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The Bucks are in Rut at the Effie Yeaw Preserve, 11-10-18

I slept in a tiny bit this morning and got up around 7:00. After giving the dog his breakfast, I headed over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk.  It was a chilly 34° at the river!  Got up to about 70° by the afternoon.  The air quality was bad enough today to spark a “Very Unhealthy” purple warning.

At the preserve, the first thing I saw was a small harem of female deer and a couple of fawns, along with a young spike buck.  I got quite a few photos of him doing his “Flehmen Sniff” thing. He closes his nostrils and pulls air in and over the “vomeronasal organ” in the roof of his mouth to pick up on the pheromones of the females around him to learn if they’re in estrus or not. He lifts his top lip because the intake part of the organ is just behind his upper front teeth.

I also saw other deer dotting the preserve here and there including the big 4-pointer (who I think is now a 5-pointer, but I can’t tell for sure from the photos I got of him). He was tucked away on the other side of a field in the shade, so at first, I didn’t see him. When I stepped into the field, though, to get some shots of a Red-Shouldered Hawk (I saw two of them today) he moved, and only then did I realize he was there. It looked like one of the prongs on his rack had been snapped off, but he was still very impressive looking.

I found another older buck in a different part of the preserve, but his rack was really wonky.  On one side, he only had on long prong, and on the other side, he had a 3-point antler with a gnarly-looking eye guard. The doe he was pursuing, though, didn’t seem to mind too much that he was “uneven”…  Several different things can make the antlers messed up like that: the pedicle on the head from which the antlers grow may have been damaged somehow; or the antlers themselves might have been damaged while they were still in their velvet stage and growing; or the buck may have nerve damage in the hind leg opposite from the malformed antler.

CLICK HERE to see the album of photos.

You may also notice in the photos that the mature bucks’ necks swell during the rut. Although I couldn’t find any scientific studies about this phenomenon, the consensus seems to be that the swelling is caused by a dramatic increase in testosterone during the rut which affects the blood vessels and muscles in the neck (along with other parts of the body; hah!). The thick neck is apparently attractive to the females, and also helps to cushion the head and body when the bucks joust, absorbing some of the shock when the bucks butt heads. Interesting!

As I mentioned, I saw two Red-Shouldered Hawks in different parts of the preserve today, and I also saw a Red-Tailed Hawk, but that one flew off before I could get any good shots of it.  Inside the nature center at the preserve, I also got to see Orion, the preserve’s Swainson’s Hawk. He’s still a youngster, so doesn’t have his adult coloring yet, but he’s a handsome bird.

Along the usual suspects like Wild Turkeys, California Scrub Jays, Northern Flickers, Spotted Towhees and Acorn Woodpeckers, I got to see a tiny Hermit Thrush in the scrubby brush on the side of the trail. I hardly ever get to see those little guys, so it’s always kind of a treat when I can get pictures of one of them.

There were lots of California Ground Squirrels and Eastern Fox Squirrels around.  The squirrels can have a second breeding season in the fall, and I saw one of them carrying a big mouthful of grass to its nest.  The cool thing was being able to spot the melanistic squirrel (all black) again.  I hadn’t seen that guy for a year.  The last time I saw him was actually on November 22nd last year.  Maybe he only comes out once a year. Hah! (You can see last year’s photos HERE.)

I walked for about 3 hours and then headed back o the car. On my way out of the preserve, I stopped in at the nature center (which is when I saw Orion) and picked up several copies of “The Acorn” magazine published by the American River Natural History Association. My lichen photo is featured on the cover.  Super cool!

 

Lots of Mother-and-Fawn Love at the Preserve, 08-26-18

Up at 6:00 am and over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve again by 6:30 am.  In the summer I usually mix it up: Effie Yeaw, the Cosumnes Preserve, the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, etc. But there’s no water at the Cosumnes Preserve or the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge this year, so I’ve been spending more time going to Effie Yeaw than I normally would…

At the preserve, it was sort of slow-going at first. I wasn’t seeing much of anything, so I focused on the oak trees and looked for galls.  I was able to find a gall I’d been seeking for years on a Blue Oak tree: the Plate Gall of the wasp Liodora pattersonae. It looks like a flat green scale with a dot in the middle. The problem was, all of the specimens were high above my head on the leaves, so it was hard to get a good close-up shot of them.  I also saw Pumpkin Glass, Red Cone Galls, Saucer Galls, Disk Galls, Spiny Turban Galls, and Oak Apple galls, among others.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

As I was heading out of the preserve, I came across a herd of deer made up mostly of does, a single fawn (still in its spots) and a young male in his velvet.  The fawn and its mother went through a mutual grooming routine that was so lovely, I got photo after photo of it. So gentle and graceful.  I could have watched them all day.  I also found another 2-pointer buck who was already out of his velvet and sporting his new shiny antlers.  All of the boys will be going into rut over the next few months.

One thing I’ve noticed since I’ve been going out to the preserve each week is that there seems to be some kind of regulation of the tadpoles in the small pond by the nature center going on. It looks like the preserve is either killing or relocating the bullfrog tadpoles as soon as they start to sprout legs.  Bullfrogs are an invasive species, yes, but half of the fun of stopping at the pond is to see and hear the frogs.  I don’t know if it’s some kind of latent “birth control” the center is doing, or if they’re trying to get more dragonflies and other water-borne insects into the pond (so are regulating the number of tadpoles there), but it’s sad not to see any fully fledged frogs…

I walked for about 3 ½ hours, and as I was heading home it was still 66º outside. Nice.

Saw a Coyote Family Playing in a Meadow, 08-11-18

Got up around 6:00 am after a good night’s sleep. I head over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve and it was already 68º outside (with a “real feel” of 73º according to the weather app on my phone.)

The first thing I saw when I got to the preserve was two coyote pups (teenagers) bouncing through the meadow. I parked the car and got out hurriedly and tried to figure out which way the kids were going. As I entered the grounds, I saw an adult coyote standing next to the nature center. It walked up the side of a hill and then sat down in the tall grass, nearly disappearing as it did so. I continued on down the trail and found the pack in the meadow. It looked like mom and about four pups. They were running around, play-hunting, and jumping up and down. Mom would sit down in the grass, and the pups would run around her and back and forth across the meadow. Then they’d all converge on the mom and pounce on her like she was prey. She’d roll around and nip at them… they were all having such a good time; it was so fun to watch them.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos. And here are some videos from today:

A little further down the same trail, I came across a trio of does. They were standing in the woods, and all of them had their ears cocked, listening to the coyotes in the field nearby. So pretty.

And still further down the trail, near the pond, I saw a doe to my left, and could hear what I first thought was a kitten mewing to my right. I looked around the tules by the pond and found that the “mewing” was actually coming from a fawn. The fawn was still in its spots and looked as though it had injured one side of its mouth. Its bottom lip was swollen in the corner and that tilted the mouth a bit, so it looked like the fawn had a perpetual “resting bitch face” look. Hah!

I’m not sure, but it looked like maybe the fawn had been stung by bees or wasps. The mouth injury didn’t seem to have interfered with the fawn’s ability to eat, though; it looked chubby and healthy. Its coat was a little ratty-looking but that might be because it was shedding its baby coat and making room for its teenager coat.

The wild mugwort is going into bloom everywhere throughout the preserve, and more wasp galls are appearing on the oak trees.

Another treat was being able to see a large flock of Yellow-Billed Magpies on one of the lawns. They were slumming with a smaller flock of European Starlings. It looked like most of the magpies were going through a molt; you could see all the yellow skin around their eyes…

At one point, one of the magpies jumped on top of another. The magpie on the bottom started screaming and struggling to get up. While it screamed, and the other magpies flew in around it. I got the impression that they weren’t ganging up on the one on the ground, so much as they wanted the magpie that was on top to leave the other one alone. The magpie on top moved to one side, and the pinned one flew away. Wow.

I walked for about 3 hours and then headed home. While I was walking, I had the Pokémon Go game running on my phone and walked enough miles to hatch out two eggs. Both of them were Magnemites. For those of you who don’t play the game, you’ll have no idea what that means. Hah-ha-ha!

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.

Mama Great Horned Owl – and Other Stuff, 04-10-18

I just HAD to go see how mama Great Horned Owl was doing at the American River Bend Park, so I got up around 6:30 am and headed over there, hoping to beat the incoming rain. It was about 59º and totally overcast, but no drizzles while I was out.

When I got to the park, I was happy to see mama up in her nest with her three, now very large, owlets. The babies are all just about the same size as mom right now, but they’re still in their baby fluff and look to soft and cute. With the three of them in there, there’s hardly enough room for mom, too, but somehow they all fit. I took photos and video snippets of them, and then went to see what else was in the vicinity.

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

Lots of House Wrens singing from every direction, Western Bluebirds and Audubon’s Warbler. Y’know, I’d never really noticed the warblers before this year, but they seem to be all over the place right now. I also saw a young Cooper’s Hawk be harassed by Scrub Jays. When I first saw the hawk it was above my head in a tree and all I could see was its tail feathers. I could hear the Jays screeching at it, and they beat it down through the branches until the hawk was free enough to fly off. I saw it land on a curved branch several yards away… and it was still getting harassed. Poor thing!

Then I saw a young Red-Shouldered Hawk sitting in a tree near where the Cooper’s Hawk was. The Red-Shoulder must have seemed more “assertive” than the Coop, because the smaller birds left it alone and didn’t go anywhere near it. It also let me get pretty close to its resting spot – It looked right at me. – without flying off, so it must have been very self-assured.

I saw stinging nettles, miner’s lettuce, Stork’s Bill, and pipevine plants (many of them now covered with small clusters of Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly eggs), buckeye chestnut trees, wild grape vines, and black walnut trees (which are just starting to get their catkins). I also found one Elder Moth caterpillar folded up in the leaf of a blue elderberry bush.

As I walked around, I kept going back to where I could see the owls’ nest so I could get more photos of them as they moved around and shifted positions in the nest…

I was out there for about 3 hours and then headed home.

Here is a video of mama owl and her babies: https://youtu.be/sof6Mf7UKMQ

Big Bucks and Tiny Termites, 11-10-17

A little after 6:00, I headed over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk.  It was partly cloudy and around 55º outside when I got there, but the cloud cover intensified while I was there.

CLICK HERE to see the entire photo album.

As I entered the preserve, I saw a doe and her fawn right off the bat, and was able to see more mamas with single babies along the trails. One of the mamas was looking kind of thin to me; I worried that maybe she wasn’t getting enough to feed herself and make milk for her fawn.  The fawn made me smile. He’d walk for a while then settle himself down in the grass to rest… and mama would walk up and poke him in the butt with her nose to make him get back onto his feet and walk some more.  I saw them do this three or four times before the baby won and just stayed seated in the grass – with mom browsing nearby. Hah!

At another spot I saw a 2-pointer buck in the tall grass, and as I moved a little bit closer to where he was, I saw a doe and a 4-pointer buck in the same area. The 4-pointer was very cooperative and posed for some photos. The 2-pointer was less cooperative and eventually just sat down in the grass. I guess he figured there was no way he was going to be able to compete with the larger male.

There were a lot of regular-suspects birds out today including Spotted Towhees, Turkey Vultures, Acorn Woodpeckers, European Starlings, Mourning Doves, and wrens… There are a couple of bat boxes set up on posts in the preserves, and on one of them an Acorn Woodpecker was trying to bang holes in it.  If there were bats roosting in there, their little heads must have been throbbing!

Beth S., an awesome photographer who is also a Facebook friend, said she might be out at the preserve today, too.  I didn’t see her until I was working my way out of the place, but met up with her around the trail closest to the nature center. She was trying to get photos of an Oak Titmouse – one of my “nemesis birds”; I hardly ever get a decent photo of those little guys, they move so quickly.  While we were there, a Red-Shouldered Hawk flew into a nearby tree, so Beth went to see if she could get a shot of it from a better angle. While she was doing that, I noticed little insects flying around slowly here and there, and recognized their flight as that of the winged-version of termites.  When the termite mound has reached a saturation point, winged kings and queens take off to mate and find new places to establish their own mounds. The weather today was perfect for a flight… not too hot or too cold, no wind, not too wet…

At first I couldn’t see where the termites were coming from, but then I noticed that several different kinds of birds were gathering around a fallen tree and stump: Oak Titmice, Dark-Eyed Juncos, Northern Flickers and Ruby Kinglets (!).  So I went back down the trail to check out that area… and found that the termites were emerging from the little stump.  Cool!  I got several photos of them and some photos of the birds, too… And then Beth came back saying she’d gotten some good photos of the hawk.  I showed her where the termites were so she could take some photos, too, if she wanted to, and then headed out of the preserve.

I walked for about 4 hours today. Phew!