West Davis Pond and Fields, 06-13-20

I got up around 5:30 this morning, did my morning ablutions stuff, fed and pottied the dog and then got ready for my friend Roxanne to arrive.  Since this is supposed to the coolest day of the week, temperature-wise, we decided to go back into Davis to check out the West Davis Pond area. We left the house around 6:30 am.

Along County Road 104 we found that the Burrowing Owls have apparently migrated on for the summer.  We saw lots of burrows but no owls. There was a farm worker in a truck along the road and he told us he hadn’t seen the owls for several weeks.

According to Cornell, the owls may migrate or choose to stay where they are depending on their local conditions. If they migrate, they’re usually on the move from August through October, heading south.  So, the owls leaving here this early in the year is a little bit concerning. They should be back around February next year…

In the agricultural fields around where the owls’ burrows can usually be found were acres and acres of some kind of crop with tufted yellow flowers on them that Roxanne and I couldn’t identify from the car, so we got out to take a closer look at the plants. We were surprised to find them to be solid, stickery thistles. We couldn’t imagine what kind of crop thistles would be, so Roxanne took a photo with her cellphone and loaded it up to iNaturalist… and we discovered they were safflower plants! Safflower oil is extracted from their seeds.  The plants are sometimes referred to as “bastard saffron”, because the flowering heads are sometimes used as a less expensive substitute for real saffron. 

Safflower Thistle, Carthamus tinctorius

Among the safflower plants there were also some rogue tomato plants and another broad-leaf that Rox and I didn’t recognize. Turns out it was Ram’s Horn. We assumed those were “volunteers”, flown in on the wind or carried in by rodents. 

            “…The herbage is coated in glandular hairs carrying tiny oil droplets, making the plant feel oily to the touch and giving it a strong scent. The essential oil vaporizes into the air, and gives the landscape a “distinct acrid odor”… The fruit is a dehiscent capsule up to 10 centimeters [4inches] long with a long, narrow, curving beak. As the fruit dries and the flesh falls away, the hard beak splits into two horns…”

Ram’s Horn, Proboscidea louisianica

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

In other fields we found corn, almond trees, and acres of sunflowers.  The first time we went by the sunflower field, we were going pretty fast with traffic behind us, so we couldn’t really stop and look at it.  After our walk at the ponds, we drove back to the sunflower fields and found a dirt road to drive in and get a closer looks at them.  While we were there, another car pulled in, and a man and woman got out of it. They wanted photos of the flowers, too.

We saw Assassin Bugs, Cabbage White Butterflies, honeybees, Harlequin Bugs (and nymphs), and some tree cricket nymphs on some of the flowers…

Harlequin Bug nymphs, Murgantia histrionica

I understand the need for agricultural crops, but I don’t like the “single crop” way of planting (that forces pollinators to restrict their diets) and I don’t like that all of the trees and hedgerows have been decimated to make room for the crop plants.

There’s no reason why trees and hedgerows can’t be a part of modern farming. They allow for diversity, invite raptors that can keep down rodent populations, and provide housing for a variety of other birds that can control insects… Nature is such a friend to farmers; yet, she’s been banished from most of the farmlands around the US. It’s ridiculous.  Because there’s no natural rodent and insect control in these fields, the farmers use poisons to try to eradicate pests… which poisons the planet.

There was recently this frightening article about pesticides in the environment and their part in the decline of Monarch butterflies. This sounds so much like the DTT issues of the 1970’s that it’s horrifying.  We’re poisoning the planet and killing it from the insects up again…

Anyway, after we left the fields, we went on to the West Davis Pond. Roxanne had never been there before, so it was all new to her.

There wasn’t much water in the pond; most of it was completely empty. And there weren’t any water-birds to speak of, just a few Canada Geese and a single Mallard.  We also saw a Black Phoebe, some Scrub Jays and Mockingbirds, and heard a couple of Nuttall’s Woodpeckers.

We’re still surprised by the lack of obvious insects, but remember we’re in a “transition” period right now between the seasons – and the wonky weather doesn’t help anything. We were happy and surprised to see, though, some Spiny Leaf Galls on the leaves of the wild roses along the trail. They look like frilly urchins or fireworks caught mid-explosion, in varying shades of green and pink. I’ve seen these before, but not in this “fresh” state. The last ones I saw were old ones, pretty desiccated. Those were a fun find.

Galls of the Spiny Leaf Gall Wasp, Diplolepis polita [on rose leaves]

In the butterfly garden along the pond, we saw a variety of summer-blooming plants such as buckwheat, sages, and flowering onions, honeysuckles, hollyhocks and a variety of bushes and trees. 

We also DID find some insect nymphs like those of the Milkweed Assassin Bug, leaf-footed bug, and Green Stink Bug.  In one of the man-made bee condos, we got to see some leaf-cutter bees building up their brooding cells in a couple of the tubes.  I got photos and a little video of them. 

At first I thought they were mason bees, because the other cell around them were sealed in mud.  But the still photos of the bees seemed to indicate they were actually Leaf-Cutter Bees, Megachile chichimeca.

And in another bee-condo, we found a nest of paper wasps in the butterfly alcove. There were several daughters helping out the queen, and we could see newly laid eggs in some of the cells.  Those wasps develop pretty quickly, so I’d like to go back in a week or so to see how far the babies have grown.

Paper Wasp, European Paper Wasp, Polistes dominula. You can see some of the eggs in this photo.

The paper wasps are one of my favorites because they’re not as aggressive as some other wasp species and their constructions are a marvel. 

                “…Although it is difficult to find conspicuous variations among individuals with bare eyes, definite features are unique to each individual… The larger and the more scattered the clypeus (facial) marks on the foundress (female founder of the nest) are, the higher the chance for her to be dominant over other females… The dominant females are the principal egg layers, while the subordinate females (“auxiliaries”) or workers primarily forage and do not lay eggs. This hierarchy is not permanent, though; when the queen is removed from the nest, the second-most dominant female takes over the role of the previous queen…”

One of my Facebook friends, Beth, came across us on the trail and said something like, “Is that a Mary Hanson I see in my neighborhood? Find any weird galls I walked right past because I didn’t know what they were?” Hah! We share photos on Facebook.  Beth is a far better photographer than I am, and she does a lot of “stacking” of images, still-lifes and landscapes… Very artsy-looking stuff. She’s won some awards for her work. Anyway, as Rox and I went along the trail, Beth messaged me to let me know that there was a Green Heron on the other side of the pond… By then, I’d been on my feet for too long and was heading back to the car, so I missed the heron. *Sigh*

We were out for about 5 hours before going back home.

Species List:

  1. Andalusian Horehound, Marrubium supinum
  2. Apple, Malus pumila
  3. Baby Sage, Salvia microphylla [red and white]
  4. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  5. Black Walnut, Eastern Black Walnut, Juglans nigra
  6. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra cerulea
  7. Buckwheat, Saint Catherine’s Lace, Eriogonum giganteum
  8. Cabbage White butterfly, Pieris rapae
  9. California Flannelbush, Fremontodendron californicum
  10. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  11. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica
  12. California Wild Rose, Rosa californica
  13. Callery Pear, Pyrus calleryana
  14. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  15. Candleflame Lichen, Candelaria concolor
  16. Carrot, American Wild Carrot, Daucus pusillus
  17. Ceramic Parchment Lichen, Xylobolus frustulatus [hoary or pale brown, flat like parchment]
  18. Chamomile, Chamaemelum nobile
  19. Chinese Tallow tree, Triadica sebifera
  20. Citron Bug, Leptoglossus gonagra [a kind of leaf-footed bug, red nymphs]
  21. Common Buckthorn, Rhamnus cathartica
  22. Common Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  23. Common Green Lacewing, Chrysoperla carnea [eggs]
  24. Common Sunflower, Helianthus annuus
  25. Common Tree Cricket, Oecanthus sp. [Probably either Four-spotted or Prairie. This is a 5th stage instar preparing for the final molt to adulthood — note the swollen wing sacs.]
  26. Cork Oak, Quercus suber
  27. Corn, Zea mays ssp. mays
  28. Creeping Myoporum, Myoporum parvifolium [ground cover, small white flowers]
  29. Drumstick Onion, Round-Headed Leek, Allium sphaerocephalon
  30. Eastern Gray Squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis
  31. European Honeybee, Western Honeybee, Apis mellifera
  32. Fortnight Lily, Dietes grandiflora
  33. Goldenrod Crab Spider, Misumena vatia
  34. Green Heron, Butorides virescens
  35. Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata
  36. Green Stink Bug, Chinavia hilaris
  37. Gumweed, Great Valley Gumweed, Grindelia camporum
  38. Harlequin Bug, Murgantia histrionica
  39. Hollyhock, Alcea rosea
  40. Hopley’s Oregano, Origanum laevigatum [small pink flowers]
  41. Horsefly-Like Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa tabaniformis [dark bee with pale eyes]
  42. Japanese Honeysuckle, Lonicera japonica [white flowers]
  43. Leafcutter Bee, Megachile chichimeca
  44. Leafhopper Assassin Bug, Zelus renardii
  45. Lion’s Ear, Leonotis nepetifolia [like Jerusalem sage but with bright orange flowers]
  46. Little Black Ant, Monomorium minimum
  47. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  48. Mason Bee, Osmia sp.
  49. Mediterranean Katydid, Phaneroptera nana
  50. Mexican Sage, Salvia mexicana [deep purple]
  51. Milkweed Assassin Bug, Zelus longipes
  52. Mimosa Tree, Persian Silk Tree, Albizia julibrissin
  53. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  54. Nipple Lichen, Pseudothelomma occidentale
  55. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii
  56. Oleander Aphid, Aphis nerii
  57. Paper Wasp, European Paper Wasp, Polistes dominula
  58. Ram’s Horn, Proboscidea louisianica
  59. Safflower Thistle, Carthamus tinctorius
  60. Santa Cruz Island Wild Buckwheat, Eriogonum arborescens
  61. Scriptured Leaf Beetle, Pachybrachis sp.
  62. Sea Mallow, Malva subovata [kind of looks like hibiscus]
  63. Seven-Spotted Ladybeetle, Coccinella septempunctata
  64. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa
  65. Small Milkweed Bug, Western Small Milkweed Bug, Lygaeus kalmii ssp. kalmii
  66. Smokebush, Smoke Tree, Cotinus coggygria
  67. Spined Stilt Bug, Jalysus wickhami [look like tiny Craneflies]
  68. Spiny Leaf Gall Wasp, Diplolepis polita [on rose leaves]
  69. Swift Crab Spider, Mecaphesa celer
  70. Tarnished Plant Bug, Lygus lineolaris
  71. Tomato, Cultivated Tomato, Solanum lycopersicum
  72. Velvetleaf, Abutilon theophrasti
  73. Wall Germander, Teucrium chamaedrys [pink flowers]
  74. Western Kingbird, Tyrant Flycatcher, Tyrannus verticalis
  75. Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis
  76. White Mulberry, Morus alba
  77. Yarrow, Achillea millefolium
  78. Yerba Mansa, Anemopsis californica
  79. Yerba Santa, California Yerba Santa, Eriodictyon californicum