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The 1st Summer 2019 Naturalist Field Trip, 06-15-19

I got up at 4:00 this morning, got the dog fed and outside to pee, and then headed out to Woodland for our first field trip for the summer naturalist class.  I got to the Woodland Library around 5:45 am and waited for my coworker Bill and the students arrive. The weather was VERY cooperative today. I was worried that the summer heat would make our field trips unbearable in the summer, but today it was nice.  It was in the low 60’s when we headed out, and only about 78° when we came back, so that was great.  There was also a slight breeze which helped, too.

When everyone got to the library and had signed in, we all headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  I left my car in the parking lot and went with Bill in his van along with our student, Jeanette, who is a middle school teacher.

  • Locate and identify at least fifteen (15) animal species (birds, amphibians, reptiles)
  • Locate and identify at least ten (10) plant species
  • Locate and identify at least ten (10) insect species

While we were walking around the nature center, I think they all got the majority of those requirements!  The insects were probably the most difficult for everyone, but we’ll see on Friday (at class) how well everyone did. 

Near the nature center, we came across a large fat weevil sitting on the top of the flowering head of a tule.  Bill rapped on the weevil a couple of times and figured it was dead, but when I stroked it, its feet moved, so we all inferred that the weevil was in a state of torpor, waiting for the sun to get a little higher in the sky so it could warm up more and start moving around. 

Everyone took photos of it and tried to identify it using the iNaturalist app we’d told them about in class on Friday.  It came up as a Billbug Weevil from the genus Sphenophorus. If you look at the map in iNaturalist, though, you’ll see that Billbug Weevils have been sighted all over the globe. So, calling this a Billbug Weevil is somewhat accurate, but for a more precise ID, I wanted the students to try get down to the species level on the weevil when they got home. Insects can be especially hard to ID because there are literally millions of them, and you have to deal with taxon levels that include superfamilies, tribes and subtribes before you can get close to the species. It will be interesting to see how far the students are able to get.

We also found a buckwheat plant that I didn’t recognize as buckwheat at all because its shape wasn’t like any buckwheat plant I’d seen before.  The signage by the plant said it was California Buckwheat, Eriogonum fasciculatum, as did iNaturalist, but that didn’t quite look right to me. The leaves were the wrong shape.  So, I did a little more research, and I believe it was actually St. Catherine’s Lace, Eriogonum giganteum, a kind of wild buckwheat that usually only grows in Southern California. When we were studying the plant, two of the students (Jeanette and Edna) also observed that some of the flowers still had their pink pollen balls and others did not… and we inferred that those that didn’t have their pollen balls anymore had already been pollinated.

Buckwheat, St. Catherine’s Lace, Eriogonum giganteum, with pollen blass intact

When it came time to drive the auto-tour route, I drove Bill’s van so he could do more observations, and Jeanette and another student, Mica, a retired farmer, came along with us. Bill was able to open up both sides of his van, so the gals could get an unobstructed view of what was out on the preserve. Although everyone was able to go at their own pace along the route, we stopped at two of the park-and-stretch areas so we could compare notes and get a closer look at things.  At the first stop, the students Ken and Alison, who are already expert birders, were helping the students spot and identify bird species and also explained what they meant when they talked about the birds’ GISS.

GISS stands for “General Impression, Shape, and Size” (originally a military term). Birders often use the bird’s GISS as a way to do a preliminary or in-field identification of a bird when it’s backlit (only seen in silhouette) or is too far away to see any details of its coloring. So, Alison and Kent were able to distinguish a pair of Northern Harriers flying over our heads from the Red-Tailed Hawk that was flying near them by nothing but their GISS. Very cool.  I’m nowhere near being that kind of an expert. 

At the second park-and-stretch spot, students relaxed with their lunches for a little while, and I was able to find a couple of examples of a specific kind of gall to tell them about, a Cottonwood Petiole Gall and is created by the aphid, Pemphigus populitransversus. The wingless female aphid called a “stem mother” chews at the leaf petiole (the stalk that joins a leaf to a stem) until it swells and then she climbs inside the swelling and has her babies inside of it. The baby aphids are born live and can be in either a winged form (called an “alate”) or without wings.

Cottonwood Petiole Aphid Gall,
Pemphigus populitransversus

While the students were resting and checking up on their notes, one of them, Alison, let us see what she’d put into her field journal for the morning. She’s an artist, and she uses fountain pens and watercolors to write and decorate her entries. It was beautiful. I can hardly wait for Friday when all the students share their journals, so I can take photos and let you see what they’re doing…

I also overheard a couple of students talking about how much they enjoyed the class, how much they’ve learned already (in just two sessions) and how many resources we’ve introduced them to that they didn’t even know existed before now.  That is so gratifying!

One more learning moment: On the eucalyptus trees along the end auto-tour route on Saturday, I also stopped to pull a leaf off of an obliging eucalyptus tree, so I could show the students in our vehicle the white teepee-like formation on it that some folks mistake for galls.  The formations are actually called “lerps” and they’re created by a tiny insect called the Red Gum Lerp Psyllid, Glycaspis brimblecombei. These insects spin little white houses for themselves made of sugars and wax pulled from the leaves. They’re often very sticky with the honeydew produced by the insects.             

When we were done with the tour, everyone went their separate ways.

Species List:

  1. American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus,
  2. American Robin, Turdus migratorius,
  3. American Wigeon, Anas americana,
  4. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna,
  5. Ash-Throated Flycatcher, Myiarchus cinerascens,
  6. Bermuda Grass, Cynodon dactylon,
  7. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii,
  8. Billbug Weevil, Sphenophorus sp.,
  9. Birds-foot Trefoil, Lotus corniculatus,
  10. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
  11. Black Saddlebags Dragonfly, Tramea lacerata,
  12. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicusm,
  13. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum,
  14. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus,
  15. Bristly Oxtongue, Helminthotheca echioides,
  16. Buckwheat, St. Catherine’s Lace, Eriogonum giganteum,
  17. Bulbous Canary Grass, Phalaris aquatica,
  18. Bullock’s Oriole, Icterus bullockii,
  19. California Flannelbush, Fremontodendron californicum,
  20. California Fuchsia, Epilobium canum,
  21. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi,
  22. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis,
  23. Cinnamon Teal, Anas cyanoptera,
  24. Cleveland Sage, Salvia clevelandii,
  25. Common Checkered Skipper, Pyrgus communis,
  26. Common Minnow, Phoxinus phoxinus,
  27. Common Teasel, Dipsacus fullonum,
  28. Cottonwood Petiole Aphid Gall, Pemphigus populitransversus,
  29. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis,
  30. Desert Cottontail, Sylvilagus audubonii,
  31. Eurasian Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto,
  32. European Heliotrope, Heliotropium europaeum,
  33. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris,
  34. Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis,
  35. Field Mustard, Sinapis arvensis,
  36. Flax-leaved Horseweed, Erigeron bonariensis,
  37. Floating Water Primrose, Ludwigia peploides ssp. peploides,
  38. Fremont Cottonwood, Populus fremontii,
  39. Gold Dust Lichen, Chrysothrix candelaris,
  40. Goodding’s Willow, Salix gooddingii,
  41. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias,
  42. Great Egret, Ardea alba,
  43. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons,
  44. Great-Tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus,
  45. Green-Winged Teal, Anas carolinensis,
  46. Italian Thistle, Carduus pycnocephalus,
  47. Jimson Weed, Datura stramonium,
  48. Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos,
  49. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris,
  50. Monarch Butterfly, Danaus plexippus,
  51. Mosquitofish, Gambusia affinis,
  52. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura,
  53. Mute Swan, Cygnus olor,
  54. Mylitta Crescent Butterfly, Phyciodes mylitta mylitta,
  55. Narrowleaf Cattail, Cattail, Typha angustifolia,
  56. Narrowleaf Milkweed, Asclepias fascicularis,
  57. Northern Bluet Damselfly, Enallagma cyathigerum,
  58. Northern Pintail, Anas acuta,
  59. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata,
  60. Oleander Aphid, Aphis nerii,
  61. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps,
  62. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum,
  63. Raccoon, Procyon lotor,
  64. Red Gum Lerp Psyllid, Glycaspis brimblecombei,
  65. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus,
  66. Rough Cocklebur, Xanthium strumarium,
  67. Sharp-leaved Fluellen, Kickxia elatine,
  68. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa,
  69. Spotted Orb-Weaver Spider, Neoscona crucifera,
  70. Striped Horsefly, Tabanus lineola,
  71. Sunburst Lichen, Xanthoria elegans,
  72. Teasel, Wild Teasel, Dipsacus fullonum,
  73. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus,
  74. Turkey Tangle, Fogfruit, Phyla nodiflora,
  75. Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum,
  76. Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
  77. Western Kingbird, Tyrannus verticalis,
  78. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta,
  79. Yellow Starthistle, Centaurea solstitialis

A Somewhat Disappointing Excursion, 05-23-19

Feeling tired and stressed, I decided to try making the drive to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. Rather than being a therapeutic and relaxing time, however, I was faced with irritation after irritation, so the drive actually left me feeling more stressed and exhausted than I was before I started. *Heavy sigh*

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

Traffic wasn’t too terribly terrible, but it seemed like I hit every freaking red light there was, and the monster semi’s on the highway were “always” in front of me like giant snails. When I got to the refuge, I could see Bank Swallows collecting mud in the slough near the front gate, so I stopped to take some photos – and, of course, the birds wouldn’t cooperate, and two employees pulled up in their cars behind me and honked at me. Grrrrr. The rest of the day kind of went like that: I saw Gallinules, but they ducked into the tules before I could get a photo; I could hear Bitterns giving their “pumperlunk” calls close by, but couldn’t see them; it was windy, so most of the birds were hunkered down near the ground or deep in the trees; where there would normally be dozens of Marsh Wrens around, I saw only two deep in the tules; the dragonflies hadn’t come up from the water yet; what damselflies there were around were the tiniest ones that are like trying to photograph a strand of hair; there weren’t any of the Clark’s or Western Grebes that I was expecting to be out there by now; I couldn’t even get shots of ground squirrels… It was just one frustration after another. By the time I left, I had a splitting headache and just wanted to ram someone with my car. ((I didn’t though.)) *Heavy sigh-2*

Species List:

  1. American Avocet, Recurvirostra americana,
  2. American Bittern, Botaurus lentiginosus,
  3. American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus,
  4. American White Pelican, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos,
  5. Bank Swallow, Riparia riparia,
  6. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
  7. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus,
  8. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum,
  9. Cabbage White Butterfly, Pieris rapae,
  10. California Dock, Rumex californicus,
  11. California Milkweed, Asclepias californica,
  12. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis,
  13. Cinnamon Teal, Anas cyanoptera,
  14. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus,
  15. Common Gallinule, Gallinula galeata,
  16. Convergent Lady Beetle, Hippodamia convergens,
  17. Desert Cottontail, Sylvilagus audubonii,
  18. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auritus,
  19. Downingia, Downingia sp.,
  20. English Lawn Daisy, Bellis perennis,
  21. Eurasian Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto,
  22. Familiar Bluet Damselfly, Enallagma civile,
  23. Goodding’s Willow, Salix gooddingii,
  24. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias,
  25. Great Egret, Ardea alba,
  26. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons,
  27. Italian Thistle, Carduus pycnocephalus,
  28. Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos,
  29. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris,
  30. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura,
  31. Mute Swan, Cygnus olor,
  32. Northern Pintail, Anas acuta,
  33. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata,
  34. Painted Lady Butterfly, Vanessa cardui,
  35. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum,
  36. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis,
  37. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus,
  38. Ring-Necked Pheasant, Phasianus colchicus,
  39. Short-tailed ichneumon wasps, Ophion sp.,
  40. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula,
  41. Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia,
  42. Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus,
  43. Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum,
  44. Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
  45. Western Kingbird, Tyrannus verticalis,
  46. Wild Teasel, Dipsacus fullonum,

At the Sacramento and Colusa Wildlife Refuges, 05-06-19

Certified California Naturalist, Roxanne Moger and I went out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge around 6:00 am this morning. The weather was beautiful today, but there wasn’t a lot to see at the preserve. We’re kind of in between seasons, so the large flocks of birds have all left, but the insects (like dragonflies, damselflies, and orb-weaver spiders) haven’t arrived yet. We did see swarms of Painted Lady butterflies and some Cabbage White, but none of the other species normally seen there in the late spring/early summer.

Roxanne did all the driving, but we stopped a couple of time to get out of the car and walk parts of the trail or explore the boundaries of the park-and-stretch areas. Some of the vernal pools on the site were in bloom: all golden yellow and purple with Goldfields and Downingia. Just beautiful.

Although the species list at the end of the day wasn’t as long or as varied as I’d like, I did like the fact that I saw a few things I’d never seen before and learned more about some species than I’d known before. That’s what really makes these outings fun.

A large fly landed on the passenger side mirror of the car partway through the auto-tour and at first I thought it was a Robber Fly (those guys are pretty big). We were both intrigued by the fly’s huge goggle-like eyes and his tenaciousness.  He held onto that mirror for quite a long time.

When I got home, I looked up the fly to see if I could find its scientific name and found that it was actually a male Striped (or Lined) Horsefly, Tabanus lineola. I’d never seen one before. And, of course, once I find something new to me, I have to research it more.  Never having encountered a Horsefly before, I was surprised to learn that although the males drink nectar, the females drink blood (usually from large mammals like livestock). She had scissor-like mouth parts that slice into the skin so she can get to the blood. This species is usually found along the east coast and Gulf of Mexico, so it was something of a surprise to find it here… assuming I got the ID correct.

We also got to see a male Red-Winged Blackbird flaring his epaulets at a female, and a pair of Brown-Headed Cowbirds performing what we thought was courtship behavior.  The two birds sat across from one another, then one ruffled its feathers, opened its wings a bit and bowed down at the other, and the other responded in kind.

Roxanne and I inferred the behavior was “courtship” but, from what I read, after I got home, what we were seeing was actually two males trying to outdo one another in a machismo contest.  Apparently, the females don’t respond well to the males’ bows, which they see as aggressive, so the males only bow to one another. (You can read more here.)  The males open their wings to one another, and to females, to show how mature they are. Juveniles have pale markings on the inside of the wings.

You can see the video snippet I took of the birds HERE.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

And we found a couple of Black Phoebe nests, one stuffed full of babies who were almost fully fledged. They were stacked up, one on top of the other, with their tails sticking out over the edge of the nest. And toward the end of the auto tour route we came across a dead tree where there was a Western Meadowlark, a Red-Winged Blackbird and a tiny Song Sparrow all singing their respective songs.

We caught glimpses of American Goldfinches and Bullock’s Orioles, and hear Bitterns, but didn’t see any. One oddity was sighting a Mute Swan in the permanent wetlands area. That was odd because swans hardly ever go into the refuge, and Mute Swans are actually an invasive species. Unlike the Tundra Swans, the Mute Swans are super-aggressive and destroy the habitat they live in by ripping up water-plants from the roots.

When we were done at the Sacramento refuge, we decided to go over to the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge to show Roxanne the day-roost of the Black-Crowned Night Herons at the end of the auto-tour there. We were astonished to discover that the auto-tour there was roped off so no one could get to it… but the rope and signage was only visible AFTER you entered the refuge and started driving down the route. Stupid. They should have put the signs on the front gate or in the parking area.  A “manager” who showed up a little while after did, said that the auto-route was shut down because they were short handed and couldn’t patrol it well enough. Sad.

So, we didn’t do that tour and instead walked around a little bit in the native flower garden they have near the restroom facility.  Along part of a path near the garden, Roxanne found some galls we’d never seen before: the gall of the Elm Balloon-Gall Aphid, Eriosoma lanuginosum.

According to what I’ve read, the galls are initiated by a “fundatrix”, a parthenogenetic female aphid whose presence causes an extreme enlargement of the soft cell tissue on one side of the leaf. The galls are hollow and feel rubbery. They start out green and are covered with fine white hairs (which we saw) and turn brown as they age.

Inside the gall the fundatrix has her babies which are wingless and yellow until they mature. There can also be second generation aphids, called “alates” (usually winged individuals) which are dark green to black and wax powdered. Not all of the adults grow wings, however, and wing-growth seemed to be associated to crowding inside the galls, a short supply of food, and/or changes in the environment. Nature is so cool!

After walking around a bit, we headed back home to Sacramento and got there around 3:00 pm.

Species List:

1. American Avocet, Recurvirostra americana,
2. American Bittern, Botaurus lentiginosus,
3. American Coot, Fulica americana.
4. American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos,
5. American Goldfinch, Spinus tristis,
6. American Robin, Turdus migratorius,
7. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna,
8. Annual Yellow Sweet Clover, Melilotus indicus,
9. Arches Moth, Habrosyne sp.
10. Bird’s Foot Trefoil, Lotus corniculatus,
11. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
12. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus,
13. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum,
14. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus cerulea,
15. Bristly Oxtongue, Helminthotheca echioides,
16. Brown-Headed Cowbird, Molothrus ater,
17. Bullock’s Oriole, Icterus bullockii,
18. Bur Clover, Burr Medic, Medicago polymorpha,
19. California Flannelbush, Fremontodendron californicum,
20. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi,
21. California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica,
22. California Wild Rose, Rosa californica,
23. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis,
24. Cinnamon Teal, Anas cyanoptera,
25. Clark’s Grebe, Aechmophorus clarkia,
26. Cleveland Sage, Salvia clevelandii,
27. Common Mustard, Brassica rapa,
28. Convergent Lady Beetle, Hippodamia convergens,
29. Curly Dock, Rumex crispus,
30. Damselfly, Pacific Forktail, Ischnura cervula, (dots on thorax)
31. Damselfly, Sooty Dancer, Argia lugens, (no blue tip; rings around segments)
32. Desert Cottontail, Sylvilagus audubonii,
33. Dogtail Grass, Cynosurus echinatus,
34. Elm Balloon-Gall Aphid, Eriosoma lanuginosum,
35. Eurasian Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto,
36. Field Elm Tree, Smooth-Leaf Elm, Ulmus Minor,
37. Foothills Penstamon, Penstemon heterophyllus,
38. Foxtail Barley, Hordeum murinum ssp. glaucum,
39. Fremont Cottonwood Tree, Populus fremontii,
40. Fuller’s Teasel, Wild Teasel, Dipsacus fullonum,
41. Goldfields, Contra Costa Goldfields, Lasthenia conjugens,
42. Great Egret, Ardea alba,
43. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons,
44. Greenbottle Fly, Lucilia sericata,
45. Himalayan Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus,
46. Hood Canarygrass, Phalaris paradoxa,
47. Hoover’s Downingia, Hoover’s Calicoflower, Downingia bella,
48. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus,
49. House Sparrow, Passer domesticus,
50. Jimson Weed, Datura stramonium,
51. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous,
52. Large Oxtongue Aphid, Uroleucon picridis,
53. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris,
54. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura,
55. Mute Swan, Cygnus olor,
56. Narrowleaf Milkweed, Asclepias fascicularis,
57. Northern Paper Wasp, Polistes fuscatus,
58. Northern Pintail, Anas acuta,
59. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata,
60. Oleander Aphid, Aphis nerii,
61. Pacific Pond Turtle, Western Pond Turtle, Actinemys marmorata,
62. Pacific Tree Frog, Chorus Frog, Pseudacris regilla,
63. Painted Lady Butterfly, Vanessa cardui,
64. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps,
65. Plantain, Ribwort, Plantago lanceolata,
66. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum,
67. Purple Finch, Haemorhous purpureus,
68. Purple Needle Grass, Stipa pulchra,
69. Rabbit Tail Grass,Hare’s Tail Grass, Lagurus ovatus,
70. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis,
71. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus,
72. Rush, California Bulrush, Schoenoplectus californicus,
73. Sedge, Pennsylvania Sedge, Carex pensylvanica
74. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciose,
75. Silverpuff, Microseris acuminata,
76. Snow Goose, Chen caerulescens,
77. Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia,
78. Striped Horsefly, Tabanus lineola,
79. Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus,
80. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura,
81. Valley Popcorn Flower, Plagiobothrys canescens,
82. Varied Carpet Beetle, Anthrenus verbasci,
83. Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum,
84. Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
85. Western Kingbird, Tyrannus verticalis,
86. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta,
87. Willow, Gooding’s Willow, Salix gooddingii

More than 140 Egrets in One Pond!

DAY 9 OF MY VACATION.  I got up around 5:45 this morning and headed out to the Cosumnes River Preserve.  I hadn’t been there in quite a while and wanted to see how things were going there (after all of the recent floods and whatnot).  It was another perfect weather day: 43º when I headed out; 64º when I headed back…

Because I was there so early, I knew the gate to the boardwalk parking area would still be closed, so I found a safe place on the side of the road, as near to the gate as I could get without blocking it, and parked there.  Then I walked into the preserve.  The majority of the water was gone from there, too.  But there were still a few large ponds sitting around… and one of them was brimming with Egrets (most Great Egrets, but several Snowy Egrets as well), all of them glistening white in the early morning sunlight.  I took my time walking up to the pond because I didn’t want to scare the birds off, but they were so busy eating and playing “¿Quién es más macho?” with one another that they didn’t even notice me, and I was able to get pretty close to them. I counted up to 140 egrets before I quit… That is a LOT of birds!

CLICK HERE to see the full album of photos and videos.

After the flood waters from the river recede, the standing ponds are filled with fish, crawdads, frogs, tadpoles and other tasties, and the birds just chow down.  I saw some of the egrets catching fish as big or bigger than my hand… so large I didn’t think the birds would be able to swallow them.  But each one managed to down its catch without totally gagging on it.  I was watching one egret trying to get a carp in the right position to swallow, and the big fish kept smacking the bird in the side of the head with its tail.  Bonk, bonk, bonk…! It wasn’t going down without a fight. Hahaha!

Some of the Great Egrets were still in their long breeding plumage and green faces, and those were the ones who were just walking around trying to be butch; sometimes chasing off other birds, or jumping into the air for three-second foot-to-foot combat.  And all of the birds were making their loud croaking noises; sounded like a herd of hogs…

Also around the egrets were some American Avocets, Common Terns, White-Faced Ibis, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Great Blue Herons, and even a Black-Crowned Night Heron who apparently wanted some breakfast before heading off to its day roost.  There were some Common Terns doing their death-drop into the water to catch fish – I worried about them because the water was shallow; I was afraid they’d break their necks! – and I saw an American White Pelican flying leisurely overhead… I got lots of photos and videos there, and was actually completely by myself for the majority of the time I was on the preserve.  I saw two or three other cars, but no people until just before I was ready to leave, so that was nice, too.

I was reluctant to leave the egrets to walk around the rest of the boardwalk area, but I did. There wasn’t much water around the boardwalk itself but the plants were crazy-prolific: several different kinds of grass, including Canary grass and Rabbit’s Foot Grass, Water Primrose, tules, of course, and small rushes, several different kinds of Smartweed, Jointed Charlock, a couple of different kinds of Flat Sedge, Soap Root, Scarlet Pimpernel, Flat-Faced Downgia… tons of stuff.  Too bad I pretty much suck at botany.

At the end of the boardwalk, the viewing platform was surrounded by a shallow pool, but the rest of the area was pretty much dry.  When I stepped out onto the platform I could hear a raspy squawking coming from the tules and vegetation around the shore of the pond, and I thought it might be a Sora or a Rail but I couldn’t see it. Whatever it was ducked into the vegetation; I could see the plants move as the critter worked its way through them.  So, I decided to leave it for a while and focused my attention instead on the few other birds around the pond.  There was a pair of Canada Geese with their goslings, some more Avocets, Black-Necked Stilts, a pair of Northern Shovelers, and a couple of Long-Billed Dowitchers.  A cute moment with the geese: as soon as the babies realized mom and dad were ambling toward the water, they all rushed out in front of their parents like little kids running toward a beach.

As I was taking photos and video of them, the squawking started again, so I turned slowly to look behind me along the shore of the pond… and there was a mama Virginia Rail!  She moved pretty quickly at first because she was trying to shoo her babies into the tules – two tiny black fuzz-balls.  She might have had more, but I only saw two them. They’re so teeny; they looked like drier lint on a stick. Hah! After that initial showing, I kept an eye and an ear out for her and was able to see her three more times as she dashed out onto the muddy edge of the pond to catch bugs and dig up worms for her kids and then dashed back into the tules to feed them.  While I was watching her, another “old lady” came up onto the platform with her binoculars.  I was going to tell her about the Rail – which is a rare sight at the preserve – but I didn’t want to make any noise for fear I’d scare the Rail away.  [Later, I told two other people I saw as I was heading back to my car about the Rail, so I wasn’t being a total noodge about it.]

I also walked along the sidewalk that acts as a boat ramp and leads you to the river.  I could see all the damage the flooding had done to the ground there, and there was still standing water in many places.  I couldn’t actually get to the boat dock itself because the last fifteen or twenty feet of the ramp to the dock was under water.  And that’s VERY unusual for this time of year.

I saw some American Goldfinches and Bullock’s Orioles as I was heading back to my car.  The Goldfinches were pretty far away, so the photos aren’t the best… and the Orioles refused to pose for me, so I didn’t get any shots of them at all. Still, for the day, I burned through four camera batteries and took almost 2000 photos!  It was a good day.

All in all, I walked for about 4 ½ hours; waaaaay past my body’s limit, so I knew I was going to pay for that with sore feet and ankles for the rest of the day, but I think it was worth to get the shots that I did.

From Grebes to Lerps at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

Red Gum Eucalyptus Psyllid Lerps. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.
Red Gum Eucalyptus Psyllid Lerps. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.

Still feeling pretty tired this morning.  I think I’m fighting off a cold or something, but I’m not sure…  It was overcast for most of the day, and in the afternoon it actually rained… for a minute or two.  Hah!

At noon, I headed over to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  Traffic in Woodland was surprisingly horrid, though, and it took me over 30 minutes to get from the office to the freeway onramp, which is literally only about a mile and half. (It usually takes me about 6 minutes to do that.)  The freeway itself wasn’t bad, though, and I got to the refuge around 1:30 pm.  I was going to do a really fast run through it, and ended up spending about 2 hours there.  But I enjoyed my time at the refuge, even though I didn’t see much of anything new.

I did get to see a pair of Pied-Billed Grebes on their floating mat nest… But I was most anxious to see if the Clark’s Grebes’ nests had survived the wind and waves from last weekend.  The one nest I saw last time that the parents were battling to keep afloat so their eggs wouldn’t drown didn’t make it.  It was in pieces, and there were some Coots were fighting over it.  Usually Coot nests are built from the bottom up (like a volcanic island of twigs and sticks and grass; a huge mountain under the water, and then the little peak peeking up above the surface.  I don’t think the Grebe nests have that kind of solid base… It’ll be interesting to see if the Coots can make the old Grebe nest work for them… The Grebe nests that seemed to be doing well were those that were built further away from the edges of the wetland area – and I’m assuming they were built by more experienced couples.

CLICK HERE for more photos.

 

Lots of Exuvia Today

Damselfly exuvia on a tule frond. © Copyright 2016, Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
All of the “white stuff” you see on this tule is the exuvia of dozens of damselflies. © Copyright 2016, Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

I had planned on sleeping in a bit today, but woke up around 5:00 am anyway, so I got up about 5:30 and then headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  It was about 53° when I left the house and got up to about 77° by the late afternoon.  We had a breeze for most of the day so it was actually quite nice outdoors.

I put some gas in the car and then continued on toward Willows and the refuge. Whereas some days provide me with a lot Kingbird photos, or squirrel or jackrabbit photos, today I got a lot of Western Fence Lizard pictures.  Those guys were out everywhere.  I even came across a mating pair.  Lizard-porn.  Hah!

This rock looked like a rabbit to me.
This rock looked like a rabbit to me.

The other big attractions (for me anyway) was being able to photograph several  large dragonflies and finding LOTS of damselfly exuvia (the skin they shed when they emerge from the water and transform into winged damselflies).  I also found a few damselflies that had just shed their skin and didn’t have their wings entirely pumped up yet.  The exuvia looks so neat to me.  It’s the exact shape of the damselfly naiade, but is hollow and looks like a ghost or a reflection of the insect.  So cool!

Around that same area, I also came across a male Great-Tailed Grackle that actually followed my car for a while as he sang for the females.  He paused among the tules in a few locations and did some displaying and more singing.  He was really entertaining!  I got a few video snippets of him, and at one point he took a break from his songs to eat damselflies… A snack between concerts.

There were plenty of jackrabbits and cottontails, of course, but not so many of them posed for me today.  I also had to deal with a particularly shy Common Gallinule. It was way down in the tules along the bank and I was practically shooting at it “blind”.  Somehow the camera managed to get some photos in focus.  I was so pleased.  I was likewise hindered by the tules when I saw a joined pair of Green Darner Dragonflies land on the water.  I held the camera out the window, over my head, trying to get the camera’s eye over the top of the tules, and shot straight down at the water… and I somehow got the shot I wanted of the female dragonfly laying her eggs in the water.  Miracle.  I even got a shot of another male coming into the frame and the first male chasing it off – while still attached to the female. Woah!.

The Great Horned Owl owlets were out of their nest and sitting on an open branch of their tree.  Mom wasn’t with them the first time I passed them, but she was there when I went by again later.  The owlets are the same size as their mom now, just… “fluffier”.  You can tell by looking at the owlets which one is a little bit older than the other.  Great-Horned Owls usually lay their eggs several days apart… so there’s always a least one in the nest that’s older than the others. The mother hawk and her fledgling were in their own nest this morning, too.

I saw several mule deer, including a young male who was coming into his “velvet” (getting his new antlers; they were stubby but very visible on his head). I also came across a young Turkey Vulture who was sitting on the edge of an open gate holding his wings out to the sun to warm himself up.  He actually stayed there long enough for me to get a few close-up shots of him.

At other points along the auto tour, I’d stop and just listen to the sounds around me: Red-Winged Blackbirds and Meadowlarks singing, egrets croaking, grebes woo-woo-wooing, Night Herons doing their brisk “wok!” call… It’s a jungle out there, man.  I loved it.

CLICK HERE for a video of the Great-Tailed Grackle singing.

CLICK HERE for a video of a Marsh Wren singing.

On my way out of the refuge, I drove past one of the sloughs and could see something big and dark moving under the surface of the water, but I couldn’t tell what it was.  I parked the car and craned over the passenger side seat and out the window to see if I could get a better look at it.  Definitely some kind of large fish… but the shape wasn’t right to be a catfish…  I think it might have been a young Northern Pike!  If it was a pike, then anything else living in the water is in trouble; those guys are aggressive hunters.  It never came all the way to the surface, though, so I couldn’t really tell for certain.

There was also one spot, just before the exit, where I stopped to look into the drainage ditch – because you never know what you might find in there – and I spotted a Black-Crowned Night heron lurking in the shade.  Someone came up behind me in her car and flashed her lights for me to get out of her way.  Uh – I’m photographing here!  Grumbling, I drove up the road a little distance and pulled over for her to pass, and then backed up to the ditch again so I could get a few more shots of the heron.  They weren’t great, but at least I got them.

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Around 2:00 pm I headed back to Sacramento and got home around 3:30 pm.