Owls and Jumping Galls, 08-01-19

I slept pretty soundly last night, but I woke up “antsy” and feeling like I had to burn off some static this morning.  So, when Sergeant Margie woke up around 5:15 am and wanted to go outside for potty, I let him out, fed him his breakfast, and then headed over to the William Land Park / WPA Rock Garden for a walk.  I got there a little before 6:00, just as the sun was coming up through the trees.  It was about 61° when I got there and there was a cool breeze blowing, so it was nice. 

When I stepped out of the car, the first thing I saw and heard was a huge flock of crows.  They flew over the car and collected in the trees along the edge of Fairy Tale Town.  I didn’t know if they’d just left their night roost in town, or if something had upset them… but then I heard the hooting.

 Even though I know an owl’s hoot from a dove’s coo, for some reason my brain refuses to accept that I’m hearing an owl when I first hear one; I must be mistaken, I think to myself.  But, sure enough, there was a Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) in one of the tall pine trees just to the east, on the right side as you face the front of the garden.  It’s an especially tall tree with a rounded crown, and completely devoid of lower branches, so I had a fairly clear view up into the top of the tree. 

It took me a while to find the owl because she was way up over my head in the tree, and the light was odd with lots of long shadows because the sun was just coming up.  And, of course, the owls are made to blend in with their surroundings, which also caused some visual complications.  Once I spotted her, though, I realized there were two other owls in the same tree with her on a different branch: a pair of fledgling owlets!

“Mom, he’s TOUCHING me!”

The owlets were sitting side by side, preening one another.  At one point, one of them raised a foot to its sibling, and I could see how HUGE their feet were.  Then they seemed to lock their talons together, like they were shaking hands, before they let go and continued with their preening.  When I heard them suddenly start chittering at each other, I looked around, and saw dad fly in with some breakfast for mom.  He only landed for a minute before he took off again.  I didn’t see what he brought her, but she gobbled it up, giving none to the kids.  It couldn’t have been very large.

 It then occurred to me to look around the bottom of the tree to see if I could find any pellets coughed up by the kids and/or parents.  I found a few of them, along with a partial skeleton of duck that included a foot.  The pellets had been pretty messed up by sprinklers and the heavy foot traffic around the lawn, but I was still able to spot them – and all of the feathers and bits of bone in them.  I figured that between the ducks on the pond and the mice and rats in town, the owls must have been eating well.

One of the owl pellets with bone fragments and fur.

The photos I got aren’t the best quality because of the angle, the lighting, and the fact that I was far below them, but I was pleased with them.  In some of these photos you can see why the Great Horned Owls are sometimes called “Tiger Owls”, for the stripes on their feathers (which in the early morning light looked kind of orange-ish.)

It also made me happy that I was in the park all by myself and able to watch the owls without distraction or interruption.  It was like the Universe set that all up just for me.  [I know that’s not the case, but that’s what moments like that feel like to me. Serendipitous.]

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

As I was leaving the park about 2 hours later, I was also given the treat of seeing a long swath of Jumping Oak galls, from the cynipid wasp Neuroterus saltatorius, bouncing around along the edge of the parking lot and in the leaf litter under a Valley Oak Tree. 

Galls jumping along the edge of the parking lot.

The little galls look like mustard-seed-sized capsules.  They form on the underside of the leaves of the Valley Oak trees and then cascade down en masse when the larvae are mature. So, the ground is covered with literally hundreds of them for a day or two. Each larva tries to get its capsule onto soil and under the leaf litter, so it’s covered until the developing wasp inside emerges, so as soon as they hit the ground the capsules start jumping. Nature is so kewl.

I spent about 2 hours just walking around the garden and walking around the duck pond. The pond was overloaded again with lots plants (lots of them in blood and lots of seed pods standing up on their stems.)   Saw some Canada Geese and a variety of ducks including Mallards, Wood Ducks and different domesticated breeds like Cayugas, Swedish Blues, Pekin Ducks, Indian Runner Ducks and a Crested Duck.            

When I was done with the walk, I felt a lot more centered and relaxed and went home.

Species List:

1. Aloe, Aloe maculata
2. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
3. Blue Agave, Agave tequilana
4. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra cerulea
5. Buckwheat, St. Catherine’s Lace, Eriogonum giganteum
6. Butterfly Bush, Buddleja davidii
7. Butterfly Milkweed, Asclepias tuberosa
8. California Buckeye Chestnut, Aesculus californica
9. California Buckwheat, Eriogonum fasciculatum
10. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
11. Caper Bush, Capparis spinosa
12. Cayuga Duck, Anas platyrhynchos domesticus var. Cayuga
13. Cleveland Sage, Salvia clevelandii
14. Common Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
15. Common Lavender, Lavandula angustifolia
16. Crepe Myrtle, Arapaho Crepe Myrtle (dark pink), Lagerstroemia (indica × fauriei × limii)
17. Crepe Myrtle, Pride of India (pale pink), Lagerstroemia speciosa
18. Crested Duck, Anas platyrhynchos domesticus var. Crested
19. Douglas Squirrel, Tamiasciurus douglasii
20. Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus
21. Great Mullein, Verbascum thapsus
22. Indian Runner Duck, Anas platyrhynchos domesticus var. Indian Runner
23. Jeffrey’s Pine, Pinus jeffreyi
24. Jumping Oak Galls, Neuroterus saltatorius
25. Lily Turf, Liriope, Tufted Lily Turf, Liriope muscari
26. Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos
27. Moth Mullein, Verbascum blattaria
28. Mountain Cicada, Okanagana bella (exuvia)
29. Naked Lady Lily, Amaryllis belladonna
30. Narrowleaf Milkweed, Asclepias fascicularis
31. Nightshade, Blue Witch Nightshade, Solanum umbelliferum
32. Northern Catalpa, Indian Bean Tree, Catalpa speciosa
33. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii
34. Oleander Aphid, Aphis nerii
35. Pekin Duck, Anas platyrhynchos domesticus var. Pekin
36. Peruvian Lily, Alstroemeria aurea
37. Ponderosa Pine, Pinus ponderosa
38. Queen Anne’s Lace, Wild Carrot, Daucus carota
39. Red Gum Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus camaldulensis
40. Red Hot Poker, Torch Lily, Kniphofia uvaria
41. Redvein Abutilon, Callianthe picta
42. Redwood, California Redwood, Sequoia sempervirens
43. Sacred Lotus, Nelumbo nucifera
44. Swedish Blue Duck, Anas platyrhynchos domesticus var. Swedish Blue
45. Wand Mullein, Verbascum virgatum
46. Weeping Cypress, Cupressus cashmeriana
47. Western Goldenrod, Solidago lepida
48. Wood Duck, Aix sponsa