I got up around 5:30 this morning and was out the door with my friend Roxanne by 6:00 to go check out the trail along Putah Creek off of Pedrick Road. This is located at the western-most end of the Putah Creek Reserve. There are three other access points that I think I’d like to explore later. (CLICK HERE for more information.) I had never been to any of the access sites before, so I let Rox lead the way. Water in the creek was low but moving swiftly and clear.
We took the part of the trail that went under the adjacent road, and found that Cliff Swallows had built up nests in some of the depressed weep-holes in the cement. According to Cornell: “…Highway bridges selected in northern California typically were in areas with low urban development, and on structures with undersurfaces containing multiple junctures, water underneath the bridge, and large underpass openings…”
The males pick the spot and start building, but then both parents finish the work. The nests can be made up of up to 1200 individual mud pellets.We noticed that nests placement seemed to be confined to one side of the culvert overhang and not the other, and speculated that sun exposure may have been an issue. Cornell says: “…There is no apparent preference for direction of nest exposure on any type of nesting site, although west-facing nests receive more direct afternoon sunlight and may be much warmer than nests facing in other directions…”
We couldn’t tell if all of the nests were occupied, but we did see activity in and around a few of them. We speculated that some might be nests with a single baby inside, but it seems more likely that we were actually seeing nests in which one of the parents was sitting on eggs.
We didn’t see any egg shells on the ground, and we didn’t see any “gaping” by the birds occupying the nests when the other parent arrived which seemed to enforce the idea that we were seeing adults both flying about and sitting in the nests. Because it’s almost impossible to tell the females from the males, we couldn’t tell which of the parent birds was which… And when they’d both enter the nest, we couldn’t tell if it was the same bird who flew out as flew in.
Cliff Swallows generally lay their eggs in late May and early June (which is the window we’re in right now), and usually lay one to six eggs. Both parents share incubation duties. It takes about 23 days for the chicks to hatch.
We were seeing the same trees and understory plants along the creek as we did elsewhere throughout the area, so it was all “nothing new”. Or so we thought. We did find some galls there that I hadn’t seen before, and that’s always a bit exciting. On some of the willows we found some galls of the Willow Mid-Rib Sawfly, a species that has yet to be identified by Russo (but is shown in his new book).
We also found two different kinds of wasp galls on the leaves of the eucalyptus trees: little flattish speckly galls of Ophelimus maskelli that covered the surface of some of the leaves, and mid-rib galls of the Leptocybe invasa. L. invasa is an invasive species indigenous to Australia. The females can reproduce asexually, so even though males sometimes show up in colonies, they’re not really necessary except to provide some diverse genetic material into the mix.
Moth Mullein was growing in places, but most of it seemed to be going to seed already. The Moth Mullein I’d seen in other places (such as along the American River) seemed to be just starting to appear. That made us wonder why the plants at Putah Creek were seeming “ahead” of similar plants elsewhere. Microclimates created by the creek might have been one reason.
We walked around the creek for about 90 minutes and then headed over to the Woodland-Davis Clean Water Agency facility where the Ibis Rookery is located. It’s still too early for the ibis to be nesting in the settling pond there, but we thought maybe we’d see some Avocets or Pelicans in the water. No such luck. Along the water’s edge we saw quite a few noisy Black-Necked Stilts and Killdeer. No one had babies. I think the Killdeer should be pretty much done breeding by now. but I couldn’t remember if we were early or late for the Stilts.
Both species of bird nest on the ground, and use “scrapes” as the basic shape of the nest cup. Killdeer usually prefer gravelly sites, but the Stilts prefer little islands or other raised areas like that. If memory serves, I think they lay between around June or July in this area… so their chicks are born right around the time the ibis start moving into the pond. I’ll have to keep an eye out for them as the months go by.
Along a spit in the pond, Rox spotted an usually large grouping of Pacific Pond Turtles. There were about 8 to 10 of them all collected in the same area. A few were basking on the shore but the majority of them were floating in the water with their heads poking up above the surface. Not a Red-Eared Slider among them. We found a few more of the turtles in the slough along the side of the road, so apparently they had a very good breeding season this year. It was so nice to see.
There were only a few damselflies among the vegetation around the pool, and I managed to catch a Tule Bluet by its wings so we could get closer shots of it. And we found a single teneral Variegated Meadowhawk dragonfly, not quite colored up yet. I don’t know if there are actually fewer of the dragonflies and damselflies than usual, or if I’m just impatient and they haven’t all emerged yet, but pickings seem very slim.
There were rabbits everywhere, Black-Tailed Jackrabbits and Desert Cottontails. They obviously had a good breeding season, too. Hah!
As we were leaving the area, Rox spotted a large gopher snake cross the road in front of us. Because the road isn’t used much, we were able to stop, and get out of the car in order to take some photos of the snake. It was maybe two-and-a-half feet long; a handsome honey color with a pale face.
Coloration of the snakes in this species is actually quite varied: typical spotted versions with a background color from honey, to dark brown, to gray, to red; striped versions; and even albinos. There are lots of snakes all over the region, but they’re so good at hiding that we very seldom actually see any of them. So, spotting one, even a common gopher snake, is always a treat.
CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.
We then headed over to Natomas where the Wyndham Heron Rookery is. We could hear lots of baby Black-Crowned Night herons “clicking” in the trees but couldn’t really see any of them. Sadly, there were quite a few dead chicks on the ground (at various levels of development). Chicks can sometime simply blunder out of the nest, or fall out of nests that aren’t very well constructed, but siblicide is apparently common among the herons. Larger nestmates bump smaller ones from the nest or suffocate them by “swallowing” the smaller sibling’s head, leaving the sibling near death and unable to compete for food. Yikes!
As far as we could tell, many of the adult were still sitting on eggs — and on small chicks — so there may be more chicks hatching and feathering up over the next several weeks.
On the little island in the middle of the pond, the Showy Egrets were still nest building, and sitting on eggs. I saw a few chicks, but wasn’t able to get any really good photos of them because of the distance between the island and the walkway. Rox caught sight of a Green Heron fishing along the shore of the pond, but I wasn’t able to get any photos of it.
Among the insects found we saw several Pacific Forktail Damselflies, a Gray Hairstreak butterfly, and a tiny Heather Lady Beetle. By the time we finished walking the loop around the pond it was almost 12:30 pm, so we called it quits and headed home.
It was fantastic to be able to get a good walk in after being confined to the house by pain over the last week. The walk wore me out, though, and I fell asleep sitting up in bed after lunch. Hah!
This was hike #51 of my #52HikeChallenge for the year.
- Alkali Heliotrope, Heliotropium curassavicum
- American Coot, Fulica americana
- American Elm Tree, Ulmus americana
- Armenian Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus [pink flower]
- Arroyo Willow, Salix lasiolepis
- Bird’s-Foot Trefoil, Lotus corniculatus
- Black Locust Tree, Robinia pseudoacacia
- Black Mustard, Common Wild Mustard, Brassica nigra
- Black Nightshade, Solanum nigrum
- Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
- Black Walnut, Eastern Black Walnut, Juglans nigra
- Black-Crowned Night Heron, Nycticorax nycticorax
- Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
- Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus
- Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum
- Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra cerulea
- Boxelder, Box Elder Tree, Acer negundo
- Bristly Oxtongue, Helminthotheca echioides
- Broadleaf Cattail, Bullrush, Typha latifolia
- Broad-Leaved Dock, Rumex obtusifolius
- Broadleaved Pepperweed, Lepidium latifolium
- Bushtit, American Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus
- California Manroot, Bigroot, Marah fabaceus
- California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
- California Wild Grape, Vitis californica
- Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
- Chinese Pistache, Pistacia chinensis
- Cliff Swallow, Petrochelidon pyrrhonota
- Coast Live Oak, Quercus agrifolia
- Crepe Myrtle, White, Lagerstroemia indica
- Crow, American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
- Curly Dock, Rumex crispus
- Curlycup Gumweed, Grindelia squarrosa
- Desert Cottontail Rabbit, Sylvilagus audubonii
- Eucalyptus Gall Wasp, Ophelimus maskelli [speckled; flat galls all over the leaf surface]
- Eucalyptus Mid-Rib Gall Wasp, Leptocybe invasa
- European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
- Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis
- Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
- Gadwall Duck, Mareca Strepera
- Gall Inducing Wooly Aphid, Stegophylla essigi [in live oaks, folds the leaf over itself; sometimes the leaf turns red/reddish]
- Goodding’s Black Willow, Salix gooddingii
- Gray Hairstreak Butterfly, Strymon melinus
- Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons
- Green Heron, Butorides virescens
- Heather Lady Beetle, Chilocorus bipustulatus [very small, dark red with lighter red splotches]
- House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
- Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
- Interior Sandbar Willow, Salix interior
- Italian Thistle, Carduus pycnocephalus
- Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
- Leaf Gall Wasp/ Unidentified per Russo, Tribe: Cynipidi [on Valley Oak]
- Long-Jawed Orb Weaver Spider, Tetragnatha sp.
- Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
- Mistletoe, American Mistletoe, Phoradendron leucarpum
- Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
- Mullein, Moth Mullein, Verbascum blattaria [thin stick, white or yellow]
- Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
- Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii [heard]
- Oak Apple, California Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
- Oregon Ash, Fraxinus latifolia
- Pacific Forktail Damselfly, Ischnura cervula [males have 4 spots on thorax]
- Pacific Gopher Snake, Pituophis catenifer catenifer
- Pacific Pond Turtle, Western Pond Turtle, Actinemys marorata
- Petiole Gall Wasp, Spring, Bi-Sexual Generation, Melikailla flora [live oak]
- Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum
- Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Western Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
- Red Gum Eucalyptus, River Redgum, Eucalyptus camaldulensis
- Red Swamp Crayfish, Crawdad, Procambarus clarkii
- Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
- Say’s Phoebe, Sayornis saya
- Sneezeweed, Rosilla, Helenium puberulum
- Snowy Egret, Egretta thula
- Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
- Tule Bluet Damselfly, Enallagma carunculatum
- Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
- Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
- Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum
- Water Striders, Trepobates sp.
- Western Sycamore, Platanus racemosa
- White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis [heard]
- Willow Beaked Twig Gall Midge, Rahdophaga rigidae
- Willow Mid-Rib Sawfly, Unknown species [per Russo]
- Willow Pinecone Gall midge, Rabdophaga strobiloides
- Willow Stem Sawfly, Euura exiguae
- Yellow-Billed Magpie, Pica nuttalli
- ?? tiny black spider [ant body]