1st Time Bird, 1st Time Bugs… and Ants Herding Treehopper Nymphs

Saturday morning: I wanted to “beat the heat” — it got up to 100 today.  Blick. — so I got up a little after 5 o’clock and headed out to the American River Bend Park.  I was hoping to see a lot of dragonflies, but… well, I did see two different kinds.  I went to the William Pond Park side of the river – which I don’t really like because it’s too “manicured” and I seldom see many critters over there.  As I was crossing the bridge, though, I noticed movement in the water and focused my camera on it get some video.  The thing in the water was pretty far away, so in the small view screen on the camera I couldn’t tell if it was an otter or a beaver… when I got home and could see the enlarged version I discovered it was a beaver.  My first “live” shot of a beaver in the river.  I was very pleased with that.  Then I got a glimpse of a Belted Kingfisher.  We both saw one another at the same time, and he was faster than me – out of camera range before I could focus on him.  Dang it!

Along the way across the bridge, I noticed there were tons of orb spiders who’d built webs between the bars on both sides of the bridge, so I got some snaps of them… and lots of Canada Geese in the water.  Other birds I saw were the usual suspects: Starlings, Northern Flickers, Scrub Jays, Acorn, Ladder-backed (red on the front of the head) and Hairy Woodpeckers (red on the back of the head), Black Phoebes, Anna’s Hummingbirds, Wild Turkeys, Wrens, Finches… The Flickers I saw were a mama and young fledgling.  The fledgling had all its feathers but not its mature coloring yet… and it was begging mama for food.  Damn teenagers.  Hah!  And I found a dead bird that looked like it might have been a young fledgling turkey.  Sighting of the day, though, was an Ash-Throated Flycatcher who I found singing near the top of a tree.  I’d never gotten a photo of one of those before.

Later, when I went back to the River Bend park side of the river, I also found the Mourning Dove nest again – she’s still cooking her babies – and caught some glimpses of the young Red-Shouldered Hawk testing out his wings.  He’d fly-hop from tree, to scag, to bush, to tree, and would also “whine” for his mama occasionally.  Soft yet piercing hawk-screeches, as though he was making them under his breath.  Oh, and while I was watching him and taking photos, this pair of House Finches flew over my head and pooped on me; hit me right on the forearm.  Guh!  Well, at least they didn’t crap on my camera!

I also saw a pair of mule deer, and one of them was in his “velvet” (just starting to grow his antlers, and they were still fuzzy), but only one antler seemed to be growing normally.  The other one was stubby and sort of gnarled up against his head.  It’ll be interesting to see how that turns out for him…

Came across some ants “herding” tiny Treehopper nymphs.  The ants were tending the eggs and keeping the striped Treehoppers all in one area on several long leaves of a tree.  The Treehoppers produce honeydew and the ants collect and feed on that.  Cool.  I later found larger “instars” (molts) of the Treehoppers and determined they were Oak Treehoppers (Platycotis vittatus).  Other insects included Cabbage White, Sulphur, some tiny Gray Hairstreak and small Buckeye butterflies; loads of damselflies; a Common Whitetail dragonfly and a Widow Skimmer dragonfly; and a bright reddish-orange Velvet Ant (whose name is deceiving because it isn’t really an ant.  It’s a kind of wingless wasp that’s also called “cow killer” because the sting it gives is so horrible.)

In the plant realm, I came across a Mesquite Tree, which I’d never photographed before, so I can add that to my naturalist list.  I think it was Honey Mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) but I’m not positive. The seed pods were pretty old and dried out.  I also found some flowering Jimsonweed.

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I didn’t see as many dragonflies as I was hoping to, but… it turned out to be a good day for photographing anyway, so I went home happy.  It was about 68° when I started out (at 5:30 am mind you!) and was already 80° when I headed home around 10:00 am.  Humid, too.  Yick.