Today, I got up around 6:45 with the dog and got him pottied and breakfasted before I headed out with my friend and fellow naturalist Roxanne Moger, around 8:00 am, to do some nature bathing. It was overcast when we headed out, but the clouds broke up and it warmed up quickly, so I really didn’t need the coat I’d brought with me.
We stopped first at the Mather Vernal Pool area to see if anything new had popped up since the last time we were out there. A lot of the yellow Field Poppies were opening up, as were the pale pink Dwarf Checkermallow. We also found a few flowers we hadn’t seen earlier including a kind of white mallow and Doublehorn Downingia (a tiny purple-blue Calicoflower with a white “face” and yellow polkadots).
I also saw several Painted Lady butterflies and some of the micro-sized Fairy Longhorn Moths. By comparison, Painted Ladies are about 65 millimeters long (2 to 2½ inches) and the Fairy Longhorns are only about 5 millimeters (0.2 inches). The cool thing about these tiny moths is that the male’s antennae are actually about three times as long as their forewings. They’re so small, though, it’s hard for me to get photos of them, out of the ones I saw, I was only able to get somewhat-fuzzy-good pictures of one of them.
Under a flat piece of wood, we found some beetles and a centipede. The ‘pede moved so quickly that I was only able to get one photo of it before it disappeared into the grass.
Rox and I noticed several Western Meadowlarks in the field with their beaks full of insects, and we presumed they were carrying them as food for their babies. Meadowlarks nest on the ground, creating a kind of domed push-ups in tall grass which are well-hidden. I’m hoping that the next time I see the parent birds carrying bugs over the field, I can trace one back to the nesting sight, so I can catch a glimpse of my first Meadowlark nest. “…The female lays 3 to 7 eggs that have white base with completely spotted and speckled brown on top of base color. The female incubates the eggs for 13 to 14 days…”
When we were out by the large pond area (which actually had a bit of standing water in it) we saw a Killdeer standing at the edge of the water. That made for some pretty photos. There were also several Killdeer along the side of the road – where I think they’ll be nesting shortly. They like low dirt and gravelly areas. So, I’ll need to keep an eye out for those as well.
In some spots along the road, around the base of the telephone poles, we also found several owl pellets. The pellets are balls of undigested fur and bone that the owls cough up when they’re done eating/digesting their meals. According to Cornell: “…Owls swallow their prey whole or in large pieces, but they cannot digest fur, teeth, bones, or feathers. Like other birds, owls have two chambers in their stomachs. In the first chamber, the glandular stomach or proventriculus, all the digestible parts of an owl’s meal are liquefied. Then the meal passes into the second chamber, the muscular stomach or gizzard, which grinds down hard structures and squeezes the digestible food into the intestines. The remaining, indigestible fur, bones, and teeth are compacted into a pellet which the owl spits out. Owls typically cast one pellet per day, often from the same roosting spot, so you may find large numbers of owl pellets on the ground in a single place…”
And according to Carolina Biological: “An owl pellet generally reaches its final form a few hours after the owl has eaten. However, the pellet is not usually ejected immediately after it is formed. Owls can store a pellet in a structure known as the proventriculus for as long as 20 hours before disgorging it. Since the stored pellet partially blocks the entrance to the digestive system, it must be ejected before the owl can eat again. Young owls do not produce pellets until they have begun to eat their prey whole… The actual process of regurgitating a pellet lasts from a few seconds to several minutes. The pellet is forced out by spasms of the owl’s esophagus. These spasms make the owl look like it is coughing painfully. However, it is not hurt by the process because the pellet remains soft and moist until it leaves the owl’s body.”
You have to be careful when dissecting the pellets because they can be vectors of disease – like salmonella – so wear gloves and a mask when you dissect pellets you’ve found in the wild.
CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.
When we were done at the vernal pool area, we went over to the Mather Lake Regional Park and walked along the far side of the lake (which we hadn’t done the last time we were out there. I liked that side of the lake better than the other. It less “manicured” and a bit more rugged. We also got a different, better angle on the lake and seemed to see more birds. There were quite a few people fishing at the lake, including some folks in canoes and kayaks. The lake is supposed to be stocked with bass and Bluegill, but I didn’t see anyone catching anything.
At the entrance to the park, there was a pair of Canada Geese and their three goslings. Soooo cute. I love those fuzzy bird babies.
In the water, we saw several swans, including one that looked like it was sitting on a nest. I’ve never seen a live cygnet before, so I’ll watch for them the next time we’re out at the park.
The big deal at the park today, though, was spotting a muskrat in the water. (It might have been two that we saw in two different places, but I got the impression it was the same one we saw each time we saw one.) First it was coming toward us at an angle along the shore. It got pretty close, but then dove under the water where we couldn’t see it. The next time we spotted it, it was on the other end of the lake and swimming with its mouth full of greenery.
When it got to the rocky shore, under it dove under the water and disappeared again. That shore is right next to a berm road, and I imagine that the muskrat had a cut a burrow in from the lake and underneath the berm. They also make “push-ups” of tules and other vegetation, smaller and less complicated than beaver dens.
I got some photos of the muskrat and also a video snippet, so I was pleased with that.
We encountered quite a few House Wrens, and I got a video snippet of one of the singing. I didn’t realize it until I got the video home and played it on my laptop, that partway through his song the wren spots a small flying insect and snags it right out of the air before finishing his song. Hah!
Other finds at the park included getting photos of a Familiar Bluet and a Pacific Forktail damselfly. There was also some huge, fat beetle thing that we saw climbing up a rush. I got one blurry photo of it before we were distracted by the approach of the muskrat. By the time we focused on the rush again, the beetle was gone. So, I have no idea what that was.
When we were pretty much worn out by our walk at the park, we headed back home and stopped at the American River Bend Park so I could show Roxanne where the owl’s nest was. The mama owl was nowhere to be seen; we assumed she was out hunting. But the owlets were there, sitting side-by-side on a branch near the nest. They are just so darling…
We also saw a Black Phoebe nest under the eaves of the roof of the ranger kiosk at the park, and watched while the parent flew back and forth with food for the babies in the nest. The Phoebes are sort of Roxanne’s and my adopted “totem animal” (we see them everywhere we go), so it was neat to be able to spot the nest.
All in all, we were out walking for about 6 hours! So it was a long but super-successful and fun day.
- Audubon’s Warbler, Setophaga coronata auduboni
- Beaver, American, Beaver, Castor canadensis [sign on trees]
- Black Bean Aphid, Aphis fabae
- Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
- Black Willow, Salix nigra
- Blue Dicks, Dichelostemma capitatum
- California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
- California Wild Rose, Rosa californica
- Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
- Common Cat’s-Ear, Hypochaeris radicata
- Common Fiddleneck, Amsinckia menziesii
- Common Fringepod, Thysanocarpus curvipes
- Common Gold Cobblestone Lichen, Pleopsidium flavum
- Cork Oak, Quercus suber
- Coyote Brush Stem Gall moth, Gnorimoschema baccharisella
- Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
- Cryptopid Centipede, Theatops californiensis
- Cut-Leaved Crane’s Bill, Geranium dissectum
- Dock, Willow Dock, Rumex salicifolius
- Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
- Downingia, Doublehorn Calicoflower, Downingia bicornuta
- Dwarf Brodiaea, Brodiaea terrestris
- Dwarf Checkermallow, Sidalcea malviflora
- Fairy Longhorn Moth, Adela flammeusella
- Familiar Bluet Damselfly, Enallagma civile [female]
- Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis
- Field Owl’s-Clover, Castilleja campestris [looks like Johnnytuck but has green brackets not red]
- Floating Water Primrose, Ludwigia peploides ssp. Peploides
- Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
- Fremont’s Tidy Tips, Layia fremontii
- Fresh Water Snail, Fluminicola sp.
- Frying Pan Poppy, Eschscholzia lobbii
- Golden Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
- Goldfields, California Goldfields, Lasthenia californica
- Goldfields, Vernal Pool Goldfields, Lasthenia fremontii
- Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus
- Greenish Blue Butterfly, Icaricia saepiolus
- Hawksbeard, Smooth Hawksbeard, Crepis capillaris
- Himalayan Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus
- House Wren, Troglodytes aedon
- Jointed Charlock, Wild Radish, Raphanus raphanistrum
- Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
- Little Rattlesnake Grass, Little Quaking Grass, Briza minor
- Low Woolly Marbles, Psilocarphus brevissimus
- Lupine, Arroyo Lupine, Lupinus succulentus
- Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
- Meadow Barley, Hordeum brachyantherum
- Miniature Lupine, Lupinus bicolor
- Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
- Muskrat, Ondatra zibethicus
- Mute Swan, Cygnus olor
- Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
- Pacific Forktail Damselfly, Ischnura cervula [male]
- Painted Lady Butterfly, Vanessa cardui
- Paltry Puffball, Puffball Fungus, Bovista californica
- Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps [heard]
- Pineappleweed, Matricaria discoidea
- Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Western Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
- Popcorn Flowers, Plagiobothrys sp.
- Purple Sanicle, Sanicula bipinnatifida
- Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
- Ribwort Plantain, Plantago lanceolata
- Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
- Rose Clover, Trifolium hirtum
- Rusty Popcornflower, Plagiobothrys nothofulvus
- Scarlet Pimpernel, Lysimachia arvensis
- Shrubby Sunburst Lichen, Polycauliona candelaria
- Silverpuff, Marsh Scorzonella, Microseris paludosa
- Stem Rust Fungus, Puccinia evadens [attacks Coyote Brush]
- Stork’s Bill, Big Heron Bill, Broadleaf Filaree, Erodium botrys
- Strap Lichen, Western Strap Lichen, Ramalina leptocarpha
- Swainson’s Hawk, Buteo swainsoni
- Sweet Vernal Grass, Anthoxanthum odoratum
- Tomcat Clover, Trifolium willdenovii
- Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
- Tripartite Sweat Bee, Halictus tripartitus [tiny, striped abdomen]
- Valley Tassels, Castilleja attenuata
- Vernal Pool Checkerbloom, White Checkerbloom, Sidalcea calycosa ssp. calycosa
- Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
- White American Vetch, Vicia americana
- White Checkerbloom, Vernal Pool Checkerbloom, Sidalcea calycosa ssp. calycosa
- White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys
- White-Tipped Clover, Variegated Clover, Trifolium variegatum
- Whitehead Navarretia, Navarretia leucocephala
- Yellow Dung Fly, Scathophaga stercoraria
- ?? willow gallfly