At the Ibis Rookery Again, 06-26-19

It was kind of a whirlwind trip today: left the house at 9:15 am, got to Woodland around 10:15, went to the White-Faced Ibis rookery at 10:30, and left the rookery around 12:30 pm.  Phew!  The weather did cooperate. There’s no shade at the rookery and I was worried it would be too hot there, but it was in the 70’s with a stiff breeze blowing, so temperature-wise it was nice.  The wind kind of played havoc with my birding scope, though, and threatened to knock it over a few times, so I had to put it back into the car.

 I was joined at the rookery by my naturalist graduates Karlyn, Kristie and her husband Joe (and their son-in-law Zak) and three of my current students Alison, Linda and Gina. They had never been there before and were surprised by the number of birds they were seeing right there in the middle of town.

The water in the pond where the ibises were actually seemed HIGHER today than it was the last time I was there and some of the established nests were already underwater.  You’d think the people who control the pond would take that into consideration. I saw several eggs abandoned and floating in the water. So sad.

Along with the large gathering of ibises – talking to each other, gathering nesting material, sitting on their nests, flying back and forth – we also saw a few American Coots (one sitting on a nest and a few with babies), some Killdeer, a female Great-Tailed Grackle, some turtles (but we couldn’t tell if they were the native species or not), Black Saddlebags and Variegated Meadowhawk dragonflies and Familiar Bluet damselflies, including a pair “in wheel” (mating).

Watching the ibises pull nesting material from the bank I was surprised to see that they didn’t go for the dried grass. Instead, they drew up soggy grass from under the water at the edge of the pond and yanked it out by the beakful.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

Video of Ibis Pair on the Nest: https://youtu.be/463dIw919Qs.  At the end of the video you see the male handing the female a stick.
Video of Coot Mama Feeding her Babies: https://youtu.be/h6ayF3sNIJI
Video of a Coot Carrying a Stick to its Nesting Site: https://youtu.be/VM8Ucg-DCp0

At the rookery, we also talked a little bit about the floating nests made by the ibises, grebes and American Coots. According to The Earthlife Web: “Coots build nests which though surrounded by water have a foundation of vegetation, which reaches the ground below. Interestingly the Horned Coot, Fulica cornuta, which breeds on mountain lakes in the Andes where water weed is scarce, build a foundation of stones nearly to water level before building the actual nest. More adventurous are various grebes. Grebes build the nests in shallow water, and though they are often anchored at one or two points they are basically floating on the water. This is necessary because grebes which are primarily water birds are very clumsy on land and find life works better if they can swim right onto the nest.”

I really suspect that the Coot there had actually commandeered the ibises’ nests rather than building their own. Hah!

The students all seemed to enjoy themselves. One of them, Alison, actually did some quick watercolor paintings of the birds while we were there.  A couple of the students also complimented me on the classes and said I was “a natural teacher”.  It was such a nice outing.

Species List:

  1. American Coot, Fulica americana,
  2. Familiar Bluet, Enallagma civile,
  3. Heliotrope, Heliotropium curassavicum var. oculatum,
  4. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos,
  5. Tules, Schoenoplectus acutus,
  6. Variegated Meadowhawk, Sympetrum corruptum,
  7. White-Faced Ibis, Plegadis chihi,

Lots of Critters… and a Beaver, 06-20-19

Up at 5:00 am again. I let the dog out to go potty and fed him his breakfast then headed over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for my weekly volunteer Trail-Walking gig.  It was a gorgeous 58° when I got to the preserve and was overcast, so it never got over about 68° while I was there.  Perfect walking weather.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

One of the first things I saw was a Red-Shouldered Hawk carrying nesting materials. First she flew over my head, then she landed on a tree to get a better grip on the grasses she was holding before taking off again. These hawks only have one brood a year, but often work on the nest throughout the year to keep it clean.  It’s no uncommon for them to use the same nest over several season if the first nest is successful.  Later in my walk, I went by where I knew one of the hawks’ nest was and found a juvenile (fledgling) sitting out beside it squawking for its parents to come feed it. It was capable of feeding itself, but some of these young’uns milk the I’m-just-a-baby thing for quite a while. While it was near the nest, it was hard to get photos of it because it was backlit, but later it flew out and I was able to get a few better photos of it when it landed in a nearby tree.

There were a lot of deer out today, but I didn’t see any fawns. I DID see a couple of bucks, though, both of them still in their velvet, a 2-pointer and one with wonky antlers (one super-long one and one stumpy one). The 2-pointer was walking with a doe, and when I stood on the trail to take photos of them, he decided he didn’t like that.  He stepped right out toward me with a very determined look on his face. (Bucks can get real possessive of “their” does.) I knew he wouldn’t rush me and try to gore me because he was still in his velvet.  In that state, the antlers are super-sensitive to touch, and if he rammed me, he’d actually hurt himself.  But, he could still outrun me mash me with his hooves if he had a mind to, so I put my head down and back away.  That seemed to be enough of a submissive posture to him, and he returned to his doe.  As beautiful as the deer are, I have to remind myself that they’re still wild animals and will do whatever their instincts tell them to do – even in a nature park.

I heard and caught glimpses of several Nuttall’s Woodpeckers on my walk, but never got enough of a look at one to take its picture. Those birds enjoy teasing people, I swear. They’re really loud about announcing themselves in flight, but then hide from you once they land.

The wild plum and elderberry bushes are all getting their ripened fruit now. I saw birds eating some of the berries and came across an Eastern Fox Squirrel breakfasting on the plums.

Along the river, there was a small flock of Canada Geese feeding (bottoms-up in the shallow water) with a female Common Merganser fishing among them. They eat different things, so the geese were stirring up the water plants and the Merganser would grab any small fish that appeared. Unintentional mutualism.  While I was watching them, I saw something else in the water, swimming against the current and realized it was a beaver! 

I went down as close to the shore as I could – (It’s hard for me to clamber over the rocks.) – and tried to get some photos of it. Photo-taking was difficult because the beaver stayed close to shore and was obscured by the tules and other riverside plants and scrubby trees. When it got into less cluttered spots, in was in the shade, and my camera had trouble focusing between the dark and the reflections on the water.  So, I walked ahead of where I thought the beaver was heading to a sunnier spot and waited for it… and waited for it… and then I heard a splash and realized it had swum under the water right past me and came up in the river behind me.  Hah!  Sneaky Pete!  

I walked for about 4 hours and then headed back home.

Species List:

  1. American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus,
  2. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii,
  3. Black Harvester Ant, Messor pergandei,
  4. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
  5. Blue Oak, Quercus douglasii,
  6. Bush Katydid nymph, Scudderia pistillata,
  7. California Black Walnut, Juglans californica,
  8. California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana,
  9. California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica,
  10. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica,
  11. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis,
  12. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica,
  13. California Wild Plum, Prunus subcordata,
  14. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis,
  15. Chinese Privet, Ligustrum sinense,
  16. Coffeeberry, California Buckthorn, Frangula californica,
  17. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus,
  18. Coyote Mint, Monardella villosa,
  19. Coyote, Canis latrans,
  20. Desert Cottontail, Sylvilagus audubonii,
  21. Doveweed, Turkey Mullein, Croton setigerus,
  22. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger,
  23. Elegant Clarkia, Clarkia unguiculata,
  24. English Plantain, Ribwort, Plantago lanceolata,
  25. European Praying Mantis, Mantis religiosa,
  26. Evening Primrose, Oenothera biennis,
  27. Goldwire, Hypericum concinnum,
  28. Greater Periwinkle, Vinca major,
  29. Green Lacewing, Chrysoperla carnea,
  30. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon,
  31. Italian Thistle, Carduus pycnocephalus,
  32. Leafhopper Assassin Bug, Zelus renardii,
  33. Moth Mullein, Verbascum blattaria,
  34. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura,
  35. North American Beaver, Castor canadensis,
  36. Northern Yellow Sac Spider, Cheiracanthium mildei,
  37. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii,
  38. Pink Grass, Windmill Pink, Petrorhagia dubia,
  39. Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum,
  40. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus,
  41. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia,
  42. Rock Shield Lichen, Xanthoparmelia sp.,
  43. Rusty Tussock Moth, Orgyia antiqua,
  44. Saw-whet Owl, Sophia, Aegolius acadicus,
  45. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa,
  46. Spanish Clover, Acmispon americanus,
  47. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus,
  48. Sudden Oak Death pathogen, Phytophthora ramorum,
  49. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura,
  50. Western Drywood Termite, Incisitermes minor,
  51. Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa,
  52. Wood Duck, Aix sponsa,
  53. Wooly Mullein, Great Mullein, Verbascum thapsus,
  54. Yarrow, Achillea millefolium,
  55. Yellow Starthistle, Centaurea solstitialis

The Monarch Larva Monitoring Project, 06-19-19

On this busy Wednesday, I headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve (EYNP) around 5:00 pm for their Monarch Larva Monitoring Project (MLMP) training.  When I drove in, I saw one of the big 4-pointer bucks, still in his velvet, sitting in the shade under the trees on the golf course. The wet grass must’ve felt good on his belly. (It was about 93° outside then.)

Along the walkway, the Wavy-Leaf Soap Plants were in bloom, white spidery flowers everywhere.  The plants only bloom in the evening, starting at dusk and continuing through the night. By morning, they’re done. They close up and die off… so getting to see them fully open is a bit of a treat.

The training was led by a volunteer, Krystin Dozier, who’s been helping to monitor the butterflies since she took the naturalist course at Effie Yeaw in 2015.

The monitoring project is a “Citizen Science” effort coordinated through the University of Minnesota in which everyday folks help to monitor milkweed plants in specified areas and keep track of Monarch eggs and caterpillars. About 5 people showed up for the training (all women, no men) and Rachel Cowen the EYNP Volunteer Coordinator was there, too. After a brief presentation, we went outside to look at the Showy Milkweed plants near the nature center and were assigned plots, which we’ll monitor through the month of July (or longer if we want to).

CLICK HERE for a map of the plots.
CLICK HERE for a PDF explaining the project, it forms and guidelines.

While we were looking at the plants I was able to identify some errant insects that were on them for the group (like a Long-jawed Orb Weaver Spider and a katydid nymph), and I offered to be of assistance to the other people in the group if they needed help with ID-ing plants and insects. Rachel told them I was their “local nature geek”. Hah! (Three of the women stopped me after the meeting and asked for my email address so they could contact me if they needed to.)

I asked for Plot 1A in the grounds because it knew it got shade most of the time which I figured would benefit me if I’m monitoring the plants there in the heat of the summer. 

Basically, you count all of the milkweed plants in your plot and then look over every part of each plant looking for butterfly eggs and caterpillars. If you find anything, you note it in your weekly report and tie a yellow ribbon (piece of yarn, pipe cleaner) to the plant to mark it.  Whenever caterpillars in their 4th or 5th instar are found, you let everyone know so the Effie Yeaw staff can collect them and rear them from that stage through the butterfly stage, so they can make sure the butterflies live, and can tag them for migration monitoring.

Eastern Monarch populations seem to be doing fairly well, but the Western Monarchs (those populations west of the Rockies) are in a severe decline; about a 90%+ loss in just one year. At first everyone thought it was due to habitat degradation and a loss of milkweed plants, but the plant populations haven’t declined much, so that had been ruled out as an overriding factor.  Now, the theory is that the Western Monarchs are being affected by a fungal infection (from plants in Mexico), so another aspect of the study is to test the butterflies for that fungus.  We plant monitors won’t be doing that piece, but I think it’s all very fascinating.

I’m slated to work on my plot on Tuesday mornings at 6:00 am starting in July.