Tag Archives: Red-Winged Blackbirds

Eagles, Ravens and More, 01-28-19

I wanted to get up a little early today so I could head out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge… The drive to the refuge is a long one: 2 hours there, 2 hours back, and about 4 hours of driving around the auto tour route. That’s a LOT of car time, sitting in a folded-up position. I haven’t done it since just before my surgery and didn’t know if my core could handle that yet. Well, I found out. It can’t right now.

I was okay on the drive there, but halfway through the auto tour route, I started to ache, and by the time I got back to the house I was in pain. Dang it! I thought I was doing so well. Gotta work more on the exercise and core stuff I guess.

Anyway, after putting gas in the car and stopping to pick up something for my own breakfast, the dog and I got to the refuge around 7:00 am. The sun was just coming up, so I got some red-sky photos. Because the light was so “low” and there was some cloud cover, the camera gave me fits all day. The cloud-glare bounced off the water and played havoc with the light meter/auto focus dealie, and I struggled to get the photos I wanted, sometimes failing miserably which was very frustrating. So, rather than relaxing me, I was kind of stressed out periodically throughout the drive.

Still, I did manage to get SOME halfway decent images. CLICK HERE to see the full album.

The standouts for the day were the Bald Eagles and Ravens. I saw about 5 eagles, including a bonded pair and a juvenile (maybe 2 or 2 ½ years old). One of the eagles was sitting what I generally call “the eagle tree” because you can often find one sitting in it.

It’s sometimes hard to get photos of the birds in that tree because it’s a tall one that sits on the right-hand side of the road. You either have to lay down in the front seat and shoot out the passenger-side window or turn the car at an angle that puts your driver’s-side window to the tree (and blocks the whole road). There were no other cars on the road at the time, so I chose to block it. (Didn’t think my core could handle my lying down in the seat and twisting to shoot out and up into the tree.) I was surprised to find that in that tree, on a few branches below the eagle, there was also a Cooper’s Hawk. You don’t really realize just how truly big the eagles are until you see one beside a hawk. Wow!

The rest of the eagles were near the end of the auto-tour route. The bonded pair were in a distant tree, sitting near the top of it, near the last park-and-stretch area. Because they were so far away it was hard to get any good close-ups of them with my camera. And because of the cloud-glare, their white heads tended to vanish against the white sky, so finessing the camera’s iris was tricky. I liked watching the pair, though. They sat side by side, surveying the surrounding wetlands, periodically touched beaks like they were kissing and groomed one another.

The last two eagles, an adult and the juvenile, were sitting up in the eucalyptus trees along the exit route. The juvenile, which was much more visible than the adult because it was sitting out near the end of some branches, at first looked like a mottled shadow against the twiggy branches, but then seemed to reveal itself as I got closer to it. So cool!

I also got to see three ravens. Two were of a pair that landed together in a tree near the end of the auto tour route. One was kind of bedraggled-looking; some of its feathers were on inside out. And the other flew up with it, offering it a treat I couldn’t quite make out. The treat-bearing one flew off again, and the bedraggled-looking one stayed behind, cawing loudly in the direction in which the other had left.

Even though I wrestled with the camera all day, I was still able to see over 30 different species of birds and animals while I was out there, so I still chalk it up as a “good” viewing day.

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.

Two Preserves in One Day, 10-11-18

DAY 6 OF MY VACATION.  I got up around 6:00 am and headed out with Sergeant Margie to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. I stopped first to put gas in the car and grab something from Jack’s to eat for the day (I usually get a breakfast sammich, and that lasts me for the whole day – until I get home again.) It was 49º when I left the house and 70º by the late afternoon, so the weather was beautiful. I got through the Sacramento refuge relatively quickly, so I also stopped at the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge afterward.

Neither of the refuges have a lot of water in them yet, so there weren’t as many birds in either one as there might be when the wetland areas are actually wet.  I did see a lot of Greater White-Fronted Geese, but no big flocks of the other waterfowl.

There were a lot of Red-Tailed Hawks on the Sacramento refuge, and I also saw a Northern Harrier on the wing, and a Great Horned Owl. The owl was hidden among the branches of the same tree on top of which a hawk was sitting, but the branches were too dense to get a decent photo of the owl.

At one point, I came upon a flat area where a lot of egrets were gathered, eating bugs and crayfish in the very shallow water.  There were Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets and Cattle Egrets all in the same field, and along with them were lots of other birds including White-Faced Ibis, Killdeer, Greater Yellowlegs, and even some Long-Billed Curlews. The curlews were a cool surprise; you hardly ever get to see them on the preserve.

CLICK HERE to see the full album of photos.

I was stalking a Blue-Eyed Darner dragonfly along the tules on the side of the auto-tour route hoping it would land so I could get a photo of it. It finally came to a rest, and just as I drove up close enough to get a photo, a pheasant flushed out of the tules, almost hit the car, and flew away… scaring the dragonfly at the same time. Dang it! Hah!  I was rewarded later, though, when I found a pair of Green Darners sitting on some floating tules in the water. The female was laying her eggs in the water and along the sides of the tule, and I was able to get photos and a little video of that.

Dragonfly laying eggs: https://youtu.be/PNq-oonzPtM

Squirrel gathering and burying acorns: https://youtu.be/YsWir-LOVZI

On the Colusa refuge, the standout critter was a male Great-Tailed Grackle. He was standing on top of a large pile of tules, singing a variety of songs. I got photos and video of him. There were also quite a few Great Blue Herons at that refuge. I also saw a crayfish that I think was carrying eggs. I could see clumps of “stuff” hanging off the swimmerets on the underside of her tail. (The substance that glues the eggs to the swimmerets is called “glair”.) And there was a wooly caterpillar running across the road, and I got some photos of it, too.

I felt the day was a successful one, even though the wetlands are anywhere near their prime condition yet. Sergeant Margie did great for the whole trip. He sleeps most of the time but gets out to pee and poo along the way.  The Sacramento and Colusa refuges allow dogs as long as they’re on a leash. Most other wildlife areas don’t let dogs in under any circumstance, so it’s neat when I can bring him along with me.

I got back home a little after 3:00 pm.

A Very Conspicuous Great-Tailed Grackle, 05-26-18

I got up at 5:00 today, even though it’s the weekend, because I wanted to get back to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge for a longer trip around the auto-tour there.  It was overcast and drizzling all morning, and the sun didn’t come out until just about when I was ready to leave the refuge.  I stopped off at the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge and spent about an hour there before heading onto the Sacramento refuge.

At the Colusa refuge, I was surprised to see a large flock of sheep near the front gate. Sheep and goats are often brought in to help clear the landscape of overgrowth and noxious weeds – because they eat anything. I saw several American Bitterns there, many of them on the ground among the tules. They were too far away to get really photos of them, but I managed to get a few so-so shots.

Most of the ground at the Colusa refuge are dry – no standing water – so it can be difficult to see much of anything.  I did get to see a lot of Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets and Great Blue Herons there, along with several crayfish chimneys, pheasants and a young Pied-Billed Grebe that was still sporting its striped face. The neatest sighting was that of a young coyote loping across the fields.

At the Sacramento refuge I was first inundated by sightings of Black-Tailed Jackrabbits, Desert Cottontails and California Ground Squirrels, and I thought that was all I was going to be able to see there today. Eventually, the place “opened up” to me and I was able to get photos of other critters, too. What was really nice was that I literally had the place all to myself. Didn’t see any other vehicles (besides the rangers’) until just before I was ready to leave. So, everything was nice and quiet, and I didn’t feel rushed.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

Of the ground squirrels, I saw, I came across one that exhibited a behavior I’d never seen before. It raised itself up on its hind legs, into a standing position, and then rubbed its head and face against a twig. I don’t know if it was transferring scent or just had an itch (it looked a bit mangy), but it was neat to see.

At one point, I stopped because I saw something “odd” on one side of a slough. I couldn’t get a good look at it, even with the telephoto it was sitting on the bank closest to the road, among the tules, with its back toward me. I kept an eye on it, and eventually it dipped down into the water in the slough… a muskrat! It played “keep away” for quite a while, ducking under the surface of the water just as I got the camera focused on it. After a while I tried to anticipate where it might show up next and was rewarded with some video footage of it. Phew!

The other cool find of the day was seeing a male Great Tailed Grackle walking along the rails of a wooden fence.  It was calling and posturing all along the way. I got some video footage (so you can hear the sounds it made) and some fairly good still shots… and I got to see some male Ring-Necked Pheasants sitting a tree. I’d never seen them in tree before; I usually sot them on the ground. They’re large colorful birds, so when they’re up in a tree they’re very “exposed”. There must’ve been something on the ground that scared them.

When I stopped to get some photos of a large bullfrog in the water, I saw something else beside it that I couldn’t identify at the time. I took photos and video of it and when I got home, I looked at it over and over again trying to figure out what I was looking at. I finally decided it was a pair of freshwater snails or whelks laying eggs on a rock… So weird…

I left the refuge around noon and was back home around 2:00 pm.

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.