A Few Firsts for Me, 09-18-20

I got up around 6:00 this morning and was out the door by about 6:30 to go over to the Cosumnes River Preserve.  It was 63° when I left and mostly cloudy. The cooler temperatures lasted until the late afternoon, but it felt a little humid.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

When I got near the preserve, I drove down Bruceville and Desmond Roads to see if there were any interesting birds out there. I was hoping there would be some water on the preserve now that the migrations have started, but the place still nearly bone dry. Only one of the fields along Desmond was partially filled, and only a small pond on the preserve itself had water in it.  So, that was something of a disappointment. But I DID get to see some things I wasn’t expecting to see.

Tricolored Blackbird, Agelaius tricolor

Along Bruceville Road there was a large covey of quail, some Great Egrets, and several cottontail rabbits. But the big surprise was a large flock of Tricolored Blackbirds, Agelaius tricolor, this morning! One even landed on a fence near my car, so I was able to get some video of it preening. 

“Trikes”, as they’re endearingly referred to, are visually very similar to Red-Winged Blackbirds in that they are also black with red epaulets on their shoulders.  But the Trikes’ epaulets are rimmed with white feathers, not yellow like those of the Red-Wings.

Already listed as Endangered by the IUCN-World Conservation Union, the species has been a candidate for listing under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA), as well as California’s state ESA. It was given temporary “endangered” status in 2015 but that was only for 6 months and has since expired. As it stands, right now the species is still considered “threatened”. Further consideration of an “endangered” status was dumped when Trump and his crew took over the White House and the Department of the Interior.

In the same area as the Trikes, there was a pair of Brewer’s Blackbirds. The female had what looked like nesting material in her beak, and she was pursued by a male who strutted and postured and cheeped behind her. I got a little bit of video, but it wasn’t in the sharpest focus…and it didn’t help that a car drove past, obscuring my view. Still, the male’s display was so “cute”, I wanted to preserve it.

According to Cornell: “…n resident and many migratory populations, pair formation begins as gradual process in late-winter… As courtship progresses, female initiates Generalized Display, which merges imperceptibly with Pre-copulatory Display, a more fully expressed version of the former with more crouched posture, tail held at higher angle, and accompanied by different call. In both displays, body tipped forward on flexed legs with breast lowered toward ground, bill slightly raised, wings lowered and rapidly shivered while unspread tail is cocked… Male Pre-coitional Display given just prior to mounting and copulation. Feather ruffing more conspicuous than in male Song-spread, bill pointed downward, and yellow eyes bordered by fluffed violet feathers of head appearing prominent. Position of tail and wings more exaggerated than in Song-spread. In this posture, male deliberately approaches female, and if on ground sometimes makes half-circle in strutting motion. Wing and tail feathers scrape ground. Approach sometimes silent, other times accompanied by 1 of the 2 song forms…”

Brewer’s Blackbirds are “seasonally monogamous”, and I’m sure I was seeing the work and displays of a pair bond.

Among the bindweed along the side of the road, I found a new-to-me kind of stinkbug called a Conchuela Bug, Chlorochroa ligata.  It’s black with an orange border.  When I picked it up to get closer photos of it, it pooped out some of its stink-fluid, staining my index finger top orange. The smell was pretty gross, but it dissipated relatively quickly.

Conchuela Stink Bug, Chlorochroa ligata

The trees along Desmond Road and around the preserve are still covered in galls, but it’s near the end of the season, so many of the gall are empty and are shriveling away. The Flat-Topped Honeydew galls are going black with age, but some of them are still producing a little honeydew and still have a few ants in attendance. I wonder if, at this time of year, the honeydew has fermented or if the sugary substance has promoted some fungal development.  The Convoluted galls and Yellow Wig galls are now much larger than they have been as the larvae inside develop and pupate.

As an aside, I was excited to learn (later in the day) that Ron Russo has a new book coming out next year: Plant Galls of the Western United States. Woot!! The book covers 536 gall species with 232 species not previously included in any field guide.  Double-woot!  Russo’s last book is like the bible for us gall chasers, but it’s out of print now, and VERY expensive (anywhere between $80 and $200 depending on who has it). We’ve all been hoping the publishers would re-release it, but with this new book coming out that won’t be necessary   — and maybe any copies of the original book will now drop in price. The new guide is due to be released in late March of 2021, and I’ve pre-ordered one through Amazon.com at the more reasonable price of $29.

While I was checking out the trees along the boat ramp trail, I saw something gray on one of the twiggy branches, and I got closer to investigate.  I was overjoyed when I saw that it was a vase-like pot of a California Potter Wasp, Eumenes sp.  I’ve seen photos before, but never a “live” one. The pots are perfect, beautiful little things.

Clay pot created by a Potter Wasp, California Potter Wasp, Eumenes sp.

The Potter Wasps are a species of solitary wasp that creates these pots to house their larvae. They make a pot out of mud and saliva, fill it full of spiders and caterpillars, lay an egg on the pile of food and then seal the pot shut. The larva develops and pupates, eating from the pantry mom left it, then when it’s a mature wasp, it pops the seal on the pot and climbs out. The pot I found was open and empty.

At the end of the boat launch trail, where there’s river access, I could see that part of the water was already clogged full of Water Hyacinth, Eichhornia crassipes.  Some of the river was still open, but the plants multiply quickly. It’ll only be a matter of time before that whole area is covered with the stuff.  Some of the hyacinth was in bloom, and it’s actually quite pretty.  Too bad it’s so horribly invasive.

Water Hyacinth, Eichhornia crassipes

On other parts of the trail and on the side of the pond across from the nature center parking lot, I saw some Variegated Meadowhawk dragonflies. I also saw some Green Darners, including a mated pair that was flying around near the water’s edge. I lost them in the dried vegetation in the water, and just aimed my camera in the direction where I last saw them. I was VERY surprised when I got home to find that I’d actually gotten a photo of them, still connected, resting on the side of an old cocklebur plant. Sometimes, you get lucky.

Green Darner Dragonflies, Anax junius. Male on top, female below.

In that same pond, I was happy to see some shorebirds and waterfowl, early arrivals from the migrations, among the blackbirds and Brown-Headed Cowbirds.  There were Killdeer, Black-Necked Stilts, a few Dunlin, and lots of Greater Yellowlegs.  There were also some Mallards, and some small flocks of Northern Shovelers.  It looked like all of the Shovelers were females, but closer inspection proved that there were males in there, too, but in their “eclipse” plumage.

Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata, male in his “eclipse” plumage

“…Eclipse plumage is temporary or transition plumage. Ducks are peculiar in that they molt all their flight feathers; the long, wing feathers; at once. For about a month, they can’t fly and very vulnerable to predators. To provide some protection, particularly for the brightly-colored males, the molt starts with their bright body feathers. These are replaced by dowdy brown ones, making them look much like females. Once the flight feathers have regrown, the birds molt again, and by October the full colors are back and the various species of ducks are easily recognizable once more…”

 You can tell the eclipsed adult males from the females by their bright yellow eyes.

So, although there weren’t a lot of birds to see, it was nice to see that they’re starting to move in.  The biggest flocks of migrating birds should be here in December, but they’ll be trickling in from now until then.

I walked for about 3½ hours and then headed back home.

Species List:

  1. Azolla, Water Fern, Azolla filiculoides
  2. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  3. Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
  4. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  5. Brown-Headed Cowbird, Molothrus ater
  6. Bur Clover, Medicago polymorpha
  7. Buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis
  8. California Quail, Callipepla californica
  9. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  10. California Wild Rose, Rosa californica
  11. Chicory, Cichorium intybus
  12. Club Gall Wasp, Atrusca clavuloides
  13. Common Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  14. Common Green Lacewing, Chrysopa coloradensis
  15. Common Snowberry, Symphoricarpos albus
  16. Common Sow-Thistle, Sonchus oleraceus
  17. Conchuela Stink Bug, Chlorochroa ligata
  18. Convoluted Gall Wasp, Andricus confertus
  19. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  20. Coyote Brush Bud Gall midge, Rhopalomyia californica
  21. Desert Cottontail Rabbit, Sylvilagus audubonii
  22. Disc Gall Wasp, Andricus parmula [round flat, “spangle gall”]
  23. Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis
  24. Flat-Topped Honeydew Gall Wasp, Disholcaspis eldoradensis
  25. Fuzzy Gall Wasp, Disholcaspis washingtonensi [round faintly fuzzy galls on stems]
  26. Goldenrod Bunch Gall, Goldenrod Floret Gall Midge, Solidago canadensi
  27. Goldenrod, California Goldenrod, Solidago velutina californica
  28. Goodding’s Black Willow, Salix gooddingii
  29. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  30. Greater Yellowlegs, Tringa melanoleuca
  31. Green Darner Dragonfly, Anax junius
  32. Green-Winged Teal, Anas carolinensis
  33. Gumweed, Curlycup Gumweed, Grindelia squarrosa
  34. Hayfield Tarweed, Hemizonia congesta [white]
  35. Himalayan Blackberry, Rubus bifrons [white flowers]
  36. Jumping Oak Gall Wasp, Neuroterus saltatorius
  37. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  38. Least Sandpiper, Calidris minutilla [small like a Dunlin but with yellow legs]
  39. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  40. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  41. Mediterranean Praying Mantis, Iris Mantis, Iris oratoria [very narrow ootheca]
  42. Mistletoe, American Mistletoe, Big Leaf Mistletoe, Phoradendron leucarpum
  43. Narrowleaf Milkweed, Asclepias fascicularis
  44. Narrowleaf Willow, Salix exigua
  45. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata
  46. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii
  47. Oak Apple Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  48. Oleander Aphid, Aphis nerii
  49. Panicled Willowherb, Epilobium brachycarpum
  50. Potter Wasp, California Potter Wasp, Eumenes sp.
  51. Red Cone Gall Wasp, Andricus kingi
  52. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  53. Rough Cocklebur, Xanthium strumarium
  54. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa
  55. Spiny Turban Gall Wasp, asexual, fall generation, Antron douglasii
  56. Trashline Orb Weaver Spider, Conical Trashline Spider,  Cyclosa conica
  57. Tricolored Blackbird, Agelaius tricolor
  58. Turkey Tangle Fogfruit, Phyla nodiflora
  59. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  60. Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum
  61. Vinegarweed, Trichostema lanceolatum
  62. Water Hyacinth, Eichhornia crassipes
  63. Willow Apple Gall Sawfly, Pontania californica
  64. Woolly Oak Aphid, Stegophylla brevirostris (lots of white fluff & honeydew)
  65. Yellow Wig Gall Wasp, Andricus fullawayi

Mostly Squirrels and Deer Today, 09-16-20

I didn’t get up until almost 7:00 this morning, but it was so pretty outside, 55°(!), that I just had to get out for a walk, so I went over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Center/Preserve

The Poltergeist was being a little cranky, so I couldn’t walk very fast and wore out a bit quicker than I normally would.  Still, I managed to put in 3 hours. Go, me. It was 70° when I left the preserve, and got up to about 90° by the afternoon. The air is still kind of crappy: 177 AQI (Unhealthy). That’s lower than yesterday’s figure, but still not good. We’re supposed to get anew short-term weather pattern that will drop the temps a little bit more over the next few days and blow out some of the smoke (hopefully). We’ll see.

At the preserve, we’re between seasons right now, but the first sign of Fall has arrived: the Western Hardwood Sulphur Shelf, Laetiporus gilbertsonii.  We have two kinds in California, this one and the one that grows on conifer trees, Laetiporus conifericola. They look practically identical, but you can eat the one that grows on hard wood trees, and not the one that grows on conifers, so you have to know you’re trees to know which one is edible and which one isn’t. Not that I’d ever eat fungus in the forest, mind you… Sulphur Shelf doesn’t need a lot of moisture to grow, so it’s one of the first of the fungi to make itself visible in the Fall, before the winter rains set in.

Sulphur Shelf Fungus, Western Hardwood Sulphur Shelf, Laetiporus gilbertsonii

Other than the fungus, I saw mostly deer and Ground Squirrels today. All of the different species of squirrels are busy fattening themselves up and stashing acorns and walnuts for the winter.  The California Ground Squirrels are one of my favorite subjects, and they gave me quite a few photo ops today. Some of them posing near the entrance to their burrows, or standing guard, or eating acorns… They crack me up.

California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi

Most of the deer I saw were does or very young bucks that didn’t have their first antlers yet, and they were all sitting or standing in the tall grass, quite distant from the trail, so I had to get photos of them from around trees, or through the twigs and undergrowth.

Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus

Sometimes, all I would see was their shadowy silhouettes or just the tops of their ears.  I did manage to get a few “faces”, though, which is always gratifying. Still no fawn sightings yet this season… which seems very odd to me, but then… the does can skip a year between births.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

The bees in the “bee tree” were very active this morning. The last time I saw them, they were huddled around the entrance to the hive, but today they were zooming around, coming and going.  They must like the (somewhat) cleaner air, too.

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. American Bull Frog, Lithobates catesbeianus
  3. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  4. Azolla, Water Fern, Azolla filiculoides
  5. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  6. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus
  7. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  8. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  9. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica
  10. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  11. Chinese Pistache, Pistacia chinensis
  12. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
  13. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  14. Coyote, Canis latrans [scat]
  15. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
  16. Eastern Gray Squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis
  17. European Honeybee, Western Honeybee, Apis mellifera
  18. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  19. Large-flowered Evening-Primrose, Oenothera glazioviana
  20. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  21. Mazegill Fungus, Daedalea quercina
  22. Raccoon, Procyon lotor [scat]
  23. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  24. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  25. Sulphur Shelf Fungus, Western Hardwood Sulphur Shelf, Laetiporus gilbertsonii
  26. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  27. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata

Lots of Ants and Birds Today, 09-13-20

Despite the incredibly bad air quality this morning — 239 AQI (Very Unhealthy) – the cool temperature (57°) lured me out for a walk at the Mather Lake Regional Park.            

The first thing I saw when I got there was a parade of Wild Turkeys walking along the paved path at the end of the pond. It looked to me like a female turkey and her nearly-adult poults.

I could also hear the chattering of Belted Kingfishers, and saw one of them dive face-first into the water after its breakfast. They’d land occasionally in the tops of trees around the lake, but were too far away for me to get any real clear photos of them.

There were loads of Bluet damselflies in the willows and other plants along the water’s edge, more than I’d seen all year. I was glad to see them… but feel it’s really late in the season for them. Fall is already coming; these guys should have been out a month or more ago. I also saw a couple of Green Darner dragonflies, both females.

The Mute Swans were on the water, including the almost fully grown cygnets. The dark cygnets are going through their major molt before the winter and are starting to get more of their white coloring now.  They’re still “peeping” like babies, though.

Mute Swans, Cygnus olor

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

On some of the Cottonwood trees there were large clusters of ants.  Taking a closer look, I realized that the ants were gathered around the open galls of the Cottonwood Leaf Gall Aphid, Pemphigus populivenae.  I’m not sure if the aphids I was seeing were that particular species – their coloring suggested that some of them could have been the Smoky-winged Poplar Aphid, Chaitophorus populicola – but they were definitely around the open galls. 

When I tried to get close up photos of the aphids by holding onto the edge of the affected leaf, the ants went immediately berserk and swarmed all over my hand and cellphone. At one point, there were I’d guess a thousand of them pouring down the stems of the tree onto the leaves and onto my hand. I shook them off and blew them off, squished some of them, and finally had to douse my hand in the lake to get them all off. Freaky!

I was surprised that the ants I squished didn’t have any kind of scent. Many ants have that odd formic-acid smell.

“…To facilitate the ant-aphid interaction, ants have evolved aggressive responses to aphid alarm pheromone emissions. In ant-aphid mutualisms, ants receive carbohydrates in the form of honeydew, while aphids receive protection from natural enemies…”  I’m sure that’s what I was seeing.

I’m not sure of the ant species, though. I think they were a kind of Nylanderia, maybe Nylanderia vividula.  They’re called “crazy ants” because of the way they respond to disturbances. And these were certainly going “crazy” when I touched the leaves. But there are so many different species of ants, I don’t really know. They could also have been Argentine Ants. Need to do more research.

It was pretty creepy when they swarmed all over my hand. None of them bit me, but there were sooooo many of them!  I felt “itchy” for the rest of the day. Hah!

I found, later on my walk, that there were similar aphid-ant outbreaks on some of the willows, but the aphids on those were bright green, not brown and tan like on the Cottonwoods.  This kind of “mutualism” is typical of several different species of ant including the invasive Argentine Ants and the household “honey ants”. This should all make for an interesting rabbit hole.

I saw several Double-Crested Cormorants in the trees and water. One was standing down on an outcropping log, sunning itself, trying to dry off after a swim.

Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus

I also came across a Pied-Billed Grebe thrashing a frog it had caught back and forth until the frog was limp and easier to swallow.

There were several Gallinules in the water, too, among the tules and cattails. At one point, they were making so much noise, I tried to get a recording of their sounds. I managed to get a little bit of it, but it was like the end of their conversation.

I was hoping to be able to see a muskrat today, and when I stopped to listen to the Gallinules I thought I saw something that looked like the flat of a muskrat’s head peeking up along the surface of the water. I thought that it couldn’t be a muskrat, though, because it wasn’t moving, even as I approached the edge of the lake. So, I didn’t have my camera ready when… it moved, turned around and ducked down under the surface of the water. Dang it!  I should have trusted my instincts.

Despite the bad air, I walked for a good three hours before heading home.

Species List:

  1. American Bull Frog, Lithobates catesbeianus
  2. Argentine Ant, Linepithema humile
  3. Armenian Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus [pink flowers]
  4. Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon
  5. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  6. Bold Jumping Spider, Phidippus audax
  7. Bull Thistle, Cirsium vulgare
  8. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  9. California Quail, Callipepla californica [heard]
  10. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  11. California Wild Rose, Rosa californica
  12. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  13. Cobwebby Thistle, Cirsium occidentale
  14. Common Bluet Damselfly, Enallagma cyathigerum
  15. Common Gallinule, Gallinula galeata
  16. Cork Oak, Quercus suber
  17. Cottonwood Leaf Gall Aphid, Pemphigus populivenae
  18. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  19. Crazy Ants, Nylanderia sp.
  20. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
  21. Doveweed, Turkey Mullein, Croton setiger
  22. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  23. Familiar Bluet Damselfly, Enallagma civile
  24. Fragrant Flatsedge, Cyperus odoratus
  25. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  26. Goodding’s Black Willow, Salix gooddingii
  27. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  28. Great-Tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus
  29. Green Darner Dragonfly, Anax junius
  30. Green Heron, Butorides virescens
  31. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  32. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  33. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  34. Muskrat, Ondatra zibethicus
  35. Mute Swan, Cygnus olor
  36. Narrowleaf Cattail, Cattail, Typha angustifolia
  37. Narrowleaf Willow, Salix exigua
  38. Pennyroyal, Mentha pulegium
  39. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  40. Pigeon, Domestic Pigeon, Columba livia domestica
  41. Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Western Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
  42. Red Swamp Crayfish, Crawfish, Crawdad, Procambarus clarkia
  43. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  44. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
  45. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  46. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  47. Smartweed, Persicaria lapathifolia [white]
  48. Smoky-winged Poplar Aphid, Chaitophorus populicola
  49. Soft Rush, Juncus effuses
  50. Sooty Dancer Damselfly, Argia lugens
  51. Swamp Smartweed, False Water-Pepper, Persicara hydropiperoides [pink]
  52. Tall Flatsedge, Cyperus eragrostis
  53. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  54. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  55. Willow Aphid, Chaitophorus sp. [green]
  56. Willow Bead Gall Mite, Aculus tetanothrix
  57. Willow Pinecone Gall midge, Rabdophaga strobiloides
  58. ?? tiny unidentified beetle on willow

Looking for Coral Galls, 09-10-20

I got up around 5:30 this morning, and got myself ready to head out to Johnson-Springview Park with my friend and fellow naturalist, Roxanne.  I didn’t see her drive up around 6 o’clock, partly because it was still dark outside and her car is practically silent when it’s in electric mode. So, I texted her asking if she was on the way, and should we reschedule.  She texted me back, “I’m here.” D’oh! I grabbed my gear and was out the door within seconds.

It was about 59° at the park when we go there, and got up to around 75° by the time we left.  Wildfire smoke was still obscuring the sunlight, so we were able to walk around longer this time than we were last time (when the sun just burned down on us). The leaves on the trees were all dusty with ash, and some of the trees looked quite stressed. It got up to around 82° today, which was a welcomed break from the 100+ degree we’ve been having.

We were going to the park in search of the galls of the Coral Gall Wasp, Disholcapsis corallina; they’re bright yellow and orange galls. We saw a lot of them last year at this location, but didn’t see any the last time we were there earlier this year.

One of the Coral Galls we saw last year. This year: Zero.

Our search was for naught. We didn’t see a single coral gall, but we did see quite a few other galls, including a couple that were new to Roxanne, so we were pleased with that.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

The other thing we saw a lot of were large Green Darner dragonflies, all of them females.  They were resting on the plants or in the tall grass waiting to warm up. Two of them hadn’t gotten the “power packs” on their backs warmed up enough yet to fly, so I was able to gather them up in my hands. We got quite a few close-up shots of them.

A female Green Darner Dragonfly, Anax junius,showing of her shiny black mandibles

Both of the females I was able to capture bent their tails, as though threatening to sting.  Although they have no stinger, many dragonflies will mimic the stinging behavior in order to trick predators into letting them go. They also use their mandibles to bite. Although their mouth parts are made to effectively crunch up their insect prey, their bite on human skin feels more like a sharp pinch (that doesn’t draw blood).

Among the galls we found were some induced by the Flat-Topped Honeydew Gall Wasp. On one small collection of those, we found a honeybee licking the honeydew off the surface of the galls.

We also found some Woollybear galls and a single specimen of a gall of the Hair Stalk Gall Wasp. Those seem very “rare” to me; I usually only find one each year.

Both Rox and I were struck by what we DIDN’T see: no coral galls, no Crystalline galls, no kernel or two-horned galls, very few Disc galls… hardly any insects, hardly any birds.

We DID see our “spirit bird”, the Black Phoebe, and about a dozen Mourning Doves browsing in a field.

We actually ended up walking for almost 4 hours (!) before we headed out, stopping for iced coffee drinks on our way home.

Species List:

  1. Amaranth, Redroot Pigweed, Amaranthus retroflexus
  2. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  3. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  4. Blue Oak, Quercus douglasii
  5. Bushtit, American Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus
  6. Buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis
  7. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  8. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis [flying overhead]
  9. Chicory, Cichorium intybus
  10. Club Gall Wasp, Atrusca clavuloides
  11. Clustered Gall Wasp, Andricus brunneus
  12. Coast Live Oak, Quercus agrifolia
  13. Common Green Lacewing, Chrysoperla carnea [eggs]
  14. Common Morning-Glory, Ipomoea purpurea
  15. Common Sunburst Lichen, Golden Shield Lichen, Xanthoria parietina [yellow-orange,on wood/trees]
  16. Dallis Grass, Dallisgrass, Paspalum dilatatum
  17. Disc Gall Wasp, Andricus parmula [round flat, “spangle gall”]
  18. Doveweed, Turkey Mullein, Croton setiger
  19. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
  20. Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis
  21. Flat-Topped Honeydew Gall Wasp, Disholcaspis eldoradensis
  22. Frosted Rim Lichen, Lecanora caesiorrubella [light gray with light gray apothecia on wood]
  23. Gold Dust Lichen, Chrysothrix candelaris
  24. Goodding’s Black Willow, Salix gooddingii
  25. Gouty Stem Gall Wasp, Callirhytis quercussuttoni
  26. Gray Mid-Rib Gall Wasp, Besbicus multipunctatus
  27. Green Darner Dragonfly, Anax junius
  28. Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata
  29. Hair Stalk Gall Wasp, Dros pedicellatum
  30. Hoary Lichen, Hoary Rosette, Physcia aipolia
  31. Hooded Rosette Lichen, Physcia adscendens [hairs/eyelashes on the tips of the lobes]
  32. Hoverfly, Margined Calligrapher Fly, Toxomerus marginatus [very tiny]
  33. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  34. Irregular Spindle Gall Wasp, Andricus chrysolepidicola [on white oaks, Blue, Valley, etc.]
  35. Leaf Gall Wasp/ Unidentified per Russo, Tribe: Cynipidi [on Valley Oak]
  36. Live Oak Gall Wasp, 1st Generation, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis [spiky ball]
  37. Magnolia, Cucumber Magnolia, Cucumber Tree, Magnolia acuminata
  38. Mexican Honeysuckle, Justicia spicigera
  39. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  40. Narrowleaf Cattail, Cattail, Typha angustifolia
  41. Narrowleaf Willow, Salix exigua
  42. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii [heard]
  43. Oak Apple Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  44. Peach Gall, Dried Peach Gall Wasp, Disholcaspis simulata
  45. Pennyroyal, Mentha pulegium
  46. Pit-gland Tarweed, Holocarpha virgata
  47. Plate Gall Wasp, Andricus pattersonae
  48. Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Western Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
  49. Red Cone Gall Wasp, Andricus kingi
  50. Red Sesbania, Scarlet Sesban, Sesbania punicea
  51. Rosette Oak Gall Wasp, Andricus wiltzae
  52. Rough Cocklebur, Xanthium strumarium
  53. Saucer Gall Wasp, Andricus gigas
  54. Smartweed, Persicaria lapathifolia [white]
  55. Solitary Oak Leaf Miner Moth, Cameraria hamadryadella
  56. Spanish Clover, Acmispon americanus
  57. Spiny Turban Gall Wasp, asexual, fall generation, Antron douglasii
  58. Striped Volcano Gall Wasp, summer generation,  Andricus atrimentus [looks like a tiny volcano]
  59. Tarweed, Fitch’s Tarweed, Centromadia fitchii
  60. Unidentified aphid, Subtribe: Panaphidina
  61. Urchin Gall Wasp, Antron quercusechinus
  62. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  63. Woollybear Gall Wasp, Atrusca trimaculosa
  64. Yellow Wig Gall Wasp, Andricus fullawayi

Finally Saw a Few Deer, 09-09-20

I got up around 6:00 am and then headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Center/Preserve for a walk.  The smoke in the air was pretty bad and the sun was only barely visible through it. The temperatures were better than they have been, though: about 61° when I got to the preserve and “only” got up to about 98° in the afternoon.

Smoke obscuring the sun at the nature preserve

I wasn’t focused on anything in particular today, just walked for the exercise of it. It was nice, then to be able to come across several Columbian Black-Tailed deer, including a young male with his antlers still in their velvet. I haven’t been seeing much of them lately, and still haven’t seen any of this year’s fawns. I wonder where they’ve all gotten to.

Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus.Ayoung buckin his velvet.

I could hear the distinctive hooting of a pair of Great Horned Owls, the male’s voice deeper than the female’s. I tried to figure out where they were, and looked through the treetops along the trail looking for “the shadow that is darker than other shadows”, but I couldn’t spot them. I think they were out nearer to the edge of the river where I didn’t go. 

As I was looking, though, I saw a small flock of three Sandhill Cranes flying overhead.  It’s a tiny bit early to see them; they usually show up in late September and throughout October.  So that was a fun sighting.  The birds are endemic to North America, so birders come from all over the world to see them when they’re migrating.

The bees were in the “bee tree”, but were congregated around the opening, rather than flying around.  I believe they were working to add an extra layer of antibacterial, antifungal propolis to the exterior opening of the hive. Propolis is a substance which keeps beeswax from going bad.  “… Made by the bees by combining tree resin with wax flakes and pollen, propolis is used to used fix and strengthen the beehive while protecting the hive with an antiseptic barrier – the name propolis comes from the Greek meaning ‘defense of the city’…”

Western Honeybees, Apis mellifera,laying down an extra layer of propolis outside the mouth of the hive.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

I was also happily surprised to see a couple of Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonflies. I’ve seen so few this year, any sighting is welcomed one, especially this late in the season.          

Even in the smoke, I walked for about 2½ hours before heading home.

In Other News:

In my email, I got a note from Bruce from Bird Watcher’s Digest magazine.  He wrote: “Our featured species in the November/December issue is the Yellow-billed Magpie. We would love to feature your video in our Digital edition of the magazine. I can’t offer any payment, but I can give you a one year subscription to our magazine. And you will also have a photo credit.”

How exciting! I told him, sure, he was able to use it as long as I got photo credit. Here is the video snippet he was referring to:

Species List:

  1. Alder Tongue, Western American Alder Tongue Gall Fungus, Taphrina occidentalis
  2. American Bull Frog, Lithobates catesbeianus
  3. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  4. Azolla, Water Fern, Azolla filiculoides
  5. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  6. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  7. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  8. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis
  9. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica
  10. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  11. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
  12. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
  13. Eastern Gray Squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis
  14. European Honeybee, Western Honeybee, Apis mellifera
  15. Flat-Topped Honeydew Gall Wasp, Disholcaspis eldoradensis
  16. Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus [heard]
  17. Himalayan Blackberry, Rubus  bifrons [white flowers]
  18. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  19. Live Oak Gall Wasp, 1st Generation, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis [spiky ball]
  20. Oak Apple Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  21. Sandhill Crane, Grus canadensis [flying overhead]
  22. Two-Horned Gall Wasp, unisexual gall, 1st generation,  Dryocosmus dubiosus [small gall with a horn on either end]
  23. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  24. Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum
  25. White Alder, Alnus rhombifolia
  26. Yellow Wig Gall Wasp, Andricus fullawayi

A Bird Amid the Smoke, 09-08-20

I was hoping the high winds we were having would blow out the smoke from the wildfires in the surrounding areas. But instead of doing that, it blew it all into the valley and we were pretty socked in. It looks like dusk all day.

Smoke seen from my back yard

When I went outside to take a photo of the densest smoke to the east of us I noticed a white figure in the top of one of the trees. It was a White-Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus! Such an unexpected, beautiful sighting.

White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus

Travels of a Certified California Naturalist