Tag Archives: Scrub Jays

A Wednesday Walk at Lake Solano Park, 11-07-18

I got up around 6:00 this morning and headed out to Lake Solano Park for Tuleyome’s scheduled “Wednesday Walk” there. I stopped in Woodland to pick up some stuff for lunch, and then continued on to the park, arriving there just a little bit before 8:00 am.

When I drove into the main gate, I was astonished to see the gates closed and PARK CLOSED signs up. My coworker Nate was across the street in the camping area and came over to my car to let me know that, unbeknownst to him, the park was shut down because they were doing spraying for invasive species. The camping ground side of the park was open though.

I tracked down a ranger and asked him if it was okay for us to park in their overflow lot (which is usually only for 30-minute-parking) because our group couldn’t access the park for our schedule d event. He said that would be okay as long as we still paid the day use fee ($6 per car) and put the day use ticket on our dashboards with “Ranger OKed” written on them. So, we did that, and ended up with about 9 people on the walk.

The trail along Putah Creek on the campground side of Lake Solano isn’t as “manicured” as the one on the park side, and it gets a little gnarly toward the end of it where it abuts private land. We had two older ladies with us who weren’t able to walk long distances, so I stayed pretty much at the back of the group with them, identifying birds for them and showing them things like galls, midges, and other stuff along the way.

About halfway down the trail, the ladies decided they’d better turn back before they got too tired, so once they were gone, I caught up with Nate and the rest of the group. I thought it was funny that throughout the walk, some of the participants kept coming back to me to ask questions rather than deferring to Nate (who knows just about as much as I do about nature areas); I guess I looked “knowledgeable” or something.

One of the folks asked more about our naturalist course, and a couple of other people asked about our trail camera project… so the publicity I’m doing for those in local newspapers is having some effect, and that’s always good to know.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

We walked for about two hours before getting back to our cars. I was kind of disappointed in the wildlife showing there: not a lot was going on. But we did see Acorn Woodpeckers, Northern Flickers, Scrub Jays, a Eurasian Collared Dove, lots of Mallards, Buffleheads and Canada Geese, several Great Blue Herons, some Double-Crested Cormorants, Spotted Towhees, and a few Pied-Billed Grebes. We had wanted to take the group to the park side of the lake, so they’d have a chance to see the Western Screech Owl that often sleeps there, but, no… the spraying was going on.

One odd thing we saw was a small group of Bushtits clinging to the side of the nature center, picking at what I first thought was splotches of dark mold. I couldn’t understand why the little birds were so interested in that. As we got closer, though, we realized that the splotches were not mold but rather clumps of small dark midges (bugs) that had gotten caught in the cobwebs on the building. Smart birds! They had whole buffet of midges to eat!

Nature Walk on a Lovely Day, 09-14-18

I went on a photo walk with my coworker, Nate, and one of Tuleyome’s donors/volunteers, Sami, to Lake Solano Park this morning.

The weather was extraordinarily lovely today. It was in the 50’s at the park and got up to about 75º by the late afternoon. There was slight breeze and the sky was filled with cirrus clouds. Gorgeous.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

Sami is an avid birder – she logged 300 species last year! – and she was able to point out birds to us that we might have otherwise missed. Many of them – including a juvenile Golden Eagle – were on the fly and moving fast so I wasn’t able to get photos of them. But it was still cool to see them.

And Nate is a total nature nerd, like me, so it’s always fun to go out into the field with him. We get excited by things like bugs and fungus and otter scat… so, we enjoyed locating and identifying galls on the trees in the park, hah! We even found a gall I had never seen before. (Or at least didn’t recognize. It turned out to be an early stage of the Round Gall.)

The stand outs for the day for me, though, besides the lovely scenery at the park (which sits right along Putah Creek), were the peahens and their babies, a sleepy Western Screech Owl, a juvenile Great Blue Heron (who startled us by “appearing” on the shore right next to the path we were walking on), and an American White Pelican who was sitting in the middle of the creek, preening, sunning, and doing a little fishing.

We walked for about 3 hours, and then headed our separate ways.

Hawk Babies and More This Morning

Mother and child. Red-Shouldered Hawks. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.
Mother and child. Red-Shouldered Hawks. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.

I have today off from work, but got up around 5:45 am anyway, then headed over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve in Carmichael.  It’s so weird to see the streets totally empty on a Monday morning.  Everyone else must’ve been sleeping in.

As I was driving through the residential area that wraps around on side of the nature preserve, a mama Mule deer and her baby – just out of its spots – walked across the street.  By the time I got my camera out of its bag, they were gone.  I’m just going to have to drive with the camera out all of the time, I guess.  Hah!

In the parking area, some of the male wild turkeys were showing off to the females; and in the native plant garden area, the Yarrow was in full bloom along with lots of Showy Milkweed.  I didn’t see any signs of Monarchs yet around the milkweed, though; maybe in another week or two… I’d recently read about making a tincture of Yarrow to use as a natural insect repellant.  You get fresh yarrow (the whole plant: stems, leaves, buds) and chop it all up, then put it in a bottle or jar and cover it with vodka.  Leave it in a closet for about 3 weeks, and then strain out all of the plant material before transferring the liquid to a spray bottle.  It doesn’t work as long as stuff with DEET in it (only about 30-45 minutes), so you have to keep spraying it on, but at least it won’t poison you…

The blue elderberry was in blossom everywhere and some of the plants already has berries on them.  The wild plum trees were also starting to bear fruit, and the Black Walnut trees were covered in new walnuts…

Usually, the preserve is a good bet for a lot of deer photos, but the deer were keeping to themselves this morning, and I only saw one or two.  The big show, though, was the Red-Shouldered Hawks that had built a nest near the nature center.  While papa screeched from a nearby tree, mama flew in to the nest with a big rat or vole she’d caught.  Then she started walking around the lip of the next and screeching, too… and in flew two of her children.  Almost fully fledged now, they were testing out their wings.  I got some still shots and video of them – all except papa who kept himself hidden among the leaves of his tree.  While I was taking video, another photographer came up and started filming, too… so in the video you can hear me respond to him…  It was hard for us to leave the site and continue on our prospective walks.  I saw more Red-Shouldered Hawks all around the preserve: everyone’s out hunting this morning…

CLICK HERE to see some video of the mother hawk and her kids.

I came across other birds in and around their nests, including a very uncooperative European Starling.  I saw it fly into its tree cavity, and waited and waited for it to poke its head out again so I could get a picture of it…  But the little dickens came out with a large feather in front of its face – doing housekeeping duties, I assume – so all I got was a picture of a feather sticking out of the tree with the Starling’s eye looking over the top of it.  Hah!  I also got a few photos of a mama House Wren trying to move a twig around in her nesting cavity.  It was really too long for the cavity and part of it stuck out through the hole; she kept trying to drag it all the way in and shove it around.  So much exertion for such a tiny bird…

I also saw a Darkling Beetle, lots of Acorn Woodpeckers, Western Fence Lizards, Scrub Jays, a snakefly,  a pair of Mallards sleeping in the long grass, a female Nutthall’s Woodpecker, and three California Towhees bobbing along the path in front of me. A little further along, I also saw a Spotted Towhee.

As I was heading out of the preserve, I came across a group of three people who were looking at a fallen log and pointing to something under it.  As I got closer, I could hear them talking, and one was saying, “That’s telemetered Male Number 37.”  I knew instantly they were talking about a rattlesnake!  I subscribe to blog by Mike Cardwell on the rattlesnake at the preserve (http://www.eyncrattlesnakes.com/), and knew that Number 37 was one they’d just recaptured and put a new transmitter on.  When I got closer, I asked the group if they were part of the rattlesnake study on the preserve, and – yep.  The main guy in the group was none other than Mike Cardwell himself!  I was SUCH a groupie; Oooo, I just LOVE your blog, Mike! He asked me if I wanted to see one of the snakes, and I said sure, so he let me come off the path to where he was and pointed out Number 37 to me.  The snake was looking right at us, but wasn’t making any noise.  Number 36 is a huge male with about 11 rattles on his tail already.  I tried getting some photos of him, but he was a good 15 feet away, under a log and behind the grass, so my photos aren’t the best…  But at least I got to meet Mike AND the nefarious Number 37.  Cool!

And to end my walk with a little more coolness: as I was heading to my car, I could hear bullfrogs burping in the small pond near the little Maidu Indian Village reconstruction, so I stopped there to see if I could see any frogs.  Got photos of three of them.  Coolness.

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I walked for about 2 ½ hours. After that I headed home, stopping first to put gas in the car and run the Sebring through the carwash, and then stopping at BelAir to pick up a bunch of groceries.  When I got home, I unpacked everything and rested for a bit.

Two Gardens in One Sunday

Bear's Breeches. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.
Bear’s Breeches. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.

I got up around 6:00 this morning and headed over to the William Land Park and the WPA Rock Garden.  It was only about 49° outside this morning, and got up to a high around 70°, so it was a lovely day weatherwise.

When I got to the park, the first thing I saw was a group of Mallard fledglings.  I think was the same orphaned group I saw several weeks ago when they were just fuzzy babies.  They were traveling without a mom.  If it was the same group, they’ve developed well.  Their mama must’ve died AFTER she was able to teach them enough to keep them alive.  I’m kind of proud of the little things.  They had a really rough start, but are doing very well… I also came across a couple of pairs of Wood Ducks…  In the rock garden, I saw a lot of beautiful flowers, but no really neat bugs – although an Assassin Bug nymph did land on my arm and walk around for a while.  Hah!  I wanted to go over to the larger pond in the park, but that whole section was closed off for some kind of special event. Grrrr.

I still wanted to do some more walking, so I went over to the Sacramento Old City Cemetery.  When I got there I was all set to park across the street in the big parking lot there but… the parking lot was blocked off because they were repaving it.  Grrrr-2.  So I drove around the block and parked inside the cemetery near the front gate. (You’re not really supposed to, but… the parking lot was inaccessible).  The gardens there are starting to fade already but I still managed to get quite a few photos.  The cemetery seemed full of Mockingbirds this morning; they were singing from everywhere, many standing on the headstones to show off for the girls. I was also surprised to see a young Red-Shouldered Hawk fly in and land on one of the pine trees there.  He didn’t stay long, though, because a pair of Scrub Jays kept harassing him.  Apparently, that was THEIR tree and they didn’t want the hawk loitering around there.  What was funny was: just before the hawk took off, he pooped on the tree.  Take THAT, Scrub Jays.  Hahahahaha!  As I was leaving the cemetery, I saw a male Western Bluebird land on the fingertips of one of the “monumental” size statues…

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I walked around for about 2 hours and then headed out.  I stopped first at Raley’s to get a few things for lunch before going home.

Sunday at the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve

Vacation Day 9.  I got up at about 7:00 am and was out the door by 7:15.  I had planned to go up to Redding today and visit with Mike and Sharyi, but I was feeling too tired to do that, so I stayed close to home instead.  (Marty and I are now planning to visit with Mike and Sharyi the day after Thanksgiving.)  I went over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve.  It was overcast for most of the time I was out there, which kept the temperatures down in the 60’s.

I wasn’t looking for anything in particular; just walking along doing my “naturalist” thing. Two guys with fancy photo equipment passed me on the trail at one point toward the end of my walk complaining to one another that there “wasn’t anything to see out there this morning”.  What?!  Then they’re either blind or they don’t know how to look for anything. 

I saw Black Phoebes, Mule Deer, a coyote, Acorn Woodpeckers, Wild Turkeys, Scrub Jays, a couple of Red-Shouldered Hawks, Northern Flickers, an American Kestrel, some Sulphur Shelf Fungus, black Harvester Ants, a tiny Sandpiper, some ground squirrels, a big Argiope spider, a river otter, a Great Blue Heron, several Great Egrets, a Green Heron, and a pair of Belted Kingfishers that were chasing each other back and forth across the river.  They moved so fast, I couldn’t get a single decent shot of them (although I did get one dark and very distant shot of the male when he stopped on a rock to rest for a few seconds).  Sheesh!  Where were those camera guys looking?!

As soon as I went into the preserve I saw the turkeys and a gathering of Mule Deer.  Then as I was walking past the area where the deer were resting, I heard a squirrel give off its “chuffing” alarm call, so I looked back to see what it was complaining about.  There was a coyote there, right behind a tall stand of grass near the deer.  The coyote looked pretty ragged, like it was mangy or had been in a fight.  Parts of its fur were missing and its coat was really dull.  It didn’t look like one from the healthy pack I usually see at the preserve.  The deer must’ve gotten wind of it when it stopped to check me out, because they all got to their feet and started milling around.  No fawn for breakfast for that coyote…

At another point, I saw the American Kestrel swooping back and forth over the top of a tree, and went closer to investigate.  As I got near the tree, a large Red-Shouldered Hawk took off out of the branches with the kestrel chasing after it.  Kestrels are about a third of the size of the big hawks, so that was one seriously brave little dude.

When I got to the pond area along the trail I found it covered with a thick blanket of algae.  I saw some Wood Ducks in the water and got a few distant shots of them… then I saw the tules and rushes around the pond start to move.  Some of the ducks startled and flew off, but I kept watching to see what all the rustling was about.  My patience paid off.  It was a river otter! I got a few still shots of him, and also got some video. 

When he moved off into the reeds at one side of the pond, I stepped over there to see if I could get more footage of him… and instead, I accidentally walked into a small group of Mule Deer that were sleeping there, a mom and her three kids (two yearlings and a fawn).  D’oh!  The baby saw me first and started to walk toward me, then his mom and siblings stood up — so that was the end of that adventure.  I backed away a little bit, and videotaped them until they moved elsewhere.

Then I went around to the opposite side of the pool, to see if I could catch another glimpse of the otter, and I came across a huge Banded Garden Spider (Argiope trifasciata) and her web.  She was a full grown beastie, about as long as my thumb, not counting her legs… and she had her web decorated with heavy zig-zags of silk called “stabilimentum” (sort of like the trash-lines in Trash-line Spider webs, but the Argiope do a fancier zig-zag pattern with their silk).  Scientists aren’t sure what the decoration is used for or what it means.  Some speculate it stabilizes the structure of the web, others say it’s used to attract mates, others think it enhances the spider’s ability to catch prey… No one knows for sure; but not all spiders decorate their webs with stabilimentum, so it becomes easy to identify the webs of those that do.

So, I got quite a few photos (some better than others, but that’s the way it always is). 

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After about 3 ½  hours of walking around, I headed back home.  By then it was a little after noon.

Saturday 10-24 at Lake Solano Park

Vacation Day 8.  I got up around 7:00 am today, and headed off to Lake Solano Park in Winters around 8:00.  The weather was nice – about 70° — but it felt really humid there, and some haze was still hanging around all the foothills.

There were a lot of peahens out there with their babies today.  Some were little guys, just getting their feathers, and some looked like mini versions of their moms.  So cute!  I’d never seen baby peafowl before, so that was kind of cool.  There were a few males out, too, but they didn’t have all of their long trailing feathers on their tails.  That didn’t stop them from try to display to the females, though… who pretty much just ignored them and pecked at the ground.  Hah! The males are so pretty, I ended up taking lots of photos of them anyway – even without their full tail-fans.   I also came across Scrub Jays, Crows, Great Egrets, a Great Blue Heron, Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Hairy Woodpeckers, Nutthall’s Woodpeckers, Cedar Waxwings, a Red-Breasted Nuthatch, Northern Flickers, and lots of Acorn Woodpeckers. An adult male California Quail jumped up onto the side of an old scag of a tree by the lakeside and did his “Chi-ca-go!” call for me.  I got some good shots of him.

I also got to see a male Phainopepla and about three females all in the same area.  I’ve been trying to get a photo of this bird from the first time I heard about it. The males are iridescent black and the females are sort of buff-gray but they both have long tails and a crest on their heads.  One of the females got close enough so I could get some fairly decent shots of her – right down to her red-orange eyes.  So beautiful.

Then I watched some Bufflehead ducks doing their bobbing-head and splash-and-dash dances for some females.  They were pretty far away, so the video I got is kind of washed out, but they’re soooo funny to watch.  According to Cornell’s “All About Birds” website: “…Males court females by flying over them, skiing to a stop on the water with their crests raised, and bobbing their heads. During the breeding season, territorial birds attack intruders by flying or swimming underwater at them and thrashing at them with their wings. When a pair intrudes into a territory, the territorial male often chases the intruding female while the intruding male chases after them both. Males leave their mates during incubation in order to molt, but return to the same mate multiple years in a row (one of the few duck species in which this is true)…”

The oak trees were dropping acorns everywhere… some of them plopping into the lake scaring the birds.  The toyon bushes and pyracantha bushes were all decked out in their red berries; and the mistletoe was full of berries, too. So fall has “fallen” around the lake.

I found a ragged Monarch Butterfly resting in the weeds, and also came across a caterpillar that kind of freaked me out.  It’s body was black with red spikes like a Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillar, but it’s head and butt were bright orange – absolutely the wrong shape and color for a Pipevine Swallowtail.  I took a lot of photos of it, and when I went home, I tried to figure out what it was.  I’m still not certain, but I think it was a Spotted Fireworm (Choristoneura parallela).  I put in a request to Bugguide.net to see if their people can get me a better ID.  ((Hmmm… the folks at Bugguide.net say it’s a Battus philenor, a kind of Pipevine Swallowtail, but different from the subspecies we have at the American River which is Battus philenor hirsuta.  I’m not sure I believe that, but I’ll accept it for now.))

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When I finished the trail on one side of the park, I was going to continue to on to the trail along the river by the campground (which is across the road from the park), but the entrance was all blocked off.  I looked like they were trying to replace a bridge there (while the water is low).  So that cut about an hour off my walk.  I went back to the car, had a light lunch (crackers, tuna fish, grapes and cucumbers) and then headed back home.