Mostly Mating Newts, 03-07-20

I got up around 5:30 this morning, got the dog pottied and fed, and then headed out to Auburn with my friend and fellow naturalist Roxanne Moger to look for newts. We’d been told by another one of my naturalist class graduates, Pam Hofsted, that California Newts had been found swimming and mating in the Shirland Canal by the China Bar Trail in the Auburn State Recreation Area, so we had to go see if we could find any.

It was about 46° at the Rec Area and rain was threatening but we thought the cooler weather and wet might make the newts more apt to come out.  It’s been too hot and too dry lately for them.

After a quick stop for coffee and a breakfast biscuit, we got to the Rec Area in about an hour and found the main gate. 

According to their website: “…In the heart of the gold country, the Auburn State Recreation Area (Auburn SRA) covers 40-miles of the North and Middle Forks of the American river. Once teeming with thousands of gold miners, the area is now a natural area offering a wide variety of recreation opportunities to over 900,000 visitors a year… Black tailed deer and rabbits can be seen during the daylight hours, while raccoons, opossums, gray foxes and coyotes rule the night. Black bears, rattlesnakes, mountain lions and bobcats live in the park. The riparian habitat host California quail and canyon wrens. Red tailed hawks and bald eagles soar overhead, seeking their next meal… Auburn State Recreation Area Auburn Dam via Shirland Canal and Cardiac Bypass Trail is a 5 mile moderately trafficked loop trail that features a river and is rated as moderate. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash…”

We arrived there around 7:00 am but found that the main gate didn’t open until 8:00… but then were confused by the fact that there was a sign on the gate stating that there was supposed to a runners’ race there from 6:00 am until 9:00 am.  How could the runners get in if the gates were locked? Weird.

Right next to the gate was a small parking lot, a water fountain, payment kiosk (there’s a $10 fee for parking), and porta-potty. While I made use of the facility, Roxanne studied the lichen on the nearby boulders and paid the day-use fee. 

Then we both did a little bit more lichen hunting and looking for galls on the nearby coyote brush (and found a few). We decided that since the gate was still closed, we’d try walking down to the trailhead we wanted, but after walking just a few yards, my body needed to get back to the porta-potty (Bad breakfast sandwich, I think. *sigh*), so I headed back there and told Roxanne to look for “cool stuff” while I was ocupado. TMI, I know.

Common Gold Cobblestone Lichen, Pleopsidium flavum [bright yellow]; Scattered Button Lichen, Buellia dispersa [gray/off white on rocks with black spots] and some Sidewalk Firedot Lichen, Xanthocarpia feracissima [bright orange, on rocks]

While I was in the porta-potty, I could hear someone drive up, and heard Roxanne talking to whoever the driver was. It was one of the park maintenance crew, and he opened the gate for us.  Woot!  Once we got back into the car and started driving in, we were sooooo happy that the gate had been opened. The drive to the trailheads was downhill and relatively long.  If we had tried to walk it, I would have been exhausted by the trip down and probably not too able to make the walk back up to the parking lot. So, that was Nice Happenstance #1 today.

Roxanne below the cut rock-face at the river side,

I had forgotten to bring the map with the trails on it, d’oh!, so we followed the maintenance truck – which led us down to the river, below the trailhead we were actually looking for. Along the way we spotted a few wildflowers making their debut including some Bush Monkeyflower, Filddlenecks and some sort of Paintbrush.  ((We’d seen a few Lupin along the highway on the way into Auburn, but nothing around the trails.)) We took a few photos and headed back up the road, turning in to the little parking lot where the Cardiac Bypass Trail was.  Yes, that’s really its name. Hah!

There was a woman (with her two UNLEASHED dogs) setting up a table for the runners there, and we did eventually see maybe 20 of the runners as they passed through. While we were there we checked out the lichen on the trees, and found what we thought might have been some kind of dodder (red-orange thread stuff) on an old Cottonwood Tree. 

At first we thought this might be some kind of dodder… but it might also be Golden Hair-Lichen, Teloschistes flavicans. Need to do more research.

There was also a lot of Buckbrush in bloom there, and the pine trees were all doing their “male thing” sending out pollen all over everything. 

Pollen coming off the pine trees.

We were also a little surprised to see rust fungus, similar to what we found elsewhere on Coyote Brush, emerging from galls on some of the pines.  We’re assuming it’s from the same genus but a different species.

After a short while, we looked down the cliffside at the trail and figured it wasn’t one I’d be able to navigate at all – and it didn’t show any signs of hooking up with the canal anywhere, so we decided to nix that and go looking again for the China Bar trailhead. As we were loitering around, though, we met an older gentleman named Richard who was also deciding against taking the Cardiac Bypass Trail.  He said he knew where the canal was and offered to lead us there with his car.  So nice!  So, we followed him over to that trailhead and thanked him profusely for his help. That was Nice Happenstance #2.

The Shirland Canal by the China Bar Trail

The Shirland Canal was right off a little parking lot and we were finally able to start walking the trail there.  We came across another gentleman who was walking his elderly dog back to his car, and he asked us if we were looking for the newts. We told him, yes, and he said, “They’re here! I saw some balls of them.  Look for them in the more still shallow parts of the canal.” That was Nice Happenstance #3.

As we walked along, I was so focused on the water in the canal to my right that I’m sure I missed a lot of stuff along the left-hand side of the trail. I DID note the Golden Dwarf Mistletoe, Western Buttercups, a few Blue Dicks, and Turkey Tail Fungus, though.

Golden Dwarf Mistletoe, Western Dwarf Mistletoe, Arceuthobium campylopodum

The canal didn’t disappoint, and Roxanne and I counted 10 newts, some of them single, some in pairs, and some in en masse in a mating ball of four.  Because they were in the water it was hard to get any close-ups of their faces, but I was still pretty satisfied with the photos and video clips I was able to get.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

Mating ball of newts.

Rant: I WASN’T pleased when someone let their UNLEASHED dog jump into the canal, lay down and splash around in there right next to where the newts were. Unleashed dogs in wildlife areas is a pet peeve of mine – and I was especially upset by the fact that the humans made no effort whatsoever to clean up after their pets on the trail even though the Rec Area provided free doggie-dooley bags at the head of each trail.  There was dog crap EVERYWHERE. Guh!

I WASN’T pleased when someone let their UNLEASHED dog jump into the canal, lay down and splash around in there right next to where the newts were.

Anyway, we walked the trail until we came to a “slide” area where the canal started its downhill tilt.  I felt it was unsafe (for me), and figured the water would be running too fast for the newts to be settling in, so we turned around and headed back to the car.  Nice Happenstance #4 was that throughout our excursion the rain had held itself off, and didn’t start until just before we got back to the parking lot.

I figured we walked about 4 hours all together, but I still felt pretty good and energized because of the adrenaline rush I got from seeing the newts.

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. Bark Rim Lichen, Lecanora chlarotera
  3. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum
  4. Blue Dicks, Dichelostemma capitatum
  5. Buckbrush, Ceanothus cuneatus
  6. Bur Chervil, Anthriscus caucalis
  7. Bush Lupine, Lupinus albifrons
  8. Bush Monkeyflower, Diplacus aurantiacus
  9. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis
  10. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis [flight overhead]
  11. Chinese Praying Mantis, Tenodera sinensis [ootheca]
  12. Common Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  13. Common Fiddleneck, Amsinckia menziesii
  14. Common Gold Cobblestone Lichen, Pleopsidium flavum [bright yellow]
  15. Common Mustard, Brassica rapa
  16. Common Vetch, Vicia sativa
  17. Common Water Strider, Aquarius remigis
  18. Coyote Brush Bud Gall midge, Rhopalomyia californica
  19. Coyote Brush Rust, Puccinia evadens
  20. Coyote Brush Stem Gall moth, Gnorimoschema baccharisella
  21. Cumberland Rock-Shield Lichen, Xanthoparmelia cumberlandia
  22. Dark-Eyed Junco, Junco hyemalis
  23. False Turkey Tail fungus, Hairy Curtain Crust, Stereum hirsutum
  24. Giraffe’s Head Henbit, Henbit Deadnettle, Lamium amplexicaule
  25. Gold Dust Lichen, Chrysothrix candelaris
  26. Golden Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
  27. Golden Dwarf Mistletoe, Western Dwarf Mistletoe, Arceuthobium campylopodum
  28. Golden Hair-Lichen, Teloschistes flavicans
  29. Gray Pine, California Foothill Pine, Pinus sabiniana
  30. Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata
  31. Hoary Lichen, Hoary Rosette, Physcia aipolia
  32. Hooded Rosette Lichen, Physcia adscendens [hairs/eyelashes on the tips of the lobes]
  33. Ink Lichen, Placynthium nigrum [pitch black, fine grained]
  34. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  35. Interior Sandbar Willow, Salix interior
  36. Jointed Charlock, Wild Radish, Raphanus raphanistrum
  37. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous [heard at river]
  38. Mazegill Fungus, Daedalea quercina
  39. Mistletoe, American Mistletoe, Big Leaf Mistletoe, Phoradendron leucarpum
  40. Mud-dauber Wasps and Allies, Subfamily: Sceliphrinae
  41. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  42. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii [heard]
  43. Oleander, Nerium oleander
  44. Pin-cushion Sunburst Lichen, Polycauliona polycarpa
  45. Pine-Pine Gall Rust, Endocronartium harknessii
  46. Ponderosa Pine, Pinus ponderosa
  47. Popcorn Flowers, Plagiobothrys sp.
  48. Purple Sanicle, Sanicula bipinnatifida
  49. Pyracantha, Pyracantha coccinea
  50. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  51. Rock Shield Lichen, Xanthoparmelia conspersa
  52. Rock Tripe, Emery Rock Tripe, Umbilicaria phaea
  53. Scattered Button Lichen, Buellia dispersa [gray/off white on rocks with black spots]
  54. Shepherd’s Purse, Capsella bursa-pastori
  55. Short-lobed Paintbrush, Castilleja brevilobata
  56. Shrubby Sunburst Lichen Polycauliona candelaria
  57. Sidewalk Firedot Lichen, Xanthocarpia feracissima  [bright orange, on rocks]
  58. Sierra Newt, Taricha sierrae
  59. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  60. Strap Lichen, Western Strap Lichen, Ramalina leptocarpha
  61. Streambank Springbeauty, Miner’s Lettuce, Claytonia parviflora
  62. Tile Lichen, Lecidea tessellata
  63. Toothed Crust Fungus, Basidioradulum sp.
  64. Toyon, Heteromeles arbutifolia
  65. Turkey Tail Fungus, Trametes versicolor
  66. Western Buttercup, Ranunculus occidentalis
  67. Western Chorus Frog, Pseudacris triseriata
  68. White Leaf Manzanita, Arctostaphylos viscida ssp. viscida
  69. Whitewash Lichen, Phlyctis argena
  70. Willow Pinecone Gall midge, Rabdophaga strobiloides