Lots of Nesting Birds, 04-30-19

I got up around 5:30 and was out the door by about 6:15 am to go to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for my regular Tuesday trail-walking gig. The weather was beautiful: about 53° when I got to the preserve and about 70° when I left. Sunny and a little bit windy.

I saw LOTS of birds’ nests: European Starlings bringing some twigs for the nesting cavity and some bugs and worms for the hatchlings. (I could hear the babies squawking inside the tree); Phoebes bringing bugs for their babies; an Oak Titmouse carrying fecal sacs out of her nest; a male House Wren showing a nesting cavity to a female, even going to far as to get into the cavity himself, stick his head out and sing to her. Hah!

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

Saw lots of squirrels, especially young Fox Squirrels who were running around, jumping, and putting just about everything they could into their mouths.  Generally, acting “squirrely”. Hah!

I found some caterpillars I’d never noticed before on the Redbud trees. They were pale green and had folded themselves inside the soft leaves of the tree.  You’ll never guess what they’re called…  Redbud Leaf-folder Moth caterpillars. Sometimes the names are like, “Duh!”, obvious.

I also found caterpillars on the leaves of the blackberry bushes, and these guys were tricky. They had an escape hatch, so if I touched the front of their silk “nest”, they would zip out the back and fall onto the leaf below them. Some of them had black faces and some of them had reddish-tan faces. I haven’t really ID-ed them yet.

And, of course, there were Tussock Moth caterpillars everywhere.  Here’s a video snippet of an active guy on the top of one of the water stanchions at the preserve: https://youtu.be/Bj9nZiy_EmI

I think I’d mentioned before about the fact that I was finding tiny dirt-clod turrets on the trail.  They look like “hoodoos”; y’know like the big stone ones at Bryce Canyon, but on a tiny-tiny scale.  I couldn’t figure out what was making them, so I put my naturalist students on the hunt for information. Naturalist graduate Deborah Dash sent me some photos of the Diadasia bees and the turrets they make, but all of the photos were from the top of the turrets not the side, so I couldn’t really compare them to the photos I had.  But, that tip led me to look up other Diadasia bees, and I think I found the right one.  I now believe these are the turrets of the “aggregate nests” of the solitary, native Mallow-Loving Digger Bee, Diadasia sp., subgenus Coquillettapis, This website shows how the turrets are created. So neat! (http://nathistoc.bio.uci.edu/hymenopt/Diadasia%20Coquillettapis.htm)

Near the end of my walk, I couldn’t understand why I was so frigging tired. Then I looked at the time and realized I’d been walking for FIVE HOURS!  Yikes!  I get so wrapped up in what I’m seeing on the trail that I lose track of time.

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus,
  2. American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus,
  3. Ants, Little Black Ants, Monomorium minimum,
  4. Ash-Throated Flycatcher, Myiarchus cinerascens,
  5. Asian Lady Beetle, Harmonia axyridis
  6. Azolla, Water Fern, Azolla filiculoides,
  7. Bedstraw, Cleavers, Galium aparine,
  8. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii,
  9. Black Bean Aphid, Aphis fabae,
  10. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
  11. Black Walnut Erineum Mite galls, Eriophyes erinea,
  12. Black Walnut, Juglans nigra,
  13. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus cerulea,
  14. Blue Oak, Quercus douglasii,
  15. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi,
  16. California Manroot, Bigroot, Marah fabaceus,
  17. California Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta,
  18. California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica,
  19. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica,
  20. California Towhee,
  21. Coffeeberry, Frangula californica,
  22. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus,
  23. Common Catchfly, Silene gallica,
  24. Convergent Lady Beetle, Hippodamia convergens,
  25. Coyote Brush Bud Midge gall, Rhopalomyia californica,
  26. Cranefly, family Tipulidae,
  27. Cutworm, Olive Angle Shade Moth, Phlogophora iris,
  28. Desert Cottontail, Sylvilagus audubonii,
  29. Dog Vomit Slime Mold, Fuligo septica,
  30. Dogtail Grass, Cynosurus echinatus,
  31. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger,
  32. Elder Moth, Achatodes zeae
  33. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris,
  34. Fiery Skipper, Hylephila phyleus,
  35. Himalayan Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus,
  36. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon,
  37. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni,
  38. Lazuli Bunting, Passerina amoena (stripe across wing),
  39. Live Oak Gall Wasp gall, 2nd Generation, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis
  40. Mallow-Loving Digger Bee turrets, Diadasia sp., subgenus Coquillettapis http://nathistoc.bio.uci.edu/hymenopt/Diadasia%20Coquillettapis.htm
  41. Northern California Grape, Vitis californica
  42. Oak Apple Wasp Gall, Andricus quercuscalifornicus,
  43. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus,
  44. Orange Tortrix Moth, Argyrotaenia franciscana
  45. Painted Lady butterfly, Vanessa cardui,
  46. Periwinkle, Vinca major,
  47. Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta,
  48. Plum, Prunus cerasifera,
  49. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum,
  50. Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum,
  51. Purple Needle Grass, Nassella pulchra,
  52. Redbud Leaffolder Moth, Fascista cercerisella,
  53. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus,
  54. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia,
  55. Rusty Tussock Moth caterpillar, Orgyia antiqua
  56. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciose,
  57. Silver Hairgrass, Aira caryophyllea,
  58. Spittlebug, Meadow Spittlebug, Philaenus spumarius,
  59. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus,
  60. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor,
  61. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata,
  62. Western Bluebird, Sialia mexicana,
  63. Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
  64. Western Gray Squirrel, Sciurus griseus,
  65. Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis,
  66. White Horehound, Marrubium vulgare,
  67. Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa,
  68. Woodland Skipper, Ochlodes sylvanoides,

It was “Buggy” Out There Today, 04-27-19

I got up a little before 6:00 am and headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk.  I wanted to get there by 6:30 so I could beat the heat for today.  Actually, the weather was rather pleasant all day, but anything over 70° is uncomfortable for me when I’m outside.

When I got there, The-Other-Mary, Mary Messenger, another volunteer trail-walker at Effie Yeaw, was there wanting to join me, and my friend/naturalist/volunteer Roxanne Moger also showed up. So, we had a nice time looking at all the little stuff that was around us.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

Roxanne and I were more focused on bugs and galls this time around than the larger animals, so we were moving really slowly, investigating the leaves of plants and using the macro-settings on our cameras.  I actually like the quality of the macro-photos better on my cell phone than on my camera (it can get in tighter and more clearly), so I was using that a lot.  The best finds of the day were made by Roxanne who discovered a Tiger Swallowtail butterfly in a tree and a California Alligator Lizard hiding in some clover.  The alligator lizards are super-common in Southern California, but we don’t see them much here, so finding one is always fun.

We located a Black Phoebe nest, found out where an Oak titmouse was hiding out in a tree (that was guarded at the moment we saw it by a Western Fence Lizard), and also saw a Starling leave her nesting cavity with a white glob in her beak. She threw the glob down in a field and kept on flying.  I’m assuming she was doing housekeeping and tossed the babies’ fecal sacs.

We saw a few deer, including a pair of bucks in their velvet. One of the bucks decided to do a head-scratching maneuver that, at the same time, flashed his junk at us.  Hah!  How rude!  I also came across a doe who was having a sneezing fit.  I don’t know if she snuffled up something while she was browsing or what, but she was loud!

The elderberry bushes are just starting to flower-out, as are the Buckeye chestnut trees. The few plum trees in the preserve already have plums on them, and some were starting to turn purple.

On the walk, we came across both Oak Apple wasp galls and Live Oak wasp galls.  And, as for the insects, I saw Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillars and butterflies, Painted Lady caterpillars and butterflies, some Tussock Moth caterpillars, Craneflies, some bumble bees, hover flies, damselflies (including a male and female Pacific Forktail), Soldier Beetles, ladybugs, aphids and some Spittle Bug spit and other critters. There are so many teeny-tinies around.

By this time of the spring, some of the butterflies are already looking pretty ragged. I saw several of them with tears in their wings and frayed edges.  I think some of the damage is done by the grasses that grow up around the flowers and plants the butterflies utilize. The razor-edges of the grass can cut human skin, so I can only imagine how quickly they can damage the fragile wings of the butterflies.

I walked for about 4 hours and then headed home.

Species List:

1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus,
2. American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus,
3. Aphids, superfamily Aphidoidea,
4. Asian Lady Beetle, Harmonia axyridis,
5. Bedstraw, Cleavers, Galium aparine,
6. Billbug, Weevil, Sphenophorus sp.,
7. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
8. Black Walnut Erineum Mite galls, Eriophyes erinea,
9. Black Walnut, Juglans nigra,
10. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus cerulea,
11. Blue Oak, Quercus douglasii,
12. Blue Penstemon, Penstemon azureus,
13. Bush Monkey Flower, Mimulus aurantiacus,
14. Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus,
15. California Buckeye Tree, Aesculus californica,
16. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
17. California Manroot, Bigroot, Marah fabaceus,
18. California Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta,
19. California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica,
20. California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica,
21. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica,
22. Camel Cricket, Gammarotettix bilobatus,
23. Catface Spider, Araneus gemmoides,
24. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus,
25. Common Catchfly, Silene gallica,
26. Common Fringepod, Thysanocarpus curvipes,
27. Common Popcorn Flower, Plagiobothrys stipitatus,
28. Common Yarrow, Achillea millefolium,
29. Convergent Lady Beetle nymph, Hippodamia convergens,
30. Cranefly, family Tipulidae,
31. Deer Grass, Muhlenbergia rigens,
32. Desert Cottontail, Sylvilagus audubonii,
33. Dog Vomit Slime Mold, Fuligo septica,
34. Dogtail Grass, Cynosurus echinatus,
35. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris,
36. Fiery Skipper, Hylephila phyleus,
37. Foxtail Barley, Hordeum murinum,
38. Gold Dust Lichen, Chrysothrix candelaris,
39. Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata,
40. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon,
41. Indian Paintbrush, Castilleja affinis,
42. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni,
43. Italian Thistle, Carduus pycnocephalus,
44. Ithuriel’s Spears, Triteleia laxa,
45. Leafhopper, Chlorotettix sp.,
46. Miniature Lupine, Lupinus bicolor,
47. Moth caterpillar, possibly Amphipyra brunneoatra
48. Oak Apple Wasp Gall, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
49. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus,
50. Oakmoss Lichen, Evernia prunastri,
51. Olive Tree, Olea europaea,
52. Pacific Forktail damselfly, Ischnura cervula,
53. Painted Lady butterfly, Vanessa cardui,
54. Periwinkle, Vinca major,
55. Pink Grass, Windmill Pink, Petrorhagia dubia,
56. Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta,
57. Plum, Prunus cerasifera,
58. Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum,
59. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus,
60. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia,
61. Rock Shield Lichen, Xanthoparmelia conspersa,
62. Rose Clover, Trifolium hirtum,
63. Rusty Tussock Moth caterpillar, Orgyia antiqua,
64. Sedge, Tall Cyperus, Cyperus eragrostis,
65. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciose,
66. Soldier Beetle, Brown Leatherwing Beetle, Pacificanthia consors,
67. Spittlebug, Meadow Spittlebug, Philaenus spumarius,
68. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus,
69. Spring Vetch, Vicia sativa,
70. Strawberry Clover, Trifolium fragiferum,
71. Sunburst Lichen, Xanthoria elegans,
72. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata,
73. Valley Tassels, Castilleja attenuate,
74. Western Bluebird, Sialia mexicana,
75. Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
76. Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis,
77. Western Tiger Swallowtail butterfly, Papilio rutulus,
78. White Horehound, Marrubium vulgare,
79. Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa,
80. Yerba Santa, Eriodictyon californicum,

A Little Bit of Everything, 04-24-19

I got up around 5:30 this morning because the dog needed to get outside. Since I was up, I decided to stay up, and after giving the dog his breakfast, I got dressed and went out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for my walk. I was sunny and already about 53° when I left the house. When I got back home around 11:00 am it was 78°.

During my walk I saw but couldn’t get photos of a couple of Bullock’s Orioles, a male Rubyspot damselfly, and several White-Lined Sphinx Moths. The Rubyspot was a bright red male, and I was so bummed that I wasn’t able to get a photo of it. The Orioles and Sphinx moths were whizzing around, so I couldn’t get my camera to focus on them. Gotta be fast when you’re photographing nature!

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

I was able to get photos of other critters including an Oak Titmouse with a small caterpillar in its beak, a Turkey Vulture sunning himself on the top of a tree, and several Western Fence Lizards including a male courting a female, and another female who looked really gravid (pregnant, full of eggs).

A one point along the trail I found a nesting cavity in the side of a tree and saw Tree Swallows, an Acorn Woodpecker, and a House Wren all seemingly fighting for it. The Tree Swallows out-numbered the other two species at the tree, so I’m assuming they’re taking that spot.

I also found a couple of squirrel dreys (nests), including one near the Maidu Village near the nature center. The squirrels there had pulled tules out of the tule hut on display and used them in their nest. Hah! And I found a Bushtit nest in a spot where it was surrounded by Pipevine.

The Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies were flittering all over the place. At on spot, I came across a vine where the caterpillars hat just hatched from their eggs and were busy eating the shells. Another cool sighting was a Snakefly. I found a female (obviously by her long dagger-like ovipositor) sitting on a leaf and got a photo and video snippet of her before she rushed away.

So, it was a good walk.

Species List:

1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus,
2. American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus,
3. American Robin, Turdus migratorius,
4. American Rubyspot Damselfly, Hetaerina americana,
5. Ant, Little Black Ant, Monomorium minimum
6. Aphids, superfamily Aphidoidea,
7. Ash-Throated Flycatcher, Myiarchus cinerascens,
8. Bedstraw, Cleavers, Galium aparine,
9. Black Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus,
10. Black Walnut Erineum Mite galls, Eriophyes erinea,
11. Black Walnut, Juglans nigra,
12. Blue Oak, Quercus douglasii,
13. Blue Penstemon, Penstemon azureus,
14. Bullock’s Oriole, Icterus bullockii,
15. Bush Sunflower, Encelia californica,
16. Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus,
17. California Buckeye, Aesculus californica,
18. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi,
19. Groundsel, Senecio sp.,
20. California Manroot, Bigroot, Marah fabaceus,
21. California Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta,
22. California Pipevine, Aristolochia californica,
23. California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica,
24. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica,
25. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis,
26. Clover, Strawberry Clover, Trifolium fragiferum,
27. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus,
28. Common Catchfly, Silene gallica,
29. Common Fringepod, Thysanocarpus curvipes,
30. Desert Cottontail, Sylvilagus audubonii,
31. Dogtail Grass, Cynosurus echinatus,
32. Douglas Iris, Iris douglasiana,
33. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger,
34. Golden-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla,
35. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus,
36. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon,
37. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni,
38. Italian Thistle, Carduus pycnocephalus,
39. Leaf Miner, Cameraria sp.,
40. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
41. Live Oak Gall Wasp gall, 1st Generation, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis
42. Live Oak Gall Wasp gall, 2nd Generation, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis
43. Long-Jawed Orb Weaver Spider, Tetragnatha sp.,
44. Lupine, Lupinus sp.,
45. Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos,
46. Mayfly, possibly Hexagenia limbate,
47. Miniature Lupine, Lupinus bicolor,
48. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura,
49. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii,
50. Oak Apple Gall Wasp gall, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
51. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus,
52. Pacific Rattlesnake, Crotalus oreganus,
53. Pink Grass, Windmill Pink, Petrorhagia dubia,
54. Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum,
55. Q-Tips, Slender Cottonweed, Micropus californicus var. californicus,
56. Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Regulus calendula,
57. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciose,
58. Snakefly, Agulla sp.,
59. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus,
60. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor,
61. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura,
62. Valley Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa varipuncta,
63. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata,
64. Valley Tassels, Castilleja attenuate,
65. Vetch, Vicia sp.,
66. Wavy-Leaf Soap Plant, Chlorogalum pomeridianum,
67. Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
68. Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis,
69. White Horehound, Marrubium vulgare,
70. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis,
71. White-Lined Sphynx Moth, Hyles lineata,
72. Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa,
73. Yellow-Faced Bumblebee, Bombus vosnesenskii,

Going Back to Bear Valley Road, 04-22-19

I got up around 5:00 am and was out the door with the dog before 6:00 am.  I wanted to check out the wildflowers along Bear Valley Road again to see if I could find the Most Beautiful Jewel Flower that was spotted there during the last Tuleyome driving tour.  Trying to drive the car on a dirt road, with sheer cliff walls on one side and a drop into a deep ravine on the other, while I tried to search for a tiny plant with nearly black flowers on it proved… difficult. Hah!  So, I didn’t find that flower, but I did see some I hadn’t seen the last time I was out there, and I was also compensated with the surprise find of an in-the-wild Burrowing Owl in one of the cattle ranch fields!

I saw what I thought at first was a ground squirrel poking its head up in a field, so I stopped the car to get some photos of it. As I zoomed in with the camera, I realized I wasn’t looking at a squirrel, I was looking at a Burrowing Owl. Cool! I’d met one at the Sacramento Zoo, but I had never seen one in its natural habitat before. I got out of the car to try to get closer to the fence that separated me from the owl, but the car door blew shut with a bang(!). [[It was windy out there.]]  The owl hunkered down near the opening of its burrow, which made it a lot more difficult to photograph, but I was glad I got to see it at all.

On another part of the road, I saw some Red-Winged Blackbirds mobbing a crow in the air. They were dive-bombing at him and grabbing at him.  Then I saw him land on the ground and thought that was weird of him because it made him an easier target for the blackbirds.  But then I saw the crow pick up a small blue egg out of a nest hidden in the long grass. I’m not sure, but I think the crow swallowed it. (I didn’t see him drop it.)  One of the blackbirds landed on the ground behind the crow and then rushed up again, smacking the crow in the back of the head, but the crow didn’t move right away. Instead, he reached down into the nest again. Two of the blackbirds attacked him once more and were finally successful in chasing him off.  I couldn’t see into the nest, so I’m not sure how much damage the crow did, but it seems like any nest on the ground is easy-pickings.

I always thought the blackbirds built their nests near water at the base of tules and other tall vegetation, so I was surprised there was one on the ground in an open field filled with roaming cattle.  According to the Audubon website, though, the birds also nest “in dense grass in fields. Nest (built by female) is bulky open cup, lashed to standing vegetation, made of grass, leaves, rootlets, lined with fine grass.” I love learning new stuff like this!

There were a lot of California Quails all along the sides of the road, several coveys.  But they moved too quickly for me to get any decent photos of them. There were also Killdeer along the road but, again, no photos.

And I saw some Western Kingbirds in what I think was part of their courtship displays.  There were also lot of them along the fence lines on the side of the road. Another nice surprise was being able to see a lovely Lark Sparrow. I hardly ever see those guys, and I think the patterns on their faces are so pretty.

CLICK HERE for the photos from today.

I stopped at the Keegan Ranch, which allows you to come onto the property to experience the wildflowers there, and I got to see a LOT of flowers. The fields were like “oceans” of them, with cattle “swimming” through them.  I also watched while a rancher on horseback rounded up some cows and their calves with the help of a handful of herding dogs. This ranch and the adjoining Epperson Ranch are actually protected by conservation easements (since 2016).  So, they cannot be drastically changed or built upon in perpetuity.

According to an article on them by the California Rangeland Trust: “From the rare serpentine soils, extensive wildflower fields and native grasses to the productive rangeland, this working cattle ranch is a great example of how ranchers can work with conservation groups to voluntarily protect the natural environment and sustain a way of life. These ranches are the first in California to be funded by NRCS’s Grasslands of Special Environmental Significance under its Agricultural Conservation Easement Program. The Keegan and Epperson Ranches are a great example of a multi-agency and private partnership that will protect vital habitats for plants and wildlife, expand and protect wildlife corridors, and will help wildlife adapt to climate change in perpetuity. Conservation of these ranches helps meet several goals aimed at reducing pressures to the Northern California Interior Coast Range Ecoregion outlined in California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s 2015 State Wildlife Action Plan…”

Combined, the ranches comprise 4,049 acres of now-protected landscape.  Makes me love this place even more.

My dog, Sergeant Margie, was great through the whole drive.  We stopped every once in a while so I could take photos, and when I did, I let him out to pee. On the way home, I had to go potty so I drove up Highway 16 a little ways to use the restrooms at Cowboy Camp.  One of the restroom buildings was locked, and the other one had no handle on the door.  I used that one, but had no privacy, obviously. Then I stopped at a Shell station in Williams and got a sandwich and cucumber smoothie for supper.

I got home around 2:30 pm.  Another long day.

Species List:

1. American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos,
2. Big Heron’s Bill, Erodium botrys,
3. Bird’s Eye Gilia, Gilia tricolor,
4. Black Angus Cattle, Bos Taurus,
5. Blister Beetle, Black Blister Beetle, Epicauta pennsylvanica,
6. Blow Wives, Achyrachaena mollis,
7. Blue Dicks, Dichelostemma capitatum,
8. Blue Witch Nightshade, Solanum umbelliferum,
9. Bulbous Blue Grass, Poa bulbosa,
10. Burrowing Owl, Athene cunicularia,
11. Bush Lupine, Silver Bush Lupine, Lupinus albifrons,
12. Butter Lupine, Lupinus luteolus,
13. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi,
14. California Plantain, Plantago erecta,
15. California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica,
16. California Quail, Callipepla californica,
17. Canyon Live-Forever, Dudleya cymose,
18. Caterpillar Flower, Lacy Phacelia, Phacelia tanacetifolia,
19. Clover, Rabbitfoot Clover, Trifolium arvense,
20. Clover, Strawberry Clover, Trifolium fragiferum
21. Clover, Rose Clover, Trifolium hirtum,
22. Common Fiddleneck, Amsinckia intermedia,
23. Common Mustard, Brassica rapa,
24. Cream Cups, Platystemon californicus.
25. European Honeybee, Apis mellifera,
26. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris,
27. Frying Pan Poppy, Eschscholzia lobbii,
28. Giant Death Camas, Zigadenus exaltatus,
29. Goldfields, Lasthenia californica,
30. Gray Pine, Pinus sabiniana,
31. Hawkweed, Hieracium argutum,
32. Hereford Cattle, Bos taurus,
33. Hog Fennel, Lomatium utriculatum,
34. Holstein Cattle, Bos taurus,
35. Indian Paintbrush, Castilleja affinis,
36. Ithuriel’s Spears, Triteleia laxa,
37. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous,
38. Lark Sparrow, Chondestes grammacus,
39. Larkspur, Delphinium decorum,
40. Lupine, Lupinus sp.,
41. Milk Vetch, unidentified, Astragalus sp.,
42. Miniature Lupine, Lupinus bicolor,
43. Mountain Dandelion, Agoseris heterophylla,
44. Mule’s Ears, Smooth Mules Ears, Wyethia glabra,
45. Owl’s Clover, Dense Flower Owl’s clover, Castilleja densiflora,
46. Painted Lady butterfly, Vanessa cardui,
47. Pepperweed, Common Pepper Grass, Lepidium densiflorum,
48. Q Tips, Slender Cottonweed, Micropus californicus var. californicus,
49. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus,
50. Shepherd’s Purse, Capsella bursa-pastoris,
51. Sierra Tidy Tips, Layia pentachaeta ssp. pentachaeta,
52. Silver Puffs, Uropappus lindleyi,
53. Snowbrush, Ceanothus velutinus,
54. Tamarisk, Salt Cedar, Tamarix parviflora,
55. Tidy Tips, Fremont’s Tidy Tips, Layia fremontii,
56. Tidy Tips, Smooth Tidy Tips, Layia chrysanthemoides,
57. True Babystars, Leptosiphon bicolor,
58. Valley Tassels, Castilleja attenuate,
59. Wallflower, Erysimum capitatum,
60. Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
61. Western Hawksbeard, Crepis occidentalis,
62. Western Kingbird, Tyrannus verticalis,
63. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta,
64. Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis,
65. Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa,
66. Yellow-Faced Bumblebee, Bombus vosnesenskii,

Lots of Springtime Insects, 04-20-19

I got up around 6:30 this morning and headed out to the American River Bend Park. It was overcast and in the 50’s when I went out, but by the time I got back home, around noon, the clouds were breaking up, and it was sunny and breezy for the rest of the day. Just lovely.

I wanted to see if I could find butterfly eggs at the park, and I was able to find some, but only on my way out. So, it was a long wait for the pay off, but I found a pipevine with several groupings of eggs on it. Actually, my photos turned into a kind of unintentional “study of pipevines” with pictures of the leaves, twining vines, seed pods, etc. It’s such a cool-looking plant.  In Victorian Era gardens it was all the rage; now people don’t plant it much anymore – and I think that’s partly because everything but the vines themselves die off each year, so it just looks “ropey” for half of the year.  It’s a boon to the Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies, though, who literally can’t live without it.

CLICK HERE for today’s photos.

While I was there, I saw a European Starling come out of her nesting cavity, so I waited by the tree to see if I could get a photo of her when she came back. Smart bird, though, she flew in behind me, making me turn as she went by, and went back into her cavity with an angry grumble.

I also saw some Wild Turkeys, including a leucistic female, and while I was watching them a bonded pair of Mallards came flying in and landed right near my feet. There was also a bonded pair of Common Mergansers on the bank of the river. These ducks are sometimes referred to as “Sawbills” because their bills have a serrated edge, which helps them hold onto the fish they catch. (They’re fish-eating diving ducks, as opposed to filter-feeding dabbling ducks like the Mallards.)

Saw lots of Craneflies (Mosquito Hawks) all over the place and Elder Moth caterpillars in the elderberry leaves. There were also a lot of Tussock Moth caterpillars, little nests of earwigs, some micromoths, and a mayfly that had just shed and was hanging next to its exuvia. This time of the year is soooooooooooooo interesting! I was surprised to see the earwigs snuggled in the tops of mugwort plants. I thought mugwort was a kind of natural insect repellent. I guess no one told the earwigs.

There were a lot of still-green Oak Apple galls in the trees, but I was really happy to come across some second-generation galls from the Live Oak Gall Wasp.  The first-generation galls are really obvious and visible: round balls covered in spines.  The second-generation galls are tiny and sit on the back of the leaves; they look like upside down volcanoes. Finding them is difficult, so I’m always excited when I get to see them.  The first generation of this wasp is comprised of all females that reproduce asexually, and the second generation is comprised of males and females that reproduce sexually. Cool, huh?

And while I was watching a male House Wren, I saw him look down below him. There was female down there with a feather in her beak. I’m assuming they had a nesting cavity near there somewhere and she was literally feathering her nest. Awwww!

I overdid it again today – because there’s so frigging much to see – and didn’t get back home until around 11:30. Four-and-a-half hours of walking; my body was really mad at me for the rest of the day.

Species List:

1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus,
2. Bedstraw, Velcro Grass, Cleavers, Galium aparine
3. Black Walnut, Juglans nigra
4. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus
5. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus cerulea
6. California Buckeye, Aesculus californica
7. California Manroot, Marah fabaceus
8. California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana
9. California Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta
10. California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica
11. Click Beetle, Conoderus exsul
12. Common Earwig, Forficula auricularia
13. Common Merganser, Mergus merganser
14. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
15. Elder Moth caterpillar, Zotheca tranquilla
16. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
17. Flatheaded Mayfly, family Heptageniidae
18. Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata
19. Hoptree,Common Hoptree, Ptelea trifoliata
20. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon
21. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
22. Italian Thistle, Carduus pycnocephalus
23. Lace Lichen, Ramalina menziesii
24. Ladybeetle, Convergent Ladybug, Hippodamia convergens
25. Ladybeetle, Multicolored Asian Ladybug, Harmonia axyridis
26. Large Cranefly, family Tipulidae
27. Little Robin Geranium, Herb Robert, Geranium purpureum
28. Live Oak Gall Wasp gall, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis, 2nd generation
29. Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos
30. Miner’s Lettuce, Claytonia parviflora
31. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
32. Oak Apple Gall Wasp gall, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
33. Pink Grass, Windmill Pink, Petrorhagia dubia
34. Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
35. Puffball Fugus, Bovista dermoxantha
36. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
37. Rusty Tussock Moth caterpillar, Orgyia antiqua
38. Santa Barbara Sedge, Carex barbarae
39. Scarab Hunter Wasp, Dielis tolteca
40. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
41. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
42. Turkey Tail Fungus, Trametes versicolor
43. Twirler Moth, Mompha sp.
44. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
45. Vetch, American Vetch, Vicia americana
46. Vetch, Winter Vetch, Hairy Vetch, Vicia villosa ssp. villosa
47. Western Bluebird, Sialia mexicana
48. White Horehound, Marrubium vulgare

Behind-The-Scenes “Natives” Tour, 04-18-19

Today, I was treated to a behind-the-scenes “natives” tour at the reptile house and got to visit with a Burrowing Owl at the Sacramento Zoo.  There were two school buses full of kids there, so I didn’t hang around much after the tour, but I still got to see and learn some cool stuff.  My tour guides were Kathryn, a keeper named Bill (who did all the reptile house stuff) and a keeper named Mike who showed me the Burrowing Owl.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

Inside the back of the reptile house it was warm and kind of humid (which is what most of the reptile need to feel comfortable). The place is laid out like a snake, in a serpentine pattern, with the back sides of the habitat enclosures along the outer walls and other tanks and materials along the center spaces and inside walls. Each enclosure has pouches on the door with cards that tell when the animals’ feeding scheduled are and what work has taken place during the week, and also give the keepers detailed information on each animal inside the enclosure.  Some of the enclosures have one or two specimens inside, but others, like the one for the tiny Dart Frogs, can have a dozen individuals in them. Somehow – usually by color pattern – the keepers can tell who each individual is.  Everybody gets weighed about once a week to make sure they’re on track physically.

The first thing I had to do when I got inside the reptile house was dip the soles of my boots in a disinfectant bath to make sure I wasn’t tracking in anything that might harm the animals inside. (And we did the same thing just before leaving the building.)

Some of the critters don’t get enough UV light inside their enclosures (because the light is set in the ceiling of the enclosures and the animals (like turtles) can’t climb up to it.  So, sometimes the critters are taken off exhibit and allowed to bask under UV lights in separate terrariums to make sure they get all the “sun” they need. When I was there, they had some handsome Hamilton’s Pond Turtles (Geoclemys hamiltonii) doing the basking thing. The Hamilton’s have beautiful black-and-white polka dotted faces. I don’t remember ever seeing them before, so getting to meet a couple of them was a treat.  [They’re native to the Ganges, not California.]

I also got to see the Venomous Bite Alarm: a red phone that automatically connects directly with the local fire department.  So, if a keeper or a guest gets bitten by a venomous snake, all someone has to do is knock the receiver off the phone and an alert goes out to emergency personnel who are dispatched immediately.  All of the enclosures that hold the venomous snakes also have red warning cards on them, and a garbage can underneath the door, so if the snake lunges out at someone, it falls into the can instead of on a person.  Sometimes, the low-tech stuff is what works best.

And I got to see the food room for the reptile house, which is kept separate from the food storage for the other animals in the zoo because it’s comprised mostly of live insects and small frozen mice. There were egg crates crawling with live crickets and bottles of different kinds of worms… Some of the creatures, though, are vegetarians, so there are also greens, small flowers and other goodies for them to eat.

The tour was so cool! I got so much information from the staffers, that I don’t know if I’ll remember it all. But I’ll give you some of the highlights.

I got to see the zoo’s California Newt (Taricha torosa), our state’s endemic newt (found here and nowhere else on earth).  The are considered a Species of Special Concern because their numbers are dropping due to habitat loss and having to deal with invasive species like Bullfrogs and Red-Eared Slider Turtles. They’re often confused with Rough-Skinned Newts and Red Bellied Newts, but although they’re all from the same genus, they are separate species.

The newt’s poison (which it excretes through its skin) is so potent, it can kill a dog within 4 minutes. It’s believed that the Common Gartersnake is immune to the toxin.

California Newts breed in February and March in the wild. To keep the newts from going into breeding mode with its associated “water drive” (that causes them to leave their terrestrial homes to go find water in which to breed, preferably the same water source in which they were born) the zoo controls the temperature of their habitat to “skip” the spring and jump from winter directly to a cool summer.  So far, depriving the newts of their spring time doesn’t seem to adversely affect them.  Because their habitat had to be kept cooler and drier than the rest of the reptiles’ habitats, they have their own room that’s kept around 65° for most of the year.

Like the California Newt, the California Tiger Salamander (Ambystoma californiense) prefers the cool weather, too, so it’s kept in the same enclosure as the newt.  It’s also a native and endemic species. It’s considered an Endangered Species and is gone from most of the state.  A “mole salamander”, it spends most of its life underground and only comes out for any extended period of time to breed.  Although they go through courtship rituals, the males and females don’t actually touch one another to reproduce. The males deposit balls of sperm on the ground or in the water, and the female then drags her body over it.

They breed in vernal pools which are temporary water features, so the baby salamanders either have to develop, absorb their gills and start breathing with their lungs before the pools dry up, or they have to “overwinter”, buried under the ground in a sort of stasis that can last for a year or more and then finish developing the next spring. Amazing.

The spots on their bodies can change as they age, but are always unique to each individual, so the keepers at the zoo can tell who’s who by looking at and tracking the spots.

Next up was the California Giant Garter Snake (Thamnophis gigas). A threatened species, and another endemic one, they’ve lost about 98% of their habitat (!) so there are a lot of efforts throughout the Sacramento Valley to try to reestablish habitat for them – and a lot of that is in and around rice fields. The zoo got their female, which is the snake I met, from a farm after she’d been accidentally run over by some of their equipment. Her body has scars on it she’s blind in one eye, and a good portion of her tail is missing… but she was very mellow and seemed very comfortable with her keeper, who said that these snakes, despite their size, aren’t as aggressive as other gartersnakes and seldom bite. Their defense mechanism is to dive under water (they spend the majority of their time in or around water) or “skunk” their attacker with musk from their cloaca.

The Giant Gartersnake can grow up to 5½ feet long, and although some of the other gartersnake species can get almost as long as the Giants, they don’t have the Giants’ girth. These are thick snakes, like rope. Their diet is mostly made up of aquatic species, lots of fish and frogs.

Then I got to meet one of the zoo’s Common Chuckwallas (Sauromalus ater), a big male with orange staining on his back. I always forget that we have these guys live in this state. I always think of them being from Arizona or Nevada… They do “push-ups” like our Western Fence Lizards do as a warning and territorial display, but their main defense is their skin.  They have extra skin hanging from their sides that they can inflate, like a balloon, when they feel threatened. Usually, they’ll climb into a rock crevice, inflate their bodies to wedge themselves in, and wait for whatever is bothering them to leave.  Bill, their keeper, said he could tell what their mood was like just by how they felt in his hands. The male Chuckwalla was super docile, and I bet he could have gone to sleep if Bill hadn’t kept moving him this way and that so I could take photos of him.

They have special longer scales around their ears (tympanic membranes) to protect them when the lizard digs into the ground or wedges itself in rocks. And they also secrete excess salt from their nose – which Bill says then then rub onto the front of the glass of their enclosure, dirtying up the glass with their salty snot. Hah!

Although they have a pair of Chuckwallas, a male and a female, the male has yet to fertilize any of the eggs the female lays.  Sometimes, they can tell the female is pregnant with eggs, but then she reabsorbed them into her body before they get laid because they don’t get fertilized. Interesting.

Their diet consists of nothing but veggies, and I got to see some of their feeding dishes with included a variety of greens and little flowers, and some protein powder.

Next up was the Pacific Pond Turtle (Actinemys marmorata), California’s endemic turtle which is considered a “vulnerable” species. It’s lost a lot of its territory to the invasive Red Eared Slider Turtle which was brought into California for the pet trade, but then – when people found out how difficult water turtles are to keep – they were just dumped in the wild.

Unlike the Slider Turtles, the Pond Turtles have smooth marginal scutes (the “scales” along the edge of the shell in the rear) and they don’t shed their scutes. Instead, to grow, the scutes add rings to the outer rim of each one (like the rings of a tree). Like the Slider Turtles, male Pond Turtles wave their fingernails in front of the female’s face as part of the courtship ritual.

There are a couple of different ways to tell the males from the females at a glance. The easiest way it to look at the skin under the chin: if it’s a plain creamy color, it’s a male; if it has spots, it’s a female.  The female’s cloaca is also closer to the edge of the shell than the male’s is.  Both sexes have flat plastrons (the bottom half of the shell).  In some other turtle species, the female’s is flat, and the male’s is concave (so he can climb up on top of the female’s shell without rocking off).

As an aside: the Sacramento Zoo is the only zoo in the country that has a clutch of natural-born Pond Turtles. There’s a pond on the zoo property that local wild turtles went into and where they had their babies. At first, the zoo staff didn’t know that they were there, but then they saw crows snatching the babies out of the water, so the staff rushed in to rescue the little ones and now keep them as exhibit animals °and breeding stock.

When we were done with the reptile house visit, Kathryn walked me out to behind the amphitheater where their teaching animals are housed.  These included Cameron the Bateleur Eagle, Foster the Laughing Kookaburra, Charlie the Great Horned Owl, and sister Burrowing Owls, Sapphire and Ruby.

Cameron greeted us by lifting her hackles and bowing down on her perch. Rather than it being a threatening gesture, what she was actually doing was asking for someone to scratch her neck. Hah!  Charlie was being quiet in his enclosure, peeking out between some lengths of fire hose. He was a rescue and release owl who refused to fly off when he and his fellows were released in the wild. He just sat on the ground, preferring to be with humans than other owls.  Mike the keeper who looks after the educational animals, said that it’s the breeding season right now, so a lot of wild owls have been flying into the trees around Charlie’s enclosure eyeing him and hooting to him. Hah!

What I really wanted to see were the Burrowing Owls (Athene cunicularia), and Mike brought out one of them on the glove so I could get a close look at it. The zoo has several Burrowing Owls, but the educational ones are sisters, Ruby and Sapphire. Ruby was being anti-social this morning, so Mike brought out Sapphire. She was super mellow, and just sat on his hand, looking around while he talked about her.  (He said she has the worst mouth-breath, but I didn’t notice that. Hah!)  The owls, which are native to California, are losing their habitat all over the state, so they’re considered a vulnerable species and Species of Special Concern.

In most raptor species, the females are larger than the males, but this isn’t true of the Burrowing Owls. Males are larger and have a lighter color than the females.

It was so great to see all of the animals up so close. I got to touch most of them (except for the newt and the owl) and took photos of everyone. It was a fun tour; I’m so glad I was able to do it.