Tag Archives: Meadowlark

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

Vacation Day 3: Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

DAY 3 OF MY VACATION.  I got up around 6:30 am and headed out with the dog for the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  The almost-full moon was still out, shining brightly, and there were big sofa clouds everywhere. A slight breeze continued throughout the day. It got up to about 70° by the afternoon.  It was a beautiful day for a drive.

CLICK HERE for an album of photos from the day.

I got to the refuge around 8:00 am and the first thing that greeted us when we arrived was a Peregrine Falcon sitting up in a tree.  It was kind of far away, so I couldn’t get any detailed shots of it, but I did manage to get a few photos.  There were lots of Jackrabbits around and the Northern Harrier hawks were flying all over overhead, sometimes buzz bombing the flocks of Coots and duck to try to get them to flush…  White-Crowned Sparrows seemed to be everywhere (this must be “their time” of the year) along with Red-Winged Blackbirds, Meadowlarks, a Black Phoebes.  Huge flocks of Greater White-Fronted Geese could be seen sitting on the ground; occasionally taking to flight when something spooked them.  I saw a much smaller flock of Snow Geese in one of the farther fields, but they’re not there in any great number yet.  It’s still early in the migration season, though. Among the ducks I saw Mallards, Green-Winged Teals, Northern Shovelers (still in their eclipse plumage), Gadwalls, Northern Pintails, and American Wigeons… but like the Snow Geese, their numbers weren’t very large yet.

At one point along the auto-tour route I found a Great Egret, a Snowy Egret and a Green Heron all feeding in the same patch of water primrose.  I didn’t see the heron at first because he was in sitting on top of the primrose in the shade and was well-camouflaged by his green and brown feathers. But then the Great Egret sort of shoved him out of the way and he jumped up with a squawk and a the raising if his crown feathers.  Hah!  Later on, I saw a few more egrets and herons in other places.

The surprise was being able to spot a Wilson’s Snipe right along the side of the road in a marshy patch… And very near to it, I also saw a California Ground Squirrel eating the seeds out of old thistle heads.  They were right outside the driver’s side of the car so I was able to get some nice close ups of them.  A funny thing: further down the road, I found a couple of crayfish trying to cross the gravel from one part of the wetlands to another.  One of them only had one pincher left, but he bravely brandished it at the car as I drove by him. So much bluster in such a small creature…

And I got to see a pair of young mule deer. It looked like a yearling and its younger sister.  They were eating among the teasel; their mother a few feet back, hidden in the overgrowth.  Both of the youngsters stopped to look at my car before they turned around and headed back to mom.  So cute.

As I mentioned, it’s still very early in the migration season, and the refuge doesn’t have its full contingent of water yet, so there aren’t as many birds to see just yet as I’d like to see.  Still, it was a nice drive, and I got to see a lot of different critters (if not very closely) so I was pleased.  The dog and I headed back home after a few hours and arrived at the house around 1:30 pm.

At the Sacramento and Colusa Wildlife Refuges

I got up around 6:30 this morning, set out breakfast for the dogs, and then headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge with Sergeant Margie.  It was about 46° outside when I left, and by the time I got back home it was around 72°… so weatherwise it was a beautiful day.  On the way to the refuge, I stopped in Woodland to put some gas in the car and get a few snacky things to eat on the road…

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

At the refuge, they still need to flood quite a lot of it, and there isn’t a wide variety of waterbirds out there to see yet, but in another month or so, it should make for better viewing there. Today, I mostly saw a lot of White-Fronted Geese. I saw a couple of areas where there were swarms of Swallows eating midges out of the air, and I even got a little video snippet of them. The best sightings of the day were: (1) an American Bittern feeding among the water primrose in one of the sloughs. When it saw my car come close, it lifted its head up to expose its striped throat and froze. (Other people drove right by and didn’t see it.) It sat like that until I drove off again, so I was able to get a lot of photos of it. (2) A Great Egret sitting in a tree in the shade right next to the road.  It was sitting on a tree that was growing out of a gully, so it was right outside my passenger side window. After a while it flew out and landed on road right on the edge of the gully, so I got photos of it in both locations.

I also saw White-Crowned Sparrows, a Belted Kingfisher, Columbia Black-Tailed Mule Deer, Northern Pintails, a Northern Harrier, some  California Ground Squirrels, Coots, a Red-Tailed Hawk, a Savannah Sparrows and  Northern Shovelers. There were also some last-of-the-season dragonflies around including some Pondhawks and Green Darners.

The extra loop around the permanent wetland area was closed, so the drive took less time than it normally would, so I left that refuge and drove back down the highway to the Colusa Wildlife Refuge off of Highway 20.

That refuge was almost bone dry, so there wasn’t a lot to see there either, but I did get to see some more geese and duck, some Cattle Egrets, White-Faced Ibis (and I think I also spotted a Long-Billed Curlew among them) some Common Gallinules, Snowy Egrets and Black-Crowned Night Herons.  So I got to see  fairly good smattering of birds today, but I’m anxiously waiting for more to arrive so I can get some better photos…

Friday Afternoon at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

Female Variegated Meadowhawk dragonfly. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.
Female Variegated Meadowhawk dragonfly. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.

After work, I headed over to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge as I’d planned.  It was about 77° there, so not too bad.  Just as I started the auto-tour route, I saw a lean jackrabbit who posed on the side of the road for me, and an adult Great Horned Owl sitting a tree about 100 feet away.  The big news seemed to be the larger dragonflies which are starting to come out everywhere in the refuge.  I saw Blue Dashers, Black Saddlebags, Variegated Meadowhawks, a Green Pondhawk and several Widow Skimmers.  Very cool.  As for other insects, I also saw Hoverflies, some big Orb-Weaver Spiders, some Painted Lady Butterflies, and a White-Striped Sphinx Moth.  I also got a few photos of a pair of damselflies mating.

At one stop along the route I saw a snake – or what I believed to be  snake – in the water along the edge of the wetland area.  It was limbless, but it was all pale grey with no other discernable markings on it.  I know garter snakes hunt in and around the water, but this one wasn’t marked like a garter snake at all.  Then I wondered if it was a legless lizard… but they don’t usually live in habitats like this.  So, I don’t know what it was – and I didn’t get any photos of it because by the time I realized it was there and got my camera focused, it had ducked in between several rocks.  Dang it!

As I was driving along, two cars kept tailgating me.  There was enough room for them to go around, but they just kept riding my rear bumper, like they were trying to crowd me and force me to drive through more quickly.  I pulled off to the side of the road as I could, put the car in park and turned off the engine.  It took them a few minutes to figure out I wasn’t budging, and they finally drove past me.  I saw both cars ahead of me later on, and people got out of both of them to take photos – which is against the rules of the park.  So I took photos of the offenders – AND their license plate numbers – and emailed them to the refuge rangers.

Anyway, driving along I saw the usual suspects – ducks, geese, seagulls – and came across some adult and juvenile Pied-Billed Grebes.  All along the last part of the extra loop around the permanent wetlands, I also saw quite a few Clark’s Grebes building and sitting on their nests.  I got still shots and a couple of video snippets.

CLICK HERE FOR SOME VIDEO of the mama grebe adjusting some of the vegetation on her nest before she sots down on her eggs.  Notice that when she sits, she exposes her almost featherless belly which she’ll press against the eggs to keep them warm.

One sad discovery – and I wonder if it was in reaction to the stupid people getting out of their cars to get closer to the birds – I found one nest very close to the road that had eggs in it… but the parents were nowhere to be seen.  I hope it wasn’t completely abandoned.

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I did the whole auto-tour route far more quickly than I normally do –(took 2 hours instead of 4) — so I could get to my hotel by check-in time, so I didn’t linger much anywhere.  I’ll go much slower tomorrow.

The dog and I stayed at the Ramada Inn in Williams (about 20 minutes from the refuge).  I had picked up some food from The Nugget before I left Woodland, so I had some of that for supper – and gave the dog a can of his favorite dog food.  Then we crashed for the rest of the day…

Back to the SNWR for One More Run

American Goldfinch, male. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.
American Goldfinch, male. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.

I got up around 6:00 am and headed off to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge again.  This will be my last trip up there this month… On the way out of Sacramento I was surprised to see six  — count ‘em, six – police cars blocking one of the lanes on Fruitridge and surrounding the Shell gas station.  Wonder what was going on there…  The rest of the drive was completely uneventful, and I got to the refuge around 8:00 am.

Starting off on the auto tour the first critter that greeted me was a brightly colored male American Goldfinch eating seeds.  They’re such teeny birds, but such a bright shade of yellow, you can’t miss them… I also was surprised by coming across a river otter.  She was sitting by the side of the road taking a dirt bath, but rushed across the road and slipped into the water when she saw my car.  I’m assuming it was a female because she looked VERY pregnant… I saw mama Great Horned Owl and her owlets all sitting on a long branch on “their” tree.  When a Great Blue Heron landed on the top of their tree, they didn’t seem to mind… I also saw several Bull Frogs, and was kind of proud of myself for being able to spot them since some of them were nothing but eyeballs sitting above the surface of the water…

On the little island where the American White Pelicans and Cormorant usually hang out there were also Wigeons, Ruddy Ducks, and Pintails this morning. I watched a Pied-Billed Grebe gathering grass for its nest… and saw a small flock of adult Canada Geese trying to contain and discipline a rowdy group of fledglings (which were already in their sort-of adult colors but still smaller than the adults)… Among the normal contingency of Cabbage White butterflies, there was a Painted Lady… And I also saw several American Bitterns on the wing, some Black-Crowned Night Herons, and an immature Snowy Egret (without its yellow boots; its feet were black)…

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I usually do two rounds of the auto tour, but today (like yesterday) I did only one, and headed back to Sacramento.  I stopped in Woodland to pick up a few groceries and then headed home.

A Day of Nature for Me and the Dog, Saturday 05-07-16

Male Ruddy Duck. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Male Ruddy Duck. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

I turned off my phone and computer today, and headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge for a “nature day” –  just me and the dog.  It was totally overcast and drizzling on and off all day, but I didn’t care.  I just needed to unplug with Sergeant Margie.

I got to the refuge around 7:30 am and because it was overcast and rather “dark” a lot of the critters were tricked into thinking it was a lot earlier than it really was, so I got to see the Black Crowned Night Herons flying off to their daytime roosts (but no good photos, sadly), and caught a raccoon heading off to its den. Because of the inclement weather there were no other guests at the refuge all the while I was there (or at least I didn’t see anyone else), so I felt like I had the whole place to myself.  I could drive down the auto tour route as slowly as I wanted to without be hurried or interfered with by other drivers.  That’s always soooo nice.

There were lots and lots of Jackrabbits and cottontails everywhere, and I got to see some mule deer, too.  Kingbirds also seemed to be all over the place today, and often landed in the tules or overgrowth alongside the auto tour route to “pose”.  Most of the time they just flit away when they see people but today they were very cooperative…  Some of my videoing and photo-taking throughout the day was impeded by rain and thick blinds of tules (the camera doesn’t know what to focus on, so I get a lot of blurring going on.)  I’m no “National Geographic” photographer or videographer to be sure, but I was pleased with what I got…

From the auto tour route, I could see a nest way off in the distance and I thought I could see birds in it, so I snapped some photos (even though I knew they’d be crappy) just to see if I could get a better look at the occupants.  As far as I could tell it was a hawk’s nest, and a fuzzy white fledgling hawk was looking out from one side of it, and the adult was looking out the other side.  Cool!  I also checked out the nest of the Great Horned Owl that I’d seen the last time I was at the refuge.  At first mama was absent but there were TWO huge fat owlets sitting in the nest.  When I went by the nest again later in the morning, Mom had come back later to sit with the babies… I have no idea how they all fit into that nest!

I saw a lot of Bitterns in flight, mostly in pairs, but didn’t get any good shots of them because they flushed so fast and flew so quickly.  In one spot, a flock of American White Pelicans was paddling through an area where the Bitterns were trying to feed, and rousted them out.  Feathers everywhere…

Later along the auto tour route I came across a “cooperative” of Canada Geese (a huge contingent of goslings overseen by several adult birds). They were on the road in front of me, and took off running.  The adults could’ve flown off the road into the water if they’d wants to, but they didn’t want to abandon the goslings, so they ran and ran and ran until the found a place where the goslings could safely to the water.  I worried about the babies running so hard for what seemed like “forever” (it was actually only a minute, but it seemed to take longer).  When they got to the water, all the adults regrouped and got all the kids together again…

Here’s a short video of the run.  Please excuse the blurred quality.  The geese were running slightly uphill in front of the car and the video was taken through the windshield.

When I drove by the permanent wetlands area, I got to see a lot of courtship displays among the different birds.  Some of the male Ruddy Ducks were in their full regalia – rust-red feathers and blue beaks – and were thrumming their beaks against their chests to make the water bubble and swirl around them.  (I got photos and a little video of that.) Here’s a video of the Ruddys.

I also got a little video of the Clark’s Grebes doing their courtship run across the top of the water, and the males offering eelgrass to the females for their floating nests. Here’s a video of a male Grebe presenting grass and here’s a video of the Grebes courtship run. Again, these aren’t high-quality but you’ll get the gist of things.

Then I saw some black s-shaped things in a tree nearby, and turned to focus on them.  They were male Great-Tailed Grackles doing displays for the females, elongating their necks and vocalizing (with a wide variety of sounds). They left the tree and flew into the tules to sing some more, then they flew down onto the ground and tried dancing around a female who was gathering grasses for her nest. Here’s a video snippet of a pair of males singing.  Turn the volume up as high as you can.  They were pretty far away, so they’re kind of hard to hear.

I felt kind of bad for some of the male birds.  Female birds can be so particular about who they choose as their mates, and the males try soooo hard to impress them – often to be rejected or simply ignored.  There was one male Gadwall who was head-bobbing to a female, and all she wanted to do was preen.  Hah!

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Oh, and here is a video snippet of some Snowy Egrets.  You get to see one them lift its long breeding plumage at another one who gets too close it.

I figured I saw over 35 species of plants and animals today.  It was a long leisurely drive with my dog and nature… just what I needed after a stressful week.