My First Achemon Sphinx Moth and Caper Flower, 07-23-16

I didn’t sleep very well last night; neither I nor the dog could get comfortable for some reason.  Still, I got up at 6:00 and headed out to the WPA Rock Garden and William Land Park for a walk before it got too hot.

As I walked out of the house, I found a huge gorgeous Achemon Sphinx Moth (Eumorpha achemon) on the Bird of Paradise plant on the front porch.  I think it had just come out of its chrysalis and was trying to warm up for the day.  I got my camera and my cell phone out of my bag and took a bunch of photos of it before going any further.

When I got to the WPA Rock Garden, I was on the hunt for “jumping galls” which usually start cascading off of the oak trees this time of year.  And – score! – I found a bunch of them hopping in a gutter alongside the parking lot.  There is a teeny-tiny wasp (Neuropterus saltatorius) larva in each little gall (which are sort of like capsule-shaped “escape pods”). The capsules, which are about the size of millet seeds, form inside somewhat larger round galls on the leaves of oak trees. When it gets hot enough,  the larger galls rupture and dump the little capsules onto the ground by the thousands. The larvae flip around in an attempt to hide their capsule in the leaf litter under the tree… When they land in the cement gutter, though, they’re pretty much doomed.  I took some video of them, and scooped up as many as I could, got them off of the cement and onto softer ground.



There were other galls on the same tree including some Red Cone galls and some Spiny Turban galls.  This is the best time of year to start seeing all these cool things!

So the moth and the jumping galls were a great start to my morning excursion.  I was hoping to see some praying mantises, but no luck there.  I DID come across a small group of five male Longhorn Bees (Melissodes sp.) sleeping on a sunflower, though, and that was neat.  The males sleep in groups to keep warm overnight, and they collect in the same place every night if they can.  To keep from falling off the plant in their sleep, the bees latch onto the plant with their mandibles (mouth pieces) and “lock” the mandibles shut.

I was hoping to see more insects in the garden, but apparently the city people had just watered in there before I got there.  They use huge hoses to water the garden, and practically “flatten” the plants when they do that, so al the neat bugs get washed down onto the ground under the plants where I can’t find them. Grrr.  I did manage to get a few photos off a female Carpenter Bee doing her “nectar robbing” thing on some flowers.  The Carpenter Bees are too big and fat to fit inside some flowers, so they climb over the top of the flower and bite a hole in the back of it to suck the nectar out through there. It’s called “nectar robbing” because the flower doesn’t get the benefit of pollination from the insect. The Carpenter Bees bypass the pollen and go right for the juice…

I came across a mama Mallard and her fledglings (that were almost as big as she was).  The babies were rooting around in the ground cover under some pine trees while mom kept an eye on them.  I got a few stills and some video of them, and while I was doing that I could hear the “chitter-chitter-chitter” call of a Belted Kingfisher behind me.  I turned around and found the Kingfisher sitting on a small signpost in the middle of the pond.  As you know, Kingfishers are like my “nemesis” bird.  I can never get close enough to one to get a really good photo of it… and today was no different.  But I still managed to get a few shots of it, and got to watch it dive face-first into the pond a few times to catch small fish.  They’re such neat-looking birds.  I wish they weren’t so hard for me to photograph, though!  Hah!

I did get to see some hummingbirds and Bushtits on my walk… and I also came across a flower in the garden I’d never seen before.  I suck at identifying garden plants but I figured this one might be easy to research online – the flower was so distinctive.  I discovered it’s the flower of the caper bush (Capparis spinosa), also called Flinders Rose.  The buds are and berries are the “capers” people eat.  Cool!  As I said, I’d never seen one before, so I can add it to my “firsts” list.  Very pretty!

I walked around for about 2 hours and then headed over to Raley’s to get some groceries for the next few weeks.  That took another half-hour, so I figured I did pretty well getting my exercise for the day.