Galls, Birds and Bugs

I slept in a tiny bit this morning and got up around 6:00 am.  I was out the door in about 15 minutes and headed over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve in search of wasp galls.

When I first drove into the reserve, a saw a flock of a dozen or so large birds in the field next to the entrance kiosk, so I pulled into the parking lot near there and drove slowly through it.  The large birds were Yellow Billed Magpies.  They’re fairly common around here, but I hadn’t gotten any photos of them before – they’re usually in the fields along Highway 16, that I only catch glimpses of as I drive by — so I thought it was neat that they were actually in a place where I could sit and view them.  These Magpies are endemic to California and found only in the Central Valley (in a region that’s about 500 miles north-to-south and only about 150 miles wide).  Another fun fact: they usually only build their nests on top of clumps of mistletoe.  One of the birds I was watching, was half bald, but I don’t know if it had mange or if it had been plucked.  While I was taking photos of the Magpies, I also got shots of some bright red House Finches and a bird with blue wings… I thought at first it was a female Western Bluebird, but the chest was striped and didn’t have the peach-colored wash on it, so I’m supposing it was a juvenile.  In the early morning light, the blue wings seemed to “light up”.

I did come across lots of wasp galls, including the galls of the Red-Cone, Yellow Wig, Spiny Turban, Crystalline, Pumpkin and Saucer Gall wasps, so I was satisfied in that department.  I also came across a baby Praying Mantis and some of those Bordered Plant Bugs we had a lot in Shasta – the ones where the nymphs are iridescent blue with a red dot on the back.  I accidentally flushed two hawks: a Red-Tail and a Cooper’s.  I didn’t see them until they flew out at me from the cover of the scrubby trees they were in.  I also started a young coyote who was taking a drink at the riverbank.  He took off like a shot, so I only got video of him dashing away…

I also came across an old walnut tree that was oozing sap.  It must’ve been hot enough to force it to bleed out.  Some of the sap was is long “worms” and some of it was in crystal-looking bubbles.  (Did you know that you milk walnut trees of their sap and make syrup out of it?  I just learned that today…)

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Got to see other birds, too: Titmice, Acorn Woodpeckers, hummingbirds, some female Mallards, Spotted Towhees, and Lesser Goldfinches… There were also a lot of Wild Turkeys around, including a small flock of females, and a solitary male who jumped up onto a railing and posed for me.  I walked for about three hours and then headed back to the car.  As I was exiting the preserve, I came across some mule deer, including a young buck still in his velvet and got a few shots of him before I left.