Tag Archives: Loggerhead Shrike

Mostly Pheasants and Marsh Wrens, 03-21-19

I got up a little before 6:00 am and headed out with the dog to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  I hadn’t been out there in a few months, so I was anxious to see what it was looking like.  I arrived there around 8:00 am and it was about 44° outside; when I left around noon, it was about to about 63°.  For the first half of my drive, the full moon was out, and all I could think was: I bet the Tiger Salamanders in Dunnigan are up and running around.  Hah!  Too much of a naturalist.

There “wasn’t much” to see at the preserve. Most of the large flocks of birds have moved on, and the summering birds haven’t arrived yet. What there was to see was mostly Ring-Necked Pheasants and Marsh Wrens… But there were other species as well, most of them too far away to get a decent photo of them. So, the day was a little frustrating for me. I did get to see some Black Phoebes building their nests under an overhang on the sign at the first park-and-stretch site, a pair of male pheasants squaring off against one another (although they were more interested in breakfast than in fighting), and a Great Egret fishing for crawdads in one of the sloughs.  One of the male Ring-Necked Pheasants jumped up onto a fallen log and “crowed”, then jumped back down and walked along the edge of a shallow levy to show off in the morning sun. He was unusually cooperative, so I got quite a few photos of him.  I saw a few Red-Tailed Hawks and some Northern Harriers (in flight); no eagles out today.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

Not a lot of wildflowers are out yet; it’s been too chilly for them. But I did see some Fiddleneck, and the pink Squirreltail Barley was all over the place.

I saw a small herd of deer cutting across one part of the wetlands, and one of the does looked VERY pregnant. Her belly was almost halfway down to her “knees”.

The Pool 2 Extension Loop was open, which was a nice surprise.  They’ve “manicured” some of the banks of the pool, though, knocking down and bending over some of the tules – which gives you a better view of the water, but means there are fewer hiding places for the birds (like the Bitterns), so you don’t get to see them. Can’t win.

The one thing that was out in abundance was the midges; they were everywhere, some of them in deep warming balls. Lots of food for the insectivores!

I drove around the auto tour route for about 4 hours and then headed home, getting there around 1:30 pm or 2:00.

Species List:

1. American Coot, Fulica americana
2. American Pipit, Anthus rubescens
3. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
4. Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
5. Black-tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus
6. Brown-Headed Cowbird, Molothrus ater
7. Bufflehead, Bucephala albeola
8. Bullfrog, American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus
9. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
10. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
11. Cattail, Broadleaf Cattail, Typha latifolia
12. Cinnamon Teal, Anas cyanoptera
13. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Mule Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
14. Crayfish, Crawfish, Crawdad, Red Swamp Crayfish, Procambarus clarkii
15. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auritus
16. Fiddleneck, Common Fiddleneck, Amsinckia intermedia
17. Great Egret, Ardea alba
18. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons
19. Greater Yellowlegs, Tringa melanoleuca
20. Green-Winged Teal, Anas carolinensis
21. House Sparrow, Passer domesticus
22. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferus
23. Loggerhead Shrike, Lanius ludovicianus
24. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris
25. Meadowlark, Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
26. Midge, Tanytarsus sp.
27. Northern Harrier, Circus cyaneus
28. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata
29. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
30. Pink Barley, Squirreltail Barley, Foxtail, Hordeum jubatum ssp.
31. Red-Eared Slider Turtle, Trachemys scripta elegans
32. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
33. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
34. Ring-Necked Duck, Aythya collaris
35. Ring-Necked Pheasant, Phasianus colchicus
36. Ruddy Duck, Oxyura jamaicensis
37. Savannah Sparrow, Passerculus sandwichensis
38. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula
39. Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia
40. Teasel, Wild Teasel, Dipsacus fullonum
41. Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus var. occidentalis
42. Western Kingbird, Tyrannus verticalis
43. Western Pond Turtle, Pacific Pond Turtle, Actinemys marmorata
44. White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys
45. White-Faced Ibis, Plegadis chihi

Standouts: a Lorquin’s Admiral and a Wilson’s Snipe, 11-03-18

I left the house with the dog around 5:30 am to head out to the Sacramento and Colusa National Wildlife Refuges. It was already 62º there and was windy; not a strong blow-you-over wind, but strong enough so that it kept a lot of the birds hunkered down to keep warm. Neither refuge is at full water capacity yet, so there were long areas of nothing but dried grass and tules. In another month or so, viewing should better.

At the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, the first thing I saw was a Black-Tailed Jackrabbit using a stand of tules as a windbreak. I saw several Red-Tailed Hawks in the trees, saw some American Kestrels on the wing, saw a Northern Harrier on the ground, and lots of Turkey Vultures surfing the wind currents. One of the Red-Tails was so huge, I thought at first that it might be an eagle; the female Red-Tails can get REALLY large. I also heard but didn’t see a Red-Shouldered Hawk.

Lots of Song, Savannah and White-Crowned Sparrows were out along with huge flocks of Snow Geese, Greater White-Fronted Geese, and Northern Pintail ducks. I also saw several Ross’s Geese – which look like Snow Geese, but they’re smaller and don’t have the black “grin patch” on the beak. Among the other ducks were Northern Shovelers (some still in their eclipse plumage), American Wigeons and Gadwalls. The Pintails always out-number the other ducks this early in the season as they’re the first to arrive.

Some areas along the auto-tour route were laden with the thick sticky webbing spiderlings use to “balloon” along the landscape. Long strands and bunches of “spider snot” seemed to be everywhere.

Two standouts at the Sacramento refuge were a Loggerhead Shrike and a Lorquin’s Admiral butterfly. The Shrike had posted itself on some dead cattail stems and as I watched it impaled a large insect on a shard along the side of the stem. Then it manipulated the insect a little bit with its beaks and feet before eating it. I think the insect was a big grasshopper, but I couldn’t get a really good look at it. Shrikes are referred to as “butcher birds” and “songbirds with the heart of a raptor” for their hunting and butchering behaviors.

The Lorquin’s Admiral was a huge surprise. It’s very late in the season for them to be out. This is a kind of butterfly that has several “flights” throughout the year, and they feed on nectar from California Buckeye trees, but they also like bird feces. Ugh. No accounting for taste! What’s cool about these guys is that even though they’re basically made out of “fuzzy air”, they’re super-aggressive and will fight protect their territory. Sort of like getting sucker-punches by a paper doll. Hah! The caterpillars roll themselves up in the leaves of willow trees (among others) and overwinter in them.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

At the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge, I saw a lot of the same birds that I did at the Sacramento refuge, but the standout was a Wilson’s snipe and flew up right next to the car and walked around the muddy ground there. Every once in a while, the bird would tilt its head to look up at me as I frantically snapped photos of it through the driver’s side window of my car.

On our way out of the auto-tour route at this refuge, I saw a pair of young Columbian Black-Tailed Deer grazing on the berm that was covered with geese and ducks. The deer didn’t seem to mind it when I stopped my car next to the end of the berm to take some photos and video of them, but when another car came up behind mine, they startled. I was surprised when, instead of running away up the berm through the flock of birds, both deer came charging down the berm right toward my car. I was afraid they were going to hit it. But they both veered off, one after the other, and crossed the auto-tour route road in front of my car – kind of using my car as a shield – before they jumped into the trees and overgrowth on the opposite side of the road. Wow. Got my heart going for a little bit. I don’t know what it was about the other car that made them so afraid.

When I was done with the auto-tour route, I parked near the restroom facility and then took Sergeant Margie out on his leash to stretch his legs. ((Dogs are allowed on the preserve, as long as they’re in your car or on a leash.)) I started down the trail that runs along between a large wetland area and a slough (so you have water on both sides) and was happily surprised to see that Sergeant Margie was able to handle walking a half mile in and a half mile back to the car (one mile round trip). He hasn’t been able or willing to do any kind of “long” walk for almost a year.

I think it helped that the temperature outside was comfortable and the trail was flat and covered with soft leaves. His tongue was hanging out when we got back to the car, but he wasn’t coughing or complaining. I gave him some lunch and a big drink of water before we headed back home.

Foggy and Cold on MLK Day, 01-15-18

It’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  I’m feeling better; just really fatigued. I slept soundly last night and got up with the dog a little before 6:00 am.  By about 7:00 am I headed over to the Cosumnes River Preserve for a walk.

It was chilly and super foggy in the morning hours, and only got up to about 50º by the afternoon (under a thick overcast). When I got to the preserve, I could see cars in the parking lots, but all of the gates were closed. I assumed it must have been staff members in the lots, none of whom thought to open the gates for the public. So, at first I had to park on the road.  I walked around for a little while, and I think the people in the parking lot saw me or my car and they eventually got around to opening the gates. One of the people waved at me as he drove off.  I walked back to my car, and pulled into the parking lot. Because of the chill and dense fog there weren’t a lot of birds out and about but I did get a few photos.

The photos aren’t all that great because of the dense fog, but you’ll get the idea… CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

Then I drove over to where the nature center is and walked the river trail there.  Again, because of the for and chill there weren’t many critters around. But the damp air had awakened a lot of the different lichen and some of the willow trees were starting to get their fuzzy “pussy willow” catkins on them.  I kept my walk a bit short so I wouldn’t wear myself out again, and then headed back home.

Saw My First Mink!

I got up around 5:30 am because the dog wanted his breakfast and needed to pee, so I let him do his morning stuff and brewed a pot of coffee… then went back to bed until about 7:30.  I’m still feeling crummy and still have a fever, but the cough has abated for the most part. I was dog-tired but also feeling really stir-crazy after being in bed for so many days, so I went over to the Cosumnes River Preserve and walked for a little bit.  I was hoping that moving around would encourage the fever to break.  I didn’t walk for as long as I usually do, and was headachy and exhausted when I got back home, but I still feel the fresh air and exercise was worth it.

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

I only walked along the boardwalk and the small ponds around it, and didn’t walk the longer trails. A lot of the usual suspects were out there, but I was astonished to come across a MINK (Neovison vison)!  It was the first time I’d ever seen a live mink in the wild, and at first I wasn’t sure what I was looking at. The mink was in a pond near the parking area, and I could see its head poking out of the water.  At first I thought maybe it was a baby otter, but the muzzle was the wrong shape. I got some photos of it in the water and then it ducked under the surface and I lost it.  A few second later, I saw it come up the bank to the side of the road right in front of me.  I watched it climb up and go to a tangle of fallen branches… and then realized there was the body of a dead mink there, too.  The live mink sniffed around the dead one for a little while, and then grabbed the carcass in its mouth.  It started pulling the dead mink down into the water, and I walked up a little bit closer to try to get more photos and video. The live mink saw me, dropped the dead one on the bank and swam off…  I considered going after the carcass, but the bank’s incline was too steep and I didn’t want to end up in the water.

I don’t know if the live mink wanted the dead mink’s body to mourn it or to eat it (or both). Mink DO eat just about anything including fish, frogs, rabbits, muskrats, insects, birds and snakes. They build burrows adjacent to water with at least one water entrance and up to 8 exit tunnels on land.  There are supposedly a lot of them in the area, but this is the first time I’ve ever actually seen one (or two as the case may be).

While I was walking along the side of the pond, an elderly gentleman, who said his name was Larry, drove up in his truck and asked if I’d seen anything interesting. When I told him I saw the mink, he quickly pulled into the nearby parking lot and joined me on the bank.  I commented on his super-fancy camera rig (with a lens as long as his arm) and he said he used to be a sports photographer for the Lodi Sentinel newspaper. Now that he’s retired, he was able to use the tools from his former job to augment his play.  He showed me some photos of Sandhill Cranes that he took, and they were awesome.  He’s kind of new at this nature-photography thing, though, so he doesn’t really know what he’s photographing.  (He thought Northern Shoveler ducks were Mallards, and didn’t know what the Black-Necked Stilts were.  But he’s anxious to learn.)  I think he’s probably in his 70’s; he had to quit working for the newspaper because he has recurring problems with sciatic pain and can’t be on his feet for any length of time.  We walked and talked for a little while, but the mink never resurfaced, so Larry and I went our separate ways…

Two misses today: I saw a Belted Kingfisher perched on a telephone line, watching for fish in one of the adjacent sloughs, but when I turned the car around to get a photo of him, he flew off.  Same thing with a gorgeous Black-Shouldered Kite sitting in a tree by the road. I saw it out of the corner of my eye, but when I got to a place where I could turn the car around, the bird was gone.  Dang.

Oh, and an odd thing: on my way back home, I saw an odd-looking bird standing along the edge of a rice field. I couldn’t tell what it was, so I pulled the car off to the side of the road to take a better look at the thing. It looked like a cross between a Great Egret and a Great Blue Heron… and it took me several minutes to realize I was looking at a fake bird. It was mounted on a pole that mimicked the long legs of the egrets and herons, and what finally made it obvious to me that it was a decoy and not a live bird was when the wind blew; the whole bird spun slowly in a circle on the pole. Hahahaha!

I went right home after that and crashed in bed with the dog for the rest of the day.

Eagles of Varying Ages, 12-30-17

I packed up a tin of dog food and a lunch for me, and we headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge to do some birding. I was hoping to see a Bald Eagle or two… and ended up seeing about SEVEN of them, all different ages from juveniles that looked like they were one or two years old, to full-fledged adults. Bald Eagles don’t get their white head and bright yellow beaks until they’re about four years old, so before that they come in a lot of interesting color combinations.

The first one I saw was in a tree that was pretty far away from the car, so it was almost impossible to get any clear photos of it. The fact that there was a branch right in front of it didn’t help much either. But I could tell it was about three years old. It had a white head, but there was still some brown flecks in the white. It was finishing off its breakfast, trying to keep the scraps from the Ravens and Turkey Vultures that were also sitting in the tree. One of the Ravens flew up very close to it and started giving off this low, rapping-chortling call, like it was begging. So cool! But, dang, I wish it had been just 20 feet closer…

Here is the album of photos and video snippets.

Later along the auto-tour route, I came across a juvenile and an adult. The adult flew off before I could get any decent photos of it, but the juvenile lingered for a while. I think it was about 1 or 1½ years old: still a lot of dark brown overall, and its beak was still dark. While I was getting photos of that one, some guy came up behind me, blowing his car’s horn, so I drove on a bit until I could pull over to the side of the road. As he drove past me he said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for the horn to go off. I leaned against it accidentally when I was moving around in the seat. Sorry. So sorry.” *Sigh* Whatever, dude…

I kept on driving along the tour route, and then came across an adult Bald Eagle sitting in a eucalyptus tree. It was right over the road, so getting photos of it was a little difficult. I had to hold the camera out the driver’s side window of the car at a weird angle and then just shoot, hoping I could get some decent photos. Some of them turned out pretty good, and I got on nice close up photo of the bird’s head.

I actually did the auto-tour loop over again, and ended up being able to see another juvenile (a little older than the second one) and a pair of adults sitting off in one of the partially flooded rice fields. The ones in the field – a male and female – were pretty far away, though, so I didn’t get many clear shots of them.

The other neat find of the morning was seeing a Striped Skunk waddling along the side of the trail. They usually forage at night, so I was surprised it was still out and about. It kept close to the tangle of tule where the wetland hugs the road, so I didn’t get any super clear shots of it, but it was nice to see.
I also got to see all of the usual suspects at the refuge:

Killdeer, House Sparrows, Golden-Crowned Sparrows, White-Crowned Sparrows, Lesser Goldfinches, Jackrabbits, Northern Shovelers, a couple of Mule Deer, Northern Pintails, Savannah Sparrows, Ring-Necked Pheasants, lot of Red-Tailed Hawks and American Coots, Great Egrets, quite a few Red-Shouldered Hawks, Northern Harriers, Snow Geese and Greater White-Fronted Geese, a Nutthall’s Woodpecker, some Western Meadowlarks, Song Sparrows, an immature Pied-Billed Grebe, Black Phoebes, Snowy Egrets, House Finches and a Loggerhead Shrike. Phew!

Even making two rounds of the auto-tour route, I was done by noon, so I headed back home and got there around 1:30 pm. A long day in the car, but I got a lot of photos out of it… and I got to see the eagles I was hoping to see.

Vacation Day #3: Sacramento Zoo… Mostly

DAY THREE OF MY FALL VACATION… Columbus Day; the office is closed.  I got up around 6:30 this morning, and initially headed over to the Cosumnes River Preserve to see if there was any water there yet or any sandhill cranes in the rice fields.  I saw some cranes in the distance, but the preserve was dryer than dry.  I walked for a little bit – to the end of the wooden boardwalk and back – and then I decided to leave the preserve and headed back to Sacramento.

By the time I got there, I knew the Sacramento Zoo was just about to open.  I thought with it being a “holiday” the zoo would be packed, but the parking lot was nearly empty when I got to it, so I spent the morning at the zoo instead.

At the zoo, I spent a lot of time watching the Wolf’s Guenon monkeys. The whole family was out: mom, newborn baby, the two older siblings (by the same mom) and dad. The baby is getting more and more brave, and wants to go searching around their enclosure, but mom is very protective of him and won’t let him too far out of reach. At one point, she had all of her children around her, and the baby squirmed away from her and started to climb down a branch. One of its older siblings caught the baby by its tail and slowed it down enough for mom to get up and scoop up the baby.  Hah!

The male Eastern Bongo was out, but the female and her baby weren’t. While I was watching the male, I noticed some tree squirrels running around, and saw one of them climb a sturdy cane of bamboo straight up into the overhanging limbs of a tree… where the squirrel had built a dray (the name for a squirrel’s nest).

Of the big cats, only the lions and jaguar were out. The female lion was perched on top of the “cat tree” in their enclosure, so I was able to get quite a few photos of her. But the male was pacing, so it was hard to get any good shows of him.  I heard him bellowing later, though, and assumed others got pictures of that. The jaguar there is very “secretive”, so you don’t get to see him at all very often.  Today, though, he was standing right by the fence on one side of his enclosure where there’s a small pond.  He was cleaning himself, licking his paws… I’d ever seen him that close before. His was sitting at kind of a weird angle from me, though, so most of the photos I got of him were from over his shoulder. His coat is soooo gorgeous…

I got to see the baby flamingoes again today and, wow, do they look different from the last time I saw them. All of their white baby fluff is gone, and they’re starting to get their fledgling feathers. They’re a mix of dark gray and pink now.

The zoo has built a new bridge and viewing platform the crosses through the middle of the big pond where the adult flamingoes hang out with many other birds (some of them wild, some of them belonging to the zoo). There were several pairs of Wood Ducks in and around the pond, and I got some photos and a video snippet of one pair as they were grooming one another and nibbling at one another’s bills.

In the Kangaroo enclosure, there were quite a few ‘roos and wallabies out hopping around. Usually, I hardly get to see one or two of the critters; today, they were everywhere.  The Red Panda, in the enclosure across the walkway from the ‘roos, was out, but was sleeping in his tree.

Here are some pix & videos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mkhnaturalist/albums/72157686030399802

Around 11 o’clock I stopped and had a hot dog, fries and a beer for lunch. After that, I walked through the reptile house before heading out of the zoo.

By the exit, there was a docent holding one of the zoo’s “animal ambassadors”, Tim (short for Timbuktu), a Mali Spiny-tailed Lizard. It was really cool-looking. His dark skin was really loose-fitting on his body, and he’s able to “inflate” himself in defense if he needs to. His tail looks like a major weapon: covered in rings of hard-scale spines… The docent said Tim was about 13 years old.

I got back to the house right around noon.