So Much to See Today!, 04-29-90

I got up around 6:00 this morning, and was out the door by 6:30 to go over to the WPA Rock Garden and William Land Park.  There was an odd overcast for most of the day which helped to save off some of the heat we’ve been experiencing lately, so it was about 61°F all the while I was out walking and only got up to about 77° by the end of the day.  Nice!

There were a few other people in the park and garden, but they all respected the social distancing thing, which I appreciated.  The WPA Rock Garden was pretty much showing off with a variety of cultivated and native plants and flowers.  Lots of sages, roses, irises, lilies, and one of my favorites: Tower of Jewels.  I’m sure I located over 70 different species there.

CLICK HERE for the album of flowers.
CLICK HERE for the album of other photos from today. [There were so many, I had to split the images up.]

I was surprised that I didn’t see as many birds and insects as I expected to this time of year.

I then walked around the middle-sized pond in the park.  It’s getting overrun with Sacred Lotus again. Once more, I didn’t see a whole lot of wild birds, but there were plenty of resident geese and domestic ducks around, as well as a few pairs of Wood Ducks.  I did see a pair of Western Bluebirds when they landed near the edge of the pond to get a drink and bathe a little bit.  Oh, and I saw a couple of Double-Crested Cormorants.

Western Bluebirds, Sialia Mexicana

There were also quite a few Douglas Squirrels and Eastern Fox Squirrels running around, and several Red-Eared Slider Turtles in the water and sunning themselves on the banks.

Red-Eared Slider Turtle, Trachemys scripta elegans

When I walked around the amphitheater near the pond, I was happy to come across the nest of a Black Phoebe. Mom periodically sat on the eggs/babies while dad kept guard.  I was able to get a few photos of them.

Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans

When I was done at the garden, I drove over to the larger pond in the park and walked around that one, too.  The first thing I notice there was a pair of Wood Ducks in a tree.  The female was checking out one of the manmade duck boxes set up for them, but she didn’t seem all that comfortable with it.  She flew up against the opening, but didn’t go in. I wonder if there was already a bird in there.

I saw Mallard ducklings in a variety of stages from fuzzy newborns to young fledglings.  There was a one tight group of ducklings (which I think were Wood Ducks) that were without their parents.  They were swimming around the pond all the while I was there, peeping and crying.  No one answered their calls and it made me wonder if the parents had abandoned them or had been killed (or stolen). 

Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos,ducklings all by themselves.

There was a pair of dark Muscovy Ducks mating in the water, and I thought it was interesting how the male kept making sure his mate could breathe (by putting in bill under her chin and lifting it up).  I’ve seen Mallards mate in the water and sometimes the females get pushed down so far they can’t get their head up and drown.

When I was taking photos of a couple of groups of goslings, one of the white Chinese Goose (AKA Swan Goose) decided she didn’t like me around there and started to rush me, head down, ready to bite.  I told her “no” a few times, but that didn’t deter her.  So, I took my hat off and held it in front of my thigh figuring that if she struck at me, she’d get the straw hat and not my skin.  The lowering of the hat discouraged her and she finally walked off. Phew!

Canada Goose, Branta canadensis,goslings

While I was dealing with her, though, I could hear a very odd, exceedingly loud honking sound coming from the edge of the pond. When I went over to investigate I realized it was a hybrid goose, probably part Canada Goose and part Chinese Goose.  It’s call was so weird though, sounding like a mix between a scream and a honk, CREE-onk! CREE-onk! CREE-onk!  It was like its voice cracked mid-sound.  I tried to get video of its sound, but every time I turned the camera on it, the goose went quiet.

The Canada Goose X Greylag Goose hybrid.

I walked for about 5 hours (!) and then headed back home.

Species List:

  1. African Blue Sage, Salvia africana
  2. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  3. Autumn Sage, Salvia greggii [deep red]
  4. Balloon Flower, Platycodon grandifloras [deep purple]
  5. Bearded Iris, Iris × germanica
  6. Bear’s Breeches, Acanthus mollis
  7. Beauty Bush, Linnaea amabilis [pink flowers, look similar to Catalpa]
  8. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  9. Black Sage, Salvia mellifera [kind of looks like horehound]
  10. Blue Agave, Tequilla Agave, Agave tequilana
  11. Blue Statice, Limonium sinuatum
  12. Borage, Borago officinalis
  13. Brass Buttons, Cotula coronopifolia
  14. Brazil Raintree, Brunfelsia pauciflora
  15. Bronze Fennel, Florence Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare dulce
  16. Buff Orpington Duck, Anas platyrhynchos domesticus var. Orpington
  17. Buffelgrass, Fountain Grass, Cenchrus ciliaris
  18. Bush Katydid, Scudderia furcata [nymph]
  19. Bushtit, American Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus
  20. California Goldenbanner, Thermopsis californica [kind of looks like broom]
  21. California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica
  22. California Sycamore, Platanus racemose
  23. Calla Lily, Zantedeschia aethiopica
  24. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  25. Cape Honey Flower, Melianthus major
  26. Cardoon, Artichoke, Cynara cardunculus
  27. Cayuga Duck, Pekin Duck, Anas platyrhynchos domesticus var. Cayuga
  28. Chinese Weeping Cypress, Cupressus pendula
  29. Common Columbine, Aquilegia vulgaris
  30. Common Greenbottle Fly, Lucilia sericata
  31. Common Poppy, Red Poppy of Flanders, Papaver rhoeas
  32. Common Stretch Spider, Long-Jawed Orb Weaver, Tetragnatha extensa
  33. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  34. Crested Duck, Anas platyrhynchos domesticus var. Crested
  35. Crevice Alumroot, Heuchera micrantha [tiny pink flowers]
  36. Dame’s Rocket, Hesperis matronalis
  37. Domestic Swan Goose, Chinese Goose, Anser cygnoides domesticus [white or gray, knob on forehead]
  38. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
  39. Douglas’ Squirrel, Tamiasciurus douglasii [small brown squirrel, white belly]
  40. Dutch Iris, Flag Iris, Iris × hollandica
  41. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
  42. Fern, Japanese Netvein Hollyfern, Cyrtomium falcatum
  43. Field Penny-Cress, Thlaspi arvense [“silver dollar”]
  44. Garden Snail, Cornu aspersum
  45. Giant Fennel, Ferula communis
  46. Giant Herb-Robert Geranium, Geranium maderense
  47. Giant Mullein, Broussa Mullein, Verbascum bombyciferum
  48. Golden Columbine, Aquilegia chrysantha
  49. Grass Sharpshooter, Draeculacephala Minerva
  50. Graylag Goose, Anser anser
  51. Hairy Matilija Poppy, Romneya trichocalyx
  52. Hedgehog Holly, Ilex aquifolium
  53. Hellebore, Stinking Hellebore, Helleborus foetidus
  54. Hoary Rock-Rose, Cistus criticus [bright pink, crinkly petals]
  55. Honeywort, Blue Shrimp Plant, Cerinthe major ssp. purpurascens [purple]
  56. Honeywort, Cerinthe major [yellow]
  57. Hoverfly, Common Flower Fly, Syrphus ribesii
  58. Japanese Yellow Woodland Sage, Salvia koyamae [yellow]
  59. Jerusalem Sage, Phlomis sp.
  60. Juniper Leaved Grevillea, Grevillea juniperina [spidery,orange]
  61. Leatherleaf Mahonia, Leatherleaf Barberry, Berberis bealei
  62. Lords and Ladies, Wild Arum, Arum maculatum
  63. Love-in-a-Mist, Nigella damascena
  64. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  65. Mexican Sage, Salvia Mexicana [deep purple]
  66. Moss Verbena, Verbena pulchella
  67. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  68. Multiflora Rose, Rosa multiflora
  69. Muscovy Duck, Cairina moschata domestica
  70. Naples Garlic, Allium neapolitanum [white with green seed center]
  71. Northern Catalpa, Indian Bean Tree, Catalpa speciosa
  72. Pacific Bleeding Heart, Dicentra formosa
  73. Pacific Forktail Damselfly, Ischnura cervula
  74. Pacific-Slope Flycatcher, Empidonax difficilis
  75. Pekin Duck, Anas platyrhynchos domesticus var. Pekin
  76. Peruvian Lily, Alstroemeria aurea
  77. Pinkladies, Oenothera speciosa
  78. Red Hot Poker, Kniphofia uvaria
  79. Red Valerian, Centranthus ruber
  80. Red-Eared Slider Turtle, Trachemys scripta elegans
  81. Rose, Rosa sp.
  82. Rosemary Grevillea, Grevillea rosmarinifolia [spidery, red]
  83. Sacred Lotus, Nelumbo nucifera
  84. Scarlet Kammetjie, Freesia laxa
  85. Sea Mallow, Malva subovata [kind of looks like hibiscus]
  86. Seaside Daisy, Erigeron glaucus [like fleabane]
  87. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa
  88. Small Honey Ant, Prenolepis imparis
  89. Smokebush, Smoke Tree, Cotinus coggygria
  90. Soap Aloe, Aloe maculata
  91. Society Garlic, Tulbaghia violacea
  92. Spice Bush, California Sweetshrub, Calycanthus occidentalis
  93. Spurge, Mediterranean Spurge, Euphorbia characias
  94. Spurge, Sun Spurge, Euphorbia helioscopia
  95. Swedish Blue Duck, Anas platyrhynchos domesticus var. Swedish Blue
  96. Sweet-William, Dianthus barbatus
  97. Tasmanian Flax-Lily, Dianella tasmanica [develops bright blue seeds]
  98. Tobacco, Coyote Tobacco, Nicotiana attenuata
  99. Tower-of-Jewels, Giant Viper’s-Bugloss, Echium pininana
  100. Valley Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa varipuncta
  101. Western Bluebird, Sialia Mexicana
  102. Wild Beardstyle, Stalked Bulbine, Bulbine frutescens [spray of orange or yellow flowers]
  103. Wood Duck, Aix sponsa
  104. Yellow Iris, Iris pseudacorus
  105. ellow-faced Bumble Bee, Bombus vosnesenskii

Cygnets and Goslings, 04-26-20

I got up at 6 o’clock this morning and headed out with my friend Roxanne to the Mather Lake Regional Park by 6:30 am.  We were hoping to walk the full length of the trail along the far side of the lake (the less manicured side) and wanted to check in on the swans to see if they were off their nests yet.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

The first thing we saw when we got into the park were several families of Canada Geese and their goslings.  One pair was looking after 30 (yes, 30) of the fuzzy babies.  Most of the geese have up to 8 goslings, so, when you see a large group of them (like 30) it’s a group of goslings from different parents (called a creche) that are being overseen by babysitters while the parents go off to feed. Creches usually occur where a lot of geese nest in a small area.

A very chubby Canada Goose, Branta canadensis, gosling

Except for the creches and the parenting behavior we saw among the geese, in which the male steps forward to protect his babies while the female herds the kids away to another location, we also saw a lot of “rule by tyranny” behavior with the nonbreeding adults posturing, honking at, and threatening others who came near them.  Once the breeding season is over, the flocks are less apt to be so aggressive.

Canada geese mate for life, but will take a new partner if their spouse dies.  The goslings are remarkable. They leave the nest within 24 hours of hatching, and can walk, feed, swim and dive without parental supervision.  But they do still need their parents for warmth and protection.

Because there were so many baby birds around, I was constantly being distracted by them and their fluffy cuteness, and I wasn’t being a very observant naturalist,s o I’m sure I missed tons of stuff along the trail.  I know that I missed the specimen of Dog Vomit Slime Mold that Roxanne saw and photographed. D’oh!  Still, I managed to get about 70 species on my list for today.       

We saw and heard several Great-Tailed Grackles along the trail. The males are singing and posturing for the females right now, so they’re very vocal. Some of their calls are quite loud and carried all the way across the lake.

Another unexpectedly loud creature was a Mute Swan who, without babies, was harassing the geese and other swans in the water.  It would run across the surface of the water in the direction of whomever it was focused on, slapping its feet and smacking its wing tips against the water, making a great noisy, splashing display obviously designed to intimidate.  Cornell calls this a “Foot-Slapping Display” and is usually related to territory.  “The sound produced by this display can be heard several hundred meters away,” says Cornell.  That’s for sure!  I could hardly believe how noisy it was. “Although both sexes can show aggressive behavior, it is more common and dramatic with males.”

I liked this photo of one of the parent Mute Swans (which actually are not mute). This posture is referred to as a “busk”; it’s a threat posture. Depending on how aggressive the bird is feeling the busk can take on more dramatic forms, with a deeper tuck of the neck and higher arch of the wings. This swan had babies with her, and she wasn’t thrilled when another swan came near them.

As I think I’ve mentioned before, Mute Swans were introduced into the US in the 1800’s as decorative accents to city parks and rich people’s homes.  In California, they’re considered an invasive species and it’s illegal to own them without a permit.  The “feral” ones in this park, though, are seemingly left to breed at will. 

The males are called “cobs” and the females are called “pens”. There were a lot of both on the water today, and several of the pairs had broods of cygnets (between 6 and 10).  I had never seen live cygnets before, so I was captivated by them and their white fuzziness. I watched as the moms reached down deep into the water to pull up aquatic plants for the babies to eat. 

About 80% of the swans’ diet is made of water plants, and because of the way they feed – roots to tips — they can completely tear out all of the very stuff they need to live on. The rest of their diet can include small fish, larger dead fish, and ripe berries (like blackberries).

You’ll note that some of the swans look like they have rusty-looking feathers on the top of the head. This is not any special kind of coloration. In fact, Cornell says: “…Plumage entirely white. Feathers of head and upper neck may become stained green, brown, or rust color from foraging among various substrates (MAC)…”

We also saw some of the swans basking in the warm morning light and a pair of adults sitting across the lake with their cygnets all gathered up in the nest.

As we walked along the trail, kind of chasing after the swans from the shore, we were inundated by a minty smell all around us.  It took us a moment to figure out where the smell was coming from, but then we decided that it was all the Pennyroyal around and under our feet.  None of it was in bloom yet, so we didn’t recognize it right away.

Pennyroyal mimics spearmint, but it’s actually poisonous. Although it’s been used in herbal medicines, ingestion or absorption through the skin can cause severe liver damage; it’s often used as an insect repellent.  Because it’s not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, though, people still use and abuse it.

We were attacked by ticks all day, more so than anywhere else we’ve walked lately, and I swear some of them were just falling out of the trees onto our heads and limbs. I got rid of three of them during our walk, and found three more in my hair after I got home. CHECK FOR TICKS! 

American Dog Tick, Dermacentor variabilis

Among the other insects we saw were some female Valley Carpenter Bees (the largest bees in California; about the size of your thumb) and several species of damselflies (including Sooty Dancers, Pacific Forktails, and Northern Bluets).  We also found a small Sweat Bee rolling around in Hawksbeard flowers and its entire body was caked in yellow pollen. Hah!

In the lake was got to see quite a few Gallinules (but none of them came very close to the shore) and lots of Pied-Billed Grebes.  We could hear and see the grebes calling to one another, but whenever I got my came up ready to video them, they’d go quiet.  We saw a pair of three of the grebes, one smaller than the other two, and speculated about what could cause the distinct size difference.  We threw out the idea that maybe it was a set of parents and a juvenile because all of the birds had their adult breeding coloring on. So we settled on the group as being two large males and a smaller female.

Elsewhere in the lake, we watched one of the grebes catch and eat something.  From our distance, we couldn’t tell what it had caught, but I got some video of it and discovered it was a crayfish.  I was amazed that the little bird could swallow that big hard-shelled creature whole.

There were a lot of Tree Swallows around the lake, and we were able to get photos of some of them in and near their nesting cavities.  We also saw a pair trying to mate in a tree, but it seemed like the male just couldn’t get into the right position.  He’d light on the female, flutter off, light on the female flutter off.  She didn’t seem to be trying to get away from him or drive him off; in fact, she just kind of sat there. The mess-up was all on the male’s part; he just couldn’t get his act together.

The most exciting sighting of the day, though, was as we were heading back to the car.  Roxanne mentioned that she’d love to be able to see the muskrat again, and almost as soon as she said that, I spotted the muskrat in the water close to where we were walking.  It swam away from the shore, dove under the water, and came back up with a mouth full of water plants.  Then it swam straight at us, toward the shore, and disappeared under the water again… but I was still able to see it for a few seconds as is swam under the surface.  So neat!  [If you watch the video, just ignore my  gleeful squee-ing.]

Muskrat, Ondatra zibethicus

We were out for about 5½ hours.

When we headed back home, we stopped at a drive-through to get some iced coffee and grilled cheese sammiches, and while we were waiting in line, we saw some House Sparrows going to and from the nest they had setup in one of the drain holes near the roof of the building. Nature adapts.

Species List:

  1. American Coot, Fulica americana
  2. American Dog Tick, Dermacentor variabilis
  3. American Robin, Turdus migratorius
  4. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  5. Azolla, Water Fern, Azolla filiculoides
  6. Black Bean Aphid, Aphis fabae
  7. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  8. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum
  9. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  10. California Black Oak, Quercus kelloggii
  11. California Brome, Bromus carinatus
  12. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  13. California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica
  14. California Quail, Callipepla californica
  15. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  16. California Scrub Oak, Quercus berberidifolia
  17. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  18. Common Gallinule, Gallinula galeata
  19. Common Green Lacewing, Chrysoperla carnea [larvae]
  20. Cork Oak, Quercus suber
  21. Cottonwood Leaf Gall Aphid, Pemphigus populivenae
  22. Cottonwood Petiole Gall, Poplar Petiole Gall Aphid, Pemphigus populitransversus
  23. Coyote Brush Bud Gall midge, Rhopalomyia californica
  24. Coyote Brush Rust Gall, Puccinia evadens
  25. Coyote Brush Stem Gall moth, Gnorimoschema baccharisella
  26. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  27. Crimson Clover, Trifolium incarnatum
  28. Curly Dock, Rumex crispus
  29. Eurasian Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto
  30. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  31. Filamentous Green Algae, Spirogyra sp.
  32. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  33. Great Blue Heron, Ardea Herodias
  34. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  35. Great-Tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus
  36. Green Heron, Butorides virescens
  37. Hairy Vetch, Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa ssp. villosa 
  38. Hare’s Foot Inkcap, Coprinopsis lagopus
  39. Hawksbeard, Smooth Hawksbeard, Crepis capillaris
  40. House Sparrow, Passer domesticus
  41. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon
  42. Italian Thistle, Carduus pycnocephalus
  43. Jersey Cudweed, Pseudognaphalium luteoalbum
  44. Jointed Charlock, Wild Radish, Raphanus raphanistrum
  45. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  46. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  47. Mediterranean Praying Mantis, Iris Mantis, Iris oratoria [very narrow ootheca]
  48. Mediterranean Stork’s-Bill, Erodium botrys
  49. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  50. Multiflora Rose, Rosa multiflora
  51. Muskrat, Ondatra zibethicus
  52. Mute Swan, Cygnus olor
  53. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii [heard]
  54. Pacific Forktail Damselfly, Ischnura cervula [males blue, 4 dots on thorax]
  55. Pennyroyal, Mentha pulegium
  56. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  57. Popcorn Flowers, Plagiobothrys sp.
  58. Rabbitfoot Grass, Polypogon monspeliensis
  59. Red-Eared Slider Turtle, Trachemys scripta elegans
  60. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  61. Ribwort Plantain, Plantago lanceolata
  62. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  63. Scarlet Pimpernel, Lysimachia arvensis
  64. Slender Path Rush, Juncus tenuis
  65. Sooty Dancer Damselfly, Argia lugens
  66. Stork’s Bill, Big Heron Bill, Broadleaf Filaree, Erodium botrys
  67. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  68. Tripartite Sweat Bee, Halictus tripartitus [tiny, striped abdomen]
  69. Turkey Tangle Frogfruit, Phyla nodiflora
  70. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  71. Unidentified Willow, Salix sp.
  72. Valley Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa varipuncta
  73. Water Milfoil, Myriophyllum triphyllum
  74. Western Fence Lizard, Blue Belly, Sceloporus occidentalis
  75. Western Kingbird, Tyrant Flycatcher, Tyrannus verticalis
  76. Western Polished Lady Beetle, Cycloneda polita
  77. White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus [kiting high overhead]
  78. Wild Mustard, Sinapis arvensis
  79. Yellow-Headed Blackbird, Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus

The City Nature Challenge Starts, 04-24-20

This is first day of the City Nature Challenge.  I pledged to post at least 50 observations to iNaturalist during the challenge this year so we’ll see how I do.  It goes through the 27th.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

I got up around 5:30 so I could get Esteban pottied and fed before I headed over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve. I got there around 6:15 am and hung around the entrance until my friend Roxanne joined me there.  While I was there, I got photos of some Coyote Brush Bud galls, ladybeetle nymphs (lions) and pupal cases, spiders, aphids, a tick, and plant bug nymphs, among others.

Lupin Aphid, Macrosiphum albifrons

Surprisingly, we HEARD quite a few birds, but didn’t really SEE many.  Instead, most of our observations turned out to be plants and “little things” like the bugs and galls. 

We found a Leaf Gall and a kind of fimbriate gall on the Valley Oak leaves.  I’d never seen the fimbriate one before, so that was a cool new finding for me.  And we also found a Round Leaf Gall on a Live Oak leaf that was also new to me.  I’d seen photos of ones on Black Oak before, but never saw anything like that on the Live Oak.  All of them were listed in Russo’s book, though, which is kind of like my “gall Bible”. 

The Valley Oaks are bursting now with new Oak Apple galls (also created by cynipid wasps) of all sizes. When they’re new, they’re bright green and some are blushed with plink.

Among the insects we saw, we found several specimens of a fly that was new to me, too: a White-Winged March Fly.  It’s a narrow-bodied black fly with white hairs on its body and translucent white wings.  It’s eyes are huge and cove the majority of its head; they’re surrounded by a ruff of fine black hairs.  Really cool!

White-winged March Fly, Bibio albipennis [thin black fly with translucent white wings]

I took photos of several different kinds of grasses.  I usually avoid those because they’re so difficult to ID correctly.  Even when I loaded them up into iNaturalist, I couldn’t get past “grasses” as an identifier.  I was able to ID two, though: Sweet Vernal Grass and Bristly Dog-Tail Grass. When I was taking some macro photos of the Dog-Tail Grass, I realized there was a tiny spider on it and he had bugs in his web. 

There were a few more wildflowers out (although in the recent heat, they’re fading fast), and we saw out first Small-flowered Catchfly flowers of the season.

Of the very few birds we saw was an Acorn Woodpecker moving in and out of her nesting cavity, and a Black Phoebe collecting insects for her nestlings.  We’d watched her during previous weeks building the nest.  We were surprised to see that she was apparently working on her own.  Usually, the Phoebes around the nature center work in pairs (a mated male and female) to feed the kids… and we wondered if something had happened to her mate.

Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans

The Red-Shouldered Hawk mama was in her nest, too, and we think she’s still sitting on eggs. We don’t see the white heads of babies through the covering leaves around the nest yet, and when there are hatchlings, mom and dad tag team to find things to feed them.

We were out for almost 4½ hours trying to take photos of as many things as we could to add to our iNat observations online.  By the end of today, I think I have over 100 species to post on the site.  Because of COVID-19 and the stay-at-home orders everywhere, this year’s City Nature Challenge isn’t going to be a contest, but I still want Sacramento to get some big numbers, so I’ll post whatever I can.

I got home a little after 11 o’clock and spent part of the afternoon posting about half of our sightings to iNaturalist before crashing for the day.

Post Script:

This is what the City Nature Challenge leader board looks like right now. Sacramento is 5th in the state and 23rd worldwide. I’m #10 on the Sacramento list for observations and Roxanne is #12. Woot!

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. American Copper Underwing, Amphipyra pyramidoides [green caterpillar with a kind of hornworm shape]
  3. American Dog Tick, Dermacentor variabilis
  4. Asian Ladybeetle, Harmonia axyridis
  5. Azolla, Water Fern, Azolla filiculoides
  6. Bedstraw, Velcro Grass, Cleavers, Galium aparine
  7. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  8. Black Walnut, Eastern Black Walnut, Juglans nigra
  9. Blue Dicks, Dichelostemma capitatum
  10. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra cerulea
  11. Blue Penstemon, Penstemon azureus
  12. Bordered Plant Bug, Largus californicus
  13. Boxelder, Box Elder Tree, Acer negundo
  14. Bristly Dogtail Grass, Cynosurus echinatus
  15. Bronze Jumping Spider, Eris militaris
  16. Bur Chervil, Anthriscus caucalis
  17. Bush Lupine, Lupinus albifrons
  18. Bush Monkeyflower, Diplacus aurantiacus
  19. California Bumblebee, Bombus californicus [black face, yellow ruff]
  20. California Camouflage Lichen, Melanelixia californica [dark green with brown apothecia, on trees]
  21. California Manroot, Bigroot, Marah fabaceus
  22. California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana
  23. California Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta
  24. California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica
  25. California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica
  26. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica
  27. Cherry-Plum, Prunus cerasifera
  28. Chinese Pistache, Pistacia chinensis
  29. Cleveland Sage, Salvia clevelandii [purple, circles]
  30. Coffeeberry, California Buckthorn, Frangula californica
  31. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
  32. Common Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale
  33. Common Green Lacewing, Chrysoperla carnea [eggs]
  34. Common Snowberry, Symphoricarpos albus
  35. Coyote Brush Bud Gall midge, Rhopalomyia californica
  36. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  37. Crabseye Lichen, Ochrolechia subpallescens [creamy colored lichen with white-rimmed pale orange/pink apothecia]
  38. Crown Whitefly, Aleuroplatus coronata
  39. Deer Grass, Muhlenbergia rigens
  40. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  41. False Turkey Tail fungus, Stereum complicatum
  42. Fimbriate Gall Wasp, Andricus opertus [on Valley Oak leaf]
  43. Flame Skimmer Dragonfly, Libellula saturata
  44. Giant Western Crane Fly, Holorusia hespera
  45. Gold Dust Lichen, Chrysothrix candelaris
  46. Golden Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
  47. Green Leafhopper, Nephotettix virescens
  48. Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata
  49. Hairy Vetch, Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa ssp. villosa
  50. Hammock Spider, Pityohyphantes sp. [a kind of sheet weaver]
  51. Himalayan Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus
  52. Honeysuckle Sawfly, Club-Headed Sawfly, Abia americana [whitish caterpillar with a gray head]
  53. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon
  54. Leaf Gall Wasp/ Unidentified per Russo, Tribe: Cynipidi
  55. Live Oak Erineum Mite, Aceria mackiei
  56. Live Oak Round Leaf Gall Wasp, Heteroecus flavens
  57. Lupin Aphid, Macrosiphum albifrons
  58. Lupine, Chick Lupine, Lupinus microcarpus
  59. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  60. Mazegill Fungus, Daedalea quercina
  61. Miner’s Lettuce, Claytonia perfoliata
  62. Miniature Lupine, Lupinus bicolor
  63. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  64. Mule Fat, Baccharis salicifolia
  65. Oak Apple Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  66. Oleander Aphid, Aphis nerii
  67. Painted Lady Butterfly, Vanessa cardui
  68. Pink Grass, Windmill Pink, Petrorhagia dubia
  69. Plant Bugs, Family: Miridae
  70. Plum, Prunus cerasifera
  71. Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Western Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
  72. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  73. Rose Clover, Trifolium hirtum
  74. Santa Barbara Sedge, Carex barbarae
  75. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciose
  76. Shrubby Sunburst Lichen, Polycauliona candelaria
  77. Small-flowered Catchfly, Silene gallica
  78. Snowberry Sawfly, Blennogeneris spissipes
  79. Soap Plant, Wavy Leafed Soaproot, Chlorogalum pomeridianum
  80. Soft-Winged Flower Beetle, Idgia sp. [kind of look like soldier beetles]
  81. Spice Bush, California Sweetshrub, Calycanthus occidentalis
  82. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  83. Sulphur Tubic Moth, Esperia sulphurella [tiny dark moth with yellow lines]
  84. Sweet Vernal Grass Anthoxanthum odoratum
  85. Trashline Orb Weaver Spider, Cyclosa conica
  86. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  87. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  88. Two-Horned Gall Wasp, Dryocosmus dubiosus
  89. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  90. Western Fence Lizard, Blue Belly, Sceloporus occidentalis
  91. Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis
  92. White Horehound, Marrubium vulgare
  93. White-Winged March Fly, Bibio albipennis
  94. Yarrow, Achillea millefolium
  95. Yerba Santa, California Yerba Santa, Eriodictyon californicum

Earth Day Owlets, 04-22-20

Happy Earth Day!  This is its 50th Anniversary.  I got up at 6:00 this morning and then out the door around 7:00 am to go to the American River Bend Park for a walk with my friend Roxanne.  And, yes, I wore my Earth Day shirt today.  Hah!

 We’d gone mostly to check on the Great Horned Owl and her owlets and to look for Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies, eggs and caterpillars.  Both of us noted that we haven’t seen a whole lot of butterflies in the Sacramento region lately.  We don’t know if they’re late or we’re early.

The owlets were up in a tree together, under and behind some stickery branches and leaves which made photo-taking a little difficult.  We had to walk through the chest-high dew-dampened grass to find some spots where we could see them more clearly.  They kept an eye on us all the while we were moving around their tree.  Mom was nearby in a different tree, her head hidden in the shade.  In the early morning, everyone seemed comfortable, but by the time we checked on the owlets again on our way out of the park several hours later, one of the owlets was panting from the heat.  We hope he’ll be okay…

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

While we were watching the owlets, there were some House Wrens singing and fussing around us.  We traced one of them back to its nesting cavity in a nearby tree.  We were surprised by how low the opening one to the ground – just above the level of the high grass. 

We found a couple of Tree Swallow nesting cavities, and next to one of them we witnessed a knock-down-drag-out between several Towhees.  First, a pair of California Towhees routed out a Spotted Towhee and chased it away.  Then a third California Towhee came into the mix and three chased each other around and battled midair around the trees, clashing pretty violently at times.

Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor

According to Cornell: “…Both males and females engage in aggressive behaviors towards other males and females; defense is not sex-specific… Displaying birds often circle each other, fluttering the wing closest to their opponent, occasionally switching directions to flutter the other wing. Birds sometimes pair this display with another, where they pick up small sticks or twigs and hold them in front of their opponents… Males and females vigorously defend breeding territories against rivals, sometimes to the point of bloody injury… In Pasadena, CA, a male attacked and bloodied an intruding California Towhee caught in a trap when the intruder put its head through wire mesh of the trap in an attempt to escape…”

I think it was that territoriality that we were witnessing.  Further reading let me know that both males and females hold territory, and mated pairs usually stay together for five years or more.  And they’re not super-particular in where they nest: on the ground, in shrubs, in trees, in man-made structures… They can have up to three broods per year.

We were also treated to seeing a female Western Bluebird at the doorway to her nest.  The male bluebird was several trees away, guarding his territory, but never came close enough for is to get a photo of him.

A female Western Bluebird, Sialia Mexicana

I saw a White-Breasted Nuthatch gathering plant fluff to line its nest, and also watched a Starling collecting insects in the leaf-litter to take to her babies.  We tried a couple of times to catch the Starlings in or near their nesting cavities, but they’re VERY protective of the sites and wouldn’t come near them when we nearby.  We watched one mother carrying a mouthful of worms and bugs circle around and around the nesting cavity, but never coming near it while we were there.

We did find some Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies.  Most of them were flitting around near the tree tops.  The females we found resting on the ground were pretty battered, wings shredded or completely missing from their frenetic short-lived life.  We came across only a few eggs, but noted that the caterpillars are starting to make their presence known through their communal eating (when they’re young) and black frass. In another week or so, they’ll all be fat and getting ready for their metamorphosis.

Early instar caterpillars of the California Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta

There were quite a few Tussock Moth caterpillars in different instars, mostly on the leaves of the oak trees or trailing on the wind on the end of their strands of silk.  Among leaves of the surviving Stinging Nettles (those that haven’t been mowed down yet), we found several Red Admiral caterpillars; and wrapped in the leaves of the Blue Elderberry trees, we found several Elder Moth caterpillars. Other insect discoveries were Click Beetles, Mosquito Hawks, a Harvestman, katydid nymphs, a Camel Cricket, and others.

At one spot along the trail we noted that the leaves of a wild grapevine were dotted with what we first assumed was dew.  But then we realized that none of the other plants around the grape vine had dew on them.  So, we concluded that what we were actually seeing was evidence of “transpiration”, when a plant sweats the excess water in its system that it doesn’t need and releases it to the air.  This usually happens when the plant is in a growth phase.  Something similar can be seen in some fungi in the form of “guttation”.


Other sightings: among the rocks and gravel along the river’s edge we saw some male California Quails and a jackrabbit.  And a surprise was seeing a bright reddish-orange Flame Skimmer dragonfly resting in the long grass.

Flame Skimmer Dragonfly, Libellula saturata

We walked for about 4 hours and then headed back home, stopping for some iced coffee and a grilled cheese sammich on the way.  Yummy.

Species List:

  1. Bedstraw, Velcro Grass, Cleavers, Galium aparine
  2. Bird’s-eye Speedwell, Veronica persica
  3. Black Walnut, Eastern Black Walnut, Juglans nigra
  4. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus
  5. Bur Chervil, Anthriscus caucalis
  6. Bush Katydid, Scudderia furcate [nymph]
  7. California Manroot, Bigroot, Marah fabaceus
  8. California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana
  9. California Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta
  10. California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica
  11. California Quail, Callipepla californica
  12. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  13. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis
  14. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica
  15. California Woodsorrel, Oxalis californica  [yellow flowers, clover-like leaves]
  16. Click Beetle,  Limonius canus [brown]
  17. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
  18. Common Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale
  19. Common Fiddleneck, Amsinckia menziesii
  20. Common Hoptree, Ptelea trifoliata
  21. Common Sow-Thistle, Sonchus oleraceus
  22. Convergent Lady Beetle, Hippodamia convergens
  23. Cricket, Arboreal Camel Cricket, Gammarotettix bilabatus
  24. Destroying Angel Mushroom, Amanita ocreata
  25. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
  26. Elder Moth, Achatodes zeae
  27. English Walnut, Juglans regia
  28. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  29. Field Madder, Sherardia arvensis [looks kind of like bedstraw]
  30. Flame Skimmer Dragonfly, Libellula saturata
  31. Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus
  32. Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata
  33. Harvestman, Protolophus singularis
  34. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon
  35. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  36. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  37. Mugwort Weevil, Scaphomorphus longinasus
  38. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus
  39. Pacific Pea, Lathyrus vestitus
  40. Plum, Prunus cerasifera
  41. Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Western Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
  42. Red Admiral Butterfly, Vanessa atalanta [caterpillar]
  43. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus [heard]
  44. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  45. Santa Barbara Sedge, Carex barbarae
  46. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  47. Stinging Nettle, Urtica dioica
  48. Sulphur Tubic Moth, Esperia sulphurella [tiny dark moth with yellow lines]
  49. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  50. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura [in flight]
  51. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  52. Western Bluebird, Sialia Mexicana
  53. Western Fence Lizard, Blue Belly, Sceloporus occidentalis
  54. Western Tussock Moth, Orgyia vetusta [caterpillar]
  55. White Horehound, Marrubium vulgare
  56. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis
  57. ?? spider egg sac

Okay, the Nymph Was the Coolest Thing Today, 04-20-20

I got up around 6:45 this morning to let Esteban out to go potty, gave him his breakfast and then headed over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve. It was about 54°F and totally overcast outside when I got there, and only got up to about 61° by the time I left.

“Social Distancing” primer with birds

I haven’t been out there for quite a while because I felt there were way too many people on the trails. I wanted to check in on the Red-Shouldered Hawks’ nest, though, to see if they had any babies yet.
I found that the nest was pretty much obscured by leaves now, so I couldn’t see much of anything. But… I pretty much had the whole place to myself for most of my walk. I think I saw about 10 people in total, but they all stayed well away. There was one group of three people; two of the folks had masks on, but the third one, a very loud and gabby woman, did not. Sigh

At one point along the trail I saw a pair of Tree Swallows checking out a nesting cavity in a tree… The problem was, a pair of House Wrens had already settled into another cavity in the same tree. The wrens were trying to bring food in for their babies, but the swallows didn’t like them coming so close to the cavity they wanted, so there was an on-going war there. The wrens got smart and waited until the swallows were distracted by something else, then rushed in, fed the kids and rushed out again. It sucks to have crummy neighbors.

There were quite few deer throughout the preserve, including several bucks in their velvet. I watched two different males eating the black walnut leaves off the trees. Must’ve been a favorite. I also saw a doe and her yearling browsing in a field munching on grass and blue miniature lupine.

At another spot, I saw a female turkey walking through what for her was chest-high grass…and she had EIGHT males following after her, posturing and strutting for her. She totally ignored all of them. Hah!

I stopped at a bench to sit and rest for a moment and realized there was some tiny “something” on the side of my bag. I got out the macro lens connection for my cell phone and took some photos of it. To my surprise, it was the nymph of a of a kind of Buffalo Treehopper, Ceresa sp. Cool! I’ve found the treehoppers’ exuvia (shed skin) a lot in the past (and found another specimen of that today), but I had never seen a live one before, so that exciting to me.

The nymph of a Buffalo Treehopper, Stictocephala alta

Other neat sightings included see a pair of Wood Ducks (a male and female) flying into a tree near me, checking it out as a potential nesting site; a male quail who popped up on a wood pile on top of a Ground Squirrel’s nest that I was watching; and a Spotted Towhee who stopped in an open space in the overgrowth so I could get pictures of him.

I also saw some Digger Bee turrets along the trail; and noted that the Windmill Pinks were up and starting to bloom.

I walked for about 3½ hours and was totally beat by the time I was done. That’s what I get for not doing any walking for three days straight. Hah!

Post Script:

When I posted my photos of the nymph mentioned above to iNaturalist, Stuart McKamey, the world authority on Treehoppers, saw them and messaged me with: “…I am describing nymphs of New World treehoppers, but do not recognize this. Were there any treehopper adults around? May I use your photographs in my scientific publication?”

            I let him know that I hadn’t found any adults in the same area, but did find exuvia, and told him where I found it. I also gave him permission to use my photos (if he gave me photo credit).

            You never know who’s looking at your stuff or what scientist may benefit from your observations. This is what “citizen science” is all about!         

“Our field-records will be perhaps the most valuable of all our results. …any and all (as many as you have time to record) items are liable to be just what will provide the information wanted. You can’t tell in advance which observations will prove valuable.
Do record them all!”

Joseph Grinnell, 1908

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. Asian Ladybeetle, Harmonia axyridis
  3. Barren Brome, Bromus sterilis
  4. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii
  5. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  6. Black Walnut, Eastern Black Walnut, Juglans nigra
  7. Blue Dicks, Dichelostemma capitatum
  8. Blue Penstemon, Penstemon azureus
  9. Buffalo Treehopper, Stictocephala alta
  10. Bur Chervil, Anthriscus caucalis
  11. California Bumblebee, Bombus californicus
  12. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  13. California Manroot, Bigroot, Marah fabaceus
  14. California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana
  15. California Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta
  16. California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica
  17. California Quail, Callipepla californica
  18. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  19. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica
  20. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  21. Cleveland Sage, Salvia clevelandii
  22. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
  23. Common Snowberry, Symphoricarpos albus
  24. Common Soft Brome, Bromus hordeaceus
  25. Coyote Brush Bud Gall midge, Rhopalomyia californica
  26. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  27. Cranefly, Mosquito Hawk, Tipula dietziana
  28. Digger Bee, Anthophora bomboides stanfordiana [turrets]
  29. Douglas Iris, Iris douglasiana
  30. Grape Phylloxera, Daktulosphaira vitifoliae
  31. Green Leafhopper, Nephotettix virescens
  32. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon
  33. Indian Strawberry, Potentilla indica
  34. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  35. Italian Thistle, Carduus pycnocephalus
  36. Leaf Blotch Miner Moth, Acrocercops affinis
  37. Lincoln’s Sparrow, Melospiza lincolnii
  38. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  39. Miniature Lupine, Lupinus bicolor
  40. Oak Apple Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  41. Oak Leafroller Moth, Archips semiferana
  42. Periwinkle, Vinca major
  43. Pink Grass, Windmill Pink, Petrorhagia dubia
  44. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  45. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  46. Seven-Spot Ladybeetle, Coccinella septempunctata
  47. Snowberry Sawfly, Blennogeneris spissipes [caterpillar]
  48. Soap Plant, Wavy Leafed Soaproot, Chlorogalum pomeridianum
  49. Spice Bush, California Sweetshrub, Calycanthus occidentalis
  50. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  51. Stork’s Bill, Big Heron Bill, Broadleaf Filaree, Erodium botrys
  52. Trashline Orb Weaver Spider, Cyclosa conica
  53. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  54. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  55. Valley Tassels, Castilleja attenuata
  56. White Checkered-Skipper, Burnsius albescens
  57. White Horehound, Marrubium vulgare
  58. Wood Duck, Aix sponsa