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Standouts: a Lorquin’s Admiral and a Wilson’s Snipe, 11-03-18

I left the house with the dog around 5:30 am to head out to the Sacramento and Colusa National Wildlife Refuges. It was already 62º there and was windy; not a strong blow-you-over wind, but strong enough so that it kept a lot of the birds hunkered down to keep warm. Neither refuge is at full water capacity yet, so there were long areas of nothing but dried grass and tules. In another month or so, viewing should better.

At the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, the first thing I saw was a Black-Tailed Jackrabbit using a stand of tules as a windbreak. I saw several Red-Tailed Hawks in the trees, saw some American Kestrels on the wing, saw a Northern Harrier on the ground, and lots of Turkey Vultures surfing the wind currents. One of the Red-Tails was so huge, I thought at first that it might be an eagle; the female Red-Tails can get REALLY large. I also heard but didn’t see a Red-Shouldered Hawk.

Lots of Song, Savannah and White-Crowned Sparrows were out along with huge flocks of Snow Geese, Greater White-Fronted Geese, and Northern Pintail ducks. I also saw several Ross’s Geese – which look like Snow Geese, but they’re smaller and don’t have the black “grin patch” on the beak. Among the other ducks were Northern Shovelers (some still in their eclipse plumage), American Wigeons and Gadwalls. The Pintails always out-number the other ducks this early in the season as they’re the first to arrive.

Some areas along the auto-tour route were laden with the thick sticky webbing spiderlings use to “balloon” along the landscape. Long strands and bunches of “spider snot” seemed to be everywhere.

Two standouts at the Sacramento refuge were a Loggerhead Shrike and a Lorquin’s Admiral butterfly. The Shrike had posted itself on some dead cattail stems and as I watched it impaled a large insect on a shard along the side of the stem. Then it manipulated the insect a little bit with its beaks and feet before eating it. I think the insect was a big grasshopper, but I couldn’t get a really good look at it. Shrikes are referred to as “butcher birds” and “songbirds with the heart of a raptor” for their hunting and butchering behaviors.

The Lorquin’s Admiral was a huge surprise. It’s very late in the season for them to be out. This is a kind of butterfly that has several “flights” throughout the year, and they feed on nectar from California Buckeye trees, but they also like bird feces. Ugh. No accounting for taste! What’s cool about these guys is that even though they’re basically made out of “fuzzy air”, they’re super-aggressive and will fight protect their territory. Sort of like getting sucker-punches by a paper doll. Hah! The caterpillars roll themselves up in the leaves of willow trees (among others) and overwinter in them.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

At the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge, I saw a lot of the same birds that I did at the Sacramento refuge, but the standout was a Wilson’s snipe and flew up right next to the car and walked around the muddy ground there. Every once in a while, the bird would tilt its head to look up at me as I frantically snapped photos of it through the driver’s side window of my car.

On our way out of the auto-tour route at this refuge, I saw a pair of young Columbian Black-Tailed Deer grazing on the berm that was covered with geese and ducks. The deer didn’t seem to mind it when I stopped my car next to the end of the berm to take some photos and video of them, but when another car came up behind mine, they startled. I was surprised when, instead of running away up the berm through the flock of birds, both deer came charging down the berm right toward my car. I was afraid they were going to hit it. But they both veered off, one after the other, and crossed the auto-tour route road in front of my car – kind of using my car as a shield – before they jumped into the trees and overgrowth on the opposite side of the road. Wow. Got my heart going for a little bit. I don’t know what it was about the other car that made them so afraid.

When I was done with the auto-tour route, I parked near the restroom facility and then took Sergeant Margie out on his leash to stretch his legs. ((Dogs are allowed on the preserve, as long as they’re in your car or on a leash.)) I started down the trail that runs along between a large wetland area and a slough (so you have water on both sides) and was happily surprised to see that Sergeant Margie was able to handle walking a half mile in and a half mile back to the car (one mile round trip). He hasn’t been able or willing to do any kind of “long” walk for almost a year.

I think it helped that the temperature outside was comfortable and the trail was flat and covered with soft leaves. His tongue was hanging out when we got back to the car, but he wasn’t coughing or complaining. I gave him some lunch and a big drink of water before we headed back home.

A Fast Run Through the SNWR Auto-Tour, 07-21-18

Up at 5:00 am with the dog, and we headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. I wanted to beat the heat, but I also wanted to test out the car on a long drive before heading back to work on Monday.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

At the refuge, I was hoping to see a lot of dragonflies… but without the large pond, they just weren’t around. It was kind of disappointing. The whole place is dry, with just small “mud holes” here and there. The big surprise was a Bald Eagle that took off just as I stopped to try to get photos of it. And I got a few cute photos of a mama California Ground Squirrel sitting up on a stump and eating a thistle head. I just love those little critters.

Because there wasn’t a lot to see, I got through the whole auto tour route very quickly and headed back to Sacramento. I got back home around noon. I think that’s the fastest turn-around I’ve ever done there.

Found a Robin’s Nest at William Land Park, 06-23-18

I headed out with the dog to the William Land Park for a short walk. And I mean short. We were only out there for about 90-minutes. It was 73º already when we left the house at 5:30 am! and 80º when we got back home.

On our way to the park, I came across a mother Wild Turkey and her NINE poults. They were by an open field right near a bus stop. Mom was on one side of a rickety chain link fence, and the babies, who were on the sidewalk, couldn’t figure out how to get through the fence to meet up with her.  So, they were running back and forth, peeping loudly. Mom finally walked up to where there was a gap in the fence and stayed there until the kids could join her.

In the WPA Rock Garden, there were different species of Mullein in bloom all over garden, yellow and white. Just some fun facts about mullein: it’s a biennial plant; the word mullein, comes from the German language, meaning “king’s candle” because of its scepter-like, candle-straight growth in its second year; the leaves and flowers are edible and make a nice tea. Most of the mullein we see are non-natives and the Woolly species is considered an invasive in California even though it’s not really that aggressive.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos and video snippets.

I also saw signs that the Leaf-Cutter Bees had been busy at work in the garden. They cut out perfect little half-circles in the soft leaves of the Redbud trees to line their nests. I also saw a lot of the ubiquitous European Honey Bees, some Yellow-Faced Bumblebees, some Long-Horned Bees just waking up from their overnight torpor, and a small group of bright red Assassin Bug nymphs on the stems of some Red Poppies of Flanders.

I also found what I thought was a collection of tiny, black shiny insect eggs. I took photos of them and when I blew the images up I realized that the little black things were actually bug nymphs (Pittosporum shield bug, Monteithiella humeralis, I think) just hatching out of their white eggs. Cool!

At the pond, there was a Mallard mama out with her seven ducklings, and also a mama Swedish Blue/Mallard hybrid with her three ducklings. One of her ducklings looked like a Mallard baby, but the other two were black and yellow with light colored bibs like the Swedish Blues. One of those babies also had black feet with yellow toes. So cute!

There was also a lone Wood Duck (a little female who didn’t take any guff from the larger Mallards), a Crested Duck, a pair of Peking Ducks, and some Indian Runner Ducks. No geese, though, which I thought was kind of odd.

High in a tree on one side of the pond, I could see a nest and something moving around in it. The nest was made of twigs and grass, and also had some white ribbon hanging from the bottom of it (which made it easy to spot). For I while I couldn’t tell what kind of bird was moving around it, so I tried looking at it from different angles and different distances from the tree. I then I realized it was Robin’s nest. Mama Robin came by to check on the kids – there were actually three of them in there. I think she’d brought them something to eat, but I couldn’t tell what it was. Papa Robin showed up a few seconds later, and then both parents flew off again to find more breakfast.

Oh, one thing I noticed that I’d never seen before: a mosquito drinking nectar from a flower. I knew the females drank blood, but for some reason it never occurred to me that they (and the males) drink nectar, too.

As I said, we only walked for about 90 minutes and then headed back home because it was already getting too warm outside. It got up to 102 today.