Posts Tagged ‘Observations’

Rich Stallcup Bird-a-thon 2019 logoPoint Blue Conservation Science has a blog called Science for a Blue Planet that highlights the great work done by this organization. The blog post reporting on the 2019 Bird-a-thon features the Drake’s Beach Sanderlings!  It is really wonderful to get this kind of acknowledgement, and exciting that the Sanderlings might be the high species total winner this year!

Read Full Post »


I spent the 4th of July weekend camping with my family at one of my favorite spots. Domingo Spring in Lassen National Forest. I first visited this site during my graduate school work where I was recording the calls of Evening Grosbeaks, and I have returned regularly ever since. The campground, set among jumbled piles of volcanic rocks and large conifer trees, is immediately beside a wet meadow that Domingo Creek runs through. Near the entrance of the campground is the source of Domingo Creek, and the campground’s namesake, Domingo Spring. This spring is one of the few places I know of where one can drink right out of the land. In my mind, that makes this a very special spot, indeed. We also drove to Willow Lake for part of one day which was lovely. Willow Lake has a floating sphagnum bog where a couple of native species of carnivorous plants grow wild.


My brother birding Domingo Spring

The days we spent camping were filled with birds, a lake visit, walks throughout the surrounding meadows, lots of cooking over the fire, singing, talking politics, reading the Declaration of Independence on the 4th of July, drawing, and so much more! One bird encounter that was really wonderful was our neighbors in the campground. A pair of Cassin’s Vireos had a nest about 25 feet up a ponderosa pine tree at the edge of our campsite where four nestlings eagerly gobbled down each of the insects their parents delivered. Many Western Tanagers, including a lot of newly fledged birds, were also around this year.

The full species list for birds included: Mallard, Common Nighthawk, Anna’s Hummingbird, Turkey Vulture, Great Horned Owl, Black-backed Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, White-headed Woodpecker, Pileated Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Western Wood-Pewee, Stellar’s Jay, Common Raven, Tree Swallow, Mountain Chickadee, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Brown Creeper, House Wren, American Robin, Cassin’s Vireo, Evening Grosbeak, Purple Finch, Cassin’s Finch, Song Sparrow, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Red-winged Blackbird, Orange-crowned Warbler, MacGillivray’s Warbler, and Western Tanager.


My daughter holding a Pacific Tree Frog

We also had some nice herpetological encounters. I caught a small Mountain Gartersnake, and my wife and daughter caught a Pacific Tree Frog. Oddly, we did not see any gartersnakes are Willow Lake. In the past we have often seen them swimming in the lake as they hunt for minnows in the water, sometimes around our feet. This year, the water was much more turbid that it usually is (a result of the fairly recent snow melt?), and maybe this made the water less appealing as hunting grounds for the snakes that are pretty visual predators.

Mountain Gartersnake - Domingo Spring - 20190705

Mountain Gartersnake

Mammals we saw included Mule Deer, California Groundsquirrel, Golden-mantled Groundsquirrel, Douglas Squirrel, and Allen’s Chipmunk.

I very much look forward to the next time I return to Domingo Spring to enjoy the mountains and drink from the rocks.




Read Full Post »

Winter rains are sources of terrific fun at my house. My daughter and I love rain walks, and now that she is getting used to a larger bike, rain bike rides are becoming another fun activity to add into the mix.

Earthworm 01During a recent rain walk, we were peering into puddles to see what we could see when we spotted a few earthworms submerged in the water.

“Uh oh,” I said “Let’s rescue those worms so they don’t drown.”

“Worms don’t drown.” Said my daughter.

“They don’t?” I asked.

“No, they don’t drown when it rains.” She answered.

I will confess, I was doubtful about this. I have grown up knowing that earthworms come out of the soil when it rains because all their tunnels are flooded. I have also grown up knowing that if earthworms wander into a pool of water, they will drown. So, asked my daughter where she had heard that earthworms don’t drown. She told me that she had been watching a nature show, and that it included a section on earthworms, and it included the information that earthworms don’t drown in water. I was surprised to hear this, and was still a little skeptical.

When we got back to the house, we were telling my wife about our adventures, and the worms came up. My wife also said how sad it was to see worms drown in the rain, and my daughter jumped in with the information about worms not drowning. My wife was as surprised as I was having grown up with the same information on this topic that I did.

But, my daughter was sure she was right, and when we did a little online search it turned out she was absolutely right to be so sure.

Earthworms Don’t Drown!

I could not have been more proud of my daughter at this point. She knew she was right and stuck to her guns. And she taught me that something I had believed was true was actually false, and replaced that false information with truth. So proud!

Here is the new information I learned.

Earthworm 02Earthworms need moisture to breath, which they do through their skin. As long as there is sufficient oxygen dissolved in the water, worms can survive for extended periods of time (we are talking three days or more) completely submerged with no ill effect. No one is completely sure why earthworms emerge from the soil when it rains, but one of the leading hypotheses is that they are taking advantage of the moisture above ground to disperse into new habitats and find new mates. The rain allows them to move across areas that would otherwise be too dry and/or too far away for them the reach when it is not raining.

So, if you see some worms wandering around on the surface the next time it rains, maybe crossing the sidewalk, give them a hand and help them on their journey. But, don’t worry that they have been forced out of their burrows by the threat posed by all the water. Because, as my daughter taught me, they don’t drown!


Read Full Post »

I spent this past weekend camping with family and friends. We camped at a spot that I have not been before called Upper Blue Lake in Alpine County, California. This site is about 45 min south of Lake Tahoe, at around 8,200 ft in elevation, and just off the Pacific Crest Trail. It is a pretty spot set in pine and fir trees, and we had a really nice and relaxing time.

The birds around the campground were pretty entertaining. We had Brown Creepers, Red-tailed Hawks, Williamson’s Sapsuckers, Audubon’s Warblers, Mountain Chickadees, Steller’s Jays, and a Cooper’s Hawk in the trees surrounding out campsite.

But one bird was particularly memorable. As several of our group were watching a Williamson’s Sapsucker, when I heard a warbler chip in the trees above me. I found the warbler and saw an adult male Wilson’s Warblers flitting in the branches. As I and a few others watched, I noticed that the bird seemed significantly more clumsy than most. It was very active hoping from twig to twig looking for, and catching insects. Each time it landed, however, it would wobble around, loose it balance, and need to flap its wings a bit to regain its perch. I was starting to really wonder about this odd behavior when something caught my eye. As this warbler was just landing on a twig, and attempting to hold its position, I saw that one leg was gripping the twig. There was only a stump where the other leg should have been!

Inline image

The one-legged Wilson’s Warbler (photo courtesy of Erin Hess).

From what I could see, it looked like the leg ended cleanly at the distal end of the tibiotarsus, or where the “ankle” joint would have been. Most of the time the tibiotarsus was held up in the feathers, tucked out of sight. It was only visible when the bird lost its balance a bit and instinctively reached out with the incomplete leg. A friend of mine was able to snap a few pictures, and in them you can see the bird standing on a branch and only one foot gripping the bark.

Inline image

Clear view of the one-legged Wilson’s Warbler standing on one leg (photo courtesy of Erin Hess)

I have no idea if this was an injury (seems more likely) or a birth defect (seems much less likely especially for an adult bird). Regardless of how it happened, the bird seemed to be doing ok. It was very active, the feathers looked to be in good condition, and it was vocalizing normally as well.

This was an impressive example of how resilient birds are. I have seen numerous wild birds that have injuries that were severe enough to cripple a mammal, but the birds have healed and are still able to function at a survivable level. For how fragile they seem, birds a tough!


Read Full Post »

If you are in the Davis or West Sacramento area in the late summer or early fall, and have an evening to spare, go and find a spot where you can sit beside the Yolo Bypass Causeway. This is where highway I-80 crosses over the Yolo Bypass.

Image result for bats under yolo causeway

Streams of Mexican Free-tailed Bats over the Yolo Bypass

Just as the sun begins to set, you will see an amazing sight. Columns of bat will flood out from under the bypass and stream across the sky in sinuous ribbons. About a quarter of a million Mexican Free-tailed Bats (Tadarida brasiliensis) live under the bypass this time of year, and every night they pour out and spread across the surrounding area to find small flying insects to eat.

These bats are incredible! They can fly about about 100 miles per hour, making them among the fastest mammals in the world! Remember that Cheetahs are the fastest land-mammal, but bats have them beat by a healthy margin. These bats can fly as high as a mile above the ground, and can forage out distances of several miles from their night roost before returning around dawn to sleep. Using their sonar they can detect and pinpoint the exact position of little insects flying through the air and then capture those insects on the wing, at speed!

My wife, daughter, and I joined some friends and went out for an evening visit to see the bats about a month ago. I was a spectacular evening in the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area. We saw lots of Swainson’s Hawks; herons, egrets, and ibis galore; some of the biggest Western Saddlebags (which is a species of dragonfly) I have ever seen; and then we got to the causeway.

When we arrived, the sun was still a touch above the horizon, so we had some time to stand around the dirt road that runs parallel to I-80 and chat and watch the sunset. We got a very nice surprise when an adult Peregrine Falcon flew past and landed in the top of a tree a little ways to the west of us. I was so excited to see this bird that, in turning around for a better look, I clumsily stepped on my wife toes (sorry sweetheart)!

Image result for bats under yolo causeway

Mexican Free-tailed Bats as they leave from under the Yolo Causeway.

As the light began to fade, we started seeing little movements under the causeway. The first bats were starting to move. Interestingly, the bats do not wake up, take flight, and simply fly out from under the causeway wherever they happen to be. Instead, they wake up, take flight, and then fly directly under the causeway for a few hundred yards before turning a sharp left, and lifting up into the open sky. I have no idea why they decide to do this, but volunteers at the Wildlife Area know it is gong to happen so consistently, that they can tell you exactly which tree the bats will fly out near.

The numbers of bats moving under the causeway built and built until there were bats streaming along between the support pillars. Then they made that left, and out in to open they came! A snaking stream of bats began raising and twisting into the sky! Thousands and thousands of bats following one another out from where they had been sleeping to look for food. As we watched the seemingly endless flow of bats, we got a very cool surprise. That Peregrine Falcon that we had seen earlier came back. It started strafing through the flow of bats. It was hunting bats!

I have seen this behavior of raptors hunting bats as they leave their night roost on video before, and it is pretty spectacular to see on a screen. Seeing it in real life was thrilling! After a couple of passes, the Peregrine made a quick move to one side, and suddenly it had a bat in one talon! It flew off and out of sight carrying it’s dinnertime snack.

The rest of the bats were generally nonplussed by the Peregrine attack, and keep streaming and streaming into the coming night.

Finally, the last bat that was going to leave had departed, and the darkness was getting deep enough that we would not have been able to see the bats fl by even if they were there, so we piled back into our cars and headed for home.

All in all, a terrific way to spend and evening!


Read Full Post »

This year, 2018, I have set up a little challenge for myself. The challenge is to see 100 or more species in Yolo County each month. Now, that does not mean that the 100 species of February have to all be different species from the 100 species in January. Rather it means that the total number of species seen in each month should get to a total of 100 or more. So, if I see a Red-tailed Hawk some time in January it gets added to the January list. If I see a Red-tailed Hawk some time in February it get added to the February list.

I am hoping this will help me to notice more details as I search to find that next species for a given month, encourage me to visit more habitat types each month, and highlight the seasonal differences as species come and go from my monthly list. This first few months, I have really been enjoying it, and will share what I see with you as the months go by.

Below is my species list from May. It has a total of 97 species, so I did not make my target. This is the first month of the year that I have ended with under 100 species, and it was a bit of a surprise. I did miss two weekends of birding this month which certainly presented a challenge, but I also missed several species that I thought I would see easily. Northern Flicker was one of the most conspicuous misses. I searched and searched for days to see or hear one, and could not find one anywhere! I also visited a spot along Putah Creek outside of Davis that I thought would be an easy place to find Acorn Woodpeckers, but found none. Virginia Rail, Barn Owl, Lincoln’s Sparrow, and an absurd lack of gulls were a few other species that I was kind of surprised I was not able to find despite specifically looking for them.

When I started this challenge, I was slightly worried that I had made it too easy. In January and February I was able to clear the 100 species mark easily, and was thinking about raising my target to 110 species or maybe even 115. Now that spring is ending and summer is just around the corner, and having ended May three species short, it looks like 100 species per month is a worthy challenge after all.

Some of the highlights from the month were a couple of Ring-necked Ducks and a lovely male Green-winged Teal at the Yolo Bypass, a Burrowing Owl that I spotted on the side of an on ramp to I-80 in Davis, a Loggerhead Shrike that flew past me just beside the Yolo County Landfill, and the lovely and colorful assortment of Central Valley breeding birds like Bullock’s Oriole, Blue Grosbeak, and Lazuli Bunting.

With five months down, and my first under-100 total, I am determined to get over 100 species in June! We will see what I am able to find!

Here is my May species list.

Species – Yolo County – May
1 Canada Goose
2 Wood Duck
3 Cinnamon Teal
4 Northern Shoveler
5 Gadwall
6 Mallard
7 Green-winged Teal
8 Ring-necked Duck
9 Ruddy Duck
10 California Quail
11 Ring-necked Pheasant
12 Wild Turkey
13 Pied-billed Grebe
14 Double-crested Cormorant
15 American Bittern
16 Great Blue Heron
17 Great Egret
18 Snowy Egret
19 Cattle Egret
20 Green Heron
21 Black-crowned Night-Heron
22 White-faced Ibis
23 Turkey Vulture
24 Osprey
25 White-tailed Kite
26 Northern Harrier
27 Cooper’s Hawk
28 Red-shouldered Hawk
29 Swainson’s Hawk
30 Red-tailed Hawk
31 Sora
32 Common Gallinule
33 American Coot
34 Black-necked Stilt
35 American Avocet
36 Killdeer
37 Least Sandpiper
38 Spotted Sandpiper
39 Greater Yellowlegs
40 California Gull
41 Rock Pigeon
42 Eurasian Collared-Dove
43 Mourning Dove
44 Great Horned Owl
45 Burrowing Owl
46 White-throated Swift
47 Anna’s Hummingbird
48 Belted Kingfisher
49 Nuttall’s Woodpecker
50 Downy Woodpecker
51 American Kestrel
52 Pacific-slope Flycatcher
53 Black Phoebe
54 Ash-throated Flycatcher
55 Western Kingbird
56 Loggerhead Shrike
57 California Scrub-Jay
58 Yellow-billed Magpie
59 American Crow
60 Common Raven
61 Northern Rough-winged Swallow
62 Tree Swallow
63 Barn Swallow
64 Cliff Swallow
65 Oak Titmouse
66 Bushtit
67 White-breasted Nuthatch
68 House Wren
69 Marsh Wren
70 Bewick’s Wren
71 Western Bluebird
72 Hermit Thrush
73 American Robin
74 Northern Mockingbird
75 European Starling
76 Cedar Waxwing
77 Orange-crowned Warbler
78 Common Yellowthroat
79 Yellow Warbler
80 Wilson’s Warbler
81 Savannah Sparrow
82 Song Sparrow
83 California Towhee
84 Spotted Towhee
85 Western Tanager
86 Blue Grosbeak
87 Lazuli Bunting
88 Western Meadowlark
89 Bullock’s Oriole
90 Red-winged Blackbird
91 Brown-headed Cowbird
92 Brewer’s Blackbird
93 Great-tailed Grackle
94 House Finch
95 Lesser Goldfinch
96 American Goldfinch
97 House Sparrow


Read Full Post »

This year, 2018, I have set up a little challenge for myself. The challenge is to see 100 or more species in Yolo County each month. Now, that does not mean that the 100 species of February have to all be different species from the 100 species in January. Rather it means that the total number of species seen in each month should get to a total of 100 or more. So, if I see a Red-tailed Hawk some time in January it gets added to the January list. If I see a Red-tailed Hawk some time in February it get added to the February list.

I am hoping this will help me to notice more details as I search to find that next species for a given month, encourage me to visit more habitat types each month, and highlight the seasonal differences as species come and go from my monthly list. This first few months, I have really been enjoying it, and will share what I see with you as the months go by.

Below is my species list from April. It has a total of 103 species, so I made my target! This month was a bit of a stretch for me to reach the 100 species mark. My family spent more time away from home which meant less time here birding. On the 27th, I was only at 89 species. But, I drove around the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area auto tour route on the 28th and picked up quite a few species including a lot of shorebirds. Some of the highlights from the month were my first Western Kingbird and Caspian Tern of the year, an Eared Grebe that I found at the Port of West Sacramento, a Horned Lark that I happened upon driving through the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area, and a handful of Semipalmated Plovers at the same location. A notable and surprising miss for the month was American Kestrel. I really kept my eyes open for this species, but never was able to cross paths with one!

I am now 1/3rd of the way through my challenge, and I am definitely continuing to enjoy it. I am looking forward to seeing what I can find in May!

Here is my April species list.


Species – Yolo County – April
1 Snow Goose
2 Canada Goose
3 Wood Duck
4 Cinnamon Teal
5 Northern Shoveler
6 Gadwall
7 American Wigeon
8 Mallard
9 Green-winged Teal
10 Common Merganser
11 California Quail
12 Ring-necked Pheasant
13 Wild Turkey
14 Pied-billed Grebe
15 Eared Grebe
16 Double-crested Cormorant
17 American White Pelican
18 American Bittern
19 Great Blue Heron
20 Great Egret
21 Snowy Egret
22 Green Heron
23 Black-crowned Night-Heron
24 White-faced Ibis
25 Turkey Vulture
26 Osprey
27 White-tailed Kite
28 Northern Harrier
29 Cooper’s Hawk
30 Red-shouldered Hawk
31 Swainson’s Hawk
32 Red-tailed Hawk
33 Virginia Rail
34 Sora
35 Common Gallinule
36 American Coot
37 Black-necked Stilt
38 American Avocet
39 Black-bellied Plover
40 Semipalmated Plover
41 Killdeer
42 Long-billed Curlew
43 Dunlin
44 Least Sandpiper
45 Western Sandpiper
46 Long-billed Dowitcher
47 Spotted Sandpiper
48 Greater Yellowlegs
49 Ring-billed Gull
50 California Gull
51 Caspian Tern
52 Rock Pigeon
53 Eurasian Collared-Dove
54 Mourning Dove
55 Barn Owl
56 Great Horned Owl
57 White-throated Swift
58 Anna’s Hummingbird
59 Belted Kingfisher
60 Nuttall’s Woodpecker
61 Northern Flicker
62 Black Phoebe
63 Western Kingbird
64 California Scrub-Jay
65 Yellow-billed Magpie
66 American Crow
67 Common Raven
68 Horned Lark
69 Northern Rough-winged Swallow
70 Tree Swallow
71 Barn Swallow
72 Cliff Swallow
73 Oak Titmouse
74 Bushtit
75 Marsh Wren
76 Bewick’s Wren
77 Ruby-crowned Kinglet
78 Hermit Thrush
79 American Robin
80 Northern Mockingbird
81 European Starling
82 Cedar Waxwing
83 Common Yellowthroat
84 Yellow Warbler
85 Yellow-rumped Warbler
86 Wilson’s Warbler
87 Dark-eyed Junco
88 White-crowned Sparrow
89 Golden-crowned Sparrow
90 Savannah Sparrow
91 Song Sparrow
92 Lincoln’s Sparrow
93 California Towhee
94 Spotted Towhee
95 Western Meadowlark
96 Red-winged Blackbird
97 Brown-headed Cowbird
98 Brewer’s Blackbird
99 Great-tailed Grackle
100 House Finch
101 Lesser Goldfinch
102 American Goldfinch
103 House Sparrow



Read Full Post »

Older Posts »