Tag Archives: Owlets

Many Babies at the River Bend Park, 05-28-18

Memorial Day. I knew it was going to be hot today – a high of 97º — but I was surprised by how fast the morning heated up. I barely got in 2 ½ hours of walking before I had to call it quits. The shorter walk meant fewer photos, too; only about 300+ instead of my usual 1000+. Most of those are “burst” photos, of course, when the camera takes a burst of 5 shots at time, but still…

I went to the American River Bend Park, and the first thing I encountered there was a mama Wild Turkey and her brood of about 6 poults. She kept the babies in the tall grass (which is golden now) so they were pretty obscured, but it was still neat to be able to see them. You don’t get to see turkey babies very often.

CLICK HERE to see the album of photos.

Then I saw the trio of Great Horned Owl owlets. They’re almost fully fledged now, and only have a little bit of their baby fluff poking out here and there. Their mom wasn’t with them, although I’m sure she was nearby hunting. She might continue feeding the owlets until September or October when they’ll be old enough to go out on their own. The owlets were up in a tree alongside an offshoot trail, but you could see them from the road that takes you into the camping part of the park. They let me get pretty close to take photos of them before flying off on strong, totally silent wings. They’re so cool.

Other babies I saw today were Canada Geese goslings, floating in the river between their parents and guardians and hopping up on the shore to peck at the greenery there. I also saw a pair of Mallards and their ducklings.

I was watching them on the river, and when they came close to shore, something large charged at them from under the low-hanging bows of a tree growing on the river bank. Mama Mallard charged back, flapping her wings and quacking ferociously, and it wasn’t until the attacker retreated that I was able to see clearly what it was: a young coyote. Pretty smart of her to stay hidden in the greenery. But she wasn’t fast enough or adept enough to get past mama Mallard and snatch one of her kids. The coyote needs to work on that technique.

The Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars are just starting to get fat enough and big enough to form their chrysalises. I saw a couple of them attached to trees but not out of their skin yet. And in another location, I found two chrysalises near to one another. They looked like they’d recently formed and were still a little “gooey”. One of them still had the sloughed off skin of the caterpillar attached to the bottom of it. You could see the caterpillar’s shed face among the leavings..

Needing Some “Get Outside” Time, 05-02-18

I needed to “get outside” of myself, so I took the dog over to the American River Bend Park.

Sergeant Margie can’t do long walks anymore, so he spent the majority of the time in the backseat of the car. I parked in the shade and left the windows about 1/3 of the way down, then walked in wide circles, keeping the car in sight all of the time. That meant I couldn’t do much investigating and I couldn’t spend a lot of time at the park, but the fresh air was good for me… and I got to see some birds, a pair of coyotes, and some other critters while I was there.

Nature heals.  CLICK HERE to see the photo album.

Oh, and mama Great Horned Owl and her three owlets weren’t in their nest, but I found them in a tree across a field from the nest. All of the owlets are still sporting a lot of baby fluff, but their primary feathers are in, so they can fly for short distances. Mom remains nearby to make sure they’re safe, but they’re getting more and more independent.

I was only out for about 2 ½ hours, but it was just what I needed.

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.

Mama Great Horned Owl – and Other Stuff, 04-10-18

I just HAD to go see how mama Great Horned Owl was doing at the American River Bend Park, so I got up around 6:30 am and headed over there, hoping to beat the incoming rain. It was about 59º and totally overcast, but no drizzles while I was out.

When I got to the park, I was happy to see mama up in her nest with her three, now very large, owlets. The babies are all just about the same size as mom right now, but they’re still in their baby fluff and look to soft and cute. With the three of them in there, there’s hardly enough room for mom, too, but somehow they all fit. I took photos and video snippets of them, and then went to see what else was in the vicinity.

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

Lots of House Wrens singing from every direction, Western Bluebirds and Audubon’s Warbler. Y’know, I’d never really noticed the warblers before this year, but they seem to be all over the place right now. I also saw a young Cooper’s Hawk be harassed by Scrub Jays. When I first saw the hawk it was above my head in a tree and all I could see was its tail feathers. I could hear the Jays screeching at it, and they beat it down through the branches until the hawk was free enough to fly off. I saw it land on a curved branch several yards away… and it was still getting harassed. Poor thing!

Then I saw a young Red-Shouldered Hawk sitting in a tree near where the Cooper’s Hawk was. The Red-Shoulder must have seemed more “assertive” than the Coop, because the smaller birds left it alone and didn’t go anywhere near it. It also let me get pretty close to its resting spot – It looked right at me. – without flying off, so it must have been very self-assured.

I saw stinging nettles, miner’s lettuce, Stork’s Bill, and pipevine plants (many of them now covered with small clusters of Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly eggs), buckeye chestnut trees, wild grape vines, and black walnut trees (which are just starting to get their catkins). I also found one Elder Moth caterpillar folded up in the leaf of a blue elderberry bush.

As I walked around, I kept going back to where I could see the owls’ nest so I could get more photos of them as they moved around and shifted positions in the nest…

I was out there for about 3 hours and then headed home.

Here is a video of mama owl and her babies: https://youtu.be/sof6Mf7UKMQ

Out with Some of My Naturalist Students, 03-31-18

Up at 6:45 am.  I headed out to the American River Bend Park to meet some of my naturalist students for a hike and to see the Great Horned Owl nest there.  The weather was perfect, and I had seven students show up.  Our pace was slow, and it was great having so many sets of eyes looking around the same area. What one missed, others found.

The Wild Turkeys were out in force, including the leucistic ones I’d seen earlier in the month. The males were strutting: tails fanned out, snoods hanging. I got video of one “treading” on the ground (it looked like a Flamenco Dancer, hah!)

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

The group was able to spot several different nests, including two Bushtit nests (that look like hanging socks), two large owls’ nests, and a nest with a Red-Shouldered Hawk in it.  Just before we got to the first owl’s nest, we were met by a Ranger who let us know where the second nest could be found. I know the park well enough that I was able to figure out which area the ranger was  talking about.  In the first nest was mama Great Horned Owl and her two owlets. (She might have had three, but I’m not sure.) The babies were moving around and standing up occasionally so we got a few photos of them. We all kept our distance, though, so as not to disturb them.

There were Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies all over the place (mostly females). We found some of their eggs, and also got a couple of them to pose for photos. There was one spot, too, where we were able to see and photograph a pair of the butterflies mating. At one point, we found some female River Bluet damselflies. They’re tan, and they were able to camouflage themselves well among the leaf litter. Even when we were standing right over them, it was hard to see them.  We also found a single Scarab Hunter Wasp; I think it might have been a queen.

Other critters we saw along the way included male and female Nutthall’s Woodpeckers, Audubon’s Warblers, lots of House Finches singing from trees, some Spotted Towhees, Anna’s Hummingbirds, tree squirrels, a small herd of mule deer, Tree Swallows, Western Bluebirds, Acorn Woodpeckers, etc.  We also heard some California Quails, but couldn’t find them, and came across a tiny dead vole on the trail.

At two spots along the trail we found nice outcroppings of Common Ink Cap Mushrooms (Coprinopsis atramentaria), also called “Tippler’s Bane” because when consumed with alcohol they can be poisonous.

After a short break for snacks and a restroom break, we headed toward the second owl’s nest. The nest was HUGE but there were no owls in it. We weren’t sure if the owls were still building it and not occupying it yet, or if it (like a nest on the other side of the park) had been rejected by the female.  We did, however, come across another nest which had a Red-Shouldered Hawk sitting in it. All we could see was the bird’s back end, but she was definitely “occupying” it.

We walked for almost 5 hours and then called it a day.

More Spider Photos Than You Need… and some other critters, too.

It was supposed to get over 100º today, but I wanted to get over to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge to test out my new camera there so… I got up at 4:00 am.  Yeah, I know. Four-fricking-A.M.  It eventually made it to 102º

I took the dog with me and we got to the refuge around a quarter of six, just as the sun was coming up.  Usually, this time of year, there aren’t a whole lot of birds at the refuge, but there are resident ones around the permanent wetlands area.  That’s also the best place to spot lots of dragonflies, damselflies and spiders… So, most of my photos from today were of those guys.

Right off the bat, I spotted some Great Horned Owls: two fledglings and their mother.  They were across a field and in the shade of some trees, so from where I was, they just looked like dark blobs.  (When you do a little birding you get so you can tell which blobs are “important” and which ones aren’t.) I aimed the new camera at the blobs and got some so-so photos of the owls.  They would have been better if I hadn’t been so excited and “greedy” and zoomed in on them so much.  At that distance, the lens needs time to adjust itself so it can focus properly, but I was pushing it; “Get closer! Get closer!”

I learned today that I need to pull back more, and let the camera do its thing rather than trying to force it.  Still, I got some photos of the owls that I wouldn’t have gotten at all if I didn’t have the new camera, so even though they’re not great, they’re still “something”… I’ll get better with more practice and more patience.

There were LOTS of jackrabbits and cottontails around, and TONS of orb weaver spiders and Variegate Meadowhawk dragonflies. They were everywhere!  I tried doing some super-close ups of the insects and some of them turned out pretty good.  I got a video snippet of one of the dragonflies cleaning off its eyeballs and trying to get spider web out of its “teeth”. Hah!  There were also quite a few white Crab Spiders (Mecaphesa sp.), Cabbage White butterflies, some Buckeye butterflies and a lot of Skippers flitting around in the heat.

At one point, I saw the silhouette of a female Ring-Necked Pheasant standing up in a tree… and then I saw her poults running back and forth across the road in front of me.  They moved really fast, so I didn’t get many photos of them, but it was still cool to see the little guys.  Like Turkey poults, I hardly ever get to see pheasant poults…

In another spot, I saw a bunch of Barn Swallows sitting on the road, eating the early morning bugs. And in a nearby tree, Tree Swallows were teaching their kids how to fly and catch stuff.  The youngsters kept going back to the tree-cavity nest and looking into it as though they wanted to get back in there and just watch TV or something.  Hah-2!

Here are some pix and video snippets: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mkhnaturalist/albums/72157683669582143

Some misses: I saw a gorgeous male Yellow-Headed Blackbird standing up in the tules, but he flew off before I could get a photo of him.  I also saw a pair of Clark’s Grebes doing their courtship dash across the top of the water (!), but I was struggling to get the camera from still shot mode into video mode, and only got the last second or two, just as they finished running and flopped down into the water.  Dang it!  I need to be faster than that!

I was through the auto tour at the refuge by about 10:30 am and it was already 93º there, so I headed back home and made it to the house around noon.  I ordered some sushi lunch (there’s finally a place that delivers out here in “the hood”) and then the dog and I just crashed for the rest of the day.