Got to See Some River Otters, 09-28-20

I got up around 6:00 am, and was out the door around 6:45 to head out to Mather Lake Regional Park. There are a few more wildfires started up, so we’re getting air quality alerts again.  Not too bad:  102 AQI (Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups) 

When I arrived at the park the sun was just starting to come up over the horizon, and the first thing I saw was movement on the surface of the lake. I thought, “oooo, muskrat!”, but then I realized there was more than one thing moving in the water.

It was a raft of FIVE RIVER OTTERS!

Three of the five North American River Otters, Lontra canadensis

I was one of two people with a camera on the shore, and the other guy spotted the otters about the same time I did. He rushed down one side of the lake, and I “rushed” (which is hard with a cane) down another. The male photographer was moving so fast, he startled the otters and they turned my way. It was hard to get photos of them because the rising sun was behind them for the most part, but I did get a tiny bit of video of the otters when they lifted up in the water to look at a fisherman near the water’s edge. So cool!

Of course, I reported the sighting to the River Otter Ecology Project, Otter Spotter.

When the otters dove near a small flock of Canada Geese, the geese took off with a lot of clamoring noise. The otters must have “goosed” them. Hah!

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

I caught glimpses of a Belted Kingfisher that was flying between the trees, but it wouldn’t sit still anywhere long enough for me to get photos of it.  When I watched a Double-Crested Cormorant flying over the water, its flight path was interrupted by a Green Heron who then lighted on the twiggy remnants of a submerged log.  Even though the heron was pretty far away, I was able to get a couple of photos of it…and the small turtle sitting on a rock near the twigs.

Green Heron, Butorides virescens

I also saw my “spirit bird”, a Black Phoebe. It was flitting back and forth from snags over the water and back again. On one trip, it caught an insect midair, then returned to snag to swallow it down.

Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans

There were a lot of Pied-Billed Grebes in the water, adults and juveniles, all of them swimming and fishing among rafts of water vegetation. The Mute Swans were all about, of course, along with the geese. I also saw small flocks of Bushtits and Lesser Goldfinches. I heard California Quail and Northern Flickers, but couldn’t catch sight of them.  It was nice to see and hear the familiar song of White-Crowned Sparrows who are just now starting to migrate back into the area.

White-Crowned Sparrow,Zonotrichia leucophrys

Blue damselflies were still decorating the plants at the water’s edge, but their numbers are dwindling.  And I only saw two dragonflies. There were lots of midges in the air, and I was also aware of the mosquitoes today (having pretty much missed them otherwise this year).

I walked for about 3 hours, and then headed back home.

Species List:

  1. American Bugleweed, Water Horehound, Lycopus americanus
  2. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  3. Argentine Ant, Linepithema humile
  4. Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon
  5. Bishop Pine, Pinus muricata [fascicles of TWO needles]
  6. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  7. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  8. Bushtit, American Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus
  9. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  10. California Quail, Callipepla californica [heard]
  11. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  12. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  13. Common Spike-Rush, Eleocharis palustris [has a head somewhat like SB Sedge]
  14. Cottonwood Petiole Gall, Poplar Petiole Gall Aphid, Pemphigus populitransversus
  15. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  16. Desert Cottontail Rabbit, Sylvilagus audubonii
  17. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
  18. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  19. Familiar Bluet Damselfly, Enallagma civile
  20. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  21. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  22. Great-Tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus
  23. Green Heron, Butorides virescens
  24. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  25. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  26. Largemouth Bass, Micropterus salmoides
  27. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  28. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  29. Mosquito, Common House Mosquito, Culex pipiens
  30. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  31. Mute Swan, Cygnus olor
  32. Narrowleaf Cattail, Cattail, Typha angustifolia
  33. Narrowleaf Willow, Salix exigua
  34. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus [heard]
  35. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  36. Pacific Forktail Damselfly, Ischnura cervula
  37. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  38. Red-Eared Slider Turtle, Trachemys scripta elegans
  39. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  40. River Otter, North American River Otter, Lontra canadensis
  41. Soft Rush, Juncus effusus
  42. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  43. Tule Bluet Damselfly, Enallagma carunculatum
  44. White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys
  45. Willow Bead Gall Mite, Aculus tetanothrix
  46. Willow Herb, Epilobium brachycarpum [tiny pink flowers, seeds almost like soaproot]
  47. Willow Pinecone Gall midge, Rabdophaga strobiloides

The Sulphur Shelf is Starting to Show off, 09-26-20

I got up around 7:00 am and headed out to the American River Bend Park for a walk. By the time I got there it was really already too late and getting too warm to start a walk, so I kept my visit kind of short.

Sulphur Shelf Fungus, Western Hardwood Sulphur Shelf, Laetiporus gilbertsonii

Between seasons at the park, there’s not a whole lot to see right now, but I did get a glimpse of deer and some lovely looking sulphur shelf fungus when I first came through the gate. There were no migrating waterfowl on the river, but there were plenty of fishermen and some kayakers. One of the fisherman had caught a large Chinook salmon and was filleting it when I walked by him, the bright silvery fish in the water at his feet, its rose-orange flesh in his hands.

Fisherman filleting a Chinook Salmon, Oncorhynchus tshawytscha, he caught on the American River

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

The Acorn Woodpeckers are busy filling up and protecting their granary trees. I got to see a couple of Red-Shouldered Hawks and a Cooper’s Hawk as they lighted on branches to rest for a moment before flying off again. Along the riverside, I saw several Turkey Vultures, some of them battling for fragments of salmon the fishermen discarded. I also came across a large flock of Wild Turkeys.

When I sat at one of the tables in the picnic area, I saw several Oak Titmice and Western Bluebirds. There was also as mall swarm of Yellowjackets chewing on something on the ground. I tried to get a close look at what they were so excited about, but it just looked like wood chips to me. Maybe there was something on it that I couldn’t see… Or maybe they were gathering wood-material for their nest? Not sure.

Yellowjacket, Western Yellowjacket, Vespula pensylvanica

I was out there for about 2 hours and then headed back home. I hadn’t taken any pain pills before leaving the house, so I was hurting by the time I got back.

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. California Buckeye Chestnut Tree, Aesculus californica
  3. California Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta
  4. California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica
  5. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  6. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  7. Chinook Salmon, Oncorhynchus tshawytscha
  8. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
  9. Common Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  10. Common Merganser, Mergus merganser
  11. Cooper’s Hawk, Acipiter cooperii
  12. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  13. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  14. Live Oak Gall Wasp, 1st Generation, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis [spiky ball]
  15. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  16. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  17. Oak Apple Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  18. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus
  19. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  20. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  21. Sulphur Shelf Fungus, Western Hardwood Sulphur Shelf, Laetiporus gilbertsonii
  22. Tree of Heaven, Ailanthus altissima
  23. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  24. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  25. Western Bluebird, Sialia Mexicana
  26. Western Fence Lizard, Blue Belly, Sceloporus occidentalis
  27. Western Tussock Moth, Orgyia vetusta [cocoons]
  28. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis
  29. Yellowjacket, Western Yellowjacket, Vespula pensylvanica

Two Nimbus Locations in One Day, 09-21-20

I got up around 6:00 this morning, and headed out the door about 6:30 am to join my friend and fellow naturalist, Roxanne, for a walk at the Nimbus Fish Hatchery.  It was relatively cool outside, around 63°, and fairly clear. The air quality go worse later in the afternoon, though.   152 AQI (Unhealthy) . We stopped to get some coffee and a breakfast biscuit on the way.

As we got near the hatchery turn out, I mentioned that I’d read about a park that was supposed to be on Lake Natoma on the side of the street opposite the hatchery, the Nimbus Flat State Recreation Area/ Lake Natoma. I’d driven by the entrance once, but had never checked it out before, so we stopped there before going to the hatchery itself. 

Lake Natoma

According to Recreation.gov: “Recreation at Lake Natoma is managed by the California Department of Parks and Recreation under agreement with the Bureau of Reclamation. The Lake was created by Nimbus Dam across the American River. Lake Natoma is a regulating reservoir for releases from Folsom Lake. The Dam and Lake are features of the Central Valley project…”  

Lake Natoma is a small lake along the lower American River, between Folsom and Nimbus Dams in Sacramento County. The lake has 500 surface acres of water.  There are paved trails for jogging and bicycling, and unpaved trails for hikers and equestrians.  A dense 14 mile long riparian ecosystem encircles the lake.  Although fishing is a big pastime here, it’s generally “catch and release” because there is a high concentration of mercury in the fish here.

Because we were trying to save time to get over to the hatchery, we didn’t spend as much time at the rec area as we might have, and didn’t cover much of the trails.  We’re between seasons right now, so the park wasn’t showing itself off to its full potential, but I could absolutely see how intriguing it might be in the late fall, winter and early spring.

Gray Pine, Pinus sabiniana

The lake surface was pretty much devoid of birds, but we did see a flock of gulls and what looked like a hybrid goose.  Migrations are just starting, so hopefully there will be more birds on the water over the next few months. There were Canada Geese and Wild Turkeys on the shore and the part of the trail we covered. We heard a few other birds, but had trouble finding and photographing them.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

In the water there were quite a few swimmers, many with swim buoys trailing from their backs. Besides providing them with a little protection –- the colorful buoys make the swimmers more visible in the open water – they also provide some drag, which helps to strengthen the swimmers as they work to pull the buoys along with them.  We also saw some kayakers and paddle-boarders on the water.

Kayakers on the water

 Throughout the riparian forest there were lots of cottonwood trees, oak trees, gray pines and alders with a smattering of sycamore, redbud and wattle trees throughout. Occasionally, we saw oddities – like a juniper tree growing on the side of the lake.

Some of the alder trees seemed to have very swollen portions on their limbs and one had some kind of dark ooze weeping out of it. So many different pathogens can cause this kind of damage, it’s hard for a lay person like me to correctly identify the cause. I thought at first that some of the swellings were in response to mistletoe, but not all of the trees had mistletoe on them. 

There’s an invasive pathogen called Phytophthora alni uniformis that only attacks alders. P. uniformisis indigenous to North America.  “…Symptoms are typical of Phytophthora root and collar diseases on broadleaved trees. This includes sparse foliage with abnormally small yellow leaves, dieback and canker at the base of the main stem… Black exudates ooze from spots across the canker surface. These tarry spots turn to a rust color with time…”  I don’t know if that’s what we were seeing, but it sounds close.

In one area along the trail, there were large piles of leaves, twigs, chopped up branches and seed pods.  We assumed that the workers whose job it is to clean up the place, were piling up the cuttings until they could be burned or hauled away. Everything was dried out and the different shapes, textures and colors were actually quite pretty to look at; very “autumnal”. 

There were some Lesser Goldfinches in among the debris, picking off smaller seeds and fluff.  We also saw a lot of Variegated Meadowhawk dragonflies in there, resting on the twiggy branches.

After we were done with our cursory walk at the rec area, we went over to the Nimbus Fish Hatchery.  There wasn’t a lot to see there because so much construction is underway there right now. 

In 2018, the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) approved funding for a three-part construction project to take place at the hatchery. The two-year project was supposed to involve the construction of a fishway from the Nimbus Fish Hatchery to the stilling basin below Nimbus Dam and removing the existing diversion weir. The fishway would consist of three sections: a concrete flume fishway, a pool and drop fish ladder, and a rock-lined trapezoidal channel. 

“…The changes will also minimize American River flow fluctuations associated with installation and removal of the hatchery’s weir and eliminate health and safety concerns relative to the deterioration of the existing weir structure. The new spawning habitat opened up by the permanent removal of the weir will improve juvenile salmon production and increase harvest opportunities downstream… First, the fish passageway extension will be built. Second, operations and assessments of the passageway will take place before removing outdated facilities. Lastly, although not necessary, the removal of the existing weir would be considered by Reclamation once the new passageway is deemed successful for two seasons…”

Well, the whole project was supposed to be done by October of this year, but it looked to me like they left all of the work until the last minute.  I don’t know how they’ll get it all done before the salmon spawning season starts next month. They were still digging the trenches for the fishway. 

At the same time this major work is taking place, they’re also working on building an improved open-air theatre near the visitor’s center and a new boardwalk and viewing platform near the end of the trail.  We walked right by where they were working on the theater, but couldn’t get to where the viewing platform is going to be because fences had been erected to keep people out.

Because of all of the noise and personnel, there were only a handful of birds along the river in the area. I think we saw two Great Egrets, one Great Blue Heron, a handful of gulls, a single Green Heron, and a Black Phoebe.  No migrating waterfowl.

Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias

We saw a couple of Double-Crested Cormorants perched on the wire across the river, what Cornell calls a “diurnal loafing site”. Hah!  While we watched them, the adult sat down then stood up next to the juvenile, doing its “gular flutter” thing, when it opens its mouth and causes the orange gular skin on its throat to vibrate.

“…Gular flutter supplements evaporation due to respiration, and involves a rapid vibration of the moist membranes of the gular region, driven by the hyoid…”

While the adult bird had its mouth open, you could see some of blue coloring inside the mouth and throat. This color increases to a brilliant blue during the breeding season.

Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus

We did catch glimpses of some of the early-arrival Chinook Salmon; their humped backs and dorsal fins came up on occasional swells across the water’s surface.  At the hatchery, all of the salmon and trout runs were closed. We think they were flushing out the runs and taking the opportunity of the closure to clean them up before putting new salmon and trout fry in them later in the year.  It will be interesting see, in another few months, if the hatchery is actually able to do any of their spawning work there this year.

Overall, I think we were out walking for about 3½ to 4 hours. Phew!

By about 11 o’clock, though, it was getting too warm for me outside, and I had to head back to the car. It seemed like the last 10 or 15 feet was almost impossible for me to get through. All I could feel was the heat coming off the asphalt in the parking lot.  I was starting to overheat, and getting kind of light-headed.  I made it, though, and Rox turned up the AC in the car to help cool me off. (She takes good care of me.)

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus [heard]
  2. Alder Tongue, Western American Alder Tongue Gall Fungus, Taphrina occidentalis
  3. Alder Tree Pathogen, Phytophthora alni uniformis
  4. Armenian Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus
  5. Ashe Juniper, Juniperus ashei [white berries]
  6. Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon [saw one on a bridge]
  7. Black Locust Tree, Robinia pseudoacacia
  8. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  9. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra cerulea
  10. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  11. California Fuchsia, Epilobium canum
  12. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  13. California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica      
  14. California Sycamore, Platanus racemose
  15. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis
  16. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica
  17. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  18. Chinook Salmon, Oncorhynchus tshawytscha [in the river]
  19. Coffeeberry, California Buckthorn, Frangula californica
  20. Common Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  21. Common Green Lacewing, Chrysopa coloradensis [eggs]
  22. Common Madia, Madia elegans [yellow flowers, some with red staining near center, smells like lemon]
  23. Cottonwood Leaf Gall Aphid, Pemphigus populivenae
  24. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  25. Dallis Grass, Dallisgrass, Paspalum dilatatum
  26. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
  27. Doveweed, Turkey Mullein, Croton setiger
  28. Fennel, Sweet Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare
  29. Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis
  30. Fig, Common Fig, Ficus carica
  31. Flat-Topped Honeydew Gall Wasp, Disholcaspis eldoradensis
  32. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  33. Fuzzy Gall Wasp, Disholcaspis washingtonensi [round faintly fuzzy galls on stems]
  34. Gold Dust Lichen, Chrysothrix candelaris
  35. Goodding’s Black Willow, Salix gooddingii
  36. Gray Pine, Pinus sabiniana
  37. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
  38. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  39. Green Heron, Butorides virescens
  40. Hollyleaf Cherry, Prunus ilicifolia
  41. Hutton’s Vireo, Vireo huttoni
  42. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  43. Interior Sandbar Willow, Salix interior
  44. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  45. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  46. Little Rattlesnake Grass, Little Quaking Grass, Briza minor
  47. Live Oak Erineum Mite gall, Aceria mackiei [kind of looks like rust on the backside of the leaf]
  48. Live Oak Gall Wasp, 1st Generation, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis [spiky ball]
  49. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  50. Mistletoe Gall, caused by Mistletoe  haustorium growing on a tree
  51. Mistletoe, American Mistletoe, Big Leaf Mistletoe, Phoradendron leucarpum
  52. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  53. Narrowleaf Willow, Salix exigua
  54. Netted Crust Fungus, Byssomerulius corium
  55. Northern Catalpa, Indian Bean Tree, Catalpa speciosa
  56. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii [heard]
  57. Oak Apple Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  58. Pale Jumping  Spider, Colonus hesperus
  59. Panicled Willowherb, Epilobium brachycarpum
  60. Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Western Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum  
  61. Puncture Vine, Tribulus terrestris
  62. Purpletop Vervain, Verbena bonariensis
  63. Pyracantha, Firethorn,  Pyracantha coccinea
  64. Red Cone Gall Wasp, Andricus kingi
  65. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  66. Rock Greenshield Lichen, Flavoparmelia baltimorensis
  67. Ruptured Twig Gall Wasp, Callirhytis perdens
  68. Silver Wattle, Acacia dealbata
  69. Spiny Turban Gall Wasp, asexual, fall generation, Antron douglasii
  70. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  71. Toyon, Heteromeles arbutifolia
  72. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  73. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  74. Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum
  75. Western Fence Lizard, Blue Belly, Sceloporus occidentalis
  76. Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis
  77. Western Sycamore, Platanus racemosa
  78. Western Tussock Moth, Orgyia vetusta [cocoons]
  79. White Alder, Alnus rhombifolia
  80. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis
  81. Woodland Skipper, Ochlodes sylvanoides
  82. Yellow Starthistle, Centaurea solstitialis

A Few Firsts for Me, 09-18-20

I got up around 6:00 this morning and was out the door by about 6:30 to go over to the Cosumnes River Preserve.  It was 63° when I left and mostly cloudy. The cooler temperatures lasted until the late afternoon, but it felt a little humid.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

When I got near the preserve, I drove down Bruceville and Desmond Roads to see if there were any interesting birds out there. I was hoping there would be some water on the preserve now that the migrations have started, but the place still nearly bone dry. Only one of the fields along Desmond was partially filled, and only a small pond on the preserve itself had water in it.  So, that was something of a disappointment. But I DID get to see some things I wasn’t expecting to see.

Tricolored Blackbird, Agelaius tricolor

Along Bruceville Road there was a large covey of quail, some Great Egrets, and several cottontail rabbits. But the big surprise was a large flock of Tricolored Blackbirds, Agelaius tricolor, this morning! One even landed on a fence near my car, so I was able to get some video of it preening. 

“Trikes”, as they’re endearingly referred to, are visually very similar to Red-Winged Blackbirds in that they are also black with red epaulets on their shoulders.  But the Trikes’ epaulets are rimmed with white feathers, not yellow like those of the Red-Wings.

Already listed as Endangered by the IUCN-World Conservation Union, the species has been a candidate for listing under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA), as well as California’s state ESA. It was given temporary “endangered” status in 2015 but that was only for 6 months and has since expired. As it stands, right now the species is still considered “threatened”. Further consideration of an “endangered” status was dumped when Trump and his crew took over the White House and the Department of the Interior.

In the same area as the Trikes, there was a pair of Brewer’s Blackbirds. The female had what looked like nesting material in her beak, and she was pursued by a male who strutted and postured and cheeped behind her. I got a little bit of video, but it wasn’t in the sharpest focus…and it didn’t help that a car drove past, obscuring my view. Still, the male’s display was so “cute”, I wanted to preserve it.

According to Cornell: “…n resident and many migratory populations, pair formation begins as gradual process in late-winter… As courtship progresses, female initiates Generalized Display, which merges imperceptibly with Pre-copulatory Display, a more fully expressed version of the former with more crouched posture, tail held at higher angle, and accompanied by different call. In both displays, body tipped forward on flexed legs with breast lowered toward ground, bill slightly raised, wings lowered and rapidly shivered while unspread tail is cocked… Male Pre-coitional Display given just prior to mounting and copulation. Feather ruffing more conspicuous than in male Song-spread, bill pointed downward, and yellow eyes bordered by fluffed violet feathers of head appearing prominent. Position of tail and wings more exaggerated than in Song-spread. In this posture, male deliberately approaches female, and if on ground sometimes makes half-circle in strutting motion. Wing and tail feathers scrape ground. Approach sometimes silent, other times accompanied by 1 of the 2 song forms…”

Brewer’s Blackbirds are “seasonally monogamous”, and I’m sure I was seeing the work and displays of a pair bond.

Among the bindweed along the side of the road, I found a new-to-me kind of stinkbug called a Conchuela Bug, Chlorochroa ligata.  It’s black with an orange border.  When I picked it up to get closer photos of it, it pooped out some of its stink-fluid, staining my index finger top orange. The smell was pretty gross, but it dissipated relatively quickly.

Conchuela Stink Bug, Chlorochroa ligata

The trees along Desmond Road and around the preserve are still covered in galls, but it’s near the end of the season, so many of the gall are empty and are shriveling away. The Flat-Topped Honeydew galls are going black with age, but some of them are still producing a little honeydew and still have a few ants in attendance. I wonder if, at this time of year, the honeydew has fermented or if the sugary substance has promoted some fungal development.  The Convoluted galls and Yellow Wig galls are now much larger than they have been as the larvae inside develop and pupate.

As an aside, I was excited to learn (later in the day) that Ron Russo has a new book coming out next year: Plant Galls of the Western United States. Woot!! The book covers 536 gall species with 232 species not previously included in any field guide.  Double-woot!  Russo’s last book is like the bible for us gall chasers, but it’s out of print now, and VERY expensive (anywhere between $80 and $200 depending on who has it). We’ve all been hoping the publishers would re-release it, but with this new book coming out that won’t be necessary   — and maybe any copies of the original book will now drop in price. The new guide is due to be released in late March of 2021, and I’ve pre-ordered one through Amazon.com at the more reasonable price of $29.

While I was checking out the trees along the boat ramp trail, I saw something gray on one of the twiggy branches, and I got closer to investigate.  I was overjoyed when I saw that it was a vase-like pot of a California Potter Wasp, Eumenes sp.  I’ve seen photos before, but never a “live” one. The pots are perfect, beautiful little things.

Clay pot created by a Potter Wasp, California Potter Wasp, Eumenes sp.

The Potter Wasps are a species of solitary wasp that creates these pots to house their larvae. They make a pot out of mud and saliva, fill it full of spiders and caterpillars, lay an egg on the pile of food and then seal the pot shut. The larva develops and pupates, eating from the pantry mom left it, then when it’s a mature wasp, it pops the seal on the pot and climbs out. The pot I found was open and empty.

At the end of the boat launch trail, where there’s river access, I could see that part of the water was already clogged full of Water Hyacinth, Eichhornia crassipes.  Some of the river was still open, but the plants multiply quickly. It’ll only be a matter of time before that whole area is covered with the stuff.  Some of the hyacinth was in bloom, and it’s actually quite pretty.  Too bad it’s so horribly invasive.

Water Hyacinth, Eichhornia crassipes

On other parts of the trail and on the side of the pond across from the nature center parking lot, I saw some Variegated Meadowhawk dragonflies. I also saw some Green Darners, including a mated pair that was flying around near the water’s edge. I lost them in the dried vegetation in the water, and just aimed my camera in the direction where I last saw them. I was VERY surprised when I got home to find that I’d actually gotten a photo of them, still connected, resting on the side of an old cocklebur plant. Sometimes, you get lucky.

Green Darner Dragonflies, Anax junius. Male on top, female below.

In that same pond, I was happy to see some shorebirds and waterfowl, early arrivals from the migrations, among the blackbirds and Brown-Headed Cowbirds.  There were Killdeer, Black-Necked Stilts, a few Dunlin, and lots of Greater Yellowlegs.  There were also some Mallards, and some small flocks of Northern Shovelers.  It looked like all of the Shovelers were females, but closer inspection proved that there were males in there, too, but in their “eclipse” plumage.

Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata, male in his “eclipse” plumage

“…Eclipse plumage is temporary or transition plumage. Ducks are peculiar in that they molt all their flight feathers; the long, wing feathers; at once. For about a month, they can’t fly and very vulnerable to predators. To provide some protection, particularly for the brightly-colored males, the molt starts with their bright body feathers. These are replaced by dowdy brown ones, making them look much like females. Once the flight feathers have regrown, the birds molt again, and by October the full colors are back and the various species of ducks are easily recognizable once more…”

 You can tell the eclipsed adult males from the females by their bright yellow eyes.

So, although there weren’t a lot of birds to see, it was nice to see that they’re starting to move in.  The biggest flocks of migrating birds should be here in December, but they’ll be trickling in from now until then.

I walked for about 3½ hours and then headed back home.

Species List:

  1. Azolla, Water Fern, Azolla filiculoides
  2. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  3. Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
  4. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  5. Brown-Headed Cowbird, Molothrus ater
  6. Bur Clover, Medicago polymorpha
  7. Buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis
  8. California Quail, Callipepla californica
  9. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  10. California Wild Rose, Rosa californica
  11. Chicory, Cichorium intybus
  12. Club Gall Wasp, Atrusca clavuloides
  13. Common Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  14. Common Green Lacewing, Chrysopa coloradensis
  15. Common Snowberry, Symphoricarpos albus
  16. Common Sow-Thistle, Sonchus oleraceus
  17. Conchuela Stink Bug, Chlorochroa ligata
  18. Convoluted Gall Wasp, Andricus confertus
  19. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  20. Coyote Brush Bud Gall midge, Rhopalomyia californica
  21. Desert Cottontail Rabbit, Sylvilagus audubonii
  22. Disc Gall Wasp, Andricus parmula [round flat, “spangle gall”]
  23. Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis
  24. Flat-Topped Honeydew Gall Wasp, Disholcaspis eldoradensis
  25. Fuzzy Gall Wasp, Disholcaspis washingtonensi [round faintly fuzzy galls on stems]
  26. Goldenrod Bunch Gall, Goldenrod Floret Gall Midge, Solidago canadensi
  27. Goldenrod, California Goldenrod, Solidago velutina californica
  28. Goodding’s Black Willow, Salix gooddingii
  29. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  30. Greater Yellowlegs, Tringa melanoleuca
  31. Green Darner Dragonfly, Anax junius
  32. Green-Winged Teal, Anas carolinensis
  33. Gumweed, Curlycup Gumweed, Grindelia squarrosa
  34. Hayfield Tarweed, Hemizonia congesta [white]
  35. Himalayan Blackberry, Rubus bifrons [white flowers]
  36. Jumping Oak Gall Wasp, Neuroterus saltatorius
  37. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  38. Least Sandpiper, Calidris minutilla [small like a Dunlin but with yellow legs]
  39. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  40. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  41. Mediterranean Praying Mantis, Iris Mantis, Iris oratoria [very narrow ootheca]
  42. Mistletoe, American Mistletoe, Big Leaf Mistletoe, Phoradendron leucarpum
  43. Narrowleaf Milkweed, Asclepias fascicularis
  44. Narrowleaf Willow, Salix exigua
  45. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata
  46. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii
  47. Oak Apple Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  48. Oleander Aphid, Aphis nerii
  49. Panicled Willowherb, Epilobium brachycarpum
  50. Potter Wasp, California Potter Wasp, Eumenes sp.
  51. Red Cone Gall Wasp, Andricus kingi
  52. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  53. Rough Cocklebur, Xanthium strumarium
  54. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa
  55. Spiny Turban Gall Wasp, asexual, fall generation, Antron douglasii
  56. Trashline Orb Weaver Spider, Conical Trashline Spider,  Cyclosa conica
  57. Tricolored Blackbird, Agelaius tricolor
  58. Turkey Tangle Fogfruit, Phyla nodiflora
  59. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  60. Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum
  61. Vinegarweed, Trichostema lanceolatum
  62. Water Hyacinth, Eichhornia crassipes
  63. Willow Apple Gall Sawfly, Pontania californica
  64. Woolly Oak Aphid, Stegophylla brevirostris (lots of white fluff & honeydew)
  65. Yellow Wig Gall Wasp, Andricus fullawayi

Mostly Squirrels and Deer Today, 09-16-20

I didn’t get up until almost 7:00 this morning, but it was so pretty outside, 55°(!), that I just had to get out for a walk, so I went over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Center/Preserve

The Poltergeist was being a little cranky, so I couldn’t walk very fast and wore out a bit quicker than I normally would.  Still, I managed to put in 3 hours. Go, me. It was 70° when I left the preserve, and got up to about 90° by the afternoon. The air is still kind of crappy: 177 AQI (Unhealthy). That’s lower than yesterday’s figure, but still not good. We’re supposed to get anew short-term weather pattern that will drop the temps a little bit more over the next few days and blow out some of the smoke (hopefully). We’ll see.

At the preserve, we’re between seasons right now, but the first sign of Fall has arrived: the Western Hardwood Sulphur Shelf, Laetiporus gilbertsonii.  We have two kinds in California, this one and the one that grows on conifer trees, Laetiporus conifericola. They look practically identical, but you can eat the one that grows on hard wood trees, and not the one that grows on conifers, so you have to know you’re trees to know which one is edible and which one isn’t. Not that I’d ever eat fungus in the forest, mind you… Sulphur Shelf doesn’t need a lot of moisture to grow, so it’s one of the first of the fungi to make itself visible in the Fall, before the winter rains set in.

Sulphur Shelf Fungus, Western Hardwood Sulphur Shelf, Laetiporus gilbertsonii

Other than the fungus, I saw mostly deer and Ground Squirrels today. All of the different species of squirrels are busy fattening themselves up and stashing acorns and walnuts for the winter.  The California Ground Squirrels are one of my favorite subjects, and they gave me quite a few photo ops today. Some of them posing near the entrance to their burrows, or standing guard, or eating acorns… They crack me up.

California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi

Most of the deer I saw were does or very young bucks that didn’t have their first antlers yet, and they were all sitting or standing in the tall grass, quite distant from the trail, so I had to get photos of them from around trees, or through the twigs and undergrowth.

Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus

Sometimes, all I would see was their shadowy silhouettes or just the tops of their ears.  I did manage to get a few “faces”, though, which is always gratifying. Still no fawn sightings yet this season… which seems very odd to me, but then… the does can skip a year between births.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

The bees in the “bee tree” were very active this morning. The last time I saw them, they were huddled around the entrance to the hive, but today they were zooming around, coming and going.  They must like the (somewhat) cleaner air, too.

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. American Bull Frog, Lithobates catesbeianus
  3. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  4. Azolla, Water Fern, Azolla filiculoides
  5. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  6. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus
  7. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  8. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  9. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica
  10. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  11. Chinese Pistache, Pistacia chinensis
  12. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
  13. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  14. Coyote, Canis latrans [scat]
  15. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
  16. Eastern Gray Squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis
  17. European Honeybee, Western Honeybee, Apis mellifera
  18. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  19. Large-flowered Evening-Primrose, Oenothera glazioviana
  20. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  21. Mazegill Fungus, Daedalea quercina
  22. Raccoon, Procyon lotor [scat]
  23. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  24. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  25. Sulphur Shelf Fungus, Western Hardwood Sulphur Shelf, Laetiporus gilbertsonii
  26. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  27. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata

Lots of Ants and Birds Today, 09-13-20

Despite the incredibly bad air quality this morning — 239 AQI (Very Unhealthy) – the cool temperature (57°) lured me out for a walk at the Mather Lake Regional Park.            

The first thing I saw when I got there was a parade of Wild Turkeys walking along the paved path at the end of the pond. It looked to me like a female turkey and her nearly-adult poults.

I could also hear the chattering of Belted Kingfishers, and saw one of them dive face-first into the water after its breakfast. They’d land occasionally in the tops of trees around the lake, but were too far away for me to get any real clear photos of them.

There were loads of Bluet damselflies in the willows and other plants along the water’s edge, more than I’d seen all year. I was glad to see them… but feel it’s really late in the season for them. Fall is already coming; these guys should have been out a month or more ago. I also saw a couple of Green Darner dragonflies, both females.

The Mute Swans were on the water, including the almost fully grown cygnets. The dark cygnets are going through their major molt before the winter and are starting to get more of their white coloring now.  They’re still “peeping” like babies, though.

Mute Swans, Cygnus olor

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

On some of the Cottonwood trees there were large clusters of ants.  Taking a closer look, I realized that the ants were gathered around the open galls of the Cottonwood Leaf Gall Aphid, Pemphigus populivenae.  I’m not sure if the aphids I was seeing were that particular species – their coloring suggested that some of them could have been the Smoky-winged Poplar Aphid, Chaitophorus populicola – but they were definitely around the open galls. 

When I tried to get close up photos of the aphids by holding onto the edge of the affected leaf, the ants went immediately berserk and swarmed all over my hand and cellphone. At one point, there were I’d guess a thousand of them pouring down the stems of the tree onto the leaves and onto my hand. I shook them off and blew them off, squished some of them, and finally had to douse my hand in the lake to get them all off. Freaky!

I was surprised that the ants I squished didn’t have any kind of scent. Many ants have that odd formic-acid smell.

“…To facilitate the ant-aphid interaction, ants have evolved aggressive responses to aphid alarm pheromone emissions. In ant-aphid mutualisms, ants receive carbohydrates in the form of honeydew, while aphids receive protection from natural enemies…”  I’m sure that’s what I was seeing.

I’m not sure of the ant species, though. I think they were a kind of Nylanderia, maybe Nylanderia vividula.  They’re called “crazy ants” because of the way they respond to disturbances. And these were certainly going “crazy” when I touched the leaves. But there are so many different species of ants, I don’t really know. They could also have been Argentine Ants. Need to do more research.

It was pretty creepy when they swarmed all over my hand. None of them bit me, but there were sooooo many of them!  I felt “itchy” for the rest of the day. Hah!

I found, later on my walk, that there were similar aphid-ant outbreaks on some of the willows, but the aphids on those were bright green, not brown and tan like on the Cottonwoods.  This kind of “mutualism” is typical of several different species of ant including the invasive Argentine Ants and the household “honey ants”. This should all make for an interesting rabbit hole.

I saw several Double-Crested Cormorants in the trees and water. One was standing down on an outcropping log, sunning itself, trying to dry off after a swim.

Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus

I also came across a Pied-Billed Grebe thrashing a frog it had caught back and forth until the frog was limp and easier to swallow.

There were several Gallinules in the water, too, among the tules and cattails. At one point, they were making so much noise, I tried to get a recording of their sounds. I managed to get a little bit of it, but it was like the end of their conversation.

I was hoping to be able to see a muskrat today, and when I stopped to listen to the Gallinules I thought I saw something that looked like the flat of a muskrat’s head peeking up along the surface of the water. I thought that it couldn’t be a muskrat, though, because it wasn’t moving, even as I approached the edge of the lake. So, I didn’t have my camera ready when… it moved, turned around and ducked down under the surface of the water. Dang it!  I should have trusted my instincts.

Despite the bad air, I walked for a good three hours before heading home.

Species List:

  1. American Bull Frog, Lithobates catesbeianus
  2. Argentine Ant, Linepithema humile
  3. Armenian Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus [pink flowers]
  4. Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon
  5. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  6. Bold Jumping Spider, Phidippus audax
  7. Bull Thistle, Cirsium vulgare
  8. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  9. California Quail, Callipepla californica [heard]
  10. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  11. California Wild Rose, Rosa californica
  12. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  13. Cobwebby Thistle, Cirsium occidentale
  14. Common Bluet Damselfly, Enallagma cyathigerum
  15. Common Gallinule, Gallinula galeata
  16. Cork Oak, Quercus suber
  17. Cottonwood Leaf Gall Aphid, Pemphigus populivenae
  18. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  19. Crazy Ants, Nylanderia sp.
  20. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
  21. Doveweed, Turkey Mullein, Croton setiger
  22. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  23. Familiar Bluet Damselfly, Enallagma civile
  24. Fragrant Flatsedge, Cyperus odoratus
  25. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  26. Goodding’s Black Willow, Salix gooddingii
  27. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  28. Great-Tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus
  29. Green Darner Dragonfly, Anax junius
  30. Green Heron, Butorides virescens
  31. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  32. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  33. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  34. Muskrat, Ondatra zibethicus
  35. Mute Swan, Cygnus olor
  36. Narrowleaf Cattail, Cattail, Typha angustifolia
  37. Narrowleaf Willow, Salix exigua
  38. Pennyroyal, Mentha pulegium
  39. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  40. Pigeon, Domestic Pigeon, Columba livia domestica
  41. Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Western Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
  42. Red Swamp Crayfish, Crawfish, Crawdad, Procambarus clarkia
  43. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  44. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
  45. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  46. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  47. Smartweed, Persicaria lapathifolia [white]
  48. Smoky-winged Poplar Aphid, Chaitophorus populicola
  49. Soft Rush, Juncus effuses
  50. Sooty Dancer Damselfly, Argia lugens
  51. Swamp Smartweed, False Water-Pepper, Persicara hydropiperoides [pink]
  52. Tall Flatsedge, Cyperus eragrostis
  53. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  54. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  55. Willow Aphid, Chaitophorus sp. [green]
  56. Willow Bead Gall Mite, Aculus tetanothrix
  57. Willow Pinecone Gall midge, Rabdophaga strobiloides
  58. ?? tiny unidentified beetle on willow