Burrowing Owls and River Otters, 08-06-19

I went out with my friend and fellow-naturalist Roxanne Moger to Lake Solano Park to look for galls today.

 Roxanne came to the house and picked me up around 6:30 and we headed toward Winters by way of Davis. Along the way, Roxanne showed me where some Burrowing Owls burrows were.  We weren’t sure if we’d see any owls, but I appreciated her showing me where the burrows were.  As luck would have it, we got to see several owls, including a baby who came up out of its burrow next to its parent!  Soooo cute!  I was surprised by how close to the side of the road the burrows were, and worried about cars pulling off the hard pavement into the dirt to take photos of the owls. 

A fledgling Burrowing Owl emerges from the burrow. Hear us squee!

Roxanne had done some volunteer work with Catherine Portman of the local Burrowing Owls Protection Society (BOPS) and learned that when Catherine approached one of property owners along the road to let them know where the owls were, that property owner actually MOVED HIS DRIVEWAY to accommodate the owls and then set up signs along the road telling people to slow down and watch out for the owls.  How great was that!?  Give that man a star and a cookie!

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos of the owls

 After we got quite a few photos of the owls, we continued on toward Winters.  Along the highway, there was an open field that looked like it had just been mowed, hay bales were piled up along the back of it. But what was most interesting was the fact that the field was full of Swainson’s and Red-Tailed Hawks.  I think we counted about 20 of them (!) all sitting on the ground.  We think they were gobbling up the grasshoppers the hay-baling process had uncovered.  We couldn’t stop because there were too many car behind us, but it was really neat to see.

When we finally got to Winters we were still a little too early to get into Lake Solano Park (the gates don’t open until 8:00 am), so we stopped at the Putah Creek Café for some breakfast: coffee, eggs, sausage, and biscuits and gravy.  It was very yummy, but way too much for me to eat.  I finished off the eggs and biscuits but didn’t get through the two sausage patties.  (I think they make their own sausages.)

Breakfast at the Putah Creek Cafe. Waaaaayyyy too much food, but VERY yummy.

After breakfast, we headed to the park and got there around 8:30 am.  The Other Mary (Mary Messenger), a volunteer trail-walker at the Effie Yeaw Preserve, showed up a few minutes after we arrived, and she was feeling a bit flustered.  She hadn’t been able to find Pleasants Valley Road and got turned around, and was about ready to quit and head home, when she finally found the place. Phew!  When she realized she was only a few minutes behind us, she felt a little better.       

It was in the 70’s when we arrived at the park and was up to 88° when we left. But it was VERY humid there, too, so we were dripping in sweat after just a few hours.  Lake Solano is made by a small dam on Putah Creek, and the water in the lake was like glass today: totally smooth and highly reflective.

The surface of the lake was like glass.

There were several peacocks and peahens walking around, including some moms with their babies (from tiny ones to nearly fledged ones). The poults are so funny-looking with their tiny “crowns” sticking out of their heads. All of the babies were making little squeaking noises as they walked along, and their moms kept up a quiet banter of clucks with them.  At one point, we could hear several poults crying from an overgrown area, and one of the peahens started clucking loudly and went in after them. She was finally able to wrangle three babies out onto the lawn again.  For a moment, Roxanne was standing perfectly still, and some of the poults gathered right in front her near her feet.  Awwwww!

As handsome as the males were in their bright blue suits, none of them had their tail feathers in, so no one was displaying.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos from the park.

We saw quite a few Canada Geese on shore, in the water and flying overhead. But we also saw what I believe were Cackling Geese.  The Cackling Geese look like Canada Geese but they’re much smaller.

We also saw a lot of different butterflies, but I was only able to get photos of one of them, the Common Buckeye, because the others were on the wing.  We saw California Pipevine Swallowtails, Western Tiger Swallowtails, Cabbage Whites, a few Cloudless Sulphurs and a Lorquin’s Admiral.

One of the Buckeyes I got some photos of was “mud-puddling”, a behavior in which the butterfly (usually a male) will lite on wet ground or along the edge of a puddle and suck at the earth. According to EarthTouch: “…[They’re looking] primarily for salts. The salts and amino acids absorbed during mud-puddling play various roles in butterfly ecology, ethology and physiology. Males seem to benefit more from the sodium uptake as it aids in reproductive success, with the precious nutrients often transferred to the female during mating. This extra nutrition helps ensure that the eggs survive…”  Some butterflies will also drink from rotting animals, blood, tears and over-ripe fruit.

Another kind of funny incident with an insect today was trying to get photos of the mouthpiece and chin of an Assassin Bug as it scurried from the front of a leaf to the back, back and forth, and back and forth over and over again.  Finally, it got pissed off at us and flew onto Roxanne’s pack, then flew off onto the ground.  Hah!  We were trying to get a clear photo of the bug’s sharp dagger-like proboscis that it uses to stab prey and suck out their insides.

And we had fun trying to get photos of the dragonflies and damselflies around the little fishing pond.  Saw Widow Skimmers, Flame Skimmers, Variegated Meadowhawks, Blue Dashers, what I think was some Black Saddlebags in wheel (flying), some Western Pondhawks (including a female laying her eggs on the water), a Familiar Bluet damselfly and a Pacific Forktail damselfly. Phew!  What was funny was watching the young Bullfrogs trying to leap out of the pond to grab the dragonflies as they zoomed by.

The biggest surprise of the day, though, was seeing otters in the lake.  Just before we saw them, I “tossed a notion” (literally throwing an invisible ball) out to the Universe asing it to show us an otter… and a few minutes later, there it was!  There were two more otters further downstream.  They were all far enough away and deep in the water that it made photographing them difficult. My camera can’t decide whether to focus on the WATER or the THING in the water and slips back and forth between the two.  I have to remember, now, to do an Otter Spotter report!

We walked for a couple of hours and then decided it was getting way too warm for us, so we headed back home.  Along the highway, both Roxanne and I were kind of surprised by the amount of invasive Arundo (Giant Reed) there was along the culverts next to the farmland and orchards.  I hadn’t noticed that before…

We stopped at Starbucks and got some iced tea to cool us off during the ride back to Sacramento.  It was a hot and exhausting day, but super fun, too!

 Species List:

1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
2. American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus
3. Arundo, Giant Reed, Arundo donax
4. Assassin Bug, Zelus luridus (green)
5. Ball-tipped Gall Wasp, Xanthoteras teres
6. Birds-Foot Trefoil, Lotus corniculatus
7. Black Saddlebags Dragonfly, Tramea lacerate
8. Black Walnut Erineum Mite galls, Eriophyes erinea
9. Black Walnut Tree, Juglans nigra
10. Blue Dasher Dragonfly, Pachydiplax longipennis
11. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra cerulea
12. Box Elder Tree, Acer negundo
13. Broadleaf Cattail, Bullrush, Typha latifolia
14. Bull Thistle, Cirsium vulgare
15. Burrowing Owl, Athene cunicularia
16. Cabbage White Butterfly, Pieris rapae
17. Cackling Goose, Branta hutchinsii
18. California Buckeye Chestnut, Aesculus californica
19. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
20. California Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta
21. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
22. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica
23. California Wild Rose, Rosa californica
24. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
25. Cliff Swallow, Petrochelidon pyrrhonota
26. Cloudless Sulphur Butterfly, Phoebis sennae
27. Common Buckeye Butterfly, Junonia coenia
28. Common Green Lacewing, Chrysoperla carnea (“Lion” nymph)
29. Common Merganser, Mergus merganser
30. Convoluted Gall Wasp, Andricus confertus
31. Cottonwood, Fremont Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
32. English Plantain, Ribwort, Plantago lanceolata
33. English Walnut, Juglans regia
34. Familiar Bluet Damselfly, Enallagma civile
35. Flame Skimmer Dragonfly, Libellula saturate
36. Gray Pine, California Foothill Pine, Pinus sabiniana
37. Himalayan Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus
38. House Sparrow, Passer domesticus
39. Indian Peafowl, Pavo cristatus
40. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
41. Jumping Oak Galls, Neuroterus saltatorius
42. Jumping Spider, Phidippus sp.
43. Leaf Gall Wasp, Unidentified
44. Lorquin’s Admiral Butterfly, Limenitis lorquini
45. Minnow, Phoxinus phoxinus
46. Mistletoe, American Mistletoe, Big Leaf Mistletoe, Phoradendron leucarpum
47. Northern Leopard Frog, Lithobates pipiens
48. Oak Apple Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
49. Oregon Ash, Fraxinus latifolia
50. Pacific Forktail Damselfly, Ischnura cervula (immature gynomorphic female)
51. Pacific Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
52. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum
53. Red Cone Gall Wasp, Andricus kingi
54. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
55. River Otter, North American River Otter, Lontra canadensis
56. Rust Fungus on Boxelder, Puccinia sp.
57. Spiny Turban Gall Wasp, Antron douglasii
58. Swainson’s Hawk, Buteo swainsoni
59. Toyon, Heteromeles arbutifolia
60. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
61. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
62. Variable Flatsedge, Cyperus difformis,
63. Western Bluebird, Sialia mexicana
64. Western Fence Lizard, Blue Belly, Sceloporus occidentalis
65. Western Pondhawk, Erythemis collocata
66. Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis
67. Western Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly, Papilio rutulus
68. White Alder, Alnus rhombifolia
69. Widow Skimmer Dragonfly, Libellula luctuosa
70. Yellow Wig Gall Wasp, Andricus fullawayi