A Return Visit to Lake Ralphine/Spring Lake

On our second visit to Lake Ralphine/Spring Lake, I took a longer lens, hoping to get better shots of the Acorn Woodpeckers we had seen on our first visit.  I should have known that would jinx us because the flock of woodpeckers we had seen defending their larder days earlier were reduced to two woodpeckers standing guard.

Two Acorn Woodpeckers

All was not lost, though, as we saw a lot more birds on the second visit than we did on the first.  It’s been a couple of years since I’ve seen a juvenile Pied-Billed Grebe, but the fading black and white pattern on the neck indicates that’s what this was.

Juvenile Pied Grebe

I thought this bird was some kind of flycatcher, but I was a little surprised when Merlin identified it as a Black Phoebe since all the Black Phoebes I’ve ever seen have been much blacker, not brown.

Black Phoebe

I know this is a juvenile swallow, but Merlin wasn’t a lot of help identifying what kind of juvenile swallow it is — suggesting it is either a Tree Swallow, a Violet-Green Swallow, or a Northern Rough-winged Swallow.

Juvenile Swallow

We didn’t see the pair of Swans that nested at Lake Ralphine in previous years, but we did see a single Mute Swan on Spring Lake.

Mute Swan

The highlight of the day, though, was this close-up of a Black-crowned Night Heron from the back. I was amazed I could get this close without spooking it.

Black-Crowned Night Heron

I prefer the shot from this angle, but I am sure the heron would have flown away if the green foliage hadn’t been between us.  

Black-Crowned Night Heron

Back to Santa Rosa

We followed up our trip to Colorado with a week-long stay in Santa Rosa to finally meet up with Paul Dien. We got there a few days early so I spent some time birding while I was there.  

Surprisingly, some of the best birding was in the backyard where several Mockingbirds visited. 

Mockingbird

After a while I began to suspect there must have been a nest nearby.  I never found it, but I did get this shot of a juvenile complaining to the parent that they weren’t bringing food fast enough.

Juvenile Mockingbird with Adult Mockingbird

I’m not sure what the parent’s reply was, but I suspect it told the kid he was getting big enough to start looking for his own food. 

Of course, no trip to Santa Rosa would be complete without a visit to Lake Ralphine and Spring Lake, and no visit would be complete without seeing the Acorn Woodpeckers.  Luckily, we were greeted by a tree full of them as soon as we got out of the car.

Acorn Woodpecker on Ground

The last time we were at the park workers were cutting down old trees that the woodpeckers were using to store their nuts, but apparently they’ve found a new home in this giant oak.  There were woodpeckers from the base of the tree to the very top.

Two Acorn Woodpeckers on tree

The day’s highlight was seeing the woodpeckers drive off a crow that dared to land on their tree.  It happened too fast for me to capture most of what was going on, but I liked this shot of one of the woodpeckers dive-bombing the crow as it retreated.

Acorn Woodpecker Dive-Bombing Crow

Unfortunately, the rest of the walk wasn’t nearly as exciting since we saw very few birds, perhaps because we walked later in the day than usual and the park was more crowded than usual. 

Still, I felt lucky to get a shot of this shy Oak Titmouse since I only see them in Santa Rosa, and even there only rarely. 

Spring Lake, Santa Rosa

I love a lot of places around Santa Rosa, but one place I never miss visiting is Lake Ralphine/Spring Lake and I’m never disappointed.  Not only is it a great walk after spending two days in the car, but I see lots of birds I seldom see, like this Great-Tailed Grackle                

that grabbed my attention, though I was really looking for the Acorn Woodpeckers I usually find here. As it turned out, Leslie spotted them high in a tree while I was distracted.

This tree was obviously a granary, so I assumed the woodpecker was either eating an acorn or stuffing one in for later.  

Turns out that these trees serve multiple purposes because as he flew away it became clear that this was a nesting site, though I think it was probably too early for youngsters.

I had to wait a while longer to get a better shot of an Acorn Woodpecker much closer to the ground.  Since this one seemed to be feeding on something that obviously wasn’t an acorn, that made me wonder what they do feed on.  Turns out acorns are only eaten in the winter when preferred foods aren’t available.  In Spring they eat insects and oak flowers and suck the sap out of shallow holes on trees.

I could have spent the day at Lake Ralphine taking pictures of the Acorn Woodpeckers, but I wouldn’t have gotten the exercise I wanted or seen this beautiful Red-shouldered Hawk we located between the two lakes

or this Hermit Thrush waiting for us on the trail around Spring Lake.

It would have been a great visit if Spring Lake hadn’t been nearly covered in aquatic weeds (which are naturally occurring and harmless to people and animals according to the local paper, as it turns out), but seeing the lake like that for the first time ever was shocking and slightly depressing, even if this Pied Grebe didn’t seem deterred from fishing.

Thankfully, we ended our visit at Lake Ralphine where the water seemed crystal clear as this pair of Common Mergansers floated by.

  I prefer to be left with that image than that of the aquatic weeds covering Spring Lake.  

Do You See What I See?

Although the Acorn Woodpeckers took front-stage on our trip around Lake Ralphine and Spring Lake, there were lots of supporting acts. 

Considering how many people walk those trails, I’m amazed at the number of birds I find there this time of year.  Here’s a small sample of what I saw on my walk.

Three male Bufflehead, 

one Swainson’s Thrush, 

one Great-tailed Grackle, 

several Yellow-Rumped Warblers,

and one very camera-shy Night Heron.