Birds, Bees and Spring Galls, 04-08-21

I got up around 6:00 am and was out of the house before 6:30 to go to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve. It was 41° out at the river when I got there.

I’m still dealing a little bit with COVID-brain, I guess, because I forgot to leave a note for Lissa, so she knows where I am, and also forgot to take my cellphone with me. D’oh! So, I couldn’t call to tell my sister where I was — and I also couldn’t take the real close up photos of some of the things I was seeing (which I normally do when I’m out in the field).

When I was driving near the preserve, I saw two deer stepping slowly out of someone’s driveway and into the street. I know they were being cautious about the road, but to me it looked like they were tip-toeing away from the scene of the crime or something, like they’d done something wrong. Hah!

There were also quite a few deer visible along the trails. In one spot, I saw nine of them all together, grazing on the spring grasses and wildflowers. Some of the bucks were already showing the buds of this year’s antlers. By June, they’ll be in their velvet.

At the preserve itself there were lots, and lots and lots of squirrels out today; in fact, the first thing I saw when I drove into the parking lot was a Western Gray Squirrel running past the car with a mouth full of dried grasses and weeds to line its nest (drey). Later, when I was on the trail, I saw another Western Gray Squirrel running up a tree to check out its drey.

Squirrels build their drey out of leaves, grasses, small twigs, feathers, and pretty much whatever else they can carry in their mouths. [They’ll use tree cavities, too, if they’re available to nest in, but still line the inside with soft stuff.] They build the drey close to the trunk of the tree and/or forked branches to give the structure more support…which is what I was seeing here.

Right now, there are only Blue Dicks and Miniature Lupine making themselves conspicuous there, but as the month progresses we should see more variety. Near the nature center the planted Sonoran Sage and Douglas Irises were in bloom. The Redbud trees were flowering, some getting and showing off new blossoms, some done for the season and shedding old ones.

All of the oak trees and the black walnut trees are sporting catkins, so folks with allergies have a hard time being outdoors right now.

On the live oaks, I saw quite a few spring generation Live Oak Gall Wasp galls (that look like little funnels with a cap on them), and, surprisingly, a lot of Ball Gall Wasp galls (that look like a round tumor near the center of the leaf — visible from both the front and back of the leaves). I hadn’t seen any of those at the preserve for over a year, I think, and even then it was just one or two.

The little male House Wrens were all out singing, advertising nesting places for the females.  The Starlings were yelling and flapping their wings. And a fussy Acorn Woodpecker chased a dove out of its granary tree, but ignored a pair of Tree Swallows sitting in the next branch. Weird.  I also caught a fast glimpse of a pair of California Quail.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

Lots of Spotted Towhees were in the underbrush, making themselves visible on occasion, and I spotted (hah!) a Lincoln’s Sparrow in the grass.  I’m seeing more and more Lincoln Sparrows all over the place now. I don’t know if it’s because they’re actually increasing in numbers in the region, or if I’m just getting better at seeing them and differentiating them from other sparrows, like Song Sparrows.

The big surprise of the day was seeing a young coyote running down the trail toward me. It looked thin and long-legged so my initial impression was that it was a young male. But when it crossed through a grassy area and onto an adjacent trail, I think I spotted teats on the belly… so it might have been a young mom, thin because she’s giving her all to her pups.

There were Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies flitting around, but in smaller numbers than I’m used to seeing this time of year. Some of them are already looking “ragged” from their journeys. I wasn’t able to see eggs on any of the pipevine plants I saw.

California Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta. A sub-species endemic to the Central Valley of California.

A nice thing to see, though, was a swarm of bees in the doorway of the bee tree. The queen must’ve finally woken up from her winter doze and put her colony back to work.

I walked for about 3 ½ hours and then headed back home. This was hike #33 of my #52HikeChallenge.

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. Asian Lady Beetle, Harmonia axyridis
  3. Black Walnut, Eastern Black Walnut, Juglans nigra
  4. Blue Dicks, Dipterostemon capitatus
  5. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra cerulea
  6. Blue Oak, Quercus douglasii
  7. Bur Parsley, Bur Chervil, Anthriscus caucalis
  8. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  9. California Manroot, Bigroot, Marah fabaceus
  10. California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana
  11. California Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta
  12. California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica
  13. California Quail, Callipepla californica
  14. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  15. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis
  16. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  17. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
  18. Coyote, Canis latrans
  19. Cranefly, European Crane Fly, Tipula paludosa
  20. Digger Bee, Tribe: Anthophorin
  21. Douglas Iris,Iris douglasiana
  22. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
  23. Eastern Gray Squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis
  24. European Honeybee, Western Honeybee, Apis mellifera
  25. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  26. Golden-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
  27. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon
  28. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  29. Lincoln’s Sparrow, Melospiza lincolnii
  30. Live Oak Erineum Mite Gall, Aceria mackiei
  31. Live Oak Gall Wasp, Spring Generation, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis [looks like a soft funnel, green to brown]
  32. Lupine, Miniature Lupine, Lupinus bicolor
  33. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  34. Oak Apple, California Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  35. Periwinkle, Greater Periwinkle, Vinca major
  36. Red Deadnettle, Lamium purpureum
  37. Round Leaf Gall Wasp, Heteroecus flavens [single large blister on live oak leaves]
  38. Sonoma Sage, Salvia sonomensis
  39. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  40. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  41. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  42. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  43. Wavy-Leafed Soap Plant, Soaproot, Chlorogalum pomeridianum
  44. Western Gray Squirrel, Sciurus griseus
  45. Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis
  46. ?? caterpillar between live oak leaves

Mix Canyon Road, 04-06-21

I got up around 6:00 am, and was ready to head out with my friend Roxanne Moger by 6:30 am.  We wanted to go to Lake Solano and up Mix Canyon Road in search of birds and wildflowers.

Well, Lake Solano Park was still closed and we couldn’t get in, not even to just walk along the edge of the lake. The rangers and county were still cleaning up after last year’s wildfires. They were felling a lot of burned trees that were in danger of falling into the roadways or into the waterways.

Effects of the LNU Lightning Complex Fire that burned between August and October of 2020

The fire that burned up through that area was part of the LNU Lightning Complex Fire that burned between August and October of last year and ate up over 360,000 acres. I hadn’t realized how much of that area had burned, and was REALLY surprised when we got up further into the hills to see foothill after foothill just covered in nothing but black match-stick trees. 

In one burned area we came across Acorn Woodpeckers that were going through the acorns on the blackened ground, selecting ones they’d then take up into their granary trees. Some of the woodpeckers were using a telephone pole to store the acorns because, I assumed, their trees were burnt.

Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus, with a burnt acorn

In some areas, blackened trees and shrubs were coming back from the roots. And in other places, the wildflowers were prolific.

Because we couldn’t get into the park, we drove around to the “back” of the lake which is visible from Putah Creek Road. Here, though, there were very few birds. Reflections on the water were lovely, and we got to see a few different early spring galls on some of the plants.

The “back side” of Lake Solano

We then headed back toward Pleasants Valley Road and took that to Mix Canyon Road. Mix Canyon is a dead end road and fairly narrow. (I’m surprised two cars can actually sit on it, side by side.) It winds high up into the hills; the elevation gain is about 2178 feet. The road is the only way in and out; I’m sure when the fires came, getting out to safety was severely hampered. I only saw evidence of one home burned to the ground, but there may have been others… and lots of obvious landscape damage.

Along the way we noted that there were For Sale signs all along the road. Oddly enough, though, we also saw several new pads cut into the hillsides; contractors taking advantage of the fact that there was now a lack of shrubs and understory plants to contend with.

We started out seeing small numbers of wildflowers, and the variety and numbers grew more and more as we went up toward the end of the road. There were huge swaths of poppies, lupine and (surprisingly) Chinese Houses. I’ve never seen that many Chinese Houses in one location in all my life. They were particularly gorgeous.

There were so many photos, I broke them down into two albums.

CLICK HERE for album #1
CLICK HERE for album #2

In the more shadowed areas and cliffsides, we saw lots of larkspur (purple and scarlet), woodland stars, ferns, globe lilies and other flowers.

We were looking for fritillaries and found one of the two that had been spotted there by others earlier: Checker Lilies. I’d never seen them “live” before; they’re so interesting.

Checker Lily, Fritillaria affinis

We stopped at one of the turn outs and had our lunch before heading back down the road. We turned in to one of the fishing access areas along Putah Creek, but by then it was the afternoon, getting too warm for me, and I was very tired, so we didn’t stay long. Still, in all, we were out and about for almost nine or ten hours. That’s a long day for me, but I enjoyed it.

Putah Creek

Because we were in the car for the majority of the time, I didn’t count this outing toward my #52HikeChallenge.

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. Almond Tree, Prunus dulcis
  3. Aphid, Cabbage Aphid, Brevicoryne brassicae
  4. Arroyo Lupine, Lupinus succulentus
  5. Blow Wives, Soft Blow Wives, Achyrachaena mollis
  6. Blue Dicks, Dipterostemon capitatus
  7. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra cerulea
  8. Buckbrush, Ceanothus cuneatus
  9. California Buckeye Chestnut Tree, Aesculus californica
  10. California Lomatium, Lomatium californicum
  11. California Manroot, Bigroot, Marah fabaceus
  12. California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica
  13. California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica
  14. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  15. Canyon Live-Forever, Dudleya cymosa
  16. Checker Lily, Fritillaria affinis
  17. Chick Lupine, Lupinus microcarpus
  18. Chinese Houses, Purple Chinese Houses, Collinsia heterophylla
  19. Chinese Pistache, Pistacia chinensis
  20. Coast Live Oak, Quercus agrifolia
  21. Common Snowberry, Symphoricarpos albus albus
  22. Convergent Lady Beetle, Hippodamia convergens
  23. Coyote Brush Bud Gall midge, Rhopalomyia californica
  24. Coyote Brush Stem Gall Moth, Gnorimoschema baccharisella
  25. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  26. Death Camas, Foothill Deathcamas, Toxicoscordion paniculatum
  27. Digger Bee, Tribe: Anthophorin
  28. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
  29. Dove’s-Foot Crane’s-Bill, Geranium mole
  30. Fennel, Sweet Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare
  31. Fern, California Polypody, Polypodium californicum
  32. Field Poppy, Common Poppy, Papaver rhoeas
  33. Fringepod, Sand Fringepod, Thysanocarpus curvipes
  34. Gall Inducing Wooly Aphid, Stegophylla essigi [in live oaks, folds the leaf over itself; sometimes the leaf turns red/reddish]
  35. Globe Lily, Diogenes’ Lantern, Calochortus amabilis [yellow]
  36. Goat, Domestic Goat, Capra hircus
  37. Goldfields, California Goldfields, Lasthenia californica
  38. Gray Pine, Pinus sabiniana
  39. Hairy Vetch, Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa ssp. villosa 
  40. Henderson’s Shooting Star, Primula hendersonii
  41. Hillside Woodland Star, Lithophragma heterophyllum
  42. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  43. Italian Thistle, Carduus pycnocephalus
  44. Ithuriel’s Spear, Triteleia laxa
  45. Larkspur, Red Larkspur, Delphinium nudicaule
  46. Larkspur, Zigzag Larkspur, Delphinium patens [purple, striped lips]
  47. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  48. Live Oak Gall Wasp, Spring Generation, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis [looks like a soft funnel, green to brown]
  49. Live Oak Kermes, Allokermes cueroensis
  50. Llama, Lama glama
  51. Long Horned Beetle, Callimus ruficollis [black with red thorax]
  52. Mahogany, Birchleaf Mountain Mahogany, Cercocarpus betuloides
  53. Maidenhair, California Maidenhair Fern, Adiantum jordanii
  54. Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  55. Marsh Morning Glory, Calystegia sepium limnophila
  56. Meadow Spittlebug, Philaenus spumarius [spit]
  57. Mountain Phacelia, Phacelia imbricata
  58. Mule’s Ears, Smooth Mule-Ears, Wyethia glabra
  59. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  60. Northern Rough-Winged Swallow, Stelgidopteryx serripennis [ashy]
  61. Orange Bush Monkeyflower, Diplacus aurantiacus
  62. Oxalis, Bermuda Buttercup, Oxalis pes-caprae
  63. Pacific Pea, Lathyrus vestitus
  64. Pacific Sanicle, Sanicula crassicaulis [large, yellow flowers]
  65. Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Western Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
  66. Q-Tips, Micropus californicus
  67. Rapeseed, Brassica napus
  68. Red Maids, Calandrinia menziesii
  69. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  70. Rose Clover, Trifolium hirtum
  71. Santa Barbara Sedge, Carex barbarae
  72. Scarlet Pimpernel, Lysimachia arvensis
  73. Seablush, Longspur Seablush, Plectritis macrocera
  74. Seablush, Shortspur Seablush, Plectritis congesta
  75. Shepherd’s-Purse, Capsella bursa-pastoris
  76. Smooth Cliffbrake, Pellaea glabella
  77. Tamarisk, Saltcedar, Tamarix ramosissima
  78. Taw Man-Root, Marah watsonii
  79. Tomcat Clover, Trifolium willdenovii
  80. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  81. Warrior’s Plume, Pedicularis densiflora
  82. Western Polished Lady Beetle, Cycloneda polita [orange, no spots]
  83. White Nemophila, Nemophila heterophylla
  84. Wild Oat Grass, Chrysopogon aciculatus
  85. Woolly Indian Paintbrush, Castilleja foliolosa

No Fooling…and owlets, 04-01-21

I got up at 6:00 this morning, and headed out to the American River Bend Park.  It was 51°F when I got to the river (and then spiked at 88° by the late afternoon.)

My hip was hurting, but seemed to be less painful when I was moving. My back pain was less than it was yesterday, but I still had a few “gasp” moments walking or driving on the more uneven parts of the trail and dirt-and-gravel roadways.

My first priority was to look in on mama Great Horned Owl. There was another photographer there when I arrived, and after a few minutes he asked, “Are you Hanson K. Mary?” (My Facebook name) I was astonished and asked, “How did you know that?” He said he’d seen a lot of my photos on the birding group sites. Hah! I’m famous — sort of.

Mama owl was in a tree opposite from the nest, warming her chest and belly in the early morning sunlight. In the nest were two owlets that I could see. [Later, other photographers on the site said they’d seen three babies yesterday.] I was so excited for mama. She’d had two last year and three the year before, and she’d always been good about keeping everyone fed. I hope she’s as successful this year.  The owlets were, of course, adorable, still in their super puffy fluff-dry stage.

After a little while, mama flew into the tree next to the nest, and when I came back to check on her about an hour later, she was sitting on everyone. It’s so exhilarating to see all of them.

Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus

I walked for a while at the park, and came across a pair of Western Bluebirds who were flying around. I also saw a pair of Mourning Doves in the high branches of a tree. It looked to me like the female was sitting, waiting for the male to mount her, but the male just couldn’t get himself oriented correctly. On a few attempts he approached her “backwards”, his head to her tail. And once, rather than mounting her, he just stepped on her and walked over to a different part of their branch. D’oh!

Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura

In that same area, I saw a male European Starling doing one of his courtship rituals. He was sitting on a branch where he could be seen by passing females, sang loudly to them and flapped his wings in a circular motion.

Cornell says: “…Once males have established a nesting territory, they advertise by singing. When females approach, the males often stop singing and move to the nesting cavity, where they resume singing. Wing-waving, a circular flapping of the wings while perched, often accompanies the singing, especially in the presence of females…”

The redbud trees in the park are all blossoming. Beautiful, huge swaths of pink in unexpected places. Just gorgeous.

As I was checking out the manroot vines and Santa Barbara Sedge (what I consider my “proof of Spring” plant in this area), I could hear California Quails giving out their “Chi-ca-go!” calls. It sounded like one was getting pretty close to me, but I was still startled when a male popped up from the side of a hill in front of me. I stood stock still, because they’re nervous birds and flush really easily, and got some photos of him, then realized he had a lady friend with him. She was down in the twigs and grass, and ran off with him when he realized I was looking at them.

A male California Quail, Callipepla californica

As I headed back toward my car, I was attracted to movement at the bottom of one of the oak trees. I crept up toward it, and realized it was a tiny White-Breasted Nuthatch. She was tugging at a short length of cord, trying to pluck out threads to take back to her nest.

According to Cornell: “…Only the female builds [the nest]. Little known about nest construction or structure, but nuthatches observed to carry hairs and pieces of bark to the cavity site…”  I’ve seen them use tufts of dog hair and feathers myself.

In that same area, I caught sight of an Oak Titmouse singing in a tree. Cornell says: “…The frequency of occurrence of song types used by males changes seasonally, with some songs becoming more prevalent in the repertoire as breeding season progresses while the prevalence of other songs declines…”

I’d lost the clip-in macro lens for my cellphone somewhere at Table Mountain, I think, so I bought a new one. It’s a little more powerful than my old one, so it’s taking some getting used to the precise focal point. It also shifts a little when I try to use it, slipping away from the phone’s eye. Gotta get used to avoiding that, too. Otherwise, I like it.     

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.     

I then drove over to the nearby Gristmill Recreation Area to check on the Red-Shouldered Hawk nest and man-made nesting boxes. When I first got there and looked up into the hawk’s nest I was worried that it had been abandoned. I couldn’t see mom (or any sign of babies) anywhere.  When I came back that to same spot on my way back to the car, however, I could see her sitting on the nest, calling loudly to her mate. Guess she was hungry and wanted some breakfast. Hah!

There were lots of California Pipevine Swallowtail and Western Tiger Swallowtail butterflies all over the area, but not one of them sat still long enough for me to get a photo of it.

House Wrens seemed to be singing from everywhere, and I saw one pair using one of the smaller nest boxes.

At other boxes, the Western Screech Owl was dozing, a pair of Western Bluebirds were rushing back and forth, and a cadre of Tree Swallows were fussing and flying around. Of course, as soon as I got into a position where I could better see and photograph the bluebirds and swallows, they ducked out of sight. So, I didn’t get as many photos as I’d like. Sigh. Such is the life of a nature photographer.

The surprise here today was seeing two Turkey Vultures sitting in trees near the river. Th trail runs along the high edge of the river with a drop down of maybe 20 or 30 feet to the water in some places. So, when one of the vultures decided to sit up “high” in the tree, his branch was actually right in the eye-line of hikers on the trail. I got a few good close-up photos of him. The second vulture was further down the cliffside nearer to the water. That one looked like a juvenile to me; its beak wasn’t fully bone-white yet and still had a gray tip.

Below that vulture, on a log in the water, were three Red-Eared Slider Turtles sunning themselves in the morning light. The vultures, of course, weren’t interested in them, so the turtles had nothing to fear from them.

Altogether, I walked for about 4 hours and headed back home. This was hike #32 of my #52HikeChallenge.

No fooling. April is Citizen Science Month

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Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. Almond Tree, Prunus dulcis
  3. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  4. Audubon’s Warbler, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata auduboni
  5. Bedstraw, Velcro Grass, Cleavers, Galium aparine
  6. Black Grass Bug, Irbisia pacifica
  7. Black Locust Tree, Robinia pseudoacacia
  8. Black Walnut, Eastern Black Walnut, Juglans nigra
  9. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra cerulea
  10. Bur Parsley, Bur Chervil, Anthriscus caucalis
  11. California Manroot, Bigroot, Marah fabaceus
  12. California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana
  13. California Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta
  14. California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica
  15. California Quail, Callipepla californica
  16. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  17. Common Pea, Pisum sativum [rounded leaves, flower is light pink and dark pink]
  18. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
  19. Dove’s-foot Crane’s-Bill, Geranium molle
  20. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  21. Field Elm Tree, Ulmus minor [soft flakey seed pods]
  22. Ghost Spider, Family: Anyphaenidae
  23. Giraffe’s Head, Henbit Deadnettle, Lamium amplexicaule
  24. Goodding’s Black Willow, Salix gooddingii
  25. Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus
  26. Hairy Vetch, Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa ssp. villosa
  27. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon
  28. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  29. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  30. Lincoln’s Sparrow, Melospiza lincolnii
  31. Live Oak Gall Wasp, Spring Generation, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis [looks like a soft funnel, green to brown]
  32. Live Oak Gall Wasp, Summer Generation, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis [spiky ball]
  33. Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  34. Miner’s Lettuce, Claytonia perfoliata
  35. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  36. Non-Biting Midge, Cricotopus bicinctus [black and white, turned up tail]
  37. Oak Apple, California Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  38. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus
  39. Popcorn Flower, Rusty Popcornflower, Plagiobothrys nothofulvus [tiny]
  40. Red-Eared Slider Turtle, Trachemys scripta elegans
  41. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  42. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  43. Ruptured Twig Gall Wasp, Callirhytis perdens
  44. Santa Barbara Sedge, Carex barbarae
  45. Soldier Beetle, Silis sp.
  46. Stinging Nettle, Urtica dioica
  47. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  48. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  49. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  50. Western Bluebird, Sialia mexicana
  51. Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis
  52. Western Screech Owl, Megascops kennicottii
  53. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis