Tag Archives: nesting

Ibis Rookery at the Water Plant, 07-03-18

The dog and I headed out right away to go into Woodland and look for the water treatment plant before going into the office. One of my naturalist course graduates, Sonjia, had told me there was an Ibis rookery there, so I had to go see it!

Luckily the main gate was open.  I overshot the pond area and had to turn around, then went down the gravel road, and took photos from my car and the adjacent field. The air quality was horrible this morning, with all of the wildfires burning around the valley, so everything was tinged an extra shade of red-orange.

At first, I only saw flocks of White-Faced Ibis, Black Necked Stilts and a few other shorebirds, but as I watched I could pick out other individual birds like Tricolored Blackbirds and Yellow-Headed Blackbirds, Killdeer, Mallards, Pied-Billed Grebes, Canada Geese and Great-Tailed Grackles.  Some of the grackles were posturing and “dancing” along the side of the road. One of them kept stepping on the tail feathers of the others to mess them up. Hah!  I also found some damselflies who weren’t warm enough to go anywhere yet, so they clung to the stems of the star thistle, sometimes several of them on the same plant. Lots of photo ops… but I felt rushed because I had to get to the office by 7:00 am.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos and video snippets.

A little further along the gravel road was the rookery area itself, with Ibis practically piled on top of one another in their twiggy nests.  Because it was so early in the morning, most of the adults on the nests weren’t quite awake yet, but in some of the nests, parents were busy feeding hungry hatchlings. If I come back again later in the week, I’ll come a little bit later in the morning when more of the birds are awake.

I was able to see some of the unhatched eggs in nests; they’re a beautiful turquoise blue color. Both parents help to keep the eggs warm. Some evidence seems to indicate that the males sit on the eggs during the day, and females sit on the eggs in the evening, but they can also switch shifts. Both parents also feed the babies (by regurgitation). While I was watching one nest, I saw mom feeding the kids. Then dad flew in, gave mom his breakfast, and flew off again… and mom fed what dad brought to the kids. Lots of barfing and re-barfing going on in that exchange. Eeew! Hah!

The pairs of adults are supposed to be monogamous, but I don’t know if that’s for life or just for the breeding season.  I saw several pairs, some of them interacting very gently with one another. “Allopreening” (mates preening one another) is supposed to reinforce the pair bond.

The baby Ibises have black and white striped beaks and bald heads. They’re so funny looking! And they grab at the parent’s beak to try to get them to open their mouths. Pushy, fussy babies.

In some spots, the female Great-Tailed Grackles were poking around the Ibis’ nests and harassing them. One of them poked its head right in under a mama Ibis who was sitting on the nest, causing her to jump up and turn on it.  It’s not unusual for the grackles to be predatory and try to steal eggs from the nests, but this one was awfully bold!  (I wonder if the Black-Crowned Night Herons come by in the evening to steal babies and eat them… They’re notorious in this area for stealing and killing local Wood Duck ducklings; sometimes killing for no reason and leaving the ducklings bodies lying around.)

I was out there for about an hour and then had to head off to the office, but that was cool way to start my day.

Wrens, Tree Swallows and… Pronghorns, 04-29-18

Things didn’t go quite as planned today, but it was okay.  Up around 6:00 am and off to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. I had intended to go out Highway 20 to search for wildflowers, but the season is almost passed around here, so I drove on to the refuge instead.  It was 49º when I headed out and about 66º on my way back. The sky was full of big sofa clouds and there was a slight breeze all day. Very pretty.

At the refuge, the large pond has been drained down to almost nothing, so there’s nothing to see, really, along that extra loop right now. It’s a disappointment. Without the water there are no dragonflies, no grebes nesting on their floating mats, no rafts of pelicans fishing… Just a big dirt hole with deer tracks running across it.  Still, the trip wasn’t a complete waste. When I started the auto-tour route, I was greeted with the sight of a male American Goldfinch in the tall grass, eating seeds. They’re much brighter than the Lesser Goldfinches I usually see around there. Very striking.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

I also got to see several of the male Marsh Wrens successfully luring females to their construction sites. The males build several different nests close to one another, and then let the female decide which one she likes best. Two of the males I saw had females working to line the nests with soft grass and feathers.  I also watched as another male worked frantically to build a nest, not out of cattail skins (like most of the other nests), but of green weeds and bits of wet stick.  He was really struggling. The green weeds were thin and leafy and wouldn’t bend or sit the way he wanted them to. When he brought the stick in, he tried it in several different spots and just couldn’t seem to get it into the right spot. I got some photos and video snippets of all of this.  I also came across one male Marsh Wren without a tail.  Usually the males “flag” with their tail and hold it upright when they sing. This guy had nothing to work with. I don’t know if the tail feathers had molted out and not regrown yet, or were pulled out by some other critter that tried to make the small bird its meal… I wonder if being tailless will impact on the little guy’s ability to find a mate.

Seriously. I wished I could stay there longer, and study it all more. Where’s my millions, Universe? I want to be able to retire and do naturalist stuff full time!

At another spot along the route, by the big viewing platform, I found a pair of nesting Tree Swallows. Mom and dad took turns patrolling the nest and going out to look for food. I couldn’t hear any babies, though, and the parents didn’t seem to be bringing whatever food they found back to the nest. Maybe mom is still building up enough protein to lay eggs; or maybe the chicks aren’t hatched yet – but far enough along so that mom doesn’t need to be sitting on the nest all of the time. More questions left unanswered because I can’t get out there long enough to do a definitive study. I need to look for research grant funding…

There were lots of ground squirrels out, and a couple of them posed for me.  And I came across several “wakes” of Turkey Vultures.  On group was perches on a gate with huge tufts of poison hemlock growing up all around them. That made for an unusually creepy yet lovely photograph.  Who knew vultures could look so pretty?

Here is the album of pix from today:  https://www.flickr.com/photos/mkhnaturalist/albums/72157695871401034

The big surprise of the day, though, was at the end of the day as I was heading home. Just off Road 68, where the I5 onramp is there was a herd of … wait for it… Pronghorns! I knew there were pronghorn in California, but I’d never seen one. This was a small herd and they were walking through a recently plowed agricultural field. It was such a surprise that it actually took my brain several seconds to understand what I was looking at. An amazing sight.

47 Species in One Day, 02-04-18

The dog and I got up around 6:00 am this morning, and headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  It was so foggy between Sacramento and Woodland that traffic was moving at a crawl.  There were a few spots where the fog was so thick, I couldn’t see beyond the reach of the headlights, and I almost missed the off-ramp to the gas station because I couldn’t see it… Scary.

It was about 43º when I arrived at the refuge (where it wasn’t foggy at all) and about 67º when I left.

One of the first things I saw was a lone raccoon walking through a pond. I caught a glimpse of him out of the corner of my eye, and pulled into the park-and-stretch area and got out of the car to rush to the edge of the pond to see if I could find him again.  He walked right out from a stand of tules, and stood in the water, staring at me for a few seconds, before walking on again. I got a little bit of video of him, but didn’t get any good still shots.

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

I also saw a pair of Northern Harriers harassing a Red-Tailed Hawk. I think the Red-Tail had blundered to near to where the Harriers were setting up their nest — (Northern Harriers nest on the ground, not in trees.) – and the Harriers freaked out.  They were pretty far away from me, and moving quickly in and around the tules, so it was hard to get any photos. Finally, one of the Harriers stopped and rested on top of a pile of dead tules, and I was able to get a few shots of him.

Further along the route, I came across a Bald Eagle sitting by the edge of a pool, up to his “knees” in the water.  I got some video of him just as he leapt up from the shore and took off flying across the wetlands – making the waterfowl scatter all around him as he flew along.

Later, when I had arrived back at the nature center at the end of the auto-tour route to take a potty break before heading back home, one of the docents was outside the building setting up a birding scope. I asked her if she’d seen anything good, and she said, “If you look through the scope you can see an eagle in the tree right over there,” and she pointed to a tree within walking distance of the scope. I looked through the scope, figured out which tree the eagle was in, and then ran to go potty. Hah! When I got back out the restroom, the dog and I walked down the trail to see the eagle. I was able to get photos of him from several different angles, even from directly below him when he bent over a little bit and stared straight down at me. Yikes! (I kept Sergeant Margie close to me so the eagle wouldn’t get any ideas of snatching him.)

While I was out on the trail taking photos of the eagle, I could hear two Great-Horned Owls hooting at one another, so I went back to the docent to ask about them. The owls were in a tree on the other side of the nature center, but the tree was in a restricted area, so I couldn’t get near it. The docent said the owls already had eggs and were brooding.  It was so neat to hear them call back and forth to one another from different branches, the male’s voice is deeper than the female’s. They were hooting softly at one another, first him, then her, then him, then her… It was so sweet.

I had finished the Sacramento auto-tour relatively quickly, so I headed over to the Colusa refuge before going home. Not a lot to see over there, but between the two refuges I saw about 47 different species today.

Vacation Day #10: Birds, Bucks and a Bambi

DAY TEN OF MY FALL VACATION… I slept in until about 6:00 am and immediately headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve again.  It was 43º at the river when I got there; there was also low fog on the ground for a while. By the time I left it was in the low 60’s…

At the refuge, I was surprised to see two pairs of Red Shouldered Hawks building up their nests; it seemed like kind of a weird part of the year for them to be doing that.  One was the pair that regularly keeps a nest right beside the nature center; and the other nest was located along the Pond Trail at the #48 water spigot, right across from where the bee hive was. (The queen and her troop have moved on and are no longer nesting in the tree.) I got to see both pairs of birds going back and forth, collecting grass and twigs for the nests and building them up. Red-Shouldered Hawks usually start breeding when they’re 2 years old, and pairs stay together for life.  Both males and females are involved in nest construction, and the process can take up to 5 weeks. Everything I’ve read say the hawks only have one clutch per year – and they usually have them in the spring at the preserve… That’s why I think it’s so odd to see them building their nests now, in October.

I was hoping to be able to see some of the Mule Deer bucks at the preserve. This time of year, they’re in rut and have their full racks of antlers.  Well I kind of hit the jackpot at one spot along the trail. I found one two-pointer buck standing in the tall grass and browsing, and as I watched him, I realized that there were two larger bucks sitting down in the grass near him.  I could see their antlers, but it was difficult to see their heads or any other part of their bodies; there was one two-pointer and one three-pointer.  As I was watching them, the guy who does the regular deer-count at the preserve came by.  I pointed out the bucks to him and he was very appreciative; he would’ve walked right past them if I hadn’t told him where they were.

Later on, I also came across a young doe and her new fawn. The little guy was still in his spots. He was pretty good at keeping himself at a distance from me and ducking for cover, but his mom didn’t seem very attentive. I worry that the little guy will get taken by coyotes because his mom isn’t keeping a good eye on him. There was an older fawn that was hanging around the mom and her baby, too, but I don’t know if he belonged to the same family or not. The mom wouldn’t let him get close enough to her to nurse, but otherwise didn’t seem interested in him…

Along with the regular contingency of Acorn Woodpeckers at the preserve, I also got to see Hairy Woodpeckers and a Nutthall’s Woodpecker today. The male Phainopepla was also hanging around, so I got to see him for a little bit, too. Oher birds seen today included Mourning Doves, European Starlings, California Scrub Jays, California Towhees, a Mockingbird, some American Robins, Northern Flickers, and a small contingency of Lesser Goldfinches drinking from a water fountain…

Here are some pix and videos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mkhnaturalist/albums/72157689533852116

 I walked around for about 3 hours and then headed back home