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A Fast Run Through the SNWR Auto-Tour, 07-21-18

Up at 5:00 am with the dog, and we headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. I wanted to beat the heat, but I also wanted to test out the car on a long drive before heading back to work on Monday.

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At the refuge, I was hoping to see a lot of dragonflies… but without the large pond, they just weren’t around. It was kind of disappointing. The whole place is dry, with just small “mud holes” here and there. The big surprise was a Bald Eagle that took off just as I stopped to try to get photos of it. And I got a few cute photos of a mama California Ground Squirrel sitting up on a stump and eating a thistle head. I just love those little critters.

Because there wasn’t a lot to see, I got through the whole auto tour route very quickly and headed back to Sacramento. I got back home around noon. I think that’s the fastest turn-around I’ve ever done there.

Along the Slough at the Cosumnes Preserve, 06-15-18

I spent time at the Cosumnes River Preserve checking out how it’s looking this time of year with little to no water in the wetland areas.

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In the slough along the side of the road there were lots of crayfish walking through the mud… and lots of Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets looking for breakfast. They always seemed to be looking where the crayfish weren’t. There was one spot where I saw about a half dozen big, fat crayfish tromping around in the muck and shallow water… and the birds were all looking in the other direction. D’oh!

I also got to see a handful of Brewer’s Blackbirds harassing a Great-Tailed Grackle who had come to the slough in search of bugs. There were lots of Red-Winged Blackbirds out there, too. In that same area, I spotted a male Bullock’s Oriole, an American Goldfinch and some male House Finches with unusual coloring: one orange and one yellow. (The males are usually red.)

I got to see a Salt Marsh moth caterpillar sunning its fuzzy self on some dock, and also got to see my first Dorcas Copper butterfly… And I caught a glimpse of a muskrat swimming back to its den.

So, even though there wasn’t a great deal to see today, I did see some cool stuff.

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…

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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…

Vacation Day 10: Cosumnes River Preserve

Female Western Pondhawk. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Female Western Pondhawk. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

Vacation Day 10.  I got up around 6:30 and headed over to the Cosumnes River Preserve for my walk.  Usually, they don’t open their gates until 9:00 am, but they must’ve had a lot of people complaining about that – including me.  In the late spring and summer months, 9:00 am is already “too late” in the day to see anything, and it gets too hot to walk more quickly in the day…  So, now their gates are open a lot earlier.  Even so, there wasn’t a lot to see there.  The wetland areas are drying up, and it’s not quite warm enough for the dragonflies to emerge or for the midges and wasps to start forming their galls on the oak trees (although I did see some of the big “oak apple” galls on a Valley Oak)… But there were TONS of mosquitoes.  I got bitten all over my arms.  Need to remember to buy some bug spray next time I got to the store. Blug!

I was surprised to see American Avocets at the preserve.  I’d never seen them that far “south” in the region before. They use California as their migration corridor — breeding in the north, then traveling south to rest – but it seems like I’ve seen a LOT more of them this year than in previous years.  And they’re all in their breeding plumage… There were also a few Green-Winged Teals and Cinnamon Teals, some Black-Necked Stilts, Northern Shovelers, Dowitchers and tiny Dunlins but they were few and far between.  The largest populations were of Killdeer and Red-Winged Blackbirds – who are nesting now – some Marsh Wrens, and loads of Coots.  I got a glimpse of a Lesser Goldfinch and some Song Sparrows along the boardwalk area. And I saw a gorgeous California Sister butterfly, but I couldn’t get my camera to focus on it before it flew off.  Dang it!

There was wild mustard and charlock (a kind of wild radish) in bloom everywhere, and the dock plants and scrubby willows were leafing out… some of them covered with Ladybeetles and their tiny alligator-looking larvae…  In the native plant garden the purple and red Penstemon were in bloom along with some California Poppies. Very pretty…  In some of the muddy areas, I found the footprints of Raccoons, but didn’t see any of the beasties myself… I saw some Paper Wasp nests alongside an abandoned must nest (made by House Finches, I think) under the awning over a sign… I also found a single bright green dragonfly hiding in the grass: a female Western Pondhawk.  I don’t know how I spotted her; pure luck.

Best photos of the day were of a Song Sparrow and a Mockingbird.

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