I got up around 5:30 this morning and after giving Esteban his breakfast and letting him out for potty, I headed over to the William B. Pond Park along the American River to do a kind of recon on the galls there.
There are several oak trees on the manicured lawn that often provide an abundance of specimens, and then, of course, there’s what I call the “Reverend Mother” tree: a particular Valley Oak that I go to every year. It sits at an intersection of different parts of the trail near the river, and sports a wide variety of galls throughout the late summer. I wanted to see what was out there before I brought my friend Roxanne over there on a gall hunt; to make sure that there was something there to see.
The galls are still just starting to emerge, but I did see several different species, including a beautiful Rosette gall (on the Reverend Mother tree).
There were also a couple of oak apple galls that were oozing black goo. I cut one open and found the wasp larva inside, but couldn’t see any indication of other insect that was causing the rot. So, I figured they had some kind of fungal infection. I couldn’t find any information on that in my research yet, though, so I’m not sure.
The honeydew galls aren’t big enough or engorged enough to start dripping, but I did see some Yellow Jackets hanging around the tree, looking for them.
While I was checking out some Round Galls, I saw a tiny red nymph, shaped kind of like a cigar, with black coloring at both ends. I was surprised that it was relatively easy to figure out it was the nymph of some kind of Tube-Tailed Trip. (Thank you, BugGuide.net) But I’m still not seeing the number of insects I’d expect to find in the summer by the water. I only saw one damselfly, some kind of Dancer.
Oddly enough, I didn’t see or hear many birds along the river, either, but I did come across some California Quail and a Bewick’s Wren.
I walked for about 3 hours and then headed back home.
Asian Ladybeetle, Harmonia axyridis
Assassin Bug, Zelus sp. [eggs]
Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii
California Quail, Callipepla californica
California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
California Wild Grape, Vitis californica
California Wild Rose, Rosa californica
Coast Live Oak, Quercus agrifolia
Common Green Lacewing, Chrysoperla carnea
Convoluted Gall Wasp, Andricus confertus
Dancer Damselfly, Unidentified, Argia sp.
Disc Gall Wasp, Andricus parmula [round flat, “spangle gall”]
Flat-Topped Honeydew Gall Wasp, Disholcaspis eldoradensis
Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
Fuzzy Gall Wasp galls, Disholcaspis washingtonensi [round faintly fuzzy galls on stems]
Up at 5:30 this morning and out the door by 6:00 am to go with my friend and fellow naturalist Roxanne to the Effie Yeaw Nature Center. I’m starting my Trail Walker duties there again after several months off. I still need a neon orange reflective vest to wear (it was due today) to look more “official”, and I’ll wear that next time. I can also wear the khaki vest my naturalist students bought for me, but it’s heavier material and I think it’ll be too warm to wear in the summer months. So, today, I was just in shirt-sleeves – no vest.
It was about 61° when we got there, and warmed up quickly. The high today was around 100°.
Rox and I were most focused on finding galls, and checked out some of the Valley oaks, Blue oaks and Live Oak trees scattered around the preserve. It’s still a little bit early in the season, but we saw quite a few different species. On the Blue oaks, we found some small specimens of Crystalline galls, Plate galls, Saucer galls, and Urchin galls. On the Valley Oaks we found Red Cones, Fimbriate galls, a Yellow Wig, and Spiny Turbans.
And I was really happy to find lots of the spiny first-generation galls of the wasp Callirhytis quercuspomiformis. I hadn’t seen them there yet (since the trees were trimmed), and was so happy that they had re-established themselves. When they’re new and bright green, they feel spongy, but as the galls age, they firm up and turn tannish-brown.
We saw a few deer, including a pair of bucks in their velvet: a four-pointer and a three-pointer. (The eye guards don’t count.) When their antlers are growing, they’re very sensitive to touch, so there was no head-butting… just a deep long stare from the older buck telling the younger one to back off.
We also saw a couple of females, one near the nature center and one out by the river. They were by themselves and we speculated that they were either young does that didn’t have fawns this year. July is the fawning season at the preserve, but we didn’t see any babies during this trip.
When we were heading out of the preserve after about 3 hours, we came across Rachael,the volunteer coordinator, who was helping to woman the docent table outside of the nature center building with some of the other volunteers. She told us that earlier that morning, some of the docents had seen “tiny baby” coyote pups along the River Trail at the preserve! Oooooo, how cool! I’d love to be able to see those little guys. I’ll have to keep an eye out for them the next time I’m out there.
She also said that later this summer, the river front near the preserve will be re-groomed to provide more spawning space for salmon. Last year similar work was done along the Sailor Bar portion of the river, and this year will be the Effie Yeaw area’s turn. The refit and reconstruction of salmon-friendly habitat will include dredging and reforming some of the river bed, and laying down tons of gravel that’s of the right size and consistency for the salmons’ “redds” (nests). If the gravel is too big or too little, the salmon won’t lay their eggs on it. The work at Sailor Bar was first done in 2009 and during that year about 1000 redds were spotted in the area. Last year, there were ZERO because the majority of the finer gravel had washed away.
It’ll be interesting to watch the work progress in the river near the Effie Yeaw Nature Center/Preserve, and fun to see if lots of salmon can be spotted from the shore in the fall and winter months.
[[I got the vest in via UPS in the late afternoon today.]]
Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
Bark Rim Lichen, Lecanora chlarotera [looks like Whitewash Lichen but has apothecia]
Up at 5:30 am and out the door with my friend Roxanne to head out to the city of Woodland by 6:00 am. It was about 61° already that early in the day, and it got up to 100°by the late afternoon.
We wanted to visit the East Regional Pond and Ibis Rookery in Woodland. Both of them are just off Road 102, and pretty close to one another. We’d let Greg Ira (the statewide director for the University of California’s Certified California Naturalist program) know we were coming, so he met us at the East Regional Pond after we stopped at Dutch Brothers for some much-needed coffee. I’d never been to the pond before, so it was a fun first for me.
The pond is a large water retention pond right across the street from the turn out to Farmer’s Central Road in the city of Woodland, CA. It’s surrounded on three sides by private property and protected nature areas. Because these areas are screened off by fences, you cannot walk all the way around the pond. There is a wide gravel trail, however, and three viewing platforms from which you can view and photograph wildlife.
This time of year, there isn’t a lot of water in the pond, but I could definitely see the potential for future outings in the winter and spring when the rains come and the weather cools off. I really enjoyed being able to see the place.
We got to see Showy Egrets, Great Egrets, American Avocets, Black-Necked Stilts, Greater Yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpipers, White-Faced Ibises, pelicans and other birds. Many of them were in the far side of the pond, but as we walked from one viewing platform to another a handful of them sort of followed us around.
There were little cottontail rabbits bounding all over the place. Sometimes we’d see two or three together, running this way and that, chasing each other, stopping to munch a little bit on the vegetation. They were constant conversation interrupters.
We also saw about four or five Pacific Pond Turtles in the shallows of one part of the pond. They were all poking their heads up above the surface. And when they moved around, they left a trail of mud floating behind them in the water.
Although there were gnats and midges in the air, we didn’t encounter many insects, and saw only one or two dragonflies. But we did find a large Paper Wasp nest. These wasps are usually pretty mellow, so I was able to tilt the nest up to get some better photos of it.
The queen builds all the first cells and rears all the first offspring by herself. After that, her daughters do all the work, and she just lays the eggs. In this nest, we could see that the larvae were developing in their cells at different stages, and that some of the cells had already been sealed off. Inside the sealed cells, the larvae pupate, and then emerge as adult wasps. Here is an article I wrote about them in 2017.
After about an hour or so, we headed over to the ibis rookery. I was assuming there would be a lot of juveniles out there by now, and I was right. There were a handful of the ibises still sitting on eggs, but most of the nests had trilling, begging, head-bobbing youngsters in them. With their striped bills, they’re very striking.
We also saw some Coots paddling through the water with their own youngsters behind and around them. I hope they won’t hate me for saying it, but I think their babies are the goofiest, funniest, ugliest little things I’ve ever seen. “Ugly Baby Judges You.” They’re partially bald with red faces and yellow pokey-out feathers are called “ornaments”. The more ornaments a baby has, the more attention and food she’ll get from the parents. Bling matters, apparently. Here’s an article I wrote about them in 2018.
Up at 5:00 am again, to head out to Mather Lake Regional Park at 6:00 with Roxanne. We wanted to check out the side of the lake opposite of where we were earlier in the week. [[For some reason, my hair is doing this humorous pokey-out thing on one side of my head, so the left side looks “startled” and the right side looks “bored”. Hah! I must have slept on it weird.]]
Not a ton of bird sightings today; mostly just the usual suspects. We did catch a glimpse of some Belted Kingfishers when we first arrived, but they’re shy and moving very quickly, so getting a photo of one of them is really difficult. We could HEAR they chattering on both sides of the lake, but couldn’t get into a position to see them clearly.
There was one young Canada Goose fledgling that we spotted “doing yoga”, standing on one leg, on the lawn area. It wasn’t until it moved that we realized it was missing a foot. Everything below the knee was gone on one leg, so when the bird walked it had a very bad very distinct limp. I presumed that it may have gotten its leg tangled in fishing line which eventually amputated the bottom part of the leg, but there’s no way to be sure. It must have had that injury happen very early, when it was still a gosling, because the stumpy leg seemed totally healed, and the bird had seemingly adapted well to its “defect”.
We were surprised to see a hawk flying around where we were looking at galls. It was being harassed by small birds, and took sanctuary among the leaves of the trees, but always kept itself just out of sight, so we never got a really clear view of it. By the mottling on the chest, I assumed it was a young bird, maybe a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk or Merlin, but the head just didn’t look right. I loaded the sighting into iNaturalist, and it came up as possibly a Sharp-Shined Hawk, but I’m not sure. Let’s see if anyone can give me a better ID.
We saw quite a few galls on the oak trees (and willow trees), but most of them are still in their early development stages so they’re not very large yet. In another two weeks or so, they should be out and looking quite beautiful. I think we saw about 20 different species, which was great.
Among them, we saw some unusually huge examples of the round, spiny first generation Live Oak Gall Wasp galls. I was happy to see them because I hadn’t seen ANY yet this year and was worried they weren’t going to make it out. These first generation galls contain a dozen or more parthenogenetic female larvae that reproduce asexually. (The second generation has it’s own special gall and contains both male and female larvae that reproduce sexually.)
On the Live Oak trees there seemed to be a LOT of acorns this year. We also found one example of “drippy nut”, an acorn that was oozing clear sticky discharged caused by a bacteria called Brenneria quercina. It gets into the acorn when the acorn is pieced by the ovipositor of a wasp or otherwise breached (by some other bug or a bird pecking into it). The exudation is super-sticky. I got a little of it on my thumb and it took almost an hour to work it off of my skin.
As we were leaving, we spotted some juvenile California Ground Squirrels. Some were playing, and one was digging in the dirt. As we watched the one that was digging, we saw it lift a large flat rock with its mouth and moved it out of the way so it could get at whatever underneath it. I got a video snippet of that one.
I got up around 5:00 this morning so the dog and I could do our potty stuff…and then I stayed up, getting ready to go over to Mather Lake Regional Park for a walk with my friend and fellow naturalist Roxanne. The weather was lovely today. It was about 59° when we got to the lake and then creeped up to about 88° by the late afternoon.
When we got to the park, the first thing we noticed was that the Mute Swans seemed to be gathered in a corner near the walking trail on the far side of the lake. The cygnets are just about as large as their parents now, but they’re still making their baby peeping sounds, and they don’t have their full facial coloring yet. We were sad to see one of the swans floating dead among the rushes.
We met a fisherman later on during our walk, who said that he had seen another younger swan who looked dead on the shore, and when he went over to it, he found that was severely tangled in fishing line. Line remnants are a BIG problem on the banks. Even today, while we were walking, my feet got tangled in the crap on two different occasions. Some of the lazier fishermen just don’t clean up after themselves and leave discarded line everywhere. It’s such a hazard.
Anyway, one of the adult swans was chasing and nipping and trying to herd the younger swans into a corner, even as their parent tried to put its body between them and the aggressor. The aggressor bird “busked” and chased after the parent and eventually drove it halfway across the pond before giving up its assault. While that was going on, the younger swans were peeping loudly at one another, trying to get to their mom who was being chased off, and obviously very distressed by the attack.
Additionally, one of the other adult swans, who apparently wasn’t related to the youngsters, just didn’t want to get involved and stepped up onto the bank next to me. You don’t realize how huge those birds are until they come up next to you. They can get up to 5 ½ feet long and weigh around 30 pounds.
This one was quiet and polite, just a sort of “go with the flow” kind of bird, but further along the trail, we came across another parent and its youngsters, and it was very protective of them. It raised its head and hissed at me a couple of times to get me to back off.
My impression of the aggressive bird what that it was “being a jerk”, a bully. But then it occurred to me that the dead swan was in the same area where the aggressor was putting on its display, so I wonder if was trying to “protect” the dead bird or at least the area where the dead bird was located.
We also saw two color morphs among the juveniles, and I’d never seen/noticed that before. According to Cornell: “…Cygnets hatch as gray or white. Gray [Royal] cygnets become brownish as juveniles and begin molting to white by first winter. White [Polish] cygnets remain white as juveniles and adults. Gray juveniles usually retain some gray feathers , especially on rump, until following molt. Legs and feet of cygnets and juveniles are either slate gray (gray morph) or pinkish tan (white morph). Bill color of juveniles also varies between morphs: gray morph, slate; white morph, tan. Bills of both morphs become pinkish as they mature during winter. Basal knob is absent in cygnets and relatively small in juveniles. Lores of newly hatched cygnets are feathered, but during first winter, a juvenile’s lores become naked…”
As an additional aside, Cornell also says: “…Two views exist as to whether or not being a white morph (see Distinguishing Characteristics above) is advantageous. Several experiments using models determined that whiteness elicits aggressive response in adult Mute Swans and is therefore disadvantageous. These findings are consistent with the large amount of anecdotal evidence that suggests that white cygnets are at a disadvantage because they are perceived as threats to their parents’ territory. Another view is that being a white cygnet is advantageous because female cygnets that enter their first winter already in white plumage will be able to pair with older males and eventually gain breeding experience over their gray counterparts, therefore gaining reproductive advantage over gray morphs…”
The juveniles we saw being crowded and nipped at by the busking adult were all white ones… All of the gray morph youngsters we saw were in the water and pretty far away, so I wasn’t able to check them out too closely. The gray ones looked to be the same age as the white ones, so I’m assuming they all hatched around the same time.
And another feature: the knob, that protuberance at the base of the top bill where it connects to the head. According to Cornell: “…Males generally have larger knob than females. During breeding season (Jan–Jun), knob of adult males is enlarged, and breeding males have larger knob than nonbreeding males.” Some of the guys we saw were pretty “knobby”.
Among the birds, besides the swans, we saw Great-Tailed Grackles, Pied-Billed Grebes, tiny fast-moving Bushtits, Double-Crested Cormorants, Brewer’s Blackbirds, Canada Geese and a few others. The coolest sighting of the day, even though I wasn’t able to get any photos of it, was to see a White-Tailed Kite chasing and buzz-bombing a Red-Tailed Hawk that got too close to its territory. The birds moved pretty fast, and my camera doesn’t know what to focus on when I point it at the sky, so… no photos. Waaah!
We did get to see a Green Heron standing on a thin floating log in the water, and got to see it catch a tiny silvery fish. Some of the swans swam right by the heron and either didn’t see it or weren’t interested in it. When we first saw it, the heron was back-lit and just looked like a stick poking out of the water, but some close-up photos showed it was actually a bird. We had to walk down the trail a bit to get the heron in better lighting so we could get a few better photos of it.
There weren’t anywhere near as many dragonflies as I thought there might be given all the water and the time of year, but we still have about month or so to go in the season.
I didn’t find a single example of dragonfly or damselfly exuvia along the water’s edge either, which was also an indicator of how disappointing spotting dragonflies was going to be. Oddly enough, Roxanne did find the exuvia of some kind of cicada among the leaves of a coyote brush bush.
We also saw some stem galls on the coyote brush and four different kinds of galls on the willow trees along the water’s edge: pinecone galls, rosette galls and a couple of different blister galls. Those are always cool to see. On the side of the lake we were on there weren’t many oak trees, beyond the cork oaks, so we didn’t come across any oak wasp galls. The next time I go out, I want to check out the opposite bank and see what, if anything, is on the trees there. Among the cone galls, I was surprised to see some of them in clusters of six, eight and nine. I don’t remember seeing bunches that large before.
I was able to spot at least three different species of bee while I was out there, most of them feeding on the thistle flowers, and a couple of different kinds of wasps.
The really nice treat was being able to see two very large Western Tiger Swallowtail butterflies feeding on the thistle nectar. Roxanne had stopped to point out a dragonfly on the ground, and I alerted her to the “giant butterflies”. Hah! Luckily, the dragonfly, a green female Pondhawk was still sitting on the ground when I stepped away from the butterflies to look for her.
We walked for about 3 ½ hours and then called it quits for the day.
American Bugleweed, Water Horehound, Lycopus americanus
I got up around 5 o’clock this morning, and was out the door around 5:30 am to head toward the North Davis Ponds, Northstar Pond Park, where I met with Greg Ira, statewide director of the UC’s Certified California Naturalist program, for a walk. We were hoping to see a lot of dragonflies and maybe some galls, too.
Greg said he’d never been to that park before, so he checked it out late yesterday afternoon when he was driving through town. He said there were a lot of dragonflies around the pond and manicured lawn area. He’s been trying to get “super-slow-motion” video of the dragonflies as they take off from their landing perches, and he tried several time while we were out there to get some footage.
When we first got there it was around 61° F, so a bit too cool for the dragon flies to be up and flying. We didn’t see any at all at first, so we walked down the shaded walkway toward Covell Park. We went about 3 or four bocks before turning around and heading back toward the ponds. Both Greg and I were wearing face masks, and I was happy to see about half of the people we encountered wearing them, too.
Along the way, we stopped to take some photos of whatever we encountered. I got a few shots of the aphid galls on the leaves of a cottonwood tree, but also found a couple of first-of-the-season galls on Valley Oaks like the Convoluted Gall and the Red Cone Gall.
I was surprised to see a very “fresh-looking” specimen of Common Sunburst Lichen, Xanthoria parietina, on a ginkgo tree in Davis yesterday. This time of year, most of the lichen are dried out and colorless.
We also found some Leaf-Footed Bugs at various instars (from nymphs to adults) on a pomegranate tree. The tree was near a fence that looked into a private back yard and a gentleman came out of the house to ask what we were looking at. I told him, “Leaf-Footed Bugs!” and said we were photographing some adults and babies. “Are they unusual?” he asked, and I told him, no, they’re fairly common. He wasn’t impressed, but told us to enjoy our day.
When we got back to the pond, the dragonflies were finally up and about and we saw some Pondhawks, Widow Skimmers, Flame Skimmers, and Blue Dasher Dragonflies.
I saw one of the Flame Skimmers turn around and snatch a tiny bee out of the air, then land on a cattail leaf to eat it. While I took some photos and video of it, Greg tried to get some super-slow-mo footage of it… but it wasn’t very cooperative with that. It was too interested in its meal to pay him any attention.
I also found some stink bug eggs (and a few nymphs) and Greg caught a couple of tiny Sierran Tree Frog froglets. They looked mostly brown when they were boinging through the grass, but in close-up photos, you could see how beautifully and subtly colored they really are.
We saw quite a few birds in the area, but I wasn’t able to get photos of most of them because they were too far away or were in flight: a White-Tailed Kite, American Robins, Black Phoebes, Scrub Jays, and doves, among others.
We walked for about 3 hours, and by then it was 75° outside and I was starting to heat up (and sweat), so we called it a day.
I’d taken the walker with me on this trip and it did great on the paved paths throughout the park. I was probably actually walking faster than I normally might had I been by myself, because by the time I left I was exhausted. When I got home, I had to crash for a few hours.
American Robin, Turdus migratorius
Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
Asian Ladybeetle, Harmonia axyridis [eggs]
Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
Blue Dasher Dragonfly, Pachydiplax longipennis
Blue Lily, Lily of the Nile, Agapanthus praecox
Broadleaf Cattail, Bullrush, Typha latifolia
Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, Halyomorpha halys [eggs and nymphs]
California Black Oak, Quercus kelloggii
California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
Chinese Pistache, Pistacia chinensis
Common Green Lacewing, Chrysoperla carnea [eggs]
Common Sunburst Lichen, Golden Shield Lichen, Xanthoria parietina
Convoluted Gall Wasp, Andricus confertus
Cottonwood Leaf Gall Aphid, Pemphigus populivenae
Cottonwood Petiole Gall, Poplar Petiole Gall Aphid, Pemphigus populitransversus
Eurasian Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto
Fig, Common Fig, Ficus carica
Flame Skimmer Dragonfly, Libellula saturata
Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
Ginkgo Tree, Ginkgo biloba
Golden Haired Inkcap, Parasol Inkcap, Parasola auricoma
Goldenrain Tree, Koelreuteria paniculata
Mealy Rim Lichen, Lecanora strobilina
Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii [heard]
Pomegranate Tree, Punica granatum
Red Cone Gall Wasp, Andricus kingi
Red-Eared Slider Turtle, Trachemys scripta elegans
Sierran Tree Frog, Pseudacris sierra
Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
Velvetleaf, Abutilon theophrasti
Western Leaf-Footed Bug, Leptoglossus zonatus
Western Pondhawk Dragonfly, Erythemis collocata
White Sweetclover, Melilotus albus
White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus
Widow Skimmer Dragonfly, Libellula luctuosa
Yellow Water Iris, Yellow Flag, Iris pseudacorus [invasive]