Tag Archives: tree swallows

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.

Lots of Cavity Nesting Birds, 05-19-18

I got up around 6:00 am and was out the door by 6:30 to go over to the American River Bend Park. I was sure the Great Horned Owl owlets were fully fledged by now and off hunting, so I didn’t expect to see them. I wanted to go out there, though, to see if the Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillars were mature enough yet to start making their chrysalises. It’s apparently still too early for that around here, but I still got to see a lot birds and bugs and other things.

A lot of the usual suspects were out – Wild Turkeys, Starlings, Tree Swallows, Mourning Doves, House Wrens – and I was able to get photos of some of the cavity nesting birds in and around their nests. One pair of wrens was just starting to work on their nest, bringing sticks and soft stuff to line it with; another pair of wrens had babies and were flying food to them every few minutes. Standing nest tot heir tree, I was able to hear the bay birds inside cheeping away. I need to get a camera with a stretchy arm that can reach up and look down into the cavities…

The neat find of the day – even though I didn’t get many good photos because of the lighting and where the birds were – was a Western Bluebird nesting cavity. Both the male and female were feeding their nestlings (which, like the wren babies, I could hear from inside of the tree). Western Bluebirds are shy, though, and move really quickly, especially if they think you’re looking at them. (As brightly colored as the males are, it always surprises me how easily they can disappear into the shadows.) Still, I managed to get some photos of both the mom and the dad and they flew back and forth and brought bugs for their babies. At one point, the papa Bluebird figured I was getting too close to the nesting cavity, and he flew right at me, beak open. I got a few shaky photos of that before I backed off from the tree. I’m there to observe, not interfere…

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

I also found a male hummingbird high up in a tree, and tried to get photos of him, but I couldn’t tell if he was an Anna’s or a Black-Chinned.

I saw some Scarab Hunter Wasps hovering close to the ground, looking for grubs to infest, and some other wasp-like insects that I haven’t been able to identify yet. There are sooooooo many insects with superfamilies, families, and tribes to go through before you ever get down to the genus and species level… They’re really difficult for me to identify properly. I really admire entomologists and their bug and insect proficiency.

One of the odd-ball insects I found was a small wasp-like thing with an iridescent blue thorax, red-orange abdomen, and somewhat clear wings. I was thinking maybe it was a kind of “Digger Wasp”, but I couldn’t find one on Bugguide.net with the right color legs. Maybe a “sawfly”?  I also found a golden fly-like thing with red eyes and an iridescent green thing I think is some kind of cuckoo wasp. I’m not sure. I’ll have to continue the search for the IDs.

I also came across quite a few Tussock Moth caterpillar cocoons. Most of them were already spent (with an opening at one end through which the mature moth emerged), but one was completely intact and had a layer of hard white “fluff” over the top of it. I’d never seen one like that, so I took photos and then did some more research when I got home.

I knew that the female moths (which are wingless) laid their eggs on their old cocoons and then covered the eggs with a layer of hair and foamy secretions from their bodies (which hardens to protect the eggs as they overwinter), and that could have been the case with the cocoon I found, but it seemed at first glance that the pupal casing was still inside the cocoon, which meant the moth hadn’t emerged yet.  A puzzle.

My research indicated that sometimes parasitic wasps will lay their eggs on top of the cocoons and as the larvae emerge they build a tight white webbing around them to protect themselves while they feast on the moth pupa inside the cocoon. I wasn’t sure which scenario I was looking at, so, I opened up the cocoon to see if there was anything inside of it.  Although the cocoon itself was intact (no emergence hole in the end of it), the pupal casing inside of it was empty.  I’m still not absolutely positive about what I was seeing, but I’m assuming the white fluff was made by a wasp, not by the female moth, and the pupa was devoured before the moth had a chance to develop. Nature is so fascinating.

The buckeye trees are all in bloom right now; so pretty. And some of the black walnut trees are already sporting new walnuts. I was surprised to see that many of the Hop Trees around had already lost most of their seeds. Lots of hungry birds out there, I guess.  Along the river, I found a lot of Elegant Clarkia in bloom as well as Bush Monkey Flowers. I would have gone further along that part of the trail but by that time I had already been on m feet for over three hours, and I needed to get back to the car.

All in all, I ended up walking for about 4 hours.

First Flame Skimmer of the Season, 05-12-18

I was out the door and off to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve once more to check on the development of the Monarch Butterfly caterpillars – and get some fresh air and exercise in, of course.

Before I left the house, I noticed there were a few Yellow-Billed Magpies out foraging in the neighbor’s yard, so I took some photos of them before they flew off.   When I got to the nature preserve, the first thing I saw was a small flock of male Wild Turkeys. They were parading and strutting around a single female who was more interested in finding breakfast than dealing with the boys. Hah!

I put on insect repellent, but there are these tiny, black, winged no-see-ums that forge through the repellant anyway and bite HARD. I don’t know what the species is, but I really dislike those things. They get all over you… creep me out worse than the ticks.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

In the small pond by the nature center, the Bullfrog tadpoles are starting to change from water-breathers to air-breathers, and they popped up to the surface periodically to gulp in some air before retreating back down into the water. All you can see through the murky water when they come up is their pale belly and their big mouths. So funny.

The Monarch caterpillars grew a lot over the week, so many of them where about as long as my index finger. There were still a lot of babies, though, so the preserve should have a good crop of new butterflies in a couple of weeks.  This is the time of year when birds are making and feeding babies, but they leave the Monarch and Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillars alone – because the caterpillars are packed with noxious poisons from the plants they eat. I found one new Pipevine Swallowtail chrysalis on the side of an oak tree already. No sign of the gold-bejeweled Monarch chrysalises yet.

I also got photos of the first Flame Skimmer dragonfly I’d seen this year. They’re such neat looking things. The dragonfly sat long enough and still enough that I was able to get some close-ups of its wing-structure.

I later watched some Harvester Ants bring in new seeds and stuff, and remove old seeds and whatnot from their in-ground bivouac. It seems like they were transferring the old stuff to a different part of the nest through an extra hole in the ground.  Looking more closely I could see that they also removed the dead bodies of some rival ants… And some members of the colony apparently didn’t read their emails because they were bringing the new seeds in through a hole that was “exit only”. It was a crack-up watching them.

There weren’t too many deer out today, but I did see a lone doe, and a young buck who looked like he’d been attacked by wasps. His chin and bottom lip were swollen which made him look kind of goofy. There are ground-dwelling Yellow-Jackets that have hives all over the preserve; maybe this guy was browsing too close to one of those.

Come to think of it, one of the Red-Shouldered Hawks I came across today had a swollen eye – like can be rough out in Nature. The swelling didn’t seem to interfere with the bird’s eyesight or it’s ability to navigate; and it didn’t look like the bird was blind on that side, so maybe it was a temporary impairment.

As I was on my way out of the preserve, I saw some of the docents doing a presentation for a small group of Scouts with their animal ambassador, “Orion” a young Swainson’s Hawk. According to the Effie Yeaw website: “…Orion was dropped off at the UC Davis Raptor Center with a broken wing in 2017. Although his injuries healed partially, there were some lingering issues that would prevent him from completing the long migration down to Argentina. It was also discovered that Orion was an imprint, or lacking a natural fear of humans, and therefore dependent on people for his survival. However, this resulted in an easier transition for Orion to become one of our amazing animal ambassadors…”

I’d walked for about 3 hours, and then headed home for the day.