Over 20 Galls in Just 2-1/2 Hours, 08-30-19

I got up around 5:00 am this morning, let the dog out for potty, gave him his breakfast and then got myself ready to head out to the Johnson-Springview Park in Rocklin (Placer County).  It was about 61º outside in the morning and got up to a high around 90º.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

I’d never been to the park before, but my friend and fellow-naturalist Roxanne were directed there by Zara Wyly of the Sacramento Tree Foundation who said it was a good place to find Blue Oaks; Zara also wanted us to let her know if the trees there looked like they were full enough of acorns to do some acorn gathering for the Foundation in October. 

The park is very “manicured” in the front portion of it with a playground area for kids and a disk-golf course on one side.  But the back side of the park is more “rugged” looking with a large field, a seasonal creek, a huge stand of different kinds of oak trees, willows, and other trees/shrubs.  There is ample parking, and restroom facilities, and a picnic area.  Dogs are allowed on leash outside of the RUFF dog park) , and while Roxanne and I were out there, we were greeted by a handful of little dogs and three huge dogs: a Black Lab (whose name I don’t recall), a solid-as-a-boulder 160-pound Rottweiler named “Mia”, and a gorgeous Coon Hound named “Copper”.  All of the dogs were super friendly.

We also saw a very healthy-looking grey-and-white feral cat sitting on top of a small collection of “cat houses” provided for them by the park. You can tell the caught-and-released feral cats from the domesticated cats by the fact that one of their ears gets cropped when they’re caught (then neutered and released again), and by the fact that they’re silent.  Domesticated cats meow and “talk” a lot; feral cats don’t do that.

You can tell a trapped-and-released feral cat by its clipped ear.

We didn’t see many birds around at all, but we’re between seasons, so that’s not unusual.  And we saw a few California Ground Squirrels and Eastern Fox Squirrels, and a couple of uncooperative dragonflies, but that was about it for animal life.

Even though I was seeing the place for the first time in one of the “worst” months of the year (the dog days of summer), I was impressed by it.  I can envision what it would look like in a more favorable season when everything is green, and the creek (Antelope Creek) is flowing at a wild pace.

We didn’t see anything in the way of acorns; only onesies/twosies here and there. Last year, in Sacramento County some of the trees were so heavy with acorns that the branches were bending with the weight of them.  It’s no unusual, though, for the oaks to be abundant in one season and then go several years without another heavy output of acorns; especially the Blue Oaks. They can go up to seven years without producing anything.

Anyway, what Roxanne and I were really after for our own fun and edification were Blue Oak tree galls.  There are a handful of Blue Oaks at Effie Yeaw, but they’re all trimmed up so much, you can’t get into the branches to really LOOK at everything.  Here, the majority of the oaks along the back of the park are left to grow they way they normally would without any heavy pruning, so we were able to, in some instances, be absolutely surrounded by the lower branches.  This made spotting the galls that only grow on the back of the leaves easier to spot and photograph.

All in all, I think we found over 20 different galls in just the 2 ½ hours we were out there, including some I had only seen in photographs and never photographed myself before, like the Bullet Gall, Gray Midrib Gall, Hair Stalk Gall and Round Honeydew Gall.  And the galls ranged in color from red, to pink, to orange and yellow, and bluish-grey…  We were so happy with what we saw.

Of all of the photographs I took today, this was one of my favorites. It’s of some leaves on a Blue Oak tree (Quercus douglasii) with yellow-orange Coral Galls (Disholcapsis corallina), a Gray Midrib Gall (Besbicus multipunctatus) and some Urchin galls (Antron quercusechinus)! Each gall is grown by the tree to accommodate the different species of cynipid wasp larvae.

The album includes a short video of a Geometrid Moth caterpillar, Inchworm, Family – Geometridae doing his thing. (I’ll look for a better ID, but this is all I have at the moment.)  When I first saw him, he was stretched out between two leaves trying to look like a twiglet on the branch. They can camouflage themselves really well. If he hadn’t moved, I probably would’ve missed him altogether.

Geometrid Moth caterpillar, Inchworm, Family – Geometridae, possibly “Oak Beauty”, Phaeoura quernaria

I had the magnifier lens on my cellphone when I took this, so he shifts in and out of the constrained field of focus a lot, but I think the way these little guys move is so funny and interesting to watch.

As we looked through the trees further, I was startled to see the large Oak Apple Wasp Galls (Andricus quercuscalifornicus) on Blue Oak trees.  I always thought (read and believed) that those ONLY formed on Valley Oaks, so I was really astonished to see them on the Blue Oaks.  I postulated that what we were looking at were at were “Frankenstein” trees, hybrids, a cross between Blue and Valley oaks. There are a LOT of different oak trees confined to the same area, so crossbreeding wouldn’t be out of the question.

A gall of the Oak Apple Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus, on a BLUE OAK tree.

When I got home later, I sent an email to Joyce Gross a gall expert who has a fantastic online site (http://joycegross.com/) that I use for reference all the time, and asked her about the Oak Apples growing on Blue Oaks.  She emailed me back within a few hours and let me know that some gall wasps (like the Oak Apple Gall wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus, and the Jumping Gall wasp, Neuroterus saltatorius) prefer Valley Oaks about 90% of the time, but can successfully lay their eggs on Blue Oaks as well because the Valley Oaks and Blue Oaks are both considered part of the “white oaks” group(as opposed to the “red oaks” group). So, you may sometimes both the Oak Apples and Jumping galls on Blue Oaks (especially when they’re close proximity to Valley Oaks like they are at this park).

So, I learned something new today.  Yay!

Another curiosity Roxanne and I came across were small white two-lobed formations we found in the fork of twigs on some of the trees.  The things looked like tiny “brains” but had a mostly smooth surface. The outer layer was almost papery, and inside we could see white feathery stuff that felt dry to the touch… I’m assuming the structures were some form of two-chambered eggs cases or something, but I don’t know for sure. 

One of the odd “white brain” structures on an oak twig with a California Jumping Spider, Phidippus californicus

We saw a Jumping Spider next to one of them, so I looked up photographs of their egg cases and, no, they don’t look anything like the structures we saw. I need to do more research to properly identify them. 

As I mentioned, we walked for about 2 ½ hours and then headed out to breakfast. 

Species List

1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
2. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
3. Assassin Bug, Zelus luridus (nymph, egg case)
4. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
5. Blue Oak, Quercus douglasii
6. Broadleaf Cattail, Bullrush, Typha latifolia
7. Bullet Gall Wasp, Disholcapsis mamillana
8. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
9. California Jumping Spider, Phidippus californicus
10. Clustered Gall Wasp, Andricus brunneus
11. Coast Live Oak, Quercus agrifolia
12. Common Green Lacewing, Chrysoperla carnea (eggs)
13. Convoluted Gall Wasp, Andricus confertus
14. Coral Gall Wasp, Disholcapsis corallina
15. Crystalline Gall Wasp, Andricus crystallinus
16. Drippy nut, Brenneria quercina? (bacterium that enters through a hole made by insect oviposition, cynipids)
17. Eurasian Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto [heard]
18. Feral Cat, Felis catus
19. Flat-Topped Honeydew Gall Wasp, Disholcaspis eldoradensis
20. Gall of the Live Oak Wasp/Gallfly, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis
21. Geometrid Moth caterpillar, Inchworm, Family – Geometridae, possibly “Oak Beauty”, Phaeoura quernaria
22. Gray Midrib Gall Wasp, Besbicus multipunctatus
23. Hair Stalk Gall Wasp, Dros pedicellatum
24. Hoary Lichen, Hoary Rosette, Physcia aipolia
25. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
26. Jumping Oak Galls, Neuroterus saltatorius
27. Kernel Flower Gall Wasp, Callirhytis serricornis
28. Leaf Gall Wasp, Unidentified
29. Live Oak Gall Wasp, 2nd Generation, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis
30. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos [heard]
31. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii [heard]
32. Oak Apple Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
33. Pink Honeysuckle, Lonicera hispidula
34. Plate Gall Wasp, Liodora pattersonae
35. Praying Mantis, (possibly Stagmomantis californica) (ootheca)
36. Red Cone Gall Wasp, Andricus kingi
37. Ribbed Cocoon-Maker Moth, Bucculatrix albertiella
38. Rough Cocklebur, Xanthium strumarium
39. Round Honey Dew Gall Wasp, Disholcapsis canescens
40. Rusty Tussock Moth, Orgyia antiqua (cocoons, pupa cases,eggs)
41. Saucer Gall Wasp, Andricus gigas
42. Spiny Turban Gall Wasp, Antron douglasii
43. Sticktight?, Bidens frondosa
44. Striped Volcano Gall Wasp, Andricus atrimentus
45. Sunburst Lichen, Xanthoria elegans
46. Two-Horned Gall Wasp, Dryocosmus dubiosus
47. Urchin Gall Wasp, Antron quercusechinus
48. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
49. Valley x Blue Oak, Quercus lobata x douglasii
50. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis [heard]
51. Willow Leaf Beetle, Plagiodera versicolora (larvae frass?)
52. Yellow Wig Gall Wasp, Andricus fullawayi
53. … odd little white “brains”

My Article on the Tuleyome 2020 Naturalist Class was Published

It was nice to see my article on Tuleyome’s 2020 Certified California Naturalist class (#Calnat) appear in two Lake County newspapers this week: The Lake County News and the Lake County Record-Bee.

As part of the coursework, all students participate in a final exam that is set up like a trivia game. Students are put in teams of five, and they answer questions related to the curriculum and species identification modules to win prize packages. I volunteer the time do all of the donations requests for that myself and so far, I’ve been able to build prize packages worth over $500 (retail value) for the 2020 students. Go me!

In-kind donations, so far, have been provided by the National Science Teachers Association, American Birding Association, Inc., Firefly Books, Mary K. Hanson, Grandpa Gus, McDonald and Woodward Publishing Company, MyCarryWell, Nasco, New World Library, Princeton University Press, Raley’s, TickCheck, University Press of Colorado, Watkins Publishing, Workman Publishing Company/ Algonquin, Rite in the Rain, Sounds True, Adventure Publications, Mountaineers Books, Ultimate Survival Technologies, Axol and Friends, Shore Buddies, Cate & Levi, Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers/Hachette Book Group and others.

If you would like to donate directly to the program, email me at mhanson@tuleyome.org and I’ll tell you how.

Mostly Deer and the Stink-Eye from a Hawk, 08-27-19

Around 6:00 am, I headed over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for my normal Tuesday volunteer trail-walking thing.  I know it was going up to 102º today, so I kept the walk relatively short.  It was 63º at the river when I got there; and it was already 82º by the time I left around 9:30 am.  My fellow trail-walker Mary Messenger (The Other Mary) had arrived a few minutes before I did, so we walked together for the most part.

It seemed like only the deer were out in force today, so we got some fairly good photos of them, and we also saw a young Red-Shouldered Hawk and a few other birds.  Heard the Northern Flickers… I’ve missed their call. If they’re coming back it means Fall is around the corner (yay!).

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

Among the deer, we saw several boys in their velvet.  Some of them were underneath the low branches of a Black Walnut tree in the shade so it was hard to get photos of them.  I snap away anyway hoping to get SOMETHING that’s useable. (It seemed like I got quite a few shots of them “yelling” – their mouths wide open as they moved their food around their teeth.)  I saw the one deer with the long face (which is think is more pure Mule Deer than the Columbian Black-Tailed subspecies), and the one that is sort of blond (which I think is the one I saw as a fawn when he had a really bad cough.)  Wish there was some way I could do a more accurate account of them as individuals.

Waaaaaatsaaaaaaap, homey?!

 We saw one fawn with its mom, but mom was very protective of it and trotted away when she saw it.  So, we basically got a lot of butt-shots of that one.

Everywhere we went, we could hear the scrape-scrape-scrape-scrape of the Eastern Fox Squirrels and Western Gray Squirrels busily chewing the husks off of the walnuts. They’re such noisy eaters! 

And I could also hear the buzzy song of the cicadas in the trees, especially around the small pond.  Apparently, it’s the males who sing – and the females who “click”. I think the species we have around here is the Say’s Cicada (based on its coloring and its sound). They’re too high up in the shrubbery for me to get any photos of them, though, – and, of course, they shut up as soon as you get close to them, so it’s hard to triangulate on their location.  Smart beasties. 

 On one part of the trail we met up with a couple of photographers, Gene and Cathy. They stopped and chatted about what they were looking for and what they’d been seeing lately.  Last week, they said, they spent about 2 hours going back and forth along the riverbank following the flight of an osprey… And then they got to see it dive into the water after a fish. The fish was so big, the bird couldn’t get up out of the water with it and had to wing-paddle its way to the shore (on the opposite side of the river) to eat it.  Wow!  How cool was that?!  We exchanged information on other sightings, like the bucks jousting in the fall, the melanistic squirrel, the first sighting of the twin fawns this year.  Gene said, “Everyone’s seen them this year but me!”  Hah! It was nice to meet them.

I was surprised when further along the same trail I encountered a group of birders and found that my former naturalist student (now graduate) Pam was among them.  She gave me a hug and let me know what she’s been up to lately.  She’s trying to learn more about birding and nature observation in general and has been volunteering with the local SPCA and wildlife rescue group.  My students rock!

As we were finishing up our walk, we caught sight of the young Red-Shouldered Hawk that seems to hang around the trees near the nature center a lot.  Definitely a boy, based on his coloring.  I think he’s figured out that there are frogs and crawfish in the little pond there, so he can grab snacks from it throughout the day.  He gave us the stink-eye for a while and then flew off.

The young Red-Shouldered Hawk by the little pond.

We also a young California Scrub Jay trying to get the meat out of a piece of a black walnut.  Those things are really solid, and when the jay smacked down on it with his beak, the nut went flying and ricocheted off of the wire fence beside him!  Then the bird just stood there for a minute, looking kind of embarrassed… Hah!

Because it was heating up quickly outside by then, The Other Mary and I cut our walk short and headed back to our respective homes. 


1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
2. Assassin Bug, Zelus luridus (nymph)
3. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
4. Black Saddlebags Dragonfly, Tramea lacerate
5. Black Walnut Tree, Juglans nigra
6. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
7. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
8. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis
9. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
10. Desert Cottontail Rabbit, Sylvilagus audubonii
11. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
12. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
13. Fiery Skipper, Hylephila phyleus
14. Fig, Common Fig, Ficus carica
15. Flat-Topped Honeydew Gall Wasp, Disholcaspis eldoradensis
16. Flax-Leaf Horseweed, Erigeron canadensis
17. Jimson Weed, Datura stramonium
18. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus (heard)
19. Oak Apple Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
20. Pumpkin Gall Wasp, Dryocosmus minusculus
21. Red Harvester Ant, Pogonomyrmex barbatus
22. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
23. Ribbed Cocoon-Maker Moth, Bucculatrix albertiella
24. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
25. Say’s Cicada, Okanagana rimosa rimosa (heard)
26. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus (heard)
27. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
28. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
29. Western Gray Squirrel, Sciurus griseus