Tag Archives: striped skunk

Lots of Wrens and Squirrels, 03-24-18

Around 6:30 am I headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge with the dog. They’ve opened the loop to the permanent wetlands area, so I wanted to see what that looked like these days – and I needed a nature fix. The mountains around us, which aren’t too terribly tall, had snow on their summits, and a light dusting of snow all down their flanks (which had pretty much melted by the end of the day today). It was 44º when I got to the refuge and around 51º when I headed back home. Clear and bright, though. I got some nice scenery shots while I was out there.

I saw most of the usual suspects while I was out on the preserve; and for the most part I had the place all to myself. I only saw two or three other cars on the auto route when I was driving it (although, a phalanx of cars showed up just as I was leaving. I assumed it was a birding group who were there to see the fly-out at dusk.)

CLICK HERE for the album of photos and videos.

Jackrabbits and Cottontails were out, and I also got a glimpse of a Striped Skunk and a small herd of mule deer. Otherwise, it was mostly birds. The huge-huge flocks are gone now, but there’s more variety in the different kinds of species you can see out there (if you know where and how to look for them.)

I saw American Coots, American Wigeons, Killdeer, Red-Winged Blackbirds, several Great Egrets, Western Meadowlarks, some Northern Harriers, White-Faced Ibis, Great Blue Herons, Song Sparrows, Green-Winged Teals, Northern Shovelers, White-Crowned Sparrows, a couple of Red-Tailed Hawks, lots of Double-Crested Cormorants, Pied-Billed Grebes, Ruddy Ducks, Ring-Necked Ducks, Cinnamon Teals, Golden-Crowned Sparrows, a Belted Kingfisher, Audubon’s Warblers, Black-Necked Stilts, Tree Swallows, Long-Billed Dowitchers, Snowy Egrets, Gadwalls, a Red-Shouldered Hawk, some Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Goldfinches, House Sparrows, an Anna’s Hummingbird, and several Crows. And, of course, this time of year the Marsh Wrens are out everywhere building their nests and singing their buzzy songs trying to attract females. I got lots of photos of them.

At one spot along the route, I came across an area where there were several Ibis and Snow Egrets gathered, and a Great Egret standing nearby. One of the Ibis caught a crayfish in the water, but as soon as it lifted it up, about three of the Snowy Egrets went after it, making the Ibis drop its meal. One of the Snowys picked it up and tried to fly off with it, but then the great Egret flew over and body-slammed the Snowy making it drop the crayfish, too. The Great Egret then had to search through the turbid water to find the crayfish again so he could eat it himself.

I saw only one of the Ibis starting to get its white breeding face, and the Snowy Egrets I saw aren’t showing any signs of their breeding plumage yet. But some of the Great Egrets are… and their faces are turning neon green: a signal to other Great Egrets that they’re ready and available for mating.

I also got quite a few photos of California Ground Squirrels. I’m just enamored with those little guys. If I had the time and funding, I’d love to be able to a long-tern field study on them. This is the time of year when the females have all set up their natal chambers in their burrows and are lookin’ for love. I saw one pair of the squirrels though in which the female was not at all interested in the male who kept harassing her. Maybe she already had babies in her burrow she needed to take of, or she just wasn’t that into him, but their antics were hysterical to watch. I got a little bit of it on video and in photos, but they just don’t do the comedy justice. The male first approached the female from the front, sniffing at her, reaching out to her with a paw, touching his nose to hers. But when he tried to move in further to get a whiff of her goodies, she jumped straight up into the air about a foot and ran off. The male chased her, and the two of them went running down the road in front of my car, tails up, the male body-slamming the female occasionally to try to get her to slow down or stop for him. More jumping. More running. Then they took a break for about a second before the male tried to approach the female again and… More jumping. More running. Hah! It was exhausting to watch them. I don’t know if he ever got her or not, but it was valiant effort.

The permanent wetlands loop was kind of disappointing. They’re redone the dirt road there and cut down all of the tall grass and most of the roadside vegetation. That makes viewing easier, but because there aren’t any places now near the road with high vegetation, there’s no place for the critters to hide or eat or build nests. So there was “nothing” to see. The refuge is also going to drain the big pond there, which means for a brief period of time, as the waters shrink and the water-living bugs and crustaceans are forced into a smaller and smaller living space, the birds will have a feast. When that happens there will be a lot of activity and photo ops. But the draining of that pond also means that the Clark’s and Western Grebes won’t be able to build their floating nests on the water – which is usually a big draw for photographers. So, this might be a disappointing year for photographers at the refuge.

((The draining of the pond is done about every years to get rid of the invasive carp who get into the basin when the area floods and then get trapped there when the flood waters recede. The refuge also has to till the pond bottom to expose it to the sun, so that all of the bacteria and viruses in the accumulated bird droppings can get irradiated.))

I was at the refuge for about 5 hours and then headed back home.

Foggy and Cold on MLK Day, 01-15-18

It’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  I’m feeling better; just really fatigued. I slept soundly last night and got up with the dog a little before 6:00 am.  By about 7:00 am I headed over to the Cosumnes River Preserve for a walk.

It was chilly and super foggy in the morning hours, and only got up to about 50º by the afternoon (under a thick overcast). When I got to the preserve, I could see cars in the parking lots, but all of the gates were closed. I assumed it must have been staff members in the lots, none of whom thought to open the gates for the public. So, at first I had to park on the road.  I walked around for a little while, and I think the people in the parking lot saw me or my car and they eventually got around to opening the gates. One of the people waved at me as he drove off.  I walked back to my car, and pulled into the parking lot. Because of the chill and dense fog there weren’t a lot of birds out and about but I did get a few photos.

The photos aren’t all that great because of the dense fog, but you’ll get the idea… CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

Then I drove over to where the nature center is and walked the river trail there.  Again, because of the for and chill there weren’t many critters around. But the damp air had awakened a lot of the different lichen and some of the willow trees were starting to get their fuzzy “pussy willow” catkins on them.  I kept my walk a bit short so I wouldn’t wear myself out again, and then headed back home.

Eagles of Varying Ages, 12-30-17

I packed up a tin of dog food and a lunch for me, and we headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge to do some birding. I was hoping to see a Bald Eagle or two… and ended up seeing about SEVEN of them, all different ages from juveniles that looked like they were one or two years old, to full-fledged adults. Bald Eagles don’t get their white head and bright yellow beaks until they’re about four years old, so before that they come in a lot of interesting color combinations.

The first one I saw was in a tree that was pretty far away from the car, so it was almost impossible to get any clear photos of it. The fact that there was a branch right in front of it didn’t help much either. But I could tell it was about three years old. It had a white head, but there was still some brown flecks in the white. It was finishing off its breakfast, trying to keep the scraps from the Ravens and Turkey Vultures that were also sitting in the tree. One of the Ravens flew up very close to it and started giving off this low, rapping-chortling call, like it was begging. So cool! But, dang, I wish it had been just 20 feet closer…

Here is the album of photos and video snippets.

Later along the auto-tour route, I came across a juvenile and an adult. The adult flew off before I could get any decent photos of it, but the juvenile lingered for a while. I think it was about 1 or 1½ years old: still a lot of dark brown overall, and its beak was still dark. While I was getting photos of that one, some guy came up behind me, blowing his car’s horn, so I drove on a bit until I could pull over to the side of the road. As he drove past me he said, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for the horn to go off. I leaned against it accidentally when I was moving around in the seat. Sorry. So sorry.” *Sigh* Whatever, dude…

I kept on driving along the tour route, and then came across an adult Bald Eagle sitting in a eucalyptus tree. It was right over the road, so getting photos of it was a little difficult. I had to hold the camera out the driver’s side window of the car at a weird angle and then just shoot, hoping I could get some decent photos. Some of them turned out pretty good, and I got on nice close up photo of the bird’s head.

I actually did the auto-tour loop over again, and ended up being able to see another juvenile (a little older than the second one) and a pair of adults sitting off in one of the partially flooded rice fields. The ones in the field – a male and female – were pretty far away, though, so I didn’t get many clear shots of them.

The other neat find of the morning was seeing a Striped Skunk waddling along the side of the trail. They usually forage at night, so I was surprised it was still out and about. It kept close to the tangle of tule where the wetland hugs the road, so I didn’t get any super clear shots of it, but it was nice to see.
I also got to see all of the usual suspects at the refuge:

Killdeer, House Sparrows, Golden-Crowned Sparrows, White-Crowned Sparrows, Lesser Goldfinches, Jackrabbits, Northern Shovelers, a couple of Mule Deer, Northern Pintails, Savannah Sparrows, Ring-Necked Pheasants, lot of Red-Tailed Hawks and American Coots, Great Egrets, quite a few Red-Shouldered Hawks, Northern Harriers, Snow Geese and Greater White-Fronted Geese, a Nutthall’s Woodpecker, some Western Meadowlarks, Song Sparrows, an immature Pied-Billed Grebe, Black Phoebes, Snowy Egrets, House Finches and a Loggerhead Shrike. Phew!

Even making two rounds of the auto-tour route, I was done by noon, so I headed back home and got there around 1:30 pm. A long day in the car, but I got a lot of photos out of it… and I got to see the eagles I was hoping to see.

Things are Getting Interesting at the Wildlife Refuge, 10-28-17

At the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, the wetlands areas aren’t completely flooded yet, so it’s not as full of birds as it could be… but there were a lot of the early-arrival species like the White-Fronted Geese, Snow Geese, Ross’s Geese, Northern Pintails, Northern Shovelers, and Gadwalls. I also saw a few different species of sparrow including Song Sparrows, White-Crowned Sparrows, and Savannah Sparrows, a Dark-Eyed Junco, and a Nutthall’s Woodpecker. Among the other birds I saw – like the Wilson’s Snipes, Killdeer, Black-Necked Stilts, and American Pipits — a nice surprise was spotting the local Peregrine Falcon who was sitting up in “the eagle-tree”. He was obscured by branches and twigs, but I got a few fair photos of him.

Later on, I came across a trio of mule deer browsing in the tall grass and weeds.  One was a male, a two-pointer, and I couldn’t see any details but could tell there was a big lump – like a knot made out of hide — on the side of his head near one of his eyes. It looked like the eye was missing, but I’m not sure; it could have just been that the knot was casting a shadow over the eye socket. It didn’t seem to inhibit the buck or interfere with his ability to move around…

The big surprise of the day, though, was when I saw a skunk moving along the tules and weeds on the edge of one of the wetland ponds, and stopped to take some photos and video of it. As I watched it, I could hear it nattering angrily at something and thought maybe there was another skunk or a snake or something near it in the weeds…  When a raccoon climbed out over the vegetation and moved gingerly past the skunk I had to laugh.  I wasn’t expecting that at all!  You can see the video here: https://youtu.be/yrja6wSMtxA.

I saw another raccoon further along the auto tour route near the large viewing platform.  I heard first as it went scuffing through the fallen dried leaves under the platform, and then saw it as it was walking away along the edge of the slough near the base of the platform.

Here is an album of pix: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mkhnaturalist/albums/72157665598291929

I was at the refuge for about 3 ½  hours and then turned around and headed back home.

American Bitterns Pumper-Lunking on Sunday

I was up at 6:00 am and out the door before 6:30.  It was my original intention to do some more wildflower hunting, but on the way to Highway 20 I got lost in my thoughts and missed the turn off (D’oh!), so I continued up the highway to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge and spent the morning there instead.  The weather was lovely (mostly sunny; 51º when I got there, 70º by the time I left).

CLICK HERE to see the whole album of photos and videos.

We’re right at the beginning of the breeding season, so lots of bird are starting to pair up, build nests, and claim territory.  I saw a lot of Great-Tailed Grackles flying overhead (and some American White Pelicans, too), and although I could hear the grackles occasionally singing their broad range of odd songs, I didn’t see any of them on or near the ground so I didn’t get any photos of them. I also saw a young garter snake and a green-tinted Western Racer snake, but they moved too fast for me. By the time I got my camera focus on them, they were gone into the brush.  I’d never seen a Western Racer before, so that was neat to see one for the first time.  When I initially saw it, I thought it was a tule on the auto-tour route… but then it moved.

A lot of the wildflowers and vernal pool flowers at the refuge were in bloom, so in area the ground was a patchwork of yellow Goldfields, orange Fiddleneck, white Popcorn Flowers and purple Dowingia… so pretty. There’s also wild mustard and Poison Hemlock, Blessed Milk Thistle, Italian Thistle, and Teasel blooming everywhere – just in time for the pollinators to wake up.

I saw only a few dragonflies, but it’s still early in the season for them. The Painted Lady and West Coast Lady butterflies on the other hand were everywhere. I bet I saw 20 of them just around the permanent wetland area.

There were jackrabbits and Cottontails bounding all over the place, and I got a few good shots of some California Ground Squirrels.

I didn’t see many babies today, just a pair of Canada Geese with their little troop of goslings, but it’s still early in the season.

The highlight of the day was seeing an American Bittern in the tall grass “booming”.  I don’t know why it’s called “booming” because the call has its own name but… whatever.  To stake out their territory, the Bitterns give out a loud complex call called the “pumper-lunk” call.  The bird claps its bill several time, sucking air into its esophagus, and then expels the air by compressing its neck – making a loud burbling sound, sort of like a melodious burp.  The one I was watching did his call five times, and I was able to get video of two of the calls.  Made. My. Day.  Here’s one of the videos of it: https://youtu.be/cg0HDZ2lhbw.

The odd moment of the day came when I saw something with long brown, black and white fur moving through the long grass.  I could see that it was moving nose-down along the ground, but because the critter never lifted its head, I couldn’t tell what it was.  I was thinking it was probably a Striped Skunk, but the brown shades were throwing me off… then I was thinking badger (but the fur was too long)… or maybe even porcupine (but they’re usually much larger, and the video proved that I was seeing fur and not quills)… So I’m settling on skunk, but I’m still not certain.

In another “what is that?” moment, I saw the dorsal fin and tail fin of a Northern Pike in one of the slews.  I know I’ve said it before, but those guys are brutal; they’ll eat anything.  They come up into the sloughs when the area gets flooded, then when the water recedes again, they get trapped.  They’re fast and powerful, though… and can move even in shallow water, so once they’re in the sloughs they prey on everything, including birds…

On the viewing platform, I came across a pair of Western Fence Lizards, that were challenging each other: doing pushups, body slamming one another, staring each other down.  I got some of the interaction on video.  The two males were very mature – showing off why they’re also called “Blue Bellies” – and had lots and lots of blue on their bodies, even along the back and on the head.  I’ve never ones that were this colorful before.  When the winner of the contest was done with his rival (who ran off) he decided that my blue-green walking shoes were an enemy, too, so he ran up as close to me as he dared and started doing pushups again.  Hah!  I let him win and walked away – after I got some video and photos of him.  In the same area, I found a melanistic Western Fence Lizard, a dark pitchy-gray one sitting on a branch sunning himself.  He was such a contrast to the brightly colored one, I had to get his photo, too.

I’m usually not too thrilled about seeing Black Phoebes, mostly because they’re so ubiquitous around here, but I caught sight of one carrying grass for its nest.  It perched on a limb of a tree and sat there for a while, letting me get some pretty good photos of it.  And the Kingbirds were out in force. I got some good shots of them, too.

Another good bird-moment was when I saw some American Coots playing “keep-away” with a crawfish.  One has caught it and was trying to eat it when a second Coot rushed up and grabbed it.  Coot #2 swam off with its prize, but as soon as it stopped to eat, Coot #3 rushed up and took it… When it comes to lunch, these guys aren’t polite.  Hah!

I stayed at the refuge for about 4 hours and then headed back home to crash with the dogs… So I didn’t see much in the way of wildflowers, today, but it was still a nice day out in nature…

Lots of Hawks, Ducks, Geese and an Eagle!

Up at 6:30 again this morning, and I was out the door heading for the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge before 7:00.  It was 38° when I left the house, and was bright, sunny, and chilly all day.  Never got over 54°.  I love this kind of weather!  I had originally planned to go Lake Solano Park today, but something inside me insisted I go the SNWR instead… and I’m glad I did.  Got to see my first Bald Eagle of the season!

CLICK HERE to see the photo album.

The drive to the refuge was unremarkable; I had to stop and put gas in the car, and got some Jack breakfast stuff to eat, then was off again.  It was so clear out, you could see a lot of the foothills and smaller mountains around the valley.  Snow Mountain actually had snow on it… and I could see Mount Lassen in the distance, snow-covered, too… On the way, I counted 15 hawks along the highway…

I got to the refuge around 9:00 am, and juts as I drove into the first lot where the payment kiosk is, I saw a Great Egret fishing in the slough. As I crept forward a little bit to try to get some photos of it, I realized there was a smaller Snowy Egret standing behind it.  A two-fer! That was a nice way to start the morning!  I saw several more egrets along the way.

You could see the silhouette of the Sutter Buttes along the eastern horizon with a layer of fog crawling along below them.  It was neat to see the flocks of geese fly in and land across that backdrop…

An odd happenstance: I came across a flock of American White Pelicans that decided to WALK across the auto-tour route rather than fly… until they spotted my car.  Then little by little they all took off.  Another stunner: I stopped under a big willow tree where I usually see Northern Harrier Hawks.  Today there were no hawks, but there WAS a huge Great Horned Owl sitting up there!  It was dozing, its eyes open just a slit, and it was so well camouflaged it was hard to see it among all the little twiglet branches, but I did get a few photos of it.  I had a similar encounter with a Red-Tailed Hawk that was so covered by branches and stems, I could barely see it…

At another point on the route, something stirred up the Snow Geese, and they filled the air, flying and squawking and carrying on for the longest time.  Most of them settled in the “back 40”, fields a little further away from the auto-tour route which made taking photos a little difficult.  But among the Snow Geese were juveniles (once called “Blue Geese”) and some odd dark-morph ones.

Lots of Jackrabbits here and there, most of them trying to hide out in the tall dead grass or thickets because there were hawks everywhere.  I also saw a little American Kestrel.  I came across a few California Ground Squirrels, and got some close-up shots of one of them.  I also saw a Striped Skunk but – dang it! – it ducked down into its burrow before I could a picture of it.  I have no luck with skunk photos…

Among the ducks were most of the usual suspects: Mallards, Northern Pintails, Northern Shovelers, Green-Winged Teals, Cinnamon Teals, and a few Buffleheads.  The Buffleheads were too far away to get any descent still shots of them, but I did get a little video of them diving and popping up in the water. Oh, and I also found some Ring-Necked Ducks (which actually have a ring around their bill); a small group of males and females.  Later, while I was taking some photos of a group of American Coots, two White-Faced Ibis flew in, so I got a little bit of video of them… I didn’t realize it until I got home a looked through my photos, but I got a fuzzy photo of a Blue-Winged Teal, too.  He was slumming with the Mallards.  Hah!

Among the smaller birds were Western Meadowlarks, Song Sparrows, Black Phoebes, and White-Crowned Sparrows.

I didn’t see the eagle until the very last part of the route, just before you head back to the nature center.  It was sitting in a eucalyptus tree above my head, and I had to do contortions out the driver’s side window to get pictures of her.  I assumed it was a “she” based on her size, and the “depth” of her beak.  (In males, the beak opens up to just in front of the eye; in the female it’s deeper, and opens up to the mid-eye, or even behind the eye.)  An older couple came up in a car behind me and at first seemed aggravated that I was stopped near the middle of the road, then they realized the eagle was up there, and I saw huge smiles cross their faces. The hubby leaned outside the driver’s side window of their car to get some photos, too.  That was a great way to end the run.

By the time I got to the front gate of the SNWR it was only about 11:30 am, so I decided to head over to the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge before heading home.  It’s on the way; just outside of the town of Williams.  At Colusa, I saw pretty much the same species of ducks and geese, except for some American Widgeons and the Black-Crowned Night Herons.  There  were also a lot of Great Blue Herons along the sloughs, and I was able to get some fairly good shot of them.

There were also lots of hawks, too, and at one point I stopped to watch a big Red-Tailed Hawk trying to manage a Coot it had been successful in catching. The Coot was too large to eat at all once, and too heavy to fly away with, so the hawk wasn’t sure what to do.  It ate as much as it could, then flew off into a nearby tree – where two other hawks and a Turkey Vulture were sitting, waiting for leftovers. After a few second, the first hawk flew back to its kill, and flew-dragged the Coot off onto a small knoll in the middle of a wet area.  There, the hawks kind of posed for me and I got some really good shots of it with its prey.  I got some video of it spreading its tail and raising its head-feathers to make itself look more formidable.  Such a handsome animal!

I left the Colusa refuge around 1:30 and then headed home.

And here are some video snippets: