Tag Archives: phacelia

Second Photo-Walk with the CalNat Graduates, 05-05-18

I left the house about 7 o’clock to go to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a second photo-outings with my naturalist class graduates .

We had lots of time to practice with lighting and focus settings. There was an overcast that sort of “diffused” the light so we weren’t dealing with harsh shadows or glare most of the time we were out. The insects are all out doing their thing, and we got to see some katydid nymphs, lots of Pipevine Swallowtail, Tussock Moth and Monarch butterfly caterpillars. I was surprised the Monarch babies were out so early. Last year, they didn’t show up until almost October!

The Lady Beetle larvae and pupa were out in force, too, and all of them gave us lots of practice with macro settings and close-up shots.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

The Tree Swallows were very cooperative and posed for lots of photos. We also saw a couple of Red-Shouldered Hawks that sat still for quite a while, letting us shoot them from different angles. Mama R-S H was up in her nest, but we only caught glimpses of her head and tail. I also spotted a Cooper’s Hawk dashing through the trees, but only got a handful of bad photos of it before it took off again.

We saw a small herd of mule deer, but not as many as we normally might at the preserve. I figured maybe the pregnant moms were off having their babies and so were making themselves scarce.

On our way back to the nature center we saw a firetruck, ambulance and police car pull up next to the building. By the time we got to the center, the emergency personnel were gone, but there were two docents with snake hooks and a bucket poking and prodding along the stone in the nature flower garden by the Maidu Village. A young girl had been bitten by a rattlesnake (thus the ambulance) and the docents were trying to locate it. They found it rather quickly and deposited it in the bucket – and let us take photos of it before carrying it off to show it to a Ranger. The snake will be relocated but will not be killed. It was a young one, almost “cute”.

The docents were quick to reiterate that the notion that young rattlers are more dangerous than adult ones is a complete myth. Young rattlesnakes’ venom sacs are so small that even if they gave you everything they had in a single bite, it wouldn’t amount to much. It also takes a long time for a rattler to produce venom between bites, and without it they’re pretty vulnerable, so they don’t discharge venom unless they have to and control what they do discharge – even the baby rattlers.

When we’d started on the walk it was about 53º at the preserve, but by the time we left, around 1:00 pm, it was 80º and we were ready to quit for the day. Too hot for walking! We sat around the picnic area for a little while, sharing looks at the photos we all got on our cameras… and finding several more Tussock Moth caterpillars. #CalNat

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.

Muskrat vs. Snake, and an Eagle, 06-03-17

The dog woke me up a little bit before 5:00 am, and once I’m up it’s almost impossible for me to go back to sleep, so… I just stayed up and then headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  It got up to about 80º today, but was overcast all day as well. Weird.  I like the overcast though; it makes outdoor picture-taking a lot easier. You don’t have to fight against glare and harsh shadows.  It also confuses the wildlife a little bit (they think it’s earlier in the morning than it really is, so they’re active a little while longer than they normally would be.)

CLICK HERE for the complete album with videos.

The drive to the place was uneventful, and I got there a little before 7:00 am.  When I stopped at the first park-and-stretch area, I was taking some video of a little Marsh Wren at its nest and could hear the woop-woop-woop calls of Pied-Billed Grebe and the deep cello-call of bullfrogs all around me.  For a long time, I was the only person on the trail, so it was just me and critters…

There  were lots of jackrabbits and cottontail rabbits everywhere. At one point along the auto-tour there were about 10 of them running helter-skelter all over the road and into-and-out-of the tall grass.  I got a video snippet of some their antics.  It just made me smile to watch them having so much fun… I came across one little Cottontail that had both of ears “cropped”; the tips were totally gone.  I’ve seen some rabbits with one damaged area, but never one with two.  It looked like something had bitten them off… and in another spot, at the park-and-stretch area near the viewing platform, I found a Cottontail who didn’t seem too concerned about my walking around it. It even stretched out on the gravel to warm its belly.  (Well, it WAS the park-and-stretch area afterall. Hah!)

I saw a lot of otters on the road ahead of me, but didn’t get any close-ups of any of them (they move so fast!) And one spot, it looked to me like the otter was rolling in either otter poop or raccoon poop.  To each his own…

One of the big surprises of the morning, though, was coming across a Bald Eagle.  They’re somewhat common at the preserve in the winter, but by the summer they’re usually all a little further north or up in the mountains.  When I first saw it (at a distance) I thought it was just a Turkey Vulture; all I could see were its dark back and shoulders.  But then as I got closer to it, it raised its white head and I could tell it was an eagle.  I took dome distances shots of it, and then moved the car up closer, inch by inch, hoping it wouldn’t fly off before I could get some decent photos of it.  I was lucky.  It sat right where it was for several minutes and let me a bunch of pictures before it got bored with me and flew off.  Later, as I continuing down the auto tour route, a women drover he car up next to mine and said she had spotted the eagle on the little island the cormorants and Pelicans often rest on and was heading up to take pictures of it.  I told her it had already posed for me, but I’d go check out the island, too, when I got closer to it.  The woman drove past me and hurried up the road… but she didn’t stop for very long once she reached the spot she wanted, so I assumed that she didn’t get the photos she was hoping to.

I had stopped my car where I was because I was trying to get photos of some juvenile Widow Skimmer and blue Pondhawk dragonflies that were flying among the weeds and tules along the shore of the permanent wetland pond.  It’s a tiny bit early in the season for them. Over the few months there should be tons of dragonflies and damselflies out there… Among the other insects, I also saw some Yellow-Faced Bumblebees, lots and lots of Painted Lady and West Coast Lady butterflies, Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies, Common Buckeyes, Cabbage Whites, some Sulphur butterflies, White-Lined Sphinx Moths and a tiny Crescent butterfly.  Among a crop of phacelia, I also found a large group of what I think were Salt Mars Caterpillars (which grow into large white moths with black speckles on the wings). It’s so hard to tell, though.  I haven’t found a really good book on caterpillars yet; they are so many species…

By the time I got to the spot where you can see the “Pelican island” it was totally vacant; not a single bird on it.  And that VERY unusual. There are normally lots of birds gathered on it… But if the Bald Eagle had flown over it or actually landed on it (as the woman who’d driven past me had suggested), then I wasn’t entirely surprised by the vacancy.  Most of the birds in the refuge will duck-and-cover if a hawks flies over.  But when the eagles show up, everything scatters…

My other big surprise of the day was when I found a Muskrat swimming in the water, munching on water vegetation.  It was pushing its way into some tules, and in doing so dislodged a small garter snake that had been sunning itself there. The snake fell into the water right in front of the muskrat.  The muskrat startled, but didn’t stop eating and the snake swam away.  It was the second of two snakes I saw today.  Like the otters, though, the snakes move so fast it’s hard for me to get any pictures of them…

It took me about 5 hours to do the 6 mile loop, and then I didn’t get home until around 1:30 pm… During the last hour or so of my drive I could feel my throat getting really and scratchy, and by the time I got the house, I knew cold was coming on.  Dang it!

A Baby Hawk! And Other Stuff, 05-11-17

DAY 6 OF MY VACATION. I got up around 6:30 this morning and headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for my walk.  It was another gorgeous day, weatherwise – I’m lucking out so far on this vacation with great weather – 55º when I headed out, and up to 70º by the late afternoon.

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

The first thing I saw when I went into the preserve was a Yellow-Billed Magpie bopping along a lawn area. They’re endemic to the Central Valley (found here and nowhere else on Earth), so it’s always fun to see one… Then I saw a mama mule deer with a yearling, a little boy just starting to get his antlers.  He was very skittish, and ran off behind some brush, but mom was calm and just stood her ground while I walked past her.  She looked pregnant  — it’s that time of year.

I came across several House Wren nests, and watched as one pair of parents double-teamed to get their babies fed. Dad would bring them bugs then fly off, mom would bring them bugs then fly off, dad would sing in a nearby tree and the babies would answer him with creaky little croaking calls, mom would bring them more bugs, dad would fly into the nest to grab the fecal sacs and dump them outside the nest…  I think I stood there for almost 20 minutes just watching the parents fly back and forth…

At another nest, the Wren parents were having a fit because a Fox Squirrel had figured out which tree cavity their nest was in, and was trying to rip into it to get to the eggs.  The entrance to the next was on the underside of a branch that was hanging low near the ground.  I tried to get video of it, but there were weeds in the way, so it’s hard to see anything.  The squirrel wasn’t successful in getting at the eggs – at least nit while I was watching it… You normally think of squirrels as nut- or seed-eaters, but their diet is very varied and often includes birds’ eggs, fruit, and insects…

The one thing I was hoping to see at the preserve was the Red-Shouldered Hawks who have a nest near the nature center there, but when I started out on my walk, I couldn’t see the birds (or the babies I was hoping they had).  Last year, they had two babies.  On my way out of the preserve, though, I looked up and could see the fluffy white head of a baby poking up from the edge of the nest.

I walked around until I could get a better view of the nest, and was awarded with a view of the baby – starting to fledge – as it stood up and walked across the nest.  Then mama flew in to check on him… and I could hear papa screeching from somewhere nearby.  As I continued to watch the nest, I realized there were TWO chicks in the nest not just one… So the parents had twins again!  That was a nice way to end the walk!

Wildflower Hunting, 04-15-17

On saturday I was up at 6:15 am and out the door by 6:30.  The weather was gorgeous today; sunny and cool (49º when I headed out for my hillside trek and 68º when I got back home.)  I headed out looking for wildflower displays today, taking I5 to the spot where Highways 20 and 16 meet.  There are a lot of ranches around there, as well as some protected areas, and there are usually pretty displays.

Tuleyome had led a wildflower tour last weekend, but pickings were slim, and they couldn’t get down Bear Valley Road to Wilbur Springs because that road is all dirt – and with the recent rains it was basically a 15-mile mud hole.  I didn’t go down there today, and instead stuck to the highways and the turnouts along them.  As I went along, it occurred to me that I actually think we’re still too early for the full wildflower bloom. I think the rain and cooler temperatures have kept the wildflowers from showing off.  The poppies and most of the lupine aren’t awake yet, the onions aren’t opened up yet, and the Blow Wives are just now starting to “blow”.

CLICK HERE to see the entire album of photos.

CLICK HERE if you’d like directions to a self-guided wildflower tour along Bear Valley Road. Before you head out, though, check to make sure the road isn’t really muddy.

Still, I did get to see quite a few different species – about 3o or so – including Tidy Tips, Pepperweed, different kinds of lupine, tiny Owl’s Clover, that super-interesting looking Sack Clover, Big-Headed Clover, Navarretia, Soft Blow Wives, Silverpuffs, Blue Dicks, Bush Mallow, Death Camas, Ithuriel’s Spears, some tiny Blue-Eyed Mary, California Poppies, Goldfields, Fiddleneck, Buck Brush, Larkspur, Bush Monkey Flowers, Indian Paintbrush, Tule Peas, Chinese Houses, and Old Men’s Bear (a kind of clematis).

Driving along Highway 16 was a little bit scary. There had been huge mud and rock slides there, and the road was opened again just recently. As you drive along, you can see massive bald spots where the faces of the hillsides became too saturated during the heavy rains and just slide off.  There  were three places where I could see that the highway had been recently patched and in other places there were huge piles of boulders and mud that had been bulldozed off the road.  But my drive was unimpeded, and nothing fell on my car in the “falling rocks” areas.

Because it was so sunny, I had to contend with stark shadows and sun-glare when I was taking pictures.  If I was able to, I blocked the flowers with my body and took the pictures, but that wasn’t always an option. It’s easier to take photos when it’s a little overcast…

The Tamarisk trees were in bloom all along the waterways.  They’re gorgeous, but they’re totally invasive. Also called “salt cedars” they dump tons of salt into the rivers and streams and kill off a lot of native plant and animals species that can’t tolerate the high salt content. Red-Winged Blackbirds were using some of them as display stages, sitting in the top branches, singing away.

At one spot along Highway 20 and Bear Valley Road, there’s a bridge that goes over Bear Creek, and under the bride were swarms of Cliff Swallows building and tending to their mud nests.  I was surprised to see birds sitting in the unfinished nests – seemingly saving their spot — as their mates flew back and forth with daubs of mud to complete them.  I got some photos and video snippets of that process.

I also saw quite a few Western Fence Lizards, a male Lesser Goldfinch hunkered down in the flowers eating seeds, some katydid nymphs, Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies, Boxelder Beetles, and… eew… ticks.  There were ticks everywhere.  As I was heading back home, I found three of them crawling around the car, and one tiny one on my neck.  Eew, eew, eew!

Because the weather was so lovely, I actually drove around with the car windows open.  It made for a nice weekend drive. I was back home around 2:00 pm.

From Grebes to Lerps at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

Red Gum Eucalyptus Psyllid Lerps. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.
Red Gum Eucalyptus Psyllid Lerps. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.

Still feeling pretty tired this morning.  I think I’m fighting off a cold or something, but I’m not sure…  It was overcast for most of the day, and in the afternoon it actually rained… for a minute or two.  Hah!

At noon, I headed over to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  Traffic in Woodland was surprisingly horrid, though, and it took me over 30 minutes to get from the office to the freeway onramp, which is literally only about a mile and half. (It usually takes me about 6 minutes to do that.)  The freeway itself wasn’t bad, though, and I got to the refuge around 1:30 pm.  I was going to do a really fast run through it, and ended up spending about 2 hours there.  But I enjoyed my time at the refuge, even though I didn’t see much of anything new.

I did get to see a pair of Pied-Billed Grebes on their floating mat nest… But I was most anxious to see if the Clark’s Grebes’ nests had survived the wind and waves from last weekend.  The one nest I saw last time that the parents were battling to keep afloat so their eggs wouldn’t drown didn’t make it.  It was in pieces, and there were some Coots were fighting over it.  Usually Coot nests are built from the bottom up (like a volcanic island of twigs and sticks and grass; a huge mountain under the water, and then the little peak peeking up above the surface.  I don’t think the Grebe nests have that kind of solid base… It’ll be interesting to see if the Coots can make the old Grebe nest work for them… The Grebe nests that seemed to be doing well were those that were built further away from the edges of the wetland area – and I’m assuming they were built by more experienced couples.

CLICK HERE for more photos.