I stopped first at McKinley Park because it's very near the cancer center. It also happens to be the park where the Sacramento Valley Chapter of the California Native Plant Society holds its annual plant sales, so I'm familiar with it for that reason. I didn't stop there very long on Friday, though. I just spent a few minutes photographing squirrels there.
My camera is more than a year old now, and I'm still in love with it. 30x optical zoom plus amazing bokeh equals wildlife photography perfection.
Then I moved on to Discovery Park, located at the confluence of the American and Sacramento Rivers. It's been five years since I moved out of Sacramento County, and that's apparently long enough that I had completely forgotten that all or most of the parks along the American River cost money to drive into. None of them have actual people there to make you pay, though, so while I was reaching through my car window to put the $5 cash in an envelope and drop it into the metal box, several other cars whizzed past me without paying at all. But since I am (a) not big on risk-taking and (b) inclined to support parks, I went ahead and paid. Then I chose a parking spot, stepped out of my car, and was immediately greeted by Canadian geese.
They were not very afraid of me. If I walked directly toward them, when I got within a few feet of them they'd head the other way, but as long as I stayed a yard or two away from them they weren't at all bothered by my presence.
Soon my attention was diverted to the yellow-billed magpies, which were much more skittish about letting me anywhere near them. Even with my 30x zoom lens, it took dedication to get any decent photographs of the magpies.
Yellow-billed magpies are found only in California, but they used to be extremely common in California. When I was a kid, hardly a day went by when I didn't see yellow-billed magpies in the back yard. Now, though, their populations are much reduced, partly by West Nile virus, and I sometimes go a year or more without seeing any. There were a good few of them in Discovery Park on Friday, though.
Yellow-billed magpie contemplating a dandelion.
Yellow-billed magpie and American robin.
At this point, my attention was briefly wrested away from the wildlife by the tenacity of the valley oaks on the eroding banks of the Sacramento River. Does this tree's location look precarious to you?
Because that's nothing compared to this one. Perfectly upright with not a speck of soil under its trunk for a good 15 feet below what ought to be the soil line. And landscaping books warn that digging anywhere near an oak tree will kill it!
Valley oaks are a lot more tenacious than they're given credit for. Even when they lose enough soil that they do finally fall over, it doesn't seem to kill them!
Okay, that's enough about the trees. I went back to photographing the Canadian geese.
Until, while following the steep dropoff overlooking the American river, I nearly stumbled over a cat. It was a fluffy grey cat, not quite fully grown. It ran off as soon as we saw each other. But then I looked around and saw more cats. Many cats!
The largest group of cats was clustered around this picnic table.
Someone had left a can of cat food under the table for the cats.
There were also tupperware containers placed in the blackberry bushes for the cats. It's probably not good for the cats - or for the wildlife that the cats hunt - that someone is feeding a colony of feral cats while apparently letting them breed freely. (A large number of the cats looked not quite fully grown, and there were definitely unneutered male cats among them.) It was great for my photography, though.
Because . . . KITTIES! Totally adorable KITTIES! All over the place!
Kitty with lovely yellow-brown eyes, unusually dark for a cat's eyes.
Kitty with lovely blue eyes.
Kitty with lovely green eyes, who seemed the least afraid of me. I didn't approach any of them or try to pet any of them, because they were clearly feral and most of them were clearly wary of me, but I came fairly close to this one to photograph it, and it seemed entirely unbothered.
It just turned around to look at me curiously with its lovely green eyes.
Gradually they all figured out that I wasn't going to try to touch any of them, so they stopped feeling a need to watch me warily.
This fluffy orange cat was my favorite of all the cats in the park.
So I followed his wanderings among the geese for a while.
Here's a wider view of the fluffy orange cat watching the geese.
Eventually, the cat got bored with watching the geese and decided to pick his way tentatively across the lawn between the geese.
Seriously, do cats get any cuter than this?
Meanwhile, back at the cats' picnic table . . . wait, that's not a cat!
Definitely not a cat. Definitely a skunk! I'd never gotten to watch a skunk at such length before, up close and in the wild.
There were two skunks, actually, though I never got a picture of them together. One had bald patches on its shoulders and back.
The other had thick, healthy-looking fur.
I watched them both for more than an hour. Skunks are much cuter than I had realized! Whenever a cat or a goose came near them, they would do a little hop straight into the air and land with their backs arched like hissing cats and their big, bushy tails raised to prepare to spray . . . but half a second later they always calmed down. Skunks generally only actually spray if they're attacked; if you don't try to approach them and you don't have any animals with you who are going to attack them, you'll probably be okay. They do arch their backs and partially raise their tails at the slightest provocation, though. Rarely did a full minute ever pass without them doing that! Here is the best picture I got of a skunk arching its back and raising its tail.
The most nerve-wracking thing about the skunks was that they plainly couldn't see very well; they kept heading straight for me without realizing I was there! So I had to keep a close eye on them, and whenever they got within 15 feet or so of me, I would cough or say hi to let them know I was there, and they would do their little hop of startledness and then run off in the other direction.
Apparently it's legal in some states to keep skunks as pets. Not in California, though. But I can see why people would want to try it. The skunks' behavior appeared in many ways similar to cats'.
These skunks seemed to actually share a home with the cats. The skunks and the cats both seemed to live in the blackberry bushes. At least, they both retreated there regularly.
I also got the feeling that the skunks might sometimes eat some of the food left for the cats.
Though maybe the cats would have acted more hostile toward the skunks if that were the case? I don't know. The cats and the skunks seemed to be on civil terms with one another.
I went back to photographing the cats and the geese for a while.
Until a skunk wandered through the scene again.
The skunk practically rubbed up against this cat. A moment after I took the picture, the cat got freaked out by the skunk and moved away.
In conclusion . . . skunks are adorable!
Also, skunks and geese combine adorably.
As do cats and geese.
As do cats and skunks.