Lots of Encounters Today, 05-11-20

I slept pretty solidly last night and woke up just a little before 6:00 am. By 6:30 I was out the door heading for the Mather Lake Regional Park. It was a lovely day, cool and breezy in the morning and light rain in the afternoon.  I wanted to go back this time to do more detailed “naturalist” work.  Last time I was there, I was so focused on goslings and cygnets that I wasn’t paying much attention to anything else.

I found a parking spot in the shade right new the trail – score!—and headed out.  As I was cross the walkway that leads over the irrigation canal, my way was blocked by three Wild Turkeys, a female being followed by two males.  The female stopped before she got to close and stepped off into the adjacent field, and one the of the males followed after her. The final male though, who was in full strut, refused to step aside and kept approaching me. I think my wide brimmed hat looked too much like fanned tail feathers to him, and he was insistent on confronting me. If there hadn’t been a female turkey around, I don’t think he would have been so aggressive, but today he was on a mission. 

Rio Grande Wild Turkeys, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia. That’s the female in the front and the two males behind her. The one on the left in this photo is the one that attacked me.

He walked right up to me and stepped in close.  I took the hat off, and he stepped in closer still.  I stepped back several steps and tried to walk away, and he rushed after me.  Yikes! I know how powerful these birds are, and I didn’t want the turkey to peck at me, so I tried waving him off with the hat.  Wrong idea. He jumped up and hit my hand with his spurs, catching me across the knuckles. It hurt enough so I dropped the hat to the ground, but luckily the blow didn’t break the skin.  Once the hat was on the ground, the turkey walked away, s-l-o-w-l-y, still in full strut: head tucked in, snood down, tail fanned, chest puffed up and the primary feathers of his wings dragging on the ground.  

I don’t know if his attack on me impressed the female turkey, but it was an interesting way to start my walk.

There were quite a few fishermen out, but I didn’t see any of them catch anything.  And several of them kept following me, passing me by, following me, passing me by… unable to find a spot where they really wanted to concentrate on their fishing.  Some of them crossed in front of me as they passed, messing up some of my photos, another cast his line right into an area where a muskrat was swimming in the water. I thought that was rude and stupid.  (He could have injured the muskrat with his hook and line.)

Not all of the fishermen were jerks, however. At one point, a pair of Canada Geese were leading their creche of goslings along the shore, when one of the Mute Swans came rushing in from the water and attacked the adult geese.  I saw this and tried to get to the geese to defend them, but two young Russian men who were fishing nearby, dropped their poles in the water and ran ahead of me to get to the get more quickly than I could. They were successful in driving the swan away, and stayed between the geese and the water until everyone had calmed down. I thanked them for coming to geese’s aid.

Canada Geese, Branta canadensis. This was a creche of 27 goslings.
These two young men were taking video of the creche as it went past them. When the geese had moved to the boys’ left, a Mute Swan rushed onto the shore from the lake and attacked the geese. The boys, who were fishing, dropped their pole and ran to defend the geese.

The aggressive nature of the swans is part of the reason why they’re considered an “invasive species”. They move into an area and try to drive out anything they consider competition for food and breeding space. The swans are much larger than the adult geese, and who knows what damage this one could have done to them – and the goslings. 

Speaking of the goslings… there were lots and lots of them out this morning from the little yellow fuzzballs to the tall lanky fledglings. One pair of adults were escorting 27 babies!  There was another smaller group with one gosling who was limping, obviously in some distress.  I don’t know how seriously the injury was or how long the parents could keep giving it extra attention, but I was happy to see that one of the adults with that group stayed back with the injured one to make sure it wasn’t left alone.

This gosling had an injured leg and had trouble stepping up over the curb onto the lawn next to the lake. One of the adult geese stayed with it so it wouldn’t get left behind.

Taking some semi-close-up photos of the goslings, I got a view of the tongue of one of them.  Goose tongues are interesting because they have hairs and spikes on them that act like a sieve (along with the tooth-like “tomia” around the edges of the bill)  when the birds feed in water.

In the lake, I got to see a pair of Common Gallinules mating.  The male flapped his wings all the while he was mounted on the female, then she dumped him off to one side. Then he dropped his head to the ground and raised his winds and tail feather and walked across in front her before leaving her to preen and mock feed. 

I was surprised to read in Cornell that the mating behaviors of the North American common gallinule “have not been described”, so they had to use information from Europe. That seems like an unusual oversight to me. I guess I should have been paying more attention to the pair I saw. But I’m glad I got some photos and a video snippet of the action.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

I also saw the muskrat swimming in a few different parts of the lake.  I’m assuming it’s the same one; I suppose there could be more than one in there.

Muskrat, Ondatra zibethicus

According to livescience.com: “…Muskrats are very social and live in large, territorial families, according to the Animal Diversity Web. They communicate with others and mark their territory with a secretion from their glands called musk… They tend to prefer vegetation like cattails, waterlilies, roots and pondweed. They also eat snails, mussels, salamanders, crustaceans, fish and young birds… They usually don’t travel any farther than 150 feet away from their homes… Females have a gestation period of three to four weeks and give birth to three to eight young. They can have up to three litters each year. Baby muskrats are called kits…”

Another website, havahart.com, said, “…As monogamous breeders, muskrats live with their mates and their young. They are very territorial – especially during breeding season…  Newborn muskrats are weaned for about a year before they become independent… Muskrat kits are born hairless and blind.”

I’m hoping to see some babies in the near future.

I heard quite a few bullfrogs along the edges of the lake, but couldn’t see any of them. They have a deep croak that sounds like a cello. 

I watched a Pied-Billed Grebe eat something it had caught in the water but I couldn’t tell if it was a frog or a small fat fish. It had a pink to it.

While I was watching the grebe, several male Great-Tailed Grackles flew in, following after a female.  The males did some posturing for the female.  The “head-up” posture is done by males during the breeding season to impress the females and intimidate other males. They also “squint” their nictitating membranes (inner eyelids) when doing this to make themselves look tougher (ala Clint Eastwood). I saw an was able to get several photographs of this behavior. 

Great-Tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus

Elsewhere on the trail, I saw a male Mourning Dove bring twigs and other nesting materials to his mate.  By doing this, the male inadvertently tells everyone where the nesting site is. This one was in the flattened branches of a coyote brush bush. It was REALLY difficult to see the nest… and I didn’t want to get too close for fear of scaring the female off. But I did manage to get a few distant photos of the site… and the nesting female.

The male Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura

I saw several ground squirrels running around by they were too fast for me to photograph.  The photos I did get were of one young squirrel who seemingly had an exceedingly bad case of mange.  He was itchy all over, and in some places his skin was barren of fur and raw-looking.  Poor little thing.

A very mangy young California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi

I also got some photos of a Scrub Jay eating an insect.  I couldn’t see what it was eating on site, but when I got the photos and video snippet home, I was able to tell that it had caught a large emergent dragonfly.  The dragonfly hadn’t pumped its wings up yet and was still its teneral-green color.  Nice catch for the bird!

Altogether, I documented over 60 species today, so I was happy with that. I walked for about 3½ hours before heading back home.

Species List:

  1. American Robin, Turdus migratorius
  2. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii
  3. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  4. Black Willow, Salix nigra
  5. Brown-Headed Cowbird, Molothrus ater
  6. Bushtit, American Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus
  7. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  8. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  9. California Sycamore, Platanus racemose
  10. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  11. Cobwebby Thistle, Cirsium occidentale
  12. Common Duckweed, Lemna minor
  13. Common Gallinule, Gallinula galeata
  14. Common Spike-Rush, Eleocharis palustris [has a head somewhat like SB Sedge]
  15. Cork Oak, Quercus suber
  16. Cottonwood Leaf Gall Aphid, Pemphigus populivenae
  17. Cottonwood Petiole Gall, Poplar Petiole Gall Aphid, Pemphigus populitransversus
  18. Coyote Brush Bud Gall midge, Rhopalomyia californica
  19. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  20. Cudweed, Jersey Cudweed, Pseudognaphalium luteoalbum
  21. Curly Dock, Rumex crispus
  22. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
  23. Downy Woodpecker, Picoides pubescens
  24. Eurasian Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto [heard]
  25. Field Mustard, Brassica rapa
  26. Floating Water Primrose, Ludwigia peploides ssp. Peploides
  27. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  28. Geometer Moth, Family: Geometridae
  29. Goldwire, Hypericum concinnum
  30. Great-Tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus
  31. Hairy Vetch, Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa ssp. villosa
  32. Herring Gull, Larus argentatus
  33. Himalayan Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus
  34. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  35. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon
  36. Hoverfly, Common Flower Fly, Syrphus ribesii
  37. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  38. Jointed Charlock, Wild Radish, Raphanus raphanistrum
  39. Lesser Golden Knapweed Fly, Chaetorellia jaceae [tiny pale yellow fly, green eyes, gold lines on wings]
  40. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  41. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  42. Muskrat, Ondatra zibethicus
  43. Mute Swan, Cygnus olor
  44. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus [red shafted]
  45. Pacific Forktail Damselfly, Ischnura cervula [male]
  46. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  47. Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Western Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
  48. Rabbitfoot Grass, Polypogon monspeliensis
  49. Red-Eared Slider Turtle, Trachemys scripta elegans
  50. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  51. Ribwort Plantain, Plantago lanceolata
  52. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  53. Slender Path Rush, Juncus tenuis
  54. Soldier Fly, Microchrysa sp.
  55. Tall Flatsedge, Cyperus eragrostis
  56. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  57. Tufted Hair Grass, Deschampsia cespitosa
  58. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  59. Turkey Tangle Fogfruit, Phyla nodiflora
  60. Vivid Dancer Damselfly, Argia vivida [female]
  61. Western Kingbird, Tyrant Flycatcher, Tyrannus verticalis
  62. Willow Pinecone Gall midge, Rabdophaga strobiloides
  63. Yellow-faced Bumblebee, Bombus vosnesenskii