Tag Archives: Ruddy Ducks

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.

Birds, Deer and Dragonflies at the Refuge, 08-27-16

I got up around 5:30 this morning and headed out with the dog to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. It was in the 50’s when we left the house, and got up to about 81° by the late afternoon; so it was a nice day.  I also had the whole refuge to myself; didn’t see another car or person all the while I was out there which was double-nice.

This is one of the last weekends the refuge will have its extension loop open, so I wanted to make sure to be able to see that.  It was nice to see that the refuge is already pumping water into the seasonal wetland areas (which is kind of unusual for August): the more water there is, the more birds there are to see.  Some of the ducks, especially Pintails, were moving in already.  I also saw a few Widgeons, Ruddy Ducks, and Northern Shovelers.

CLICK HERE for an album of photos from the day.

I saw three sets of mule deer.  One was a male with two females (which may have been his mom and sibling), another set was a mama with her two fawns (that were just growing out of their spots, and the third set was a mama and her yearling. What struck me about these deer was that their coats were a lot lighter than the coats of the deer near the American River. They were almost a bright straw color rather than tan…

There were all sorts of grebes out on the water: Pied-Billed Grebes, Clark’s Grebes and Western Grebes.  The little white fuzzy babies are now fledglings; still paler than their parents but getting big.  I got a video snippet of one parent feeding a fish to its baby, er, teenager…

CLICK HERE for a video of a scruffy-looking juvenile Pied-Billed Grebe.

 CLICK HERE for a video of a Clark’s Grebe feeding its baby a fish.

I saw a family of otters around the permanent wetland area, but they moved so fast, I couldn’t get any decent photos of them. Once I saw them running across the road, and at another spot, they poked their heads out of the water right down from my driver’s side door.  Each time, I pulled my camera up to get photos of them, they whisked away out of sight.  Rrrg! That’s nature photography for you.

Sergeant Margie and I lunched in the car halfway through the auto-tour route by the viewing platform: ham and cheese with crackers.  Then we went on…

At one point along the route, a mother raccoon and her four babies came waddling down the road right toward me.  I didn’t want to startle them, so I put the car in park and watched them through the windshield. Filming and photographing through the windshield sucks, but it was still fun to see them.

CLICK HERE for a video of the raccoons.

There were a lot of American White Pelicans around, flying, swimming, fishing, standing around – including some juveniles with pink bills.  It’s so fun to watch them when they’re fishing together; like synchronized swimming.

CLICK HERE for a video of the Pelicans.

There weren’t as many dragonflies out and about as during previous visits, but I still got photos pf Variegated Meadowhawks, Black Saddlebags, Blue-Eyed Darners, Green Darners, and some Pondhawks.

Juvenile Red-Shouldered Hawk. © 2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.
Juvenile Red-Shouldered Hawk. © 2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.

The best photo I got for the day was of a hawk.  It was one of the last photos of the day; the bird was just sitting in a tree on the side of the road, looking handsome.  It was a nice day.  The drive back to Sacramento was without incident and we made it home a little after 2:00 pm.