I got up at 5:30 this morning, fed the dogs, let them out for potty, then got myself and Esteban ready to go to the Gray Lodge Wildlife Area with my friend Roxanne.
Overall, it was a kind of disappointing day. There was very little water on the ground so the amount of waterfowl we saw was next to nil. I was also hoping to see Great Horned Owls there because photos of them had been showing up a lot on the Friends of Gray Lodge group on Facebook. We saw one, but it was very far away and obscured by twigs and leaves. The place was full of Red-Winged Blackbirds, though. They were all over the place.
We also saw quite a few Kingbirds, and got to see Bullock’s Orioles (a male and female pair; the female was carrying insects in her bill) and a Western Tanager.
One nice surprise was seeing a mama Hooded Merganser with her ducklings.
We did get to see some different pollinators in the wild multi-flora rose bushes along the walking trails including some different species of bee, Cabbage White and Sulphur butterflies, and a few Rose Weevils.
We found just a few galls including some bead galls and midrib galls on the sandbar willow trees. The fun find was a couple of large clusters of the Cottonwood Catkin galls. I’d seen them at a distance on trees at Gristmill, but had never been able to see them close up until today. The mites infest the catkins on the cottonwood trees, before they can produce “cotton” and seeds, and turns them into long panicles of rosette-looking clusters (similar to clusters of grapes). They’re actually kind of pretty to look at when they’re this new and have a little bit of a rose tiny to parts of them. According to several sites, the damage is aesthetic, and doesn’t effect the overall health of the tree.
We were out from 6:30 AM to 3:30 PM. It was a long day in the car for what we felt was a disappointing list of species for the day.
I got up around 6:30 AM with the dogs to very chilly temperatures (in the low 40’s) and some cloud cover. The weather was very weird throughout the day. There was a short period of rain in the late afternoon… and it snowed in Napa.
Around 7:30 AM, my dog Esteban and I went to the WPA Rock Garden and William Land Park for a walk. Esteban was a very good dog throughout, and didn’t pay the ducks or geese around the ponds any mind, even when they honked and hissed at him.
The WPA Rock Garden was showing off with spring blooms everywhere, and the Smoke Trees were rally “smoking”. The irises around the garden were pretty much spent for the season, but there were various colors of columbine all over the place: yellow, orange, purple and white. I think those are such interesting flowers. They look like alien rocket ships to me. I was also happy to see a lot of native Elegant Clarkia in bloom throughout the garden. That species is new there; I’d never seen it there before. I couldn’t find any milkweed, however, which was kind of disappointing.
There was fennel growing in several parts of the garden, some of the plants in bloom with flowerheads reaching up 10 or 15 feet over my head. But I didn’t see any Anis Swallowtail caterpillars on the plants. In fact, I didn’t see many insects at all and I attributed that to the fact that it was chilly outside and they weren’t awake enough yet to be buzzing around.
In the park, I was hoping to see some warblers (before they migrate out of the area), but actually didn’t see many birds beyond the usual suspects.
I watched a male Mourning Dove collect twigs and bits of grass for a nest for his mate, and saw him carry them inside the convolutions of a huge cactus plant at the edge of the garden. I thought that was an ingenious place to settle on as a nesting spot. The nest is shielded by the large flat fronds of the cactus – and the cactus thorns.
I heard a Mockingbird in a tree making a one-note call and tried to see what that was about. I think it might have been a juvenile, based on its darker eye and lack of repertoire.
Cornell says: “…Eye color darkish [in juveniles]; iris of adults is brighter yellow… Males give a low amplitude, high-pitched nest relief call from a shrub or tree near the nest before flying to the nest site. This occurs during the first half of the nestling period when the female is likely to be brooding…”
I couldn’t find anything specific to juveniles’ calls except that their song repertoire isn’t developed until they’re older. Some of the repertoire of all mockingbirds is learned from other mockingbirds rather than through hearing and mimicking the songs of other species – as well as car alarm sounds, the beeps of microwave ovens, and other human-made noises.
Cornell says: “…Mockingbirds have extraordinarily diverse song repertoires consisting of acoustically distinct song types (= song patterns = syllable patterns). Temporal and frequency characteristics are summarized by Wildenthal. These songs are acquired through imitating the calls, songs, and parts of songs of other avian species, vocalizations of non-avian species, mechanical sounds, and sounds of other mockingbirds. The proportion of songs imitated is not known and would be extremely difficult to estimate because the entire auditory experience of an individual would need to be known to determine whether a vocalization was acquired through imitation. Geographic variation, although not studied, is likely, given that mockingbirds are relatively sedentary, acquire songs from neighbors, and imitate other species characteristic of the local avifauna…Seasonal singing behavior in males appears to be influenced by testosterone levels in the blood… During the breeding season, males typically begin to sing 0.5 to 1 hour before sunrise. Unmated males start earlier than mated males. Song is prevalent during the morning, with its incidence declining gradually until dusk. Cessation of evening song is associated with sunset (light intensity), not temperature. Throughout the day, unmated males sing more often than mated males… The vocal repertoires of individual males have been estimated to be as low as 45 and as high as 203 song types. Wildenthal reported a male in Kansas with an estimated 194 song types and one in Florida with 134… Mockingbird song has received much attention from a sexual selection perspective. While both intrasexual (i.e., male-male) and intersexual (male-female) functions have shaped mockingbird singing behavior, it appears that song serves mainly to attract and stimulate females…”
The middle pond was overrun with lotus again, leaving very little space for the geese and ducks to swim in.
I saw groups of goslings, but the parent birds, including a large Graylag Goose, were being very protective of them, herding them away from my camera, hissing at me, threatening to chase me. I didn’t know if the Graylag Goose had goslings of her own in the creche, or if she had taken on the role of “helper” for the Canada Geese, but she was blatantly aggressive and didn’t want me anywhere near her charges. I don’t tangle with goose-mamas, they will kick your ass.
Among the geese, there was one who had the markings of a Canada Goose but also had an extra band of white around the base of its bill like the Swan Geese often have. Maybe it was a hybrid.
There were more Indian Runner Ducks at the ponds than I’d seen before. I don’t know if more adults were brought in or if the existing ducks had babies last year.
In the water, I saw a group of three tiny ducklings. They were swimming around by themselves, crying loudly for a parent that wasn’t answering them. So sad. I don’t know if their mom was killed or had simply abandoned them, but none of the other ducks in the pond were paying any attention to them. The little ones can survive if they can find enough to eat – and can avoid predators – but I felt really bad for them and their predicament. They were “dark” little things, so I thought maybe they were Wood Duck babies rather than Mallard.
There were a few Black Phoebes flying around the lotus plants in the lake, landing on the bent-over stems that poked out here and there. I saw two sitting next to one another, and one bird gave the other bird an insect to eat. I thought at first they might have been a mated pair, but then it occurred to me that it was probably a parent feeding one of its fledglings. That notion was supported by the fact that there were four or five phoebes flying around the same area. Kids were probably testing their wings, and parents were bribing them with treats to keep their wings moving.
I know where a phoebe’s nest in the park, so I went to look for it, and found a single fledgling sitting on top of it. When it saw me, it flew up onto a nearby ledge. So it was mobile. Maybe it thought if it stuck with the nest, its parents would come there to feed it.
I saw quite a few turtles along the edges of the ponds, and most of them were Red-Eared Sliders. I did see one or two Pacific Pond Turtles, though. They’re the natives; the Sliders are invasive. I saw nine Sliders all basking in the same spot, big turtles and little ones.
As I was heading back to the car, I could see movement on the trunk of a tree across the street, so I aimed my camera at it. It was a female Nuttall’s Woodpecker.
The dog and I ended up walking for about 3 hours and then headed back home. This was hike #26 in my #52HikeChallenge for the year. I’m halfway through and it’s only May. Right on track.
Around 7:00 AM I headed over to Mather Lake Regional Park for a walk with my friend Roxanne. I was hoping to see some Mute Swan cygnets at the lake. We didn’t see those, but we did see the swans a lot of other stuff.
It was one of those days when there were almost too many things to see at once. For example, we were taking photos of some Canada Goose goslings and in that same area there was a Great Egret. Then a Great Blue Heron that we hadn’t seen flew out from the tules and a pair of Green Herons flew overhead “gronk-ing!” at each other. And at the same time we could see a Belted Kingfisher sitting on the high tension wire above the trail. So much to see!
Among the birds, the goslings seemed to dominate on the ground, There were small groups of little yellow ones, and larger groups of older ones. One creche had 16 goslings; another one had 30 goslings!
In the trees, there were wrens singing and Western Kingbirds arguing with and chasing one another. We also found the nesting cavities of Tree Swallows and a pair of Downy Woodpeckers.
The most fun bird find, though, was spotting some Barn Swallows flying around. We followed one with our eyes and realized that it gone into the alcove of a building. We walked over to the building and peeked inside, and found that on the backside of one of the light fixtures there was a nest with (we think) five nearly fledged babies in it. Their parents flew back and forth bringing them food from the outside. They also scolded us for being in the building taking photos of their kids.
We noticed that there were other adult birds flitting around the area, and wondered if they were assisting feeding the chicks. According to Cornell: “…Nests often attract the attention of extra adults that associate with a pair for up to an entire breeding season; these extra birds are sometimes tolerated and occasionally lead to polygyny… Extra adults contribute relatively little to feeding young, but they are known to mob predators and assist in nest-building, incubation, and brooding young. Extra adults may be using nest attendance as a breeding strategy either to replace one pair member should something happen to it or to commit sexually selected infanticide, providing an opportunity for males to take over the breeding female. Nests that are attended by helpers often are ones occupied by older females, consistent with the interpretation that male attendants are trying to secure high-quality females as mates…”
Weird insects were found on the oak trees, but we didn’t find any galls. Among the insects were a treehopper and a mirid bug with long, thick antennae. We also found quite a few different spiders.
There were bug galls on the Coyote Brush bushes, but no stem galls that we could see. And we were able to find lots of petiole galls just starting to appear on the leaves of the cottonwood trees. I’d never seen those galls that “young” before.
We were surprised to see a kind of woolly marbles plant on the ground along one of the trails. We usually see those in the damp vernal pool areas, but these plants were on a dry trail. We also found some Crimson Clover that we hadn’t seen there before.
On our way out, we passed by a young man with a largemouth bass in his hands. He had caught it all by himself and was taking it to show his grandfather who was sitting on a different part of the bank. Sweet.
This was hike #25 of my#52HikeChallenge for the year. We were out for almost 5 hours
American Robin, Turdus migratorius
Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
Aphid Predator Mirid Bug, Heterotoma planicornis
Ash-Throated Flycatcher, Myiarchus cinerascens
Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon
Bindweed, Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis
Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
Blackberry, Armenian Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus
Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
Buffalo Treehopper, Tribe: Ceresini
California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
California Quail, Callipepla californica [heard]
Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
Clover, Crimson Clover, Trifolium incarnatum
Common Hawkweed, Hieracium lachenalii
Coyote Brush Bud Gall midge, Rhopalomyia californica
I got up around 6:00 AM, got the dogs fed and pottied, and then headed over to theStone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge. This is a 18,000 acre site of protected land in the southern portion of the county near Elk Grove, one of the few urban refuges in the nation. Grasslands, vernal pools and diverse wildlife and plant life can be found here, but most of it can only be seen through guided tours that go past the paved Blue Heron loop trails.
I seldom see any wildlife there to speak of when I’m there, and more recently I found the place to be a horrible mess: very neglected and unkempt. Today, I was happy to see that they cleaned the place up a lot since the last time I was out there. I went there because I knew they had a great collection of the native California Wild Rose plants there, and this is rose gall season. I saw two species: the galls of the Spiny Leaf Gall Wasp, Diplolepis polita, and galls of the Leafy Bract Gall Wasp, Diplolepis californica. So cool!
The only birds I saw there were the usual suspects: a few Red-Winged Blackbirds, House Finches, some tree Swallows and Mourning Doves, and a Song Sparrow. I could hear Killdeer, but didn’t see them.
The only other creature I saw there was a very pregnant Western Fence Lizard. Her coloration was so bold and bright, you couldn’t miss her. I’ve never seen one colored like that.
I found a few different kinds of lichen on the wood and metal spurs of one of the bridges on the property, including one I’d never seen before.
I walked there for about 2 hours. This was hike #24 in my #52hikeChallenge for the year.
Because it was so close, I drove over toward the Cosumnes River Preserve. I didn’t go into the preserve itself, but drove around Franklin, Desmond and Bruceville Roads to see if I came across anything interesting.
There were cattle in some of the ag fields. And across from them were quite a few Purple Salsify. Chicory, and Bristly Oxtongue plants. Along Franklin Road, across from the entrance to the preserve there was a row of fennel plants.
I always check out fennel plants when I find them during this time of the year because they are a host plant for the caterpillars of the Anise Swallowtail Butterfly, Papilio zelicaon. They go through 5 instars (molts) changing in color and size as they mature. They start out looking like bird poop, and end up banded in glorious colors. I found specimens in the first, third, fourth and fifth instars. So cool.
A little bit further on the road was a pond filled with Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets. I assumed they were eating crayfish, which a common inhabitants of the pond.
I was out for about 4 hours and headed back home.
Anise Swallowtail Butterfly, Papilio zelicaon
Baccharis Stem Gall Midge, Rhopalomyia baccharis [creates twisting stems on coyote brush]
Bee, European Honeybee, Western Honeybee, Apis mellifera
Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum
Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra cerulea
Boxelder, Box Elder Tree, Acer negundo
Bristle Fly, Family: Tachinidae
Bristly Oxtongue, Helminthotheca echioides
California Blackberry, Trailing Blackberry, Rubus ursinus
California Sycamore, Western Sycamore, Platanus racemose