I got up around 6:00 am and was out the door by 6:30 to head out to Winters and Lake Solano Park with my friend and fellow naturalist, Roxanne. The weather was lovely all day today: 46º in the morning and about 77º by the afternoon, sunny with a breeze blowing.
The park didn’t open until 8:00 am, so when Roxanne and I got to Winters, we stopped at the Putah Creek Café for breakfast. We each had a waffle: mine with strawberries, blueberries and whipped cream and a side of bacon, and her with a side of bacon and two eggs. Roxanne had brought us coffee to drink on the way to Winters, so we didn’t need that at breakfast, Still, I had some Earl Grey Tea to help wash the breakfast down.
We got to the park shortly after the gates opened and walked until about noon on the more “manicured” day-use side of the park. (There’s another trail on the opposite side of the street that runs along river by the camping area.) We’re still between seasons, so we didn’t see any real unusual standouts. I was hoping to see some migrating birds, but it’s still too early for that I guess. Still, we got to see a lot more than I thought we might.
The first thing we saw when we got into the park were Acorn Woodpeckers testing out the surface of the wooden fences to see if they could drill holes in them to stash their acorns, and a Northern Flicker on the ground searching for ants.
The Acorn Woodpeckers crack me up; they’re so busy and so raucous all the time. I watched one move one the acorns in his granary tree from one hole to another. When he flew off, I got a good look at his granary tree and was amazed to see that the thing was literally jam-packed with acorns! He’d been working hard!
Speaking of acorns, we also saw some California Scrub Jays grabbing acorns from the trees and the ground and burying them in their caches. Unlike the Acorn Woodpeckers who use their granary trees as storage houses, the Jays stash acorns and other seeds in different caches in the ground… and sometimes forget where they are.
Among the Flickers, what we see most in this region are red-shafted ones which migrate less than the more rarely seen yellow-shafted ones. The yellow-shafted Flickers come down from Alaska and Canada, whereas the red-shafted ones travel less far, from mountain areas down into the lowlands during winter. Besides the color of their dominant feathers, you can tell the red-shafted from the yellow-shafted by looking at the markings on the chin and cheeks of the males. In the red-shafted males, there are red tear-dropped shapes on the chin, and in the yellow-shafted males those same markings are black. The two color variations were thought to be separate species but no longer. Same species, just different colors… and they do interbreed.
I was expecting a few more migrating birds, but we saw mostly just the usual suspects: Mallards, herons and egrets, Canada geese, Double-Crested Cormorants and grebes.
I saw a female Belted Kingfisher fishing on the water; kiting over it for a moment (hovering in midair) and then crashing down into the water face-first to nab a fish. I saw her catch two tiny fish while I was watching her. It seemed like soooo much effort for such a little reward. Kingfishers are sort of my “nemesis birds”, though. They move so quickly, it’s hard for me to get any decent photos of them.
There were a couple of surprises in the bird realm today. We spotted a Brown Creeper climbing up and down the bark of a tree. They’re tiny-tiny birds and are often hard to see because they can blend in with the bark.
As we were leaving, I saw my first live Red-Breasted Nuthatch. As common as those little birds are, I’m surprised I’d never seen one before today. It was in a Gray Pine next to where the car was parked. I’d put my camera in my bag and was just getting ready to get into the car when I caught sight of the bird. I had to quick wrestle my camera out again and snap some fast shots before the bird flitted off, but I did get a few so-so photos of it. A first: those are always fun.
The best bird photos of the day were thanks to a very cooperative Great Blue Heron that was standing near the edge of Putah Creek where Roxanne and I were walking. He tolerated us for quite a while, but eventually got annoyed when I tried to get closer to the bank, and he flew off croaking angrily at me to the other side of the creek.
I also got quite a few photos of a mama Peahen and her poults. The poults were almost fully fledged, but still had their “fluffy pants” on. They were just starting color up, most of them looking like miniatures of their mom.
There were some good orb-weaver spider webs around, but it was too bright to get many good shots of them — even when I spritz them with mist to bring the strands out a bit. No big spiders, though. That was something of a (albeit tiny) disappointment.
The alder trees were all super-loaded with male catkins and female pseudocones right now; a last gasp effort before the tree loses all of its leaves for the winter. On some of these trees, Roxanne was able to see her first Alder Tongue Galls. They were pretty much spent already, having lost all of their bright pink color as the galls go to spore, but she was able to see how the fungus takes over the ovaries of the cones and warps them into all sorts of odd, spindly tongue-like shapes.
CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.
Video of the Brown Creeper: https://youtu.be/gD3Z8uaSNrE
Video of the Buckeye Butterflies: https://youtu.be/SqA_WqrsXWM
Video of Assassin Bug nymphs: https://youtu.be/kB7GbigdBFQ
We saw quite a few last-season galls including Club Galls, Red Cones, Spiny Turbans, Yellow Wigs and the like. One of the galls created on a tree in reaction to the parasitic mistletoe was huge and bulbous. Had to get a photo of that one. I was also surprised to find some Bullet Galls on a Valley Oak that I’d only seen on Blue Oaks before.
The Box Elder Trees were covered in panicles of seed pods even as their leaves were starting to go brown and readying to fall off. At the same time, the mistletoe in the trees was just starting to get its seeds on it, and the berries on the Toyon bushes were just starting to color up. They should be bright red just before Christmas.
One of the younger Live Oak tree oozing slime and foam. The exuding stuff seemed too prolific and bubbly to be Sudden Oak Death, so I’m assuming it was more likely a kind of flux, maybe from the Alcoholic Flux bacteria, Foamy Canker, Slime Flux. Flux is a temporary condition from which the tree can recover, whereas Sudden Oak Death is usually terminal.
I was surprised by the number of butterflies we saw today: Cabbage Whites, some Cloudless Sulphurs, Common Buckeyes (lots), a Pipevine Swallowtail and some Lorquin’s Admirals. Many of the Buckeyes we found were right at the water’s edge where they were lapping up water and minerals from the ground – while Yellowjackets pestered them.
We saw quite a few Assassin Bugs and their eggs cases. But the most unusual thing we found today were several Black Dancer Caddisflies, Mystacides sepulchralis. When we first saw them, we had no idea what they were. They’re all black with reddish eyes and super-long antennae (that are spotted nearest the insect’s face), but then they also have hairy “palps” near their mouths that look like a second set of antennae or an extra pair of legs.
Overall, they look somewhat moth-like, so when I got home and did some research on them, I was surprised to find that they were actually caddisflies. I was under the impression that caddisflies were much larger than these guys were, so I’ve been looking for the wrong size insect and its larvae all along. D’oh!
We walked for almost 4 hours and then headed home – so we could take a nap. Hah!
- Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
- Alcoholic Flux bacteria, Foamy Canker, Slime Flux
- Alder Tongue Gall Fungus, Taphrina alni
- American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus
- Assassin Bug, Zelus luridus
- Beaver, American, Beaver, Castor canadensis [signs on tree]
- Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon
- Black Dancer Caddisfly, Mystacides sepulchralis
- Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
- Black Walnut Erineum Mite galls, Eriophyes erinea
- Black Walnut Tree, Juglans nigra
- Box Elder Tree, Acer negundo
- Broadleaf Cattail, Bullrush, Typha latifolia
- Broadleaf Mistletoe, Phoradendron macrophyllum
- Brown Creeper, Certhia americana
- Bullet Gall Wasp, Disholcapsis mamillana
- Cabbage White Butterfly, Pieris rapae
- California Buckeye Chestnut, Aesculus californica
- California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
- California Wild Grape, Vitis californica
- California Wild Rose, Rosa californica
- Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
- Chinese Praying Mantis, Tenodera sinensis [ootheca]
- Cloudless Sulphur Butterfly, Phoebis sennae
- Club Gall Wasp, Xanthoteras clavuloides
- Common Buckeye Butterfly, Junonia coenia
- Convoluted Gall Wasp, Andricus confertus
- Cottonwood Leaf Gall Aphid, Pemphigus populivenae
- Cottonwood Petiole Aphid Gall, Pemphigus populitransversus
- Cottonwood, Fremont Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
- Dallis Grass, Paspalum dilatatum
- Dead Man’s Foot Fungus, Pisolithus arhizus
- Disc Gall Wasp, Andricus parmula
- Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
- Flat-Topped Honeydew Gall Wasp, Disholcaspis eldoradensis
- Giant Horsetail Fern, Equisetum telmateia
- Golden Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
- Gray Pine, California Foothill Pine, Pinus sabiniana
- Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
- Great Egret, Ardea alba
- Hedgenettle (unidentified), Stachys sp.
- Indian Peafowl, Pavo cristatus
- Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
- Interior Sandbar Willow, Salix interior
- Jumping Oak Gall Wasp, Neuroterus saltatorius
- Lodgepole Pine, Pinus contorta
- Lorquin’s Admiral Butterfly, Limenitis lorquini
- Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
- Minnow, Phoxinus phoxinus
- Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
- Oak Apple Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
- Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus
- Pacific Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
- Pekin Duck, Anas platyrhynchos domesticus var. Pekin
- Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps [nonbreeding]
- Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta
- Pipevine, California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica
- Red Cone Gall Wasp, Andricus kingi
- Red Rock Skimmer Dragonfly, Paltothemis lineatipes
- Red-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta canadensis
- Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
- Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
- Round Gall Wasp, Besbicus conspicuous
- Spiny Turban Gall Wasp, Antron douglasii
- Terminal Rosette Gall Wasp, Andricus wiltzae
- Toyon, Heteromeles arbutifolia
- Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
- Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
- Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
- Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum
- White Alder, Alnus rhombifolia
- Yellow Wig Gall Wasp, Andricus fullawayi
- Yellowjacket Wasp, Vespula vulgaris