We Saw More Than I Thought We Would, 10-04-19

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.

Friend and fellow naturalist, Roxanne Moger at the Putah Creek Cafe

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!

Look at the layers and layers of acorns stuffed under the bark of this tree by the Acorn Woodpeckers.
Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus

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. 

Brown Creeper, Certhia americana

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.

A fledgling Indian Peafowl, Pavo cristatus

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 bulbous gall crated by the tree to encase the parasitic Broadleaf Mistletoe, Phoradendron macrophyllum

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. 

Common Buckeye Butterfly, Junonia coenia

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!

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. Alcoholic Flux bacteria, Foamy Canker, Slime Flux
  3. Alder Tongue Gall Fungus, Taphrina alni
  4. American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus
  5. Assassin Bug, Zelus luridus
  6. Beaver, American, Beaver, Castor canadensis [signs on tree]
  7. Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon
  8. Black Dancer Caddisfly, Mystacides sepulchralis
  9. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  10. Black Walnut Erineum Mite galls, Eriophyes erinea
  11. Black Walnut Tree, Juglans nigra
  12. Box Elder Tree, Acer negundo
  13. Broadleaf Cattail, Bullrush, Typha latifolia
  14. Broadleaf Mistletoe, Phoradendron macrophyllum
  15. Brown Creeper, Certhia americana
  16. Bullet Gall Wasp, Disholcapsis mamillana
  17. Cabbage White Butterfly, Pieris rapae
  18. California Buckeye Chestnut, Aesculus californica
  19. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  20. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica
  21. California Wild Rose, Rosa californica
  22. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  23. Chinese Praying Mantis, Tenodera sinensis [ootheca]
  24. Cloudless Sulphur Butterfly, Phoebis sennae
  25. Club Gall Wasp, Xanthoteras clavuloides
  26. Common Buckeye Butterfly, Junonia coenia
  27. Convoluted Gall Wasp, Andricus confertus
  28. Cottonwood Leaf Gall Aphid, Pemphigus populivenae
  29. Cottonwood Petiole Aphid Gall, Pemphigus populitransversus
  30. Cottonwood, Fremont Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  31. Dallis Grass, Paspalum dilatatum
  32. Dead Man’s Foot Fungus, Pisolithus arhizus
  33. Disc Gall Wasp, Andricus parmula
  34. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
  35. Flat-Topped Honeydew Gall Wasp, Disholcaspis eldoradensis
  36. Giant Horsetail Fern, Equisetum telmateia
  37. Golden Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
  38. Gray Pine, California Foothill Pine, Pinus sabiniana
  39. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
  40. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  41. Hedgenettle (unidentified), Stachys sp.
  42. Indian Peafowl, Pavo cristatus
  43. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  44. Interior Sandbar Willow, Salix interior
  45. Jumping Oak Gall Wasp, Neuroterus saltatorius
  46. Lodgepole Pine, Pinus contorta
  47. Lorquin’s Admiral Butterfly, Limenitis lorquini
  48. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  49. Minnow, Phoxinus phoxinus
  50. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
  51. Oak Apple Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  52. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus
  53. Pacific Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
  54. Pekin Duck, Anas platyrhynchos domesticus var. Pekin
  55. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps [nonbreeding]
  56. Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta
  57. Pipevine, California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica
  58. Red Cone Gall Wasp, Andricus kingi
  59. Red Rock Skimmer Dragonfly, Paltothemis lineatipes
  60. Red-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta canadensis
  61. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
  62. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  63. Round Gall Wasp, Besbicus conspicuous
  64. Spiny Turban Gall Wasp, Antron douglasii
  65. Terminal Rosette Gall Wasp, Andricus wiltzae
  66. Toyon, Heteromeles arbutifolia
  67. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  68. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  69. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  70. Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum
  71. White Alder, Alnus rhombifolia
  72. Yellow Wig Gall Wasp, Andricus fullawayi
  73. Yellowjacket Wasp, Vespula vulgaris