Tag Archives: Pintails

Birds, Deer and Dragonflies at the Refuge, 08-27-16

I got up around 5:30 this morning and headed out with the dog to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. It was in the 50’s when we left the house, and got up to about 81° by the late afternoon; so it was a nice day.  I also had the whole refuge to myself; didn’t see another car or person all the while I was out there which was double-nice.

This is one of the last weekends the refuge will have its extension loop open, so I wanted to make sure to be able to see that.  It was nice to see that the refuge is already pumping water into the seasonal wetland areas (which is kind of unusual for August): the more water there is, the more birds there are to see.  Some of the ducks, especially Pintails, were moving in already.  I also saw a few Widgeons, Ruddy Ducks, and Northern Shovelers.

CLICK HERE for an album of photos from the day.

I saw three sets of mule deer.  One was a male with two females (which may have been his mom and sibling), another set was a mama with her two fawns (that were just growing out of their spots, and the third set was a mama and her yearling. What struck me about these deer was that their coats were a lot lighter than the coats of the deer near the American River. They were almost a bright straw color rather than tan…

There were all sorts of grebes out on the water: Pied-Billed Grebes, Clark’s Grebes and Western Grebes.  The little white fuzzy babies are now fledglings; still paler than their parents but getting big.  I got a video snippet of one parent feeding a fish to its baby, er, teenager…

CLICK HERE for a video of a scruffy-looking juvenile Pied-Billed Grebe.

 CLICK HERE for a video of a Clark’s Grebe feeding its baby a fish.

I saw a family of otters around the permanent wetland area, but they moved so fast, I couldn’t get any decent photos of them. Once I saw them running across the road, and at another spot, they poked their heads out of the water right down from my driver’s side door.  Each time, I pulled my camera up to get photos of them, they whisked away out of sight.  Rrrg! That’s nature photography for you.

Sergeant Margie and I lunched in the car halfway through the auto-tour route by the viewing platform: ham and cheese with crackers.  Then we went on…

At one point along the route, a mother raccoon and her four babies came waddling down the road right toward me.  I didn’t want to startle them, so I put the car in park and watched them through the windshield. Filming and photographing through the windshield sucks, but it was still fun to see them.

CLICK HERE for a video of the raccoons.

There were a lot of American White Pelicans around, flying, swimming, fishing, standing around – including some juveniles with pink bills.  It’s so fun to watch them when they’re fishing together; like synchronized swimming.

CLICK HERE for a video of the Pelicans.

There weren’t as many dragonflies out and about as during previous visits, but I still got photos pf Variegated Meadowhawks, Black Saddlebags, Blue-Eyed Darners, Green Darners, and some Pondhawks.

Juvenile Red-Shouldered Hawk. © 2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.
Juvenile Red-Shouldered Hawk. © 2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.

The best photo I got for the day was of a hawk.  It was one of the last photos of the day; the bird was just sitting in a tree on the side of the road, looking handsome.  It was a nice day.  The drive back to Sacramento was without incident and we made it home a little after 2:00 pm.

A Quick Trip on Friday, 05-27-16

Young male Mule Deer. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.
Young male Mule Deer. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.

After work I took another quick run up to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  (You knew I couldn’t keep away…)  I drove through pretty quickly, so I didn’t see a lot but I did get photos of several different bird species, including American White Pelicans, Marsh Wrens, and some Black-Crowned Night Herons and Grebes. Oh, and I saw a Brown-Headed Cowbird.

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Back to the SNWR for One More Run

American Goldfinch, male. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.
American Goldfinch, male. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.

I got up around 6:00 am and headed off to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge again.  This will be my last trip up there this month… On the way out of Sacramento I was surprised to see six  — count ‘em, six – police cars blocking one of the lanes on Fruitridge and surrounding the Shell gas station.  Wonder what was going on there…  The rest of the drive was completely uneventful, and I got to the refuge around 8:00 am.

Starting off on the auto tour the first critter that greeted me was a brightly colored male American Goldfinch eating seeds.  They’re such teeny birds, but such a bright shade of yellow, you can’t miss them… I also was surprised by coming across a river otter.  She was sitting by the side of the road taking a dirt bath, but rushed across the road and slipped into the water when she saw my car.  I’m assuming it was a female because she looked VERY pregnant… I saw mama Great Horned Owl and her owlets all sitting on a long branch on “their” tree.  When a Great Blue Heron landed on the top of their tree, they didn’t seem to mind… I also saw several Bull Frogs, and was kind of proud of myself for being able to spot them since some of them were nothing but eyeballs sitting above the surface of the water…

On the little island where the American White Pelicans and Cormorant usually hang out there were also Wigeons, Ruddy Ducks, and Pintails this morning. I watched a Pied-Billed Grebe gathering grass for its nest… and saw a small flock of adult Canada Geese trying to contain and discipline a rowdy group of fledglings (which were already in their sort-of adult colors but still smaller than the adults)… Among the normal contingency of Cabbage White butterflies, there was a Painted Lady… And I also saw several American Bitterns on the wing, some Black-Crowned Night Herons, and an immature Snowy Egret (without its yellow boots; its feet were black)…

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I usually do two rounds of the auto tour, but today (like yesterday) I did only one, and headed back to Sacramento.  I stopped in Woodland to pick up a few groceries and then headed home.

Lots of Exuvia Today

Damselfly exuvia on a tule frond. © Copyright 2016, Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
All of the “white stuff” you see on this tule is the exuvia of dozens of damselflies. © Copyright 2016, Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

I had planned on sleeping in a bit today, but woke up around 5:00 am anyway, so I got up about 5:30 and then headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  It was about 53° when I left the house and got up to about 77° by the late afternoon.  We had a breeze for most of the day so it was actually quite nice outdoors.

I put some gas in the car and then continued on toward Willows and the refuge. Whereas some days provide me with a lot Kingbird photos, or squirrel or jackrabbit photos, today I got a lot of Western Fence Lizard pictures.  Those guys were out everywhere.  I even came across a mating pair.  Lizard-porn.  Hah!

This rock looked like a rabbit to me.
This rock looked like a rabbit to me.

The other big attractions (for me anyway) was being able to photograph several  large dragonflies and finding LOTS of damselfly exuvia (the skin they shed when they emerge from the water and transform into winged damselflies).  I also found a few damselflies that had just shed their skin and didn’t have their wings entirely pumped up yet.  The exuvia looks so neat to me.  It’s the exact shape of the damselfly naiade, but is hollow and looks like a ghost or a reflection of the insect.  So cool!

Around that same area, I also came across a male Great-Tailed Grackle that actually followed my car for a while as he sang for the females.  He paused among the tules in a few locations and did some displaying and more singing.  He was really entertaining!  I got a few video snippets of him, and at one point he took a break from his songs to eat damselflies… A snack between concerts.

There were plenty of jackrabbits and cottontails, of course, but not so many of them posed for me today.  I also had to deal with a particularly shy Common Gallinule. It was way down in the tules along the bank and I was practically shooting at it “blind”.  Somehow the camera managed to get some photos in focus.  I was so pleased.  I was likewise hindered by the tules when I saw a joined pair of Green Darner Dragonflies land on the water.  I held the camera out the window, over my head, trying to get the camera’s eye over the top of the tules, and shot straight down at the water… and I somehow got the shot I wanted of the female dragonfly laying her eggs in the water.  Miracle.  I even got a shot of another male coming into the frame and the first male chasing it off – while still attached to the female. Woah!.

The Great Horned Owl owlets were out of their nest and sitting on an open branch of their tree.  Mom wasn’t with them the first time I passed them, but she was there when I went by again later.  The owlets are the same size as their mom now, just… “fluffier”.  You can tell by looking at the owlets which one is a little bit older than the other.  Great-Horned Owls usually lay their eggs several days apart… so there’s always a least one in the nest that’s older than the others. The mother hawk and her fledgling were in their own nest this morning, too.

I saw several mule deer, including a young male who was coming into his “velvet” (getting his new antlers; they were stubby but very visible on his head). I also came across a young Turkey Vulture who was sitting on the edge of an open gate holding his wings out to the sun to warm himself up.  He actually stayed there long enough for me to get a few close-up shots of him.

At other points along the auto tour, I’d stop and just listen to the sounds around me: Red-Winged Blackbirds and Meadowlarks singing, egrets croaking, grebes woo-woo-wooing, Night Herons doing their brisk “wok!” call… It’s a jungle out there, man.  I loved it.

CLICK HERE for a video of the Great-Tailed Grackle singing.

CLICK HERE for a video of a Marsh Wren singing.

On my way out of the refuge, I drove past one of the sloughs and could see something big and dark moving under the surface of the water, but I couldn’t tell what it was.  I parked the car and craned over the passenger side seat and out the window to see if I could get a better look at it.  Definitely some kind of large fish… but the shape wasn’t right to be a catfish…  I think it might have been a young Northern Pike!  If it was a pike, then anything else living in the water is in trouble; those guys are aggressive hunters.  It never came all the way to the surface, though, so I couldn’t really tell for certain.

There was also one spot, just before the exit, where I stopped to look into the drainage ditch – because you never know what you might find in there – and I spotted a Black-Crowned Night heron lurking in the shade.  Someone came up behind me in her car and flashed her lights for me to get out of her way.  Uh – I’m photographing here!  Grumbling, I drove up the road a little distance and pulled over for her to pass, and then backed up to the ditch again so I could get a few more shots of the heron.  They weren’t great, but at least I got them.

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Around 2:00 pm I headed back to Sacramento and got home around 3:30 pm.