Ibis Rookery and North Davis Ponds, 06-07-20

Up at 5:00 this morning, so I could get the dog pottied and fed before I headed out with my friend Roxanne toward Woodland by 6:00 am. It was 52° when we left Sacramento, and got up to 75° by the late afternoon.

The drive to Woodland was quick – no traffic on the freeway at all.  Knowing there were no restrooms at the rookery site, we stopped at the gas station on Road 102 to use their restroom then went on to the ibis rookery, getting there around 6:30 am.

White-Faced Ibis, Plegadis chihi. This one was just starting to construct her nest.
A White-Faced Ibis starting to nest (left) adjacent to a Pied-Billed Grebe nest (center).

At the rookery, I was surprised to see how high the water was. Last year, the high water could have been explained away by all the heavy rains we had in the winter and spring, but this year has been pretty dry, so…why all the water in the pond?  Only the very tops of the trees that the ibises normally roost in were showing. There weren’t too many ibises at the rookery yet, and those that were there were mostly fighting over the limited spaces available. A handful had constructed nests and a few others were just starting to build them, but we didn’t see any of their lovely turquoise eggs yet.

We saw a couple of Coot nests and a couple of Pied-Billed Grebe nests.  Both of the Coots nests were also sporting some hatchlings, and one of the grebe’s nests was filled with between 6 and 8 eggs. 

Because of their distance from the shore, it was difficult to get any really decent photos of the Coot chicks.  It was also difficult to get photos of the chicks of Black-Necked Stilts that were scurrying along the shore or joining their parents in the water. They were so tiny that they were dwarfed by a goose egg near them on the waterside.

A Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus, chick on the shore near an abandoned goose egg,

Among the Coots in the water, I saw two who had just finished sparring with one another and were swimming in different directions. I got a photo of one of them with its wings and tail lifted, showing off the white tail feathers in the back. According to Cornell, this is the “Paired Display”.

            “…[It] usually takes place along territorial boundaries and represents final act of aggression following Charging and Splattering. Often interspersed with fighting and nearly always follows a fight, being followed in turn by displacement feeding and preening. Both combatants hold their heads low, expand ruffs maximally, arch their wings high above backs, expand their undertail coverts, and pivot slowly, presenting their tails to one another. Up to 7 birds have been seen involved in a mutual paired display…”

I watched a couple of the Black-Necked Stilts attacking the Stilt chicks in the water, only to be driven off by the chicks’ parent.  According to Cornell, this behavior isn’t uncommon: “…After hatching, parent stilts are aggressive toward unrelated young and young of other species (particularly American Avocets)…”

I also saw some Stilts doing a flapping-wing display on the levy. I’d never seen this before, so I looked it up when I got home.  According to Cornell: “…In Hop-and-Flap behavior, individual hops a short distance to the side while simultaneously flapping wings several times; usually observed when resting birds are disturbed. Hop-and-Flap is also the basis for more intense response to ground predators…”  I think what we were seeing was birds responding to the cottontail rabbits that came too close to their territories/chicks.

Among the other birds we came across at the rookery were a pair of Killdeer that were mating on the side of the road, geese and White Pelicans in the water, Avocets, and lots of Western Kingbirds.  There was even a single Cinnamon Teal and a trio of Gadwalls.

CLICK HERE for the photos from the rookery. [We took so many photos today, I’ve broken mine down by location.]

We also saw several jackrabbits and cottontails rushing here and there. Some of the cottontails had moved in under a large pile of rocks and boulders. We thought that was odd in that the rock piles are perfect habitat for snakes. 

As we were leaving, Roxanne stopped to get some photos of Lesser Goldfinches, and I, on the other side of the car, noticed that in one of the tall, plastic, red stanchions on the corner there was a family of paper wasps that had taken up residence in a hole near its handle. Paper wasps are generally unobtrusive, but they might not be happy if someone grabs hold of that handle and tries to move their home.

Nest of Paper Wasps, Polistes dominula, in a stanchion.

When we were done at the rookery, we headed down Road 102 into Davis and stopped at the Northstar Park off of Anderson to see the ponds there (the “North Davis Ponds”). There’s a long greenbelt there that abuts a residential area and encompasses two ponds.  The smaller one is in a small park with a play area in it, and the larger one is a storm water retention basin now called the Julie Partansky Pond, named after a former mayor for the City of Davis.

Altogether, the greenbelt and ponds makeup about 29 acres.  Roxanne and I didn’t walk the whole length of it, but we’ll try that on another day when we can focus a whole trip on just that area.  We could hear bull frogs in the water all the while we were there. I know they’re an invasive species, but they’ve been around for so long that I consider them “naturalized”…And I love their big chunky bodies and their deep-throated cello-like calls. They make me smile.

We didn’t see many birds at the ponds, but did catch sight of a mama Pied-Billed Grebe who was piling up vegetation in the water so her two babies could get up onto it to get dry.  She was in the shade, though, so it was really hard to see her. And she was so far away, the camera didn’t really know what it was focusing on. So I got a video snippet, but it’s not the best.

Near the intersection of the two ponds there’s a little planter area with a cement bench next to it, and in the bench are embedded mosaic stars, tiny trilobite “fossils”, a heart made of snowflake obsidian and other goodies.  In one end of the bench is a little cubby hole, and inside the hole are a glazed clay, not-to-scale frog, yellow bunny rabbit and dark reddish-pink mouse.  Someone had cracked the ears off the bunny rabbit (“this is why we can’t have nice things”), but the frog and mouse looked pretty intact.  I love it when artists collaborate with masonry people to create things like this with little surprises stashed inside of them.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos from the park.

Rox and I also came across a few plants/trees we hadn’t seen before, like different kinds of sages, a kind of gum weed, and a tall grass with bracts on them that looked almost like shells.  We discovered it was Intermediate Wheatgrass…a name that really doesn’t describe how lovely its structure looked.

Intermediate Wheatgrass, Thinopyrum intermedium

We were again surprised by the lack of insects around the ponds, especially the lack of pollinators. Very few bees, very few butterflies, no gnats or midges to speak of, no ants.  Made me wonder if the place is sprayed down with insecticides.  We did see honeybees, a couple of Cabbage White butterflies and one Mournful Duskywing, but that was about it.

Mournful Duskywing Butterfly, Erynnis tristis

The big standout at the ponds this morning, though, were the dragonflies.  We saw Blue Dashers and some juvenile Widow Skimmers, including one that posed for us for quite a while, and turned its body around a few times so we could shoot it from different angles.

Widow Skimmer Dragonfly, Libellula luctuosa

There was one really brilliantly colored red skimmer that I thought might be a Neon (Libellula croceipennis) but further investigation showed it was actually a male Flame (Libellula saturata).  The lighter ones we were seeing were female Flames. You can tell the Flames from the Neons, in part, by the amount of color saturation on the wings. Neons have less color on the wings than Flames.

[This is NOT my photo]

I also saw one that I’m sure was a White-faced Meadowhawk. When I posted it to iNaturalist, others argued that it was a teneral Blue Dasher, but… I don’t think so. The eyes look more like the Meadowhawk than the Dasher… Anyway, having not seen a lot of variety of dragonflies yet this year, it was fun to see this many species in just one spot.

We also came upon an oak tree with deeply lobed leaves like a Valley Oak, but the placement of the lobes and the pointed tips of some of the leaves made us question its “Valley-ness”. We came to the conclusion that it might have been a Bur Oak, or a cross between a Bur and a Valley, but we’ll be able to tell for sure in the fall when it gets its acorns. 

Bur Oak, Quercus macrocarpa?

Oak trees can interbreed but they can only breed with trees that are in their “lineage”. Any white oak tree can interbreed with another kind of white oak tree, but not with a red oak tree or an intermediate oak tree.  Oracle Oaks are a cross between a Black Oak and an Interior Live Oak, for example; both are considered to be in the “red” oaks lineage.  Here’s a little cheat-sheet on the lineages for oak trees in California.

What cool about oak lineages, too, is that the cynipid wasps that create galls on the oak trees won’t cross that lineage barrier. A wasp that will its eggs on white oaks won’t lay them on red oaks. Nature is so intricate! 

Altogether, Rox and I were out exploring for about 5 hours before we stopped and headed back home.  By then, I was pooped and getting achy and her knees were sore. We need to get robotic all-terrain body armor to carry us into the field, so we can stay out longer and go on more rugged terrain without falling down… Hah!

Species List:

  1. Alkali Heliotrope, Heliotropium curassavicum
  2. American Avocet, Recurvirostra americana
  3. American Bull Frog, Lithobates catesbeianus
  4. American Coot, Fulica americana
  5. American White Pelican, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos
  6. Armored Scale Insects, Family: Diaspididae
  7. Aster, Pacific Aster, Symphyotrichum chilense [small purple-blue flowers with yellow center]
  8. Baby Sage, Salvia microphylla [red and white]
  9. Barn Swallow,  Hirundo rustica
  10. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  11. Black-Crowned Night Heron, Nycticorax nycticorax
  12. Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
  13. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus
  14. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum
  15. Blue Dasher Dragonfly, Pachydiplax longipennis
  16. Broadleaved Pepperweed, Lepidium latifolium
  17. Bull Thistle, Cirsium vulgare
  18. Bur Oak, Quercus macrocarpa
  19. Butterfly Bush, Buddleja davidii
  20. Cabbage White butterfly, Pieris rapae
  21. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  22. Chinese Tallow tree, Triadica sebifera
  23. Cinnamon Teal, Anas cyanoptera
  24. Cleveland Sage, Salvia clevelandii [purple, circles]
  25. Common Bluet Damselfly, Enallagma cyathigerum
  26. Common Gallinule, Gallinula galeata
  27. Common Rock-Rose, Helianthemum nummularium [yellow]
  28. Cottonwood Leaf Gall Aphid, Pemphigus populivenae
  29. Cottonwood Petiole Gall, Poplar Petiole Gall Aphid, Pemphigus populitransversus
  30. Curly Dock, Rumex crispus
  31. Desert Cottontail Rabbit, Sylvilagus audubonii
  32. Eurasian Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto
  33. European Honeybee, Apis mellifera
  34. Familiar Bluet Damselfly, Enallagma civile
  35. Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis
  36. Flame Skimmer Dragonfly, Libellula saturata
  37. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  38. Gadwall duck, Mareca Strepera
  39. Golden Columbine, Aquilegia chrysantha
  40. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  41. Greater Yellowlegs, Tringa melanoleuca
  42. Great-Tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus
  43. Gumweed, Great Valley Gumweed, Grindelia camporum
  44. Intermediate Wheatgrass, Thinopyrum intermedium [shell-shaped segments]
  45. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  46. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  47. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  48. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris
  49. Mournful Duskywing Butterfly, Erynnis tristis
  50. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  51. Narrowleaf Cattail, Cattail, Typha angustifolia
  52. Northern Harrier, Marsh Hawk, Circus hudsonius
  53. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  54. Oregon Ash, Fraxinus latifolia
  55. Paper Wasp, European Paper Wasp, Polistes dominula
  56. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  57. Purple Wood Sage, Salvia nemorosa
  58. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  59. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
  60. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  61. Rose Vervain, Glandularia canadensis
  62. Rough Cocklebur, Xanthium strumarium
  63. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula
  64. Spotted Spreadwing Damselfly, Lestes congener
  65. Swainson’s Hawk, Buteo swainsoni
  66. Tamarisk, Saltcedar, Tamarix ramosissima
  67. Toyon, Heteromeles arbutifolia
  68. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  69. Western Kingbird, Tyrant Flycatcher, Tyrannus verticalis
  70. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
  71. White Sage, Salvia apiana
  72. White-Faced Ibis, Plegadis chihi
  73. White-faced Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum obtrusum
  74. Widow Skimmer Dragonfly, Libellula luctuosa
  75. Yarrow, Achillea millefolium
  76. Yellow Water Iris, Yellow Flag, Iris pseudacorus [invasive]
  77. ?? tiny froglet on the sidewalk