I headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk. It was about 61º when I left the house and got up to 103º by the late afternoon. The air throughout Sacramento County is dense and hazy with the smoke from the 45,000-acre Carr Fire (more on that later) even though the fire is about 180 miles away.
At the preserve, I was at first kind of disappointed that I wasn’t seeing very much, but then Nature “opened the doors”, and I got good shots of a Red-Shouldered Hawk, a mama deer and her twin babies, dragonflies, and a mama coyote and glimpses of two of her pups.
I saw the young coyotes first. They were “hunting” along the trail in the tall grass. They’re so cute when they do that: standing still with their ears pricked forward and then play-pouncing on whatever they found in the grass. I was only able to get some very short video snippets of them; when they saw me, they took off. Then a little further down the trail, the mama coyote came out and crossed the trail right in front of me. I was able to get quite a few still shots of her as she paused periodically on her way across a meadow to look at me. She was soooo beautiful.
When I saw the mother deer and her babies, I again saw the babies first. They came bounding out from behind a tall brush pile of downed trees and twigs, feeling their oats and playing, and mom followed after them. The fawns came running out toward me, but then when they realized I was another animal, they went bouncing back to mom. Made me smile.
I didn’t see the fawn that had the cough today, although I did see his mom browsing in her favorite spot. I worry that he didn’t make it… but the preserve is about 100 acres wide, so maybe I just missed him today…
I walked for about three hours and headed back home.
I was hoping to see some newborn fawns out there. At first, Nature was playing “keep away”. It would lure me in and get a photo lined up, and then the animal would take off. Sometimes nature photography is soooo frustrating! Why doesn’t everything just stand still for me? Hah! After a while, though, things started cooperating more.
There was a family of Red-Shouldered Hawks flying all over, they parents working to teach the kids hunting techniques. I got photos of two of them when they landed in different trees along the trail. I also got some photos of a couple of different squirrels who posed for me, one of them on the stump of a tree. And I found the tree-cavity nest of some Ash-Throated Flycatchers and got a few photos of them.
Aaannnd, a male Anna’s Hummingbird decided to dance around in front of me, “nectar rob” some nearby Evening Primrose flowers, and then sit to rest. Photos, photos, photos…
I’d been sort of watching a Black Tailed Deer doe that I thought was pregnant over the past month or so, going to the spot where she liked to hang out to get photos of her. Today I saw her again… and she had a fawn with her. Awwwww! She was really good about hiding him, but I did get a few photos of him when he lifted his head up over the top of the high grass. And it’s probably my imagination, but the doe looked extra gorgeous… I’m not sure, but I think this was her first baby.
As I was heading out of the preserve and had stopped to take some squirrel photos, I saw another doe walking out from under the shade of the trees. She crossed the trail in front of me… and then I realized she had two newborns following after her.
The babies weren’t too sure about crossing the trail while I was there, so they stayed where they were when mom crossed. Then with them on one side and mom on the other, the babies started mewling (tiny tries that kind of sound like kittens mewing). Mom waited patiently for them, and after getting some photos, I stepped back to give them more room to cross the trail. When they felt safer, both of the fawns stotted across the trail into the high grass and ran after their mom. They are so freaking CUUUUTE! Made my day.
I walked for about three hours and by then it was already 77º outside (too hot for me to hike), so I headed back home.
CLICK HERE for the full album of photos and video snippets.
Saw some deer right off the bat, and a European Starling poking its head out of its tree-cavity nest. I also got to watch an Acorn Woodpecker trying to pull green acorns off of a tree so he could stash them in his troop’s granary tree (the tree where they keep all of their nuts and acorns and winter food).
They drill new holes into their granary trees only during this time of the year, when the sap in the tree is running low, so they don’t kill the tree. Then they find acorns and other food stuff and shove them into the newly drilled holes for the winter. In the spring and summer, you may see them banging on the trees, too, but they’re not drilling new holes then (except maybe for their nesting space); instead, they are moving those nuts and acorns that have shrunk in size from one hole to another to wedge them in more tightly. They’re such ingenious little birds, and funny too. They’re a hoot to watch.
Among the deer I saw a lot of does, some does with fawns (out of their spots and growing bigger), some bucks with their full racks of antlers (no long covered in velvet) and even a young “spike buck” (only one point; so he was around 2 years old).
The highlight along my walk today, though, was coming across a fledgling Turkey Vulture. It was full size but didn’t have all of its adult feathers in yet, and it couldn’t fly very well. It’s face was still grey (not red yet) and its beak was still metallic black (instead of bone white). I spotted it first in the low branches of a tree, and tried to get photos of it through the branches. It worked its way up to a slightly high branch, flew clumsily over my head and landed on a dead skag-tree. It then walked up the naked branches of that, and parked itself on the top of the tree. I got several photos of it and then realized an adult Turkey Vulture was flying in low circles around the skag.
As I watched, the adult flew into the upper branches of a nearby tree, and the youngster flew to it, kind of crashing into a branch just below the adult. The adult then fed the youngster and flew off again. So cool! At one point while I was taking photos of the juvenile, several people came up and looked on. I explained to them that they were seeing a juvenile and what differences to look for between adults and their babies. They all pulled out their cell phones to take photos. A teaching moment. It was fun.
On the way out of the preserve, I stopped at the frog pond… and two other “old women” with cameras came up to join me in finding and taking photos of the bullfrogs there. It was obvious that the pond had recently been cleaned out: it was easier to see the bottom of it today than it has been for a long time; most of the cattails were gone; and the pond had been scraped free of a lot of duckweed. All of the full grown, large-as-your-hand bullfrogs were also gone. But the pond was full of minnows, tadpoles and small bullfrogs, so there was still a lot to look at (and all of the remaining frogs seemed to be females).
It eventually became a kind of jovial contest between us old ladies over who could find the best angle on the loveliest frog. Hah! We had more fun there than the kids who passed by did. (This is why I’d rather host nature outings for adults than for kids.)
I walked for almost four hours (phew!) and then headed home.
Nature heals. I went over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve, and it was fortuitous that I did the walk there today. Tomorrow the place is going to be closed up for an equestrian event of some sort. It was a fortuitous walk, too, in that I was able to see a whole lot of different things…
The big news was the number of Monarch Butterfly caterpillars there were in the milkweed garden outside the nature center. So of the plants were covered with the buggers, the plants chewed down to just sticks… and I found one of the Monarch chrysalises! They’re such pretty little things, all pale jade green and studded with bright gold dots. I even found of the caterpillars mid-poop. Their frass (butterfly poop) is tans and rolled up like miniature bales of hay. Hah! It’s unusual for the caterpillars to be out en masse so late in the season, but the summer heat must’ve confused them, too… I also saw a late season Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly. They’re supposed to be finished and out of here by May… so that guy was REALLY late.
Saw quite a few birds including the ubiquitous Acorn Woodpeckers, Mourning Doves, California Towhees, House Finches, a Wood Duck, and a Flicker. I’d stopped at one point so get some photos of a young California Scrub Jay, and while I was doing that, a male California Quail popped up and climbed onto the same fallen branch the jay was sitting on… I also saw some European Starlings and Cedar Waxwings. Near the river bank, I saw quite a few Killdeer scurrying over the rocks. And in one of the old dead trees on the property, the Turkey Vultures were preening and sunning themselves in the early morning light.
One intense irritation for me was when I came across a whole covey of female Quails on the trail. I stopped to take some photos of them, and while I was focusing the camera to get a closer shot, these two women walked up behind me, pushed me to one side with a muttered “excuse me” and walked past me right front of my camera. I couldn’t believe it. These women were older than I am; way too old to be playing “mean girls”.
“You totally messed up my shot. Thanks,” I said. And one of the woman turned around and gave me a dirty look, while the other one grinned a stupid grin and said, “Well, it’s the only trail around.” Not true… and even if it WAS true, that didn’t excuse their behavior.
The tree squirrels and California Ground Squirrels were munching on black walnuts all over the preserve. I was able to get a few photos and a video snippet of one of them.
And, of course, I was able to see quite a few mule deer – including an older fawn who seemed fascinated by my camera. I could tell he REALLY wanted to walk over to see what it was, but he was smart and kept his distance.
At one other point along the trail I was astonished to see what I first thought were wasps flying in and around a hole in the side of a tree. I didn’t want to approach the tree to get a closer look, for fear of getting stung, so I used the super-zoom function on my camera and realized the swarm wasn’t wasps, it was Honey Bees. It couldn’t tell if the swarm was just starting to set up house in the tree, or if they were moving out their queen and relocating… but it was a mass of bees! A hundred or more that I could see… Considering the time of year and the activity at the tree, I’m guessing this swarm was gathered around a new emergent queen and were in the process of establishing a new hive, but I didn’t see the queen. It seemed obvious, especially in the video snippets I took, that the workers were chewing at the tree back and transforming the resins in it. You can see a distinct color difference between the unworked bark, and the bark on which the bees were focused.
I looked up some information on this and learned that “…the tree resin is not used in the hive in its original form when collected by the bees. The bees process the tree resin in their mouths and then, almost magically the tree resin is concentrated into an array of least 180 different compounds which have been identified so far…”
One of those compounds is propolis.
“… Propolis or bee glue is a resinous mixture that honey bees produce by mixing saliva and beeswax with exudate gathered from tree buds, sap flows, or other botanical sources. It is used as a sealant for unwanted open spaces in the hive. Propolis is used for small gaps…” The propolis makes the hive more structurally sound, protects the hive from the weather, and affords the hive protection from invading insects, molds and bacteria.
Should be interesting to see how this hive does… if the rangers allow it to continue where it is.
On my way out of the preserve, I stopped by their little pond, and got to see quite a few little Bullfrogs in the water, including one that still had some of its tadpole tail.
When I first started walking the trail, I could hear Wild Turkeys in the trees around me, so I looked for them. They were waaaaaaaaay the heck up in the trees, about 60 or 70 feet up squeaking and gibbering at each other. They’re not super strong fliers, but they can travel short distances when they want to. As they came out of the trees, though, I could hear them crashing through leaves and branches. One zoomed right over my head and landed (not too gracefully) in a tree down the trail from me.
As I was walking down another part of the trail, I saw two fawns hiding in the branches of some low-growing tree, so I stopped to look at them. They were caught between being scared and being curious. One would inch its way forward and then retreat while the other stuck its nose out toward me to check my scent… I went around the side of the trees – but slowly, haltingly, because I didn’t want to startle them – and saw their mom coming toward me from across a shallow field. She had left her kids in the shade while she browsed. When the fawns saw her, they ran right up to her and started to nurse. So cute! I got a little video of that. Then. While the babies were out n the open, I took a bunch of photos of them. Their mom wasn’t too sure about my camera, so she maneuvered herself in between me and her kids, and then walked them back toward the trees. She then went around behind me and across the trail – and the fawns went running and stotting after her. Made my morning.
Right after I saw them, a mother Wild Turkey came down the trail with her fledgling poult. Just the one; I’m assuming she lost the others. There are a lot of coyotes around there. In fact, as I was heading out of the preserve later, I saw one of the docents standing in front of the nature center. “You just missed a great shot,” she said.
“Mother and fawn?” I asked.
“Mother chasing a coyote away from her fawn!”
I came across other deer, including another female with one fawn that was a little older than the spotted twins but still “snack sized”. And I saw two bucks in their velvet. I was able to get some photos of one of them, but the other one bolted as soon as he saw me.
Lot to Fox Squirrels and California Ground Squirrels around. It seemed like every Fox Squirrel I saw was chewing through the hide of a black walnut. One of the Ground Squirrels was makings its loud chirp!-chirp!-chirp! alarm call. There was actually a Siamese cat out there, stalking it. The cat gave up, though, when the squirrel kept up its racket.
I got to see and get some photos of a Flame Skimmer dragonfly as well as a blue Pondhawks, and also found my first Saucer and Spiny Turban galls of the season. More wasp galls should be making their appearance over the next month or so.
So I got to see a lot of different things on my 3 ½ hour walk, then I headed back home.
Before I even got to the preserve, I came across a group of three mule deer: a yearling, a mama with swollen teaties, and a young male in his velvet, all eating grass along the roadside. I bet there was a younger fawn somewhere; the yearling and the male were too big to be feeding off of mama’s teats…
There was a small flock of Yellow-Billed Magpies in the lawn by the kiosk near the front gate. This species of magpie is special because it’s found in this part of California but nowhere else in the world. Birders come from all over the planet to see them – and here they are, right in our “backyard”….
Near the nature center, there were Monarch butterfly caterpillars chomping up the milkweed in the native plants garden. I’d seen a thing on a nature documentary on TV just last week about them which said that to keep themselves from being caught and drowned in the milky white latex produced by the milkweed plant, the Monarch caterpillars will go onto the back of the leaf and sever the main vein to stop the flow of latex to the rest of the leaf. They then chew through the rest of the leaf without get sticky… And sure enough, on each leaf I checked, I could see where the caterpillar had severed the main the vein of the leaf before it started eating. Cool!
Elsewhere, I could hear the Red-Shouldered Hawks nearby screeching at each other, so I went over to where the noise was coming from. One of the juvenile had caught a snake on the ground, and mama was supervising him. The other juvenile was in a tree nearby, screaming for attention. They youngsters are just learning how to fly and hunt, so they’re not really very graceful yet. I got some photos of the one on the ground, but missed the shot when it flew up off the ground with the snake hanging from its talons. Gotta be fast out there, man!