First Trip to the Putah Creek Reserve, 06-09-21

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 invasaL. 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.

Mullein, Moth Mullein, Verbascum blattaria [thin stick, white or yellow]

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!

Dead heron chicks at various levels of development.

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.

Species List:

  1. Alkali Heliotrope, Heliotropium curassavicum
  2. American Coot, Fulica americana
  3. American Elm Tree, Ulmus americana
  4. Armenian Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus [pink flower]
  5. Arroyo Willow, Salix lasiolepis
  6. Bird’s-Foot Trefoil, Lotus corniculatus
  7. Black Locust Tree, Robinia pseudoacacia
  8. Black Mustard, Common Wild Mustard, Brassica nigra
  9. Black Nightshade, Solanum nigrum
  10. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  11. Black Walnut, Eastern Black Walnut, Juglans nigra
  12. Black-Crowned Night Heron, Nycticorax nycticorax
  13. Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
  14. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus
  15. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum
  16. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra cerulea
  17. Boxelder, Box Elder Tree, Acer negundo
  18. Bristly Oxtongue, Helminthotheca echioides
  19. Broadleaf Cattail, Bullrush, Typha latifolia
  20. Broad-Leaved Dock, Rumex obtusifolius
  21. Broadleaved Pepperweed, Lepidium latifolium
  22. Bushtit, American Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus
  23. California Manroot, Bigroot, Marah fabaceus
  24. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  25. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica
  26. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  27. Chinese Pistache, Pistacia chinensis
  28. Cliff Swallow, Petrochelidon pyrrhonota
  29. Coast Live Oak, Quercus agrifolia
  30. Crepe Myrtle, White, Lagerstroemia indica
  31. Crow, American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  32. Curly Dock, Rumex crispus
  33. Curlycup Gumweed, Grindelia squarrosa
  34. Desert Cottontail Rabbit, Sylvilagus audubonii
  35. Eucalyptus Gall Wasp, Ophelimus maskelli [speckled; flat galls all over the leaf surface]
  36. Eucalyptus Mid-Rib Gall Wasp, Leptocybe invasa
  37. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  38. Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis
  39. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  40. Gadwall Duck, Mareca Strepera
  41. Gall Inducing Wooly Aphid, Stegophylla essigi [in live oaks, folds the leaf over itself; sometimes the leaf turns red/reddish]
  42. Goodding’s Black Willow, Salix gooddingii
  43. Gray Hairstreak Butterfly, Strymon melinus
  44. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons
  45. Green Heron, Butorides virescens
  46. Heather Lady Beetle, Chilocorus bipustulatus [very small, dark red with lighter red splotches]
  47. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  48. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  49. Interior Sandbar Willow, Salix interior
  50. Italian Thistle, Carduus pycnocephalus
  51. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  52. Leaf Gall Wasp/ Unidentified per Russo, Tribe: Cynipidi [on Valley Oak]
  53. Long-Jawed Orb Weaver Spider, Tetragnatha sp.
  54. Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  55. Mistletoe, American Mistletoe, Phoradendron leucarpum
  56. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  57. Mullein, Moth Mullein, Verbascum blattaria [thin stick, white or yellow]
  58. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  59. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii [heard]
  60. Oak Apple, California Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  61. Oregon Ash, Fraxinus latifolia
  62. Pacific Forktail Damselfly, Ischnura cervula [males have 4 spots on thorax]
  63. Pacific Gopher Snake, Pituophis catenifer catenifer
  64. Pacific Pond Turtle, Western Pond Turtle, Actinemys marorata
  65. Petiole Gall Wasp, Spring, Bi-Sexual Generation, Melikailla flora [live oak]
  66. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum
  67. Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Western Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
  68. Red Gum Eucalyptus, River Redgum, Eucalyptus camaldulensis
  69. Red Swamp Crayfish, Crawdad, Procambarus clarkii
  70. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  71. Say’s Phoebe, Sayornis saya
  72. Sneezeweed, Rosilla, Helenium puberulum
  73. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula
  74. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  75. Tule Bluet Damselfly, Enallagma carunculatum
  76. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  77. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  78. Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum
  79. Water Striders, Trepobates sp.
  80. Western Sycamore, Platanus racemosa
  81. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis [heard]
  82. Willow Beaked Twig Gall Midge, Rahdophaga rigidae
  83. Willow Mid-Rib Sawfly, Unknown species [per Russo]
  84. Willow Pinecone Gall midge, Rabdophaga strobiloides
  85. Willow Stem Sawfly, Euura exiguae
  86. Yellow-Billed Magpie, Pica nuttalli
  87. ?? tiny black spider [ant body]