Tag Archives: pelicans

Muskrat, Baby Grebes and a Jillion-Million Dragonflies

Monarch Butterfly on teasel. ©2016 Copyright, Mark K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Monarch Butterfly on teasel. ©2016 Copyright, Mark K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

Even though it’s my day off, I wanted to beat the heat as much as possible and got up around 5:00 am to head off to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  I had to stop twice on the way: once to put gas in the car, and once to stop at a rest stop and unload my morning coffee.  Hah!

The first thing I saw when I drove into the refuge was a Great Blue Heron poking its head up over the tules to watch my car drive in.  Then for the most part it was all the usual suspects like jackrabbits and Cottontails, thousands (literally) of Variegated Meadowhawk dragonflies – so many, in fact, that I got bored taking photos of them — and another en masse explosion of blue damselflies, some California Ground Squirrels, Coots, cormorants, Pelicans, Pied-Billed Grebes (their songs were coming from everywhere), seagulls and other birds. I also saw skippers, Monarch Butterflies, Crescent, Buckeye, Painted Lady and West Coast Lady butterflies, and Cabbage White butterflies among the other bugs.

Oh, and I did see my first juvenile Coot today.  The Coots are always all over the place, but I’ve never seen a baby one – and this was the first time I’ve seen a juvenile, so they must guard their babies really well!

The orb-weaver spiders had created webs that covered whole areas between the tules, like a sticky obstacle course.  In one spot, I was trying to get a photo of an American White Pelican on the water, and the camera couldn’t “see” past the giant spiders in their webs in front of it… So I got a nice of photo of a spider with a totally blurry pelican behind it.  Hah!  The spiders had actually managed to capture quite a few dragonflies; the carnage was everywhere. One spider actually managed to parachute over to the car and drop down inside through the open window.  Yikes!  I don’t usually mind spiders, but that sucker was HUGE!  And I don’t know where he ended up…  Eew.

On some of the teasel, I saw what looked like white “globs” on the flowering heads.  I couldn’t tell what they were (you can’t leave your vehicle to investigate things on the auto-tour) but I took photos of them anyway.  When I got home, I processed the photos and realized the globs were actually pure white Crab Spiders.  They seemed so shockingly bright and obvious to my eye when I saw them – but then I remembered that these spiders give off an ultraviolet signature that generally masks them from their prey (which can see into that part of the spectrum).  Cool.

We’re just starting to see the exuvia from the larger dragonflies now clinging to the tules near the water.  There should be a lot of big darners out in another week or so, I’d imagine.

There were a few unexpected surprises along the auto-tour route: (1) a large muskrat made to swim-by’s alongside my car in the permanent wetlands area.  I got videos of his going in both directions.  The first time around, he was swimming and chewing on something at the same time.  The next time I saw him he was absolutely covered in eel grass and other vegetation; I had to laugh, he looked so funny.  I wonder if it was building a “nest” somewhere.

CLICK HERE for the muskrat video.

(2) I also got some video of a pair of Clark’s Grebes in the water.  The video sucks eggs (because the subjects were soooo far away, and the camera had to try to focus through heat waves coming up from the ground), but if you look closely, you’ll see first one and then two little white fuzzy black-beaked babies on mama Grebe’s back! They’re soooo cute!

CLICK HERE for the Grebe video.

And surprise number (3) was when a river otter ran past the road in front of the car – followed by its baby!  I’d never seen a baby otter before.  They moved to fast, though, I couldn’t get pictures of either one of them.  Rats!

Oh, at one point, I could see some male mule deer off in the distance – all in their velvet – and was totally shocked when one of them stood up among them and I could see his rack of antlers.  I swear those antlers were as long as his legs were!  I’d never seen ones sitting up so tall on a deer’s head.  I got some photos (but they were all shitty because the deer were so far away); I’ll try to post one to the photo album anyway so you can see it.

CLICK HERE to see an album of more photos.

I only made one pass through the refuge – because by noon it was already in the 90’s out there, and I didn’t think I’d see much of anything else in the heat.  I headed home and got there without incident.  I crashed with the dogs for a little while and then watched some TV and went through all of my photos

Friday at the SNWP was Kind of a Bust

I got up around 6:00 this morning and headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Preserve in the hopes of being able to get some more baby Grebe photos there.

The drive there was pleasant enough, but I was thoroughly aggravated to find that the loop to the permanent wetlands area was closed…  and it’s the only portion of the preserve right now that has any large accumulation of water or birds in it.  There was nothing on their Facebook feed or on the entrance to the car tour itself that let you know that the loop was closed, so… it was a four-hour round trip for pretty much nothing… What was doubly aggravating is that the preserve had some of its big lawn mowers and tractors working around the driving tour area, kicking up clouds of dust — ((I had to close the windows and shut the vents on the car at one point to keep from getting covered with dirt.)) — and scaring off what wildlife there might have been to see along the way…  Surely, they could do that stuff in the evening or very early morning before visitors show up at the preserve.  Grrrrrr!  

I did get to see a few deer, jackrabbits, squirrels and a few other critters (most of them in areas that were hard for my camera to reach), but not nearly enough to make the 4-hour round trip drive really worthwhile.  Pissed me off…

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I guess a lot of people complained about the closure because the preserve posted later today on Facebook that they’re in the process of flooding the rest of wetlands area starting on October 1st… but until then, there will be nothing to see… (And no reason to drive out there)  I’m planning to take a couple of weeks off in late October, so maybe by then the drive will be worthwhile.

Lots of Critters at the Refuge

I was supposed to go to a dragonfly course over this weekend, but just couldn’t face other people as I deal with my grief (over the death of my brother Mark Jr., aka “Beaky”).  My hotel was already paid for, though, so I got up at 5:00 am and headed up north anyway with the dog.

I stopped at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge and went through the driving tour route there.  I was the only person out there; had the place all to myself.  Among the things I was able to photograph at the park included: Killdeer, Mourning Doves, dragonflies and damselflies, butterflies, Jackrabbits and Cottontail rabbits, a big-ass snake, mule deer, Egrets, Great Blue Herons, some Western Grebes sitting on and building their nests in the middle of the water, many-many spiders (including one building its web), Pelicans on three of the “islands”, a Bald Eagle who only sat still long enough for me to get on or two not-so-good shots of it, a mother Raccoon and her five babies (including a “blond” one), Flycatchers, and an otter…  Cool.

There was one Killdeer that “paced” my car for several hundred feet.  I could see it out the driver’s side window, running right along the edge of the trail.  It tilted its head up to look at me now and then.  When I accelerated, so did the bird.  When I stopped, so did the bird.  Goofy thing.  I wonder what it thought it was “challenging”.

And the snake I saw was something of a surprise.  Oh, there are always snakes around and this one was just a Gopher Snake, but it was pretty long – and healthy looking.  It must eat well.  What’s the average distance between the two front tires of a car?  The snake was longer than that.  He came up beside the car, tongue flicking.  The heat of the tires must’ve set him off.  I backed away (so as not to run over him) and took a different route so he could sunbathe at his leisure.

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I finished the tour by about noon, and headed in to the hotel.

Here’s a video of the snake: https://youtu.be/-I6EKdsw3H4

Western Grebes building their nest: https://youtu.be/Jvhe8bX3GI8

Raccoon mama and babies: https://youtu.be/-frsgGx-ZPY

Big-a$$ spider: https://youtu.be/CLWnsRRQ8g4

I’ve decided to try going up to Mount Lassen tomorrow.  When I lived in Old Shasta, Beaky and I climbed to the summit of that mountain (about 11,000 feet).  It took me forever to get up there, but he was patient and stayed with me, even though I was sure he could have made it to the top and back down again before I made it up there; hah!  I remember us watching chipmunks running around with long flags of toilet paper that they’d stolen out of one of the porta-potties on the trail, and taking pictures of what we called the “Belly-Button Rock” and “Velcro Rocks” on the side of the mountain.  And when we got to the summit, Beaky walked out to the skinny, craggy, tippy-top point – despite the hard winds that threatened to knock us down the mountainside — to sign his name in the book there.  When he came back to where I was, we hunkered down among some boulders and ate PB&J sammiches for lunch – which tiny Golden-Mantled attack-squirrels tried to steal right out of our hands.  One of the squirrels got on a boulder above me, and dive-bombed right into my lap to try to grab my sandwich.  Hah-ha-ha-ha-ha. That day is one of my favorite memories of Beaky.  I’ll say goodbye to him up there tomorrow…

Jackrabbit City!

Today is in between two rain storms, so I thought I’d take a run out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge in Glenn County to do a little bird-watching with the dog.  The trip makes for a long day: it’s 2 hours in and 2 hours back, and then whatever time I use for walking or diving around the preserve but I like it out there.  There are usually very few people, and I like hearing all the bird noise.  The drive in included miles and miles of dense fog, and I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to see anything at the refuge if the fog persisted.  Luckily, it wasn’t hanging over Glenn County, so it wasn’t an issue.  The day was cool and crisp (around 50° all the while I was there), with intermittent sun and overcast.   It was also very breezy.

Rather than seeing a lot of cool birds around today, it seemed like there were jack rabbits everywhere.  Every time we turned around, there were one or two within eye shot.  Some even (albeit unwittingly) followed us up the trails.  Sergeant Margie was a very good boy, and didn’t try to chase any of them, but he did bark at a few.  Most of the birds we saw were the usual suspects: ducks, geese, Grackles, Sparrows, shorebirds…  All the while we were out walking around, I could hear the loud “angry” calls of ring-necked pheasants, but they were always out of sight or covered by vegetation so I couldn’t get any clear photos of them.  Two kewl sightings were: a flock of American White Pelicans (which I saw at a distance.  At first, I wasn’t sure what I was looking at, they were so far away, but then I saw the big yellow beaks.), and some Black Ibises.  I had been hoping to see an Ibis all day, and just as I started heading around the bend in the trail back to the car, a group of them landed in a shallow puddle near me, so I got some photos of them.  Yay!

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On the way home, I could a huge rain cloud hunkered down over the highway, and just knew I was going to have to drive through that ting to get home.  And sure enough, I did.  It poured so hard for a few minutes that I could hardly see the road.  Yikes!  But once I got through it, it was sun-shiny the rest of the way home.  I got to the house about 3:00 pm, so it was a long day, but I enjoyed myself.  The dog went right to his water dish, drank a lot, and then went to bed.  Hah!