Tag Archives: Ring-Necked Pheasants

It was Hit and Miss at the Refuges on Saturday

I was going to sleep in today, but the dogs got me up a little before 5:00 am, and then I couldn’t get back to sleep. So, I just got up and headed over to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge for the day.

When I drove into the refuge I saw a Turkey Vulture sitting on the edge of the sign at the mouth of the auto-tour. It let me walk up pretty close to get photos of it before it flew away. I think those are the coolest birds… I heard some Bitterns “pumper-lunking” but only saw a few in flight, and didn’t get any photos. The bullfrogs were doing their ninja thing, too: I could hear their deep cello-calls, but couldn’t see or photograph any of them…

Click here for the full album of photos and videos.

I did get some good photos of Clark’s Grebes and a few other birds, though.

There was a male Great Tailed Grackle in the tules around the permanent wetlands that was performing for the females. He went through a variety of different calls including its high-pitched “peep”, deep-throated “clap!” and loud echoing “yeeeeeeeeeeeeeep!” I got some video of him, but was interrupted a few times by other drivers along the trail who crept or rushed past my car. One lady parked right next to my car and yelled through the open window, “Did you see the owl?!” Uh, yes… but I’m trying to film a grackle right now… Guh!

I also came across a family group of otters, a mom and dad and two babies. They were one of the permanent ponds but moved so quickly, it was really difficult to get any clear shots of them. I did manage to get a little bit of video, though… until dad saw me, snorted loudly and turned his family around.

When I was done at the Sacramento refuge, I headed over to the Colusa one. I hadn’t been there in quite a while because they took the brunt of the flooding earlier in the year, and were closed to the public for months. It was kind of a waste to go there today, though, because now they’ve drained off a lot of the water (so the surrounding rice fields can have it), and most of it is just a big dirt hole with flowers growing here and there.

One pond was filled with dead carp – stinking bodies everywhere – and others that were slowly dying as the pond evaporates. The carp come up with the flood waters, and when the flood recedes, they get caught in-land and can’t get out. I was surprised that the refuge allows them to suffer slow deaths like that; surely there must be some way to collect them and relocate them.

Where there were spots in the refuge that still had water in them, the water was shallow, and the banks were overrun with water primrose… One interesting thing, though, was that in some of the waterless ponds there were crayfish chimneys, structures the crayfish make by piling up little balls of mud. The bottom of the chimney opens into water (when there is water), and the top opens to the air. They use them to hide in when they’re breeding and getting ready to lay their eggs…

My visit to the Colusa refuge was also kind of ruined because there was a biplane from one of the neighboring rice fields flying around. He’d circle over the refuge, fly down really low, and dump seeds and pesticides on the fields next door. The noise was horrible… You can’t “relax and enjoy nature” when there’s some guy buzz-bombing the place every few minutes. It was ugly… I won’t need to go back there at all for the rest of the year…

A Couple of Surprises

I went out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge again for a drive.  I got there around 8:30 am. It was sunny and cool (around 68º) with big sofa clouds everywhere…

There were a lot of the usual suspects out there: jackrabbits, Coots, blackbirds, wrens, etc. Among the jackrabbits, I saw one that kept “pedaling” with is front paws. I think it got a burr or something in its foot and was trying to shake it out. It also chewed on its foot a little bit. Poor little thing…

CLICK HERE to see the entire album.  I’ll be adding a few more videos later.

I came across a juvenile Great Blue Heron who was fishing in a shallow pond.  As I watched it, it caught and ate a little fish and three big crayfish.  One of the crayfish pinched the bird’s face and tongue with its claws, and the heron shook its head, flipping the crayfish across the pond. The heron chased the crayfish down, stabbed it, crushed it in its beak and ate it.  Major repercussions… As the young heron was fishing, and doing really well, an adult Great Blue Heron further away wasn’t fairing so well.  And then a Great Egret, seeing how well the youngster was doing, sidled up next to it to try to steal its fishing spot, but the juvenile heron just stared it down until it walked away.  Hah!

I later saw the heron catch a crayfish, and fly off with it… and later also saw an American Coot catch and eat one. I know the Coots aren’t strictly vegetarians, but it still always surprises me when I see them eating meat.

Two other “oddities” I saw today included an Eared Grebe in its breeding plumage and a Tundra Swan. I see Eared Grebes when they’re not breeding a lot, but this was only the second time I saw one in its breeding plumage. It was pretty far away so I didn’t get a detailed photo of it, but it was cool to see it.  The swan was a big surprise. I’d never seen one at the refuge before…

I drove around for about 4 hours and went back home.

A Lovely Saturday at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

Lots to share today…  I got up around 5:45 this morning and headed out with the dog to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. It was actually overcast when I left the house, nice and cool.  The temperatures stayed pleasant throughout the day: around 80° with a cool breeze by the late afternoon.

I was taking a chance that the extended loop at the refuge would still be open for the Labor Day weekend, and my gamble paid off.  (I think they’re actually closing the loop on September 10th.) I wasn’t looking for anything in particular; just looking around to see what Nature wanted to show me today.  That kind of outing is always really relaxing for me.  When you’re not expecting anything, then anything can be a surprise.

CLICK HERE to see the full album of photos from today.

The first critter we saw was a Turkey Vulture sitting in a eucalyptus tree near the parking lot, just casing the joint and relaxing in the shade.  Then there was a series of jackrabbits (and Cottontails, but they moved to fast for me to get any photos of them). I also came across some mule deer, including a fawn that was separated from its mom. (I think she was foraging along the side of a nearby slough.) It’s not unusual for the youngsters to be left alone for short periods of time, so I wasn’t worried about the little guy.

At one point along the auto-tour route, I came across a pair of young female Ring-Neck Pheasants foraging in the dried grass along the edge of the road.  I parked the car and watched them for a little while. One of the pair was pretty skittish, but the other one didn’t seem to mind that I was there – as long as I didn’t move. Toward the end of the route, I also came across a more adult female pheasant and got a tiny bit of video of her. The males are more elaborate-looking, but I love the patterns on the feathers of the females. It looks like each one was paint individually…

CLICK HERE for a video of the young pheasants foraging.

CLICK HERE for a video of the mature female pheasant. You can hear in this one how much the wind had picked up.

There were  a lot of Clark’s and Western Grebes on the water in the permanent wetlands area, most of them trying to feed their voracious children.  You could hear the kids “yelling” for food all along that part of the route: high-pitching whining cries that got louder whenever their parents came up from a dive with a bug or small fish for the kids to eat.  I got several video snippets of that. Some of the parents were more successful at finding a meal for the kids than others.  I watched one Western Grebe that came up with a bug or a fish every time it dove down for something; and I watched another parent that came up empty-handed every time. The kids were all able to recognize their own parent, too, so the ones that weren’t getting fed by their parents never went after the adults who came up with fish every time.

I also watched while one “teenager” preened while it waited for its parent to bring it food.  I’m always fascinated by the way the grebes’ legs and feet are  attached to its body.  The legs don’t sit underneath in the center of the bird’s like they do in most bird species; instead, they’re positioned near the back of the bird’s body which makes them great swimmers, but rather clumsy on land. They also have lobed (not webbed feet) and often lift their feet out of the water to shake them off… or even lift the whole leg out of the water and bend it over their back to tuck the foot in under the wing (called “foot-shipping”). It looks really goofy when they do this.  I have a little bit of video of this so you can see what I mean.

CLICK HERE for a video of the “foot shipping” juvenile Grebe.

CLICK HERE for a video of a juvenile Clark’s Grebe getting fed by its parent.  turn the sound up and you’ll hear the high-pitched call from the juvenile.

CLICK HERE for a video of a juvenile who got separated from its parent and then had to rush to get its meal. In the background of this video you can hear the harsh calls of a flock of Common Terns that were circling and swooping overhead.

 

There were lots of American White Pelicans out today, some just napping, some preening, some fishing in large groups.  Alongside them were Double-Crested Cormorants. When the temperature started to rise, the cormorants would gape and make their throats waggle (gular fluttering) to cool off a bit. I also saw (and got a little video of) some of the juveniles sparring with one another: opening their hooks beaks and rattling them against one another’s while their grunted.  There was also one of the cormorants that picked up feathers and carried them over to other cormorants in the flock. I saw him do this with a scraggly black feather and white gull feather… But I haven’t been able to find anything that describes this behavior or why the cormorant was doing it.  It was a juvenile, so I don’t think it was any kind of “courting” behavior… and I didn’t see it eat the feathers (like the grebes do sometimes to aid in their digestion), so I was stumped.  Fascinated, but stumped.  I wish I had more time to just sit out in nature and view/video more of the behavior stuff… I find it all so interesting.

CLICK HERE for a video o the pelicans feeding.

CLICK HERE for the video of the sparring juveniles. Turn the sound up to hear the sounds the birds are making.  You can also see some Gadwalls in this clip.

CLICK HERE for a video of the cormorants doing their “gular fluttering” thing.

Among the other birds, we got so see Great Egrets, a lone Red-Tailed Hawk, Ring-Billed Gulls, Pied-Billed Grebes, a few Ruddy Ducks, a female Ring-Necked Duck, a Greater Yellowlegs, and a pair of White-Faced Ibis feeding in the shallows alongside the road. The sun was behind them, though, so I didn’t get very good shots of them.

I also got photos of a few different dragonfly species and other “incidental” stuff like wasps and bindweed… whatever looked interesting at the moment.

The best “find” of the day for me was coming across a small group of river otters.  They’d found a cache of fish (and bullfrogs, I think) near the shore and were chowing down.  I got a little video of them crunching away at their catch. It’s so hard to get clear photos of the otters when they’re in the water because they move so swiftly; and then they’ll disappear under the surface and pop up again somewhere else… I never know where to point the camera.  Hah!

CLICK HERE for a video of the otters eating.

CLICK HERE for a video of the otters swimming.

The dog and I headed back home around noon and got to the house a little after 2:00 pm.

Day 2 of a 2-Day Excursion, 07-16-16

Up at 5:00 am.  I know, it’s my day off, but I wanted to get everything packed in the car, get some gasoline, and head out to the refuge again as soon as I could to take advantage of the cool morning air.  (It was about 67° when I got there, and was up to 82° before I left around noon.)  Early-early morning is really the best time to see cool stuff at the refuge… CLICK HERE to see the entire album.

I saw lots of jackrabbits and a skunk (who moved too fast for me to get any photos of), and flocks of White-Faced Ibis flying overhead (again, too fast for me and my camera).  There was one spot, deep in the tules, where I could see Ibis, Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets all gathering and flying in and out… I knew there was a shallow pool there, and I suspected they were all having breakfast.  I lifted my camera up out of the window, and tried to shoot over the tools and thistles.  Still photos weren’t turning out well at all, so I tried shooting a little bit of video.  That turned out a little bit better (although it’s still pretty crummy because the angle and all of the vegetation interference), and you can see one of the Snowy Egrets raising its crown feathers at another one in it.  Here is the snippet.

On “Pelican Island” out in the middle of the wetland area, there were quite a few American White Pelicans, Double-Crested Cormorants, some Black-Necked Stilts and sleepy American Avocets among the seagulls.  Later the pelicans and cormorants left the island to go fishing and I got some photos and video of that.  The pelicans often work together swirling the water so they can catch fish. Today, it seemed like the cormorants showed the pelicans where the fish were, and then as the pelicans worked to swirls up the fish, the cormorants get into the middle of everything and chowed down, too.  I love watching the pelicans when they’re feeding in a group; it’s almost like a choreographed water ballet.  Video of Pelicans fishing.

I also saw Ring-Necked Pheasants, Great Blue Herons, Yellow-Headed Blackbirds (females and juveniles), lots of female Red-Winged Blackbirds, a Turkey Vulture,  pair of female Great-Winged Grackles feeding by the rocks, tons of Coots, some Pied-Billed Grebes, and a group of immature Tree Swallows.  They had all gathered at an old gnarled tree and were eating bugs out of a cavity at the end of one of its stubby branches.  Video of Tree Swallows.

I also spotted several river otters on the road ahead of me, but when I got to the place where they’re entered the water, I couldn’t see them anymore.  Dang it!  Those little guys move fast!  And I got just a couple of photos through the windshield of my first Ribbon Snake (Thamnophis proximus), a kind of long slender garter snake.  It was warming up on the road next to a pool, but when it saw the car coming it slipped into the water and vanished from sight.

Again, there were loads of Variegated Meadowhawks and blue damselflies.  I tried to get some photos showing how many there were, but the pictures don’t really do their numbers justice because the camera can only focus on one small area at a time.  I got a little bit of video of the damselflies, but still… imagine those multiplied a thousand fold and you get some idea of how many there were out there. I also saw some Black Saddlebag dragonflies, blue Pondhawks, and Widow Skimmers.  I’m still trying to get some decent shots of Green Darner and Giant Darners, but they’re few and far between… Oh, I also got a very brief video of a pair of Variegated Meadowhawks as the male flew the female over the top of the water. He’d “tap” her against the water’s surface and with each tap, she’d lay some eggs…  Video of egg-tapping.

And, of course, there were the “cities” of orb-weaver spiders among the tules on the side of the road, Common Buckeye butterflies, Sulphurs, Painted Ladies, some Hairstreaks, and a couple of Monarchs along with a variety of skippers.  I also came across a nest of Paper Wasps in a weird place. By the viewing platform (at the halfway point on the auto tour) there’s a gate that keeps visitors out of the area where one of the photo-blinds are, and in the open top of the fence post was the nest. It looked like they were all busy building new cells (which were all empty right now, as far as I could tell).  The wasps were so focused on what they were doing that they didn’t spook or fly out when I put my camera over the top of the nest to get photos of them.

I got lots of video snippets of the Clark’s Grebes out on the water.  [Please excuse the “shaking” in some of them; I sometimes had to move the car while videoing at the same time.] Some of the females are still sitting on eggs even though their other babies have already hatched, so the dads were doing “taxi service” for the kids a lot of the time.  In one video, the chicks are riding on the back of one of their parents while the other tries to feed them a fish (or flatworm of some kind). The morsel is too big for the babies, though, and they keep dropping it in the water. So the parent retrieves it, “washes it off” and tries again.  Then the fish gets covered with eel grass and crud… and you can almost feel the parent’s frustration with the whole thing.  Here’s that video.

In another snippet, you can see the mother grebe, on her nest, rolling her egg around while dad floats nearby with their chicks on his back.  Cooperative parenting.  [In this video, it looks to me like the dad is actually a Western Grebe, not a Clark’s Grebe like the mother!  The black on his head surrounds his eye – one of the field markings of a Western Grebe.  On the Clark’s Grebe, the eye is surrounded by white, not black.] Here’s that video.

I also have a video snippet of this pair in which the dad first feeds feathers to the babies – [This is normal of the species; the feathers seem to aid in digestion (sort of like the way chickens eat gravel; the gravel sits in the gizzard and grinds up the seeds they eat).] – and then dumps them in the water so he can go fishing. You can then see the babies then try to climb up onto the nest to get warm with their mama. Here’s that video.

Then in another video, I have a snippet of a Clark’s Grebe dad who’d caught a good sized panfish.  Mom came by with the babies on her back, but dad didn’t want to share. The fish was way too big for the kids; I even thought it was way too big for dad to swallow but he somehow managed it, gulping it down whole. Here’s that video.

Further on down toward the end of the auto-tour route, I came across a mother Killdeer.  When she saw the car coming, she dropped to the ground and did her “broken wing” act – which told me she had a nest nearby.  [Killdeer mothers pretend to be injured and roll around on the ground hoping to distract predators from their nests.  When the predator goes after the mom, she flies away at the last second to safety.] But as I looked around, I realized it wasn’t a nest from which she was trying to distract me. She had two new fuzzy hatchlings running along the opposite side of the road!  I’d seen photos of Killdeer chick before, but had never seen one in “real life” before.  They were beyond adorable!  The video I got of them was terrible, because I had to keep moving the camera from one window of the car to another, but I did capture mama’s “wounded” routine.  Here is the video of the Killdeer.

One of the oddest things I encountered all morning was a spot where the water seemed to be “alive” with jumping, plopping creatures.  The critters moved so fast, I couldn’t get any real still shots of them, but I did get a video snippet.  At first I thought they were some time kind of fish, but on closer inspection, I found they were bullfrog tadpoles!  They were getting close to emerging as frogs, and were jumping up to the top of the water to gulp air (as their tadpole gills weren’t functioning at full throttle anymore). Gulping air also helps to make them more buoyant in the water. Super cool! Here is the video of the tadpoles gulping air.

Another neat find was spotting an immature American Bittern in a shallow pond where it was fishing.  I’d actually passed the bird at first, and then caught a glimpse of it in my side-view mirror, so I backed up and watched it for a while.  In order to see it through the tules, I had to open the back passenger side window and hold the camera out behind the front seat on that side of the car.  Holding the camera at such a weird angle strained my shoulder a little bit, but it was worth it, I think.  I got some still shots and a little bit of video of it.  In of the still shots, you can see it’s caught a bullfrog tadpole – and this photo give you some idea of how BIG those tadpoles are. Here is a video of the Bittern.

Oh, I also came across a two different groups of Black-Tailed deer.  The first one was a female with a bum leg traveling with a young male who was in his velvet.  I assumed it was a mother and son pair.  Mom was having difficulty maneuvering; it looked like her left front leg or foot was giving her trouble, and she limped pretty severely.  I couldn’t see her leg or foot, though, because she was traveling in high vegetation.  Eventually, she got tired and just sat down – and all I could see was her ears and part of her head.  I got some still shot, and some video of the male walking through the plants. Here’s that video.

A little further up the road, I came across another female – with two fawns. The babies were just starting to come out of their spots – good sized, but still obviously nursing along with eating their veggies.  They were moving away from me (so I got butt shots of them, mostly), but I could tell what direction they were going in, and knew that the road turned up ahead, so I drove up ahead of them, and got photos of them as they came through the deep vegetation and tules.  They all starting browsing among the cocklebur plants.

Here is a video of mom and the fawns walking away from me.

Here is a video of mom and the fawns walking toward me.

So, although I didn’t get a lot of stuff in the heat of the afternoon on Friday, I got to see loads of interesting stuff this morning.  I left the refuge about noon and got home right around 2:00 pm.  When I got to the house, I unpacked the car, and then the dog and I crashed for the rest of the day.

Vacation Day One: Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

Western Pond Turtle. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Western Pond Turtle. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

Vacation Day One.  I got up around 6:00 am and took off to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge with the dog.  It was supposed to be overcast and wet all day – and it was, but in Willows the rain was mostly a very light “mizzling” rain (heavier than mist but not really a drizzle) that turned itself on and off throughout the day.  I only had to close the car windows once to keep heavier rain out, and even then it was just for a few minutes.  The rest of the time, I was able to keep the windows open.  Because it was cool – around 53° — I also had the floor vents in the car open and the heater on blowing warm air onto my tootsies.  The cool thing about photographing when it’s overcast is that you don’t have to deal with glare and deep shadows, and that puts everything on the same “scale”.

The wildflowers were starting to winnow away at the preserve, and the grasses, vetch, teasel and other thistles, toyon bushes and other plants – like Hemlock – are starting to build up and bloom… in some places I had Killdeer running alongside the car on the gravel auto-tour road.  They make nests out of the gravel and their eggs look just like little stones.  I worry that some of them are building nests on the road, and they’ll get squished by the cars.  I guess it comes down to “survival of the smartest”; the birds “stupid” enough to build nests in the probably won’t generate many (if any) offspring… There were Jackrabbits in abundance, too.  In one place there were five of them all running and hopping around together.  Since jack’s are generally solitary animals, I assumed the group was a mom and her nearly-grown offspring… Meadowlarks, Marsh Wrens and blackbirds were singing from everywhere.  I got a little video snippet of the Meadowlark song… Among the blackbirds, I also saw my first Yellow-Headed Blackbird – a female who was hunkered down in the tules trying to keep warm… It was such a shock to see her among all the Red-Winged Blackbirds that at first I didn’t know what to make of her…  And I think I spotted by first Loons, too, but they were so far away the photos aren’t all that good.  I think they were whether young Common Loons or Pacific Loons.  They had brown heads…

Saw a couple of Red-Tailed Hawks, and several American Bitterns, including one walking through the tall grass toward the tules, and I heard several other Bitterns give out their “pumper-lunk” calls from amid the overgrowth.  I don’t remember ever seeing (or hearing) this many of them before. I wonder of “climate change” has dumped them all into this area this year… Came across a Striped Skunk running through the grass alongside the road.  He came out of nowhere and was moving so fast I hardly had a chance to get my camera on him and ended up with a bunch of blurry photos.  Sigh.  I need to be “faster than Nature” to get good shots sometimes… And there were Ring-Necked Pheasants everywhere.

I also saw Double-Crested Cormorants, a few Snow Geese, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Herons, several Kingbirds (Cassin’s, I think, rather than Western, because the head was kind of a dark charcoal gray), loads of American Coots (of course; they’re kind of ubiquitous), several Western Pond Turtles, Cinnamon Teals, a Purple Finch (They are actually red, not purple.), a few Mourning Doves, House Sparrows, some Long-Billed Dowitchers, Greater Yellowlegs, Mule Deer, Clark’s and Western Grebes,  some Green-Winged Teals, Turkey Vultures, and a few Northern Harriers.  So, even though the weather wasn’t the best, there were a lot of things to see and photograph.   I think I ended up with something like 550 photos!

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By the time I was done in the refuge, it was already around 2:30 pm and I wasn’t looking forward to the 2 hour drive back to Sacramento, so I drove in to Williams and the dog and I did an overnight at the Ramada Inn there.  We shared a Subway sandwich and then hit the hay.

A Good Day to View Nature, 03-25-16

Jackrabbit. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Jackrabbit. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

Even though I had the day off, I got up at 5:00 am anyway, and was out the door with the dog before 6:00 to head out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  I thought if I went in earlier I might be able to see some fly-ins, or spot coyotes or other crepuscular critters… and I figured I’d avoid the early morning work traffic.

When I got to the refuge, the  sun was just coming up and the moon was just going down.  Made for some interesting light for a while.  There were lots of wildflowers all over the refuge –mostly the yellow and orange waves right now: fiddleneck, wild mustard, goldfields…  So pretty.  There were a lot of jackrabbits around, zig-zagging through the grass; and I was surprised by how many pheasants I was able to see.  They must’ve known that part of the complex was off-limits to hunters.  Hah!  The extra mile loop at the refuge was open, though, so I drove through there and got some photos of an couple of American Bitterns.  One was hunkered down in some water iris, and another one was walking though the tules.  I saw him start to clap his bill and gulp air, filling up his gullet with it.  I’d never seen that behavior before, so I stopped to watch him (and got a tiny bit of video of it).  He’d gulp in air, and then let it out in with an odd sound that was particularly loud.  ((The video didn’t capture the sound very well.))  It was so odd, I looked it up when I got home and found out that that behavior is associated with territorialism. The sound is called a “pumper-lunk” and has been described as the sound of a “congested pump”.  I don’t know what a congested pump sounds like, but watching the bird make it was a cool sight to see.

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I also saw  mule deer, Canada Geese, White-Faced Ibis, a Snowy Egret, Bufflehead ducks (and lots of other ducks), Cinnamon Teals, lots and lots of Coots, Snow Geese, ground squirrels, a Great Blue Heron, cormorants, Killdeer, Turkey Vultures, Meadowlarks, a Nutthall’s Woodpecker, Northern Shovelers and Great Egrets – their faces all green this time of year (their breeding color).  And then there were the raptors: Northern Harriers, Red-Tailed Hawks, a Red-Shouldered Hawk and a Peregrine Falcon.  And one huge American White Pelican sitting on a small island with Coots and cormorants.

The Red-Winged Blackbirds were all around by the droves, too, all singing at the same time.  In some areas the sound was almost deafening.   And the tules were full of tiny Marsh Wrens singing and displaying around the nests they’d built for the females… Makes me want to go out there every day.  But I gotta work… and I’m getting two weeks off in April.

I drove around for several hours, then headed back to Sacramento.