Tag Archives: orb-weaver

Lots of Nesting Birds, 04-15-18

I was up around 6:00 this morning.  It was supposed to rain here today, so I thought I’d better get out early if I wanted to get a nature walk in before the clouds got organized. I went over to the American River Bend Park because it’s close by (no long-distance driving) and I wanted to check on mama Great Horned Owl again.

Mama Great Horned Owl was still in her nest with her three owlets. The owlets are now starting to get their primary wing feathers in and they’re very itchy.  I saw mom helping her oldest owlet preen a bit and give him bite-kisses all over his head and neck. So cute!  I notice that when mom is around her babies, she often holds her plumicorns back against her head.  I wonder if that’s a communication thing…

After I walked around for a while, I went back to check on the nest and mom was gone. She must’ve been out hunting…

CLICK HERE for an album of today’s photos.

In a green area across the trail from the owls’ nest, I watched a House Wren singing from on top of an old snag… and then followed him as he flew over to where the nest was.  I got some photos of the wrens poking their heads out of the nesting cavity, and while I was doing that, I noticed that to my right, there were some Tree Swallows in an adjacent tree where they, too, were setting up house in a tree cavity. They were trying to line the cavity with twigs and stuff, but kept getting interrupted by a pair of Nutthall’s Woodpeckers who, apparently, wanted the same cavity the Tree Swallows had. So, just in that small area, I got to see three different species of birds AND their nests.  In the same area, a few yards away, was a second Tree Swallow nest… and I got some photos of that one, too.

While I was doing that, I was near enough to my car to lean on it and rest a little bit… and saw something flash to the ground to my right. I looked over there and saw that there was some hair fluff – like someone had brushed out their dog and left all of the undercoat hair there. There was a tiny White-Breasted Nuthatch grabbing up mouthfuls of the hair and flying off with it to feather its nest. I tried to see where it flew off to, but lost it in the tangle of branches. It came back several more times for the fluff, so I was able to get photos and a little video snippet of it in action.

A few minutes later, when I moved to step away from my car, I could hear a hummingbird nattering away, and saw it collecting bugs from the side of a tree. I followed after it, and was just barely able to make out its tiny nest in a scraggly tree on the other side of the trail. The nest was covered in lichen and blended right into the lichen-covered bark of the tree, but I still managed to get a few shots.

In one area, there were quite a few Scarab-Hunter wasps flying low to the ground. They have special heat-sensors in their abdomens that allow them to detect the body-heat of grubs under the surface of the dirt. When they find a grub, they land, and stick their ovipositor down through the dirt into the grub and lay their eggs in it. Cool, huh?

There were also quite a few Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies around (mostly males today), and one of them landed on the front of my jacket. I was worried he’d get squished by the shoulder strap of my carry bag, so I set him on my shoulder (on the side opposite the strap) and he stayed there for quite a while, hitching a ride while I walked. He even climbed up onto my head for a bit before taking off to sun himself in the grass. I also found more butterfly eggs today, but no caterpillars yet…

I got a pretty good shot of an orb-weaver spider’s web, and also noted that the Oak Apple gall wasps are starting to lay their eggs on the Valley Oaks. New fat, round, green galls are appearing on the trees…

At another point during my walk, I could hear a California Quail shouting out his “Chi-ca-go!” call, and looked all over for him. I finally caught sight of him off the side of the trail and down on the sandy shore of the river. He was pretty far away, but I still managed to get a photos of him before he scurried off into a tangled bit of shrub.

There were a lot of Fox Squirrels around today, “barking” at me from trees almost everywhere I walked. They’re so funny. They’re teeny, but they bark at something as big as me expecting me to be intimidated by their sound. They’re like the Chihuahuas of the Forest.

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

Foggy and Cold on MLK Day, 01-15-18

It’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  I’m feeling better; just really fatigued. I slept soundly last night and got up with the dog a little before 6:00 am.  By about 7:00 am I headed over to the Cosumnes River Preserve for a walk.

It was chilly and super foggy in the morning hours, and only got up to about 50º by the afternoon (under a thick overcast). When I got to the preserve, I could see cars in the parking lots, but all of the gates were closed. I assumed it must have been staff members in the lots, none of whom thought to open the gates for the public. So, at first I had to park on the road.  I walked around for a little while, and I think the people in the parking lot saw me or my car and they eventually got around to opening the gates. One of the people waved at me as he drove off.  I walked back to my car, and pulled into the parking lot. Because of the chill and dense fog there weren’t a lot of birds out and about but I did get a few photos.

The photos aren’t all that great because of the dense fog, but you’ll get the idea… CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

Then I drove over to where the nature center is and walked the river trail there.  Again, because of the for and chill there weren’t many critters around. But the damp air had awakened a lot of the different lichen and some of the willow trees were starting to get their fuzzy “pussy willow” catkins on them.  I kept my walk a bit short so I wouldn’t wear myself out again, and then headed back home.

A Short Fungus Walk in the Fog, 01-07-18

I went out to the American River Bend Park hoping to find some fungi coming out for the season.  I didn’t get to see a lot of anything, though.  There weren’t many different kinds of mushrooms out yet, and the fog was keeping all of the birds and critters in bed. I didn’t hear or see many birds at all; I was really surprised.  I did get to see quite a few spider webs along the way, and there were a few nice-looking barometer earthstars sitting out where I could see them. Because of the fog and chill in the air, and the fact that my shoes and the cuffs of my pants got wet from walking through the wet grass I only walked for around 3 hours today (rather than my normal 3 ½ or 4 hours).

Here is the album of photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mkhnaturalist/albums/72157691364632514

Mostly Bucks in Rut, 12-09-17

Up at 5:30 am to let the dog out to pee, then we went back to bed for about an hour before I got up again and went over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk.

It was literally freezing, 32º, at the river, and much of the preserve was covered in fog. The fog was very thick at the river side, which made for some interesting photos, especially as the fog started to lift as the sun came up further in the sky. There was a Great Blue Heron sitting on the bank among some scraggly vegetation. He remained still for quite a while and I was able to photograph him from different sides. He kept an eye on me, but remained where he was, trying to warm up before flying anywhere I guessed.

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

The majority of the rest of my photos today were of the Mule Deer. I came across the big 4-pointer buck who was tailing a female, and later came across three younger bucks (two 2-pointers and one spike buck) all sparring among a group of does (who pretty much ignored the boys). I was able to get some video snippets of the sparring contests, and also got some photos but those were more difficult because when the bucks spar, they drop their heads down close to the ground and shove each other back and forth… and when the vegetation around them is kind of tall, I’d lose the bucks in it. Every now and then, though, the bucks would lift up their heads and pose, looking handsome. I got quite a few of those shots.

On my way out of the preserve I found a spike buck browsing in the tall grass, but close to him, just to his left, was a California ground Squirrel gathering up face-fulls of grass and other vegetation to use as nesting material. This is kind of early for them to be breeding in this area, but not unheard of. In Southern California they start breeding in December, and in the Central Valley they usually don’t start until February and then go through April. Changes in breeding seasons is part of what I’ll be able to study more and understand better after I get certified in the phenology course…

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

Looking for Grebes; Found Just About Anything But

I was out the door with Sergeant Margie by about 4:00 am, and drove out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge by way of the gas station and Jack’s.

I got to the refuge just as the sun was coming up, and as I got out of the car Great Blue Herons lurched out from the tops of the surrounding trees where they’d roosted for the night and flew off over my head… and one small bat came flitting around me to check me out. I didn’t get pictures of them, of course, because it was too dark and they moved too fast… As the sub came up, so did the temperatures and by 9:00 am it was already in the 80’. The car did NOT like the heat, and neither did I…

CLICK HERE to see the album of photos from today.

I was hoping the Clark’s and Western Grebes would be doing some courtship stuff, but they were uncooperative. I saw the Great Horned Owls, but they were sitting on top of a distant fence with their backs to me. (So rude! Hah!) And I came across a huge gathering of Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets, but they were behind thick blinds of tules, and I couldn’t get the camera to see through and past the tules to the birds… So that was frustrating…

At one old scraggly tree I came across a bunch of young Tree Swallows and Barn Swallows jousting with each other. They were out catching the early morning bugs over the water and would go to the tree to rest… and argue with one another over who go what branch. This extended into a nearby willow tree where the scuffling continued… While I was watching them I caught sight of a young male Hairy Woodpecker who was testing out his navigation skills. He was pretty scruffy-looking, but seemed to be able to get around okay…

There were dragonflies, damselflies and big orb-weaver spiders everywhere, which is typical for this time of year, but among them I was surprised to get my very first photo of a Twelve Spotted Skimmer dragonfly. I’d seen Eight Spotted Skimmers before, but not a Twelve Spotted one… and I’d never seen any of the spotted skimmers at the refuge before. Usually, I only see them around Lake Solano. They usually seem to be in constant motion, which makes getting a photos of them hard for me. This Twelve Spotted one was parked on the top of a tule among a “flock” of Variegated Meadowhawks, so I quickly got as many picture of it as I could.

Among the birds out there today, I was also surprised to get my first still shot close-up of a Common Tern. (I think it was a Common one; I’m not very good at telling some of them apart.) I got a few good photos of a young Black-Crowned Night Heron who was fishing among the cattails and reeds, some late-in-the-season Snow Geese drifting on the water (juvenile and an adult), and a very cooperative juvenile Mourning Dove. She was sitting in the shade on a ranch near the viewing platform, and stayed right where she was while I got some close-ups of her. The doves have such lovely faces…

I also got some photos of a Great Egret sitting on top of a dead tree. It gaped while I was watching it so I got some photos of its tongue. Heron tongues are so weird-looking. Toward the back, where they attach in the throat, they’re flat, but near the front are arrowhead-like projections which help hold prey in the mouth and allow the birds to use the arrowhead like mini-trowels and shove the prey back from the front of the beak into the gullet…

I headed out of the preserve by about 10 o’clock and was back to the house by noon.

Saw My First Virginia Rail… and Her Babies!

Virginia Rail and chick. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Virginia Rail and chick. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

I got up about 6:00 am on Sunday, May 1, and headed over to the Cosumnes River Preserve for my walk. On the way there, I saw a Swainson’s Hawk sitting on a fencepost along the freeway, and then came across a pair of Red-Tailed Hawks that were “doin’ it” on another fencepost further down the road, right there in front of God and everybody.  Hah-ha-ha!  It’s that time year.

The main gate to the preserve was closed, so I went over to the boardwalk area.  There’s hardly any water left in some places, so there are very few birds there right now.  I saw some Avocets, Ibis and Coots, some Canada Geese (some with goslings), and a couple of American Bitterns who were sitting across from one another at the pond by the viewing platform and they were giving their territorial “pumper-lunk” calls to each other.  All talk, no action.

I was really surprised (and pleased) to see my first live Virginia Rail there – and she had babies!  The chicks were pitch black, and looked like big fuzzy caterpillars.  The mama was trying to lead them across the walkway from one area of the pond’s shore to the other, but the babies were totally unruly and just ran wherever they wanted to.  Mama wasn’t too happy to see me approaching, and gave out an alarm call that sent the babies ducking for cover… but they were split up now.  Mama and two babies on one side of the walkway, and the third baby by itself on the other side.  The chick started crying and mama started squawking… I didn’t want to stress them out, so I left the area until it got quiet there again.

When the preserve finally opened its main gate, I drove over there and was hoping to be able to walk their marshland trail… only to find when I got to the trailhead that all of the trails were closed today.  Some kind of safety issue or something.  A sign telling me that back at the parking lot would’ve been nice!  They made me walk from the parking lot to the trailhead before saying anything.  What a waste of my time!  Irritated, I decided then to walk down to the boat ramp and back.  When I got to the boat launch, my foot sipped out from under me and got caught in a shallow ditch alongside the ramp.  I continued to fall, landing on my hip… and was very lucky that I didn’t break my ankle (considering how my foot was wedged in the ditch).  I was actually more concerned about my camera getting damaged than anything else.  I check it before I checked myself. Hah! Because of my arthritis it was hard for me to find a position from which I could get back up onto my feet without being in a lot of pain.  I managed somehow, and headed off back to the car.

I then drove down to Desmond Road to see if there was anything interesting there, but… no… so the whole trip was kind of a bust (except for the Rails).  I probably won’t be going back there until the fall.

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