Tag Archives: White-Fronted Geese

More Photos from the Sacramento Refuge

Here are some more photos from the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  CLICK HERE to see the album.

I got a video snippet of a muskrat.  It waddled up onto the auto-tour road, grabbed some green vegetation and went back into the tules.  I wonder if it’s setting up a “nest” there.  Where they’re able to, muskrats will burrow into the bank and set up a nesting hole in the ground (with an entrance to the water). If they can’t do that, then they’ll create a structure called a “push-up” made of reeds, vegetation and mud… There are heaps of dead tules in places along the edges of the wetland areas at the refuge, including several of them along the auto-tour route, which I think might make building a push-up really easy for the muskrats…

I saw some Great Horned Owls dozing in a tree, but they were so obscured by branches and twiglets that the camera couldn’t figure out what to focus on, so I couldn’t get any decent photos of them.  And I saw a Killdeer running and squawking along the edges of a slough.  At first I didn’t know what it was excited about, but then I could see it had some babies with it. One of the youngsters was loitering along the water’s edge, and mom was having a fit because it wouldn’t follow her.  Hah!

I also came across a pair of Double-Crested Cormorants (on the little island they often share with the pelicans and ducks), and watched while one of them did a jumping and barking kind of dance around the other before it took off and landed in the water behind the island. I’d never seen that behavior before, so I looked it up.

“…Ritualized agonistic displays are associated with takeoff and landing in both sexes. Before takeoff, individual stretches neck in direction it wishes to go, inflates head and neck and gives t-t-t-t-t call through almost-closed bill. Before landing, often calls urgurgurg and gives Kink-Throat Display, which is given also during working of nest material; lowers hyoid apparatus, making orange pouch conspicuous. Immediately after landing, gives characteristic post-landing display in which it holds head horizontally and slightly below arched and inflated neck. These displays also precede and follow a hop, which functions as symbolic or reduced flight, and occurs in various social contexts…” (https://birdsna.org/Species-Account/bna/species/doccor/behavior) Hah!  How interesting!

The one thing I saw a lot of out there today was insects: lots of butterflies, dragonflies and spiders.  I was happy to see one beautiful Anise Swallowtail, and I also saw some Monarchs, but none of them sat still long enough for me to get photos of them. Among the other insects spotted today were: Variegated Meadowhawks, Garden Orb Weavers, Widow Skimmers, Common Buckeyes, West Coast Ladies, Cabbage Whites and Sulphurs, a Meadow Katydid nymph, Crescent butterflies, Painted Ladies, Pipevine Swallowtails and Yellow-Faced Bumble Bees.  I also found a dead Green Darner dragonfly that was pretty well desiccated by the heat. It’s always sad to find them dead, but the find gave me the opportunity to get some close-ups of the dragonfly’s head and eyes…

American Bitterns Pumper-Lunking on Sunday

I was up at 6:00 am and out the door before 6:30.  It was my original intention to do some more wildflower hunting, but on the way to Highway 20 I got lost in my thoughts and missed the turn off (D’oh!), so I continued up the highway to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge and spent the morning there instead.  The weather was lovely (mostly sunny; 51º when I got there, 70º by the time I left).

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

We’re right at the beginning of the breeding season, so lots of bird are starting to pair up, build nests, and claim territory.  I saw a lot of Great-Tailed Grackles flying overhead (and some American White Pelicans, too), and although I could hear the grackles occasionally singing their broad range of odd songs, I didn’t see any of them on or near the ground so I didn’t get any photos of them. I also saw a young garter snake and a green-tinted Western Racer snake, but they moved too fast for me. By the time I got my camera focus on them, they were gone into the brush.  I’d never seen a Western Racer before, so that was neat to see one for the first time.  When I initially saw it, I thought it was a tule on the auto-tour route… but then it moved.

A lot of the wildflowers and vernal pool flowers at the refuge were in bloom, so in area the ground was a patchwork of yellow Goldfields, orange Fiddleneck, white Popcorn Flowers and purple Dowingia… so pretty. There’s also wild mustard and Poison Hemlock, Blessed Milk Thistle, Italian Thistle, and Teasel blooming everywhere – just in time for the pollinators to wake up.

I saw only a few dragonflies, but it’s still early in the season for them. The Painted Lady and West Coast Lady butterflies on the other hand were everywhere. I bet I saw 20 of them just around the permanent wetland area.

There were jackrabbits and Cottontails bounding all over the place, and I got a few good shots of some California Ground Squirrels.

I didn’t see many babies today, just a pair of Canada Geese with their little troop of goslings, but it’s still early in the season.

The highlight of the day was seeing an American Bittern in the tall grass “booming”.  I don’t know why it’s called “booming” because the call has its own name but… whatever.  To stake out their territory, the Bitterns give out a loud complex call called the “pumper-lunk” call.  The bird claps its bill several time, sucking air into its esophagus, and then expels the air by compressing its neck – making a loud burbling sound, sort of like a melodious burp.  The one I was watching did his call five times, and I was able to get video of two of the calls.  Made. My. Day.  Here’s one of the videos of it: https://youtu.be/cg0HDZ2lhbw.

The odd moment of the day came when I saw something with long brown, black and white fur moving through the long grass.  I could see that it was moving nose-down along the ground, but because the critter never lifted its head, I couldn’t tell what it was.  I was thinking it was probably a Striped Skunk, but the brown shades were throwing me off… then I was thinking badger (but the fur was too long)… or maybe even porcupine (but they’re usually much larger, and the video proved that I was seeing fur and not quills)… So I’m settling on skunk, but I’m still not certain.

In another “what is that?” moment, I saw the dorsal fin and tail fin of a Northern Pike in one of the slews.  I know I’ve said it before, but those guys are brutal; they’ll eat anything.  They come up into the sloughs when the area gets flooded, then when the water recedes again, they get trapped.  They’re fast and powerful, though… and can move even in shallow water, so once they’re in the sloughs they prey on everything, including birds…

On the viewing platform, I came across a pair of Western Fence Lizards, that were challenging each other: doing pushups, body slamming one another, staring each other down.  I got some of the interaction on video.  The two males were very mature – showing off why they’re also called “Blue Bellies” – and had lots and lots of blue on their bodies, even along the back and on the head.  I’ve never ones that were this colorful before.  When the winner of the contest was done with his rival (who ran off) he decided that my blue-green walking shoes were an enemy, too, so he ran up as close to me as he dared and started doing pushups again.  Hah!  I let him win and walked away – after I got some video and photos of him.  In the same area, I found a melanistic Western Fence Lizard, a dark pitchy-gray one sitting on a branch sunning himself.  He was such a contrast to the brightly colored one, I had to get his photo, too.

I’m usually not too thrilled about seeing Black Phoebes, mostly because they’re so ubiquitous around here, but I caught sight of one carrying grass for its nest.  It perched on a limb of a tree and sat there for a while, letting me get some pretty good photos of it.  And the Kingbirds were out in force. I got some good shots of them, too.

Another good bird-moment was when I saw some American Coots playing “keep-away” with a crawfish.  One has caught it and was trying to eat it when a second Coot rushed up and grabbed it.  Coot #2 swam off with its prize, but as soon as it stopped to eat, Coot #3 rushed up and took it… When it comes to lunch, these guys aren’t polite.  Hah!

I stayed at the refuge for about 4 hours and then headed back home to crash with the dogs… So I didn’t see much in the way of wildflowers, today, but it was still a nice day out in nature…

Was Able to See a Killdeer Lay Her Egg Today

I actually had today off but I got up at the regular time anyway to get to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge by 7:00 am.  It was about 43° when I headed out and got up to 65° by the late afternoon. Sunny and tiny bit breezy all day… It was gorgeous.

I had planned months ago to take today off because I was able to get a spot in one of the photo blinds there.  I picked the blind I did because it’s handicapped accessible.  But today it wasn’t… there was too much water around it to get to it, and was flooded inside (not deep, but enough to make it unusable).  I also have a reservation for a blind at the Colusa refuge for the weekend, but that one is under water right now, so I won’t be able to get to that one either.  Not being able to use the blind today was kind of disappointing, but the day was so beautiful, I just drove the auto tour route – twice – and got to see lots of stuff anyway. I burned through 4 batteries and took over 1600 photos!  Yikes!

CLICK HERE to see an album of some of the photos and video snippets.

As soon as a I drove into the refuge, I was a greeted by the sight of a small flock of Snowy Egrets feeding in a shallow pond by the entrance, so I was able to get some shots of them right off the bat.  Along with the egrets were a few American Wigeons, and one of the males swam right up within view, so I was able to get some good photos of him, too.  That was an auspicious start to my day.

I also saw White-Faced-Ibis, Northern Shovelers, a Flicker, Golden-Crowned Sparrows, White-Crowned Sparrows, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Song Sparrows, a Red-Tailed Hawk, Pied-Billed Grebes, Great Egrets, Gadwalls, Black Phoebes, Black-Necked Stilts, Western Pond Turtles, Green-Winged Teals, Bufflehead ducks, a  House Sparrow, Double-Crested Cormorants, nests, Western Meadowlark, Mallard, Snow Geese, Northern Harrier, Great Blue Heron, American White Pelicans, a Yellow-Rumped Warbler, American Coots, Cinnamon Teals,  White-Fronted Geese and several California Ground Squirrels. I also got a glimpse of a muskrat.  He was in the water along the edge of the road.  I saw him, he saw me and poof! he was out of there.

There were lots and lots of jackrabbits out and about, and lots of Ring-Necked Pheasants.  I saw a pair of American Avocets in a distant pond, one was in its breeding plumage and the other wasn’t.  I’d seen Avocets in their breeding colors before, but I’d never seen a “plain” one, so that was a first for me.

I found some Marsh Wrens weaving their nests among the tules… and lots of the tiny males singing away trying to attract females. I got a little video of one of the males working on his nests, and some photos of him emerging from one of them.  Further along the route, I came across a spot where a pair of Bushtits were building their nest, and got photos and video snippets of them, too.  It’s that time of year.  All of the birds are working on home-building projects.

At the end of the auto-tour route I came across a pair of Killdeer.  Mama was sitting down in the dirt and papa was patrolling around her.  They were head-bobbing, so I thought maybe they were getting ready to mate.  I didn’t think they had a nest there because even the though there was a slight depression in the ground, it wasn’t in the kind of dense gravel Killdeer normally prefer (so their spotted eggs blend into the stones). As the head-bobbing continued, I noticed the female was fanning her tail a little bit, so I turned on the video option on my camera expecting to see a mating… But as I watched, the mama surprised me and laid an egg! Literally.  A little grey and black spotted egg.  That was so cool – and what a great way to end my day at the refuge!  I’m a little worried about their nest, though.  It’s very near the auto route and right along a spot where some people hike through to get to the pedestrian trails…

I headed back home and got to the house a little before 3:00 pm.

Vacation Day 13: SNWR Part 2

California Ground Squirrel. American White Pelican. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
California Ground Squirrel.  Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

Vacation Day 13. I got up about 5:30 this morning. The hotel bed and pillows were wonderfully comfortable, but I just couldn’t get into a sound sleep, so I cat-napped on and off all night. Still, I was feeling pretty energetic, so I packed up all my stuff and was out of the hotel before 6:00 am. I had some leftover pineapple from yesterday and had that for breakfast – and gave Sgt. Margie one of his small cans of dog food before we left. Then I went back to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge (which was about 15 minutes away from the hotel).

I saw a lot today that I saw yesterday, but today I also got my first look at an Eared Grebe in its breeding plumage (which is VERY different than its non-breeding plumage) and I saw some Bullock’s Orioles, but they moved too fast through the trees for me to get any good photos of them. I also saw a Peregrine Falcon and a Bald Eagle. The eagle was perched in a tree, but I couldn’t get close enough to him to get a good photo. I got one shot of him through the windshield but it sucked. Dang it!

Here’s a video on the Eared Grebe: CLICK HERE

Here’s a video of a female Blackbird collecting fibers for her nest: CLICK HERE

Along one part of the auto tour you can see a bare scraggly tree off to the left. Today, I noticed there was a nest on one of the outer branches… and there was a huge Great Horned Owl sitting in it! Cool! I took some photos even though it was pretty distant from the car. I also think I saw the gray-white fluff of an owlet next to the mama. These are the moments when I wish I had a better telephoto lens.

Oh, and I also saw some goslings with their parents, AND the wildly-colored babies of a Pied-Billed Grebe. I’d seen photos of the babies before but had never seen one live. The pictures I got aren’t the best because the birds were moving away from me in the water, but I just loved the pattern on the chicks!

And where there were rabbits all over the place yesterday, today it was California Ground Squirrels. They were out en masse. Some of them are very skittish and shy, but others are bold. There were a couple of them who sat on the ground right outside my car window and posed for me. Hah!

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The dog and I were out of the refuge by about 11:00 and headed back to Sacramento, but along the way I stopped to get us some tacos which we ate for lunch at a rest stop. It was a nice couple of days. Now, I need to forage through the 2000+ photos I took! As we were heading home, the clouds were starting to move in… there’s supposed to be rain coming in for tomorrow.

Once home, I relaxed for a bit with the dogs, and then baked up some chicken and biscuits for supper and had them with fresh asparagus.

Vacation Day 12: SNWR Part 1

Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

Vacation Day 12. I had stayed up late Wednesday night to watch “The Night Manager” on AMC (with Hugh Laurie and Tom Hiddleston), and was going to play today by ear, but I woke up around 5:00 am. I was feeling oddly energetic – considering that I’d stayed up until 11:15 pm last night – so I packed an overnight bag, got the dog into the car, and headed off to Willows to spend the day at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. I got there around 7:30 am and didn’t leave until 2:30 pm, just driving around the auto tour and walking some of the trails.

Sergeant Margie doesn’t mind the car ride (since he gets extra treats and fancy food for being a good boy in the car), but he’s showing hi age on the walking trails. He can barely keep up with me, and at one point I was seriously considering picking him up and carrying him the rest of the way to the car. He was a trooper, though, and made it back under his own power – if very slowly.

What I didn’t like about the trails was that there were a grillion ticks everywhere. Every time Sergeant Margie stopped to pee, I had to stop and pull about 6 ticks off of his face and ears. I never see that many ticks at any of the other places where I go walking. It was GROSS!

Lots of Jackrabbits and a few Cottontails were scrambling around. For so many critters, I’m surprised I don’t see more babies – especially the jacks. Their babies, called leverets, are born above ground, fully furred, and ready to go within a few hours of birth. (Unlike baby rabbits, called bunnies, that are born underground, almost furless, and unable to see or hear for about 3 weeks.)

The big show of the day, though, was the Killdeer. They’re starting to build their gravel nests and lay their eggs, and I came across several mamas doing their “broken wing act” to try to distract me from where their nests were. They fly a few feet away from the nest, lay on their side on the ground, and flap around as though they’re injured. Once they feel their nest is safe, they jump up, fly off, and then circle around back to the nest to make sure the eggs are okay. One of them had built her stone nest right next to the pull-off area beside a large viewing platform. Almost within reach, but far enough behind a fence to keep law-abiding humans away from her. She didn’t mind when I walked up to the fence, but she wasn’t thrilled with Sergeant Margie. She flew off and rolled on ground, crying, pretending to be wounded… and then didn’t really know what to do when I didn’t fall for her act. She got up, walked off a bit more, fell back on the ground, stood up, walked away, fell over on the ground… As silly as she looked, I had to give her props for her persistence, and for the fact that her walk-and-fall routine circled the area where her nest was so it was always within her sight.

After I put the dog back in the car, she flew back to her nest and its tiny eggs that look like stone. I stepped up onto the viewing platform to get photos of her from another angle, and while I was up there, a male Killdeer came by. The female ran out to him for an on-the-gravel quickie, and then went back to her nest. Hah! Wutta slut!
I also watched a group of Kingbirds cavorting around. Some of what I saw I’m sure was courtship behavior males flying up and down, zig-zagging through the air while they chattered. I think the other behavior I saw was territorial: several bird fighting back and forth between adjacent trees where each had a nest.

I saw four Bitterns during the day (which is the most I’ve ever seen there). Three actually flew across the hiking trail in front of me and disappeared into the grass on the opposite side of it. The fourth one was trying to hide in some tules along the auto tour route, stretching itself up to try to mimic the reeds… but it’s belly was too fat, so it was easy to spot despite its efforts. Hah!

I was hoping to see some Grebes in the permanent wetland area, but they weren’t around today.

I did get to see a lot of other critters, though, including American Avocets, Meadowlarks, Dunlin, Mule Deer, Red-Winged Blackbirds, American White Pelicans, Double-Crested Cormorants, Turkey Vultures, White-Front Geese, Snow Geese and Canada Geese, some Ring-Necked Pheasants, quite a few dragonflies, and more and more and more. Lots of photos… I also caught a glimpse of raccoons in my side mirror, but by the time I maneuvered the car around to get a better shot they were gone. Waah!

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As I said, I stayed at the refuge until about 2:30 pm, and by then I was exhausted so I drove another 15 minutes or so into the town of Willows and spent the night at the Holiday Inn Express there.

I don’t know why, really, but the place was full! They only had two rooms left: a large suite and a small first floor room. I certainly didn’t need a suite, so I took the small room… and found it was all ADA compliant with a push-button to open the door after you unlocked it, a low-profile bath tub with a seat in it, and a high-rise toilet. This old woman scored! I had tuna fish and crackers with fruit for supper and then hit the hay.

Jackrabbit City at the Refuges

Black-Crowned Night Heron. Copyright ©2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Black-Crowned Night Heron. Copyright ©2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

I got up around 6:00 am and headed out with Sergeant Margie to the Colusa and Sacramento National Wildlife Refuges.  It was a little chilly and clear in Sacramento, but in Willows and Colusa it was hazy and the overcast deepened as the day went on.  Got up to about 68°.

I wanted to get to the Colusa refuge early to see if I could get some photos of the Black-Crowned Night Herons in action (rather just sitting in their sleeping trees).  They hunt by night and sleep during the day.  Even getting there around 7:30 I wasn’t there early enough; they were already back “in bed” dozing away in the trees.  Some were a little further out on the edge of the branches than I’d yet seen them so I was about to get a few more clearer photos of them.  I’d really like to see them out on the water, though…

As soon as I drove into the Colusa refuge I saw a large coyote moving across a field and then realized there was another one sitting nearby in the grass.  Further along, I saw two raccoons moving through the marshes and in other areas I saw mule deer napping in the grass.  Lots of other critters out there today, too, including: Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, American Wigeons, Gadwalls, Pied-Billed Grebes, Ring-Necked Ducks, House Sparrows, Ring-Necked Pheasants, Red-Tailed Hawks, American Coots, Black Phoebes, White-Faced Ibis, Ross’s Geese, Northern Harrier, European Starlings, Red-Winged Blackbirds, a Tri-colored Blackbird, Western Pond Turtles, White-Fronted Geese, Northern Shovelers, Pintails, Jackrabbits, Tree Swallows, Western Meadowlark, and some slime mold.  Among all the usual geese and ducks, I also saw a dark-morph/blue-phase Snow Goose hanging out with the other Snow Geese but sticking out like a sore thumb among them.  I’d never seen one of them before.  I also saw my first Tri-Colored Blackbird (sort of like a Red-Winged Blackbird but with a white trim on its epaulet).  Those were cool.

As I was driving along, a guy pulled up beside me with a blue jeep and asked if I’d seen the eagle there.  Eagle?  Uh, no.  I’ve seen them at the Sacramento refuge, but not at Colusa.  The guy said he thought he’d seen an Golden Eagle there yesterday and was looking for it again.  Wow, it would be neat to see one of them around there!

The dog and I also took the sort one-mile trail along the back of the slough and platform area.  There’s another smaller platform you can walk out onto along the way.  It’s all kind of scraggly and messy along the trail, but I understand that they have the detritus along the sides of the trail to keep people from leaving it and going nearer to the water.  It’s a flat, well-marked trail that’s easy to walk so it’s suitable for all fitness levels.

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Then it was off to the Sacramento refuge for more birding.  I didn’t see any eagles, but the first bird that greeted me as I drove in was a beautiful Avocet.  I hardly ever get to see them; they’re such lovely birds.

It was jackrabbit-city along the auto tour there, too.  I saw several large groups, and a few came right up to the edge of the road before zig-zagging away through the grass.  I also saw some large groups of turtles trying to sun themselves in the partly-cloudy light. Nothing else but the usual suspects along the way, but it was still a nice drive.  By about 1:00 pm we were headed back to Sacramento and got to the house by 2:30.