Quite a Few Sightings Today, 06-01-20

I got up a little before 6 o’clock this morning at it was 61° outside. I took the opportunity to get out for a walk before it got too hot, and went over to the Mather Lake Regional Park.

I saw the muskrat first thing in the water, but he was swimming away from me, so all I got was a video snippet of the back of his head.

The pennyroyal is starting to bloom all over the place, so everything smells like mint. Pennyroyal mimics spearmint: it looks like spearmint and smells like spearmint, but it’s poisonous and there’s no known antidote for it. So, DON’T EAT IT. It’s the concentrated oil that’s the most dangerous and contains cyclohexanone pulegone. In small doses it can cause nausea and vomiting, in larger doses it can cause multiorgan failure and death. It’s now most often used in insecticides.

The Bull Thistles and California Centuary are also starting to flower in the park dotting the banks with blotches of dark and pale pink. 

I was surprised to see so many Yellow-Faced Bumblebees sleeping on the plants along the edge of the lake. At first, I thought they were dead, but, nope.  Each one of them rousted itself to wakefulness when I approached and eventually flew off.

I was also faked out by a 3-foot long Valley Garter Snake that was sprawled out in a patch of grass by the trail.  It wasn’t moving as I approached, so I thought it was dead. When I stepped in a little closer though to get a few more photos, it suddenly flicked back to life and quickly silked its way through the grass to the water. Yikes!  They’re not venomous, but it really startled me!

Valley Garter Snake in the grass

There seemed to be a lot of Desert Cottontail rabbits around, but I only saw the outlines or ears of most of them because they stayed hidden in the tall grass and the adjoining fields. One did come up onto the trail and I got a couple of photos of it before it eyeballed me and took off.

CLICK HERE to see the full album of photos.

At one point, I was moving along the edge of the lake when I heard an odd bird sound I hadn’t heard before.  It was kind of like a sharp peep from a chick but more “mature” sounding, if that makes any sense. So, I looked around and realized it was coming from a White-Tailed Kite that had stopped briefly in a nearby tree. Cool!  I’d never heard them before.  I had to climb up away from the bank and through some cottonwood trees to get to a spot where I could get some photos of it.  I snapped off a few before it flew away.  They’re not the best, but at least I got them.

White-Tailed Kite

At another point along the lakeside, I could see the rushes and tules near the bank moving a bit, but I couldn’t see what was causing the movement.  I stepped in closer, and still couldn’t see anything, so I thought maybe the muskrat was under there, eating at the plants. Nope.  A few seconds later a Red-Eared Slider Turtle moved out of the rushes and swam off a bit with just its head and nose above the surface of the water.  Cheeky devil.

I was distracted for quite a while by a family of Mute Swans, a pair of adults and their five cygnets. The babies are growing up and just starting to get their first feathers in, so they’re kind of itchy all over. The group let me get to within about 5 feet of them while the babies dozed and preened and the parents stood guard.

Mute Swan cygnets

I had brought a small Ziploc bag of duck feed pellets with me, so I tossed some out to the swans, but none of them were interested.  That one toss, though, brought a huge creche of Canada Geese (adults, goslings and fledglings) over to me.  They had been on the trail behind me, and rushed in when they saw I had food. There were about 30 of them.

Some of the babies came right up to me and tried to look into the bag while the adults hissed at me.  When some of the geese got too close to the swans, one of the adult swans “busked” at them (raised its wings, puffed out its chest and pulled back its head) and chased them off.  It also tried busking at me, but when I stood my ground, it turned off back toward the cygnets.  Good thing for me, too; those swans are HUGE. If it wanted to, it could have done me some real damage.

((Now, as a naturalist, I don’t advocate feeding wild animals, but these are resident birds (that are used to and dependent upon human contact) at this park.  But for goodness sake, if you do feed them, DON’T feed them bread!  It’s not healthy for them, and the molds that can develop on it can poison them. Get some feed pellets made specifically for ducks/geese.  They’re not that expensive and are more nutritious for the birds.))

Among the other birds I saw today were some Double-Crested Cormorants, Tree Swallows, House Wrens, a pair of Barn Swallows, some Great Egrets flying overhead, and some Pied-Billed Grebes.  I didn’t spot any of the Common Galluniles we usually see around there.  Maybe they’re all nesting right now. The big surprise was having an adult American Bittern fly up out of the tules in front of me. It was so quick and startling that I didn’t get any photos of it.  It’s nice to know they’re out there, though.

I came across an area where several dozen cottonwood tree leaves had been pulled of the tree and the galls from the Petiole Gall Aphids smashed into the dirt.  That was VERY sad to see.  I can understand opening up ONE of the galls if you’re curious about them, but that kind of mindless destruction is inexcusable. What is wrong with people these days?

I was looking for dragonfly exuvia (shed skin) around the water’s edge as I went along, but didn’t see any.  I did spot a few damselflies (all of whom eluded my camera), however, and a few dragonflies: what I think was a teneral Blue Dasher (not colored up enough yet for me to tell for sure) and a green female Western Pondhawk. Seems to me, with all the heat we’ve been having, more dragonflies should be awake by now…

I walked for about 3 hours and then headed back home.

Species List:

  1. American Bittern, Botaurus lentiginosus
  2. Ash-Throated Flycatcher, Myiarchus cinerascens
  3. Barn Swallow, Hirundo rustica
  4. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  5. Blue Dasher Dragonfly, Pachydiplax longipennis [males blue, females and teneral males are diluted yellow-tan]
  6. Bull Thistle, Cirsium vulgare
  7. Bur Chervil, Anthriscus caucalis
  8. Bushtit, American Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus
  9. California Centaury, Zeltnera venusta [small pink flowers, white throat, yellow pollen]
  10. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  11. California Quail, Callipepla californica [heard]
  12. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  13. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  14. Case-Bearing Leaf Beetle, Cryptocephalus castaneus [tiny, thick bodied]
  15. Common Duckweed, Lemna minor
  16. Common Spike-Rush, Eleocharis palustris [has a head somewhat like SB Sedge]
  17. Cottonwood Leaf Gall Aphid, Pemphigus populivenae
  18. Cottonwood Petiole Gall, Poplar Petiole Gall Aphid, Pemphigus populitransversus
  19. Coyote Brush Bud Gall midge, Rhopalomyia californica
  20. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  21. Desert Cottontail Rabbit, Sylvilagus audubonii
  22. Dot-lined Angle Moth, Psamatodes abydata
  23. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
  24. Eurasian Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto
  25. Floating Water Primrose, Ludwigia peploides ssp. Peploides
  26. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  27. Gold Dust Lichen, Chrysothrix candelaris
  28. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  29. Great-Tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus
  30. Hairy Vetch, Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa ssp. villosa
  31. Himalayan Blackberry, Armenian Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus
  32. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  33. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon
  34. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  35. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  36. Meadow Salsify, Tragopogon pratensis
  37. Mint Moth, Pyrausta aurata [tiny, reddish brown]
  38. Muskrat, Ondatra zibethicus
  39. Mute Swan, Cygnus olor
  40. Narrowleaf Willow, Salix exigua
  41. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  42. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii [heard]
  43. Paper Wasp, European Paper Wasp, Polistes dominula [black & yellow]
  44. Pennyroyal, Mentha pulegium
  45. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  46. Red-Eared Slider Turtle, Trachemys scripta elegans
  47. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  48. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  49. Rose Clover, Trifolium hirtum
  50. Slender Path Rush, Juncus tenuis
  51. Soft Rush, Juncus effusus
  52. Tall Flatsedge,  Cyperus eragrostis
  53. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  54. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  55. Turkey Tangle Fogfruit, Phyla nodiflora
  56. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  57. Valley Garter Snake, Thamnophis sirtalis fitchi
  58. Western Pondhawk Dragonfly, Erythemis collocata [males are blue; females are green]
  59. Western Tailed Blue Butterfly, Cupido amyntula
  60. White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus
  61. Willow Pinecone Gall midge, Rabdophaga strobiloides
  62. Yellow Starthistle, Centaurea solstitialis
  63. Yellow-faced Bumblebee, Bombus vosnesenskii