Tag Archives: raptor

The Bucks are in Rut at the Effie Yeaw Preserve, 11-10-18

I slept in a tiny bit this morning and got up around 7:00. After giving the dog his breakfast, I headed over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk.  It was a chilly 34° at the river!  Got up to about 70° by the afternoon.  The air quality was bad enough today to spark a “Very Unhealthy” purple warning.

At the preserve, the first thing I saw was a small harem of female deer and a couple of fawns, along with a young spike buck.  I got quite a few photos of him doing his “Flehmen Sniff” thing. He closes his nostrils and pulls air in and over the “vomeronasal organ” in the roof of his mouth to pick up on the pheromones of the females around him to learn if they’re in estrus or not. He lifts his top lip because the intake part of the organ is just behind his upper front teeth.

I also saw other deer dotting the preserve here and there including the big 4-pointer (who I think is now a 5-pointer, but I can’t tell for sure from the photos I got of him). He was tucked away on the other side of a field in the shade, so at first, I didn’t see him. When I stepped into the field, though, to get some shots of a Red-Shouldered Hawk (I saw two of them today) he moved, and only then did I realize he was there. It looked like one of the prongs on his rack had been snapped off, but he was still very impressive looking.

I found another older buck in a different part of the preserve, but his rack was really wonky.  On one side, he only had on long prong, and on the other side, he had a 3-point antler with a gnarly-looking eye guard. The doe he was pursuing, though, didn’t seem to mind too much that he was “uneven”…  Several different things can make the antlers messed up like that: the pedicle on the head from which the antlers grow may have been damaged somehow; or the antlers themselves might have been damaged while they were still in their velvet stage and growing; or the buck may have nerve damage in the hind leg opposite from the malformed antler.

CLICK HERE to see the album of photos.

You may also notice in the photos that the mature bucks’ necks swell during the rut. Although I couldn’t find any scientific studies about this phenomenon, the consensus seems to be that the swelling is caused by a dramatic increase in testosterone during the rut which affects the blood vessels and muscles in the neck (along with other parts of the body; hah!). The thick neck is apparently attractive to the females, and also helps to cushion the head and body when the bucks joust, absorbing some of the shock when the bucks butt heads. Interesting!

As I mentioned, I saw two Red-Shouldered Hawks in different parts of the preserve today, and I also saw a Red-Tailed Hawk, but that one flew off before I could get any good shots of it.  Inside the nature center at the preserve, I also got to see Orion, the preserve’s Swainson’s Hawk. He’s still a youngster, so doesn’t have his adult coloring yet, but he’s a handsome bird.

Along the usual suspects like Wild Turkeys, California Scrub Jays, Northern Flickers, Spotted Towhees and Acorn Woodpeckers, I got to see a tiny Hermit Thrush in the scrubby brush on the side of the trail. I hardly ever get to see those little guys, so it’s always kind of a treat when I can get pictures of one of them.

There were lots of California Ground Squirrels and Eastern Fox Squirrels around.  The squirrels can have a second breeding season in the fall, and I saw one of them carrying a big mouthful of grass to its nest.  The cool thing was being able to spot the melanistic squirrel (all black) again.  I hadn’t seen that guy for a year.  The last time I saw him was actually on November 22nd last year.  Maybe he only comes out once a year. Hah! (You can see last year’s photos HERE.)

I walked for about 3 hours and then headed back o the car. On my way out of the preserve, I stopped in at the nature center (which is when I saw Orion) and picked up several copies of “The Acorn” magazine published by the American River Natural History Association. My lichen photo is featured on the cover.  Super cool!

 

Lots of Surprises at the Refuge Today, 05-23-18

I went out looking for field trip sites for the naturalist class.  I timed the trip(s) from Woodland, not the house in Sacramento, and to Anderson Marsh it takes a little over 90 minutes.  To Clear Lake State Park it’s another 30-45 minutes. (I just went past the main gate and didn’t go in.)  – and then finding somewhere to park and finding the trail heads might take up another 30 minutes.  That’s just too much time in the car and not enough time walking.  If we had a campout there it might be doable, but otherwise, no.

Anderson Marsh might be an option, but still, it might be easier on folks if we did an overnight in Williams and tackled the marsh from there. (It’s up Highway 20, to Highway 53.) I want to make that run one more time to see if it’s really feasible.  The crappy thing is: I wanted to go out onto the trails at the marsh, but although they let dogs in the parking lot, they don’t allow them on the trails. I wasn’t leaving Sergeant Margie alone while I did some walking.  I should have checked that before I brought him with me.

So, I felt like the first part of my morning was kind of a bust. There are caves and a geothermal plant up there, too, but I didn’t go to check them out. Instead, I turned the car around and headed back to Williams.

Since, I was already in the area, I went over to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge and made a quick run through the auto-tour there. I was MUCH more successful there than I was in Lake County. The drive seemed full of surprises.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

At one point along the auto tour route, I saw a pair of Killdeer along the side of the road.  Mama started doing her “broken wing” act, so I knew there must have been a nest near the road somewhere. (Killdeer like to nest in gravel, and their eggs look like little speckled rocks.) The surprise was, though, when I saw a tiny, fuzzy Killdeer baby running across the road! They’re so small, it’s hard to see them unless they’re moving. It crouched down in the gravel in the middle of the road, and I was soooo worried that I might accidentally run it over, so I very slowly pulled the car off to the side of the road (still worrying that a nest might be there.)  The baby ran around and stomped its tiny feet on the ground, peeping for mom.  Mama finally showed up, peeping loudly, and had the baby follow her back to the nest (behind my car and down the road a little way.)

Surprise #2 was seeing eagle at the preserve. They’re usually gone by March, so seeing them in May was completely unexpected. I saw an adult and what I thought was a juvenile Bald Eagle picking at a Snow Goose carcass. The juvenile eagle flew across the now-empty large pond (on the extension loop) and landed in a tree right along the side of the road – so I was able to get some photos of him. As I looked over the photos, it struck me that this wasn’t a juvenile Bald Eagle at all; it was a young Golden Eagle. The giveaway was the feathering that went all the way down its legs to its feet.  Cool!  I’d never seen a Golden Eagle out there before.

Surprise #3 was a muskrat. I saw something moving in the water in a slough along the side of the road, and it was at a distance, so I wasn’t sure what I was seeing. I videod it before it disappeared under the surface of the water. At first, I thought it had been a Pied-Billed Grebe floating low through the water, but when I took a closer look at the footage, I found it was a muskrat, swimming with its nose above the surface.  I think I also located where the entrance to its push-up was, so I’ll check that out the next time I’m there.

Surprise #4 was seeing a gorgeous Valley Garter Snake sitting the shore next to the water, warming itself in the sun. Usually, the snakes zip away and all I get is a photo of their side or the end of their tail as they disappear into the water or the brush. This snake sat still, and I was able to get a lot of pictures of it, even its face.

Surprise #5 was seeing a fawn that looked like it was “right out of the box”, maybe only a day or two old. It was very small – but bounding, jumping and curious – and still had its newborn blue eyes.  It was following after its mom who was walking through a stand of cocklebur. The baby was so little, he’d disappear under the big leaves of the cocklebur, then appear again a few feet away.

Surprise #6 was a California Ground Squirrel that ran out near the side of the road with a huge Milk Thistle flower-head in its mouth. I stopped the car and watched as the squirrel held onto the head, ripped through the back it, to avoid the spines on it, and pulled out all of the seeds.  It struck me as funny: it looked like a bridesmaid who had caught the bouquet and then ATE it. Hah!

I saw several American Bitterns flying overhead but none on the ground, a hawk flying off with its kill (with a Crow chasing it), a fledgling Northern Harrier sitting on the ground with whatever it had been able to catch, and Marsh Wrens singing (and one building a new nest). I also caught a glimpse of Orioles and got some good shots of a Blue-Winged Teal, among other critters.  It was a nice way to end the day.

Lots of Wrens and Squirrels, 03-24-18

Around 6:30 am I headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge with the dog. They’ve opened the loop to the permanent wetlands area, so I wanted to see what that looked like these days – and I needed a nature fix. The mountains around us, which aren’t too terribly tall, had snow on their summits, and a light dusting of snow all down their flanks (which had pretty much melted by the end of the day today). It was 44º when I got to the refuge and around 51º when I headed back home. Clear and bright, though. I got some nice scenery shots while I was out there.

I saw most of the usual suspects while I was out on the preserve; and for the most part I had the place all to myself. I only saw two or three other cars on the auto route when I was driving it (although, a phalanx of cars showed up just as I was leaving. I assumed it was a birding group who were there to see the fly-out at dusk.)

CLICK HERE for the album of photos and videos.

Jackrabbits and Cottontails were out, and I also got a glimpse of a Striped Skunk and a small herd of mule deer. Otherwise, it was mostly birds. The huge-huge flocks are gone now, but there’s more variety in the different kinds of species you can see out there (if you know where and how to look for them.)

I saw American Coots, American Wigeons, Killdeer, Red-Winged Blackbirds, several Great Egrets, Western Meadowlarks, some Northern Harriers, White-Faced Ibis, Great Blue Herons, Song Sparrows, Green-Winged Teals, Northern Shovelers, White-Crowned Sparrows, a couple of Red-Tailed Hawks, lots of Double-Crested Cormorants, Pied-Billed Grebes, Ruddy Ducks, Ring-Necked Ducks, Cinnamon Teals, Golden-Crowned Sparrows, a Belted Kingfisher, Audubon’s Warblers, Black-Necked Stilts, Tree Swallows, Long-Billed Dowitchers, Snowy Egrets, Gadwalls, a Red-Shouldered Hawk, some Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Goldfinches, House Sparrows, an Anna’s Hummingbird, and several Crows. And, of course, this time of year the Marsh Wrens are out everywhere building their nests and singing their buzzy songs trying to attract females. I got lots of photos of them.

At one spot along the route, I came across an area where there were several Ibis and Snow Egrets gathered, and a Great Egret standing nearby. One of the Ibis caught a crayfish in the water, but as soon as it lifted it up, about three of the Snowy Egrets went after it, making the Ibis drop its meal. One of the Snowys picked it up and tried to fly off with it, but then the great Egret flew over and body-slammed the Snowy making it drop the crayfish, too. The Great Egret then had to search through the turbid water to find the crayfish again so he could eat it himself.

I saw only one of the Ibis starting to get its white breeding face, and the Snowy Egrets I saw aren’t showing any signs of their breeding plumage yet. But some of the Great Egrets are… and their faces are turning neon green: a signal to other Great Egrets that they’re ready and available for mating.

I also got quite a few photos of California Ground Squirrels. I’m just enamored with those little guys. If I had the time and funding, I’d love to be able to a long-tern field study on them. This is the time of year when the females have all set up their natal chambers in their burrows and are lookin’ for love. I saw one pair of the squirrels though in which the female was not at all interested in the male who kept harassing her. Maybe she already had babies in her burrow she needed to take of, or she just wasn’t that into him, but their antics were hysterical to watch. I got a little bit of it on video and in photos, but they just don’t do the comedy justice. The male first approached the female from the front, sniffing at her, reaching out to her with a paw, touching his nose to hers. But when he tried to move in further to get a whiff of her goodies, she jumped straight up into the air about a foot and ran off. The male chased her, and the two of them went running down the road in front of my car, tails up, the male body-slamming the female occasionally to try to get her to slow down or stop for him. More jumping. More running. Then they took a break for about a second before the male tried to approach the female again and… More jumping. More running. Hah! It was exhausting to watch them. I don’t know if he ever got her or not, but it was valiant effort.

The permanent wetlands loop was kind of disappointing. They’re redone the dirt road there and cut down all of the tall grass and most of the roadside vegetation. That makes viewing easier, but because there aren’t any places now near the road with high vegetation, there’s no place for the critters to hide or eat or build nests. So there was “nothing” to see. The refuge is also going to drain the big pond there, which means for a brief period of time, as the waters shrink and the water-living bugs and crustaceans are forced into a smaller and smaller living space, the birds will have a feast. When that happens there will be a lot of activity and photo ops. But the draining of that pond also means that the Clark’s and Western Grebes won’t be able to build their floating nests on the water – which is usually a big draw for photographers. So, this might be a disappointing year for photographers at the refuge.

((The draining of the pond is done about every years to get rid of the invasive carp who get into the basin when the area floods and then get trapped there when the flood waters recede. The refuge also has to till the pond bottom to expose it to the sun, so that all of the bacteria and viruses in the accumulated bird droppings can get irradiated.))

I was at the refuge for about 5 hours and then headed back home.

Using Nature as an “Anti-Stress” Potion

I was so stressed out after work today that I spent some time driving up to the Cosumnes River Preserve and along Desmond Road to see the birds.  Didn’t see much of anything new, but I did get some shots of a hawk eating its prey (which I think was a vole or somebody’s chick), and some shots of a Greater Yellowlegs (which is a kind of Sandpiper), so it wasn’t all for naught.

Turns out that “nature as a cure” for stress is a REAL thing.  Here are some snippets from an article from Prevention magazine: “…In a recent study published in the journal Landscape and Urban Planning, scientists measured the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in 25 healthy adults in Scotland and asked them to fill out questionnaires about what stresses them out at home and at work. They then compared that information to the number of parks, woodlands, and other natural environments in each participant’s zip code. Those who lived in the areas with the most amount of green space had lower levels of cortisol, and their self-reported feeling of stress were lower than those who spent more time in urban settings… And five minutes outside is all it takes get the mood-boosting effect, according to a 2010 study in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. Researchers found that people experienced the largest boosts to their mood and self-esteem after just spending five minutes outside doing some form of light exercise, like walking.”

This is echoed in another article in “The Dirt”: “…Recent research shows that taking a stroll through a natural setting can boost performance on tasks calling for sustained focus. ‘Taking in the sights and sounds of nature appears to be especially beneficial for our minds.’ In fact, Dr. Marc Berman and fellow researchers at the University of Michigan found that ‘performance on memory and attention tests improved by 20 percent after study subjects paused for a walk through an arboretum. When these people were sent on a break to stroll down a busy street in town, no cognitive boost was detected’.”