Tag Archives: redbud

Found a Robin’s Nest at William Land Park, 06-23-18

I headed out with the dog to the William Land Park for a short walk. And I mean short. We were only out there for about 90-minutes. It was 73º already when we left the house at 5:30 am! and 80º when we got back home.

On our way to the park, I came across a mother Wild Turkey and her NINE poults. They were by an open field right near a bus stop. Mom was on one side of a rickety chain link fence, and the babies, who were on the sidewalk, couldn’t figure out how to get through the fence to meet up with her.  So, they were running back and forth, peeping loudly. Mom finally walked up to where there was a gap in the fence and stayed there until the kids could join her.

In the WPA Rock Garden, there were different species of Mullein in bloom all over garden, yellow and white. Just some fun facts about mullein: it’s a biennial plant; the word mullein, comes from the German language, meaning “king’s candle” because of its scepter-like, candle-straight growth in its second year; the leaves and flowers are edible and make a nice tea. Most of the mullein we see are non-natives and the Woolly species is considered an invasive in California even though it’s not really that aggressive.

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

I also saw signs that the Leaf-Cutter Bees had been busy at work in the garden. They cut out perfect little half-circles in the soft leaves of the Redbud trees to line their nests. I also saw a lot of the ubiquitous European Honey Bees, some Yellow-Faced Bumblebees, some Long-Horned Bees just waking up from their overnight torpor, and a small group of bright red Assassin Bug nymphs on the stems of some Red Poppies of Flanders.

I also found what I thought was a collection of tiny, black shiny insect eggs. I took photos of them and when I blew the images up I realized that the little black things were actually bug nymphs (Pittosporum shield bug, Monteithiella humeralis, I think) just hatching out of their white eggs. Cool!

At the pond, there was a Mallard mama out with her seven ducklings, and also a mama Swedish Blue/Mallard hybrid with her three ducklings. One of her ducklings looked like a Mallard baby, but the other two were black and yellow with light colored bibs like the Swedish Blues. One of those babies also had black feet with yellow toes. So cute!

There was also a lone Wood Duck (a little female who didn’t take any guff from the larger Mallards), a Crested Duck, a pair of Peking Ducks, and some Indian Runner Ducks. No geese, though, which I thought was kind of odd.

High in a tree on one side of the pond, I could see a nest and something moving around in it. The nest was made of twigs and grass, and also had some white ribbon hanging from the bottom of it (which made it easy to spot). For I while I couldn’t tell what kind of bird was moving around it, so I tried looking at it from different angles and different distances from the tree. I then I realized it was Robin’s nest. Mama Robin came by to check on the kids – there were actually three of them in there. I think she’d brought them something to eat, but I couldn’t tell what it was. Papa Robin showed up a few seconds later, and then both parents flew off again to find more breakfast.

Oh, one thing I noticed that I’d never seen before: a mosquito drinking nectar from a flower. I knew the females drank blood, but for some reason it never occurred to me that they (and the males) drink nectar, too.

As I said, we only walked for about 90 minutes and then headed back home because it was already getting too warm outside. It got up to 102 today.

Photo Tour #1 with the Naturalist Class Graduates

I got up around 6:00 am and was out the door a little after 7:00 to go to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve.  I’m leading a photography walk with some of my naturalist class graduates today. From the Nona Way house, it takes about 45 minutes to get there. From the Hollygrove house today, it still took 45 minutes because Friday morning traffic on Watt was horrible.  It took me 10 minutes just to get through one intersection. Yikes!

The weather was beyond gorgeous today: sunny, breezy and in the low 70’s. Lissa remarked that it could stay like this for the rest of the year if it wanted too. That wouldn’t make for much plant and animal diversity, but sure would be nice for us humans. Hah!

When I got to the preserve, three of the graduates were there and two more joined us later so that was nice.  There was a lot to see out there today, but we needed to finish by noon, so we didn’t get very far through the preserve.  Even with the abbreviated route, we saw lots of wildflowers, deer, insects, birds and even some raccoon tracks in the mud around a small pond.

While we walked, I showed the group how change the lighting to get better shots, how to use a macro lens to focus on the small stuff – and how to get the automatic cameras to focus on what YOU want it to focus on, and how to frame the subject(s) in a photo BEFORE you take it so you don’t have to crop it so much afterwards.  The stars of the day, as far as subject matter goes, were the insects. We found some really unusual-looking guys including a species of long-horned beetle, a pink and white moth, and a semi-iridescent beetle we couldn’t readily identify. Because there are literally millions of insects, getting a proper ID is a daunting task even for the experts.

We also got to watch a pair of Black Phoebes bring insects to their nest full of fledglings. Mom and dad took turns flying back and forth to feed the kids. I saw one of the parents m with a large hoverfly, and another one with a large bright green worm. Those kids get fed well!  Because we were standing near the where the next was, the parents would stop and sit for a little while before transporting the food directly to the kids. This gave us the opportunity to gets some good close-ups and still shots of them.  We could also see the babies in the nest – almost fully fledged already, they looked too big to still be hand-fed by their folks. This particular pair of Phoebes have been nesting under the eaves of the nature center at the preserve for years. They come back season after season.  Their nests are mud cups filled with grasses and other soft plant fibers.

We found the Red-Shouldered Hawk’s nest on the Pond Trail. We could hear mama calling from the nest but couldn’t get an angle on the structure that allowed us to see her. she must be sitting eggs at the moment.  And we found several tree cavity nests of wrens, Starlings, and Acorn Woodpeckers (some of them in or near the same tree).

We also got to see some Ash-throated Flycatchers. Besides being pretty birds, these guys are kind of special because they don’t drink water. They get what fluid they need from the stuff they eat.

Among the deer we saw, I believe one of them was very pregnant and may have been experiencing some early contractions. She’d walk along and life her tail like she wanted to defecate, but nothing came out.  Might be seeing some fawns in the next month or so!

On our way out of the preserve, one of the graduates and I loitered around the small pond again and tried to get photos of the Bullfrog tadpoles and crawfish under the water.  Getting the camera to focus past the surface of the water is always an interesting trial… and I can never really tell if I got the shots I want until after I get the photos home and download them, so I can see them better.

We finished up our walk around noon. #CalNat

A Partially Blind Deer at the Preserve, 04-12-18

I had to get another nature fix today before finishing off all of the packing and taking stuff to the thrift store for them to recycle, so I went over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, just open to whatever Nature wanted to show me today.

In front of the nature center building, the native plants garden was in full bloom: redbud, bush lupine, seep monkey flowers, California poppies, Buckbrush. Very pretty. And the air was filled with birdsong: sparrows, hawks, woodpeckers, wrens, nuthatches, finches… and the gobble of Wild Turkeys. Such a nice springtime morning! I really needed that.

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

The mule deer were out and about, and the bucks are already sprouting their new set of antlers. Some of them just had little nubbins, but on others you could already see the velvet growing. One of the deer I saw was blind on one side, but that didn’t seem to hamper its ability to get around.

I was alerted by the soft cries of a female American Kestrel to her perch on a high branch of tree, and realized she was calling to her mate. The little male flew up to her, they mated for a while, and then both sat for a bit. The male then kept flying back and forth between the tree where the female was and another tree nearby. I don’t know if it wanted the female to follow it or if he’d found a good nesting for her and wanted her to check it out, but she wasn’t budging. She kept “whining”, like a baby bird asking for food. It’s not unusual for a male to offer food to a female during the courting season. While I was watching and photographing the kestrels, some of the Wild Turkeys decided to take that moment to fly down from their night roosts in the trees to the ground… and several of them whizzed right by me. I don’t get to see the turkeys in flight very often, so that was neat to see – even though I was worried that some of them might crash right into me. They’re big birds!

I was surprised by the number of wildflowers throughout the preserve. I’ve never seen so many there. There was one shallow field that was filled with miniature lupine. I waited for the deer to find it so I could get some photos of them grazing there: all that pretty dark blue around them…

The Red-Shouldered Hawks that usually have a nest right next to the nature center have seemingly opted out of that one for this year. They’d been using that one for several years straight, and it might be overrun with mites and crud right now. I had seen them during the fall working on another nest near the water-post 4B on the Pond Trail, so I checked over there, and sure enough, a mama was occupying that nest.

Unlike the nest near the nature center, however, the one on the Pond Trail is very hard to see. I only saw the very top of the mama’s head poking up above the rim of the nest and could hear her screeching to her mate… When they occupied the nest near the nature center, you could get a good view of it and see a good deal of the mom and babies. Their current nest is going to make that kind of viewing almost impossible. Still, I’m glad they’re there.

I also came across a pair of young Cooper’s Hawks. I don’t know if they were courting or what, but they seemed to stick close to one another.

Further along the trail, I found the nesting cavity of a pair of Oak Titmice and a House Wren. The wren was still adding nesting materials to the inside of the cavity, so I got some photos of it with twigs in its beak.

I saw a lot of Fox Squirrels (Tree Squirrels) running around and stuffing their faces with food, but didn’t see much of the California Ground Squirrels today. There were Western Fence Lizards (Blue Bellies) all over the place doing their push-ups, but it seemed like every time I was able to focus the camera on them to get some footages of their exercises, they stopped moving. Hah!

I DID catch a glimpse of a coyote, though, a skinny female who – by the look of her teaties may have recently given birth. I saw her head moving through the tall grass, and trained my camera on a spot where I thought she might emerge and take to the trail in front of me. She did! And I was able to get a little video snippet of her before she caught sight of me and disappeared again. I had a similar experience with a Black-Tailed Jackrabbit: he came running through the grass, saw me, and then high-tailed it back the way he’d come. Hah-2!

The only disturbance while I was out on the preserve was the sound of screaming children. Apparently, the nature center was holding some events there and there were groups of kids all around it – some of them brandishing Native American weapons as part of a learning exercise. (Yikes!) After encountering one group of the kids, I left the preserve. They were scaring off all the wildlife – and me.

Butterflies, Wrens and Some Leucistic Wild Turkeys, 03-18-18

I went to the American River Park, and I was having some trepidation about that, since the last time I went there my window got smashed.  But I wanted to check on the Great Horned Owl I’d seen there, and I wanted to see if the manroot vines and pipevines were out in force yet.  It was a cold 36º outside I had to wait for the frost on my car to melt before I could head out. It was bright all day but with that kind of high overcast that makes everything look “glary”.

The very first thing I saw when I got into the park was the mama Great Horned Owl sitting on her nest – and white-fluff owlet sitting up against her belly! The nest is pretty high up, and there are only a few places where you can get any kind of an unobstructed view of it, so my photos aren’t very good (in fact, some are crappy).  The baby kept lying down and moving around; and because he’s so short, it’s hard to see him over the rim of the nest.  There might have been 2 babies in the nest, which is typical for this species of owl, but I can’t be certain.  One, for sure, though.  I got a (crappy) video snippet of the mom ripping stuff off some dead thing in the nest and feeding it to the baby, and some still shots of the mom with a bit of fluff sitting next to her. In a few of the photos you can just make out the owlet’s eye…

As the sun came up further in the sky, you could see steam rising from the cold forest floor… kind of spooky-looking.  As it got brighter, all the birds starting singing from everywhere: wrens, woodpeckers, hawks, mourning doves… everyone adding their sound to the jazz ensemble…  It was the day for House Wrens, that’s for sure. They were all over the place, singing and buzzing away.  Those tiny birds sure make a lot of LOUD noise. There were also a lot of Tree Swallows around, too. I think they were vying for who got what tree, and it seemed like a lot of aerial fights were taking place.

The Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies are finally waking up along the river.  Some were flitting around, some were sitting in the grass waiting to warm up, and a few of them looked like they’d just emerged from their chrysalises.  Their wings weren’t fully straightened out yet… At one point, I was mobbed by three of them. Two landed on the front of my coat and one, I was informed by a passerby, landed on the back of my coat. I think they liked that it was both green and warm.  I got the two in front to climb down onto my hand so I could get photos of them. I don’t know what happened to the guy riding in the back. Hah!

Among the Wild Turkeys I saw today, with all the males strutting around, I saw two leucistic ones.  Not true albinos, they still lack most of their pigment, and come out black and white.   I also saw Western Bluebirds, Scrub Jays, Gold Finches, some Audubon’s Warblers, a Dark-Eyed Junco, a Nutthall’s Woodpecker, Acorn Woodpeckers, and Northern Flickers. Oh, and I got a photo of a Brown Creeper today. I think it’s the first decent photo I ever got of one, so that was a plus.

CLICK HERE for an album of photos.

At another point along the trail, I came across an Anna’s Hummingbird. She was flying among a stand of dead star thistle, pulling the fluff off of the old flowering heads. She then flew waaaaay up into a tree to my left, and pushed the fluff into a tiny nest she was building. It was so far up, I couldn’t get a photos of it. But for the next few minutes I watched her return two more times to the thistle to grab fluff. Then she flew into the branches of a tree over my head, and starting plucking off bits of spider webs and lichen. With one mouthful of spider web, she also got a tiny spider and didn’t seem to quite know what to do with it. She couldn’t eat it because then she’d have to eat the web from which it was trailing. Eventually, she just flew off with the spider in tow. Hah!

Along the river I spotted some Snowy Egrets, a pair of Belted Kingfishers, a Spotted Sandpiper (who didn’t have his spots yet), several Goldeneye ducks, Common Mergansers, Mallards, and some Double-Crested Cormorants (one had crests, the other didn’t).

I also saw a few mule deer, two sitting in the grass and one standing up. Seems like all of the deer are across the river at the Effie Yeaw preserve these days. I hardly see any of them at the River Bend Park anymore.

The manroot vines were in full blossom, and the pipevine vines are starting to branch out. The redbud trees are also starting to open their blossoms; in another week or so they should be spectacular.

I walked for about 4 ½ hours, which is really too long for me. By the time I left the park it was 58º.

At the West Pond in Davis, 03-07-18

Gene Trapp and his wife Jo Ellen headed up one of their monthly walks at the West Davis Pond site this morning. He thought it might be good spot to bring the naturalist class, but I wanted to check it out first. (I also thought that after a few visits, I can add this to my own walk list here on this site.) It can be found in the city of Davis, California, off of Covell and Denali, where Isle Royale Land and Bryce Lane merge together. Look for the large white gazebo-like structure and park on the street.  (There are no restrooms along the path, but you can find a public restroom in the medical facility across the street from the short end of the trail.) You can see more information at Friends of West Pond on Facebook.

I had never been to the pond before, but was pleased at it was so easy to  locate – with a paved trail that was super easy to walk. Our group was unusually large, though (about 27 people) so that was a lot of bodies moving along a tight walkway all at once. I’d take smaller groups if I go with the naturalist students.

CLICK HERE for an album of photos.

Because it was chilly and overcast outside, we didn’t see much of anything.  I can tell by looking at the area, however, that in another month or so, when things start to green up and the critters all go into mating mode, it should be a very interesting, very pretty place. Lots of trees (including some gorgeous Cork Oaks, Quercus suber) and pretty shrubbery along the route (including some lovely quince bushes). Most of the stuff is non-native, of course, but Gene and Jo Ellen oversee the construction and maintenance of a large native-plant garden along the path as well as a large butterfly garden. They hold a lot of promise for future photo-taking / naturalist opportunities.

I did see some wildlife: Canada Geese, Mallards, Crows, Black Phoebes, Wood Ducks, Scrub Jays, Mockingbirds, lots of Anna’s Hummingbirds and Fox Squirrels, White-Crowned Sparrows, Golden-Crowned Sparrows, a couple of Spotted Towhees, House Finches, and a very red, very wet Purple Finch… things you’d typically see in an urban wildlife area. The not-too-seeable critters included Nutthall’s Woodpeckers, a Hairy Woodpecker and a Red-Breasted Sap Sucker that teased us with their presence, but made photo-taking difficult because they kept flitting around.

When someone mentioned that are sometimes Wilson’s Snipes along the edges of the ponds, a newbie birder who had brought her Sibley’s guide with her tried to look it up. Oddly, there were no Wilson’s Snipes mentioned in her guide even though they’re fairly common in this area. So I opened up the Merlin app on my phone and showed her a picture of it. That app is one of the easiest birding apps to use, and it’s free!

Gene and Jo Ellen were fun to walk with; they have so much knowledge and so many area contacts. Someone found a skull on the side of the path and Gene identified it as a raccoon skull. Very cool.

The walk was a good one, very informative, and I look forward to visiting the pond again.

Testing Out My New Camera, 07-08-17

Around 5:30 this morning, I headed out to the William Land Park to try to get a walk in before it got too warm outside… but it was almost too late to avoid the heat. When I got into the car the outside temperature was already at 77º! There was also a little bit of an overcast, so it was humid, too. (It’s supposed to get up to 106º today. Climate Change sucks the big one.)

I’d gotten a new camera (a Nikon one that’s about half the price of my beloved-and-now-deceased Fujifilm camera) and I was anxious to check it out. All of the buttons are in different places than they were on my Fujifilm but the functionality is about the same. The focal depth for macro (super close up) shots is a little better on the Nikon than it was on my other camera, so I’m actually able to get in closer than I could before, but I need to work on just HOW close “closer” can be. [Some of the close-ups turned out awesome; some were fuzzy because I was “too close”.]

I also have to learn all over again, how to get the camera to focus on what I WANT it to focus on (and not on what the camera wants to focus on itself.)

The WPA Rock Garden at the park is a good place to work on stuff like that, because it offers a wide range of close up and distant photo opportunities.

You can see the album of photos here:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/mkhnaturalist/albums/72157683856518290 

I got some awesome “bug” photos of a Yellow-Faced Bumblebee, Praying Mantis, a Longhorn Bee sleeping on the face of a sunflower, and a Wolf Spider whose eggs were hatching (and the hatched-out little spiderlings were clinging to mama’s butt.) I also came across a large Bold Jumping Spider, and wanted to see if I could get a photo of its iridescent blue-green fangs – and I did, but the focus wasn’t right, so I ended up with the petals of the flower in focus, and the spider in a soft blur on top of them. Gotta work on that.

The telephoto capability of the Nikon is slightly better than my old Fujifilm camera, too. (It’s a 60x, and the Fujifilm was a 50x.) The Nikon is a little “sluggish”, though, in moving the lens to the correct position, so if the subject isn’t sitting still, the camera has trouble tracking it and adjusting the focus. Practice will help me figure that out, though, I think. I tried “chasing” several hummingbirds around… That was humorous. Blurry fuzzballs everywhere.

There was a young Anna’s Hummingbird that was testing out its wings and trying to drink water from the leaves in the garden (which must’ve been watered overnight; the paths were totally muddy). When it sat down on a branch, I was able to get some pretty good shots of it (at about 20 feet away), along with a video snippet of it preening itself. I didn’t know how to set the speed for the video capture, though, so it came out in slow-motion. I’ll have to read up more on that…

I checked out the garden’s milkweed plants – they have Narrowleaf and Showy Milkweed growing in there – but didn’t see any signs of Monarch eggs or caterpillars. Maybe in another week or so…

I also came across some Wood Ducks with babies, a gaggle of Canada Geese that included some fledglings who were half-in and half-out of their baby fuzz, and a Green Heron that was fishing along the edge of the small pond. The heron wasn’t using lures, but it was using a great “stealth” technique (getting down almost on its belly along the edge of the pond to sneak up on tiny fish). It was pretty successful; caught at least three fish and a tadpole while I was watching it… And, of course, there were the ubiquitous Black Phoebes everywhere, and an American Robin with a beak full of bugs for her babies…

I’m so glad to have a camera again!

I walked for about 2 hours and then headed home.