Tag Archives: Willows

Lots of Wrens and Squirrels, 03-24-18

Around 6:30 am I headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge with the dog. They’ve opened the loop to the permanent wetlands area, so I wanted to see what that looked like these days – and I needed a nature fix. The mountains around us, which aren’t too terribly tall, had snow on their summits, and a light dusting of snow all down their flanks (which had pretty much melted by the end of the day today). It was 44º when I got to the refuge and around 51º when I headed back home. Clear and bright, though. I got some nice scenery shots while I was out there.

I saw most of the usual suspects while I was out on the preserve; and for the most part I had the place all to myself. I only saw two or three other cars on the auto route when I was driving it (although, a phalanx of cars showed up just as I was leaving. I assumed it was a birding group who were there to see the fly-out at dusk.)

CLICK HERE for the album of photos and videos.

Jackrabbits and Cottontails were out, and I also got a glimpse of a Striped Skunk and a small herd of mule deer. Otherwise, it was mostly birds. The huge-huge flocks are gone now, but there’s more variety in the different kinds of species you can see out there (if you know where and how to look for them.)

I saw American Coots, American Wigeons, Killdeer, Red-Winged Blackbirds, several Great Egrets, Western Meadowlarks, some Northern Harriers, White-Faced Ibis, Great Blue Herons, Song Sparrows, Green-Winged Teals, Northern Shovelers, White-Crowned Sparrows, a couple of Red-Tailed Hawks, lots of Double-Crested Cormorants, Pied-Billed Grebes, Ruddy Ducks, Ring-Necked Ducks, Cinnamon Teals, Golden-Crowned Sparrows, a Belted Kingfisher, Audubon’s Warblers, Black-Necked Stilts, Tree Swallows, Long-Billed Dowitchers, Snowy Egrets, Gadwalls, a Red-Shouldered Hawk, some Greater Yellowlegs, Lesser Goldfinches, House Sparrows, an Anna’s Hummingbird, and several Crows. And, of course, this time of year the Marsh Wrens are out everywhere building their nests and singing their buzzy songs trying to attract females. I got lots of photos of them.

At one spot along the route, I came across an area where there were several Ibis and Snow Egrets gathered, and a Great Egret standing nearby. One of the Ibis caught a crayfish in the water, but as soon as it lifted it up, about three of the Snowy Egrets went after it, making the Ibis drop its meal. One of the Snowys picked it up and tried to fly off with it, but then the great Egret flew over and body-slammed the Snowy making it drop the crayfish, too. The Great Egret then had to search through the turbid water to find the crayfish again so he could eat it himself.

I saw only one of the Ibis starting to get its white breeding face, and the Snowy Egrets I saw aren’t showing any signs of their breeding plumage yet. But some of the Great Egrets are… and their faces are turning neon green: a signal to other Great Egrets that they’re ready and available for mating.

I also got quite a few photos of California Ground Squirrels. I’m just enamored with those little guys. If I had the time and funding, I’d love to be able to a long-tern field study on them. This is the time of year when the females have all set up their natal chambers in their burrows and are lookin’ for love. I saw one pair of the squirrels though in which the female was not at all interested in the male who kept harassing her. Maybe she already had babies in her burrow she needed to take of, or she just wasn’t that into him, but their antics were hysterical to watch. I got a little bit of it on video and in photos, but they just don’t do the comedy justice. The male first approached the female from the front, sniffing at her, reaching out to her with a paw, touching his nose to hers. But when he tried to move in further to get a whiff of her goodies, she jumped straight up into the air about a foot and ran off. The male chased her, and the two of them went running down the road in front of my car, tails up, the male body-slamming the female occasionally to try to get her to slow down or stop for him. More jumping. More running. Then they took a break for about a second before the male tried to approach the female again and… More jumping. More running. Hah! It was exhausting to watch them. I don’t know if he ever got her or not, but it was valiant effort.

The permanent wetlands loop was kind of disappointing. They’re redone the dirt road there and cut down all of the tall grass and most of the roadside vegetation. That makes viewing easier, but because there aren’t any places now near the road with high vegetation, there’s no place for the critters to hide or eat or build nests. So there was “nothing” to see. The refuge is also going to drain the big pond there, which means for a brief period of time, as the waters shrink and the water-living bugs and crustaceans are forced into a smaller and smaller living space, the birds will have a feast. When that happens there will be a lot of activity and photo ops. But the draining of that pond also means that the Clark’s and Western Grebes won’t be able to build their floating nests on the water – which is usually a big draw for photographers. So, this might be a disappointing year for photographers at the refuge.

((The draining of the pond is done about every years to get rid of the invasive carp who get into the basin when the area floods and then get trapped there when the flood waters recede. The refuge also has to till the pond bottom to expose it to the sun, so that all of the bacteria and viruses in the accumulated bird droppings can get irradiated.))

I was at the refuge for about 5 hours and then headed back home.

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.

Vacation Day 14: Cosumnes River Preserve

DAY 14 OF MY VACATION.  Around 8:00 am I headed over to the Cosumnes River Preserve for the second time this week.  They’ve gotten more of their water in already. I think they flooded a couple of extra fields because they were having a “Ducks in Scopes” and nature photography thing going today.  They thought they’d have to cancel the activities because of rain, but although the clouds threatened, it was a rainless 65° there.  I steered clear of the groups of people – they make so much noise, they scare off all of the birds – and sort of made my own path around the front half of the refuge. (I might go back tomorrow, to do the river walk there; we’ll see what the weather is like.)

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

I saw a couple of Red-Tailed Hawks.  One of them was sitting in the top of a tree BEHIND all the people who had their birding scopes set up.  I didn’t tell anyone he was there, and just got a bunch of photos of him from different angles before moving on.  Y’gotta pay attention to what’s around you, folks! Hah!

Among the ducks, I saw the usual suspects including Northern Shovelers and Pintails, Green-Winged Teals, and Cinnamon Teals.  And among the other shorebirds, I saw Greater Yellowlegs, Black-Necked Stilts, Long-Billed Dowitchers, Dunlins, and tons of America Coots. There were also White-Crowned Sparrows, Golden-Crown Sparrows, Lesser Goldfinches, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Savannah Sparrows and Black Phoebes.

Along the wetlands walks, the oak trees were still sporting some wasp galls, and the poison oak was looking very Christmasy in red and green. The rain is also waking up the lichen, which is starting to fatten up, stretch out and reproduce.

I saw several groups of Sandhill Cranes fly overhead, so I tried to watch where they landed and then went over to where I thought they might be.  They usually keep pretty far away from the roads and walkways, but I was able to get some photos of a small group of them that were making their way across the top of a levy.  Most of the time they had their butts toward me, but I did get a few side-view shots when they turned their heads.  In that same area I came across a couple of Great Egrets, so I got some shots of them, too.

As I was heading out of the area, I caught glimpse of a large bird sitting on top of a pile tules – and it looked awfully “pale”.  I thought it might be a juvenile Bald Eagle because of its size, but I only got photos of the back of its head, so I couldn’t see what the eye-ridge or beak looked like.  Now, I’m not sure if it was an eagle or just a really big super-light-morph Red-Tail – or something else.  When it took off flying, much of its tail was white (which would be indicative of an eagle)… but I’m still not sure.  If it was a juvenile Bald Eagle it would be REALLY unusual for this area.

Anyway, I was at the preserve for about 3½ hours and then headed back home.

Vacation Day 1: Cache Creek Conservancy Nature Preserve

DAY 1 OF MY VACATION. Around 8:00 am I headed out to the Cache Creek Conservancy’s nature preserve.

They only open up the preserve on a weekend about once a quarter, so when it opens up, I try to get over there. I got there just as they were opening the gates, so I got first pick of a parking space in the very-limited-parking lot adjacent to the walking trails.  I don’t usually see a whole lot when I’m there. Their riparian area is pretty small and is mostly willows and cottonwood trees (with only a few scattered oaks). I knew they were working on expanding their trail system, though, so I thought I’d check it out.

CLICK HERE for an album of photos.

In and around the small wetlands area, I saw Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons along with a few Pied-Billed Grebes and lots of blackbirds, some Northern Flickers, and White-Crowned Sparrows.  I got a little video snippet of a young grebe trying to eat a crawfish.

At one point along the trail I saw a big Red-Tailed Hawk strafe and knock down a Cottontail rabbit.  It hit the rabbit so hard it broke its neck.  By the time I got close enough to it to take photos, the hawk flew off into the nearby trees, but left his meal behind.  I checked out the rabbit to make sure it was suffering and, nope, it was dead.  Eyes still open.  It only had a few bites taken out of it from the hawk – which I’m sure went back to the rabbit as soon as I was away from there.

I also saw a Northern Pike in the wetlands area.  It was moving around in a shallow pond, so I could see the water being slowly agitated but at first I couldn’t see clearly what was causing the agitation.  I took a few videos and watched them all in slow motion when I got home.  The dorsal part of the fish would come to the top of the water – a slightly humped back and sort of yellowish-olive patterned body — then I’d see the tip of its tail fin poke out above the surface.  The fish must have been 2 feet long, easily.  Those guys are super-efficient predators that eat just about anything.  I wonder if the conservancy knows they’re in the pond.

It’s just about the end of the gall season, but there were still some clinging to the leaves of trees and scattered on the ground.  There were two I hadn’t seen or photographed before, so that was cool.  The little round ones were called – duh — Round Galls (Besbicus conspicuous), and the other one I saw was along the edges of the leaves of the Cottonwood Trees.  Now, I’d seen the Petiole galls before (lots of them) that form at the base of the leave and are caused by a species of aphid (Pemphigus populicaulis), but I’d never seen the ones that formed along the edges.  I took a bunch of photos and when I got home, I looked them up in my trusty galls books and I actually had some trouble finding it.  It’s a kind of “leaf curl” gall also caused by an aphid (Pemphigus sp.) but the exact species wasn’t specified.  I’ll have to do more research. There were also a lot of Jumping Galls (Neuroterus saltatorius ) still clinging to the leaves of some of the oaks.  Along with the willows, cottonwood trees and Valley Oaks, I also came across some very late-blooming Rock Phacelia (Phacelia egena), Vinegarweed (Trichostema lanceolatum), Cocklebur, Chicory and Tree Tobacco (Nicotiana glauca) – an invasive species.

I got to see a pair of mule deer, but couldn’t get very close to them before they were off, dashing toward the river side…  I walked for about three hours and then headed back to the car.

 

Some Quail on Sunday

California Quail. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.
California Quail. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.

I headed out to the American River Bend Park for my walk around 5:00 am.

I went down by the river side where I’d seen the beaver a week ago.  No beavers today, but I did get to see a covey of California Quail feeding and running through the short grass. Those are always fun to watch; especially the males with their little “dingle balls” bouncing on their head as they move.  This group seemed to be all bachelors; males with no apparent harem of females around them. I crept up on them as quietly as I could, but there’s a lot of stones and gravel around there, so I didn’t get any really good shots of them before they flushed.

I could then hear ducklings peeping from the river, so I walked closer to the shore.  There was a  mama Common Merganser there with a bevy of babies.  I think it might have been the same mama I saw before (the one with 20 babies), but she only had 12 now… and one of the babies had gotten carried off by the current.  He was bobbing on the little waves in the river, peeping loudly in distress.  Mama rushed across the surface of the water – with the other little ones in tow — and positioned herself downstream from the one that was peeping.  While she did that, I saw two other female Mergansers fly across the water in front of the baby as though they were trying to “herd” him in the right direction.  The current finally took him to where his mom and siblings were and she went back across the water with all of her kids again.  I got some video of her and the kids on the bank opposite from me, and as I was filming, I could a baby peeping again, and saw two others adult females skidding on the water to try to corral it…  I don’t know if the was the same baby as before, but there again was a little one who’d gotten separated from its group and was whining for help as the current took it downstream.  That poor mama must be so tired by the end of the day!

Later on my walk, I saw another female Merganser, this one with only two babies that she was carrying down the river on her back.  That’s a little more manageable, I’m sure.

I also came across a couple of Spotted Sandpipers in their breeding spots bobbing along the bank, eating stuff from between and on tops of the rocks – looked like worms or larvae of some kind — and I got a few photos of them. Along my walk I also saw some California Towhees and Spotted Towhees, Scrub Jays, Tree Swallows, Mallards, a jackrabbit and a Red-Shouldered Hawk.

The wild blackberries are covered in blossoms and berries right now, and the wild grapes have tiny clusters of grapes on them, but nothing’s ripe yet.  It’ll be another 2 or 3 weeks. The rushes and flat sedge along the river are all getting their seed-heads now along with the smartweed and dock.

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I then drove further into the park and was going to do some walking along the river there but the place was swamped with kids from a youth group that were camping there.  *Sigh*  I turned the car around and headed home.

 

Vacation Day One: Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

Western Pond Turtle. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Western Pond Turtle. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

Vacation Day One.  I got up around 6:00 am and took off to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge with the dog.  It was supposed to be overcast and wet all day – and it was, but in Willows the rain was mostly a very light “mizzling” rain (heavier than mist but not really a drizzle) that turned itself on and off throughout the day.  I only had to close the car windows once to keep heavier rain out, and even then it was just for a few minutes.  The rest of the time, I was able to keep the windows open.  Because it was cool – around 53° — I also had the floor vents in the car open and the heater on blowing warm air onto my tootsies.  The cool thing about photographing when it’s overcast is that you don’t have to deal with glare and deep shadows, and that puts everything on the same “scale”.

The wildflowers were starting to winnow away at the preserve, and the grasses, vetch, teasel and other thistles, toyon bushes and other plants – like Hemlock – are starting to build up and bloom… in some places I had Killdeer running alongside the car on the gravel auto-tour road.  They make nests out of the gravel and their eggs look just like little stones.  I worry that some of them are building nests on the road, and they’ll get squished by the cars.  I guess it comes down to “survival of the smartest”; the birds “stupid” enough to build nests in the probably won’t generate many (if any) offspring… There were Jackrabbits in abundance, too.  In one place there were five of them all running and hopping around together.  Since jack’s are generally solitary animals, I assumed the group was a mom and her nearly-grown offspring… Meadowlarks, Marsh Wrens and blackbirds were singing from everywhere.  I got a little video snippet of the Meadowlark song… Among the blackbirds, I also saw my first Yellow-Headed Blackbird – a female who was hunkered down in the tules trying to keep warm… It was such a shock to see her among all the Red-Winged Blackbirds that at first I didn’t know what to make of her…  And I think I spotted by first Loons, too, but they were so far away the photos aren’t all that good.  I think they were whether young Common Loons or Pacific Loons.  They had brown heads…

Saw a couple of Red-Tailed Hawks, and several American Bitterns, including one walking through the tall grass toward the tules, and I heard several other Bitterns give out their “pumper-lunk” calls from amid the overgrowth.  I don’t remember ever seeing (or hearing) this many of them before. I wonder of “climate change” has dumped them all into this area this year… Came across a Striped Skunk running through the grass alongside the road.  He came out of nowhere and was moving so fast I hardly had a chance to get my camera on him and ended up with a bunch of blurry photos.  Sigh.  I need to be “faster than Nature” to get good shots sometimes… And there were Ring-Necked Pheasants everywhere.

I also saw Double-Crested Cormorants, a few Snow Geese, Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Great Blue Herons, several Kingbirds (Cassin’s, I think, rather than Western, because the head was kind of a dark charcoal gray), loads of American Coots (of course; they’re kind of ubiquitous), several Western Pond Turtles, Cinnamon Teals, a Purple Finch (They are actually red, not purple.), a few Mourning Doves, House Sparrows, some Long-Billed Dowitchers, Greater Yellowlegs, Mule Deer, Clark’s and Western Grebes,  some Green-Winged Teals, Turkey Vultures, and a few Northern Harriers.  So, even though the weather wasn’t the best, there were a lot of things to see and photograph.   I think I ended up with something like 550 photos!

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By the time I was done in the refuge, it was already around 2:30 pm and I wasn’t looking forward to the 2 hour drive back to Sacramento, so I drove in to Williams and the dog and I did an overnight at the Ramada Inn there.  We shared a Subway sandwich and then hit the hay.