Tag Archives: Sulphur

Mostly Butterflies at the Refuge, 06-07-18

I headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge to check out the insects there before it got too hot this month. I want to take the Summer naturalist class out there next year. I was hoping to see a lot of dragonflies, but without the large pond, there were only a handful out flitting around. Next year, the pond should be refilled so with a bit of luck the insect populations should be better then.

This year, I’m hoping the other wetland areas will churn out more dragonflies and damselflies later in the season. I did get to see quite a few butterfly species, though.

CLICK HERE to see the album of photos.

Looking for Grebes; Found Just About Anything But

I was out the door with Sergeant Margie by about 4:00 am, and drove out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge by way of the gas station and Jack’s.

I got to the refuge just as the sun was coming up, and as I got out of the car Great Blue Herons lurched out from the tops of the surrounding trees where they’d roosted for the night and flew off over my head… and one small bat came flitting around me to check me out. I didn’t get pictures of them, of course, because it was too dark and they moved too fast… As the sub came up, so did the temperatures and by 9:00 am it was already in the 80’. The car did NOT like the heat, and neither did I…

CLICK HERE to see the album of photos from today.

I was hoping the Clark’s and Western Grebes would be doing some courtship stuff, but they were uncooperative. I saw the Great Horned Owls, but they were sitting on top of a distant fence with their backs to me. (So rude! Hah!) And I came across a huge gathering of Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets, but they were behind thick blinds of tules, and I couldn’t get the camera to see through and past the tules to the birds… So that was frustrating…

At one old scraggly tree I came across a bunch of young Tree Swallows and Barn Swallows jousting with each other. They were out catching the early morning bugs over the water and would go to the tree to rest… and argue with one another over who go what branch. This extended into a nearby willow tree where the scuffling continued… While I was watching them I caught sight of a young male Hairy Woodpecker who was testing out his navigation skills. He was pretty scruffy-looking, but seemed to be able to get around okay…

There were dragonflies, damselflies and big orb-weaver spiders everywhere, which is typical for this time of year, but among them I was surprised to get my very first photo of a Twelve Spotted Skimmer dragonfly. I’d seen Eight Spotted Skimmers before, but not a Twelve Spotted one… and I’d never seen any of the spotted skimmers at the refuge before. Usually, I only see them around Lake Solano. They usually seem to be in constant motion, which makes getting a photos of them hard for me. This Twelve Spotted one was parked on the top of a tule among a “flock” of Variegated Meadowhawks, so I quickly got as many picture of it as I could.

Among the birds out there today, I was also surprised to get my first still shot close-up of a Common Tern. (I think it was a Common one; I’m not very good at telling some of them apart.) I got a few good photos of a young Black-Crowned Night Heron who was fishing among the cattails and reeds, some late-in-the-season Snow Geese drifting on the water (juvenile and an adult), and a very cooperative juvenile Mourning Dove. She was sitting in the shade on a ranch near the viewing platform, and stayed right where she was while I got some close-ups of her. The doves have such lovely faces…

I also got some photos of a Great Egret sitting on top of a dead tree. It gaped while I was watching it so I got some photos of its tongue. Heron tongues are so weird-looking. Toward the back, where they attach in the throat, they’re flat, but near the front are arrowhead-like projections which help hold prey in the mouth and allow the birds to use the arrowhead like mini-trowels and shove the prey back from the front of the beak into the gullet…

I headed out of the preserve by about 10 o’clock and was back to the house by noon.

More Photos from the Sacramento Refuge

Here are some more photos from the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  CLICK HERE to see the album.

I got a video snippet of a muskrat.  It waddled up onto the auto-tour road, grabbed some green vegetation and went back into the tules.  I wonder if it’s setting up a “nest” there.  Where they’re able to, muskrats will burrow into the bank and set up a nesting hole in the ground (with an entrance to the water). If they can’t do that, then they’ll create a structure called a “push-up” made of reeds, vegetation and mud… There are heaps of dead tules in places along the edges of the wetland areas at the refuge, including several of them along the auto-tour route, which I think might make building a push-up really easy for the muskrats…

I saw some Great Horned Owls dozing in a tree, but they were so obscured by branches and twiglets that the camera couldn’t figure out what to focus on, so I couldn’t get any decent photos of them.  And I saw a Killdeer running and squawking along the edges of a slough.  At first I didn’t know what it was excited about, but then I could see it had some babies with it. One of the youngsters was loitering along the water’s edge, and mom was having a fit because it wouldn’t follow her.  Hah!

I also came across a pair of Double-Crested Cormorants (on the little island they often share with the pelicans and ducks), and watched while one of them did a jumping and barking kind of dance around the other before it took off and landed in the water behind the island. I’d never seen that behavior before, so I looked it up.

“…Ritualized agonistic displays are associated with takeoff and landing in both sexes. Before takeoff, individual stretches neck in direction it wishes to go, inflates head and neck and gives t-t-t-t-t call through almost-closed bill. Before landing, often calls urgurgurg and gives Kink-Throat Display, which is given also during working of nest material; lowers hyoid apparatus, making orange pouch conspicuous. Immediately after landing, gives characteristic post-landing display in which it holds head horizontally and slightly below arched and inflated neck. These displays also precede and follow a hop, which functions as symbolic or reduced flight, and occurs in various social contexts…” (https://birdsna.org/Species-Account/bna/species/doccor/behavior) Hah!  How interesting!

The one thing I saw a lot of out there today was insects: lots of butterflies, dragonflies and spiders.  I was happy to see one beautiful Anise Swallowtail, and I also saw some Monarchs, but none of them sat still long enough for me to get photos of them. Among the other insects spotted today were: Variegated Meadowhawks, Garden Orb Weavers, Widow Skimmers, Common Buckeyes, West Coast Ladies, Cabbage Whites and Sulphurs, a Meadow Katydid nymph, Crescent butterflies, Painted Ladies, Pipevine Swallowtails and Yellow-Faced Bumble Bees.  I also found a dead Green Darner dragonfly that was pretty well desiccated by the heat. It’s always sad to find them dead, but the find gave me the opportunity to get some close-ups of the dragonfly’s head and eyes…

Muskrat vs. Snake, and an Eagle, 06-03-17

The dog woke me up a little bit before 5:00 am, and once I’m up it’s almost impossible for me to go back to sleep, so… I just stayed up and then headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  It got up to about 80º today, but was overcast all day as well. Weird.  I like the overcast though; it makes outdoor picture-taking a lot easier. You don’t have to fight against glare and harsh shadows.  It also confuses the wildlife a little bit (they think it’s earlier in the morning than it really is, so they’re active a little while longer than they normally would be.)

CLICK HERE for the complete album with videos.

The drive to the place was uneventful, and I got there a little before 7:00 am.  When I stopped at the first park-and-stretch area, I was taking some video of a little Marsh Wren at its nest and could hear the woop-woop-woop calls of Pied-Billed Grebe and the deep cello-call of bullfrogs all around me.  For a long time, I was the only person on the trail, so it was just me and critters…

There  were lots of jackrabbits and cottontail rabbits everywhere. At one point along the auto-tour there were about 10 of them running helter-skelter all over the road and into-and-out-of the tall grass.  I got a video snippet of some their antics.  It just made me smile to watch them having so much fun… I came across one little Cottontail that had both of ears “cropped”; the tips were totally gone.  I’ve seen some rabbits with one damaged area, but never one with two.  It looked like something had bitten them off… and in another spot, at the park-and-stretch area near the viewing platform, I found a Cottontail who didn’t seem too concerned about my walking around it. It even stretched out on the gravel to warm its belly.  (Well, it WAS the park-and-stretch area afterall. Hah!)

I saw a lot of otters on the road ahead of me, but didn’t get any close-ups of any of them (they move so fast!) And one spot, it looked to me like the otter was rolling in either otter poop or raccoon poop.  To each his own…

One of the big surprises of the morning, though, was coming across a Bald Eagle.  They’re somewhat common at the preserve in the winter, but by the summer they’re usually all a little further north or up in the mountains.  When I first saw it (at a distance) I thought it was just a Turkey Vulture; all I could see were its dark back and shoulders.  But then as I got closer to it, it raised its white head and I could tell it was an eagle.  I took dome distances shots of it, and then moved the car up closer, inch by inch, hoping it wouldn’t fly off before I could get some decent photos of it.  I was lucky.  It sat right where it was for several minutes and let me a bunch of pictures before it got bored with me and flew off.  Later, as I continuing down the auto tour route, a women drover he car up next to mine and said she had spotted the eagle on the little island the cormorants and Pelicans often rest on and was heading up to take pictures of it.  I told her it had already posed for me, but I’d go check out the island, too, when I got closer to it.  The woman drove past me and hurried up the road… but she didn’t stop for very long once she reached the spot she wanted, so I assumed that she didn’t get the photos she was hoping to.

I had stopped my car where I was because I was trying to get photos of some juvenile Widow Skimmer and blue Pondhawk dragonflies that were flying among the weeds and tules along the shore of the permanent wetland pond.  It’s a tiny bit early in the season for them. Over the few months there should be tons of dragonflies and damselflies out there… Among the other insects, I also saw some Yellow-Faced Bumblebees, lots and lots of Painted Lady and West Coast Lady butterflies, Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies, Common Buckeyes, Cabbage Whites, some Sulphur butterflies, White-Lined Sphinx Moths and a tiny Crescent butterfly.  Among a crop of phacelia, I also found a large group of what I think were Salt Mars Caterpillars (which grow into large white moths with black speckles on the wings). It’s so hard to tell, though.  I haven’t found a really good book on caterpillars yet; they are so many species…

By the time I got to the spot where you can see the “Pelican island” it was totally vacant; not a single bird on it.  And that VERY unusual. There are normally lots of birds gathered on it… But if the Bald Eagle had flown over it or actually landed on it (as the woman who’d driven past me had suggested), then I wasn’t entirely surprised by the vacancy.  Most of the birds in the refuge will duck-and-cover if a hawks flies over.  But when the eagles show up, everything scatters…

My other big surprise of the day was when I found a Muskrat swimming in the water, munching on water vegetation.  It was pushing its way into some tules, and in doing so dislodged a small garter snake that had been sunning itself there. The snake fell into the water right in front of the muskrat.  The muskrat startled, but didn’t stop eating and the snake swam away.  It was the second of two snakes I saw today.  Like the otters, though, the snakes move so fast it’s hard for me to get any pictures of them…

It took me about 5 hours to do the 6 mile loop, and then I didn’t get home until around 1:30 pm… During the last hour or so of my drive I could feel my throat getting really and scratchy, and by the time I got the house, I knew cold was coming on.  Dang it!

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.