Tag Archives: Meadowlarks

Some Cooperative Birds, Including an Eagle

Wow, it’s been a while since I posted.  There has been so much rain here (8″ in Sacramento just since January 1st) that I’ve been closed out of all of my usual walking spots because of flooding.

I was feeling better on Saturday and after taking some Dramamine to help combat the remaining vestiges of vertigo, I headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  The refuge had been closed for most of the week because of flooding, and this was the first day it was open again.

CLICK HERE for n album of photos.

Here is a short video of Bufflehead ducks.

Here is a short video of Snow Geese on the fly.

When I left the house it was in the 30’s and super foggy in Sacramento, and it stayed cold and foggy until I got around Maxwell in Colusa County.  Then it was bright and sunny and about 10 degrees warmer.  Apparently EVERYONE decided to come out there, though, so the place was unusually packed with cars… which can interfere a lot with how many birds you can see up close.  The American Coots were very obliging, and I even came across a spot where Snow Geese were nestled down in the grass along the road of the auto-tour because it was warm there.  Along one of the sloughs, there was a whole grouping of individual birds that also didn’t seem intimidated by the cars, including a Great Egret, a Snowy Egret, a pair of White-Faced Ibises, and — what most people drove right past and didn’t see because he was well camouflaged – a juvenile Black-Crowned Night Heron.  The herons sleep all day and hunt at night, so this guy was dozing away, opening his eyes only briefly to look at the cars as they went by.  I can’t believe he got any decent sleep there…

Because of the cold (it was between 48° and 51° while I was out there) a lot of the birds were hunkered down to keep warm, and it seemed like the hawks in the trees were all snuggled in between branches where they were difficult to see or photograph.  I saw two Bald Eagles while I was out there.  One of them was so far away I only got a blurry picture of him. The other was closer (within about 20 feet), but was up in a tree where, again, the branches obscured it a lot.  So, although I got a few close-ups of that one, they all had twigs and branches messing up the view…

I was happy, however, to get  some fairly good shots of Bufflehead ducks in the water.  I never seem to be able to get any good photos of them because they’re usually so far away.  But today a couple of them came up closer to the edge of the auto-tour road while they foraged for food, so I was able to get a few clear shots.

I only made the pass through the refuge once, and headed straight home after that because the Dramamine was starting to wear off and I was feeling a little bit woozy.  I got home a little after noon, and put in a post roast in the slow cooker (set on “high” though, so it only took a few hours to cook properly), and made a batch of brownies before crashing for the day.

It was nice to get outside.

Got to see the Sandhill Cranes at the Cosumnes Preserve

I got up around 6:30 am and headed over to the Cosumnes River Preserve.  It was overcast and 37° when I headed out.  I still have a touch of fever from this flu or whatever it is my body is fighting, but I needed to get outside and get some fresh air.

CLICK HERE to see the entire album of photos, including some of the videos.

The gate to the preserve was still locked, so I drove down Desmond and Bruceville Roads.  There are wetlands and rice fields all along those roads, and sometimes you get to see quite a few birds.  The big draw out there this morning was the Sandhill Cranes. There were quite a few of them eating leftover rice and seeds, including some juveniles that were still in their “rusty” feathers. At one point, I pulled the car off to the side of the road and shut off the engine, so I could hear (and video) the cranes “talking” to one another with their distinctive chattering/guttural calls.  They sound soooo neat… There were also some Great Egrets and a Great Blue Heron out there with them – along with quite a few Greater White-Fronted Geese that were hunkered down in between the cultivated rows in the field to get out of the cold morning breezes.

When a family group – mother, father and adult son – stopped near me, they were trying to figure out what kind of geese they were looking at.  The son suggested Brant’s Geese, but there are no Brant’s Geese this far south, so I suggested he look up the Greater White-Fronted Goose in his guide.  He checked it out. Yep, I was right.  So they followed me around a little bit after that and asked me to identify some other birds they were having trouble with: Savannah Sparrows, American Pipit, and Gadwall ducks…  When that group had walked off, following a different part of the trail, two older women came up and asked me to identify a duck they saw “over there”… A Northern Pintail. I showed them how the male’s tail ends in a sharp point…

So I got to practice some of Certified California Naturalist skills.  Hah!

Here are a few extra videos:

I was out at the preserve for about 4 hours before I headed back home.  I think I counted 21 bird species while I was out there… and I got quite a few video snippets of some of them.  So it was good morning…

Vacation Day 13: SNWR Part 2

California Ground Squirrel. American White Pelican. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
California Ground Squirrel.  Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

Vacation Day 13. I got up about 5:30 this morning. The hotel bed and pillows were wonderfully comfortable, but I just couldn’t get into a sound sleep, so I cat-napped on and off all night. Still, I was feeling pretty energetic, so I packed up all my stuff and was out of the hotel before 6:00 am. I had some leftover pineapple from yesterday and had that for breakfast – and gave Sgt. Margie one of his small cans of dog food before we left. Then I went back to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge (which was about 15 minutes away from the hotel).

I saw a lot today that I saw yesterday, but today I also got my first look at an Eared Grebe in its breeding plumage (which is VERY different than its non-breeding plumage) and I saw some Bullock’s Orioles, but they moved too fast through the trees for me to get any good photos of them. I also saw a Peregrine Falcon and a Bald Eagle. The eagle was perched in a tree, but I couldn’t get close enough to him to get a good photo. I got one shot of him through the windshield but it sucked. Dang it!

Here’s a video on the Eared Grebe: CLICK HERE

Here’s a video of a female Blackbird collecting fibers for her nest: CLICK HERE

Along one part of the auto tour you can see a bare scraggly tree off to the left. Today, I noticed there was a nest on one of the outer branches… and there was a huge Great Horned Owl sitting in it! Cool! I took some photos even though it was pretty distant from the car. I also think I saw the gray-white fluff of an owlet next to the mama. These are the moments when I wish I had a better telephoto lens.

Oh, and I also saw some goslings with their parents, AND the wildly-colored babies of a Pied-Billed Grebe. I’d seen photos of the babies before but had never seen one live. The pictures I got aren’t the best because the birds were moving away from me in the water, but I just loved the pattern on the chicks!

And where there were rabbits all over the place yesterday, today it was California Ground Squirrels. They were out en masse. Some of them are very skittish and shy, but others are bold. There were a couple of them who sat on the ground right outside my car window and posed for me. Hah!

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The dog and I were out of the refuge by about 11:00 and headed back to Sacramento, but along the way I stopped to get us some tacos which we ate for lunch at a rest stop. It was a nice couple of days. Now, I need to forage through the 2000+ photos I took! As we were heading home, the clouds were starting to move in… there’s supposed to be rain coming in for tomorrow.

Once home, I relaxed for a bit with the dogs, and then baked up some chicken and biscuits for supper and had them with fresh asparagus.

Vacation Day 12: SNWR Part 1

Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

Vacation Day 12. I had stayed up late Wednesday night to watch “The Night Manager” on AMC (with Hugh Laurie and Tom Hiddleston), and was going to play today by ear, but I woke up around 5:00 am. I was feeling oddly energetic – considering that I’d stayed up until 11:15 pm last night – so I packed an overnight bag, got the dog into the car, and headed off to Willows to spend the day at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. I got there around 7:30 am and didn’t leave until 2:30 pm, just driving around the auto tour and walking some of the trails.

Sergeant Margie doesn’t mind the car ride (since he gets extra treats and fancy food for being a good boy in the car), but he’s showing hi age on the walking trails. He can barely keep up with me, and at one point I was seriously considering picking him up and carrying him the rest of the way to the car. He was a trooper, though, and made it back under his own power – if very slowly.

What I didn’t like about the trails was that there were a grillion ticks everywhere. Every time Sergeant Margie stopped to pee, I had to stop and pull about 6 ticks off of his face and ears. I never see that many ticks at any of the other places where I go walking. It was GROSS!

Lots of Jackrabbits and a few Cottontails were scrambling around. For so many critters, I’m surprised I don’t see more babies – especially the jacks. Their babies, called leverets, are born above ground, fully furred, and ready to go within a few hours of birth. (Unlike baby rabbits, called bunnies, that are born underground, almost furless, and unable to see or hear for about 3 weeks.)

The big show of the day, though, was the Killdeer. They’re starting to build their gravel nests and lay their eggs, and I came across several mamas doing their “broken wing act” to try to distract me from where their nests were. They fly a few feet away from the nest, lay on their side on the ground, and flap around as though they’re injured. Once they feel their nest is safe, they jump up, fly off, and then circle around back to the nest to make sure the eggs are okay. One of them had built her stone nest right next to the pull-off area beside a large viewing platform. Almost within reach, but far enough behind a fence to keep law-abiding humans away from her. She didn’t mind when I walked up to the fence, but she wasn’t thrilled with Sergeant Margie. She flew off and rolled on ground, crying, pretending to be wounded… and then didn’t really know what to do when I didn’t fall for her act. She got up, walked off a bit more, fell back on the ground, stood up, walked away, fell over on the ground… As silly as she looked, I had to give her props for her persistence, and for the fact that her walk-and-fall routine circled the area where her nest was so it was always within her sight.

After I put the dog back in the car, she flew back to her nest and its tiny eggs that look like stone. I stepped up onto the viewing platform to get photos of her from another angle, and while I was up there, a male Killdeer came by. The female ran out to him for an on-the-gravel quickie, and then went back to her nest. Hah! Wutta slut!
I also watched a group of Kingbirds cavorting around. Some of what I saw I’m sure was courtship behavior males flying up and down, zig-zagging through the air while they chattered. I think the other behavior I saw was territorial: several bird fighting back and forth between adjacent trees where each had a nest.

I saw four Bitterns during the day (which is the most I’ve ever seen there). Three actually flew across the hiking trail in front of me and disappeared into the grass on the opposite side of it. The fourth one was trying to hide in some tules along the auto tour route, stretching itself up to try to mimic the reeds… but it’s belly was too fat, so it was easy to spot despite its efforts. Hah!

I was hoping to see some Grebes in the permanent wetland area, but they weren’t around today.

I did get to see a lot of other critters, though, including American Avocets, Meadowlarks, Dunlin, Mule Deer, Red-Winged Blackbirds, American White Pelicans, Double-Crested Cormorants, Turkey Vultures, White-Front Geese, Snow Geese and Canada Geese, some Ring-Necked Pheasants, quite a few dragonflies, and more and more and more. Lots of photos… I also caught a glimpse of raccoons in my side mirror, but by the time I maneuvered the car around to get a better shot they were gone. Waah!

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As I said, I stayed at the refuge until about 2:30 pm, and by then I was exhausted so I drove another 15 minutes or so into the town of Willows and spent the night at the Holiday Inn Express there.

I don’t know why, really, but the place was full! They only had two rooms left: a large suite and a small first floor room. I certainly didn’t need a suite, so I took the small room… and found it was all ADA compliant with a push-button to open the door after you unlocked it, a low-profile bath tub with a seat in it, and a high-rise toilet. This old woman scored! I had tuna fish and crackers with fruit for supper and then hit the hay.

Vacation Day One: Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

Western Pond Turtle. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Western Pond Turtle. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

Vacation Day One.  I got up around 6:00 am and took off to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge with the dog.  It was supposed to be overcast and wet all day – and it was, but in Willows the rain was mostly a very light “mizzling” rain (heavier than mist but not really a drizzle) that turned itself on and off throughout the day.  I only had to close the car windows once to keep heavier rain out, and even then it was just for a few minutes.  The rest of the time, I was able to keep the windows open.  Because it was cool – around 53° — I also had the floor vents in the car open and the heater on blowing warm air onto my tootsies.  The cool thing about photographing when it’s overcast is that you don’t have to deal with glare and deep shadows, and that puts everything on the same “scale”.

The wildflowers were starting to winnow away at the preserve, and the grasses, vetch, teasel and other thistles, toyon bushes and other plants – like Hemlock – are starting to build up and bloom… in some places I had Killdeer running alongside the car on the gravel auto-tour road.  They make nests out of the gravel and their eggs look just like little stones.  I worry that some of them are building nests on the road, and they’ll get squished by the cars.  I guess it comes down to “survival of the smartest”; the birds “stupid” enough to build nests in the probably won’t generate many (if any) offspring… There were Jackrabbits in abundance, too.  In one place there were five of them all running and hopping around together.  Since jack’s are generally solitary animals, I assumed the group was a mom and her nearly-grown offspring… Meadowlarks, Marsh Wrens and blackbirds were singing from everywhere.  I got a little video snippet of the Meadowlark song… Among the blackbirds, I also saw my first Yellow-Headed Blackbird – a female who was hunkered down in the tules trying to keep warm… It was such a shock to see her among all the Red-Winged Blackbirds that at first I didn’t know what to make of her…  And I think I spotted by first Loons, too, but they were so far away the photos aren’t all that good.  I think they were whether young Common Loons or Pacific Loons.  They had brown heads…

Saw a couple of Red-Tailed Hawks, and several American Bitterns, including one walking through the tall grass toward the tules, and I heard several other Bitterns give out their “pumper-lunk” calls from amid the overgrowth.  I don’t remember ever seeing (or hearing) this many of them before. I wonder of “climate change” has dumped them all into this area this year… Came across a Striped Skunk running through the grass alongside the road.  He came out of nowhere and was moving so fast I hardly had a chance to get my camera on him and ended up with a bunch of blurry photos.  Sigh.  I need to be “faster than Nature” to get good shots sometimes… And there were Ring-Necked Pheasants everywhere.

I also saw Double-Crested Cormorants, a few Snow Geese, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Herons, several Kingbirds (Cassin’s, I think, rather than Western, because the head was kind of a dark charcoal gray), loads of American Coots (of course; they’re kind of ubiquitous), several Western Pond Turtles, Cinnamon Teals, a Purple Finch (They are actually red, not purple.), a few Mourning Doves, House Sparrows, some Long-Billed Dowitchers, Greater Yellowlegs, Mule Deer, Clark’s and Western Grebes,  some Green-Winged Teals, Turkey Vultures, and a few Northern Harriers.  So, even though the weather wasn’t the best, there were a lot of things to see and photograph.   I think I ended up with something like 550 photos!

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By the time I was done in the refuge, it was already around 2:30 pm and I wasn’t looking forward to the 2 hour drive back to Sacramento, so I drove in to Williams and the dog and I did an overnight at the Ramada Inn there.  We shared a Subway sandwich and then hit the hay.

There are Still a Lot of Birds at the SNWR

American Avocet. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
American Avocet. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

Up at about 6:00 am and out the door by 6:30 with Sergeant Margie to go over to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  I got there right around 8:00 o’clock and had the whole place to myself for a couple of hours before anyone else showed up.  Like the Colusa preserve, some of the wetland areas in this larger preserve are also drained and dried out already, but they have a loop open that lets you drive around some of their permanent wetland area, so although you don’t get to see a ton of birds, you do get to see some… and a few of them are ones that I can’t see along the American River.

The drive started off with good views of Killdeer and some American Avocets (which I think are such pretty birds), Greater Yellowlegs and Red-Winged and Brewer’s Blackbirds.  There were  lots of jackrabbits along the auto-tour route along with some chubby little Cottontails (which look like babies next to the big jacks.)  And lots of ground squirrels.  I didn’t see any raccoons this time out, but I did see a few deer. Oh, and I saw some pond turtles and Western Fence Lizards.

There are still a lot of wildflowers in bloom – mostly Goldfields and Fiddleneck – and the Poison Hemlock is starting to rise along with the Milk Thistle and other weeds.

Marsh Wrens were everywhere in the tules, chattering away and tucking in the loose ends of their nest construction. Between them, the blackbirds, and the Meadowlarks, some spots were really NOISY!  There  were quite a few Ring-Necked Pheasants out and about adding their loud rusty-hinge croaks to the cacophony, and in some places the Double-Crested Cormorants were grunting like pigs.  I’ve gotten so I can tell some of the birds by their sound without seeing them… Speaking of the cormorants: a lot of the breeding adults have their “double-crests” showing now and it makes the birds look like they have really fluffy eyebrows (or very long eyelashes).  Hah!

There were, of course, American Coots all over the place and many White-Faced Ibises among the other ducks: Northern Shovelers, Cinnamon and Green-Winged Teals, a few Buffleheads and a solitary female Goldeneye, and some Ruddy Ducks.  I did see another American Bittern today… and heard another one doing its pumper-lunk call in the reeds… but I couldn’t see that one.  Toward the end of the drive, I came across some American White Pelicans.  But the stand-out sighting for the day (for me anyway) was getting to see a pair of Clark’s Grebes do part of their courtship ritual where they bob their heads at on another then get up and run across the top of the water in tandem.  I’d seen photos and video of that before, but had never witnessed it myself.  I only got a few seconds of it on video but it made my day. I’ll have to get back there in the next few weeks to see if I can see any more courtship behavior. There  were also some Western Grebes and Pied-Billed Grebes out on the water, too.  Most of them were too far away to get any really good shots of them, but it’s still always fun to see them.  It’s sometimes difficult for me to tell the Clark’s Grebes from the Western Grebes because they look almost identical.  The only real difference is that on the Clark’s Grebe the eyes are surrounded by white and on the Western Grebe the eyes are surrounded by black.

Here’s the Grebe videohttps://youtu.be/jpGUjuwigu0

Clark's Grebes versus Western Grebe. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Clark’s Grebes versus Western Grebe. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

Also saw some Great Egrets and Snow Egrets.  And as I was heading out the refuge, I came across a large hawk sitting on a stump – apparently just waiting there to have her picture taken. Hah! – and a Common Gallinule, an adult one sporting a red shield on the front of its face. The red of the shield was so intense that my camera freaked out over it, so all of the face-on shots took on a kind of “glowing” effect.  By that time, too, the sun had been up for a while and things were getting warm, so the camera had to fight through distortions caused by heat waves.  When conditions get like that, it’s time to go home…

I got back to the house around 2:30 pm, cooked up some chicken thighs and an ear of corn for supper, and collapsed with the dogs.

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