Tag Archives: Swainson’s Hawk

Summer 2019 CalNat Class #6, 07-12-19

Around 11 o’clock, my co-instructor Bill Grabert and I took all of our stuff over to the library to set up for the Certified California Naturalist class, and our guest speaker arrived around the same time: Jenny Papka of Native Bird Connections.  She’d done a lecture for our winter class earlier this year so she kind of knew the drill. She set up her bird stuff while we finished setting up the classroom.

Jenny brought a Peregrine Falcon, a Swainson’s Hawk and her Eurasian Eagle Owl with her this time. Since she was ready to go when the students arrived, we just let her go first and did our announcements when she was finished. We also to a break when she was done, so the students could get photos of the owl and the props Jenny had brought with her.

 About halfway through Jenny’s presentation, our volunteer Roxanne Moger arrived with a box of bird’s nests she’d gotten from a retired teacher, and a HUGE live sphinx moth caterpillar in a jar. She’d been cutting down some grape vines for her neighbor and found the caterpillar on them.  Super cool.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

It kind of looked like a tomato hornworm, but was gray instead of green and had a eye-spot on its rump. I’m not sure but I think it’s the caterpillar of an Achemon Sphinx Moth (Eumorpha achemon).  They’re the kind of caterpillar that pupates underground, though, so Roxanne will have to put a couple of inches of dirt in the bottom of the jar, so the caterpillar can bury itself when it’s ready.  It might overwinter under the dirt, so we may not be able to see it until next year…            

After the break, Bill did the chapter on forest management, and I did a module on bird species identification.

A Lot of Little Moments, 05-14-19

I got up at 5:00 this morning and took my time getting ready to head out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for my trail-walking thing there. It was cool for most of the day – a rainstorm is supposed to move in tomorrow – so it was perfect walking weather. I was joined by fellow volunteer Mary Messenger – the Other Mary.

We saw the usual suspects like deer, House Wrens, and suchlike. One humorous encounter was with a European Staring who had its adult feathers in but was acting like a brat. It was sitting in a tree just opposite where I had seen the fledglings poking their heads out of the nesting cavity last week. It was making a lot of very loud squawks and peeps, and flapping its wings trying to get attention. Might have also been a female looking for a mate to come feed her. Whichever.  She was so loud and so animated; you couldn’t miss her.

Another funny moment was walking in on a pair of Fox Squirrels who I think were making out.  Hah! Get a room, you guys!

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

I saw another Starling in another part of the preserve that was taking twigs OUT of her nesting cavity, which I thought was weird.  And we saw a male Mourning Dove picking up bits of grass and carrying them to his mate in a tree off the trail.  A House Wren was carrying food to his babies… Everyone was moving stuff around.

I also saw a pair of Wood Ducks. They flew into a tree overhead, and then the female flew to an adjacent tree and “disappeared”. She flew out to the first tree next to the male, then flew back to the other tree and disappeared again. I tried to see where she was hiding out and assumed she might have had a nest in a cavity in the tree, but I just couldn’t see her. Then she flew out one more time, and this time she had something orange and fuzzy in her bill. She flew off with it, and the male followed her. I couldn’t tell what it was, really, and wasn’t able to get any photos of it, but I think she was retrieving a duckling that was refusing to come down from the nest! I’d never seen or heard of anything like that; it was kind of amazing.

And we caught a glimpse of a young coyote. He came out onto the trail in front of us with a short growl and then ran off into the high grass where we lost sight of him. He was pretty small, probably a teenager. After we saw him, we kept an eye out for mom and dad; they usually travel in a pack when the pups are young.

We walked for about 4 hours, which is pretty much the limit for both of us, and I headed back home.

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus,
  2. American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus,
  3. American Robin, Turdus migratorius,
  4. Ash-Throated Flycatcher, Myiarchus cinerascens,
  5. Asian Lady Beetle, Harmonia axyridis,
  6. Black Grosbeak, Pheucticus melanocephalus,
  7. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
  8. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum,
  9. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus cerulea,
  10. California Buckeye Chestnut Tree, Aesculus californica,
  11. California Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta,
  12. California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica,
  13. Coffeeberry, Frangula californica,
  14. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus,
  15. Coyote Brush Bud Gall Midge, Rhopalomyia californica,
  16. Coyote, Canis latrans,
  17. Darkling Beetle, Eleodes dentipes,
  18. Desert Cottontail, Sylvilagus audubonii,
  19. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger,
  20. Elegant Clarkia, Clarkia unguiculata,
  21. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris,
  22. Goldwire, Hypericum concinnum,
  23. Great Egret, Ardea alba,
  24. Greater Periwinkle, Vinca major,
  25. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon,
  26. Italian Thistle, Carduus pycnocephalus,
  27. Katydid nymph, Microcentrum rhombifolium,
  28. Miniature Lupine, Lupinus bicolor,
  29. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura,
  30. Oak Apple Wasp Galls, Andricus quercuscalifornicus,
  31. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus,
  32. Olive Tree, Olea europaea,
  33. Pacific Pond Turtle, Western Pond Turtle, Actinemys marmorata,
  34. Painted Lady Butterfly, Vanessa cardui,
  35. Pinacate Beetle, Eleodes pimelioides,
  36. Red Harvester Ant, Pogonomyrmex barbatus,
  37. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus,
  38. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis,
  39. Rusty Tussock Moth caterpillar, Orgyia antiqua,
  40. Spittle Bug, Meadow Spittlebug, Philaenus spumarius,
  41. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus,
  42. Swainson’s Hawk, Orion, Buteo swainsoni,
  43. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor,
  44. Wavy-Leafed Soap Plant, Soaproot, Chlorogalum pomeridianum,
  45. Western Gray Squirrel, Sciurus griseus,
  46. Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa,
  47. Wood Duck, Aix sponsa,

A Very Hairy Butterfly Encounter, 04-06-19

I led some of my Certified California Naturalist students on a walk around the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve.

My coworker Bill Grabert and our volunteer Roxanne Moger joined me. There were about 10 of us altogether. Because the nature center was hosting a donor event today, we stayed out of the parking lot and parked along the road that leads out of the preserve. It was about 52° when we got there, and it made it up to a mostly cloudy and overcast 68° by the afternoon.

A female coyote surprised us by stepping out into the parking lot and trotting down the road – too fast to get any photos of her. But otherwise, we saw mostly the usual suspects during the walk, but there were some deer that were being very cooperative, some of the wildflowers were showing up, and we saw quite a few nests and nesting cavities, including the Mourning Doves’ nest, a Red-Shouldered Hawk nest and several Bushtit nests.

Students also learned how to identify some of the local birds by their calls and saw their first pair of Common Mergansers – which was kind of a big deal to them because the males and females look so totally different from one another. Most of them recognized the female (with her reddish head and topknot), but the male (with his bright white breast, iridescent blue-green head and orange bill) was a big surprise to them.

The leucistic male turkey was also a first for many of the students, so that was fun to see.

The funniest thing that happened on the walk was when a female Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly flew into the hair of one of the students, Sue. Then Roxanne found a cooperative male butterfly and put him into Sue’s hair so everyone could see how to distinguish the males from the females (by the amount of blue on their hind wings). Sue was very patient and stayed still as everyone talked about the butterflies and took photos. Hah!

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

The subspecies of Pipevine Swallowtail, Battus philenor hirsuta, we see around here is endemic to the Central Valley of California and is found nowhere else on Earth.  And the word “hirsuta” refers to the “hairy” body this subspecies… so it was a very Hairy Butterfly Encounter.  Coolness.

We walked for almost 4 hours before heading out and going back to our respective homes. I’ll be doing another walk on Tuesday next week for any students who still need to add a field trip to their course requirements.

Species List:

1. Bedstraw, Cleavers, Galium aparine
2. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
3. Blue Dicks, Dichelostemma capitatum
4. Buckbrush, Ceanothus cuneatus
5. Bush Lupine, Lupinus albifrons
6. Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus
7. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
8. California Manroot, Marah fabaceus
9. California Pipevine, Aristolochia californica
10. California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica
11. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
12. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
13. Common Merganser, Mergus merganser
14. Destroying Angel Mushroom, Amanita verna
15. Dog Vomit Slime Mold, Fuligo septica
16. Douglas Iris, Iris douglasiana
17. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
18. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
19. False Turkey Tail Fungus, Stereum hirsutum
20. Fringepod, Thysanocarpus curvipes ssp. curvipes
21. Gold Dust Lichen, Chrysothrix candelaris
22. Golden-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
23. Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata
24. Hoary Lichen, Rosette Lichen, Physcia aipolia
25. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon
26. Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos
27. Mazegill Fungus, Daedalea quercina
28. Meadow Mushroom, Agaricus campestris
29. Miniature Lupine, Lupinus bicolor
30. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
31. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus
32. Oakmoss Lichen, Evernia prunastri
33. Painted Lady butterfly, Vanessa cardui
34. Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta
35. Pleated Ink Cap, Parasol Ink Cap, Parasola plicatilis
36. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
37. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
38. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
39. Rock Shield Lichen, Xanthoparmelia conspersa
40. Santa Barbara Sedge, Carex barbarae
41. Saw-Whet Owl, Sophia, Aegolius acadicus
42. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula
43. Storksbill, Longstalk Crane Bill, Geranium columbinum
44. Sunburst Lichen, Xanthoria elegans
45. Swainson’s Hawk, Orion, Buteo swainsoni
46. Tan Stink Bug, Euschistus tristigmus
47. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
48. Turkey Tail Fungus, Trametes versicolor
49. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
50. Valley Tassels, Narrow-leaved Owl’s Clover, Castilleja attenuate
51. Wavy-Leaf Soap Plant, Soaproot, Chlorogalum pomeridianum
52. Western Bluebird, Sialia mexicana
53. Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis
54. Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis
55. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis
56. Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa

My First Trip to the Mather Field Vernal Pools, 03-27-19

Around 8:00 am, my naturalist class graduate Roxanne M. and I went to the vernal pools at the end of Zinfandel Blvd. in Mather Field.  Rain was threatening, and it was about 51° outside, but the rain held off until after we’d left – about 2 hours later.

I’d never been there before, but Roxanne had so she showed me some of the highlights out there – like the white pipes used for hydrology studies, and the somewhat lumpy landscape dotted with “mima mounds” around the pools.

“…One theory on the origin of Mima mounds is that they were created by small burrowing rodents such as pocket gophers (Thomomys talpoides) of the endemic North American family Geomyidae. Researchers in the 1940s found that Mima mounds tend to form in areas with poorly draining soils, so the “Fossorial Rodent Hypothesis” proposed that gophers build mounds as an evolutionary response to low water tables… It could be argued that gophers live in the mounds opportunistically but did not build them.  Consequently, gophers in mima mound fields seem to be aware of randomly distributed topographic highs and orient their burrowing accordingly in early mound creation stages. However, the mounds were already fully formed and the gophers may have just been maintaining them. Nevertheless, the fact that the surface area of a typical Mima mound is similar to the size of an individual gopher’s home range is consistent with the theory they were constructed by the rodents…”

Roxanne and I were hoping the wildflowers would be out, but there were only a few species showing. In another week or so, if we get some sunshine, the place should be covered in flowers.  We could see large swaths of Frying Pan poppies around some of the pools, but they were all closed up because it was overcast outside. Along with the poppies, among the flowers we did see were things like Butter ‘n’ Eggs, Blue Dicks, Showy Fringe Pod, Popcorn Flowers, and Jointed Charlock.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

We also saw some Canada Geese, Western Meadowlarks, and some Western Kingbirds. One of the Kingbirds was eating a large sphinx moth, but it was too far away for me to get a clear photo of it.  Along the road we saw a Mourning Dove, a pair of dark morph Swainson’s Hawks, and some wild turkeys.

Both Roxanne and I had brought little bowls to collect some of the pond water in so we could look for little critters in it.  We lucked out and were able to find a lot of tiny swimmers in the water including the larvae of Predaceous Diving Beetles, called “Water Tigers”, Damselfly larvae, and California Clam Shrimp.  So cool!  I need a portable microscope to take with on trips like this – and I need a book on vernal pool creatures. I don’t know very much about this kind of habitat; it’s all kind of new to me.

We both enjoyed the walk and vowed to go back to the pools in another week or so.

Species List:

1. Blue Dicks, Dichelostemma capitatum
2. Butter ‘n’ Eggs, Triphysaria eriantha
3. California Clam Shrimp, Cyzicus californicus
4. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
5. Copepods, Copepoda
6. Damselfly Larvae, Class: Odonata, Order: Zygoptera
7. Dock, Curly Dock, Rumex crispus
8. Filaree, Stork’s Bill, Big Heron Bill, Erodium botrys
9. Flatworm, Dugesia gonocephala
10. Frying Pan Poppy, Eschscholzia lobbii
11. Jointed Charlock, Raphanus raphanistrum
12. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
13. Painted Lady Butterfly, Vanessa cardui
14. Popcorn Flower, Slender Popcorn Flower, Plagiobothrys tenellus
15. Predaceous Diving Beetles, Water Tiger, Cybister fimbriolatus
16. Rio Grand Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
17. Showy Fringe Pod, Spokewheel, Thysanocarpus radians
18. Slug, Reticulate Taildropper, Prophysaon andersoni
19. Swainson’s Hawk, Buteo swainsoni
20. Tadpole, Western Tree Frog, Chorus Frog, Polypedates occidentalis
21. Western Kingbird, Tyrannus verticalis
22. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
23. White-Lined Sphinx Moth, Hyles lineata

Naturalist Class #3, 02-22-19

The Certified California Naturalist class that I teach for Tuleyome in Woodland, CA was jam-packed with things today. First we had a great presentation by Jenny Papka and her crew from Native Bird Connections. They came in from the Bay area to do the presentation for us which included live birds: a Peregrine Falcon, a Swainson’s Hawk and a Eurasian Eagle Owl. The talk was punctuated with interesting and informative stories and lots of props such as sample wings, eggs, pellets and other materials.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

Then we had a break during which the students wrote down some of the species they aw during the field trips and shared their field journals.  Our super volunteer, Roxanne, had purchased cookies to share with the class so those were gobbled up during the breaks.

After the break our co-instructor Nate did a presentation on how to enter observations into iNaturalist online, and I did a short presentation on how to enter hours into the University’s volunteer portal. Then co-instructor Bill went over Chapter 2 (geology), and I did a short half-hour of species identification with the class.  That’s a lot to cram into 4 hours! I was hoping, again, to get an all-class photo taken, but there just wasn’t time for it. I think I’m going to have to do that at the very beginning of the next class while we still have all of the students “captive” for a while. Hah!

I have to say, I’m loving how helpful and supportive Bill, Nate and Roxanne are being with the class. They provide so much valuable input for the students. It’s a great collaborative effort.

Lots of Deer and a Squirrel Stuffing Her Face, 11-17-18

After giving the dog his breakfast, I headed over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk. The air quality has been so bad that the zoo and other recreation places in Sacramento have all shut down for the day. The nature center at Effie Yeaw was also closed, but the trails were still open.

It was about 38° at the river, so I could see my breath in the cold air; and it got up to about 60° by the afternoon. I don’t know how much the smoke is affecting the local temperatures, but I’m sure it’s contributing to the lows.

The first thing I saw when I went into the preserve was the big 4-pointer buck (now working on 5 points) with his harem of does.  In my head, I refer to him as “Big Boy” because of the size of his rack.  He was hanging out in the meadow right next to the picnic area, so I was able to get quite a few photos of him.  As I watched him, a spike buck (1-point) approached, following after a doe who had a fawn with her.  The fawn was pretty good-sized and out of its spot, but still considerably smaller than its mom.  The doe headed deeper into the meadow and the spike buck followed her but was cut off by Big Boy who then tried to get the doe into his own harem. The fawn got spooked and ran toward the harem while its mom was being pursued. She wasn’t receptive to either one of the boys and pretty much ignored them. I didn’t hang around there long enough to see when she reunited with her fawn.

At different points along the trail I saw other deer: some lone does, some small herds, and some of the other larger bucks, including a 3-pointer who, oddly enough, seemed to have the center of his back shaved. There was a large spot that was completely hairless, and the margins of the spot were too clean and symmetrical to have been natural (like mange or something). I couldn’t see any suture marks or anything that might have suggested the buck had gotten medical attention, so I wonder what had caused the bald patch. (I guess I’ll have to call him “Baldy” for now.)  The obvious “flaw” in his coat didn’t seem to detract from his attractiveness to the does. He had his own small harem of three or four of them.

When I was walking away from the 3-pointer and his group, a male photographer came up the trail. “He walked right by you, didn’t he?” he said, referring to Baldy.

“Yeah. He’s got some females with him right now.” I said.

The male photographer then joked that the deer weren’t cooperating with him much, but the squirrels were posing for him everywhere he looked. He even struck a couple of squirrelly poses to demonstrate. Hah!  I’d gotten a lot of squirrel photos, too. They were all over the place: California Ground Squirrels, Western Gray Squirrels, Eastern Fox Squirrels… I got photos of some of them chewing on black walnuts, and one female literally stuffing her face with grass and leaves for her winter nest.  So funny.

I also came across solitary deer throughout the forest; some camouflaged so well in the gold-brown grass that I was only able to see them because their silhouettes gave them away. I saw the doe with the peculiarly long, thin face (“Long Face”); she’s very distinctive. At one spot on the trail, I could HEAR the deer before I saw them.  There was a small group of does and fawn that were very loudly crunching on acorns (which are plentiful this time of year). They needed to eat with their mouths shut. Hah! I guess they felt safe enough, though, to make that much noise.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

One of the obvious things all along the trails today was the coyote scat. It seemed to be on every trail; some of it very fresh. I must have just missed seeing some of the coyotes.  I think, though, that a coyote is what caused a flock of Wild Turkeys to take off en masse from the top of a hill and fly down, right over my head, into the woods. Those things are BIG; I was surprised when none of them hit me or crashed into anything.

A neat sighting was a male Western Bluebird sitting on top of a bat box along the Natoma Trail. There are a few bat boxes on posts throughout the preserve, but I don’t think they attract very many bats. The boxes look too “exposed” to me; they get the full sun in the summer months. Bats need darkness and protection to sleep in during the day; I doubt that those sunny “saunas” are attractive to any of them.  I’ve seen lots of different birds use the boxes as perches, though, like the Western Bluebird, so I guess they’re not a complete waste.

On my way out of the preserve, I came across a couple of volunteers who were taking the nature center’s “animal ambassador” bird out for some air.  One was Wak-Wak, a female Peregrine Falcon, and the other was Orion, the Swainson’s Hawk I’d seen the last time I was there. Wak-Wak had been accidentally shot by hunters (who then rescued the bird and brought it in for care), so one of her wings is permanently mangled and she can’t fly.

I walked for about 3½ hours and then headed back home.