Tag Archives: Yellow-Headed Blackbird

A Beaver and a Loon at Lake Solano Park, 03-16-19

The weather at Lake Solano Park was perfect for walking with my naturalist students; about 49° when we first got there, and then up to about 68° by the time we left. It was sunny, clear and bright outside. My coworker Bill and I took turns pointing things out to everyone, and one of the students, Charlie (who’s something of a plant expert) helped us identify plants.

CLICK HERE for an album of photos.

When I got to the park, Bill and some of the students were already there, and some of them had already spotted an otter in the water. What a great way to start their day! Other highlights during the outing included spotting a beaver in the lake (!) and a Common Loon (!!) which I had never seen there before. We at first thought the beaver was another otter, but it’s large size and big ears brought us to the conclusion of its true identity. It was moseying along in the water, and treaded water for a long time, so we were able to get some photos of it. ((I think I took about 500 photos of its head poking out of the water. Hah!)) Eventually, it made its way to the other side of the lake and disappeared into the shadows. We inferred it might have had a lodge over there although we couldn’t see one.

The loon was a big surprise. At first we were all looking at it, trying to wrap our heads around what we were seeing. Checking through a field guide, though, we were able to determine that it was a non-breeding Common Loon, most likely resting there during its migration through our region.

Deeper inspection of the skull and skeleton we’d found on Wednesday, seemed to indicate that they were from opossums, not dogs as we’d originally thought (based on the canine teeth). There were “too many” small teeth between the canines for the skulls to be from a dog, so opossum was the next best guess. I need to study skulls more deeply – especially the ones of the common animals around here.

I stupidly stepped into the ants’ nest near where we located the Giant Horsetail ferns again. I recognized the spot and tapped on the area with my foot to see if the ants were still there from Wednesday, but nothing emerged, so I thought it was safe to go in there… But as soon as my shadow passed over their nest, they came out in force again. I got bit a few time, but nothing bad. They weren’t Fire Ants; more like red Harvester Ants. But they were still angry about my trespass over their nest and practically “exploded” out of the ground to swarm all over me. The students helped to whack them off my clothes.

On another part of the trail, we came across a large colony of Velvety Tree Ants swarming over an old log. What alerted me to them was a White-Breasted Nuthatch that flitted down onto the log, snatched up an ant, and flew off, flitted down onto the log, snatched up an ant, and flew off several times in a row. Along the ridgeline of the log was a line of winged adults getting ready to take off to establish new colonies… and it was the big winged one the Nuthatch was after. Very cool.

On the lake were Bufflehead ducks mingling with Goldeneyes, and both Common and Hooded Mergansers (along with the egrets, some herons, and Canada Geese). On the shore were lines of turtles sunning themselves; both Red-Eared Slider Turtles and a few Pacific Pond Turtles. We also all got to watch a Belted Kingfisher on the other side of the lake, dive-bombing for fish in the water. Some of the students had never seen that before and were “wow-ing” at the speed of the little bird.

In the ponds, we found Water Boatmen, Mosquito Fish, Bullfrog tadpoles, and a Black-Fronted Forktail Damselfly that was “swimming” along the top of the water before it lighted on some algae to dry off. I’d never seen a winged damselfly swim before! So odd! I need to remember to bring my dip-net with me next time I go out there so I can scoop up some critters to photograph.

We walked for about 3 ½ hours, and all in all, I think I recorded over 60 different species (that we saw and/or heard). It was a good day.

Species List:

1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus,
2. American Kestrel, Falco sparverius,
3. American Robin, Turdus migratorius,
4. Arundo, Giant Reed, Arundo donax,
5. Audubon’s Warbler, Setophaga auduboni auduboni,
6. Beaver, American, Beaver, Castor canadensis,
7. Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon,
8. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii,
9. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
10. Black-Fronted Forktail Damselfly, Ischnura denticollis,
11. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus,
12. Bufflehead, Bucephala albeola,
13. Bullfrog, American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus,
14. Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus,
15. California Manroot, Bigroot, Wild Cucumber, Marah fabaceus,
16. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica,
17. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis,
18. Cattail, Broadleaf Cattail, Typha latifolia,
19. Chickweed, Stellaria media,
20. Cliff Swallow, Petrochelidon pyrrhonota,
21. Common Goldeneye, Bucephala clangula,
22. Common Loon, Gavia immer,
23. Common Merganser, Mergus merganser,
24. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus,
25. Fresh Water Snail, Fluminicola sp.,
26. Galium, Bredstraw, Velcro-Grass, Sticky Willy, Cleavers, Galium aparine,
27. Giant Horsetail Fern, Equisetum telmateia,
28. Giraffe’s Head Henbit, Lamium amplexicaule,
29. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias,
30. Great Egret, Ardea alba,
31. Honey Fungus, Armillaria mellea,
32. Hooded Merganser, Lophodytes cucullatus,
33. Longstalk cranesbill, Geranium columbinum,
34. Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos,
35. Mistletoe, American Mistletoe, Big Leaf Mistletoe, Phoradendron leucarpum,
36. Mosquito fish, Gambusia affinis,
37. Mugwort, California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana,
38. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos,
39. Pacific Pond Turtle, Western Pond Turtle, Actinemys marmorata,
40. Peafowl, Indian Peafowl, Pavo cristatus,
41. Phainopepla, Phainopepla nitens,
42. Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta
43. Pipevine, California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica
44. Red Harvester Ant, Pogonomyrmex barbatus,
45. Red-Eared Slider Turtle, Trachemys scripta elegans,
46. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus,
47. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis,
48. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus,
49. River Otter, North American River Otter, Lontra canadensis,
50. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula,
51. Speedwell, Veronica arvensis,
52. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus,
53. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor,
54. Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus,
55. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata,
56. Velvety Tree ant, Liometopum occidentale,
57. Water Boatmen, Corixidae (family),
58. Western Bluebird, Sialia mexicana,
59. Western Screech Owl, Megascops kennicottii,
60. White Alder, Alnus rhombifolia,
61. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis,
62. Yellow-Headed Blackbird, Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus,

Ibis Rookery at the Water Plant, 07-03-18

The dog and I headed out right away to go into Woodland and look for the water treatment plant before going into the office. One of my naturalist course graduates, Sonjia, had told me there was an Ibis rookery there, so I had to go see it!

Luckily the main gate was open.  I overshot the pond area and had to turn around, then went down the gravel road, and took photos from my car and the adjacent field. The air quality was horrible this morning, with all of the wildfires burning around the valley, so everything was tinged an extra shade of red-orange.

At first, I only saw flocks of White-Faced Ibis, Black Necked Stilts and a few other shorebirds, but as I watched I could pick out other individual birds like Tricolored Blackbirds and Yellow-Headed Blackbirds, Killdeer, Mallards, Pied-Billed Grebes, Canada Geese and Great-Tailed Grackles.  Some of the grackles were posturing and “dancing” along the side of the road. One of them kept stepping on the tail feathers of the others to mess them up. Hah!  I also found some damselflies who weren’t warm enough to go anywhere yet, so they clung to the stems of the star thistle, sometimes several of them on the same plant. Lots of photo ops… but I felt rushed because I had to get to the office by 7:00 am.

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

A little further along the gravel road was the rookery area itself, with Ibis practically piled on top of one another in their twiggy nests.  Because it was so early in the morning, most of the adults on the nests weren’t quite awake yet, but in some of the nests, parents were busy feeding hungry hatchlings. If I come back again later in the week, I’ll come a little bit later in the morning when more of the birds are awake.

I was able to see some of the unhatched eggs in nests; they’re a beautiful turquoise blue color. Both parents help to keep the eggs warm. Some evidence seems to indicate that the males sit on the eggs during the day, and females sit on the eggs in the evening, but they can also switch shifts. Both parents also feed the babies (by regurgitation). While I was watching one nest, I saw mom feeding the kids. Then dad flew in, gave mom his breakfast, and flew off again… and mom fed what dad brought to the kids. Lots of barfing and re-barfing going on in that exchange. Eeew! Hah!

The pairs of adults are supposed to be monogamous, but I don’t know if that’s for life or just for the breeding season.  I saw several pairs, some of them interacting very gently with one another. “Allopreening” (mates preening one another) is supposed to reinforce the pair bond.

The baby Ibises have black and white striped beaks and bald heads. They’re so funny looking! And they grab at the parent’s beak to try to get them to open their mouths. Pushy, fussy babies.

In some spots, the female Great-Tailed Grackles were poking around the Ibis’ nests and harassing them. One of them poked its head right in under a mama Ibis who was sitting on the nest, causing her to jump up and turn on it.  It’s not unusual for the grackles to be predatory and try to steal eggs from the nests, but this one was awfully bold!  (I wonder if the Black-Crowned Night Herons come by in the evening to steal babies and eat them… They’re notorious in this area for stealing and killing local Wood Duck ducklings; sometimes killing for no reason and leaving the ducklings bodies lying around.)

I was out there for about an hour and then had to head off to the office, but that was cool way to start my day.

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.

A Day of Nature for Me and the Dog, Saturday 05-07-16

Male Ruddy Duck. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Male Ruddy Duck. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

I turned off my phone and computer today, and headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge for a “nature day” –  just me and the dog.  It was totally overcast and drizzling on and off all day, but I didn’t care.  I just needed to unplug with Sergeant Margie.

I got to the refuge around 7:30 am and because it was overcast and rather “dark” a lot of the critters were tricked into thinking it was a lot earlier than it really was, so I got to see the Black Crowned Night Herons flying off to their daytime roosts (but no good photos, sadly), and caught a raccoon heading off to its den. Because of the inclement weather there were no other guests at the refuge all the while I was there (or at least I didn’t see anyone else), so I felt like I had the whole place to myself.  I could drive down the auto tour route as slowly as I wanted to without be hurried or interfered with by other drivers.  That’s always soooo nice.

There were lots and lots of Jackrabbits and cottontails everywhere, and I got to see some mule deer, too.  Kingbirds also seemed to be all over the place today, and often landed in the tules or overgrowth alongside the auto tour route to “pose”.  Most of the time they just flit away when they see people but today they were very cooperative…  Some of my videoing and photo-taking throughout the day was impeded by rain and thick blinds of tules (the camera doesn’t know what to focus on, so I get a lot of blurring going on.)  I’m no “National Geographic” photographer or videographer to be sure, but I was pleased with what I got…

From the auto tour route, I could see a nest way off in the distance and I thought I could see birds in it, so I snapped some photos (even though I knew they’d be crappy) just to see if I could get a better look at the occupants.  As far as I could tell it was a hawk’s nest, and a fuzzy white fledgling hawk was looking out from one side of it, and the adult was looking out the other side.  Cool!  I also checked out the nest of the Great Horned Owl that I’d seen the last time I was at the refuge.  At first mama was absent but there were TWO huge fat owlets sitting in the nest.  When I went by the nest again later in the morning, Mom had come back later to sit with the babies… I have no idea how they all fit into that nest!

I saw a lot of Bitterns in flight, mostly in pairs, but didn’t get any good shots of them because they flushed so fast and flew so quickly.  In one spot, a flock of American White Pelicans was paddling through an area where the Bitterns were trying to feed, and rousted them out.  Feathers everywhere…

Later along the auto tour route I came across a “cooperative” of Canada Geese (a huge contingent of goslings overseen by several adult birds). They were on the road in front of me, and took off running.  The adults could’ve flown off the road into the water if they’d wants to, but they didn’t want to abandon the goslings, so they ran and ran and ran until the found a place where the goslings could safely to the water.  I worried about the babies running so hard for what seemed like “forever” (it was actually only a minute, but it seemed to take longer).  When they got to the water, all the adults regrouped and got all the kids together again…

Here’s a short video of the run.  Please excuse the blurred quality.  The geese were running slightly uphill in front of the car and the video was taken through the windshield.

When I drove by the permanent wetlands area, I got to see a lot of courtship displays among the different birds.  Some of the male Ruddy Ducks were in their full regalia – rust-red feathers and blue beaks – and were thrumming their beaks against their chests to make the water bubble and swirl around them.  (I got photos and a little video of that.) Here’s a video of the Ruddys.

I also got a little video of the Clark’s Grebes doing their courtship run across the top of the water, and the males offering eelgrass to the females for their floating nests. Here’s a video of a male Grebe presenting grass and here’s a video of the Grebes courtship run. Again, these aren’t high-quality but you’ll get the gist of things.

Then I saw some black s-shaped things in a tree nearby, and turned to focus on them.  They were male Great-Tailed Grackles doing displays for the females, elongating their necks and vocalizing (with a wide variety of sounds). They left the tree and flew into the tules to sing some more, then they flew down onto the ground and tried dancing around a female who was gathering grasses for her nest. Here’s a video snippet of a pair of males singing.  Turn the volume up as high as you can.  They were pretty far away, so they’re kind of hard to hear.

I felt kind of bad for some of the male birds.  Female birds can be so particular about who they choose as their mates, and the males try soooo hard to impress them – often to be rejected or simply ignored.  There was one male Gadwall who was head-bobbing to a female, and all she wanted to do was preen.  Hah!

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Oh, and here is a video snippet of some Snowy Egrets.  You get to see one them lift its long breeding plumage at another one who gets too close it.

I figured I saw over 35 species of plants and animals today.  It was a long leisurely drive with my dog and nature… just what I needed after a stressful week.

 

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.