Tag Archives: raptors

Summer 2019 CalNat Class #4, 06-28-19

After an early morning meeting, I was totally exhausted by the time the naturalist class started. But I didn’t want to miss Hillary Kasemen from West Coast Falconry and her talk on falcons. 

She brought with her “Cubby”, a male Anatum Falcon (Falco peregrinus anatum) a subspecies of Peregrine Falcon also called an American Peregrine, “Aerial”, a female American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) and “Islay”, a female Lanner Falcon (Falco biarmicus).

We learned, among other things, that because they fly so fast (up to 200 mph in a dive) falcons have an exaggerated tubule in the nose to help channel air so they can breathe better. Jet engines are made with the same kind of “baffle” (nose cone) in the center. “This example of biomimicry is very retrospective in that engines weren’t first designed this way.” Nature never ceases to amaze.

And we also learned that the hoods often used in falconry help to calm the birds. Falcons take a lot of information in through their eyes, and can get visually over-stimulated at times. Put a hood or other covering over the eyes helps to cancel out some of that stimuli.

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

Some students asked why we have presentations like this during the naturalist classes, and the reason is two-fold: (1) we want to introduce students to live specimens of species they might not otherwise encounter, and (2) we want to provide students who capstone ideas and volunteer opportunities.

CalNat Class, Week 4, 03-01-19

The naturalist class went very well again today. Roxanne, our volunteer couldn’t come, but co-workers Nate and Bill did all the heavy-lifting so I didn’t have to rearrange furniture to get the room set up and taken down again. I so appreciate their help and support.

Nate had brought our spokesbears, Berry and her cub Essa [as in “Berryessa”] so the class could meet them. Berry goes to our tabling events, and Essa goes with Nate on most of our hikes and outings. They make for great conversation starters and photo ops. Nate had also purchased some home-made cookies from the local Cookie connection shop to share with the class.

Our guest speaker for the afternoon was Kate Marden, the owner and founder of West Coast Falconry, who brought along four owls to share with the class. Some of her birds have been featured in movies and documentaries. She brought: a male Great Horned Owl named Tigg’rr (because these owls are also known as “Tiger Owls” for the barring on their chest and belly); a female Barn Owl named Amadan. Her whole name is Amadan Ban Bheag, which is Gaelic for ‘Little White Fool’. A female Eurasian Eagle Owl named Cailleach (pronounced Kay-leesh). Her name means ‘Wise Woman’ or ‘Crone’ in Gaelic; and a male, gray morph Eastern Screech Owl named Wee Hamish. He was very afraid of Berry, so I had to carry her out of sight behind the projection screen, and all the while Hamish was watching me with his eyes real wide. He was also something of a bad boy. As Kate was lifting him out of his carrier she realized he’d chewed off and swallowed one of his jesses. Hah!

Kate was wonderful, as usual. Her talk was very heartfelt and informative, and she walked around the room with the birds so the students could get a close look at them and take photos if they wanted to. We always love having West Coast Falconry come out for a lecture.

CLICK HERE to see the album of photos and video snippets.

You can see a longer video of Kate and Cailleach here: https://youtu.be/0jEc7gIqiJk

You can see a longer video of Kate and Tigg’rr here: https://youtu.be/n1Uk1B9UviA


Not Many Good Photos Today, 12-02-18

I got up around 6:30 this morning, and decided I’d try going out to the Sacramento and Colusa National Wildlife Refuges. It’s a long drive and I wasn’t sure how Wilson (my tumor)  would react to sitting in a vibrating thing, accelerating and decelerating for hours at a time. I tried going without any pain pills, too, but that didn’t last. Around 9:00 am I had to take one of the ibuprofen. Otherwise, Wilson pretty much behaved himself.

It was foggy in some spots along the highway, but otherwise chilly and mostly sunny all day. It was about 38° when I headed out and remained in the 40’s at the refuges. When I got back to Sacramento in the afternoon, it was about 54°.

On my way to the refuges, I counted 24 raptors along the highway. Most of them were Red-Tailed Hawks, but there were also 4 Turkey Vultures and 3 Kestrels in the mix.

I got to the Sacramento refuge around 9:00 am, which is really “too late” to see anything really good. Most of the birds had finished their breakfasts already and were hunkering down to digest their meals. I didn’t feel like I got any really good photos of anything, and I also felt I was rushed because there were so many other cars on the auto-tour route. So, it was kind of a disappointing day.

The Snow Geese and Ross’s Geese are dominating the landscapes right now, and their noise was defending at times. Soooo many birds!

I was hoping to see some eagles, and I did, but they were about a block away form the car on a small island in the wetland area adjacent to the last park-and-stretch point.  There was an adult Bald Eagle and two juveniles who were eating what looked like a downed Snow Goose. The juveniles looked like they were different ages; one about 2 years old, the other about 3 years old. When they were done eating, they flew off, and the adult eagle moved over to the carcass. While it was eating, it was approached by a seagull, then a Turkey Vulture, then a Raven… and the eagle was actually pretty tolerant of them. I got some of it on video, but because of the distance of the birds, the images aren’t very crisp.

I WAS able to get some nice scenery shots along the route and was happy to see snow on Snow Mountain (the northernmost end of the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument).

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos (even though I’m not really pleased with any of them.)

Still Not a Lot of Variety Yet, 11-12-18

I got up around 7:00 am, fed the dog his breakfast, and then went out to the Cosumnes River Preserve for a walk. There was still a lot of smoke in the air from the Camp Fire.

The preserve still doesn’t have enough water in it, so it was something of a disappointment, but I did get to see several different species of birds including fly-overs of small flocks of Sandhill Cranes and Tundra Swans. In their Facebook posts, the preserve had been talking about large flocks of Snow Geese in the surrounding rice fields, but I didn’t see any.  There were loads of greater White-Fronted Geese, though.  I also saw a few

The Coots were out feeding near the viewing platform of the boardwalk area, and I got to do my naturalist thing when two older women walked up and asked me if the “black birds were Moor Hens”.  I told them about the Coots and the Gallinules (moorhens) and how they were different, and then was able to point out a Northern Pintail to them, and a Black Phoebe. So, they got a free lesson today.  There was also some kind Rail near the viewing platform, but she flew off into the tules before I could get a really good look at her.  Maybe a Virginia Rail, but I’m not sure. It seems early in the season to see one of those.

I also saw Red-Winged Blackbirds, Killdeer, and Black-Necked Stilts which are all kind of ubiquitous in the area, along with a few  White-Crowned Sparrows, Savannah Sparrows, Western Meadowlarks, Northern Shovelers, House Finches, Great Egrets, Cinnamon Teals, Green-Winged Teals, a Greater Yellowlegs, some American Pipits, two or three Wilson’s Snipes, Red-Tailed Hawks, a Red-Shouldered Hawk, some male Lesser Goldfinches, and Song Sparrows.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

I was surprised when a small flock of Cedar Waxwings flew in and occupied the oak trees along the slough for a while. They’re primarily berry-eaters, and there were no berries around the slough this time of year.

As I was leaving the boardwalk area of the preserve, I stopped to use the little outhouse there, and found a couple of female praying mantises that apparently had just laid their egg cases on the side of the building. I also found a mud bird’s nest (probably a Phoebe’s) and some wasps’ nests (both from Paper Wasps and Mud-Dauber Wasps). I walked for about 3 hours and then headed back home, getting there around noon.

47 Species in One Day, 02-04-18

The dog and I got up around 6:00 am this morning, and headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  It was so foggy between Sacramento and Woodland that traffic was moving at a crawl.  There were a few spots where the fog was so thick, I couldn’t see beyond the reach of the headlights, and I almost missed the off-ramp to the gas station because I couldn’t see it… Scary.

It was about 43º when I arrived at the refuge (where it wasn’t foggy at all) and about 67º when I left.

One of the first things I saw was a lone raccoon walking through a pond. I caught a glimpse of him out of the corner of my eye, and pulled into the park-and-stretch area and got out of the car to rush to the edge of the pond to see if I could find him again.  He walked right out from a stand of tules, and stood in the water, staring at me for a few seconds, before walking on again. I got a little bit of video of him, but didn’t get any good still shots.

CLICK HERE to see the full album of photos and video snippets.

I also saw a pair of Northern Harriers harassing a Red-Tailed Hawk. I think the Red-Tail had blundered to near to where the Harriers were setting up their nest — (Northern Harriers nest on the ground, not in trees.) – and the Harriers freaked out.  They were pretty far away from me, and moving quickly in and around the tules, so it was hard to get any photos. Finally, one of the Harriers stopped and rested on top of a pile of dead tules, and I was able to get a few shots of him.

Further along the route, I came across a Bald Eagle sitting by the edge of a pool, up to his “knees” in the water.  I got some video of him just as he leapt up from the shore and took off flying across the wetlands – making the waterfowl scatter all around him as he flew along.

Later, when I had arrived back at the nature center at the end of the auto-tour route to take a potty break before heading back home, one of the docents was outside the building setting up a birding scope. I asked her if she’d seen anything good, and she said, “If you look through the scope you can see an eagle in the tree right over there,” and she pointed to a tree within walking distance of the scope. I looked through the scope, figured out which tree the eagle was in, and then ran to go potty. Hah! When I got back out the restroom, the dog and I walked down the trail to see the eagle. I was able to get photos of him from several different angles, even from directly below him when he bent over a little bit and stared straight down at me. Yikes! (I kept Sergeant Margie close to me so the eagle wouldn’t get any ideas of snatching him.)

While I was out on the trail taking photos of the eagle, I could hear two Great-Horned Owls hooting at one another, so I went back to the docent to ask about them. The owls were in a tree on the other side of the nature center, but the tree was in a restricted area, so I couldn’t get near it. The docent said the owls already had eggs and were brooding.  It was so neat to hear them call back and forth to one another from different branches, the male’s voice is deeper than the female’s. They were hooting softly at one another, first him, then her, then him, then her… It was so sweet.

I had finished the Sacramento auto-tour relatively quickly, so I headed over to the Colusa refuge before going home. Not a lot to see over there, but between the two refuges I saw about 47 different species today.

Birding at the Cosumnes Preserve, 02-01-18

I was invited to go for a birding walk at the Cosumnes River Preserve this morning, so I went to that before getting on with my normal work stuff.

On my way to the preserve, I thought I saw a dead Bald Eagle along the side of the highway. I was going by at 70 mph, though, so I only caught a glimpse of it, but I thought I definitely saw a bird with a black body and a white head… I would’ve stopped to double-check it, but there was too much traffic. Even if I HAD stopped for it, if it WAS a Bald Eagle, I think I’d have to turn the carcass over to the Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. I have a “salvage” permit (so I can pick up road kill if I want to), but eagles have a lot of extra laws protecting them – even when they’re dead. I think only Native American can keep the feathers and the bones…

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

When I got to the preserve, I took the long way to the first parking lot by going around Bruceville and Desmond Roads where the rice fields and the wetland meet. There were quite a few raptors out, but I only got photos of a couple of them: a Red-Tailed Hawk and some American Kestrels. There was also a Northern Harrier sitting along the side of one of the rice fields – but I only got a blurry photo of it because it was so far away. And there was a Red-Shouldered Hawk, too, but it flew off before I could stop the car and get a photo.

At the preserve, I just walked the boardwalk trail and around the ponds but I still was able to see quite a few species including: a Loggerhead Shrike, Red-Winged Blackbirds, White-Crowned Sparrows, Golden-Crowned Sparrows, a few Greater Yellowlegs, a couple of American Wigeons, Northern Pintails, and lots and lots of American Coots including a dead one.

The dead bird was lying in a mass of its own feathers right beside the trail – and next to an otter slide. Whatever had killed the bird had grabbed it by the neck and just started to rip the feathers away before it took off and left the bird behind. Otters don’t eat birds, so I thought maybe it had been attacked by a fox or weasel or something like that – or maybe someone’s small dog. It wasn’t “shredded” as though it had been attacked by a larger animal like a coyote; they’re not “delicate” with their prey. And I don’t think a hawk or eagle got the Coot because they don’t grab prey by the neck; they go for a body slam and hold, and then rip out the soft spots first – not the feathers around the next. It was weird. I wish I had more “forensic” skills.

I also saw some Cinnamon Teals, lots of Green-Winged Teals, and one Blue-Winged Teal, Northern Shovelers, Gadwalls, several Killdeer, a Wilson’s Snipe hiding in the tules, some American Pipits, lots of Brewer’s Blackbirds, several Black Phoebes, and two different kinds of Warblers: some Myrtle Warblers and an Audubon’s Warbler. They used to be lumped together and referred to as Yellow-Rumped Warblers, but since 2016 the Yellow-Rumped Warblers (affectionately referred to as “Butter Butts”) where broken out into four species based on their field markings (coloration) and breeding ranges. The Myrtles have a white throat, and the Audubon’s have a yellow throat. There are also Black-Fronted Warblers found in Mexico, and Goldman’s Warblers that only live in Guatemala.

The sightings continued this morning with lots of Snow Geese, some Sandhill Cranes, Long-Billed Dowitchers, Black-Necked Stilts, lots of tiny Dunlin, a Herring Gull, several Marsh Wrens singing amid the tules, and some Song Sparrows, Greater White-Fronted Geese, a Tree Swallow and Western Meadowlarks. I also saw two Great Egrets.

One was sitting up in a tree preening itself. It was in its long trailing breeding plumage, but didn’t have its neon-green face yet. The other wasn’t in breeding plumage, and was hunting along the side of the road. I saw it catch several crawdads. I ate two of them, but let the third one go because it was so large and aggressive. I guess the birds wasn’t hungry enough to bother with food that could fight back. Hah!

So that was, what… almost 40 species? A good birding day.