Post-Vaccination Walk, 03-05-21

I got up at 6:00 this morning and headed off with my friend Roxanne to Phoenix Park in Fair Oaks. We’d never been there before, but went to look got the Lawrence’s Goldfinches.

The park has a paved wheel-chair accessible trail that goes around one side of it, 1½ miles long, encompassing six different baseball diamonds of varying sizes (from t-ball to the majors), a picnic area, access to a small community garden, and a dog park. On the other side of the park are dirt footpaths that meander around a series of vernal pools and features some very large trees (which we think were Blue Oaks based on their silver-white bark; it’s are to tell when they don’t have their leaves.)

Vernal pools at the park

We opted for the dirt path, and were happy to see that there was a little water standing in a few of the vernal pools. They, like all of the vernal pools in the area, need more rain, and the flowers around and inside of them aren’t awake yet but we figured in a couple of weeks, they should be more interesting to look at.

I’m not certain that we ever clapped eyes on a Lawrence’s Goldfinch, but we did see Lesser Goldfinches and American Goldfinches, along with other birds like Oak Titmice, Western Meadowlarks, Canada Geese, Killdeer, and Western Bluebirds.

There was a small flock of Starlings who I think were trying to nest in cavities in what was clearly an Acorn Woodpecker granary tree. The woodpeckers were not happy with the interlopers, but the Starlings were insistent and held their ground.

European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris, emerging from a nesting cavity in the Acorn Woodpeckers’ granary tree.

We also watched some Yellow-Billed Magpies fly back and forth to their nest. It looked like they were bringing materials for the floor of the nest, but they’d already built the dome over the top of it, so we couldn’t see inside.

We’d only walked for about 90 minutes or so, though, before I was so exhausted I could hardly take another step. The trail was an easy one, and the weather was beautiful, so I couldn’t understand why I was so-so-so tired. Later it occurred to me that the fatigue was most likely an after-effect of the COVID vaccination working its way through my body.  Tiredness is an expected symptom and can show up 1-3 days after injection and last for about three days… so I may have more of this feeling for a little while.

We decided to leave the park, but because it was still relatively early in the morning, we went over to the American River Bend Park to look in on mother Great Horned Owl and her nest there. She was sitting up on her nest, but had her back to us to start with.

Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus

We got distracted by Dark-Eyed Juncos, some White-Breasted Nuthatches, and the Stinging Nettle which is growing quite profusely on the lawn. There were also flowering Giraffe’s Head henbit plants and lots of little blue Speedwell flowers in the grass.

Rox wanted photos of the “hypodermic needles” on the leaves of the Stinging Nettles, and found out very quickly why they’re called that. It takes very little to get the plant to sting you, and the burning sensation can last quite a while. I got stung in the ankles walking through a patch.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

There were several Pipevine Swallowtail Butterflies flittering about. We chased down a male while he fed on the nectar of the Giraffe’s Head. You can tell the males from the females by the intense blue iridescence on their hind wings.

A male California Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta. This subspecies is endemic to the Central Valley of California; found here and nowhere else on earth.

By the time we got back to the car, mama owl had turned around in her nest and was giving us the stink eye. Hah! I saw something “bright” in a nearby tree, and thought maybe it was another owl. But through the viewfinder of my camera, it just looked like a reflection of sunlight on bark and leaves. When I got the camera home, though, and took a closer look at my photos, I realized it WAS a second owl. The bright light was reflecting off his belly feathers. Wow! Now I’ll need to go back and look for him again.

Can you see papa Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus? He’s very well camouflaged.

We left there and headed over to the Gristmill access area to see how the Red-Shouldered Hawk was doing, and to check on the little Western Screech Owl there. We found the female hawk sitting beside the nest, squawking for her mate. I don’t know if she has eggs yet, or if she was just taking a short break from sitting on them. Eventually, the male showed up. He hadn’t brought her any food, but he did mate with her very briefly.

We found more Pipevine Swallowtail Butterflies at the site — even though we couldn’t find any obvious pipevine anywhere. One of the butterflies had just come out of her chrysalis, we supposed, because her hind wings hadn’t fully extended yet; they were still a little wrinkled. She let me pick her up from the grass so we could get some closer photos of her.

A female California Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly,Battus philenor hirsuta

There wasn’t a lot going on in the river today — we saw a few Coots and Goldeneye ducks — but in and around the bird boxes along the trail we got to see the Western Screech Owl again, several Tree Swallows, and a pair of Western Bluebirds. We also saw several Nuttall’s Woodpeckers, including a female who hung around for quite a while, so we were able to get quite a few photos of her. (I used my laser pointer to show Rox where the bird was in the tree.) In the water, we saw a pair of male Common Goldeneyes, Bucephala clangula, fighting one another.

Cornell doesn’t provide a lot of information on the behavior: “…Brief fights occur among males. Males submerge toward an intruder and surface near or under the rival. Short chases ensue, with individuals occasionally diving to escape pursuit. Fights end when the intruder(s) leave the territory, often pursued in the air by the territorial male…”

What we were seeing seemed “much ado about nothing”. The males would square off against one another on the surface, then swim around each other, flapping their wings, splashing a lot, sometimes diving underneath one another, chasing each other in circles… but I didn’t see any biting or stabbing. No one lost feathers or drew blood. A civilized form of warfare.

We also saw a Snowy Egret pacing some Common Mergansers along the shore of the river, trying to steal the fish they caught.  I saw similar behavior at the Nimbus Fish Hatchery, with gulls attacking Goldeneyes to steal their food. It’s a rough old world out there!

In another spot, we came across one area where there were five turtles sunning themselves in the morning sunlight. They were all Red-Eared Slider Turtles, and most of them looked like they were shedding their old scutes. The scutes are those scales or plates you see on the turtle’s shell; larger ones across the back and smaller ones around the margins. They’re made of keratin (like horn). In order for the shell to enlarge, scutes have to be regularly shed and grown.

Red-Eared Slider Turtle, Trachemys scripta elegans

Red-Eared Sliders are considered an invasive species in California because they displace native Pond Turtles. The sliders were brought into the state for the pet trade, but ended up in the waterways throughout California when the pet owners got bored with them and dumped them… “a situation which has continued for several decades since the 1930s, reaching a peak during the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle television cartoon craze of the late 1980s-early 1990s.” 

These turtles can live for up to 30 or 40 years, and females (which are generally larger than males) can get up to 18 inches long. Males are distinguished from the females not only by their smaller size, but also by the fact that they have very long fingernails on their front feet.

The most fun thing we spotted there was a very large Jackrabbit run-hopping back and forth across the landscape in front of us. He was so animated!

Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus

Altogether, even with my fatigue, I managed to walk for about 3 hours before we headed home. This is hike #25 in my #52HikeChallenge.

When I got home, I was so tired I went to rest on my bed… and fell asleep sitting up. My snoring woke me up, but not until almost 4:00 pm. Sheesh!

Species List:

  1. Almond Tree, Prunus dulcis
  2. American Coot, Fulica americana
  3. American Goldfinch, Spinus tristis
  4. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  5. Audubon’s Warbler, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata auduboni
  6. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii
  7. Bird’s-eye Speedwell, Veronica persica [tiny blue flowers]
  8. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  9. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus
  10. Blue Dicks, Vernal Pool Blue Dicks, Dipterostemon capitatus lacuna-vernalis
  11. Blue Oak, Quercus douglasii
  12. Bushtit, American Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus
  13. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  14. California Manroot, Bigroot, Marah fabaceus
  15. California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana
  16. California Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta
  17. Chickweed, Common Chickweed, Stellaria media
  18. Common Goldeneye, Bucephala clangula
  19. Common Merganser, Mergus merganser
  20. Common Water-Crowfoot, Ranunculus aquatilis [tops floating on the surface of vernal pools]
  21. Dark-Eyed Junco, Junco hyemalis
  22. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
  23. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  24. Fennel, Sweet Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare
  25. Giraffe’s Head, Henbit Deadnettle, Lamium amplexicaule
  26. Golden-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
  27. Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus
  28. Green Trichoderma Mold, Trichoderma viride
  29. Hairy Vetch, Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa ssp. villosa
  30. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  31. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  32. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  33. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  34. Lomatium, Barestem Biscuitroot, Lomatium nudicaule
  35. Lupine, Miniature Lupine, Lupinus bicolor
  36. Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  37. Medusa Head Grass, Taeniatherum caput-medusae
  38. Miner’s Lettuce, Claytonia perfoliata
  39. Mistletoe, American Mistletoe, Big Leaf Mistletoe, Phoradendron leucarpum
  40. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  41. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
  42. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii
  43. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus
  44. Peach, Prunus persica [dark pink flowers]
  45. Pennywort, Centella sp.
  46. Red-Eared Slider Turtle, Trachemys scripta elegans
  47. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  48. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  49. Shepherd’s-Purse, Capsella bursa-pastoris
  50. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula
  51. Spined Turban Gall Wasp, Antron douglasii [spring gall, round on the stems, blue oaks]
  52. Stinging Nettle, Urtica dioica
  53. Tangle Web Spider, Theridion sp.
  54. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  55. Trembling Crust Fungus, Merulius tremellosus
  56. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  57. Wavy-Leafed Soap Plant, Soaproot, Chlorogalum pomeridianum
  58. Western Bluebird, Sialia Mexicana
  59. Western Screech Owl, Megascops kennicottii
  60. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis
  61. Wood Duck, Aix sponsa
  62. Yellow-Billed Magpie, Pica nuttalli