And More Galls at the Cosumnes Preserve, 08-03-20

I got up around 5:30 this morning, and headed out the door with my friend Roxanne to check out the Cosumnes River Preserve.  It was 64° when we got there – already almost too hot to start a walk – and got up to 99° by the late afternoon. 

On our way to the preserve, we spotted a couple Red-Tailed Hawks and what we believe was a Swainson’s Hawk, and also saw a coyote loping across a field. When we got to Twin Cities Road, we took the route around Bruceville and Desmond Roads to see if we could spot anything in the fields around there.

Not a whole lot is happening out there right now because the cattle weren’t using the land, and there’s no water for the bird for the most part.  We did see a rather large covey of California Quails, several males and females all scurrying around. They’re such adorable chubby birds.

 We also saw an adult cottontail rabbit and a tiny baby one (on the other side of the road).  Along with them we saw some blackbirds, Mockingbirds, and a handful of sparrows and finches in the blackberries bushes but that was about it.  Still no concentrations of insects, and next to nothing when it came to dragonflies.  Along Desmond Road we did find a few Buckeye butterflies and some blue damselflies, but not as many as there should be during this time of year.

While we were going down the stretch of Desmond Road we saw a pair of White-Tailed Kites, but the birds wouldn’t sit long enough in the treetops for us to get any photos of them.  Of course, most of the wetland areas and even the fields were dry, dry, dry.  There was only one part of the wetlands that had water in it, and we saw about a dozen Great Egrets in there along with a few ibis, some Killdeer, and a couple of Greater Yellowlegs.  Not a lot, but at least it was something.

Great Egrets, Ardea alba

There are quite a few Valley Oaks along one side of Desmond Road, though, so we parked the car and checked them out for galls.  Oddly enough, we’d never actually looked at them before (except for as perches for the birds in the area).  We were able to find specimens of quite a few different galls including some fuzzy Club Galls, along with some Western Spotted Orb-Weaver Spiders and a handful of Paper Wasps.  I’ll have to go back there in a few weeks and see if anything new crops up.

Gall of the Club Gall Wasp, Atrusca clavuloides

The gate to the boardwalk area was open, so when we got there Rox parked in the small parking lot there instead of on the street.  The slough and pond right by that entrance was nearly bone-dry and there were dead carp lying around stinking up the place. It’s just sad to see that.  Seems cruel to drain off the water and let the fish suffocate to death. [Sad-face emoji]

The carcasses of dead carp were lying in the nearly-emptied pond.

Rox and I walked to the outer edge of the pond where there are trees lined up near the road, and checked them out for galls as well.  It’s mostly Valley Oaks and White Ash trees along there, and we were able to find more wasp galls, including the “Woollybears”, and some really good specimens of ash leaf-curl (caused by aphids) and ash “flower galls” (caused by mites). 

Galls of the Woollybear Gall Wasp, Atrusca trimaculosa

Rox also got an incredible photo of a honeybee snacking on the drippings of a row of Flat-Topped Honeydew galls. Her photo is on the left below. The other two photos are by me.

I know I’ve told you this before, but it bears repeating when talking about gall wasps and the strategies their larvae use to defend themselves.  Some have thick skins of their galls, some of their galls have spines and prickly things, some pull tannins from the leaves which acts as a sort of insect repellent to keep predator insect species away from them while the larvae grow and develop inside their galls.  But the honeydew gall-wasps have a very interesting strategy.

They “pay” other insects to act as bodyguards for them.  Inside their gall, the larvae generate honeydew which is then exuded through the porous surface of the gall.  The honeydew attracts “aggressor species” like ants and Yellowjackets, who defend the cache of honeydew for themselves by driving off other insects.  The ants and Yellowjackets get the sugar that’s hard to find elsewhere in the summer months, and the gall-wasp larvae get protection.  I just think that’s so cool…

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

* Warning * Rant * Warning * Rant *

While we were gall hunting and taking photos, a gentleman came up to us to let us know that he was leaving and closing the gate behind him, but he wouldn’t lock it.  When we were done, we could open the gate to retrieve the car, but then needed to close the gate again when we left…so, we did that.  Apparently, we had unwittingly picked a date when the area around the boardwalk was closed because they were spraying Round-Up. 

Seriously?!  Round-Up?! I thought this was supposed to be a PRESERVE?

Science has proven that the stuff gives humans cancer and damages the environment.  “…Evidence is growing that glyphosate, the active ingredient of Roundup, [impacts] the metabolism, growth and reproduction of aquatic creatures and could be altering the essential gut bacteria of animals such as bees… The soil half-life of glyphosate is approximately 47 days (with a range of 2 to nearly 200 days depending on soil type and various environmental conditions)… Shifts in microbial community composition in soil, plants and animal guts resulted. Glyphosate may serve as one of the drivers for antibiotic resistance…” 

[[I also personally believe that Roundup also destroys the layer of mycelium under the surface of the soil, and some studies seem to support that contention.  It, like the neo-nics, is just plain BAD NEWS for the planet.]]

The Cosumnes preserve is a water-based river-front and wetland area.  And they’re dumping Roundup into it.  Unbelievable!  Who knows how much of that crap we were exposed to while we were there.

Okay, the Rant is Over Now. Continue Reading…

Rox and I left that area and went down the road next to the nature center.  There’s a long boat ramp there that cuts alongside an oak grove and field, and ends at the river.  We checked out the oak trees and looked for milkweed plants, and after some time there I just couldn’t walk anymore.  It was already 78°, too hot for me, so I sat on a bench in the shade while Rox went down to the water’s edge.  When she came back, she said there wasn’t a lot to see there – no dragonflies, no birds to speak of, but there was some invasive water hyacinth in the water.  We’d seen a LOT of that in drainage ditches along the highway.  She said there wasn’t a lot in the water by the boat launch – yet.  Give it a week; it’ll be covering everything. 

Photos I took of the water hyacinth in the Cosumnes River a few years ago.

Water hyacinth is a gorgeous plant that floats on the top of the water on its own air-filled bladder; its flowers are just beautiful.  But it’s totally invasive. It’s scientific name is Eichhornia crassipes, so a lot of people call it the “crappiest plant”. It was introduced to the US in the 1880’s as an ornamental water plant (for rich people’s gardens),but escaped as is now considered an invasive everywhere.  It got into California around 1904.  It can sprout from rhizomes (growing in the mud under the water) or from seed.  The seeds are sticky and cling to the feet and feather of waterbirds which then transport them to wherever the bird goes.  The plants grow really fast and can completely cover an clog ponds and waterways in just a matter of weeks. 

As it covers the water, it reduced the places where waterfowl can land, rest and feed, it blocks off sunlight so the water “dies” along with everything in it (oxygen levels drop, CO2 levels rise), and it also transpires a lot of water into the air (some calculations say it’s 8 times faster than normal evaporation)… so the water level in covered patches actually drops. Because the floating mats of the water hyacinth are so broad and dense, they force out native plants that wildlife needs for foraging purposes.  Most animals can’t eat the hyacinth because of its high tannin levels (and because the plants are about 95% water – so have no nutritional value. (So biodiversity plummets.) Standing water caught in and between the matted leaves of the plants become breeding pools for mosquitoes.  And when the hyacinth dies, it poisons the water so nothing can drink it.  Yikes!

How do you control the stuff?  Well, once it’s introduced there isn’t a lot you can do except rip it out, but you have to get every fragment of the plant and dredge up the rhizomes, which can be really labor-intensive and very expensive. You can’t use herbicides on it because the herbicides will poison the water the plants live in. Some places have tried using floating barriers to keep it contained, but that doesn’t stop the spread of the seeds… So, it’s tough.

            With so many “bad” attributes, Rox and I wondered if it had any useful properties at all.  There’s a report by United Diversity that says there are several different places trying to figure out what to do with the stuff.  It’s plant material, of course, and has fiber content, so most of the processes being tried are in the manufacture of paper, fiberboard, yarn, rope (basket-making) and charcoal briquettes. On a larger scale, it’s being tested out as a source of biomass fuel, and in some places is being tested as a first-step in water treatment (from sewage to fresh water).  Here is a PDF of that report.

When we were heading back home, I apologized to Rox for being such a “heat wuss” and cutting the walk short. But she pointed at the clock on the dashboard and said, “We’ve been out for four hours. We did our regular morning…”   I hadn’t realized I’d been walking for that long; no wonder I was tired!

Species List:

  1. American Robin, Turdus migratorius
  2. Ash Flower Gall Mite, Ash Key Gall, Eriophyes fraxinivorus
  3. Ash Leaf-Curl Aphid, Prociphilus fraxinifolii
  4. Asian Ladybeetle, Harmonia axyridis
  5. Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
  6. California Quail, Callipepla californica
  7. Chicory, Cichorium intybus
  8. Club Gall Wasp, Atrusca clavuloides
  9. Common Buckeye Butterfly, Junonia coenia
  10. Common Carp, Cyprinus carpio
  11. Common Green Lacewing, Chrysoperla carnea [eggs]
  12. Convoluted Gall Wasp, Andricus confertus
  13. Coyote, Canis latrans
  14. Desert Cottontail Rabbit, Sylvilagus audubonii
  15. Disc Gall Wasp, Andricus parmula [round flat, “spangle gall”]
  16. Familiar Bluet Damselfly, Enallagma civile
  17. Flat-Topped Honeydew Gall Wasp, Disholcaspis eldoradensis
  18. Fuzzy Gall Wasp galls, Disholcaspis washingtonensi [round faintly fuzzy galls on stems]
  19. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  20. Greater Yellowlegs, Tringa melanoleuca
  21. Gumweed, Curlycup Gumweed, Grindelia squarrosa
  22. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  23. Jumping Oak Gall Wasp, Neuroterus saltatorius
  24. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  25. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris
  26. Mediterranean Praying Mantis, Iris Mantis, Iris oratoria
  27. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  28. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  29. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii [heard]
  30. Oak Apple Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  31. Paper Wasp, European Paper Wasp, Polistes dominula
  32. Pennyroyal, Mentha pulegium
  33. Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Western Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
  34. Red Cone Gall Wasp, Andricus kingi
  35. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
  36. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  37. Spiny Turban Gall Wasp, Antron douglasii
  38. Swainson’s Hawk, Buteo swainsoni
  39. Tall Flatsedge, Cyperus eragrostis
  40. Trashline Orb Weaver Spider, Conical Trashline Spider,  Cyclosa conica
  41. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  42. Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum
  43. Water Hyacinth, Eichhornia crassipes
  44. Western Spotted Orbweaver Spider, Neoscona oaxacensis
  45. White Ash Tree, Fraxinus americana
  46. White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus
  47. White-Faced Ibis, Plegadis chihi
  48. Woolly Oak Aphid, Stegophylla brevirostris (lots of white fluff & honeydew)
  49. Woollybear Gall Wasp, Atrusca trimaculosa
  50. Yellow Wig Gall Wasp, Andricus fullawayi