Monday, September 1, 2014

September 2014      Bay Area  “Back Yard Wildlife”

                              Hopefully September will bring some rain; it’s been a hot dry summer. Lately I have focused a bit on the smaller things in wildlife. It is amazing what can be found in our own back yards. In the Bay Area along with the development of our neighborhoods comes "back yard wildlife". When different types of planted trees and bushes are established and maintained several types of wildlife species are attracted. In areas flat and dry development even draws in species that were not previously present. In thick covered or forested areas a backyard can become an exciting place for many species to frequent especially if the right kind of plants and trees are available.  Bee’s come along, then wasps and butterflies followed by squirrels and Hummingbirds. Suddenly Scrub Jays, Mockingbirds, and Raccoons are present. Then here comes the predators.  Accipiter hawks follow the smaller birds into neighborhoods; Red Tail Hawks and Kestrels are versatile and will make daily visits not to miss out on things.  Heron and Egrets will line the drainage areas that wind thru the suburban communities.  In our neighborhoods we can actually develop areas well suited for wildlife and design it to be drought resistant at the same time. I would like to invite everyone to check out “The bringing back the Natives Garden Tours and Workshops.” In this time of severe drought and increased loss of wildlife habitat comes a very solid concept.      Tour coordinator is Kathy Kramer.

With this theme, thought I would share some “Pictures from The Back Yard” taken recently in our area.

#1 Anna’s Hummingbird, #2 Oakley Black bee (These are cool, perhaps someone knows their correct name. They are not great at flying and are huge, (Might knock someone over if they hit them) but seem harmless enough / I like them) #3 Monarch butterfly, #4 Anna Hummingbird, #5 Sharp Shinned Hawk in flight, #6 Mocking bird, #7 Western Fence lizards, #8 Praying Mantis, #9 Anna’s again (This one was performing their remarkable dive routine, stopped to see if the other hummer was still paying attention- The other bird was in shot #4) #10 A photo I call the Last Swain heading out. See you next year… ) The insects pictures (Except Monarch) taken in my Oakley yard along with the first Humming bird.

 Thanks for the interest, Dave          

Sunday, July 27, 2014

August 2014   Photos of summer Raptors and Black tail season of change...

             Updating local bay area wildlife photos with recent pictures. The drought may take one of my favorite water holes: Contra Costa Counties flood control collection pond and Dam on Marsh Creek Rd. This little lake is unique in that it is rarely visited by humans. The claim here is  there is mercury in the fish.  The property is fenced in preventing trespassing from the public. The wildlife however thrives in this area of open prairie, rolling hills and remote range land. I have seen Golden Eagles, Coyotes and Bobcat  in the surrounding area. Last year Marsh Creek never flowed to the point where water entered the reservoir. There simply was just not enough consistent rainfall. The hot dry windy days out here has seen water levels plummet to record low conditions. Western Pond turtles, Large Mouth Bass, Catfish, Perch, Bull frogs (possibly Red Legged Frogs) and other species are holding on for a miracle. During a normal year Marsh Creek becomes a small river in winter filling Marsh Creek dam, then overflow water continues down Marsh Creek through Brentwood and into the Delta. The fish from this reservoir populated the entire Marsh Creek upstream toward Clayton and Morgan Territory by fighting upstream and laying eggs in the deep slow moving pools. Now days this is a desert except for a spring fed section near Marsh Creek springs where small minnows and stickleback survive year around. Over the recent years I have photographed Ospreys, White Pelicans, numerous small duck species, Sand Pipers, and other water species at Marsh Creek Dam. This will be bad news for me if it dries up.
         Updates: I have again written The Burrowing owl Conservancy regarding my discing / tilling issue concerning the Burrowing owls of Eastern Contra Costa. Hope to get some response.
        Getting ready for fall are the Black tail buck warriors who are currently hanging with their friends. They will soon be competitive and may battle other males with new weaponry for the right to breed with the ladies. Including some early photos of a few with velvet antlers…

#1 Recent Oakley Burrowing Owls, #2 Recent Swainson Hawk youngster in Byron, #3 Recent Swainson Hawk screaming above to youngster also Byron. #4 Recent Burrowing Owl in Oakley, #5 Recent Cooper Hawk in Oakley, #6 Older Northern Harrier taken near Point Reyes seashore. #7 Older Sharp Shinned Hawk on boat trailer rail at Del Valle reservoir, #8 Recent group of Black Tails Alameda side of Los Vaqueros reservoir. #9 Recent Burrowing Owls in Oakley #10 Recent Black Tail Buck in Woodside CA, Thanks All, Dave Harper

Sunday, June 29, 2014

The water’s edge                                         July 2014

Placing together pictures of just a few of the amazing animals found in the Bay area near water. Most of these photos are from our Sacramento Delta system in eastern Contra Costa County. These pictures come from many driving adventures up and down the levee’s and back creeks where I can gain access. The Burrowing owl and dark phased Swain were inland in Oakley.

#1 recent Burrowing owl photo in Oakley area. #2 recent Musk rat in small creek near Bethel Island. #3 recent Great Egret near Holland Tract. #4 recent picture from the Swainson Hawk nest I have monitored several years and wrote much about in this blog site. This nest has stressed me out so many times as wind has knocked it into river twice and shore fishermen sometimes sit within twenty feet of nest. This year once again, the pair has succeeded in two fine young birds now close to taking flight. A great story in a rough year… #5 Last winter shot of Sand hill cranes on Holland Tract. #6 another profile picture of an Osprey at Los Vaqueros reservoir. #7 recent Western King Fisher at Clifton Forebay in Byron. #8 recent Dark phased Swainson Hawk in my Oakley back yard (Unbelievable) #9 Older American Bittern near Bethel Island. #10 recent Western Pond turtle basking on Holland Tract.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

June 2014

Pictures of the moods of  Burrowing owls

    The drought will be hard on wildlife this summer as small springs and streams dry up. Some have already fallen, in Southern California the wheels are coming off on the wildlife front. The Raptors have been in the news lately as it is so dry there is little food and less water. Here in our area it’s a mixed bag in my opinion. Some areas (Especially North of us) received enough water to get through this year. Other areas are turning bone dry right now or in the near future. Small streams, springs and cattle ponds in our areas are drying up quick and many of these are critical drinking water areas for wildlife. While the large reservoirs and delta system will no doubt help, many animals will be forced to travel looking for water. That’s when trouble starts. Some say there is an El Nino effect on the horizon, I sure hope so…

               For the most part I have stayed away from getting political with this blog or wildlife site. In this circumstance I am going to take a stand. In the photo with six owls taken in Byron, the burrow was destroyed. There have been many more as well.

    My issue of the Burrowing owls in eastern Contra Costa County mainly has been the routine disking / tilling of open fields usually pulled behind a Cat or tractor. I have seen communities of owls disked over during the breeding season for weed abatement / fire prevention. The disking has caused burrow collapse when eggs or young owls are underground and has forced many owls to use burrows on the sometimes un disturbed road shoulder which is subject to weed abatement spray, dumping of roadside debris and chances to come in contact with vehicles / dogs  and collapsing burrows from parking trucks.  My thoughts are if these burrows are flagged and identified, equipment could easily work around them leaving them intact. As a public works supervisor (Now retired) our crews were required to perform a habitat survey (Through an RMA agreement between C.C. County and Fish and Wildlife). This meant when working near these owls or other protected species we performed a habitat survey making certain the owls were not disturbed. This is even when we mowed in their areas and mowing alone does not destroy them. I have written Fish and Wildlife and contacted the burrowing owl conservation group asking the question “Why can’t Fish and Wildlife require property owners and agricultural land owners take part with the same requirements other maintenance organizations practice in the guidelines of protecting our wildlife species with the RMA (Routine maintenance agreement) habitat survey of areas long known to be habitat for Burrowing owls prior to work being performed? The outcome is always the same (As I have witnessed). A contract company will take no prisoners when tilling open fields, after all who can prove the owls were there. Enough is enough; this is a species of special concern…

Fish and wildlife and The Burrowing owl conservancy have not yet responded…

 For more looks at Dave's Burrowing owl photos please take a look at 
#1 Older young Burrowing owl photo S/O Byron, #2 Recent Swainson hawk / ground squirrel in Knightsen. #3 Recent Coyote Mines Rd. Livermore. #4 Recent Bobcat Mines Rd. Livermore (Hiked in after the cat, couldn't get any closer) #5 Older Brentwood Burrowing owl near Sand Creek. #6 Recent Ringneck snake at Los Vaqueros watershed. #7 Recent Baby Barn owls in a culvert Brentwood flood control area. #8 Recent Acorn woodpecker Mines Rd. Livermore. #9 Baby Barn owl (same Culvert) Brentwood. #10 "The Wildbunch" older Burrowing owl family in Byron.  

Sunday, May 4, 2014

May 2014

Days of Swains 
           “Updating local bay area wildlife photos in spring of 2014”. Lately I have been to Eastern Contra Costa County chasing burrowing owls and Swainson hawks. Hikes lately have included Black Diamond Mines S/O Antioch and Mitchell Canyon Regional Park on the north side of Mt. Diablo.  Soon these areas will be blazing hot though currently it is green and lush with plenty Oak trees and wildlife. I must say Mitchell Canyon is incredible with the variety of wildflowers this spring. (Bring $6.00 in change and place in envelope as the honor system is used at this park) Black Diamond Mines is free when no one is stationed at Kiosk which is most of the time.
                      In Eastern Contra Costa County this time the most common hawk in the sky may be the Swainson hawk. They are back and they are in solid numbers and this place would not be the same without them. The large slim athletic hawk cuts the wind like a knife and with an over confident attitude they put on a show daily harassing their soul mates and buddies with talkative dive bombing and erratic aerial skills. Some of this behavior is probably related to courtship while later it will be used teaching their young the strong flying skills needed for survival. In the eastern agricultural meadows and fields the Swains team together in large numbers when hunting opportunities suddenly become a boon for all. I have witnessed this past couple of years where mowing or dragging of fields is performed. The numbers of Swainsons vary sometimes more than fifty hawks are seen. When this occurs many of the Swainson participants have in talons a mole which they grip tightly or toss to another hawk. There are some incredible chase scenes involving several of the Swainson hawks showing off their banking and diving skills many times coming within a few feet of the ground and each other. It appears to be all in fun despite the continuing talking to one another with constant screams. The Swains seem to tolerate other species of soaring hawks during this event; even turkey vultures get a pass though I have seen Swains viciously attack Crows and Ravens then escort them off the playing field. I have shown photos of this process in the past. Looks like a mixture of what I have called air hockey or perhaps “Quidditch” seen in the Harry Potter movies without the broomstick and with perhaps a different scoring system.                                                              
                              These birds have an incredible migration each year even the Northern Cheyenne would be proud of. Observing particular pairs return to their nest sites is comforting realizing the journey they have endured. If you live in the bay area and want to get a clean close up look at these incredible flyers, right now is a golden chance to witness them in action. I would like to hear some accounts from other Swainson hawk enthusiasts in the Sacramento Valley. Seeing them gather in these large groups is relatively rare; however spotting a pair cruising the sky is very common. When not in the groups they live much like their cousins the red tails loyal to only their mates and off spring. I currently have found five active nests out here, though it is very important to give these shy birds their space as they may abandon the area if harassed. Earlier I have mentioned a banded bird I have monitored over six years. The bird and its mate are nesting again along a delta slough. Twice they lost their nest into the delta with the harsh delta winds. This pair has raised many youngsters and is the only pair I have gained close access too as they seem to accept my visits. Featuring recent photos  of our local Swainson Hawks…

Photos #1 Recent Swainson Hawk perched near Discovery Bay. #2 Recent light phased Swainson Hawk in Oakley. #3 Nuttalls woodpecker excavating a nest at Black Diamond Mines regional park. #4 Recent Checkered Whiptail Lizard at Mitchell Canyon regional park in Clayton. # 5 Recent Burrowing Owl in Oakley # 6 Recent Yellow rumped  Warbler in Oakley. # 7 Recent Red shouldered Hawk east of Knightsen. #8 Recent Swainson Hawk in flight with mole in Byron. #9 Recent Red Tailed Hawk in Byron #10 Year old Badger picture (Another closer view from occurrence earlier)