Tag Archives: marsh

At the Sacramento and Colusa Wildlife Refuges, 05-06-19

Certified California Naturalist, Roxanne Moger and I went out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge around 6:00 am this morning. The weather was beautiful today, but there wasn’t a lot to see at the preserve. We’re kind of in between seasons, so the large flocks of birds have all left, but the insects (like dragonflies, damselflies, and orb-weaver spiders) haven’t arrived yet. We did see swarms of Painted Lady butterflies and some Cabbage White, but none of the other species normally seen there in the late spring/early summer.

Roxanne did all the driving, but we stopped a couple of time to get out of the car and walk parts of the trail or explore the boundaries of the park-and-stretch areas. Some of the vernal pools on the site were in bloom: all golden yellow and purple with Goldfields and Downingia. Just beautiful.

Although the species list at the end of the day wasn’t as long or as varied as I’d like, I did like the fact that I saw a few things I’d never seen before and learned more about some species than I’d known before. That’s what really makes these outings fun.

A large fly landed on the passenger side mirror of the car partway through the auto-tour and at first I thought it was a Robber Fly (those guys are pretty big). We were both intrigued by the fly’s huge goggle-like eyes and his tenaciousness.  He held onto that mirror for quite a long time.

When I got home, I looked up the fly to see if I could find its scientific name and found that it was actually a male Striped (or Lined) Horsefly, Tabanus lineola. I’d never seen one before. And, of course, once I find something new to me, I have to research it more.  Never having encountered a Horsefly before, I was surprised to learn that although the males drink nectar, the females drink blood (usually from large mammals like livestock). She had scissor-like mouth parts that slice into the skin so she can get to the blood. This species is usually found along the east coast and Gulf of Mexico, so it was something of a surprise to find it here… assuming I got the ID correct.

We also got to see a male Red-Winged Blackbird flaring his epaulets at a female, and a pair of Brown-Headed Cowbirds performing what we thought was courtship behavior.  The two birds sat across from one another, then one ruffled its feathers, opened its wings a bit and bowed down at the other, and the other responded in kind.

Roxanne and I inferred the behavior was “courtship” but, from what I read, after I got home, what we were seeing was actually two males trying to outdo one another in a machismo contest.  Apparently, the females don’t respond well to the males’ bows, which they see as aggressive, so the males only bow to one another. (You can read more here.)  The males open their wings to one another, and to females, to show how mature they are. Juveniles have pale markings on the inside of the wings.

You can see the video snippet I took of the birds HERE.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

And we found a couple of Black Phoebe nests, one stuffed full of babies who were almost fully fledged. They were stacked up, one on top of the other, with their tails sticking out over the edge of the nest. And toward the end of the auto tour route we came across a dead tree where there was a Western Meadowlark, a Red-Winged Blackbird and a tiny Song Sparrow all singing their respective songs.

We caught glimpses of American Goldfinches and Bullock’s Orioles, and hear Bitterns, but didn’t see any. One oddity was sighting a Mute Swan in the permanent wetlands area. That was odd because swans hardly ever go into the refuge, and Mute Swans are actually an invasive species. Unlike the Tundra Swans, the Mute Swans are super-aggressive and destroy the habitat they live in by ripping up water-plants from the roots.

When we were done at the Sacramento refuge, we decided to go over to the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge to show Roxanne the day-roost of the Black-Crowned Night Herons at the end of the auto-tour there. We were astonished to discover that the auto-tour there was roped off so no one could get to it… but the rope and signage was only visible AFTER you entered the refuge and started driving down the route. Stupid. They should have put the signs on the front gate or in the parking area.  A “manager” who showed up a little while after did, said that the auto-route was shut down because they were short handed and couldn’t patrol it well enough. Sad.

So, we didn’t do that tour and instead walked around a little bit in the native flower garden they have near the restroom facility.  Along part of a path near the garden, Roxanne found some galls we’d never seen before: the gall of the Elm Balloon-Gall Aphid, Eriosoma lanuginosum.

According to what I’ve read, the galls are initiated by a “fundatrix”, a parthenogenetic female aphid whose presence causes an extreme enlargement of the soft cell tissue on one side of the leaf. The galls are hollow and feel rubbery. They start out green and are covered with fine white hairs (which we saw) and turn brown as they age.

Inside the gall the fundatrix has her babies which are wingless and yellow until they mature. There can also be second generation aphids, called “alates” (usually winged individuals) which are dark green to black and wax powdered. Not all of the adults grow wings, however, and wing-growth seemed to be associated to crowding inside the galls, a short supply of food, and/or changes in the environment. Nature is so cool!

After walking around a bit, we headed back home to Sacramento and got there around 3:00 pm.

Species List:

1. American Avocet, Recurvirostra americana,
2. American Bittern, Botaurus lentiginosus,
3. American Coot, Fulica americana.
4. American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos,
5. American Goldfinch, Spinus tristis,
6. American Robin, Turdus migratorius,
7. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna,
8. Annual Yellow Sweet Clover, Melilotus indicus,
9. Arches Moth, Habrosyne sp.
10. Bird’s Foot Trefoil, Lotus corniculatus,
11. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
12. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus,
13. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum,
14. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus cerulea,
15. Bristly Oxtongue, Helminthotheca echioides,
16. Brown-Headed Cowbird, Molothrus ater,
17. Bullock’s Oriole, Icterus bullockii,
18. Bur Clover, Burr Medic, Medicago polymorpha,
19. California Flannelbush, Fremontodendron californicum,
20. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi,
21. California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica,
22. California Wild Rose, Rosa californica,
23. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis,
24. Cinnamon Teal, Anas cyanoptera,
25. Clark’s Grebe, Aechmophorus clarkia,
26. Cleveland Sage, Salvia clevelandii,
27. Common Mustard, Brassica rapa,
28. Convergent Lady Beetle, Hippodamia convergens,
29. Curly Dock, Rumex crispus,
30. Damselfly, Pacific Forktail, Ischnura cervula, (dots on thorax)
31. Damselfly, Sooty Dancer, Argia lugens, (no blue tip; rings around segments)
32. Desert Cottontail, Sylvilagus audubonii,
33. Dogtail Grass, Cynosurus echinatus,
34. Elm Balloon-Gall Aphid, Eriosoma lanuginosum,
35. Eurasian Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto,
36. Field Elm Tree, Smooth-Leaf Elm, Ulmus Minor,
37. Foothills Penstamon, Penstemon heterophyllus,
38. Foxtail Barley, Hordeum murinum ssp. glaucum,
39. Fremont Cottonwood Tree, Populus fremontii,
40. Fuller’s Teasel, Wild Teasel, Dipsacus fullonum,
41. Goldfields, Contra Costa Goldfields, Lasthenia conjugens,
42. Great Egret, Ardea alba,
43. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons,
44. Greenbottle Fly, Lucilia sericata,
45. Himalayan Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus,
46. Hood Canarygrass, Phalaris paradoxa,
47. Hoover’s Downingia, Hoover’s Calicoflower, Downingia bella,
48. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus,
49. House Sparrow, Passer domesticus,
50. Jimson Weed, Datura stramonium,
51. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous,
52. Large Oxtongue Aphid, Uroleucon picridis,
53. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris,
54. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura,
55. Mute Swan, Cygnus olor,
56. Narrowleaf Milkweed, Asclepias fascicularis,
57. Northern Paper Wasp, Polistes fuscatus,
58. Northern Pintail, Anas acuta,
59. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata,
60. Oleander Aphid, Aphis nerii,
61. Pacific Pond Turtle, Western Pond Turtle, Actinemys marmorata,
62. Pacific Tree Frog, Chorus Frog, Pseudacris regilla,
63. Painted Lady Butterfly, Vanessa cardui,
64. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps,
65. Plantain, Ribwort, Plantago lanceolata,
66. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum,
67. Purple Finch, Haemorhous purpureus,
68. Purple Needle Grass, Stipa pulchra,
69. Rabbit Tail Grass,Hare’s Tail Grass, Lagurus ovatus,
70. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis,
71. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus,
72. Rush, California Bulrush, Schoenoplectus californicus,
73. Sedge, Pennsylvania Sedge, Carex pensylvanica
74. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciose,
75. Silverpuff, Microseris acuminata,
76. Snow Goose, Chen caerulescens,
77. Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia,
78. Striped Horsefly, Tabanus lineola,
79. Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus,
80. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura,
81. Valley Popcorn Flower, Plagiobothrys canescens,
82. Varied Carpet Beetle, Anthrenus verbasci,
83. Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum,
84. Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
85. Western Kingbird, Tyrannus verticalis,
86. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta,
87. Willow, Gooding’s Willow, Salix gooddingii

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

Escaping from the Zantis at the Sacto Refuge, 04-03-18

The dog and I got up at 6:30 am and headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge to get a nature fix and to escape the “Zantis” (termite inspectors) coming to the house today.  It was 49º when I left the house, and got up to 80º by the late afternoon.  It’s too early in the year for 80-degree-weather!

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

On the way to the refuge, along the highway, I saw the carcasses of a red fox (!) and a raccoon. I always kind of punch myself when I see road kill. I have permits to pick up the carcasses if I want to so I can use them for the naturalist class – but I always forget to bring a copy of the permits with me. D’oh! The skulls would have been awesome…

At the preserve, I got to see a raccoon (stepping gingerly through the low water) but no foxes. I think the last time I saw a live fox was at the Shasta house. I HEARD some at Lake Berryessa last year, but I didn’t see them…

When I first drove into the preserve, before I even got to the kiosk, I saw a group of Turkey Vultures sitting on the railroad tracks. I couldn’t see if they’d found something to eat or not, but they all took off as soon as they realized I’d stopped to photograph them.  I came across another pair of Turkey Vultures further along the auto tour route. They were sitting near the ground on a stump, but once again, as soon as I approached to take photos, they took off.  What was really freaky was that a few seconds after the vultures left and Red-Tailed Hawk burst out through the tall greenery around the stump! The only thing I can think of was that the hawks chased something down and killed it, and when the vultures moved in to try to steal the meal, the hawk pushed it further into the shrubbery…

Along the auto tour route, I could hear the “pumper-lunk” call of Bitterns, but wasn’t able to see any of them. I could also hear  Great Tailed grackle singing his variety of songs, and looked all over for him. I finally found him in a tree, and got some video of him, but he was obscured by branches. So you can see him very well, but you CAN hear him.

American Bitterns Pumper-Lunking on Sunday

I was up at 6:00 am and out the door before 6:30.  It was my original intention to do some more wildflower hunting, but on the way to Highway 20 I got lost in my thoughts and missed the turn off (D’oh!), so I continued up the highway to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge and spent the morning there instead.  The weather was lovely (mostly sunny; 51º when I got there, 70º by the time I left).

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

We’re right at the beginning of the breeding season, so lots of bird are starting to pair up, build nests, and claim territory.  I saw a lot of Great-Tailed Grackles flying overhead (and some American White Pelicans, too), and although I could hear the grackles occasionally singing their broad range of odd songs, I didn’t see any of them on or near the ground so I didn’t get any photos of them. I also saw a young garter snake and a green-tinted Western Racer snake, but they moved too fast for me. By the time I got my camera focus on them, they were gone into the brush.  I’d never seen a Western Racer before, so that was neat to see one for the first time.  When I initially saw it, I thought it was a tule on the auto-tour route… but then it moved.

A lot of the wildflowers and vernal pool flowers at the refuge were in bloom, so in area the ground was a patchwork of yellow Goldfields, orange Fiddleneck, white Popcorn Flowers and purple Dowingia… so pretty. There’s also wild mustard and Poison Hemlock, Blessed Milk Thistle, Italian Thistle, and Teasel blooming everywhere – just in time for the pollinators to wake up.

I saw only a few dragonflies, but it’s still early in the season for them. The Painted Lady and West Coast Lady butterflies on the other hand were everywhere. I bet I saw 20 of them just around the permanent wetland area.

There were jackrabbits and Cottontails bounding all over the place, and I got a few good shots of some California Ground Squirrels.

I didn’t see many babies today, just a pair of Canada Geese with their little troop of goslings, but it’s still early in the season.

The highlight of the day was seeing an American Bittern in the tall grass “booming”.  I don’t know why it’s called “booming” because the call has its own name but… whatever.  To stake out their territory, the Bitterns give out a loud complex call called the “pumper-lunk” call.  The bird claps its bill several time, sucking air into its esophagus, and then expels the air by compressing its neck – making a loud burbling sound, sort of like a melodious burp.  The one I was watching did his call five times, and I was able to get video of two of the calls.  Made. My. Day.  Here’s one of the videos of it: https://youtu.be/cg0HDZ2lhbw.

The odd moment of the day came when I saw something with long brown, black and white fur moving through the long grass.  I could see that it was moving nose-down along the ground, but because the critter never lifted its head, I couldn’t tell what it was.  I was thinking it was probably a Striped Skunk, but the brown shades were throwing me off… then I was thinking badger (but the fur was too long)… or maybe even porcupine (but they’re usually much larger, and the video proved that I was seeing fur and not quills)… So I’m settling on skunk, but I’m still not certain.

In another “what is that?” moment, I saw the dorsal fin and tail fin of a Northern Pike in one of the slews.  I know I’ve said it before, but those guys are brutal; they’ll eat anything.  They come up into the sloughs when the area gets flooded, then when the water recedes again, they get trapped.  They’re fast and powerful, though… and can move even in shallow water, so once they’re in the sloughs they prey on everything, including birds…

On the viewing platform, I came across a pair of Western Fence Lizards, that were challenging each other: doing pushups, body slamming one another, staring each other down.  I got some of the interaction on video.  The two males were very mature – showing off why they’re also called “Blue Bellies” – and had lots and lots of blue on their bodies, even along the back and on the head.  I’ve never ones that were this colorful before.  When the winner of the contest was done with his rival (who ran off) he decided that my blue-green walking shoes were an enemy, too, so he ran up as close to me as he dared and started doing pushups again.  Hah!  I let him win and walked away – after I got some video and photos of him.  In the same area, I found a melanistic Western Fence Lizard, a dark pitchy-gray one sitting on a branch sunning himself.  He was such a contrast to the brightly colored one, I had to get his photo, too.

I’m usually not too thrilled about seeing Black Phoebes, mostly because they’re so ubiquitous around here, but I caught sight of one carrying grass for its nest.  It perched on a limb of a tree and sat there for a while, letting me get some pretty good photos of it.  And the Kingbirds were out in force. I got some good shots of them, too.

Another good bird-moment was when I saw some American Coots playing “keep-away” with a crawfish.  One has caught it and was trying to eat it when a second Coot rushed up and grabbed it.  Coot #2 swam off with its prize, but as soon as it stopped to eat, Coot #3 rushed up and took it… When it comes to lunch, these guys aren’t polite.  Hah!

I stayed at the refuge for about 4 hours and then headed back home to crash with the dogs… So I didn’t see much in the way of wildflowers, today, but it was still a nice day out in nature…