A Short Wet Walk at River Bend, 09-21-22

I got up around 6:00 this morning to head out to the American River Bend Park with my friend and fellow naturalist Roxanne.  It was RAINING, but we thought the storm was pretty much finished and wouldn’t cause a problem. Sunshine was pouring through holes in the cloud cover.

Early morning sunlight peaking through the clouds and trees.

I was hoping to see puddles, and slime molds, and migrating birds, but we found none of that. Surprisingly, all of the rain that had fallen had already been sucked up by the perched ground and there wasn’t a puddle to see anywhere. [Puddles sometimes hold hairworms, which a super cool to finds]

In the horse corral area, we saw a Black Phoebe who posed for us, but just slightly out of my camera’s range. As we walked in one direction along the trail that follows the river, we got glimpses of White-Breasted Nuthatches, Acorn Woodpeckers, and Western Bluebirds but nobody really stopped to let us get a good at them. Even the Starlings, who were making themselves conspicuous everywhere, calling from the tops of the trees were, once more slightly out of range.

We could hear California Quail somewhere in the shrubbery below the trail, and the crackling call of Sandhill Cranes overhead, but we didn’t see either of them.

We came across some fishermen who were making a lot of noise. Two in their group had caught huge salmon in the river. One had managed to pull his catch to shore, and his friends were telling him to sit and rest for a bit. He’d earned it.

[I used to go fishing with my mom – not so much to catch fish, but just to sit in nature, in each other’s company. We would have died if we’d ever caught anything that big on our little bamboo poles. The biggest thing I ever pulled out of the water on my fishing line was a moray eel from the ocean along the rocks at Dana Point.]

Anyway, there was another fisherman, up in the parking area, putting his catch in a bag. It too was a huge salmon. Roxanne talked to him for a bit, and he told her that he fished as often as he could and filled up his freezer with the meat. Then when the freezer was full, he’d take the fish up to Franklin Street, I think he said, and cooked them up for the homeless. He said it felt like a reciprocal thing: if he shared the fish, the river would be generous and let him catch more. Awwww.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos [such as it is].

By then it had started to rain hard enough that it was soaking through our clothes, and we worried about keeping our cameras dry.  [I need to get some of those disposable rain ponchos to carry in my backpack. They’d be easier to use than an umbrella in the field.] So, we headed back to the car. Then the rain let up a bit and just as it did, Roxanne spotted a Red-Shouldered Hawk we had seen along the trail earlier. We “stalked” it and found it sitting on a branch of a tree, so well camouflaged by the dappled colors on its back that it was actually difficult to see at first. It sat still long enough for us to get some photos of it before it took off through the woods.

Then, it started raining harder again, so we decided to cut the walk short and head home. We didn’t walk far enough for this to count toward my #52HikeChallenge for the year.

Species List:

You can tell it’s a rough walk when the species list is THIS short.

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  3. Black Walnut, Eastern Black Walnut, Juglans nigra
  4. California Buckeye Chestnut Tree, Aesculus californica
  5. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  6. California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana
  7. California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica
  8. Chinook Salmon, Oncorhynchus tshawytscha
  9. Cytospora Canker, Cytospora chrysosperma
  10. English Walnut, Juglans regia
  11. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  12. Oak, Coast Live Oak, Quercus agrifolia
  13. Oak, Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  14. Red-Shouldered Hawk, California Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus elegans
  15. Tobacco, Coyote Tobacco, Flowering Tobacco, Nicotiana attenuata
  16. Western Bluebird, Sialia mexicana
  17. Western Hardwood Sulphur Shelf, Laetiporus gilbertsonii
  18. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis
  19. Whiteflies, Family: Aleyrodidae
  20. Wren, House Wren, Troglodytes aedon

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At Sailor Bar, 09-15-22

I got up around 6:00 AM and went out to Sailor Bar Community Park along the American River for a walk. I was hoping to see some coral galls, but… nothing. I did find quite a few Live Oak galls and some of the usual suspects on the Blue Oaks.

Nature played keep-away for much of my walk. At one point, I saw a pair of gorgeous coyotes walking out from the pond area across to the hillocks, but by the time I got the camera focused on them and was ready to video their walk the battery in my camera fell dead, so I got nothing.

This was all I was able to get of a pair of coyotes that loped past me… as the camera battery failed.

Likewise, I saw some quail eating berries off of an elderberry tree and wanted to get some photos and video of them, but they were often obscured by branches or otherwise out of range. Frustrating. 

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

I took a new-to-me trail and headed out toward the river, but never got that far. The trail was “boring”; not a lot to see. Most of trees along the way trimmed up to where I couldn’t reach the leaves, and most of the shrubs were down in little deep hollows which made them hard to get to. Like I said, frustrating.

The only interesting find was a pair of Turkey Vultures sitting on top of a telephone pole. An adult and a juvenile, side by side. I wondered if the adult was teaching the youngster how to fly, or how to spot breakfast along the trail.

This was hike #51 of my #52HikeChallenge for the year.

Species List:

  1. Acorn Gall Wasp, Andricus chrysobalani [stunted growth, acorn may look pushed in or sideways]
  2. Blackberry, Armenian Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus [red canes]
  3. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum
  4. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra cerulea
  5. California Quail, Callipepla californica
  6. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  7. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica
  8. Clustered Gall Wasp, Andricus brunneus
  9. Coyote, Canis latrans
  10. Crystalline Gall Wasp, Andricus crystallinus
  11. Drippy Nut Disease, Lonsdalea quercina [Proteobacteria]
  12. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  13. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  14. Live Oak Apple Gall Wasp, Summer, asexual generation, Amphibolips quercuspomiformis [spiky ball]
  15. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus
  16. Oak, Blue Oak, Quercus douglasii
  17. Oak, Coast Live Oak, Quercus agrifolia
  18. Oak, Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  19. Plate Gall Wasp, Andricus pattersonae
  20. Red-Shouldered Hawk, California Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus elegans
  21. Ruptured Twig Gall Wasp, Callirhytis perdens [on live oaks, black oaks]
  22. Saucer Gall Wasp, Andricus gigas
  23. Striped Volcano Gall Wasp, Andricus atrimentus, asexual, summer generation [looks like a tiny volcano]
  24. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  25. Urchin Gall Wasp, Cynips quercusechinus
  26. Western Bluebird, Sialia mexicana
  27. Willow Pinecone Gall Midge, Rabdophaga strobiloides
  28. Willow, Interior Sandbar Willow, Salix interior
  29. ?? empty egg cases; maybe stink bug

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Back to the Reverend Mother, 09-12-22

I got up about 5:30 AM and got myself ready to go to the William B. Pond Park with my friend Roxanne. It was warm and very humid all the while we were out, and the air quality is still bad at  434 AQI (Hazardous)  Ick!

At the park, I wanted to see the Reverend Mother tree, and find out if she had any new galls on her since the last time I visited her. The Reverend Mother is a huge Valley Oak that stands by herself at the intersection of several trails. Every year she gets a wide variety of wasp galls on her. I’d last seen her around mid-July.

Roxanne suggested that, because of my cancer and the pain my left leg – and the heat/humidity – that we go find her first, and then look around elsewhere if we still have strength left. So, on toward the Reverend Mother we went. Of course, we got waylaid by nature along the way.

We found some wasps that looked like Yellowjackets but seemed unusually small. They were clustering around a tuft of grass, and we wondered if maybe they were going to set up a winter burrow there or something. But then it occurred to me… usually these wasps all die out in the winter, and only the queen survives to find somewhere to overwinter until the spring. Could have been a bunch of fertilized females from the same nest all looking for overwintering spots, but it seemed weird that they were all grouped together. So, I don’t know what they were doing. We also found quite a few sleepy honeybees resting on dried plant stems, and some vinegarweed plants that were blooming. [Doesn’t take much to get our attention. Hah!]

Among the galls we found were Red Cones, Spined Turbans, Yellow Wigs, a few Club galls, Round galls, Flat-Topped Honeydew galls [I followed the wasps to find out where the ones that were seeping honeydew were], just a couple of Disc galls, plenty of Oak Apples [some trees were covered in them]. The Reverend Mother had a lot of galls, but far fewer than in previous years, and without the variety of species I normally find on her.

On other oak trees we found a Rosette gall, Gouty Twig galls, Pumpkin galls, Folded Leaf galls, Erineum Mite galls, worn down Two-Horned galls [which had lost their horns], and some aphid galls on the nearby Fremont’s Cottonwood.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos

On some of the trees we were inundated with whiteflies and lacewings. Green lacewing eggs seemed to be sprouting from everywhere. I also found a cluster of assassin bug eggs with some kind of midge stuck to it; and there was a pale little skipper chilling out on a leaf.

As we were heading back to the car, Rox spotted a hawk in a distant tree, and it was surrounded by squawking magpies. After a few minutes, the hawk flew off with the magpies flying after it, continuing to harass it.

Red-Tailed Hawk taking a break from being harassed by Yellow-Billed Magpies. Photo by Roxanne Moger.

Speaking of the magpies, I got some photos and a video snippet f one of the magpies walking with its tail straight up in the air behind it as it walked through the grass. According to Cornell, “…Tail-up Display often included in the Parallel Walk; this display, which does not occur in Eastern Hemisphere magpies (and probably not in North American Black-billed Magpies), consists of holding the long tail almost vertical for many seconds…” and is part of a territory-marking display.

We also found some nice firm specimens of the Shaggy Parasol mushroom. This was hike #50 of my #52HikeChallenge for the year.

We walked for about 3½ hours and then headed down Arden Way to have some breakfast at Bella Bru. We haven’t eaten there in ages. I was loving my mocha freezo a lot!

Species List:

  1. American Black Nightshade, Solanum americanum
  2. American Pokeweed, Phytolacca americana
  3. Ant, Fusca-Group Field Ants, Formica fusca
  4. Assassin Bug, Leafhopper Assassin Bug, Zelus renardii [eggs]
  5. Bee, European Honeybee, Western Honeybee, Apis mellifera
  6. Brazilian Vervain, Verbena brasiliensis
  7. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  8. California Sycamore, Western Sycamore, Platanus racemose
  9. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  10. Chinese Hackberry Tree, Celtis sinensis
  11. Club Gall Wasp, Atrusca clavuloides
  12. Disc Gall Wasp, Andricus parmula [round flat, “spangle gall”]
  13. Downy Woodpecker, Dryobates pubescens
  14. Drippy Nut Disease, Lonsdalea quercina [Proteobacteria]
  15. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  16. Fennel, Sweet Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare
  17. Flat-Topped Honeydew Gall Wasp, Disholcaspis eldoradensis
  18. Fuzzy-Gall Wasp, Cynips conspicuus [round mealy bumpy; on Valley oak]
  19. Gouty Stem Gall Wasp, Callirhytis quercussuttoni
  20. Green Lacewing, Chrysopa coloradensis
  21. Live Oak Erineum Mite Gall, Aceria mackiei
  22. Live Oak Folded Leaf Aphid, Stegophylla essigi [in live oaks, folds the leaf over itself; sometimes the leaf turns red/reddish]
  23. Meshweaver Spider, Family: Dictynidae
  24. Non-Biting Midges, Family: Chironomidae
  25. Oak Apple, California Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  26. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus
  27. Oak, Coast Live Oak, Quercus agrifolia
  28. Oak, Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  29. Oak, Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  30. Poplar Petiole Gall Aphid, Pemphigus populitransversus [on cottonwood]
  31. Pumpkin Gall Wasp, Dryocosmus minusculus
  32. Red Cone Gall Wasp, Andricus kingi
  33. Rosette Gall Wasp, Andricus wiltzae [on Valley Oak]
  34. Round-Gall Wasp, Burnettweldia washingtonensis [round, fuzzy, on twigs]
  35. Shaggy Parasol Mushroom, Chlorophyllum brunneum [common lawn mushroom]
  36. Silver Wattle, Acacia dealbata
  37. Spined Turban Gall Wasp, Cynips douglasii [summer, asexual generation, pink, spiky top]
  38. Two-Horned Gall Wasp, unisexual , summer generation,  Dryocosmus dubiosus [small, green or mottled, on back of leaf along the midvein]
  39. Vinegar Weed, Trichostema lanceolatum
  40. Western Bluebird, Sialia mexicana
  41. Western Yellowjacket, Vespula pensylvanica
  42. Woodland Skipper, Ochlodes sylvanoides
  43. Yellow Star-Thistle, Centaurea solstitialis
  44. Yellow Wig Gall Wasp, Druon fullawayi
  45. Yellow-Billed Magpie, Pica nuttalli

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Disappointed at Lake Solano Park, 09-10-22

I was supposed to go gall hunting with my friend Roxanna up Drum Powerhouse Road, but the Mosquito Fire thwarted us. Smoke from the wild fire was making conditions hazardous, and emergency and fire-vehicles were blocking some of the roads. The galls don’t migrate so they will still be there when the danger has passed, just not in time for Gall Week, which ends tomorrow. I’m still looking forward to be able to go up there again.  In Sacramento, the temperature got up to a smoky and very humid 87º, but the air quality was bad: 484 AQI (Hazardous)  .

Since Drum Powerhouse was off the table, we decided instead to try Lake Solano Park. We hadn’t been there for a while, and it was further away from the wildfire than we were in Sacramento. Last year we found some galls, and also saw an osprey with a fish and a family of otters in the lake. CLICK HERE for last year’s photo album. We were hoping for a lot, but got very little.

In the parking lot, kitty corner from the Putah Creek Café, we knew there was a nonnative Southern Live Oak tree hat had galls on it in the years before, so we went looking for it. I had remembered it being closer to the edge of the parking lot, but it was more toward the middle. We were able to find the galls, so I was happy about that and hoped it bode well for our day’s excursion. The galls were of the Wool-Bearing Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuslanigera, another nonnative.

According to cecidologist Joyce Gross: “…This oak is not native in California but is sometimes planted in parks and other locations in the state. The galls on this oak are made by wasps also not native to California. Both the oak and wasp are native to the eastern U.S…” I think that is sooooo cool!

We knew the park didn’t open until 8:00 AM, so we decided to go to the café for some breakfast. Roxanne treated. So nice!  Oddly enough, it didn’t open until 8:00 AM either, so we had to sit and wait anyway. *Sigh* I was impatient to get moving.

When we finally got inside the café, we noticed that their menu had shrunk significantly since the last time we were there. Roxanne and I both had biscuits and gravy, with two over-medium eggs, and a side of bacon. Their food is really good there, and the portions are generous. I wasn’t able to eat everything on my plate.

Certified California Naturalist Roxanne at the Putah Creek Café.

A little before 9:00 AM, we headed over to Lake Solano Park, and pulled into Parking Lot E where we usually park and then walk along the edge of the lake. The whole lot was taken over by a group of exceeding rude people who hogged the parking spaces with big-ass trucks and SUVs, and had their inflatable boards and kayaks spread out all over the open bits of asphalt. 

I had forgotten my handicapped placard, so we couldn’t park in the only two spaces available. It was so frustrating. As we turned around and drove out of the lot, the fat male who was at the center of the group gave us an overly dramatic crooked smirk, made a big show of waving bye-bye, and made some rude remark under his breath. It was like dealing with a bunch of ill-mannered five-year-olds. That kind of ruined our whole experience at the park. We didn’t feel like we could walk where we wanted to, or see what we wanted to see because those horrible people cut off our access on land and then occupied the water.

It seemed to me that most of the oak trees I would normally visit had been removed or so devastated by last year’s fires that they hadn’t recovered enough to put out sufficient leaves for the gall wasps to lay their eggs on.

We saw petiole galls on the cottonwood trees, and were surprised that they had a pink blush on them.  We also found some Oak Apple that looked pink. I wondered if the pigment was related to last year’s wildfires; if the ground had been contaminated by the fire and the lack of a lot of clean water (rain) in the area. I also found what looked like a petiole gall on the BRANCH of a tree instead of on the petiole of the leaf.

Roxanne came across a very large, beautiful spider sitting on a live oak leaf, and near the same area I found a small colorful jumping spider. On any other day, those finds would have lifted my spirits, but I had been so knocked down by the mob of rude people, that I just couldn’t enjoy the moments of discovery.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

Galls were few and far between, but Roxanne found what looked like a Crystalline Gall on the leaf of a Valley Oak. Usually, those are on Blue Oaks, not Valley.  But the Blue and the Valley are both in the “white oak” lineage, and the galls can occasionally cross from one white oak to another. The same wasp galls that lay eggs on white oaks, won’t cross the line to lay their eggs on red or intermediate oaks, however. Here’s a simple graph of the oak lineages of California oaks.

There are 18 oak trees that are native to California. Here you see them broken down by “lineage”.
Lineage is defined by the color of the wood of the trees and the kind of acorns they carry.
White oaks may cross breed between other white oaks, but they won’t cross breed with Red or Intermediate oaks.

The birdwatching aspect of our walk was pretty unproductive; I think it just gets too hot and muggy for them to be out much. We did see some Turkey Vultures hanging out on a burned up tree; black on black, it was kind of eerie. We also caught a glimpse of a peahen with one little poult before they ran off down a slope – that was right where the rude people were, so we missed seeing the mama and baby again. *Sigh*

We saw the ubiquitous Acorn Woodpeckers, some Bushtits and White-Breasted Nuthatches, a few Lesser Goldfinches, and a new-to-me Willow Flycatcher. In the water were some Double-Crested Cormorants, Canada Geese, and a small flock of female Mergansers who seemed to be catch a lot of little fish as they swam along. 

The big surprise, though, was seeing a trio of American White Pelicans drifting through the water.

We walked for about 2½ hours, by which time it was getting way too hot and humid for me, so we headed home. This was hike #49 of my #52HikeChallenge for the year.

All the while we were on our walk, and for hours after I got home, I didn’t open my new little Hydro Cell thermos. Around 4:00 PM, I finally opened it with the intention of cleaning it out, and was VERY surprised to find that the ice I had put into it around 5:30 this morning was still there! Wow! I’ve never had a thermos work this well before. It’s a keeper. [[Mine is the wide mouth version. Sooooo impressed!]]

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. American White Pelican, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos
  3. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  4. Arabesque Orbweaver, Neoscona arabesca [related to Spotted Orbweaver]
  5. Black Walnut, Eastern Black Walnut, Juglans nigra
  6. Bushtit, American Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus
  7. California Buckeye Chestnut Tree, Aesculus californica
  8. California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana
  9. California Sycamore, Western Sycamore, Platanus racemose
  10. Cattail, Broad-Leaved Cattail, Typha latifolia
  11. Club Gall Wasp, Atrusca clavuloides
  12. Common Merganser, American Common Merganser, Mergus merganser americanus
  13. Cottonwood Stem Gall Aphid, Pemphigus populiramulor
  14. Crystalline Gall Wasp, Andricus crystallinus [on Valley Oak!]
  15. Damselfly, Familiar Bluet, Enallagma civile
  16. Disc Gall Wasp, Andricus parmula [round flat, “spangle gall”]
  17. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
  18. Flat-Topped Honeydew Gall Wasp, Disholcaspis eldoradensis
  19. Goldenrod, Western Goldenrod, Euthamia occidentalis
  20. Gray Buckeye Butterfly, Junonia grisea
  21. Johnson’s Jumping Spider, Phidippus johnsoni
  22. Jumping Gall Wasp, Neuroterus saltatorius
  23. Leafhopper Assassin Bug, Zelus renardii [eggs]
  24. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  25. Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  26. Mistletoe, Broadleaf Mistletoe, Phoradendron macrophyllum
  27. Mullein, Great Mullein, Verbascum thapsus
  28. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii [heard]
  29. Oak Apple, California Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  30. Oak, Blue Oak, Quercus douglasii
  31. Oak, Coast Live Oak, Quercus agrifolia
  32. Oak, Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  33. Oak, Southern Live Oak, Quercus virginiana [endemic to the southeastern U.S.]
  34. Oak, Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  35. Otter, North American River Otter, Lontra canadensis [scat]
  36. Peahen, Peafowl, Indian Peafowl, Pavo cristatus
  37. Poplar Petiole Gall Aphid, Pemphigus populitransversus [on cottonwoo
  38. Red Cone Gall Wasp, Andricus kingi
  39. Spined Turban Gall Wasp, Cynips douglasii [summer, asexual generation, pink, spiky top]
  40. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  41. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis
  42. Willow Flycatcher, Empidonax traillii
  43. Willow, Arroyo Willow, Salix lasiolepis
  44. Wool-Bearing Gall Wasp, Druon quercuslanigerum

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Travels of a Certified California Naturalist

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