Tag Archives: Jackrabbits

Looking for Grebes; Found Just About Anything But

I was out the door with Sergeant Margie by about 4:00 am, and drove out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge by way of the gas station and Jack’s.

I got to the refuge just as the sun was coming up, and as I got out of the car Great Blue Herons lurched out from the tops of the surrounding trees where they’d roosted for the night and flew off over my head… and one small bat came flitting around me to check me out. I didn’t get pictures of them, of course, because it was too dark and they moved too fast… As the sub came up, so did the temperatures and by 9:00 am it was already in the 80’. The car did NOT like the heat, and neither did I…

CLICK HERE to see the album of photos from today.

I was hoping the Clark’s and Western Grebes would be doing some courtship stuff, but they were uncooperative. I saw the Great Horned Owls, but they were sitting on top of a distant fence with their backs to me. (So rude! Hah!) And I came across a huge gathering of Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets, but they were behind thick blinds of tules, and I couldn’t get the camera to see through and past the tules to the birds… So that was frustrating…

At one old scraggly tree I came across a bunch of young Tree Swallows and Barn Swallows jousting with each other. They were out catching the early morning bugs over the water and would go to the tree to rest… and argue with one another over who go what branch. This extended into a nearby willow tree where the scuffling continued… While I was watching them I caught sight of a young male Hairy Woodpecker who was testing out his navigation skills. He was pretty scruffy-looking, but seemed to be able to get around okay…

There were dragonflies, damselflies and big orb-weaver spiders everywhere, which is typical for this time of year, but among them I was surprised to get my very first photo of a Twelve Spotted Skimmer dragonfly. I’d seen Eight Spotted Skimmers before, but not a Twelve Spotted one… and I’d never seen any of the spotted skimmers at the refuge before. Usually, I only see them around Lake Solano. They usually seem to be in constant motion, which makes getting a photos of them hard for me. This Twelve Spotted one was parked on the top of a tule among a “flock” of Variegated Meadowhawks, so I quickly got as many picture of it as I could.

Among the birds out there today, I was also surprised to get my first still shot close-up of a Common Tern. (I think it was a Common one; I’m not very good at telling some of them apart.) I got a few good photos of a young Black-Crowned Night Heron who was fishing among the cattails and reeds, some late-in-the-season Snow Geese drifting on the water (juvenile and an adult), and a very cooperative juvenile Mourning Dove. She was sitting in the shade on a ranch near the viewing platform, and stayed right where she was while I got some close-ups of her. The doves have such lovely faces…

I also got some photos of a Great Egret sitting on top of a dead tree. It gaped while I was watching it so I got some photos of its tongue. Heron tongues are so weird-looking. Toward the back, where they attach in the throat, they’re flat, but near the front are arrowhead-like projections which help hold prey in the mouth and allow the birds to use the arrowhead like mini-trowels and shove the prey back from the front of the beak into the gullet…

I headed out of the preserve by about 10 o’clock and was back to the house by noon.

It was Hit and Miss at the Refuges on Saturday

I was going to sleep in today, but the dogs got me up a little before 5:00 am, and then I couldn’t get back to sleep. So, I just got up and headed over to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge for the day.

When I drove into the refuge I saw a Turkey Vulture sitting on the edge of the sign at the mouth of the auto-tour. It let me walk up pretty close to get photos of it before it flew away. I think those are the coolest birds… I heard some Bitterns “pumper-lunking” but only saw a few in flight, and didn’t get any photos. The bullfrogs were doing their ninja thing, too: I could hear their deep cello-calls, but couldn’t see or photograph any of them…

Click here for the full album of photos and videos.

I did get some good photos of Clark’s Grebes and a few other birds, though.

There was a male Great Tailed Grackle in the tules around the permanent wetlands that was performing for the females. He went through a variety of different calls including its high-pitched “peep”, deep-throated “clap!” and loud echoing “yeeeeeeeeeeeeeep!” I got some video of him, but was interrupted a few times by other drivers along the trail who crept or rushed past my car. One lady parked right next to my car and yelled through the open window, “Did you see the owl?!” Uh, yes… but I’m trying to film a grackle right now… Guh!

I also came across a family group of otters, a mom and dad and two babies. They were one of the permanent ponds but moved so quickly, it was really difficult to get any clear shots of them. I did manage to get a little bit of video, though… until dad saw me, snorted loudly and turned his family around.

When I was done at the Sacramento refuge, I headed over to the Colusa one. I hadn’t been there in quite a while because they took the brunt of the flooding earlier in the year, and were closed to the public for months. It was kind of a waste to go there today, though, because now they’ve drained off a lot of the water (so the surrounding rice fields can have it), and most of it is just a big dirt hole with flowers growing here and there.

One pond was filled with dead carp – stinking bodies everywhere – and others that were slowly dying as the pond evaporates. The carp come up with the flood waters, and when the flood recedes, they get caught in-land and can’t get out. I was surprised that the refuge allows them to suffer slow deaths like that; surely there must be some way to collect them and relocate them.

Where there were spots in the refuge that still had water in them, the water was shallow, and the banks were overrun with water primrose… One interesting thing, though, was that in some of the waterless ponds there were crayfish chimneys, structures the crayfish make by piling up little balls of mud. The bottom of the chimney opens into water (when there is water), and the top opens to the air. They use them to hide in when they’re breeding and getting ready to lay their eggs…

My visit to the Colusa refuge was also kind of ruined because there was a biplane from one of the neighboring rice fields flying around. He’d circle over the refuge, fly down really low, and dump seeds and pesticides on the fields next door. The noise was horrible… You can’t “relax and enjoy nature” when there’s some guy buzz-bombing the place every few minutes. It was ugly… I won’t need to go back there at all for the rest of the year…

More Photos from the Sacramento Refuge

Here are some more photos from the over 1600 I took at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  Some “firsts” in here include a Merlin and a Woodlouse Hunter Spider.

The spiders eat woodlice and beetles.  “…These spiders have very large chelicerae, which they use to pierce the armored bodies of woodlice and beetles. There are also some reports that they have a mildly toxic venom that can cause local reactions in humans; with their huge fangs there is little doubt that they could bite if threatened, but the venom has not been well studied. The spiders have their six eyes arranged in a semicircle. The first two pairs of legs face forward. Dysdera crocata has a characteristic coloring – the carapace is dull red-brown and the abdomen gray or tan…”

CLICK HERE for the album of photos and video snippets.

Was Able to See a Killdeer Lay Her Egg Today

I actually had today off but I got up at the regular time anyway to get to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge by 7:00 am.  It was about 43° when I headed out and got up to 65° by the late afternoon. Sunny and tiny bit breezy all day… It was gorgeous.

I had planned months ago to take today off because I was able to get a spot in one of the photo blinds there.  I picked the blind I did because it’s handicapped accessible.  But today it wasn’t… there was too much water around it to get to it, and was flooded inside (not deep, but enough to make it unusable).  I also have a reservation for a blind at the Colusa refuge for the weekend, but that one is under water right now, so I won’t be able to get to that one either.  Not being able to use the blind today was kind of disappointing, but the day was so beautiful, I just drove the auto tour route – twice – and got to see lots of stuff anyway. I burned through 4 batteries and took over 1600 photos!  Yikes!

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

As soon as a I drove into the refuge, I was a greeted by the sight of a small flock of Snowy Egrets feeding in a shallow pond by the entrance, so I was able to get some shots of them right off the bat.  Along with the egrets were a few American Wigeons, and one of the males swam right up within view, so I was able to get some good photos of him, too.  That was an auspicious start to my day.

I also saw White-Faced-Ibis, Northern Shovelers, a Flicker, Golden-Crowned Sparrows, White-Crowned Sparrows, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Song Sparrows, a Red-Tailed Hawk, Pied-Billed Grebes, Great Egrets, Gadwalls, Black Phoebes, Black-Necked Stilts, Western Pond Turtles, Green-Winged Teals, Bufflehead ducks, a  House Sparrow, Double-Crested Cormorants, nests, Western Meadowlark, Mallard, Snow Geese, Northern Harrier, Great Blue Heron, American White Pelicans, a Yellow-Rumped Warbler, American Coots, Cinnamon Teals,  White-Fronted Geese and several California Ground Squirrels. I also got a glimpse of a muskrat.  He was in the water along the edge of the road.  I saw him, he saw me and poof! he was out of there.

There were lots and lots of jackrabbits out and about, and lots of Ring-Necked Pheasants.  I saw a pair of American Avocets in a distant pond, one was in its breeding plumage and the other wasn’t.  I’d seen Avocets in their breeding colors before, but I’d never seen a “plain” one, so that was a first for me.

I found some Marsh Wrens weaving their nests among the tules… and lots of the tiny males singing away trying to attract females. I got a little video of one of the males working on his nests, and some photos of him emerging from one of them.  Further along the route, I came across a spot where a pair of Bushtits were building their nest, and got photos and video snippets of them, too.  It’s that time of year.  All of the birds are working on home-building projects.

At the end of the auto-tour route I came across a pair of Killdeer.  Mama was sitting down in the dirt and papa was patrolling around her.  They were head-bobbing, so I thought maybe they were getting ready to mate.  I didn’t think they had a nest there because even the though there was a slight depression in the ground, it wasn’t in the kind of dense gravel Killdeer normally prefer (so their spotted eggs blend into the stones). As the head-bobbing continued, I noticed the female was fanning her tail a little bit, so I turned on the video option on my camera expecting to see a mating… But as I watched, the mama surprised me and laid an egg! Literally.  A little grey and black spotted egg.  That was so cool – and what a great way to end my day at the refuge!  I’m a little worried about their nest, though.  It’s very near the auto route and right along a spot where some people hike through to get to the pedestrian trails…

I headed back home and got to the house a little before 3:00 pm.

I Helped Lead a Tour of the SNWR, 11-12-16

I had to work today — helping to lead an auto-tour of the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge — so I was up at 5:00 and out the door by 5:30 am.  I stopped at a gas station on my way, filled up the tank, and got some munchies for the road, and then headed over to the Denney’s off of West Street in Woodland to meet up with my coworker Nate and the folks who were coming on the tour.  I’d gotten there early enough to order a small breakfast and get it in a to-go box.  I ate what I could of it out in the car, and then saw Nate and the others gathering outside the parking lot on the street, so I drove over there to meet them.  I handed out guide books and directions to the refuge, and we were all on the road by a little after 7:00 am.  There were seven people in our group (besides my coworker Nate and me) but only three of them were birding “newbies” who had never been to the refuge before.  The rest of them were avid birders, some from Yolo Audubon…

CLICK HERE to see the full album of photos.

CLICK HERE to see additional photos from other photographers.

We arrived at the refuge around 8:00 am, had folks pay for their vehicles at the kiosk and then we met at the inside parking lot before heading out along the auto tour drive. Although there were birding experts willing to drive with the non-birders.  Most of the non-birders chose to drive their own vehicles by themselves.  I had one “newbie” birder who went with me, a gal named Colleen.  Along the way, I was able to help point out birds to her, and name the species and tell her some fun facts… and I was so busy doing that, that I didn’t take very many photos while I was out there… and I forgot to eat lunch.

Along the auto tour there are three park-and-stretch places where you can get out of your car and look around.  I had brought my spotting scope me… but the experienced birders had brought ones of their own and had them set up before I could even get mine out of my car.  But that was okay; at least everyone got to see some of the birds up close.  As we watched one Red-Tailed Hawk who was sitting on the ground, warming up as the sun came up and burned through the low clouds, about 10 Jackrabbits popped up all around the bird and ran circles around it then scattered into the low brush and tules.  Hah!  We also saw a Raven come in for a landing with a large bit of what we assumed was a vole, in its beak, and watched it eat its breakfast before driving on… The folks from Yolo Audubon had also brought additional guide books, and used them to help the newbies to more effectively identify the hawks they were seeing (along with the guide books I also provided to guests who wanted them).

Throughout the tour I was to point out and help folks identify a Cooper’s Hawk, Red-Tailed Hawks, Northern Harriers, Song Sparrows, House Sparrows, White-Crowned Sparrows, ravens, Mallards, Northern Pintails, Green-Winged Teals, Cinnamon Teals, Northern Shovelers, Greater White-Fronted Geese, White-Face Ibis, Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, a Great Blue Heron, Turkey Vultures, Black Phoebes, Eared Grebes, Yellow-Rumped Warblers, Bufflehead ducks, Pied-Billed Grebes, American Coots, Canada Geese, a Peregrine Falcon, American Wigeons and American Pipits, and the Snow Geese (which were out in force today).  Among the regular totally white-bodied snow Geese was a single “dark morph” Snow Goose.  It had a white head, but it’s body was dark steely-grey.  A VERY cool sighting… but it was pretty distant (for my camera) and I didn’t get any really good shots of it.  I told everyone in our group that they had to share what they photos they took with us, so we could post them to Facebook.

In the non-bird species, along with the jackrabbits, we saw Columbian Black-Tailed Mule Deer, California Ground Squirrels, a Western Pond Turtle, a Western Fence Lizard, webs from “ballooning” spiders, and the nest of Paper Wasps. So it was an interesting excursion.  Some of the newbies had never been to the refuge before, and were excited to come back later in the season.

Day 2 of a 2-Day Excursion, 07-16-16

Up at 5:00 am.  I know, it’s my day off, but I wanted to get everything packed in the car, get some gasoline, and head out to the refuge again as soon as I could to take advantage of the cool morning air.  (It was about 67° when I got there, and was up to 82° before I left around noon.)  Early-early morning is really the best time to see cool stuff at the refuge… CLICK HERE to see the entire album.

I saw lots of jackrabbits and a skunk (who moved too fast for me to get any photos of), and flocks of White-Faced Ibis flying overhead (again, too fast for me and my camera).  There was one spot, deep in the tules, where I could see Ibis, Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets all gathering and flying in and out… I knew there was a shallow pool there, and I suspected they were all having breakfast.  I lifted my camera up out of the window, and tried to shoot over the tools and thistles.  Still photos weren’t turning out well at all, so I tried shooting a little bit of video.  That turned out a little bit better (although it’s still pretty crummy because the angle and all of the vegetation interference), and you can see one of the Snowy Egrets raising its crown feathers at another one in it.  Here is the snippet.

On “Pelican Island” out in the middle of the wetland area, there were quite a few American White Pelicans, Double-Crested Cormorants, some Black-Necked Stilts and sleepy American Avocets among the seagulls.  Later the pelicans and cormorants left the island to go fishing and I got some photos and video of that.  The pelicans often work together swirling the water so they can catch fish. Today, it seemed like the cormorants showed the pelicans where the fish were, and then as the pelicans worked to swirls up the fish, the cormorants get into the middle of everything and chowed down, too.  I love watching the pelicans when they’re feeding in a group; it’s almost like a choreographed water ballet.  Video of Pelicans fishing.

I also saw Ring-Necked Pheasants, Great Blue Herons, Yellow-Headed Blackbirds (females and juveniles), lots of female Red-Winged Blackbirds, a Turkey Vulture,  pair of female Great-Winged Grackles feeding by the rocks, tons of Coots, some Pied-Billed Grebes, and a group of immature Tree Swallows.  They had all gathered at an old gnarled tree and were eating bugs out of a cavity at the end of one of its stubby branches.  Video of Tree Swallows.

I also spotted several river otters on the road ahead of me, but when I got to the place where they’re entered the water, I couldn’t see them anymore.  Dang it!  Those little guys move fast!  And I got just a couple of photos through the windshield of my first Ribbon Snake (Thamnophis proximus), a kind of long slender garter snake.  It was warming up on the road next to a pool, but when it saw the car coming it slipped into the water and vanished from sight.

Again, there were loads of Variegated Meadowhawks and blue damselflies.  I tried to get some photos showing how many there were, but the pictures don’t really do their numbers justice because the camera can only focus on one small area at a time.  I got a little bit of video of the damselflies, but still… imagine those multiplied a thousand fold and you get some idea of how many there were out there. I also saw some Black Saddlebag dragonflies, blue Pondhawks, and Widow Skimmers.  I’m still trying to get some decent shots of Green Darner and Giant Darners, but they’re few and far between… Oh, I also got a very brief video of a pair of Variegated Meadowhawks as the male flew the female over the top of the water. He’d “tap” her against the water’s surface and with each tap, she’d lay some eggs…  Video of egg-tapping.

And, of course, there were the “cities” of orb-weaver spiders among the tules on the side of the road, Common Buckeye butterflies, Sulphurs, Painted Ladies, some Hairstreaks, and a couple of Monarchs along with a variety of skippers.  I also came across a nest of Paper Wasps in a weird place. By the viewing platform (at the halfway point on the auto tour) there’s a gate that keeps visitors out of the area where one of the photo-blinds are, and in the open top of the fence post was the nest. It looked like they were all busy building new cells (which were all empty right now, as far as I could tell).  The wasps were so focused on what they were doing that they didn’t spook or fly out when I put my camera over the top of the nest to get photos of them.

I got lots of video snippets of the Clark’s Grebes out on the water.  [Please excuse the “shaking” in some of them; I sometimes had to move the car while videoing at the same time.] Some of the females are still sitting on eggs even though their other babies have already hatched, so the dads were doing “taxi service” for the kids a lot of the time.  In one video, the chicks are riding on the back of one of their parents while the other tries to feed them a fish (or flatworm of some kind). The morsel is too big for the babies, though, and they keep dropping it in the water. So the parent retrieves it, “washes it off” and tries again.  Then the fish gets covered with eel grass and crud… and you can almost feel the parent’s frustration with the whole thing.  Here’s that video.

In another snippet, you can see the mother grebe, on her nest, rolling her egg around while dad floats nearby with their chicks on his back.  Cooperative parenting.  [In this video, it looks to me like the dad is actually a Western Grebe, not a Clark’s Grebe like the mother!  The black on his head surrounds his eye – one of the field markings of a Western Grebe.  On the Clark’s Grebe, the eye is surrounded by white, not black.] Here’s that video.

I also have a video snippet of this pair in which the dad first feeds feathers to the babies – [This is normal of the species; the feathers seem to aid in digestion (sort of like the way chickens eat gravel; the gravel sits in the gizzard and grinds up the seeds they eat).] – and then dumps them in the water so he can go fishing. You can then see the babies then try to climb up onto the nest to get warm with their mama. Here’s that video.

Then in another video, I have a snippet of a Clark’s Grebe dad who’d caught a good sized panfish.  Mom came by with the babies on her back, but dad didn’t want to share. The fish was way too big for the kids; I even thought it was way too big for dad to swallow but he somehow managed it, gulping it down whole. Here’s that video.

Further on down toward the end of the auto-tour route, I came across a mother Killdeer.  When she saw the car coming, she dropped to the ground and did her “broken wing” act – which told me she had a nest nearby.  [Killdeer mothers pretend to be injured and roll around on the ground hoping to distract predators from their nests.  When the predator goes after the mom, she flies away at the last second to safety.] But as I looked around, I realized it wasn’t a nest from which she was trying to distract me. She had two new fuzzy hatchlings running along the opposite side of the road!  I’d seen photos of Killdeer chick before, but had never seen one in “real life” before.  They were beyond adorable!  The video I got of them was terrible, because I had to keep moving the camera from one window of the car to another, but I did capture mama’s “wounded” routine.  Here is the video of the Killdeer.

One of the oddest things I encountered all morning was a spot where the water seemed to be “alive” with jumping, plopping creatures.  The critters moved so fast, I couldn’t get any real still shots of them, but I did get a video snippet.  At first I thought they were some time kind of fish, but on closer inspection, I found they were bullfrog tadpoles!  They were getting close to emerging as frogs, and were jumping up to the top of the water to gulp air (as their tadpole gills weren’t functioning at full throttle anymore). Gulping air also helps to make them more buoyant in the water. Super cool! Here is the video of the tadpoles gulping air.

Another neat find was spotting an immature American Bittern in a shallow pond where it was fishing.  I’d actually passed the bird at first, and then caught a glimpse of it in my side-view mirror, so I backed up and watched it for a while.  In order to see it through the tules, I had to open the back passenger side window and hold the camera out behind the front seat on that side of the car.  Holding the camera at such a weird angle strained my shoulder a little bit, but it was worth it, I think.  I got some still shots and a little bit of video of it.  In of the still shots, you can see it’s caught a bullfrog tadpole – and this photo give you some idea of how BIG those tadpoles are. Here is a video of the Bittern.

Oh, I also came across a two different groups of Black-Tailed deer.  The first one was a female with a bum leg traveling with a young male who was in his velvet.  I assumed it was a mother and son pair.  Mom was having difficulty maneuvering; it looked like her left front leg or foot was giving her trouble, and she limped pretty severely.  I couldn’t see her leg or foot, though, because she was traveling in high vegetation.  Eventually, she got tired and just sat down – and all I could see was her ears and part of her head.  I got some still shot, and some video of the male walking through the plants. Here’s that video.

A little further up the road, I came across another female – with two fawns. The babies were just starting to come out of their spots – good sized, but still obviously nursing along with eating their veggies.  They were moving away from me (so I got butt shots of them, mostly), but I could tell what direction they were going in, and knew that the road turned up ahead, so I drove up ahead of them, and got photos of them as they came through the deep vegetation and tules.  They all starting browsing among the cocklebur plants.

Here is a video of mom and the fawns walking away from me.

Here is a video of mom and the fawns walking toward me.

So, although I didn’t get a lot of stuff in the heat of the afternoon on Friday, I got to see loads of interesting stuff this morning.  I left the refuge about noon and got home right around 2:00 pm.  When I got to the house, I unpacked the car, and then the dog and I crashed for the rest of the day.