Tag Archives: pollinators

American Bitterns Pumper-Lunking on Sunday

I was up at 6:00 am and out the door before 6:30.  It was my original intention to do some more wildflower hunting, but on the way to Highway 20 I got lost in my thoughts and missed the turn off (D’oh!), so I continued up the highway to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge and spent the morning there instead.  The weather was lovely (mostly sunny; 51º when I got there, 70º by the time I left).

CLICK HERE to see the whole album of photos and videos.

We’re right at the beginning of the breeding season, so lots of bird are starting to pair up, build nests, and claim territory.  I saw a lot of Great-Tailed Grackles flying overhead (and some American White Pelicans, too), and although I could hear the grackles occasionally singing their broad range of odd songs, I didn’t see any of them on or near the ground so I didn’t get any photos of them. I also saw a young garter snake and a green-tinted Western Racer snake, but they moved too fast for me. By the time I got my camera focus on them, they were gone into the brush.  I’d never seen a Western Racer before, so that was neat to see one for the first time.  When I initially saw it, I thought it was a tule on the auto-tour route… but then it moved.

A lot of the wildflowers and vernal pool flowers at the refuge were in bloom, so in area the ground was a patchwork of yellow Goldfields, orange Fiddleneck, white Popcorn Flowers and purple Dowingia… so pretty. There’s also wild mustard and Poison Hemlock, Blessed Milk Thistle, Italian Thistle, and Teasel blooming everywhere – just in time for the pollinators to wake up.

I saw only a few dragonflies, but it’s still early in the season for them. The Painted Lady and West Coast Lady butterflies on the other hand were everywhere. I bet I saw 20 of them just around the permanent wetland area.

There were jackrabbits and Cottontails bounding all over the place, and I got a few good shots of some California Ground Squirrels.

I didn’t see many babies today, just a pair of Canada Geese with their little troop of goslings, but it’s still early in the season.

The highlight of the day was seeing an American Bittern in the tall grass “booming”.  I don’t know why it’s called “booming” because the call has its own name but… whatever.  To stake out their territory, the Bitterns give out a loud complex call called the “pumper-lunk” call.  The bird claps its bill several time, sucking air into its esophagus, and then expels the air by compressing its neck – making a loud burbling sound, sort of like a melodious burp.  The one I was watching did his call five times, and I was able to get video of two of the calls.  Made. My. Day.  Here’s one of the videos of it: https://youtu.be/cg0HDZ2lhbw.

The odd moment of the day came when I saw something with long brown, black and white fur moving through the long grass.  I could see that it was moving nose-down along the ground, but because the critter never lifted its head, I couldn’t tell what it was.  I was thinking it was probably a Striped Skunk, but the brown shades were throwing me off… then I was thinking badger (but the fur was too long)… or maybe even porcupine (but they’re usually much larger, and the video proved that I was seeing fur and not quills)… So I’m settling on skunk, but I’m still not certain.

In another “what is that?” moment, I saw the dorsal fin and tail fin of a Northern Pike in one of the slews.  I know I’ve said it before, but those guys are brutal; they’ll eat anything.  They come up into the sloughs when the area gets flooded, then when the water recedes again, they get trapped.  They’re fast and powerful, though… and can move even in shallow water, so once they’re in the sloughs they prey on everything, including birds…

On the viewing platform, I came across a pair of Western Fence Lizards, that were challenging each other: doing pushups, body slamming one another, staring each other down.  I got some of the interaction on video.  The two males were very mature – showing off why they’re also called “Blue Bellies” – and had lots and lots of blue on their bodies, even along the back and on the head.  I’ve never ones that were this colorful before.  When the winner of the contest was done with his rival (who ran off) he decided that my blue-green walking shoes were an enemy, too, so he ran up as close to me as he dared and started doing pushups again.  Hah!  I let him win and walked away – after I got some video and photos of him.  In the same area, I found a melanistic Western Fence Lizard, a dark pitchy-gray one sitting on a branch sunning himself.  He was such a contrast to the brightly colored one, I had to get his photo, too.

I’m usually not too thrilled about seeing Black Phoebes, mostly because they’re so ubiquitous around here, but I caught sight of one carrying grass for its nest.  It perched on a limb of a tree and sat there for a while, letting me get some pretty good photos of it.  And the Kingbirds were out in force. I got some good shots of them, too.

Another good bird-moment was when I saw some American Coots playing “keep-away” with a crawfish.  One has caught it and was trying to eat it when a second Coot rushed up and grabbed it.  Coot #2 swam off with its prize, but as soon as it stopped to eat, Coot #3 rushed up and took it… When it comes to lunch, these guys aren’t polite.  Hah!

I stayed at the refuge for about 4 hours and then headed back home to crash with the dogs… So I didn’t see much in the way of wildflowers, today, but it was still a nice day out in nature…

Flowers, Flowers, Flowers on04-03-15

Day Seven of my Vacation.  I got up around 7:00 this morning and had a light breakfast before heading out for an appointment I had at the DMV.  (They’d sent my renewed driver’s license to my old address, so I had to go in and get another one.)  I had an 8:20 appointment, and got through the long line, paid the fee for the duplicate license (even though the loss of it was the DMV’s fault), and was out the door again in less than 7 minutes!  Wow!  I was impressed… and all of the clerks were so cheery and helpful.  That was an unexpectedly quick and easy appointment.

I was done so early and was already so close, I decided to head up Broadway to the Sacramento Old Historic Cemetery to check out the gardens there.  This time of year they’re usually showing off, and they did not disappoint this morning.  The rose garden was bursting with blooms, and two of the larger climbing rose bushes (one reaching up over 30 feet into a tree) were blossoming, like waterfall of color in the trees.  So beautiful.  And there were lots of irises – all different colors – still in bloom.

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Part of the native California garden and most of the perennial garden were all full of flowers.  I think I took over 1000 photos! I also got some pictures and a little video of a female Carpenter Bee burying herself down the throats of a flag iris; and a squirrel eating wind-fell oranges from the ground… Such a quiet, peaceful place.  It’s one of my favorite cemeteries…

Here’s the bee video:  https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=10153184463872145&pnref=story

I walked for about 2 hours and then headed back home.


Flowers, Bees and a Ladder-Back Woodpecker, 03-20-15

After work on Friday, I took the dog over to the WPA Rock Garden and duck pond for a walk.  More and more flowers are starting to bloom; in another week or so the garden should really be showing off.  I saw several different kinds of butterflies today including a Painted Lady, Tiger Swallowtail, and Pipevine Swallowtails.  I watched one Pipevine Swallowtail hunting for a place to lay her eggs – I can now recognize pre-egg-laying butterfly behavior; that’s kind of kewl! – and watched as she laid a couple of them (and I got a little bit of it).  That’s always neat to see.  I also got some photos of another Pipevine Swallowtail sipping nectar from some flowers.

Here is a snippet of video of the egg-laying:  http://youtu.be/F05u1Cg495I

Along with the ubiquitous European Honeybees and Carpenter Bees, I also came across a large solitary California Bumblebee (bombus californicus) with bright orange pollen in the “baskets” on its legs.  I wonder if it was a queen.  Like honeybees, bumblebees form colonies under a single queen, although their colonies far less extensive than those of honeybees.  According to the Xerces Society, “…Most bumble bees nest in the ground in cavities such as abandoned rodent burrows, holes in building foundations, or stacks of firewood. Once the queen finds a suitable site, she will begin preparing the nest space by building a small wax cup, called a honey pot, and collects pollen which she will use to feed her developing brood. When the nest is sufficiently provisioned, she will lay eggs on the pollen lump and begin incubating the eggs by laying her abdomen over the brood to keep the eggs or larvae warm. At this point the queen remains in the nest unless she needs to collect more food. Nearly four weeks after laying the first eggs her first workers will emerge as adults and begin the jobs of foraging, nest cleaning, and brood care. The colony will grow throughout the summer and the workers will help the queen produce a clutch of male offspring, followed soon by new queen bees. These reproductive bees will leave the nest and find mates…”

The bombus californicus are said to be in decline, but there is also some speculation that they’re merely a subspecies of another kind of bumblebee so entomologists don’t know what to do about them.  I can remember that at the Stagecoach Drive house, Dad disturbed a large colony of bumblebees living under one of the stands of pampas grass on the backyard hill.

At the park, the middle pond is being drained out a lot right now, so it isn’t very pretty – and a lot of the waterbirds are discouraged by how shallow the thing is.  I think the city is doing this so they can get in and clean out several years of crud that has accumulated on the bottom of the pond.  They need SOME of that to keep the pond “alive” and to encourage waterborne insects and fish to live there.  But because it’s landlocked debris just keeps filling up inside of it until it gets to the point that the mess is choking all of their equipment, and no light can get to the bottom of the pond.  So they dredge it out, save as many living larvae and fish as they can, and then refill it.

Along with the waterfowl today, I also saw a lot of crows, Goldfinches, Robins and a few Ladder-Backed Woodpeckers (Picoides scalaris).  I also got a photo of a pair of tiny Linyphiidae spiders on the back of a flowering tobacco plant leaf.  There are so many spider in that group that I can’t clearly identify individual species, but they’re sometimes call “Sheet Weavers” or “Dwarf Spiders” because of their diminutive size and the kind of webs they build…  It was a nice walk.

What was funny was that while we were in the garden two different people recognized Sergeant Margie.  Hah!  My dog is famous.

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