The Toad was the Stand-Out, 02-16-21

I got up around 6:30 am.  It was a lovely day; a Goldie Locks day; not too h-ot, not too cold… I had originally planned to go out to Beales Point at Folsom Lake with my friend and fellow naturalist Roxanne, and our new buddy Colleen, but then we discovered that the water in the lake was so low, we’d have to walk as much as a half mile just to get to it. I didn’t think I could manage that — all that walking before getting close enough to see anything — so we re-scheduled with Colleen to go out next week to Hinkle Creek, and Rox and I decided to check out the Watt Avenue access to the American River today.

We’d never been there before and didn’t really know what to expect. We ended up seeing more than we thought we might.

You enter the park from La Riviera Drive. Pay the day-use fee at the kiosk (or use your annual pass) and then drive forward. You can’t see where you’re going for a moment, because there is a very steep drop from the payment kiosk down to the riverside parking area. It looks like you’re driving off a cliff for a minute! Rox drove down the incline and parked in a designated parking spot. [I took a photo of one car that was parked right next to a NO PARKING sign, blocking part of the boat launch ramp.]

There’s a paved trail that runs alongside the oak and cottonwood tree forested riparian strip that can be used by hikers, bikers and equestrians. But there is also a narrow dirt footpath that runs closer to the riverside and even provides access to shallow beaches and the water. This is the path Rox and chose to start with. One of the first things we found were bug galls on the Coyote Brush bushes.

Walking the dirt footpath

Most of the trees are pretty much still naked, but some of the willows were bursting with catkins, and so were what looked like red maples and elderberry bushes. The vervain was growing up and leafing out, as were the Mugwort and bur chervil plants.  In a couple of months, when things green up more, it should be gorgeous there.

Manroot vines were lifting themselves up off the ground like snakes; we also found one vine that was already in flower with the male and females flowers very evident and identifiable. Some of the female flowers were starting their seed pods. On one of the vines was feeding a troupe of Boxelder Bugs.  Because it was still chilly, and a bit damp by the river, the insects were pretty torpid, so it was easy to get photos of them.

Western Boxelder Bugs, Boisea rubrolineata

The one plant we were expecting but didn’t see much of were pipevines. We only found one small plant near the end of our walk there.

In the water were Great Egrets, Mallards, Common Goldeneye ducks, Common Mergansers, Canada Geese and even a white Chinese Goose.  There was birdsong all around us and we were able to identify some of it: Spotted Towhees, Scrub Jays, Starlings, hummingbirds, Red-Shouldered Hawks.  We saw one of the hawks land in a nearby tree, but he’d chosen a very spindly soft branch to settle on and it kept bending out from under him. He had to keel adjusting his stance and flapping his wings to keep himself stable. There were also a lot of gulls in the water.

There seemed to be Nuttall’s Woodpeckers all over the place. We were able to get photos of a few of them… and wondered if it was just the same bird that kept moving from tree to tree in front of us. Hah!

Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii, male

We could hear California Quail calling to each other, and eventually came across a spot where they were running through the leaflitter into a clump of wild blackberry vines. They move so fast when they’re on the run, getting picture of them was difficult.

There were a few fungi showing themselves here and there along our route, especially the Yellow Fieldcaps which showed up in fairy circles here and there in the long grass. We found some nice specimens of Splitgills, Silky Pinkgills, Goldenhaired Inkcaps, and also some large Oyster Mushrooms among others. 

When I bent down to pull up a piece of a log that had a smudge of what looked like slime mold on it, we discovered a very large Western Toad hiding under it! Although he peed all over me when I picked him up, the toad was pretty amenable and let us take photos of him from every angle until we put him back in the grass. He was a surprise, and one of my favorite finds of the day.

And, yes, there was some slime mold on the log, some Carnival Candy, Arcyria denudata. Woot!

All along the trail, we noticed that there were white spot painted on some of the trees. At first we thought they were marking trees that needed to be cut down, but then we realized that the marks were all at the same height on each of the trees.  I speculated that maybe they were indicators of the water level of the river when it rose.

White spots on the trees, which we think are a way to measure how high the river rises.

That made me worry a little bit about the homeless people who had camps along the edge of the river. If there was a sudden release from Folsom Dam, they’d all be washed away. We were careful to avoid those encampments, or at least give them a wide berth when we saw them. The mental health of homeless folks is always a concern for me… and those people we saw weren’t wearing masks for COVID.

We walked as far as we could along the dirt trail we were on, then climbed up the bank to the paved trail along the top of the levee, and used that to walk back to the car.  The round-trip route was a little over a mile so it counted as hike #18 of my #52HikeChallenge.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos from the Watt Avenue Access.

We were still feeling strong and nature-curious, so we went over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve and did a mile turn there, too. That’s a lot of walking for me, and I was dragging at the end of it, but there were a few surprises for us along the way here, too.

While I was waiting for Rox to get her annual park pass, I waited outside on the opening of the main trail and saw a Red-Shouldered Hawk sitting on a nearby tree. I kept saying to myself, “Stay there until Rox gets here, stay there until Rox gets here…” Hah!  The hawk did stay there, and when Rox joined me on the trail, the hawk’s mate showed up. There was a very brief interaction, and then the two sat side-by-side for a moment before the mate flew off again. Wham-bam, thank you, ma’am.

As we then headed out on our walk there, we found an outcropping of several large Blewit mushrooms. One was around 5 inches wide across the cap!  All of them were old specimens that had started to lose their lavender hue, but still held onto some of that on the stipe.

Along the trail, we also found other mushrooms like Yellow Fieldcaps, some Jack-o-Lanterns, Brittlestems, and a Grey Knight. The best find, though, was one by Rox. She found a nice group of perfect little Bleeding Mycena.

The Bleeding Mycena (also called Bleeding Fairy Caps, eew) don’t bleed blood, of course. They bleed a dark red latex when the cap or stipe is broken, but they have a white spore print. These ‘shrooms, along with the mycelia that support them, are supposed to be bioluminescent. The first cluster that Rox found was right near some Jack-o-Lanterns, which are also bioluminescent… so it was like a whole Halloween theme going on there!

Near the back of the nature center there was a pipevine plant that was in blossom. We knew that fungus gnats often get into the calabash shaped flowers to pollinate them, so I held one of the blossoms up to the sunlight. We could see the gnat shadows inside of it, flittering around. As Rox opened up the belly of the flower, the gnats emerged. I tried getting video, but the camera kept shifting its focus. I DID get some still shots, though.

I showed Rox where I had seen the Red Raspberry Slime Mold the other day, and there were still some remnants of it, but it was mostly dark and gone to spore by this time. Further along the trail, we came across some white slime mold, Stemonitopsis typhina, sometimes called White-Finger Slime Mold (or “Dead Man’s Fingers” because the white fingers eventually turn black and disintegrate as they go to spore. Their spores are lilac-brown.)

Remember, that slime molds start out as single-celled amoeba-like critters that roam free all over the forest floor, feeding on detritus and bacteria. When temperatures are right and food sources start to dwindle, the single-celled guys get together with hundreds of others (finding each other through hormone secretions) and form a plasmodium which continues as a group to move along until they find a place that will be support them while they reproduce. Then the plasmodium changes into the sporangia, the fruiting body stage. In some slime molds, some of the critters sacrifice themselves and form the stalks that support fruiting heads. Those that form the stalks die and never reproduce. Those that fruit, go to spore… and then the whole cycle starts again.

The white slime mold we found was in two sections: one was in the sporangia stage with white fruiting heads on top of black stalks, and the other was in the plasmodium stage, the watery-white plasma just starting to form globules. Very cool.

We saw several deer along the trail, including a doe being harassed by a persistent buck. She must have been in estrus because he wasn’t leaving her alone — but she could hardly walk. It looked like one of her hips wasn’t working right and she limped badly as she tried to walk away and avoid the buck’s advances. At one point, she actually fell to the ground and sat there for a moment before getting back onto her feet.  We felt sooooo bad for her. When I got home, I sent an email to the nature center to alert them to the does distress.

This interaction was taking place near the bee-tree. I’ve been lamenting because I haven’t seen any bee action at the tree for a couple of months. Today, both Rox and I saw some single bees moving around the tree. I’ll keep an eye on it over the spring to see if the hive revives… 

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos from the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve.

We walked for over a mile here, too, so it counts as hike #19 of my #52HikeChallenge. Of course, it takes us “forever” to go a mile because we stop to look at everything.  We were out for about 6 hours!

By the time we were done at Effie, we were both hungry, so Rox treated us to a lunch at Bella Bru. We haven’t been able to do that since COVID started… just about a year to the day. It was a kind of “celebration” for us.

Lunch at Bella Bru: club sandwich and fries, with a side of clam chowder and a large Mocha Freezo. YUM!

Species List:

  1. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  2. Bark Rim Lichen, Lecanora chlarotera [looks like Whitewash Lichen but has apothecia]
  3. Barometer Earthstar, Hygroscopic Earthstar, Astraeus hygrometricus
  4. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii
  5. Bleeding Mycena, Bleeding Fairy Helmet, Mycena haematopus
  6. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum
  7. Blewit Mushroom, Purple Core, Lepista nuda
  8. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra cerulea
  9. Boreal Button Lichen, Buellia disciformis [pale gray to bluish with black apothecia on wood]
  10. Brazilian Vervain, Verbena brasiliensis
  11. Broad-Leaved Dock, Rumex obtusifolius
  12. Brown Jelly Fungus, Leafy Brain, Phaeotremella foliacea
  13. Bur Parsley, Bur Chervil, Anthriscus caucalis
  14. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  15. California Gull, Larus californicus [yellow legs; dark eye; red spot]
  16. California Manroot, Bigroot, Marah fabaceus
  17. California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana
  18. California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica
  19. California Quail, Callipepla californica
  20. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  21. California Sycamore, Platanus racemose
  22. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis
  23. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  24. Carnival Candy Slime Mold, Arcyria denudata
  25. Cherry-Plum Tree, Prunus cerasifera
  26. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
  27. Common Goldeneye, Bucephala clangula
  28. Common Merganser, Mergus merganser
  29. Common Sunburst Lichen, Golden Shield Lichen, Xanthoria parietina [yellow-orange,on wood/trees]
  30. Coyote Brush Bud Gall midge, Rhopalomyia californica
  31. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  32. Cramp Ball Fungus, Annulohypoxylon thouarsianum
  33. Crowded Parchment, Stereum complicatum [like Turkey-tail but very flat]
  34. Dark-Winged Fungus Gnat, Bradysia sp.
  35. Deceiver Mushroom, Laccaria laccata [reddish-tan, dimpled, goblet shaped]
  36. Dog, Canis lupus familiaris
  37. European Honeybee, Western Honeybee, Apis mellifera
  38. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  39. Fairy Parachutes, Marasmiellus candidus [like oysterlings, but more fanned out]
  40. False Turkey-Tail, Stereum hirsutum [thin, flattish, brown underside]
  41. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  42. Golden-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
  43. Golden- Haired Inkcap Mushroom, Parasola auricoma
  44. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  45. Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata
  46. Grey Knight Mushroom, Tricholoma terreum [gray-white cap, light gills, flattened stipe]
  47. Hooded Rosette Lichen, Physcia adscendens [hairs/eyelashes on the tips of the lobes]
  48. Hoverfly, Large-tailed Aphideater, Eupeodes volucris
  49. Jointed Charlock, Wild Radish, Raphanus raphanistrum
  50. Lords and Ladies, Wild Arum, Arum italicum
  51. Lupine, Lupine sp.
  52. Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  53. Manyflower Marshpennywort, Hydrocotyle umbellata [white flowers, leaves rounded like nasturtium]
  54. Mouse-Eared Stereum, Stereum ochraceoflavum
  55. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
  56. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii
  57. Oak Apple, California Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  58. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus
  59. Oyster Mushroom, Pleurotus ostreatus
  60. Pale Oysterling, Crepidotus caspari [tiny, white, well-spaced gills]
  61. Pussy Willow, American Pussy Willow, Salix discolor
  62. Red Edge Brittlestem Mushroom, Psathyrella corrugis
  63. Red Maids, Fringed Red-Maids, Calandrinia ciliata
  64. Red Maple, Acer rubrum
  65. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  66. Redstem Filaree, Stork’s Bill, Erodium cicutarium [corkscrew seed pods]
  67. Sheet Weaver Spiders, Family: Linyphiidae
  68. Silky Pink Gill Mushroom, Nolanea sericea (Entoloma sericeum ssp. sericeum) [very dark brown cap with a nipple on top]
  69. Silverleaf Fungus, Chondrostereum purpureum [sort of like Stereum with white/pale edges]
  70. Silvery Bryum Moss, Bryum argenteum
  71. Splitgill Mushroom, Schizophyllum commune
  72. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  73. Swan Goose, Anser cygnoides [can be white, or gray/brown, knob on the bill]
  74. Trailing Blackberry, California Blackberry, Rubus ursinus
  75. Tube Slimes, Stemonitis sp.
  76. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  77. Western Black Widow Spider, Latrodectus hesperus
  78. Western Boxelder Bug, Boisea rubrolineata
  79. Western Jack-O’-Lantern Mushroom, Omphalotus olivascens
  80. Western Spotted Orbweaver Spider, Neoscona oaxacensis
  81. Western Toad, Anaxyrus boreas
  82. White Finger Slime Mold, Stemonitopsis typhina
  83. Witch’s Butter Jelly Fungus, Tremella mesenterica
  84. Yellow Fieldcap Mushroom, Bolbitius titubans