Tag Archives: narrow-leaf milkweed

Saw My “Nemesis Bird”, 07-04-18

Happy Fourth.  I went out to the Cosumnes River Preserve for a walk and was disappointed to see most of the water now gone from the slough by the boardwalk paring lot. That was the only “wet” left in the wetlands area – and animals that depend on that water don’t have ready access to it anywhere else.

Anyway, I hung around the slough for a while to look for early summer galls and insects, and while I waited I did get to see a few birds.  Belted Kingfishers are like my “nemesis” birds. I’ve spent YEARS trying to get a halfway decent photo of one of them. They’re super-fast and super shy… So, I was overjoyed when this female stopped on a tree across the slough from me and posed for a while.  I also saw a Green Heron who was “caw-honking” to another one across the road from it: call and response. I’d never heard that from this species before, although I’m sure they do it all the time, so that was cool, too.

CLICK HERE to see the full album of photos.

Bushtits, several Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets, Killdeer, and some Tree Swallows were among the other birds that came by.  I also saw the head of a Red-Eared Slider Turtle and a Western Pond Turtle poke up from the shallow water at different intervals.

As for the galls, I saw some Oak Apple wasp galls, Ash Flower galls, Spiny Turbans and a few Round Wasp galls. It’s really too early in the season for most of them. Another month and different species should be popping up all over the place.

When I was done walking at the slough, I drove up the road to the nature center and just walked the boat ramp walk there.  Lots of people taking their kayaks down to the river, but not a lot of critters or bugs. I was hoping to see some dragonflies and damselflies, but no such luck. I did get to see a little Trashline Spider, though, and a gorgeous male American Goldfinch.

I was out for about 3 hours and headed back home.

Leeches! 06-27-18

I got to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve around 6:30 am and it was 56º; shirt-sleeve weather. I love it. The first thing I saw when I went into the preserve was a pair of Black Phoebes. A mama was feeding bugs to her fully-fledged offspring. What a spoiled kid! Hah!  Then I saw a long, dark slug making its way slowly across the trail. I was kind of surprised by how long it was. I don’t know enough about snails and slugs to properly identify it. (That’ll be my homework for the next day or so.)

The real close-encounter-of-the-slimy-kind came a little later when I was near the restoration pond on the trail. I found a Red-Eared Slider Turtle there. I think she’d come up to lay her eggs. When I got closer to her, I realized she was covered in LEECHES — and some of the leeches had babies. They were on her shell and in around her face and head. I tried pulling them off, but they were tough, so I got out my Yolo County Library key fob thing and used that to successfully scrape them off.

While I was doing that a small family group — mother, grandmother and 2 little girls — came up and asked what I was doing. So, I showed them the leeches and the turtle and explained how the leeches live, what kind of turtle it was, what an invasive species was, how turtles lay their eggs, etc. It was a cool teaching moment. The mom and grandma had their cell phones out and were taking photos and video. While I was talking about the turtle, she stretched her neck out so they could see her red “ears” and her toenails. They were all so excited about that.

None of the ladies had ever seen a live leech before and didn’t realize that leeches are found in a lot of the waterways around here. The adults thought they were cool; the kids thought they were super gross. Hah!  Here are some of the videos I took just before the family showed up:

Leeches video 1: https://youtu.be/i4ptncDfPo4

Leeches video 2: https://youtu.be/_9wsmvDeVsA

And here are the photos from todayhttps://www.flickr.com/photos/mkhnaturalist/albums/72157696783328501

On another part of the trail I could hear a Red-Tailed Hawk making is distinctive screeling sound from the top of a tree.  I located her and realized she had some fledglings in the tree with her. I couldn’t get any photos of the juveniles because they were in a part of the tree that was very leafy, and the leaves obscured them.  I got the distinct impression, though, that their mom did NOT like me being so close to their tree.  She flew in circles over my head several times and landed in the bare branches of other nearby trees, screaming and screaming. I was able to get a lot of photos of her – and in most of them she’s vocalizing, mouth wide open.

I had to abbreviate my walk because I got a call saying the handyman who was scheduled for 2:00 pm today was actually going to show up around 9:30 am.

Mostly Wrens and Squirrels, 05-16-18

I was up around 6:00 am and took the dog with me over to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. I encountered clouds along the way, but none of them amounted to anything where I was traveling. Back in Sacramento, however, they apparently got really organized and the city had rain, thunder and over 100 lightning strikes in the morning (just after I left). Wow!

At the refuge: because the big pond in the permanent wetland area is drained, there isn’t really a lot of anything to see there right now. Usually, there are frogs and snakes and all manner of birds around the pond, dragonflies and damselflies, a multitude of spiders, otters and muskrats…

Right now, the pond is like a PRAIRIE. Dried up with short vegetation sprouting throughout it and little mud holes here and there. It’s hard to get wetland wildlife photos when there’s no water! The geese were actually GRAZING where the pond should have been. *Sigh*

Still, I managed to get photos of some cottontails and California Ground Squirrels, and Marsh Wrens at their nests. I sat parked along the auto tour at one point for about 30 minutes, just watching a pair of the wrens. The male was out singing away, while the female flew beak-fulls of dried grass to the nest she’d chosen and arranged it inside. Once, while I watched, the male went up to the next and stuck his head, checking out the female’s work. When she came back with a mouth full of twiglets, he flew off singing again. The opening to the nest was turned away from the car, so I couldn’t see in to see what she was doing. Danged smart little birds.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

The California Ground Squirrels seemed to be everywhere. They should have lots of babies to feed this time of year. As an aside, did you know that in 1918 California launched a campaign to eradicate these native squirrels and even had posters and pamphlets printed encouraging children to join the “army against the squirrels”? “Children, we must kill the squirrels to save food,” a woman on the pamphlet says as she’s smiling. “But use poisons carefully.” The pamphlet included a recipe for strychnine-laced grain as well as suggestions for other extermination methods, such as shooting, drowning, and poison gas. Horrifying (and stupid). The campaign, sanctioned by the state government, actually came from the beef industry which claimed the squirrels were eating all of the grain on which the cattle fed.

I also came across a large creche of Canada Geese (parents, fuzzy goslings and fledglings); about 30 babies altogether(!). This is typical for Canada Geese. One set of adults watches over the group while the other parents feed, and the babies are kept in a group with the youngest in the center and the older ones on the outside. The behavior provides safety in numbers, and also teaches the young ones the concepts of following the leaders and working together – which they’ll need during migration.

In different spots along the route, I was able get good photos of a Red-Eared Slider Turtle and a large Pacific Pond Turtle, so that was nice. For all of my “bitching” about the lack of the big ponds, I did manage to see and count about 43 different species (plants and animals), so the trip wasn’t a waste… And it got me outside, into the fresh air, and focused on something other than my grief over the death of my brother Michael and his wife Sharyi…

On my way out of the refuge, I found a pair of Mourning Doves sitting in a tree, a male and female cooing at each other. They immediately brought Mike and Sharyi to mind, and even as lovely as they were, they brought a tear to my eye…

When I got back to the house it was around 2:00 pm. After a late lunch, I walked around the yard with the dogs and took photos of stuff like the Yellow-Billed Magpies in distant trees, a very fat American Robin (it made me chuckle, it was soooo chubby), and the Genista Broom Moth caterpillars that are currently multitudinous on the broom plant in the corner of the yard. They’re generally yellow-orange caterpillars with clusters of black and white spots on them and long sparse white hairs poking out all over. When the light hits them just right, they look like tubes of orange glass…

When mama moth lays her eggs on the plant, she lays them in clusters, one row overlapping the other, like fish scales. The caterpillars only eat broom, so they’re not a danger to the other plants in the yard. They’re also able to “jump” from one branch to another to escape predators.

It was Hit and Miss at the Refuges on Saturday

I was going to sleep in today, but the dogs got me up a little before 5:00 am, and then I couldn’t get back to sleep. So, I just got up and headed over to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge for the day.

When I drove into the refuge I saw a Turkey Vulture sitting on the edge of the sign at the mouth of the auto-tour. It let me walk up pretty close to get photos of it before it flew away. I think those are the coolest birds… I heard some Bitterns “pumper-lunking” but only saw a few in flight, and didn’t get any photos. The bullfrogs were doing their ninja thing, too: I could hear their deep cello-calls, but couldn’t see or photograph any of them…

Click here for the full album of photos and videos.

I did get some good photos of Clark’s Grebes and a few other birds, though.

There was a male Great Tailed Grackle in the tules around the permanent wetlands that was performing for the females. He went through a variety of different calls including its high-pitched “peep”, deep-throated “clap!” and loud echoing “yeeeeeeeeeeeeeep!” I got some video of him, but was interrupted a few times by other drivers along the trail who crept or rushed past my car. One lady parked right next to my car and yelled through the open window, “Did you see the owl?!” Uh, yes… but I’m trying to film a grackle right now… Guh!

I also came across a family group of otters, a mom and dad and two babies. They were one of the permanent ponds but moved so quickly, it was really difficult to get any clear shots of them. I did manage to get a little bit of video, though… until dad saw me, snorted loudly and turned his family around.

When I was done at the Sacramento refuge, I headed over to the Colusa one. I hadn’t been there in quite a while because they took the brunt of the flooding earlier in the year, and were closed to the public for months. It was kind of a waste to go there today, though, because now they’ve drained off a lot of the water (so the surrounding rice fields can have it), and most of it is just a big dirt hole with flowers growing here and there.

One pond was filled with dead carp – stinking bodies everywhere – and others that were slowly dying as the pond evaporates. The carp come up with the flood waters, and when the flood recedes, they get caught in-land and can’t get out. I was surprised that the refuge allows them to suffer slow deaths like that; surely there must be some way to collect them and relocate them.

Where there were spots in the refuge that still had water in them, the water was shallow, and the banks were overrun with water primrose… One interesting thing, though, was that in some of the waterless ponds there were crayfish chimneys, structures the crayfish make by piling up little balls of mud. The bottom of the chimney opens into water (when there is water), and the top opens to the air. They use them to hide in when they’re breeding and getting ready to lay their eggs…

My visit to the Colusa refuge was also kind of ruined because there was a biplane from one of the neighboring rice fields flying around. He’d circle over the refuge, fly down really low, and dump seeds and pesticides on the fields next door. The noise was horrible… You can’t “relax and enjoy nature” when there’s some guy buzz-bombing the place every few minutes. It was ugly… I won’t need to go back there at all for the rest of the year…