Tag Archives: Long-Billed Dowitchers

So Many Tree Swallows, 03-25-18

I got up around 7:30 this morning and headed out with the dog to the Cosumnes River Preserve and William Land Park.

At the Cosumnes Preserve, I was surprised to see dozens of Tree Swallows flying all over the place and congregating in large numbers among the tules and on the road! I guess they were sitting on the road to get warm, but I’d never seen Tree Swallows do that before. There were adults and juveniles in the mix. Because there were so many of the Swallows around, lots of the photos I took there had photo-bombing Swallows in them.

CLICK HERE to see the album of photos.

I walked along the boardwalk and around an adjacent pond, and saw a few birds (maybe about 18 species). There were a lot of Long-Billed Dowitchers “slumming” with the ducks, Killdeer, and other shorebirds; and the tiny Marsh Wrens were singing their buzzy songs from both sides of the boardwalk.

I was there for about 90 minutes and then headed to William Land Park.

Lots of Wrens and Squirrels, 03-24-18

Around 6:30 am I headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge with the dog. They’ve opened the loop to the permanent wetlands area, so I wanted to see what that looked like these days – and I needed a nature fix. The mountains around us, which aren’t too terribly tall, had snow on their summits, and a light dusting of snow all down their flanks (which had pretty much melted by the end of the day today). It was 44º when I got to the refuge and around 51º when I headed back home. Clear and bright, though. I got some nice scenery shots while I was out there.

I saw most of the usual suspects while I was out on the preserve; and for the most part I had the place all to myself. I only saw two or three other cars on the auto route when I was driving it (although, a phalanx of cars showed up just as I was leaving. I assumed it was a birding group who were there to see the fly-out at dusk.)

CLICK HERE for the album of photos and videos.

Jackrabbits and Cottontails were out, and I also got a glimpse of a Striped Skunk and a small herd of mule deer. Otherwise, it was mostly birds. The huge-huge flocks are gone now, but there’s more variety in the different kinds of species you can see out there (if you know where and how to look for them.)

I saw American Coots, American Wigeons, Killdeer, Red-Winged Blackbirds, several Great Egrets, Western Meadowlarks, some Northern Harriers, White-Faced Ibis, Great Blue Herons, Song Sparrows, Green-Winged Teals, Northern Shovelers, White-Crowned Sparrows, a couple of Red-Tailed Hawks, lots of Double-Crested Cormorants, Pied-Billed Grebes, Ruddy Ducks, Ring-Necked Ducks, Cinnamon Teals, Golden-Crowned Sparrows, a Belted Kingfisher, Audubon’s Warblers, Black-Necked Stilts, Tree Swallows, Long-Billed Dowitchers, Snowy Egrets, Gadwalls, a Red-Shouldered Hawk, some Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Goldfinches, House Sparrows, an Anna’s Hummingbird, and several Crows. And, of course, this time of year the Marsh Wrens are out everywhere building their nests and singing their buzzy songs trying to attract females. I got lots of photos of them.

At one spot along the route, I came across an area where there were several Ibis and Snow Egrets gathered, and a Great Egret standing nearby. One of the Ibis caught a crayfish in the water, but as soon as it lifted it up, about three of the Snowy Egrets went after it, making the Ibis drop its meal. One of the Snowys picked it up and tried to fly off with it, but then the great Egret flew over and body-slammed the Snowy making it drop the crayfish, too. The Great Egret then had to search through the turbid water to find the crayfish again so he could eat it himself.

I saw only one of the Ibis starting to get its white breeding face, and the Snowy Egrets I saw aren’t showing any signs of their breeding plumage yet. But some of the Great Egrets are… and their faces are turning neon green: a signal to other Great Egrets that they’re ready and available for mating.

I also got quite a few photos of California Ground Squirrels. I’m just enamored with those little guys. If I had the time and funding, I’d love to be able to a long-tern field study on them. This is the time of year when the females have all set up their natal chambers in their burrows and are lookin’ for love. I saw one pair of the squirrels though in which the female was not at all interested in the male who kept harassing her. Maybe she already had babies in her burrow she needed to take of, or she just wasn’t that into him, but their antics were hysterical to watch. I got a little bit of it on video and in photos, but they just don’t do the comedy justice. The male first approached the female from the front, sniffing at her, reaching out to her with a paw, touching his nose to hers. But when he tried to move in further to get a whiff of her goodies, she jumped straight up into the air about a foot and ran off. The male chased her, and the two of them went running down the road in front of my car, tails up, the male body-slamming the female occasionally to try to get her to slow down or stop for him. More jumping. More running. Then they took a break for about a second before the male tried to approach the female again and… More jumping. More running. Hah! It was exhausting to watch them. I don’t know if he ever got her or not, but it was valiant effort.

The permanent wetlands loop was kind of disappointing. They’re redone the dirt road there and cut down all of the tall grass and most of the roadside vegetation. That makes viewing easier, but because there aren’t any places now near the road with high vegetation, there’s no place for the critters to hide or eat or build nests. So there was “nothing” to see. The refuge is also going to drain the big pond there, which means for a brief period of time, as the waters shrink and the water-living bugs and crustaceans are forced into a smaller and smaller living space, the birds will have a feast. When that happens there will be a lot of activity and photo ops. But the draining of that pond also means that the Clark’s and Western Grebes won’t be able to build their floating nests on the water – which is usually a big draw for photographers. So, this might be a disappointing year for photographers at the refuge.

((The draining of the pond is done about every years to get rid of the invasive carp who get into the basin when the area floods and then get trapped there when the flood waters recede. The refuge also has to till the pond bottom to expose it to the sun, so that all of the bacteria and viruses in the accumulated bird droppings can get irradiated.))

I was at the refuge for about 5 hours and then headed back home.

More than 140 Egrets in One Pond!

DAY 9 OF MY VACATION.  I got up around 5:45 this morning and headed out to the Cosumnes River Preserve.  I hadn’t been there in quite a while and wanted to see how things were going there (after all of the recent floods and whatnot).  It was another perfect weather day: 43º when I headed out; 64º when I headed back…

Because I was there so early, I knew the gate to the boardwalk parking area would still be closed, so I found a safe place on the side of the road, as near to the gate as I could get without blocking it, and parked there.  Then I walked into the preserve.  The majority of the water was gone from there, too.  But there were still a few large ponds sitting around… and one of them was brimming with Egrets (most Great Egrets, but several Snowy Egrets as well), all of them glistening white in the early morning sunlight.  I took my time walking up to the pond because I didn’t want to scare the birds off, but they were so busy eating and playing “¿Quién es más macho?” with one another that they didn’t even notice me, and I was able to get pretty close to them. I counted up to 140 egrets before I quit… That is a LOT of birds!

CLICK HERE to see the full album of photos and videos.

After the flood waters from the river recede, the standing ponds are filled with fish, crawdads, frogs, tadpoles and other tasties, and the birds just chow down.  I saw some of the egrets catching fish as big or bigger than my hand… so large I didn’t think the birds would be able to swallow them.  But each one managed to down its catch without totally gagging on it.  I was watching one egret trying to get a carp in the right position to swallow, and the big fish kept smacking the bird in the side of the head with its tail.  Bonk, bonk, bonk…! It wasn’t going down without a fight. Hahaha!

Some of the Great Egrets were still in their long breeding plumage and green faces, and those were the ones who were just walking around trying to be butch; sometimes chasing off other birds, or jumping into the air for three-second foot-to-foot combat.  And all of the birds were making their loud croaking noises; sounded like a herd of hogs…

Also around the egrets were some American Avocets, Common Terns, White-Faced Ibis, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Great Blue Herons, and even a Black-Crowned Night Heron who apparently wanted some breakfast before heading off to its day roost.  There were some Common Terns doing their death-drop into the water to catch fish – I worried about them because the water was shallow; I was afraid they’d break their necks! – and I saw an American White Pelican flying leisurely overhead… I got lots of photos and videos there, and was actually completely by myself for the majority of the time I was on the preserve.  I saw two or three other cars, but no people until just before I was ready to leave, so that was nice, too.

I was reluctant to leave the egrets to walk around the rest of the boardwalk area, but I did. There wasn’t much water around the boardwalk itself but the plants were crazy-prolific: several different kinds of grass, including Canary grass and Rabbit’s Foot Grass, Water Primrose, tules, of course, and small rushes, several different kinds of Smartweed, Jointed Charlock, a couple of different kinds of Flat Sedge, Soap Root, Scarlet Pimpernel, Flat-Faced Downgia… tons of stuff.  Too bad I pretty much suck at botany.

At the end of the boardwalk, the viewing platform was surrounded by a shallow pool, but the rest of the area was pretty much dry.  When I stepped out onto the platform I could hear a raspy squawking coming from the tules and vegetation around the shore of the pond, and I thought it might be a Sora or a Rail but I couldn’t see it. Whatever it was ducked into the vegetation; I could see the plants move as the critter worked its way through them.  So, I decided to leave it for a while and focused my attention instead on the few other birds around the pond.  There was a pair of Canada Geese with their goslings, some more Avocets, Black-Necked Stilts, a pair of Northern Shovelers, and a couple of Long-Billed Dowitchers.  A cute moment with the geese: as soon as the babies realized mom and dad were ambling toward the water, they all rushed out in front of their parents like little kids running toward a beach.

As I was taking photos and video of them, the squawking started again, so I turned slowly to look behind me along the shore of the pond… and there was a mama Virginia Rail!  She moved pretty quickly at first because she was trying to shoo her babies into the tules – two tiny black fuzz-balls.  She might have had more, but I only saw two them. They’re so teeny; they looked like drier lint on a stick. Hah! After that initial showing, I kept an eye and an ear out for her and was able to see her three more times as she dashed out onto the muddy edge of the pond to catch bugs and dig up worms for her kids and then dashed back into the tules to feed them.  While I was watching her, another “old lady” came up onto the platform with her binoculars.  I was going to tell her about the Rail – which is a rare sight at the preserve – but I didn’t want to make any noise for fear I’d scare the Rail away.  [Later, I told two other people I saw as I was heading back to my car about the Rail, so I wasn’t being a total noodge about it.]

I also walked along the sidewalk that acts as a boat ramp and leads you to the river.  I could see all the damage the flooding had done to the ground there, and there was still standing water in many places.  I couldn’t actually get to the boat dock itself because the last fifteen or twenty feet of the ramp to the dock was under water.  And that’s VERY unusual for this time of year.

I saw some American Goldfinches and Bullock’s Orioles as I was heading back to my car.  The Goldfinches were pretty far away, so the photos aren’t the best… and the Orioles refused to pose for me, so I didn’t get any shots of them at all. Still, for the day, I burned through four camera batteries and took almost 2000 photos!  It was a good day.

All in all, I walked for about 4 ½ hours; waaaaay past my body’s limit, so I knew I was going to pay for that with sore feet and ankles for the rest of the day, but I think it was worth to get the shots that I did.

Too Windy at the Refuge, 04-28-17

I’d gotten the okay from my boss to work from home of Friday.  I checked in with office stuff on-and-off via cellphone and email  in the morning, and then did some more work from home in the afternoon, but spent several hours in between driving around the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  It was way too windy there, so I didn’t get to see a lot of stuff, but it was still nice to get outside and into the fresh air.

CLICK HERE for an album of photos and videos.

Because the wind was blowing so hard, my subjects kept moving which made focusing on anything difficult, and at other times, the wind would latterly knock my camera to the side or back into my face, which also hampered picture taking and videoing.  So, I didn’t get as many choice photos as I would have liked.

I did see, in the distance a mama Mallard and what looked like 13 ducklings… It was hard to count them because they kept moving around…

For a minute, I saw a Red-Tailed Hawk in a tree. It’s crop was so full it looked like it had swallowed a tennis ball.  I think it was hoping to just rest in the top of the tree and digest its meal, but a pair of Kingbirds wanted that tree to nest in, and they mobbed the hawk until it flew off…

I also got to see a pair of American Bitterns. They had come out to the edge of the auto-tour road to challenge one another.  Both were doing their “pumper-lunk” calls, but by the time I got the car stopped and my camera primed, they were quiet… and one of them walked off into the tules where I could barely see him.  (Sometimes yet get the pictures; sometimes you don’t.)

Later in the tour I came across a roadkill, which is kind of unusual on the auto tour route because most cars are usually going less than 5 miles per hour. This was a full hit-the-critter-and-roll-it-inside-out kind of roadkill.  By the looks of the tail and the clawed back foot, I’m assuming it had been a muskrat. I wanted to take parts of it home with me – but I don’t have my collections permit yet, and besides you’re not allowed to get out of your car on the tour. Dangit!

A little further up the route, I came across a pair of Black Tailed Mule Deer sitting in a dry culvert, sunning themselves out of the wind.  One was a young male with black “nubbies” where is antlers will come in over the summer; the other was a female. They both lifted their heads to look at me, but didn’t get up.  They were comfortable where they were.

I’m used to seeing all of the Marsh Wren nests in tules, but today I saw a few that were really quite interesting in their construction. One seemed to complete with a grassy ‘handle” on top.  I’d love to be able to just camp out along a stretch of tules at the refuge and film the construction process… and try to figure out what attracts the females to a particular nest when there are so many options available to them.

 

A Visit to the Woodland Science Center Site, 04-19-17

My coworker Jenifer took the staff on a tour of the site where we hope the new Woodland Science Center will be built. Jenifer spearheaded this project for Tuleyome and has been working for the last two years to pull all of the community stakeholders together.  She’s pushed the project forward to the point where she already architectural drawings of the site and is starting to look for funding to build everything.  I’d heard her describe the site several times, and had seen some photos of it, but they don’t even begin to elicit the same response as actually stepping onto the site and looking at it.  I can see soooo much potential there, and am now more excited to see the center get built and the site protected and utilized. My coworkers Nate and Kristie came along with us, and we all got so involved with taking photos and recording sounds that the 1-hour site visit turned into a 2 ½ hour hike! We walked all the way around the borrow pit (which was full of water and looking great), and up to one of the high points on a hillock.

Jenifer said she really enjoyed being out on the site with us because we were so excited about everything, and were able to point out to her things she hadn’t seen or noticed before.

CLICK HERE to see an album of photos.

Because I had thought it was just going to be a short site visit, I hadn’t brought my “field stuff”, like my notebook, insect repellant, walking stick, etc.  Still, I was able to mentally keep track of many of the species we saw there, and I got some photos, too.   I told Jenifer that to get really good images I’d need to get onto the property at dusk and dawn when the light wasn’t so glaring (and it was cooler)… so I suggested she ask Sara if staff could do an overnight campout on the site (before the heat of summer was on us and all of the plants were dried up). We’ll see…

Of the species we were able to identify we saw: Purple Salsify, Annual Yellow Sweetclover, Silverpuffs, Soft Blow Wives, several different kinds of Lupine, Storksbill, California Goldfields, Cowbag Clover, Popcorn Flowers, Canary Grass, Dock, Italian Thistle, Bull Thistle, Milk Thistle, Oat Grass, Squirrel-tail barley, willow trees, cottonwood trees, and what I thought might be Alkali Milk Vetch (although that’s pretty rare).  We saw Variegated Meadowhawk dragonflies, Exclamation Damselflies, Northern Bluet Damselflies, Black-Fronted Forktail Damselflies, and Pacific Forktail Damselflies.  A coyote, rabbit, signs of otter slides along the banks of the borrow pit, a Green Heron, Tree Swallows, Barn Swallows, Western Kingbirds, Great-Horned Owls, Red-Tailed Hawks, Swainson’s Hawks, a small flock of Long-Billed Dowitchers (that “attacked” Nate), Mallards, Mourning Doves, Mockingbirds, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Western Meadowlarks, and Bullock’s Orioles.  We also heard the call of Pied-Billed Grebes and came across two hawks’ nests (one with a mama sitting on her eggs), and an owl’s nest. We also found some very large burrows… but couldn’t tell what lived in them because the tracks around them that clear.  We did find a lot of cow tracks, some deer tracks, coyote tracks and raccoon tracks. I think if we had more time on the site, we’d be able to better document a lot more (thus, the request for the campout).

What’s neat about the site is that the area around the borrow pit can be reformed into a beautiful pond / wetlands area, and there are also alkali sinks and vernal pools on the property, so it can be turned into a real environmental “learning space”.  And even though it’s “wild”, it sits right near rice farms, schools, and suburban housing, so it will be easy for the public to get to. I was really excited about the whole thing!

Vacation Day 14: Cosumnes River Preserve

DAY 14 OF MY VACATION.  Around 8:00 am I headed over to the Cosumnes River Preserve for the second time this week.  They’ve gotten more of their water in already. I think they flooded a couple of extra fields because they were having a “Ducks in Scopes” and nature photography thing going today.  They thought they’d have to cancel the activities because of rain, but although the clouds threatened, it was a rainless 65° there.  I steered clear of the groups of people – they make so much noise, they scare off all of the birds – and sort of made my own path around the front half of the refuge. (I might go back tomorrow, to do the river walk there; we’ll see what the weather is like.)

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

I saw a couple of Red-Tailed Hawks.  One of them was sitting in the top of a tree BEHIND all the people who had their birding scopes set up.  I didn’t tell anyone he was there, and just got a bunch of photos of him from different angles before moving on.  Y’gotta pay attention to what’s around you, folks! Hah!

Among the ducks, I saw the usual suspects including Northern Shovelers and Pintails, Green-Winged Teals, and Cinnamon Teals.  And among the other shorebirds, I saw Greater Yellowlegs, Black-Necked Stilts, Long-Billed Dowitchers, Dunlins, and tons of America Coots. There were also White-Crowned Sparrows, Golden-Crown Sparrows, Lesser Goldfinches, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Savannah Sparrows and Black Phoebes.

Along the wetlands walks, the oak trees were still sporting some wasp galls, and the poison oak was looking very Christmasy in red and green. The rain is also waking up the lichen, which is starting to fatten up, stretch out and reproduce.

I saw several groups of Sandhill Cranes fly overhead, so I tried to watch where they landed and then went over to where I thought they might be.  They usually keep pretty far away from the roads and walkways, but I was able to get some photos of a small group of them that were making their way across the top of a levy.  Most of the time they had their butts toward me, but I did get a few side-view shots when they turned their heads.  In that same area I came across a couple of Great Egrets, so I got some shots of them, too.

As I was heading out of the area, I caught glimpse of a large bird sitting on top of a pile tules – and it looked awfully “pale”.  I thought it might be a juvenile Bald Eagle because of its size, but I only got photos of the back of its head, so I couldn’t see what the eye-ridge or beak looked like.  Now, I’m not sure if it was an eagle or just a really big super-light-morph Red-Tail – or something else.  When it took off flying, much of its tail was white (which would be indicative of an eagle)… but I’m still not sure.  If it was a juvenile Bald Eagle it would be REALLY unusual for this area.

Anyway, I was at the preserve for about 3½ hours and then headed back home.