Tag Archives: Mallards

Eagles, Ravens and More, 01-28-19

I wanted to get up a little early today so I could head out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge… The drive to the refuge is a long one: 2 hours there, 2 hours back, and about 4 hours of driving around the auto tour route. That’s a LOT of car time, sitting in a folded-up position. I haven’t done it since just before my surgery and didn’t know if my core could handle that yet. Well, I found out. It can’t right now.

I was okay on the drive there, but halfway through the auto tour route, I started to ache, and by the time I got back to the house I was in pain. Dang it! I thought I was doing so well. Gotta work more on the exercise and core stuff I guess.

Anyway, after putting gas in the car and stopping to pick up something for my own breakfast, the dog and I got to the refuge around 7:00 am. The sun was just coming up, so I got some red-sky photos. Because the light was so “low” and there was some cloud cover, the camera gave me fits all day. The cloud-glare bounced off the water and played havoc with the light meter/auto focus dealie, and I struggled to get the photos I wanted, sometimes failing miserably which was very frustrating. So, rather than relaxing me, I was kind of stressed out periodically throughout the drive.

Still, I did manage to get SOME halfway decent images. CLICK HERE to see the full album.

The standouts for the day were the Bald Eagles and Ravens. I saw about 5 eagles, including a bonded pair and a juvenile (maybe 2 or 2 ½ years old). One of the eagles was sitting what I generally call “the eagle tree” because you can often find one sitting in it.

It’s sometimes hard to get photos of the birds in that tree because it’s a tall one that sits on the right-hand side of the road. You either have to lay down in the front seat and shoot out the passenger-side window or turn the car at an angle that puts your driver’s-side window to the tree (and blocks the whole road). There were no other cars on the road at the time, so I chose to block it. (Didn’t think my core could handle my lying down in the seat and twisting to shoot out and up into the tree.) I was surprised to find that in that tree, on a few branches below the eagle, there was also a Cooper’s Hawk. You don’t really realize just how truly big the eagles are until you see one beside a hawk. Wow!

The rest of the eagles were near the end of the auto-tour route. The bonded pair were in a distant tree, sitting near the top of it, near the last park-and-stretch area. Because they were so far away it was hard to get any good close-ups of them with my camera. And because of the cloud-glare, their white heads tended to vanish against the white sky, so finessing the camera’s iris was tricky. I liked watching the pair, though. They sat side by side, surveying the surrounding wetlands, periodically touched beaks like they were kissing and groomed one another.

The last two eagles, an adult and the juvenile, were sitting up in the eucalyptus trees along the exit route. The juvenile, which was much more visible than the adult because it was sitting out near the end of some branches, at first looked like a mottled shadow against the twiggy branches, but then seemed to reveal itself as I got closer to it. So cool!

I also got to see three ravens. Two were of a pair that landed together in a tree near the end of the auto tour route. One was kind of bedraggled-looking; some of its feathers were on inside out. And the other flew up with it, offering it a treat I couldn’t quite make out. The treat-bearing one flew off again, and the bedraggled-looking one stayed behind, cawing loudly in the direction in which the other had left.

Even though I wrestled with the camera all day, I was still able to see over 30 different species of birds and animals while I was out there, so I still chalk it up as a “good” viewing day.

A Wednesday Walk at Lake Solano Park, 11-07-18

I got up around 6:00 this morning and headed out to Lake Solano Park for Tuleyome’s scheduled “Wednesday Walk” there. I stopped in Woodland to pick up some stuff for lunch, and then continued on to the park, arriving there just a little bit before 8:00 am.

When I drove into the main gate, I was astonished to see the gates closed and PARK CLOSED signs up. My coworker Nate was across the street in the camping area and came over to my car to let me know that, unbeknownst to him, the park was shut down because they were doing spraying for invasive species. The camping ground side of the park was open though.

I tracked down a ranger and asked him if it was okay for us to park in their overflow lot (which is usually only for 30-minute-parking) because our group couldn’t access the park for our schedule d event. He said that would be okay as long as we still paid the day use fee ($6 per car) and put the day use ticket on our dashboards with “Ranger OKed” written on them. So, we did that, and ended up with about 9 people on the walk.

The trail along Putah Creek on the campground side of Lake Solano isn’t as “manicured” as the one on the park side, and it gets a little gnarly toward the end of it where it abuts private land. We had two older ladies with us who weren’t able to walk long distances, so I stayed pretty much at the back of the group with them, identifying birds for them and showing them things like galls, midges, and other stuff along the way.

About halfway down the trail, the ladies decided they’d better turn back before they got too tired, so once they were gone, I caught up with Nate and the rest of the group. I thought it was funny that throughout the walk, some of the participants kept coming back to me to ask questions rather than deferring to Nate (who knows just about as much as I do about nature areas); I guess I looked “knowledgeable” or something.

One of the folks asked more about our naturalist course, and a couple of other people asked about our trail camera project… so the publicity I’m doing for those in local newspapers is having some effect, and that’s always good to know.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

We walked for about two hours before getting back to our cars. I was kind of disappointed in the wildlife showing there: not a lot was going on. But we did see Acorn Woodpeckers, Northern Flickers, Scrub Jays, a Eurasian Collared Dove, lots of Mallards, Buffleheads and Canada Geese, several Great Blue Herons, some Double-Crested Cormorants, Spotted Towhees, and a few Pied-Billed Grebes. We had wanted to take the group to the park side of the lake, so they’d have a chance to see the Western Screech Owl that often sleeps there, but, no… the spraying was going on.

One odd thing we saw was a small group of Bushtits clinging to the side of the nature center, picking at what I first thought was splotches of dark mold. I couldn’t understand why the little birds were so interested in that. As we got closer, though, we realized that the splotches were not mold but rather clumps of small dark midges (bugs) that had gotten caught in the cobwebs on the building. Smart birds! They had whole buffet of midges to eat!

A Very Conspicuous Great-Tailed Grackle, 05-26-18

I got up at 5:00 today, even though it’s the weekend, because I wanted to get back to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge for a longer trip around the auto-tour there.  It was overcast and drizzling all morning, and the sun didn’t come out until just about when I was ready to leave the refuge.  I stopped off at the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge and spent about an hour there before heading onto the Sacramento refuge.

At the Colusa refuge, I was surprised to see a large flock of sheep near the front gate. Sheep and goats are often brought in to help clear the landscape of overgrowth and noxious weeds – because they eat anything. I saw several American Bitterns there, many of them on the ground among the tules. They were too far away to get really photos of them, but I managed to get a few so-so shots.

Most of the ground at the Colusa refuge are dry – no standing water – so it can be difficult to see much of anything.  I did get to see a lot of Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets and Great Blue Herons there, along with several crayfish chimneys, pheasants and a young Pied-Billed Grebe that was still sporting its striped face. The neatest sighting was that of a young coyote loping across the fields.

At the Sacramento refuge I was first inundated by sightings of Black-Tailed Jackrabbits, Desert Cottontails and California Ground Squirrels, and I thought that was all I was going to be able to see there today. Eventually, the place “opened up” to me and I was able to get photos of other critters, too. What was really nice was that I literally had the place all to myself. Didn’t see any other vehicles (besides the rangers’) until just before I was ready to leave. So, everything was nice and quiet, and I didn’t feel rushed.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

Of the ground squirrels, I saw, I came across one that exhibited a behavior I’d never seen before. It raised itself up on its hind legs, into a standing position, and then rubbed its head and face against a twig. I don’t know if it was transferring scent or just had an itch (it looked a bit mangy), but it was neat to see.

At one point, I stopped because I saw something “odd” on one side of a slough. I couldn’t get a good look at it, even with the telephoto it was sitting on the bank closest to the road, among the tules, with its back toward me. I kept an eye on it, and eventually it dipped down into the water in the slough… a muskrat! It played “keep away” for quite a while, ducking under the surface of the water just as I got the camera focused on it. After a while I tried to anticipate where it might show up next and was rewarded with some video footage of it. Phew!

The other cool find of the day was seeing a male Great Tailed Grackle walking along the rails of a wooden fence.  It was calling and posturing all along the way. I got some video footage (so you can hear the sounds it made) and some fairly good still shots… and I got to see some male Ring-Necked Pheasants sitting a tree. I’d never seen them in tree before; I usually sot them on the ground. They’re large colorful birds, so when they’re up in a tree they’re very “exposed”. There must’ve been something on the ground that scared them.

When I stopped to get some photos of a large bullfrog in the water, I saw something else beside it that I couldn’t identify at the time. I took photos and video of it and when I got home, I looked at it over and over again trying to figure out what I was looking at. I finally decided it was a pair of freshwater snails or whelks laying eggs on a rock… So weird…

I left the refuge around noon and was back home around 2:00 pm.

CalNat Field Trip #2, Lake Solano Park. 03-03-18

I led a California Naturalists field trip to Lake Solano Park today. The first thing we saw when we entered the park were two peacocks roosting high in a tree over our heads… and a male Phainopepla that was looking for mistletoe berries to eat.

It was originally the idea that half of the group would go in one direction and the other half of the group would go in another – so we could cover the whole park — but all of the students wanted to come with me, so we moved in one big group.

The walk was a productive one, however: we got to show students different kinds of plants including flowering Pipevine, Manroot vines with seed-pods forming on them already, and Northern Giant Horsetail (Equisetum telmateia braunii ), a subspecies of horsetail that grows in western North America. Although commonly referred to as “Horsetail Grass” it’s actually a kind of fern that grown simultaneously in fertile and non-fertile forms. We saw both the non-fertile green stems (that are photosynthetic), and the yellowish fertile spore-bearing stems in the same area. The spore-bearing stems die as soon as their spores are released, so there were a lot of them around looking like they’d “fainted”. Although the normal mature size of these ferns is about 4-5 feet tall, they can get as tall as 7 feet high. (So the ones we saw were just “babies”.) In another month or so, they’ll come up to my chest. (Both the infertile forms and the fertile forms grown from the same rhizomes of the same plant – so one feeds the overall fern while the other tends to reproduction.)

There were also plenty of waterfowl to see including Canada Geese, Double-Crested Cormorants, Common Goldeneyes, Mallards, American Wigeons, Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons (which seemed to be almost everywhere we looked), and a Green Heron.

When one student took a close-up photo of a sprout of mistletoe, she realized there was a bug on it and asked me if I could identify it for her. I’d never seen anything like it before. It looked like a scale bug, but I wasn’t positive, so I took a bunch of close-ups of it and then researched it after I got home. It was Icerya purchasi — (my brain first saw that as “Ikea Purchases”; hah!) — and it’s common name is Cottony Cushion Scale. It’s considered a pest species and usually attacks citrus trees, but it’s known to parasitize mistletoe. So the parasitic mistletoe has a parasite of its own. The one we saw was in the medium stage of its development, before it gets its big white cushiony behind.

We also saw a family of about 5 river otters in Putah Creek, but they were too far away (along the distant shore) for me to get any good photos of video of them. Another hard-to-photograph find was a male Belted Kingfisher that kept flying back and forth on the opposite side of the river. “See that white dot on the tree over there? That’s his breast.” Hah!

The find that all of the students really enjoyed was being able to spot the tiny Western Screech Owl, who was sleeping in the same tree I’d seen him in before. His tree is behind one of the most remote restrooms in the park, so I had the students follow me around the building, then file in behind me at the adjacent picnic tables, before I showed them where the owl was. I used a laser pointer to help them pinpoint his location. It was gratifying to hear all of the ooo’s and ahhhs, and the clicking of camera shutters once they spotted him. If nothing else, I’d been able to give them the treat of seeing something they’d never seen in the wild before. And some of the students didn’t even know the park was there, so it was nice surprise to them, too.

Along the walk (and we only covered half of the park in 4 hours!), I also pointed out stuff like Turkey Tail fungus, Black Jelly Roll fungus, different kinds of lichen, and some Barometer Earthstars. They’d never seen anything like that before, so I demonstrated for them how the spores are released from the puffer-belly in the center of the fungus – and one of the students took a video of that.

It’s hard for me to lead a walk, point out and hold specimens, AND take photos of my own, so I didn’t get as many pictures as the students themselves did. I told them they have to share them with me!!

On the way back to the parking lot, where folks gathered to share to lunches and decompress, my coworker Bill spotted some scat along the shore. So I put on a nitrile glove and picked some of it up. We concluded it was probably otter scat, considering all of the crayfish parts we found in it – including an intact, undigested antenna. I told the students Bill was “great at finding all sorts of crap”, and everyone laughed, including Bill.

While we were having our lunches, too, someone noticed an aggregate of Western Boxelder Bugs so I was able to give them a mini lesson on those. Some of the bugs were having sex, so the mass kind of looked like an orgy, but most of the bugs were just huddled together to keep themselves warm. (By that time of the day it was about 46º and the rain was just starting.) The species we see here in California is Boisea rubrolineata. Their host trees are ash, maple, Goldenrain trees, and soapberry; and they usually eat nothing but the seeds.

We all left the park around 12:30 pm, and headed back home. I took the long way around, going back to Woodland and then on to Sacramento, so the drive took me over an hour… but it was neat to see all of the sofa clouds and the storm squall starting to move in and cover the valley.

A Western Screech Owl and Other Critters, 02-24-18

Brrr.  It was 32º this morning when I headed over to Lake Solano Park for a walk and a pre-field trip photo session.  This is the park where I had fallen earlier this month, so I was very much on my guard while I was there.  I got to the park without any ado, and had the parking lot all to myself when I arrive (around 8:00 am), so I was able to park in an easily accessible place. Score!  The rest of my morning went along well, too… and I didn’t fall down once. Hah!

At the park, I was accosted by a peacock looking for handouts when I first got out of my car, but then I didn’t any of the peafowl again throughout my walk (although I could hear them calling to one another across the park).  It was cold enough there in the early morning that some of shallower water was frozen solid.

Bufflehead ducks seemed to be everywhere I looked in the river, females with males around them doing their head-bobbing thing and bullying each other. I also saw Mallards, American Wigeons, some Wood Ducks and lots of Common Goldeneyes. I saw quite a few Great Blue Herons, including one that was very cooperative and let me walk to within about 10 fee of it while it waded in the water.

There are always Canada Geese at the park, but I was surprised to find a pair that were actually hybrids, crossed with Greater White-Fronted geese, so their coloring was way off. As Billy Crystal would say, “This is what happens when cousins marry.”

Along with the ubiquitous Acorn Woodpeckers, I also saw several Northern Flickers (although I had a lot of trouble getting photos of them because they were up so high in the trees and kept moving around), and some Nutthall’s Woodpeckers (a male in one tree and a female in another). And there were California Scrub Jays all over the place; some stashing food in the ground, some picking up twiglets for their nests.

I also saw a Cedar Waxwing (that wouldn’t turn around, so all I got was the back of its head), several Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets, Spotted Towhees, Golden-Crowned Sparrows (eating the flowers off what I think was a fruitless pear tree), Song Sparrows, Pied-Billed Grebes, a few Hooded Mergansers, several Crows, Black Phoebes, a couple of Myrtle Warblers and a Eurasian Collared Dove.  I was teased by Belted Kingfishers all morning, flying back and forth along the shore of the river, but never on the side on which I walking… and they’re so freakin’ fast! I just barely got some a really bad photos of a female in a tree.

I was surprised and happy to see several Phainopepla in the park, both males and females. But the best sighting of the day was of a tiny Western Screech Owl.  I would have completely missed him if a birder-lady hadn’t pointed him out to me… “See the tree with the blue mark on it?” She said. “Now look up where the knots are on it.” Wow!  Amazeballs. He was sitting with his butt in a hole in the side of the tree, dozing, and opened his eyes just a slit to look at me when I took some photos of him. Think of an owl the size of your palm – that’s how little he was.

Find the owl.

Among the plants I could easily identify were Pipevine, Manroot Vine, Miner’s Lettuce and Burr Chervil, tules, cattails… y’know, the usual suspects.

I also saw my first Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly of the season, and got it to sit on my sleeve for a little while so I could take some photos of it.  I think it like that the coat was WARM on such a chilly morning. I could tell by the amount of blue on her hind wings that it was a female.

Here is an album of photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mkhnaturalist/albums/72157690848390452

I walked for about 4½ hours, which is way past my limit, so I was exhausted and achy by the time I got back home.

Mostly Galls… which is what I was looking for, 08-06-17

Up at 5:30 again. I hate that I have to get up so early on the weekends just so I can get outside when it’s still cool, but… whatcha gonna do? I went over to the River Bend Park, but rather than going to the area where I usually walk, I crossed the bridge and walked along the west shore of the river.

I didn’t see much in the way of animals during my walk, but I did get to see quite a few different galls – which is what I was really looking for. I did get to see, though, some Canada Geese, Mallards, a Snowy Egret, Acorn Woodpeckers, some European Starlings, some Western Bluebirds, and very young fledgling Scrub Jays. The only mammal I saw (besides humans) was a California Ground Squirrel.

CLICK HERE to see the full album of photos.

Among the galls I found were: prickly Live Oak galls, Oak “apples”, Spiny Turbans and Red Cone galls (which are by far the most numerous around here), Yellow Wig galls, newly forming Spangle Galls, Flat-Topped Honeydew Galls (some tended by ants and protected by Yellow Jackets), and fuzzy Club Galls.  The majority of the gals I found were all on one tree.  Apparently it’s situated at an intersection where a lot of different wasps and other insects meet.  There was one other tree I went looking for, a small one that’s right along the river’s edge where there are usually great specimens of the Wooly Bear galls…  But, alas, in the flooding spring rains, that little trees was swept away (along with the piece of shore it was growing on.

The eucalyptus trees along the river were also covered in lerps (from the Red Gum Eucalyptus Lerp Psyllid).  The lerps are like little pyramids that the psyllid spin out of starch and sugar.  They’re all sticky with the honeydew the psyllids exude.   I also founds lots of clusters of eggs laid by Assassin Bugs. Most of them were already hatched out.  In one place, I came across some off-looking larvae climbing up and around the rushes along the river side. I’m not sure what they were (some sort of beetle, I suspect, based on their shape); I’ll have to investigate those some more.

The oak trees are just starting to sport their acorns. Give them another month and they’ll be shiny brown and ripe enough to pick and plant.  In September, Tuleyome is having Zarah Wyly from the Sacramento Tree Foundation come to do a lecture for us on acorn gathering.  And then on October 1st, if everything works out well, she’ll also lead an outing to collect Blue Oak acorns from the Silver Spur Ranch property.  Fingers crossed on that one…

I walked for about 2 ½ hours and then went back home