggs with a layer of hair and foamy secretions from their bodies (which hardens to protect the eggs as they overwinter), and that could have been the case with the cocoon I found, but it seemed at first glance that the pupal casing was still inside the cocoon, which meant the moth hadn’t emerged yet.  A puzzle.

My research indicated that sometimes parasitic wasps will lay their eggs on top of the cocoons and as the larvae emerge they build a tight white webbing around them to protect themselves while they feast on the moth pupa inside the cocoon. I wasn’t sure which scenario I was looking at, so, I opened up the cocoon to see if there was anything inside of it.  Although the cocoon itself was intact (no emergence hole in the end of it), the pupal casing inside of it was empty.  I’m still not absolutely positive about what I was seeing, but I’m assuming the white fluff was made by a wasp, not by the female moth, and the pupa was devoured before the moth had a chance to develop. Nature is so fascinating.

The buckeye trees are all in bloom right now; so pretty. And some of the black walnut trees are already sporting new walnuts. I was surprised to see that many of the Hop Trees around had already lost most of their seeds. Lots of hungry birds out there, I guess.  Along the river, I found a lot of Elegant Clarkia in bloom as well as Bush Monkey Flowers. I would have gone further along that part of the trail but by that time I had already been on m feet for over three hours, and I needed to get back to the car.

All in all, I ended up walking for about 4 hours.

Photo Tour #1 with the Naturalist Class Graduates

I got up around 6:00 am and was out the door a little after 7:00 to go to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve.  I’m leading a photography walk with some of my naturalist class graduates today. From the Nona Way house, it takes about 45 minutes to get there. From the Hollygrove house today, it still took 45 minutes because Friday morning traffic on Watt was horrible.  It took me 10 minutes just to get through one intersection. Yikes!

The weather was beyond gorgeous today: sunny, breezy and in the low 70’s. Lissa remarked that it could stay like this for the rest of the year if it wanted too. That wouldn’t make for much plant and animal diversity, but sure would be nice for us humans. Hah!

When I got to the preserve, three of the graduates were there and two more joined us later so that was nice.  There was a lot to see out there today, but we needed to finish by noon, so we didn’t get very far through the preserve.  Even with the abbreviated route, we saw lots of wildflowers, deer, insects, birds and even some raccoon tracks in the mud around a small pond.

While we walked, I showed the group how change the lighting to get better shots, how to use a macro lens to focus on the small stuff – and how to get the automatic cameras to focus on what YOU want it to focus on, and how to frame the subject(s) in a photo BEFORE you take it so you don’t have to crop it so much afterwards.  The stars of the day, as far as subject matter goes, were the insects. We found some really unusual-looking guys including a species of long-horned beetle, a pink and white moth, and a semi-iridescent beetle we couldn’t readily identify. Because there are literally millions of insects, getting a proper ID is a daunting task even for the experts.

We also got to watch a pair of Black Phoebes bring insects to their nest full of fledglings. Mom and dad took turns flying back and forth to feed the kids. I saw one of the parents m with a large hoverfly, and another one with a large bright green worm. Those kids get fed well!  Because we were standing near the where the next was, the parents would stop and sit for a little while before transporting the food directly to the kids. This gave us the opportunity to gets some good close-ups and still shots of them.  We could also see the babies in the nest – almost fully fledged already, they looked too big to still be hand-fed by their folks. This particular pair of Phoebes have been nesting under the eaves of the nature center at the preserve for years. They come back season after season.  Their nests are mud cups filled with grasses and other soft plant fibers.

We found the Red-Shouldered Hawk’s nest on the Pond Trail. We could hear mama calling from the nest but couldn’t get an angle on the structure that allowed us to see her. she must be sitting eggs at the moment.  And we found several tree cavity nests of wrens, Starlings, and Acorn Woodpeckers (some of them in or near the same tree).

We also got to see some Ash-throated Flycatchers. Besides being pretty birds, these guys are kind of special because they don’t drink water. They get what fluid they need from the stuff they eat.

Among the deer we saw, I believe one of them was very pregnant and may have been experiencing some early contractions. She’d walk along and life her tail like she wanted to defecate, but nothing came out.  Might be seeing some fawns in the next month or so!

On our way out of the preserve, one of the graduates and I loitered around the small pond again and tried to get photos of the Bullfrog tadpoles and crawfish under the water.  Getting the camera to focus past the surface of the water is always an interesting trial… and I can never really tell if I got the shots I want until after I get the photos home and download them, so I can see them better.

We finished up our walk around noon. #CalNat

Hawk Babies and More This Morning

Mother and child. Red-Shouldered Hawks. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.
Mother and child. Red-Shouldered Hawks. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.

I have today off from work, but got up around 5:45 am anyway, then headed over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve in Carmichael.  It’s so weird to see the streets totally empty on a Monday morning.  Everyone else must’ve been sleeping in.

As I was driving through the residential area that wraps around on side of the nature preserve, a mama Mule deer and her baby – just out of its spots – walked across the street.  By the time I got my camera out of its bag, they were gone.  I’m just going to have to drive with the camera out all of the time, I guess.  Hah!

In the parking area, some of the male wild turkeys were showing off to the females; and in the native plant garden area, the Yarrow was in full bloom along with lots of Showy Milkweed.  I didn’t see any signs of Monarchs yet around the milkweed, though; maybe in another week or two… I’d recently read about making a tincture of Yarrow to use as a natural insect repellant.  You get fresh yarrow (the whole plant: stems, leaves, buds) and chop it all up, then put it in a bottle or jar and cover it with vodka.  Leave it in a closet for about 3 weeks, and then strain out all of the plant material before transferring the liquid to a spray bottle.  It doesn’t work as long as stuff with DEET in it (only about 30-45 minutes), so you have to keep spraying it on, but at least it won’t poison you…

The blue elderberry was in blossom everywhere and some of the plants already has berries on them.  The wild plum trees were also starting to bear fruit, and the Black Walnut trees were covered in new walnuts…

Usually, the preserve is a good bet for a lot of deer photos, but the deer were keeping to themselves this morning, and I only saw one or two.  The big show, though, was the Red-Shouldered Hawks that had built a nest near the nature center.  While papa screeched from a nearby tree, mama flew in to the nest with a big rat or vole she’d caught.  Then she started walking around the lip of the next and screeching, too… and in flew two of her children.  Almost fully fledged now, they were testing out their wings.  I got some still shots and video of them – all except papa who kept himself hidden among the leaves of his tree.  While I was taking video, another photographer came up and started filming, too… so in the video you can hear me respond to him…  It was hard for us to leave the site and continue on our prospective walks.  I saw more Red-Shouldered Hawks all around the preserve: everyone’s out hunting this morning…

CLICK HERE to see some video of the mother hawk and her kids.

I came across other birds in and around their nests, including a very uncooperative European Starling.  I saw it fly into its tree cavity, and waited and waited for it to poke its head out again so I could get a picture of it…  But the little dickens came out with a large feather in front of its face – doing housekeeping duties, I assume – so all I got was a picture of a feather sticking out of the tree with the Starling’s eye looking over the top of it.  Hah!  I also got a few photos of a mama House Wren trying to move a twig around in her nesting cavity.  It was really too long for the cavity and part of it stuck out through the hole; she kept trying to drag it all the way in and shove it around.  So much exertion for such a tiny bird…

I also saw a Darkling Beetle, lots of Acorn Woodpeckers, Western Fence Lizards, Scrub Jays, a snakefly,  a pair of Mallards sleeping in the long grass, a female Nutthall’s Woodpecker, and three California Towhees bobbing along the path in front of me. A little further along, I also saw a Spotted Towhee.

As I was heading out of the preserve, I came across a group of three people who were looking at a fallen log and pointing to something under it.  As I got closer, I could hear them talking, and one was saying, “That’s telemetered Male Number 37.”  I knew instantly they were talking about a rattlesnake!  I subscribe to blog by Mike Cardwell on the rattlesnake at the preserve (http://www.eyncrattlesnakes.com/), and knew that Number 37 was one they’d just recaptured and put a new transmitter on.  When I got closer, I asked the group if they were part of the rattlesnake study on the preserve, and – yep.  The main guy in the group was none other than Mike Cardwell himself!  I was SUCH a groupie; Oooo, I just LOVE your blog, Mike! He asked me if I wanted to see one of the snakes, and I said sure, so he let me come off the path to where he was and pointed out Number 37 to me.  The snake was looking right at us, but wasn’t making any noise.  Number 36 is a huge male with about 11 rattles on his tail already.  I tried getting some photos of him, but he was a good 15 feet away, under a log and behind the grass, so my photos aren’t the best…  But at least I got to meet Mike AND the nefarious Number 37.  Cool!

And to end my walk with a little more coolness: as I was heading to my car, I could hear bullfrogs burping in the small pond near the little Maidu Indian Village reconstruction, so I stopped there to see if I could see any frogs.  Got photos of three of them.  Coolness.

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I walked for about 2 ½ hours. After that I headed home, stopping first to put gas in the car and run the Sebring through the carwash, and then stopping at BelAir to pick up a bunch of groceries.  When I got home, I unpacked everything and rested for a bit.