Readers’ wildlife photos

December 27, 2022 • 8:15 am

Well, I calculate that I have about three days’ worth of wildlife photos left, and then this feature will either close or become sporadic. Please send in your photos if you want to keep this feature going. Thanks!

Today we have a batch of photos from ecologist Susan Harrison. Her captions are indented. and you can click the pictures to enlarge them.

Ditches, Puddles, and Ponds  

Recently there have been several nice drenching rainstorms in northern California.  We need a lot more to end the severe drought.  Still, it’s heartening to see the fields fill with puddles and the ditches fill with runoff, since standing water brings the landscape to life with animal activity. Almost all of the scenes below are from the Central Valley around Davis in November-December 2022.  The tidbits of information are mostly from Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds website.

Wilson’s Snipes (Gallinago delicata) have eyes set so far back that they can see almost 180 degrees. Combine that with their stripy camouflage and zigzaggy flight, and hunting Snipes would require one to be a skillful… sniper… which is where the latter word comes from:

American Pipits (Anthus rubescens) are delicate birds that bob and wag their tails while hunting in standing water for aquatic insects, and they are much easier to hear than see as they fly around saying their name.

Soras (Porzana carolina) are found throughout the Americas, but the Central Valley is one of their few year-round locations.  It seems amazing that such round, stubby-winged birds can actually migrate between North and South America.

Pied-billed Grebes (Podilymbus podiceps) control their buoyancy by trapping water in their feathers.  This one is in the process of vanishing downward like a feathered submarine.

North American River Otters (Lontra canadensis) were rare here until recently, but have made a remarkable comeback thanks to waterway cleanup and protection from hunting. They somehow travel overland to reach just about any fish-containing water body, even the UC Davis duck pond.  This one is in a ditch in farmland.

These three juvenile Raccoons (Procyon lotor) were foraging together in a wet ditch when an intruding birdwatcher sent them into a defensive huddle.

Yellow-headed Blackbirds (Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus) jostle for territory in reed beds with the much commoner, but smaller, Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) and the tiny Marsh Wrens (Cistothorus palustris).

Marsh Wrens (Cistothorus palustris) are fierce little devils that will fight with larger birds.  They also pierce eggs and kill nestlings of their own and other species.  If you play their call they will come out spoiling for trouble.

Belted Kingfishers (Megaceryle alcyon) make a raucous rattling call as they zip over streams and ponds looking for fish.  They nest in streambanks, and their breeding range has expanded thanks to human-made embankments like road cuts and gravel pits.

There must be a lovely, elusive Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas) hiding in the reeds somewhere nearby if you hear their wichety-witchety-wichety song or their chuck! call.

Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax) live in colonies around ponds and marshes, and eat almost anything they can their beaks around – worms, insects, crayfish, mussels, fish, amphibians, reptiles, rodents, birds, and eggs.  To atone for the heron misidentification in my last post, here are an adult and an immature Black-Crowned Night Heron, photographed at Lindo Lake County Park in San Diego where they are rather used to humans.

Black-crowned Night Heron, immature:

13 thoughts on “Readers’ wildlife photos

  1. Beautiful photos of beautiful birds. I must say, I often feel stupidly proud of the resources Cornell provides (stupidly because I have NOTHING to do with any of them). They host the arXiv, they have the All About Birds website, and there’s even a Cornell art museum in Delray Beach*.

    *That’s got nothing to do with the University, though. But it’s the sort of thing that MIGHT have been affiliated…

    1. Thanks Robert! I can’t say enough good things about the Cornell ‘Lab of O’. Their Merlin app is perfect for turning a merely bird-curious person (as I was 5 years ago) into a full-fledged (pun intended) birdwatcher. It lets you ID birds by sight, sound, or photo, and gives you basic info about them. Truly a marvel.

    2. I actually gave a donation to the lab in my father’s name for Xmas this year. Like me, he loves birds. It’s also a resource I use all the time, so the donation was also a token of my appreciation.

  2. Thank you for another wonderful batch. I particularly like the raccoons and the yellow-headed blackbirds in flight.

    Sora is one of many species of rails, very secretive birds that hide in dense vegetation and that have an aversion to flying, preferring to creep away rather than flush. One of the most rail-like of rails is the Yellow Rail, which never comes out in the open and only flushes (weakly) under extreme duress. It seems incredible that such a reluctant and apparently poor flyer actually successfully undertakes a long migration twice a year: from Canada to the Gulf and Atlantic coasts. Some birders have (jokingly) suggested they must do it on foot.

  3. Several years ago, while birding with real birders who were “calling” for Virginia rails with a tape recorder, we could clearly hear but never see the rails calling back. The reeds were 3-5 feet tall, and the birds sounded like little people laughing and giggling at us just inches away. It was easy to imaging where legends of the little people could originate. Thank you again, Susan!

    1. Ha ha, that’s a good point, Kathy! Soras sound like a maniacal laugh so they may have started some cool legends too!

  4. I also enjoy your wonderful photos of the Central Valley. I especially loved the blackbirds in flight and the yellowthroat in this batch. + the raccoons and otter are adorable. Thanks Susan!

  5. Lovely photos! As a Northern California I’m very glad to see river otters making a comeback. I saw one recently while boating on the Cosumnes River in the Sacramento Delta, near the Cosumnes River Preserve. I saw a mink on the same trip and was surprised to learn they lived in the area.

      1. Those raccoons were at the Cosumnes River Preserve – such a great place. Went there at dawn to watch the cranes dance!

        Not only otters but beavers, mink and muskrats are getting more common in the area.

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