Tag Archives: Northern Pike

American Bitterns Pumper-Lunking on Sunday

I was up at 6:00 am and out the door before 6:30.  It was my original intention to do some more wildflower hunting, but on the way to Highway 20 I got lost in my thoughts and missed the turn off (D’oh!), so I continued up the highway to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge and spent the morning there instead.  The weather was lovely (mostly sunny; 51º when I got there, 70º by the time I left).

CLICK HERE to see the whole album of photos and videos.

We’re right at the beginning of the breeding season, so lots of bird are starting to pair up, build nests, and claim territory.  I saw a lot of Great-Tailed Grackles flying overhead (and some American White Pelicans, too), and although I could hear the grackles occasionally singing their broad range of odd songs, I didn’t see any of them on or near the ground so I didn’t get any photos of them. I also saw a young garter snake and a green-tinted Western Racer snake, but they moved too fast for me. By the time I got my camera focus on them, they were gone into the brush.  I’d never seen a Western Racer before, so that was neat to see one for the first time.  When I initially saw it, I thought it was a tule on the auto-tour route… but then it moved.

A lot of the wildflowers and vernal pool flowers at the refuge were in bloom, so in area the ground was a patchwork of yellow Goldfields, orange Fiddleneck, white Popcorn Flowers and purple Dowingia… so pretty. There’s also wild mustard and Poison Hemlock, Blessed Milk Thistle, Italian Thistle, and Teasel blooming everywhere – just in time for the pollinators to wake up.

I saw only a few dragonflies, but it’s still early in the season for them. The Painted Lady and West Coast Lady butterflies on the other hand were everywhere. I bet I saw 20 of them just around the permanent wetland area.

There were jackrabbits and Cottontails bounding all over the place, and I got a few good shots of some California Ground Squirrels.

I didn’t see many babies today, just a pair of Canada Geese with their little troop of goslings, but it’s still early in the season.

The highlight of the day was seeing an American Bittern in the tall grass “booming”.  I don’t know why it’s called “booming” because the call has its own name but… whatever.  To stake out their territory, the Bitterns give out a loud complex call called the “pumper-lunk” call.  The bird claps its bill several time, sucking air into its esophagus, and then expels the air by compressing its neck – making a loud burbling sound, sort of like a melodious burp.  The one I was watching did his call five times, and I was able to get video of two of the calls.  Made. My. Day.  Here’s one of the videos of it: https://youtu.be/cg0HDZ2lhbw.

The odd moment of the day came when I saw something with long brown, black and white fur moving through the long grass.  I could see that it was moving nose-down along the ground, but because the critter never lifted its head, I couldn’t tell what it was.  I was thinking it was probably a Striped Skunk, but the brown shades were throwing me off… then I was thinking badger (but the fur was too long)… or maybe even porcupine (but they’re usually much larger, and the video proved that I was seeing fur and not quills)… So I’m settling on skunk, but I’m still not certain.

In another “what is that?” moment, I saw the dorsal fin and tail fin of a Northern Pike in one of the slews.  I know I’ve said it before, but those guys are brutal; they’ll eat anything.  They come up into the sloughs when the area gets flooded, then when the water recedes again, they get trapped.  They’re fast and powerful, though… and can move even in shallow water, so once they’re in the sloughs they prey on everything, including birds…

On the viewing platform, I came across a pair of Western Fence Lizards, that were challenging each other: doing pushups, body slamming one another, staring each other down.  I got some of the interaction on video.  The two males were very mature – showing off why they’re also called “Blue Bellies” – and had lots and lots of blue on their bodies, even along the back and on the head.  I’ve never ones that were this colorful before.  When the winner of the contest was done with his rival (who ran off) he decided that my blue-green walking shoes were an enemy, too, so he ran up as close to me as he dared and started doing pushups again.  Hah!  I let him win and walked away – after I got some video and photos of him.  In the same area, I found a melanistic Western Fence Lizard, a dark pitchy-gray one sitting on a branch sunning himself.  He was such a contrast to the brightly colored one, I had to get his photo, too.

I’m usually not too thrilled about seeing Black Phoebes, mostly because they’re so ubiquitous around here, but I caught sight of one carrying grass for its nest.  It perched on a limb of a tree and sat there for a while, letting me get some pretty good photos of it.  And the Kingbirds were out in force. I got some good shots of them, too.

Another good bird-moment was when I saw some American Coots playing “keep-away” with a crawfish.  One has caught it and was trying to eat it when a second Coot rushed up and grabbed it.  Coot #2 swam off with its prize, but as soon as it stopped to eat, Coot #3 rushed up and took it… When it comes to lunch, these guys aren’t polite.  Hah!

I stayed at the refuge for about 4 hours and then headed back home to crash with the dogs… So I didn’t see much in the way of wildflowers, today, but it was still a nice day out in nature…

Vacation Day 1: Cache Creek Conservancy Nature Preserve

DAY 1 OF MY VACATION. Around 8:00 am I headed out to the Cache Creek Conservancy’s nature preserve.

They only open up the preserve on a weekend about once a quarter, so when it opens up, I try to get over there. I got there just as they were opening the gates, so I got first pick of a parking space in the very-limited-parking lot adjacent to the walking trails.  I don’t usually see a whole lot when I’m there. Their riparian area is pretty small and is mostly willows and cottonwood trees (with only a few scattered oaks). I knew they were working on expanding their trail system, though, so I thought I’d check it out.

CLICK HERE for an album of photos.

In and around the small wetlands area, I saw Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons along with a few Pied-Billed Grebes and lots of blackbirds, some Northern Flickers, and White-Crowned Sparrows.  I got a little video snippet of a young grebe trying to eat a crawfish.

At one point along the trail I saw a big Red-Tailed Hawk strafe and knock down a Cottontail rabbit.  It hit the rabbit so hard it broke its neck.  By the time I got close enough to it to take photos, the hawk flew off into the nearby trees, but left his meal behind.  I checked out the rabbit to make sure it was suffering and, nope, it was dead.  Eyes still open.  It only had a few bites taken out of it from the hawk – which I’m sure went back to the rabbit as soon as I was away from there.

I also saw a Northern Pike in the wetlands area.  It was moving around in a shallow pond, so I could see the water being slowly agitated but at first I couldn’t see clearly what was causing the agitation.  I took a few videos and watched them all in slow motion when I got home.  The dorsal part of the fish would come to the top of the water – a slightly humped back and sort of yellowish-olive patterned body — then I’d see the tip of its tail fin poke out above the surface.  The fish must have been 2 feet long, easily.  Those guys are super-efficient predators that eat just about anything.  I wonder if the conservancy knows they’re in the pond.

It’s just about the end of the gall season, but there were still some clinging to the leaves of trees and scattered on the ground.  There were two I hadn’t seen or photographed before, so that was cool.  The little round ones were called – duh — Round Galls (Besbicus conspicuous), and the other one I saw was along the edges of the leaves of the Cottonwood Trees.  Now, I’d seen the Petiole galls before (lots of them) that form at the base of the leave and are caused by a species of aphid (Pemphigus populicaulis), but I’d never seen the ones that formed along the edges.  I took a bunch of photos and when I got home, I looked them up in my trusty galls books and I actually had some trouble finding it.  It’s a kind of “leaf curl” gall also caused by an aphid (Pemphigus sp.) but the exact species wasn’t specified.  I’ll have to do more research. There were also a lot of Jumping Galls (Neuroterus saltatorius ) still clinging to the leaves of some of the oaks.  Along with the willows, cottonwood trees and Valley Oaks, I also came across some very late-blooming Rock Phacelia (Phacelia egena), Vinegarweed (Trichostema lanceolatum), Cocklebur, Chicory and Tree Tobacco (Nicotiana glauca) – an invasive species.

I got to see a pair of mule deer, but couldn’t get very close to them before they were off, dashing toward the river side…  I walked for about three hours and then headed back to the car.