A Hot Morning in Rocklin, 08-09-20

I got up around 5:30 this morning, and got the dog pottied and fed before leaving with my friend Roxanne to go to Rocklin in search of galls.  We went to the oak grove at the Johnson-Springview Park.  Last year we found about 20 species of galls, and I was hoping to top that number today. Didn’t make it, partly because of the heat and partly because some of the galls, like the coral galls, weren’t out yet.

This is a photo from 2019 of the galls we found at the park

We stopped for coffee and breakfast sandwiches, then continued on. It was already about 66° when we got to the park, and heated up quickly to 88° by the time we left. [It eventually made it to 100° by the late afternoon.] Anything over about 72° is too hot for me to go walking and exploring, so I was uncomfortable heat-wise for a lot of the outing.  We didn’t cover as much ground as we did last year, and stuck mostly to the shade where we could.

To complicate matters, there were a lot of disc golfers out today. Disc golf is like real golf but instead of using clubs and a ball, they use Frisbees from one hole to the next.  Most of the disc golf players we saw were apparently super serious about the “sport” and had expensive bags (that can run between $200 and $300) and special sets of Frisbees (like different clubs) balanced and weighted for different speeds. Each Frisbee can cost upwards of $20 and the guys with the bags had dozens of different discs in them.

There’s a course at the park, but nothing is marked, so if you’re not playing the game, you have no idea the golfers are around until a Frisbee comes whizzing past you. And you HAVE to walk through a part of the course to get to the backside of the park where most of the trails are along Antelope Creek, so whoever designed the place wasn’t thinking about situating the course safely within the boundaries of a MULTI-USE park with trails and play equipment in it. We almost got beaned twice. Dangerous.

While we were out there, the first thing Rox and I were drawn to was a large magnolia tree near the entrance to the park that had what we thought were “weird growths” on the seed pods.  We’re used to seeing the seed pods of the Southern Magnolias, Magnolia grandiflora, with their large cone-like pods and bright red seeds. But what we were seeing were curled, misshapen things with large knobs on them that we were certain were some kind of gall. Rox cut open one of the knobs and we were surprised to find a large orange seed inside of it. The seed had fleshy attachments on it that I thought looked and felt like elaiosome to me.

Elaiosome is that stuff that forms on some seeds to attract ants which then help in the seed dispersal. It’s made up of dead cells and lots of fats/lipids, proteins, vitamins and starch.  Carbs for ants.  It kind of looks and feels like tapioca to me.  The amount of elaiosome on a seed is proportionate to the size of the seed. Ants need more elaiosome to make carrying a larger seed away from the mother tree more worthwhile, apparently.  [[The fancy term for seed dispersal by ants is myrmecochory.]]

Of course, like all of my naturalist research projects – like this one: what are these weird growths on the magnolia tree? – I go down rabbit holes of information and vocabulary.  Like “arils”. An aril (arillus)  and elaisome get mixed up in the vocab because they’re somewhat similar in make-up, but the aril partially or completely covers the seed (like the fleshy “cup” over and around the seed of a yew tree. In that case, the aril is actually a kind of modified cone scale.)  I’m not a “plant person” so I may be wrong, but I think what we were seeing on the magnolia seed was a kind of elaiosome attachment.

More research also indicated that the knobby protrusions we were seeing on the stalks were not galls, but were seeds that had been pollinated…and that made us wonder why so few of the seeds had actually been pollinated. On one stalk, only ONE seed knob was evident.  Is that normal for this kind of magnolia tree, or is it because we’re losing so many pollinators?  Both Rox and I have noted how few insects we’re seeing anywhere this year.

One of the seeds cut open

Anyway, I figured that the magnolia tree we found in the park wasn’t the common Southern Magnolia, but was some other species. Maybe a Sargent’s Magnolia (Magnolia sargentiana var. robusta) or a Cucumber Magnolia (Magnolia acuminata). I put it in iNaturalist as Magnolia acuminata; we’ll see what the tree experts have to say.

I like starting out an outing with a question, so that was a fun find for me. We then went in search of galls. There are Blue Oaks, Valley Oaks, and different kinds of Live Oaks at the park, so they offer lots of opportunities to find the galls of different species of wasps.  There are also a few different kinds of willows there, too, which can also bear galls, so we had a lot of trees to choose from.

As I mentioned, though, the heat kind of confined where we looked, so we didn’t see as many different kinds of galls this time as we did last year. For example, we didn’t see any Convoluted galls, Coral galls, or Disc galls, no Kernel galls or Two-Horned galls (although I think I found ONE of the spring bisexual generation galls), and there didn’t seem to be any honeydew galls either… but those might have been on the trees closer to the creek that we didn’t get today. I’d like to go back therein a couple of weeks (preferably when the weather is more cooperative) to see if we have better luck.

We DID find loads of Saucer galls and Urchin galls in a wide variety of shapes and colors.  The Urchins were everything from almost white, to pale pink, to deep pink and even maroon. Other favorites, that I always like to see, were the Gray Midrib galls and the Striped Volcano galls.  We also found quite a few Clustered galls which we hadn’t seen anywhere else yet. Looking at the Striped Volcano galls, I wonder if each one has its own unique pattern of stripes…

And we found quite a few Dried Peach Galls. They look like tiny peaches with a nipple at one end.  These guys are sometimes confused with Bullet galls, but the bullets have a more pronounced “beak” or nipple than the peaches. What’s cool about the peach galls, according to Russo [page 139], is that “…upon completion of larval growth, the larval chamber appears to separate from the slightly larger cavity wall, allowing the chamber to float freely. This feature is rare among cynipid wasp galls…”

I cut one of the peaches open to look at the larval chamber, and by looking at the interior, I could imagine how that inner chamber could separate from the rest of the interior as the larva aged and the gall dried out. There was an obvious dark line surrounding the larval chamber.

Then there was a frizzly-looking gall all by itself that I wasn’t sure about. It was on a Blue oak, so I didn’t think it was a Woollybear (which are usually on Valley oaks), and it was too flat and singular to be a Crystalline gall, so…  We only found the one; there weren’t any other anywhere around it. I’m not sure what it was. I’m thinking maybe it was a Sunburst gall (Andricus stellaris), but again, I’m not certain. The coloration is right for a Sunburst gall but the hairs on the one we saw seem to radiate out all over the gall rather than laterally (as is normal for a Sunburst).  I’ll throw it up on iNaturalist and see of anyone agrees with that.

Unidentified gall. I’m calling it the Frizzly Disk Gall.

Roxanne was able to spot a few 1st generation  Live Oak galls on one of the live oak trees, and in some of her photos she was also able to capture the image of a bright red parasite wasp lurking around the side of the gall.  Very cool!  As for me, I found a pink leafhopper and a Ribbed Cocoon moth cocoon that still had its “fence” around it.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

We didn’t see a lot of birds, but we did get to see some Acorn Woodpeckers who posed for us, some Yellow-Billed Magpies, and a young Red-Shouldered Hawk that was hunting in a field. I think he was after ground squirrels, but didn’t quite have the skills yet.  When he flew up into a tree, Roxanne tried to approach to get some closer photos of him, but he flew out the backside and disappeared into the trees across the field.

A male Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
Roxanne stalking the juvenile Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus

We walked for about 3 hours, but, it was getting just too hot for me. Heat sucks the strength and energy right out of me, and I was really dragging on our way out of the park. Roxanne went up ahead of me, got the car, and drove it over to me so I wouldn’t have to walk the entire distance back to the car. (She takes such good care of me, bless her heart.)

On the way home, we stopped and got some iced tea to help us cool off and rehydrate.   When I got home, I was exhausted, and took a long nap with the dog.

Species List:

  1. “Hairy Disc” Gall, unknown, Family: Cynipidae
  2. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  3. Amaranth, Redroot Pigweed, Amaranthus retroflexus
  4. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  5. Blue Oak, Quercus douglasii
  6. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  7. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  8. Canyon Live Oak, Quercus chrysolepis
  9. Chicory, Cichorium intybus
  10. Clustered Gall Wasp, Andricus brunneus
  11. Common Green Lacewing, Chrysoperla carnea [eggs]
  12. Common Morning-Glory, Ipomoea purpurea
  13. Common Sunburst Lichen, Golden Shield Lichen, Xanthoria parietina [yellow-orange,on wood/trees]
  14. Crown Whitefly, Aleuroplatus coronata
  15. Crystalline Gall Wasp, Andricus crystallinus
  16. Dried Peach Gall Wasp, Disholcaspis simulata
  17. Elegant Zinnia, Zinnia elegans
  18. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  19. Flat-Topped Honeydew Gall Wasp, Disholcaspis eldoradensis [old ones only]
  20. Flax-leaved Horseweed, Erigeron bonariensis
  21. Frosted Rim Lichen, Lecanora caesiorrubella [light gray with light gray apothecia on wood]
  22. Fuzzy Gall Wasp, Disholcaspis washingtonensi [round faintly fuzzy galls on stems]
  23. Gall-Like Scale, Allokermes sp.
  24. Gold Dust Lichen, Chrysothrix candelaris
  25. Goodding’s Black Willow, Salix gooddingii
  26. Gray Mid-Rib Gall Wasp, Besbicus multipunctatus
  27. Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata
  28. Hoary Lichen, Hoary Rosette, Physcia aipolia
  29. Hooded Rosette Lichen, Physcia adscendens [hairs/eyelashes on the tips of the lobes]
  30. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  31. Jumping Oak Gall Wasp, Neuroterus saltatorius
  32. Leaf Gall Wasp/ Unidentified per Russo, Tribe: Cynipidi [on Valley Oak]
  33. Leafhopper, Family:  Cicadellidae; maybe Zyginama aucta [pink/orange]
  34. Little Black Ant, Monomorium minimum
  35. Live Oak Erineum Mite gall, Aceria mackiei [kind of looks like rust on the backside of the leaf]
  36. Live Oak Gall Wasp, 1st Generation, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis
  37. Magnolia, Cucumber Magnolia, Cucumber Tree, Magnolia acuminata
  38. Magnolia, Sargent’s Magnolia, Magnolia sargentiana var. robusta
  39. Mexican Honeysuckle, Justicia spicigera
  40. Narrowleaf Cattail, Cattail, Typha angustifolia
  41. Narrowleaf Willow, Salix exigua
  42. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  43. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii [heard]
  44. Oak Apple Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  45. Oakmoss Lichen, Evernia prunastri [with soredia]
  46. Plate Gall Wasp, Andricus pattersonae
  47. Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Western Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
  48. Red Cone Gall Wasp, Andricus kingi
  49. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  50. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
  51. Ribbed Cocoon-Maker Moth, Oak Ribbed Skeletonizer, Bucculatrix albertiella
  52. Rough Cocklebur, Xanthium strumarium
  53. Saucer Gall Wasp, Andricus gigas
  54. Smartweed, Persicaria lapathifolia [white]
  55. Spiny Turban Gall Wasp, Antron douglasii
  56. Strap Lichen, Western Strap Lichen, Ramalina leptocarpha [without soredia]
  57. Striped Volcano Gall Wasp, asexual summer generation, Andricus atrimentus [looks like a tiny volcano]
  58. Striped Volcano Gall Wasp, bisexual spring generation, Andricus atrimentus [looks like a tan ball on the edge of the leaf]
  59. Sunflowers, Helianthus sp. [over 6 feet tall with blossoms as big as my head]
  60. Two-Horned Gall Wasp, bisexual gall, 2nd generation,  Dryocosmus dubiosus [looks like a hard, shiny, brown “beak” on the edge of the leaf]
  61. Urchin Gall Wasp, Antron quercusechinus
  62. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  63. Western Bluebird, Sialia Mexicana
  64. Willow Bead Gall Mite, Aculus tetanothrix
  65. Yellow Wig Gall Wasp, Andricus fullawayi
  66. Yellow-Billed Magpie, Pica nuttalli