Galls, Birds and Spiders at the Cosumnes Preserve

On Sunday, I was exhausted from Saturday’s excursion, so I didn’t go back to Lodi for the wood-carving class. Instead, I eased into my morning and then around 8:30 or so headed off to the Cosumnes River Preserve for a walk there.

It was overcast when I went out and started to rain during my walk, but I was still out there for about 3½ hours. It was a good thing too that I had decided against going in to Lodi this afternoon. There was some kind of accident right near the onramp to the southbound I-5 that caused a semi truck to jackknife and block several lanes. I saw it from the northbound side on my way back from the Cosumnes preserve. The trailer part of the semi was still standing upright, but the whole cab part had fallen onto its side (so the trailer was sitting at a tilt.) Police cars, ambulances, tow trucks… traffic was backed up for miles.

At the Cosumnes River Preserve, I drove past their boardwalk area and into the parking lot by the nature center. The center was closed, but all of the trails were open. I first took the short walk down to the boat launch area. At the boat launch, I was VERY surprised to see the entire area clogged with invasive blooming Floating Water Hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes), not to be confused with the Anchored Water Hyacinth (Eichhornia azurea) that’s used for decoration in urban pods. E. crassipes (think: Eech! Crap!) doesn’t anchor itself anywhere. It has purple-black hanging roots (that kind of look like burnt feathers).

I later came across a duck box that was posted on the side of the tree… but instead of ducks, a squirrel had taken it over and was making her nest in it. When I first noticed it, I just saw two little hands holding onto the rim of the opening on the front of the box and couldn’t understand what I was looking at. Then the squirrel popped her head out and nattered at me to get away. She had spider webs and nesting material clinging to her whiskers; made me laugh. Hah!

When I was done walking along that path, I went back toward the nature center and then took off along their “wetlands” path. The wetland areas around there still aren’t very “wet”, but it was a nice walk anyway – even when it started to rain.

I came across a couple of HUGE spiders called Cat-Faced Spiders (Araneus gemmoides). It’s a common orb-weaver spider (identified by the high bumps on its “shoulders”), but I’d never seen ones this big before. It’s other common name is “Jewel Spider” because it’s body is cut into “facets”. Females are giant, males are tiny. I saw one of the males and it was about as big as the female’s foot. One of these big girls actually started spinning some web for me so I was able to get a photo of that. And I even “petted” the back of the smaller of the two females. She felt like a hard little mushroom.

Cat-Faced Spider. Copyright © 2015, Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.
Cat-Faced Spider. Copyright © 2015, Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.

I also found some wasp galls… Most of them were fading (as this is the end of their season), but I came across some that I’d seen photos of in book but never actually found before, including grape leaf galls caused by a kind of aphid-like critter called a “Phylloxera”, so that was cool!

At one spot, another squirrel stopped and posed for me while it ate the shell off of an acorn. By that time it had started to rain pretty heavily, so I went back to the car and then drive down Desmond Road to see if there were any bird photo-ops there. I saw several American Kestrels (this seems to be the year for them around here), and several Red-Tailed hawks. Some of them posed for a little while, but others, like a big Harrier Hawk I saw, wouldn’t stay still.

I got one shot of some Sandhill Cranes – just as they were launching themselves up from the ground. Turned out pretty good. I was proud of my little camera!

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