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