Tag Archives: Turkey Vultures

A Frosty Morning Walk, 02-06-19

Around 7:30 am I headed over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk.  It was a very chilly 31°when I got there, and there were some areas where everything was covered with a heavy frost.  I was glad my heavier coat was in the back seat of the car! There were only a few people on the trails as I was walking, including a small group of birders with binoculars and a spotting scope. I tried to avoid them as much as I could so I wouldn’t interfere with whatever it was they were trying to view.

Early along on my walk, I watched a pair of loudly honking Canada Geese fly over my head, circle around, and then land in two different trees along the trail. I’d never seen the geese perch in trees before, so I tried to get a closer look at them.  I think they were maybe an adult and a juvenile, and the juvenile had gotten tired of flying and couldn’t fly anymore.  He was on the tree closest to me; I could see that his face-patches, which are bright white on the adults, was sort of light gray (which is why I assumed he was a juvenile), and he seemed exhausted. Geese aren’t really made to perch in trees, and he was fumbling around a bit on the stump he’d chosen to land on.  The other goose was higher up in another tree across from him.  They honked at each other, back and forth, for several minutes. Then they took off in tandem and flew over to the river side where they landed once more on the rocky shore. I’m hoping these are resident geese that can go live on the lawns of the golf course and aren’t migrating anywhere. They younger goose couldn’t manage any kind of long-time flying…

CLICK HERE to see the album of photos.

I also watched a young Eastern Fox Squirrel running around on a cottonwood tree. At several points, the squirrel stopped, held onto the bark with its hind legs, and extended its front legs out in front of it away from the tree.  It looked like he was doing an augmented form of “planking”, using gravity to stretch his back out. I’d never seen that behavior before either, so that was two “firsts” for the day.

Further along the trail, I crossed paths with the birding group, and they pointed out a male Downy Woodpecker to me that I would have missed if they hadn’t shown it to me.  So, thanks for that.

Around the same area, I saw a Red-Tailed Hawk that was first sitting on the top of a tree and then joining the Turkey Vultures in their winding “kettle” flight up along the warm air drafts.  Below them, in another tree, was a Red-Shouldered Hawk.  At first I thought it was blind in one eye or missing eye. Closer inspection of the photos I took of it proved, though, that its right eye was just surrounded by gunk. So, it might have had an infection, but it still had its eye.

I saw a lot of deer again today, small herds of about 10 to 12 deer each in different parts of the preserve.  The adult males are still sporting their antlers, and I saw quite a few 3- and 4-pointers out there.  I also saw a young male that just had little nubbies where his first-year antlers had been’ one of the pedicles looks raw, so I assumed that he’d probably had his antlers knocked off very recently. He also had an oddly formed face, like his nose had been broken at one point or something. He had a visible underbite; his bottom jaw and teeth protruding beyond his upper row of teeth. A very distinctive-looking boy.

Even though it was chilly outside, I really enjoyed the fresh air and the movement. The only thing that was temporarily was aggravating was the fact that my camera stalled out and wouldn’t take multiple shots in a burst after about an hour or so.  That usually happens when the data card is too full to process anymore incoming information. So, I had to replace the original data card with a back-up one I had in my bag. My back up card was still in its packaging, though, so I had to struggle opening it up – with cold fingers, and the tiny knife on my keychain. Ugh!  Once I got the cards switched out, I was able to continue to take photos without interruption.

As I was going out of the park, there were truckloads of kids around the nature center, some of them screaming and running around. I heard two of their chaperones yell, “Leave the turkeys alone!!” and could hear the Wild Turkeys gobbling excitedly.  I went closer to where the turkeys were – intending to protect them from the children – just as the chaperones got their heinous charges under control and were walking away from where three gobblers were standing.  Once the kids were gone – out through the front of the preserve and across the road to an open field – the turkeys settled down and walked up to the doors of the learning center where they (once more) started strutting and posturing to their reflections in the glass doors.

After a few minutes, a small group of seniors came up and stood behind me to watch the birds. One of them said, “Oh, look. They’re looking for food.”  I explained that, no, they’re “in strut”, and then explained how the males posture, fan their tails, drop their wing feathers to the ground… what the snood on the face was… why their faces looked blue/white and their caruncles were bright red… A teaching moment. The seniors all got their phones out and started taking photos of the birds. All the while, the turkeys moved in and out of bright sunlight, making the feathers on their bodies gleam with copper, orange and green iridescence. They’re really quite beautiful.

All in all, I walked for about 3 hours before heading home.

Wrens, Tree Swallows and… Pronghorns, 04-29-18

Things didn’t go quite as planned today, but it was okay.  Up around 6:00 am and off to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. I had intended to go out Highway 20 to search for wildflowers, but the season is almost passed around here, so I drove on to the refuge instead.  It was 49º when I headed out and about 66º on my way back. The sky was full of big sofa clouds and there was a slight breeze all day. Very pretty.

At the refuge, the large pond has been drained down to almost nothing, so there’s nothing to see, really, along that extra loop right now. It’s a disappointment. Without the water there are no dragonflies, no grebes nesting on their floating mats, no rafts of pelicans fishing… Just a big dirt hole with deer tracks running across it.  Still, the trip wasn’t a complete waste. When I started the auto-tour route, I was greeted with the sight of a male American Goldfinch in the tall grass, eating seeds. They’re much brighter than the Lesser Goldfinches I usually see around there. Very striking.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

I also got to see several of the male Marsh Wrens successfully luring females to their construction sites. The males build several different nests close to one another, and then let the female decide which one she likes best. Two of the males I saw had females working to line the nests with soft grass and feathers.  I also watched as another male worked frantically to build a nest, not out of cattail skins (like most of the other nests), but of green weeds and bits of wet stick.  He was really struggling. The green weeds were thin and leafy and wouldn’t bend or sit the way he wanted them to. When he brought the stick in, he tried it in several different spots and just couldn’t seem to get it into the right spot. I got some photos and video snippets of all of this.  I also came across one male Marsh Wren without a tail.  Usually the males “flag” with their tail and hold it upright when they sing. This guy had nothing to work with. I don’t know if the tail feathers had molted out and not regrown yet, or were pulled out by some other critter that tried to make the small bird its meal… I wonder if being tailless will impact on the little guy’s ability to find a mate.

Seriously. I wished I could stay there longer, and study it all more. Where’s my millions, Universe? I want to be able to retire and do naturalist stuff full time!

At another spot along the route, by the big viewing platform, I found a pair of nesting Tree Swallows. Mom and dad took turns patrolling the nest and going out to look for food. I couldn’t hear any babies, though, and the parents didn’t seem to be bringing whatever food they found back to the nest. Maybe mom is still building up enough protein to lay eggs; or maybe the chicks aren’t hatched yet – but far enough along so that mom doesn’t need to be sitting on the nest all of the time. More questions left unanswered because I can’t get out there long enough to do a definitive study. I need to look for research grant funding…

There were lots of ground squirrels out, and a couple of them posed for me.  And I came across several “wakes” of Turkey Vultures.  On group was perches on a gate with huge tufts of poison hemlock growing up all around them. That made for an unusually creepy yet lovely photograph.  Who knew vultures could look so pretty?

Here is the album of pix from today:  https://www.flickr.com/photos/mkhnaturalist/albums/72157695871401034

The big surprise of the day, though, was at the end of the day as I was heading home. Just off Road 68, where the I5 onramp is there was a herd of … wait for it… Pronghorns! I knew there were pronghorn in California, but I’d never seen one. This was a small herd and they were walking through a recently plowed agricultural field. It was such a surprise that it actually took my brain several seconds to understand what I was looking at. An amazing sight.

Red-Shouldered Hawks and a Very Brave Fawn, 01-27-18

While I was driving into the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve, I came across a huge flock of male Wild Turkeys, all big gobblers showing off to one another. Most of them were in nearby front yards, but some of them were right in the middle of the road, and weren’t too keen on moving out of the way. I had to stop the car and then inch it forward to get the birds to move. One persistent one stood right in front of my car and stayed there – even when I was close enough so that all I could see of him was his head looking up over the hood my car – until I honked the horn at him. He finally, if very slowly, got out of the way but then jogged alongside my car for a while as I continued down the road. Goofy birds.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos and videos.

At the preserve itself, I came across that large group of hikers that I’d seen there before: about 15 or 20 of them, all gabbing loudly, scaring off the wildlife… I let them all pass me, and then I turned around and went in the opposite direction of where they were going. As I did this, I came across another hiker who said to me, “They really disturb the peace, don’t they?” That’s for sure! I don’t understand why they can’t do their group walk and SHUT UP at the same time. What a racket they make!

I saw many of the usual suspects on my walk: Acorn Woodpeckers, Lesser Goldfinch, Turkey Vultures, Canada Geese, some Herring Gulls and Common Goldeneye in the river, a Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, European Starlings, Golden-Crowned Sparrows, Scrub Jays…

But there were a lot of Red-Shouldered Hawks around including a trio that soared and dashed through the trees chasing one another. One of the hawks even flew down and perched right on the top of an old, weathered skag of a tree. By its coloring and size, I assume it was female. So lovely.

There were also a lot of deer out today, too, including one very curious and brave fawn who came right up to the side of the trail to check me out (while he pretended to browse in the tall grass). He was so close, I could have reached out and touched him. I also came cross a doe who seemed to be intrigued by my hat. She was about 20 feet away, but stepped up to within about 5 feet of me to check me out.

At another point, I saw two does stotting across hillside. Then they made a left turn and came running straight at me, only seeing me at the last second when they veered off sharply to the right to avoid hitting me. I could feel the “wind” of their passing they were so close.

The other cool deer sighting was to be able to see two of the dominant males jousting with one another. I’d gotten photos and video snippets of the younger males head-butting one another, but this time it was two of the largest males – one a four-pointer. I don’t understand how they can wrestle the way they do, antlers locked, without poking each other’s eyes out.

I left a little bit earlier than I normally would – only walking for about 2½ hours instead of the regular 3 or 3½ — because the weather was so nice “everyone” decided to converge on the preserve.

Sometimes Nature Giveth You Eagles, 01-19-18

Day 1 of my 4-day birthday weekend. I was hoping to sleep in a bit, but the dog got me up around 6:00 am. I had originally planned to go to the zoo today, but something at the back of my brain kept nagging me to go to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge instead. With the government shutdown looming, if a budget isn’t agreed upon today, the refuge may be closed down until one is put in place, so this might be the only chance I’ll get this weekend to go out there… So, I got the dog ready and we were on the road before 7:00 am.

It was cold in the morning, around 42º, but got up to about 57º by the afternoon.  The sky was mostly clear, with big sofa clouds clustered around the mountains. A pretty day.

The first thing I saw at the refuge was a Red-Tailed Hawk sitting on the ground by the carcass of something (that I couldn’t see clearly; lots of black feathers, it might have been a Coot). It’s always so weird to see these big bids sitting on the ground.  I saw other Red-Tails throughout my visit, including some pairs. Most of them, though, were deep in the twiggy branches of trees, and I couldn’t get any real clear photos of them.

That seemed to be true a lot today: Western Meadowlark, blocked by twigs, Peregrine Falcon, blocked by twigs, Northern Shrike, blocked by twigs… There was also a flock of Turkey Vultures on the ground, fighting over something, but all of the tall grass blocked most of what they were doing. It got really frustrating at times.  To kind of counteract that “jinx”, I actually went through the auto-tour route TWICE to get a second look at things when I could.  Doing that I was able to get some fairly good photos of Bald Eagles (adults and a juvenile), a Cooper’s Hawk, Snow Geese, a Western Pond Turtle, some Great Egrets and White-Faced Ibis, and other critters, so I was pleased with that.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

At one point, I could hear the weird crackle-warbling of Ravens, and looked around for them. They were way over my head, flying around a Red-Tailed Hawk. I didn’t know if the Ravens were chasing it off, or if they were just cruising on the air currents with it. I tried to get video of that, but the birds were so far away that the camera didn’t know what to focus on. *Sigh*.

On the I-got-the-good-side-of-that-deal front: I had pulled off to the side of the road to get some photos of a Great Egret, and while I was doing that, two White-Faced Ibis and a Snowy Egret flew right into view and landed within a few feet of the car. I also got some cute photos of a number of California Ground Squirrels. So, sometimes Nature giveth… Hah!

On my way out of the refuge, I saw another bunch of Turkey Vultures flying into a tree along the side of the road. I turned the car around and headed back to where they were, and when I got there, several of the vultures raised their wings in the “heraldic pose”, warming themselves in the sun. Other drivers caught sight of them, too, so about five or six of us ended up parking on the shoulder with our cameras and cell phones taking photos of them. A flock of humans snapping pix of a flock of vultures.

Encounter with a Juvenile Turkey Vulture, 09-23-17

I headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve and it was 48º when I got there. Fall has fallen. I love it when it’s like this!

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

Saw some deer right off the bat, and a European Starling poking its head out of its tree-cavity nest. I also got to watch an Acorn Woodpecker trying to pull green acorns off of a tree so he could stash them in his troop’s granary tree (the tree where they keep all of their nuts and acorns and winter food).

They drill new holes into their granary trees only during this time of the year, when the sap in the tree is running low, so they don’t kill the tree. Then they find acorns and other food stuff and shove them into the newly drilled holes for the winter. In the spring and summer, you may see them banging on the trees, too, but they’re not drilling new holes then (except maybe for their nesting space); instead, they are moving those nuts and acorns that have shrunk in size from one hole to another to wedge them in more tightly. They’re such ingenious little birds, and funny too. They’re a hoot to watch.

Among the deer I saw a lot of does, some does with fawns (out of their spots and growing bigger), some bucks with their full racks of antlers (no long covered in velvet) and even a young “spike buck” (only one point; so he was around 2 years old).

The highlight along my walk today, though, was coming across a fledgling Turkey Vulture. It was full size but didn’t have all of its adult feathers in yet, and it couldn’t fly very well. It’s face was still grey (not red yet) and its beak was still metallic black (instead of bone white). I spotted it first in the low branches of a tree, and tried to get photos of it through the branches. It worked its way up to a slightly high branch, flew clumsily over my head and landed on a dead skag-tree. It then walked up the naked branches of that, and parked itself on the top of the tree. I got several photos of it and then realized an adult Turkey Vulture was flying in low circles around the skag.

As I watched, the adult flew into the upper branches of a nearby tree, and the youngster flew to it, kind of crashing into a branch just below the adult. The adult then fed the youngster and flew off again. So cool! At one point while I was taking photos of the juvenile, several people came up and looked on. I explained to them that they were seeing a juvenile and what differences to look for between adults and their babies. They all pulled out their cell phones to take photos. A teaching moment. It was fun.

You can see the video here.

On the way out of the preserve, I stopped at the frog pond… and two other “old women” with cameras came up to join me in finding and taking photos of the bullfrogs there. It was obvious that the pond had recently been cleaned out: it was easier to see the bottom of it today than it has been for a long time; most of the cattails were gone; and the pond had been scraped free of a lot of duckweed. All of the full grown, large-as-your-hand bullfrogs were also gone. But the pond was full of minnows, tadpoles and small bullfrogs, so there was still a lot to look at (and all of the remaining frogs seemed to be females).

It eventually became a kind of jovial contest between us old ladies over who could find the best angle on the loveliest frog. Hah! We had more fun there than the kids who passed by did. (This is why I’d rather host nature outings for adults than for kids.)

I walked for almost four hours (phew!) and then headed home.

Lots to See at the Effie Yeaw Preserve

Nature heals.  I went over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve, and it was fortuitous that I did the walk there today.  Tomorrow the place is going to be closed up for an equestrian event of some sort. It was a fortuitous walk, too, in that I was able to see a whole lot of different things…

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

The big news was the number of Monarch Butterfly caterpillars there were in the milkweed garden outside the nature center.  So of the plants were covered with the buggers, the plants chewed down to just sticks… and I found one of the Monarch chrysalises!  They’re such pretty little things, all pale jade green and studded with bright gold dots. I even found of the caterpillars mid-poop.  Their frass (butterfly poop) is tans and rolled up like miniature bales of hay.  Hah!  It’s unusual for the caterpillars to be out en masse so late in the season, but the summer heat must’ve confused them, too… I also saw a late season Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly. They’re supposed to be finished and out of here by May… so that guy was REALLY late.

Saw quite a few birds including the ubiquitous Acorn Woodpeckers, Mourning Doves, California Towhees, House Finches, a Wood Duck, and a Flicker.  I’d stopped at one point so get some photos of a young California Scrub Jay, and while I was doing that, a male California Quail popped up and climbed onto the same fallen branch the jay was sitting on… I also saw some European Starlings and Cedar Waxwings. Near the river bank, I saw quite a few Killdeer scurrying over the rocks.  And in one of the old dead trees on the property, the Turkey Vultures were preening and sunning themselves in the early morning light.

One intense irritation for me was when I came across a whole covey of female Quails on the trail.  I stopped to take some photos of them, and while I was focusing the camera to get a closer shot, these two women walked up behind me, pushed me to one side with a muttered “excuse me” and walked past me right front of my camera. I couldn’t believe it. These women were older than I am; way too old to be playing “mean girls”.

“You totally messed up my shot. Thanks,” I said. And one of the woman turned around and gave me a dirty look, while the other one grinned a stupid grin and said, “Well, it’s the only trail around.” Not true… and even if it WAS true, that didn’t excuse their behavior.

The tree squirrels and California Ground Squirrels were munching on black walnuts all over the preserve.  I was able to get a few photos and a video snippet of one of them.

And, of course, I was able to see quite a few mule deer – including an older fawn who seemed fascinated by my camera. I could tell he REALLY wanted to walk over to see what it was, but he was smart and kept his distance.

At one other point along the trail I was astonished to see what I first thought were wasps flying in and around a hole in the side of a tree.  I didn’t want to approach the tree to get a closer look, for fear of getting stung, so I used the super-zoom function on my camera and realized the swarm wasn’t wasps, it was Honey Bees.  It couldn’t tell if the swarm was just starting to set up house in the tree, or if they were moving out their queen and relocating… but it was a mass of bees! A hundred or more that I could see… Considering the time of year and the activity at the tree, I’m guessing this swarm was gathered around a new emergent queen and were in the process of establishing a new hive, but I didn’t see the queen.  It seemed obvious, especially in the video snippets I took, that the workers were chewing at the tree back and transforming the resins in it. You can see a distinct color difference between the unworked bark, and the bark on which the bees were focused.

You can see the ring of propolis on the bark that is being worked up by the bees.

I looked up some information on this and learned that “…the tree resin is not used in the hive in its original form when collected by the bees. The bees process the tree resin in their mouths and then, almost magically the tree resin is concentrated into an array of least 180 different compounds which have been identified so far…”

One of those compounds is propolis.

“… Propolis or bee glue is a resinous mixture that honey bees produce by mixing saliva and beeswax with exudate gathered from tree buds, sap flows, or other botanical sources. It is used as a sealant for unwanted open spaces in the hive. Propolis is used for small gaps…”  The propolis makes the hive more structurally sound, protects the hive from the weather, and affords the hive protection from invading insects, molds and bacteria.

Should be interesting to see how this hive does… if the rangers allow it to continue where it is.

On my way out of the preserve, I stopped by their little pond, and got to see quite a few little Bullfrogs in the water, including one that still had some of its tadpole tail.

Lots to see…