Galls at Cosumnes, 07-31-21

I got up around 6:00 this morning and headed out to the Cosumnes River Preserve to see what was happening out there. I was looking for galls, hoping that they’d be further along than they were the last time I was out there. I first drove along Bruceville and Desmond roads, and stopped occasionally to look at the Valley Oaks along the roadside. Then I went into the preserve and walked along the paved trail that goes to the boat ramp.

Along the roads, I saw the usual suspects including some Cottontail rabbits and a covey of quail. I think there were some youngsters among the quail, but they were all moving so quickly and ducking into the underbrush that it was hard to tell for sure.

I also saw a Red-Shouldered Hawk who led me on a slow chase down the road: he’d land in one tree and as soon as I got close enough to photograph him, he’d fly down the road to another tree. It was a bit hide-and-seeky at some points, but I finally managed to get a few photos of him before he flew off across the fields.  

Male Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus

There was also a shy Kestrel that hid behind the twiggy branches of a tree, but I got a few pix of her as well.

A female American Kestrel, Falco sparverius

I saw a far greater variety and number of galls this time than I did the last time I was there, but man of them are still relatively small.

The Red Cone galls are starting to show themselves, but it seemed to me that more of them were white than red.  And I saw a few with two points on the top of the cone, and wondered if that was the influence of inquilines. Inquilines are insects (or other animals) that climb into the abode of another animal but don’t kill it like a parasite might.I’m just beginning to learn about them, so I don’t know enough yet to tell what’s what.

 There were lots of Spined Turban galls, most of them much larger than the other leaf galls only because they started sooner in the season. On one tree, which had darker more russet-tinted Oak Apples on it, the Turbans were a deeper shade of pink. Must have been lots of tannins in that tree?

Darker pink galls of the Spined Turban Gall Wasp, Antron douglasii [summer gall, pink, spikey top]

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

On some of the Oak Apple galls I could see exit holes through which the adult wasps emerged from the galls.  I also found some of the exuvia from some of them from those insects that shed their skin just before exiting the gall.  So fascinating.

I was most excited to see the Woollybear galls, and took way too many photos of them mostly because I hardly ever get to find them. In my experience, the wasps they’re associated with seem to prefer younger, shorter trees and lay their eggs on the underside of the leaves closest to the ground. On some of the leaves, there was only one or two of the “bears”; on others the entire under surface of the leaf was covered with them. Some of them were so new they still had some of their rosy color under their hair; looked like little pink butts.

I also kept an eye out for potter’s wasps pots, but didn’t find any. They usually build their pots in the spring and fill them with spiders and caterpillars to feed their babies.  By this time of year, the babies have matured into adults and the pots are empty.

There were a few dragonflies flitting about, but only a handful of them actually landed long enough for me to photograph them.  Mostly Variegated Meadowhawks.

I wanted to get close to the river to see if there was water hyacinth growing in the water or turtles along the shores, but there were so many people gathered around the boat ramp that I couldn’t get near it. I think I counted 30 (yes, 30!) kayaks while I was there. Sheesh!

I was happy to see a few of the little Buckeye butterflies along the trail as I was heading back to the car. They were taking nectar from the Turkey Tangle Fogfruit flowers close to the ground, and taking minerals from the dirt.

Common Buckeye Butterfly, Junonia coenia

I was out for about 3 hours and then headed back home. This was hike #67 of my annual hike challenge. (I’ve already done the required 52 hikes; now I’m trying to get to 104 by the end of the year.)

Species List:

  1. American Kestrel, Falco sparverius
  2. Armenian Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus [pink flower]
  3. Bagrada Bug, Bagrada hilaris
  4. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  5. Blue Dasher Dragonfly, Pachydiplax longipennis [white faced]
  6. Broadleaved Pepperweed, Lepidium latifolium
  7. California Quail, Callipepla californica
  8. Canada Wild Lettuce, Lactuca canadensis [tall tree-like stems with lots of little flowers on top]
  9. Chicory, Cichorium intybus
  10. Common Buckeye Butterfly, Junonia coenia
  11. Common Spikeweed, Centromadia pungens
  12. Convoluted Gall Wasp, Andricus confertus
  13. Curly Dock, Rumex crispus
  14. Curlycup Gumweed, Grindelia squarrosa
  15. Desert Cottontail Rabbit, Sylvilagus audubonii
  16. Disc Gall Wasp, Andricus parmula [round flat, “spangle gall”]
  17. Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis
  18. Green Lacewing, Chrysoperla rufilabris
  19. Heliothine Moth, Subfamily: Heliothinae [on gumweed]
  20. Interior Sandbar Willow, Salix interior
  21. Jumping Oak Gall Wasp, Neuroterus saltatorius
  22. Narrowleaf Milkweed, Mexican Whorled Milkweed, Asclepias fascicularis
  23. Oak Apple, California Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  24. Oleander Aphid, Aphis nerii
  25. Plum, Prunus domestica
  26. Queen Anne’s Lace, Daucus carota
  27. Red Cone Gall Wasp, Andricus kingi
  28. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  29. Round-Gall Wasp, Fuzzy Gall, Burnettweldia washingtonensis [round, fuzzy, on twigs]
  30. Spined Turban Gall Wasp, Antron douglasii [summer gall, pink, spikey top]
  31. Turkey Tangle Fogfruit, Phyla nodiflora
  32. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  33. Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum
  34. Western Fence Lizard, Blue Belly, Sceloporus occidentalis
  35. Western Small Milkweed Bug, Lygaeus kalmii kalmii
  36. Willowleaf Lettuce, Lactuca saligna [kind of look like chicory flowers only small and yellow]
  37. Woollybear Gall Wasp, Atrusca trimaculosa
  38. Yellow Wig Gall Wasp, Andricus fullawayi 
  39. ?? tiny spider between galls in a nest sac
  40. ?? bird’s nest [might be Western Kingbird or an Oriole]

Duck Face, 07-28-21

I got up around 6:00 this morning, and headed over to William Land Park in search of jumping galls. Someone on Facebook had posted a video of the galls jumping around on the trail at the Cosumnes River Preserve, so I wanted to see if they were active here, too. I found some of them under the Valley Oak tree at the edge of the parking lot. There weren’t a lot, but you could see them jumping.

As I’m sure I’ve told you before, each gall is formed on the underside of the leaves of Valley Oaks and holds a single larva. When the time is right, the tree releases all of the galls at the same time (over a period of a day or two), so the ground is covered with them. Inside the fallen galls, the tiny larvae twist and flex, causing their gall to jump in the hopes that the gall will land on the earth and nestle safely under leaflitter.

Although it’s fun to see the galls jumping on the cement, it’s kind of sad, too. The problem with this particular oak tree, is that half of the galls are dumped onto the asphalt parking lot where the larvae just bake in the summer sun. They can’t jump high enough to get over the curb and into the dirt.

Galls of the Jumping Oak Gall Wasp, Neuroterus saltatorius

I didn’t see any other galls on the tree; everything seems so late this year. And I’m still astonished by the overall lack of insects I’m seeing when I’m out. I was hoping to see some sleepy longhorn bees or some caterpillars or some mantids…but nothing.  

While I was walking through the WPA Rock Garden to get to the middle pond, they turned the sprinklers on. I wouldn’t mind if the sprinklers “sprinkled”, but they’re massive units that dump water on the plants like a firehose. The drops of water actually hurt when they hit me. The water also mucked up the dirt paths, turning them into slippery mud trenches.

Once I got to the pond, I was sad to see that the Sacred Lotus has now covered almost the entire surface of it, leaving little room for the ducks and geese.

I was worried that maybe the lotus seeds were toxic — and could poison the water — but that’s a problem, I guess, with the Blue Lotus, not the Sacred Lotus.  I did see birds and a squirrel drinking from the water, so I guess it’s okay.

Speaking of the seeds, “…[They] can remain dormant for an extensive period of time as the pond silts in and dries out. During flood conditions, sediments containing these seeds are broken open, and the dormant seeds rehydrate and begin a new lotus colony. Under favorable circumstances, the seeds of this aquatic perennial may remain viable for many years, with the oldest recorded lotus germination being from seeds 1,300 years old recovered from a dry lakebed in northeastern China. Therefore, the Chinese regard the plant as a symbol of longevity…”

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

There were quite a few domesticated ducks lounging around the edges of the pond, so I decided to try to get photos of their faces. I was more successful with some than with others. There were also a few Wood Ducks in the water; males and females. None of the males were in their adult breeding plumage.

I walked around for about 2½ hours, and I headed home. It got up to a scotching 104° today, and the air was full of smoke from the surrounding wildfires. It was hard to take a full breath outdoors.

This was hike #66 of my annual hike challenge.

Species List:

  1. Absinthe Wormwood, Artemisia absinthium [silvery leaves]
  2. Amaranth, Red Amaranth, Amaranthus cruentus [what I call “Cock’s Comb”]
  3. Boquillas Silverleaf, Leucophyllum candidum [loaded with pale purple flowers]
  4. Butterflyweed, Asclepias tuberosa interior [yellow-orange milkweed]
  5. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  6. Caper Bush, Capparis spinosa
  7. Cayuga Duck, Anas platyrhynchos domesticus var. cayuga
  8. Cherokee Rose, Rosa laevigata [cream colored rose with bright yellow stamens]
  9. Crested Duck, Anas platyrhynchos domesticus var. Crested
  10. Crow, American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  11. Deodar Cedar, Cedrus deodara
  12. Indian Runner Duck, Anas platyrhynchos domesticus var. Runner
  13. Italian Cypress, Mediterranean Cypress, Cupressus sempervirens
  14. Jumping Oak Gall Wasp, Neuroterus saltatorius
  15. Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  16. Pekin Duck, Anas platyrhynchos domesticus var. Pekin
  17. Pig’s Ear, Cotyledon orbiculata [drooping orange bell flowers with curled lips]
  18. Prickly Pear Cactus, Indian Fig Opuntia, Opuntia ficus-indica
  19. Redwhisker Clammyweed, Polanisia dodecandra
  20. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia [tracks]
  21. Ruellia, Ruellia sp. [wrinkled purple flower]
  22. Saint Catherine’s Lace, Eriogonum giganteum [a kind of buckwheat]
  23. Sacred Lotus, Nelumbo nucifera
  24. Salvia Summer Jewel White Tropical Sage, Salvia sp. [white sage]
  25. Sea Squill, Drimia aphylla [tall spikes of white flowers]
  26. Silver Sotol, Dasylirion cedrosanum [Century Plant]
  27. Stargazer Lily, True Lilies, Lilium ‘Stargazer’ [large pink-and-white lily]
  28. Stinking Madder, Plocama calabrica
  29. Swedish Blue Duck, Anas platyrhynchos domesticus var. Swedish Blue
  30. Violet Tubeflower, Iochroma cyaneum [purplish tube-shaped flowers in bunches]
  31. Wood Duck, Aix sponsa
  32. Yellow Cosmos, Cosmos sulphureus
  33. ?? gall on the flowering head of the Absinthe Wormwood

Visiting the Reverend Mother Tree, 07-26-21

I got up around 5:30 this morning and headed out to William Pond Park for a walk.  There was a weird overcast in the morning and it was a humid 64°, but heated up fast. The water in the river was very low; I could have walked across it in some spots if I was willing to.

The American River

When I first got into the park, I could hear quail chipping and squeaking to another in the overgrowth by the trail. Then a couple of young females jumped up into the lower branches of an elderberry and started pigging out on the berries. One found a perfect spot where a large bunch of berries held her weight, but the other youngster kept trying to go out on the ends of the limbs… which subsequently bent under her weight, making it hard for her to stay on much less eat.

In the fennel and Yellow Starthistle there were Lesser Goldfinches eating the seeds. It’s always cool to me how each species has its own feeding niche.

I had gone to the park in part to look for the tarweeds and vinegarweed that should be showing themselves this time of year, and was happy to find them out and doing their thing. There was Pit-Gland Tarweed with its spikey thorny flowers bracts and Fitch’s Tarweed, all soft with smaller flowers.  The Pit-Gland has sticky dew-exuding glands all over it, whereas the Fitch’s seems to only have them on the flower heads. They grow in the same area as one another and both have yellow flowers.  The Vinegarweed was in bloom in some places… and smelled strongly of its turpentine smell.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

On one of the tarweeds, I found a single Lace Bug. According to the University of California: “…Over a dozen species of lace bugs (family Tingidae) occur in California. Each feed on one or a few closely related plant species. Hosts include alder, ash, avocado, coyote brush, birch, ceanothus, photinia, poplar, sycamore, toyon, and willow…” There are about six of those host plants along this part of the river.

Lace Bug, Corythucha sp.

“…Adult lace bugs [have] an elaborately sculptured dorsal (upper) surface. The expanded surfaces of their thorax and forewings have numerous, semitransparent cells that give the body a lacelike appearance, hence the name ‘lace bugs.’ The wingless nymphs are smaller, oval, and usually dark colored with spines…” There was a nymph on the tarweed, too, but I was so focused on the adult that I didn’t get any clear shots of the nymph. Keep in mind, though, that the adults are 1/8 of an inch long. I think they’re such fascinating tiny things.

“…Lace bugs develop through three life stages: egg, nymph, and adult and have several generations a year. Females insert tiny, oblong eggs in leaf tissue and cover them with dark excrement. Nymphs (immatures) develop through about five, increasingly larger, instars (growth stages) over a period of weeks before maturing into adults…  [They] feed on the underside of leaves by sucking fluids from plants’ photosynthetic tissues. This causes pale stippling and bleaching that can become very obvious on the upper leaf surface by mid to late summer. Adults and nymphs also foul leaves with specks of dark, varnishlike excrement; and this excrement sometimes drips onto pavement and other surfaces beneath infested plants…”

I had gone to the park, too, to visit what I call the “Reverend Mother Tree”, a huge Valley Oak that usually has a wide variety of galls on it.

The “Reverend Mother Tree”, a large Valley Oak, Quercus lobata. Note her size compared to the trail to the right.

Although I could see the beginnings of some galls, there weren’t many aside from some Spiny Turbans, Round Galls (fuzzy, on the twigs) and some Jumping Galls that hadn’t jumped yet. Of course, the large Oak Apple galls were here as well on some other Valley Oaks. On some of the live oak trees I found a few Two-Horned galls.  Not a lot exploding here, yet. They’re all going to be “late” this summer, I guess.

There were still some lerps (and eggs) on the leaves of the eucalyptus trees, but they’re starting to “tarnish” and fall off, making a mess on the plants beneath them.

Lerps of the Red Gum Lerp Psyllid, Glycaspis brimblecombei, at various stages of development

I also found a cocoon of the Ribbed Cocoon-Maker Moth, Bucculatrix albertiella. Apparently, depending on what instar they’re in in their development, the cocoon can be round (first instar) or elongated and ribbed like this (third instar). The caterpillar builds a little fence around itself before building the ribbed cocoon, and you can see that in the photo.

I haven’t found any definitive purpose for the fence anywhere in my research yet, but some have suggested it helps to protect the caterpillar while it’s building its cocoon, maybe acting as a distraction to wouldbe predators.

Coccoon and fence of the Ribbed Cocoon-Maker Moth, Oak Ribbed Skeletonizer, Bucculatrix albertiella

oI walked for about three hours and then headed home. By then it was already 72°,nd the humidity made it feel hotter.  This was hike #65 of my annual hike challenge.

When I got home I was tired and sore, so I changed out of my clothes and put my nightgown on for the rest of the day.

Species List:

  1. American Dog Tick, Dermacentor variabilis
  2. Arizona Mantis, Stagmomantis limbata [large ootheca]
  3. Assassin Bug, Leafhopper Assassin Bug, Zelus renardii
  4. Banded Bee Fly, Villa lateralis
  5. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra cerulea
  6. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  7. California Quail, Callipepla californica
  8. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  9. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis
  10. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica
  11. California Wild Rose, Rosa californica
  12. Chicory, Cichorium intybus
  13. Coast Live Oak, Quercus agrifolia
  14. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus [scat]
  15. Doveweed, Turkey Mullein, Croton setiger
  16. Eucalyptus Gall Wasp, Ophelimus maskelli [speckled; flat galls all over the leaf surface]
  17. Eucalyptus Mid-Rib Gall Wasp, Leptocybe invasa
  18. European Honeybee, Western Honeybee, Apis mellifera
  19. Fennel, Sweet Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare
  20. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremon
  21. Goldenrod Crab Spider, Misumena vatia
  22. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  23. Green Lacewing, Chrysoperla rufilabris
  24. Himalayan Blackberry, European Blackberry, Rubus bifrons [white flowers]
  25. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  26. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  27. Jumping Oak Gall Wasp, Neuroterus saltatorius
  28. Lace Bug, Corythucha sp.
  29. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  30. Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  31. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  32. Oak Apple, California Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  33. Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Western Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
  34. Pumpkin Gall Wasp, Dryocosmus minusculus
  35. Queen Anne’s Lace, Daucus carota
  36. Red Gum Eucalyptus, River Redgum, Eucalyptus camaldulensis
  37. Red Gum Lerp Psyllid, Glycaspis brimblecombei
  38. Ribbed Cocoon-Maker Moth, Oak Ribbed Skeletonizer,  Bucculatrix albertiella
  39. Round-Gall Wasp, Fuzzy Gall, Burnettweldia washingtonensis [round, fuzzy, on twigs]
  40. Ruptured Twig Gall Wasp, Callirhytis perdens
  41. Spined Turban Gall Wasp, Antron douglasii [summer gall, pink, spikey top]
  42. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus [heard, caught a glimpse of]
  43. Tall Flatsedge, Cyperus eragrostis
  44. Tarweed, Fitch’s Tarweed, Centromadia fitchii [yellow, no thorns]
  45. Tarweed, Pit-Gland Tarweed, Holocarpha virgata [thorny]
  46. Telegraphweed, Heterotheca grandiflora
  47. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura [flying overhead]
  48. Two-Horned Gall Wasp, unisexual gall, summer generation,  Dryocosmus dubiosus [small, green or mottled, on back of leaf along the midvein]
  49. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  50. Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum
  51. Vinegarweed, Trichostema lanceolatum
  52. Western Bluebird, Sialia Mexicana
  53. Western Pondhawk Dragonfly, Erythemis collocata [glimpsed a green female]
  54. Yellow Starthistle, Centaurea solstitialis
  55. Yellow Wig Gall Wasp, Andricus fullawayi 

A Drive Up Ice House Road, 07-23-21

I got up about 5:30 this morning, let my dog Esteban out for potty and fed him his breakfast before heading out with my friend and fellow naturalist Roxanne for a drive up to Ice House Road (around 5000-5500 feet in elevation, off of Highway 50 East). Rox hadn’t had a chance lately to get outdoors and was anxious for a nature fix. The road certainly gave us that.

Ice House Road is around the Pollock Pines area and winds its way through the Eldorado National Forest. Once we reached it, we just drove along the road and stopped wherever we saw something interesting. There’s a bit of travel on the road this time of year with lots of people heading out to camp and recreate at the reservoir, so we had to be careful where we parked.

Even in this summer month, the plants along the road were showing off a bit, and it seemed like everything was “berrying” to some degree. The first we noticed when we pulled off the road was a small patch of Showy Milkweed growing wild by a drainage ditch. We didn’t see any insects on it, but it was nice to see it out there. Nearby were several Coyote Mint plants still squeezing out a few flowery sprigs. There also seemed to be a LOT of phacelia all over the place. It’s all spent now, but in the spring I bet it was spectacular. We’ll definitely need to get back up there next year.

We stopped off at the Cleveland Corral Information Station for a look around, and found a mix of pine trees, cedars, and broadleaf trees including Black Oaks, Incense Cedars, cottonwood trees, Rocky Mountain Maple, Chokecherry trees, and Bitter Cherry trees. Some of those were new-to-me species.

We walked around taking photos of whatever sparked our interest and noticed on the information kiosk a sign that warned that the local chipmunks, ground squirrels, and other rodents might be carrying plague. Great. So we kept an eye out for plague-rats after that.

We also found a perfect little bird’s nest on the ground. It was made of twigs and lined with a thin layer of gray animal hairs. I wondered if it was possibly coyote hair. [It might be that of a Western Tanager.]

The next place we stopped had a lot of manzanita trees, some of them heavy with their “little apples”. Some also had bright red leaf galls on them. In that same area we found sunflowers, some blue penstemon still in bloom, Goldwire, Naked Buckwheat, and Squirreltail grass.

A wow moment was when we came around a corner and saw a small grove of aspen trees lining both sides of the road, their white bark glowing in the morning light. They were gorgeous. But we could only get photos from inside the car; there was nowhere to pull off the road and park.

Trembling Aspen, Populus tremuloides, along the road.

Further along, a small outcropping of blooming Fireweed caught my eye, so we stopped in a turnout there and took photos.

We were close enough to one of the tributaries to the South Fork of the American River, to hear the water rushing by. There was a path leading down to the water, but it was too steep for me. I might have been able to navigate the boulders to get down, but I wouldn’t be able get back up again. *Sigh* My bad hip and weak legs thwart me again. [Actually, though, the Poltergeist shut up for the majority of the day; I was able to keep ahead of the pain.]

OMG, I ended up with an album of almost 300 photos! CLICK HERE to see them.

Among the Fireweed flowers we found a variety of bees and different moths. Several orange butterflies flew by — probably Checkerspots — but we couldn’t tell for certain because they refused to land near us. We also saw quite a few Lorquin’s Admiral butterflies in the area, and I thought I briefly spotted a Monarch, but I’m not sure.

It was exciting to me to find lots of Wolf Lichen all over that spot. I don’t know why, but the Wolf Lichen always makes me happy.  Around there we also found white Mountain Coyote Mint and tiny purple fleabane flowers.

Wolf Lichen, Letharia vulpine [bright yellow-green], and Imshaug’s Tube Lichen, Hypogymnia imshaugii

Driving further on, we could see some of the lumber crews working among the trees and stopped to get a little video of one of the grappler units lifting felled logs from the ground on a neat pile, like giant matchsticks.

Then we parked in another shady spot where we could see Golden Dwarf Mistletoe growing in a tree near the road. To our surprise, there were some specimens of the stuff close to eye-level, and some of the mistletoe was bearing fruit. We’d never been able to see that, so we took a lot of photos.

Across the road there was an area that had been worked over by lumber crews; thinned out with lots of recently turned ground around. I could see a Sugarcone Pine tree (Sugar Pine, Pinus lambertiana) a few yards away, so I walked over to it to get one its cones for Roxanne to see.

Sugar Pines were called that because their resin is supposed to be sugary sweet.  They are supposed to be “the tallest and most massive pine tree, and has the longest cones of any conifer.”  The largest cone was measured at 31½ inches long. The one I picked up was as long as the distance between my elbow and my fingertips.  Maybe 15 or 16 inches.  Nineteen or twenty inches is the norm.

“…Yellow pine chipmunks (Neotamias amoenus) and Steller’s jays (Cyanocitta stelleri) gather and hoard sugar pine seeds. Chipmunks gather wind-dispersed seeds from the ground and store them in large amounts. Jays collect seeds by pecking the cones with their beaks and catching the seeds as they fall out. Although wind is a main dispersion factor of sugar pine seeds, animals tend to collect and store them before the wind can blow them far…” 

We saw one of the chipmunks as it ran across the road, and heard Stellar’s Jays in the trees at the “corral” (but didn’t see them).

Went then took a side road up to a view point at a ranger station on top of Big Hill Lookout Road, where there were incredible panoramic views.  We could see parts of both the Union Valley Reservoir and the smaller Ice House Reservoir.  The station there had a couple of large radio towers next to a small building (which was off limits to visitors), and we could sometimes hear the rangers talking to one another over the radio.

Part of the view from the Bill Hill ranger station

By that time of day, it was getting very warm outside, into the mid-80’s, and there was no shade along the road under the radio towers, so, tired, I hung back by the car while Roxanne did some more exploring. While I waited there, a silver truck drove up and parked behind the car. I could see the driver, a guy with a shaved head and tattoos talking loudly and gesturing a lot with his hands.

At first, I thought he was talking on a cell phone, but as he exited the truck and continued to walk closer to the car, I realized he was having some kind of episode. He was talking and gesturing to someone who wasn’t there. Most of the time, his dialog was just a rambling diatribe, but now and then he would pose a question to whatever he walking to, or answer a question I couldn’t hear. He freaked me out.

I got into the car and locked the doors, then texted Roxanne, asking her to come back to car as soon as she could. I also videod some of the guy’s ranting, just in case something ugly happened. The police would have his image and what kind of clothing he was wearing for identification purposes.

You have to really crank the sound up to hear his ranting.

The guy kept coming up closer and closer to the car until he was in line with the rearview mirrors, and just then Roxanne showed up. She walked straight toward the car, not engaging the crazy guy at all, and came up to the driver’s side window and looked in at me. The crazy guy retreated and went back to his own vehicle and drove off, speeding down the hill. It horrified me that he was out and about, obviously having some kind of psychotic break, and driving a truck… I hoped he wouldn’t kill anybody, on purpose or by accident.

We then continued up the road to the Crystal Basin Information Ranger Station, and pulled into the parking lot there. They were still following COVID protocols so had no water stations or restroom facilities open. But you could use the porta-potties there if you needed to. There were several rangers at the site, but would only give out information through an open window; you couldn’t go into the building to pick up brochures or anything.  Rox and I walked around the area directly adjacent to the building. There were a lot of young fir trees and lacy ferns in the understory, and it was shady there, so everything looked invitingly cooler and green. 

In some of the pine trees there was long thin, twining strands of lichen hanging down. At first, I thought it was lace lichen, but close inspection showed it was actually a long-form of beard lichen, “Witches Hair”. The tendrils were all smooth; no “fish boning” on any of them.  There was also more Wolf Lichen on the trees and littering the ground.

I got a glimpse of a male Junco standing beside a juvenile on a rock. They were there for only a moment, peeping softly to one another, but I was able to get a few photos. 

Dark-Eyed Juncos, Junco hyemalis; an adult male and a juvenile.

Near the rock under a cedar tree were some old specimens of Snow Plant, a kind of parasitic plant. 

“…Sarcodes is the monotypic genus of a north-west American flowering springtime plant in the heath family, containing the single species Sarcodes sanguinea, commonly called the snow plant or snow flower. It is a parasitic plant that derives sustenance and nutrients from mycorrhizal fungi that attach to tree roots…”

Snowplant, Sarcodes sanguinea [red, parasite]

I’d like to go back next spring to see if we can find some when they’re at their most beautiful.

By then it was around 11 o’clock and I was getting hungry and more tired, so we started to head back down the road, stopping now and again when we saw something we liked to explore more. There were lots of elderberry trees along the road, but we were having trouble finding a spot to stop and view one of them more closely. Finally, an opportunity presented itself, so we parked and got out of the car to take photos of it. Although the elderberry in the valley have lost their flowers and already have berries on them, the ones up along Ice House Road were just blossoming.

Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra cerulea

Nearby, were some buckwheat plants with some interesting-looking pollinators on them, so we tried to get some photos of those as well. Those guys were pretty small, though, and moved quickly to avoid the camera, so I didn’t get very many useable photographs of them.

We headed back to the Cleveland Corral Information Station, and sat at one of the little picnic tables there to eat or lunch before heading back home. While we were there, I noticed a bird in a tree behind Roxanne, and we followed it with our eyes until it showed itself — if only for a moment. It was a beautiful male Western Tanager. What a nice treat!

A male Western Tanager, Piranga ludoviciana, with its lunch, in a Black Cottonwood tree, Populus trichocarpa

On our way back to Sacramento, we stopped briefly at the Bridal Veil Falls in Pollock Pines. There’s a turnout on Highway 50, and the falls are right there. Here, in the summer, there wasn’t a lot of water, but what there was, was cascading prettily down the 80-foot drop from the top to the bottom.  I bet it’s gorgeous in the winter and spring when there’s more water (and some of the water freezes).

Although there were signs warning people not to try to climb to the base of the waterfall, some idiot and his family — including little kids — did just that. Some people are just plain stupid.

Rox and I took photos and some video of the falls, and then walked along a short ditch next to it that was full of water. There were Seep Monkeyflowers and California Columbine growing there.  And I also saw a few damselflies near the water.

A pair of Vivid Dancer, Argia vivida, damselflies (male in front, female behind). Note the arrowhead markings between the black bands.

It was a long but very fun drive. Definitely have to do it again in the fall and spring to see how the landscape changes.

By the time we got back onto to the highway and were on our way back to Sacramento, it was 88° in the foothills. When we got into the valley it was 102°. Blech! There was also a lot of smoke in the air from the wildfires burning all around. The AQI levels in the area reached the red zone: 151 AQI (Unhealthy).

Species List:

  1. Alpine Alumroot, Heuchera glabra
  2. Arroyo Willow, Salix lasiolepis
  3. Bitter Cherry, Prunus emarginata
  4. Black Cottonwood, Populus trichocarpa
  5. Bordered Fawn Moth, Sericosema juturnaria
  6. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra cerulea
  7. Bull Thistle, Cirsium vulgare
  8. California Black Oak, Quercus kelloggii
  9. Chokecherry, Prunus virginiana
  10. Cobwebby Thistle, Cirsium occidentale
  11. Common Morning-Glory, Ipomoea purpurea
  12. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus [ran across the road]
  13. Coyote Mint, Monardella villosa
  14. Coyote, Canis latrans [scat]
  15. Cudweed, California Cudweed, Pseudognaphalium californicum
  16. Cumberland Rock-Shield Lichen, Xanthoparmelia cumberlandia [gray on rocks, brown apotheca]
  17. Damselfly, Vivid Dancer, Argia vivida [arrowheads]
  18. Dark-Eyed Junco, Junco hyemalis
  19. Deerbrush Ceanothus, Ceanothus integerrimus
  20. Dog Pelt Lichen, Peltigera canina [“skin” with lots of “teeth” on the back of the pelt. I found it on moss on a rock]
  21. European Honeybee, Western Honeybee, Apis mellifera
  22. Fern, Common Bracken, Pteridium aquilinum
  23. Fern-leaf Yarrow, Achillea filipendulina [yellow flowers]
  24. Fireweed, Chamaenerion angustifolium [bright pink flowers]
  25. Golden Dwarf Mistletoe, Western Dwarf Mistletoe, Arceuthobium campylopodum
  26. Goldwire, Hypericum concinnum
  27. Imshaug’s Tube Lichen, Hypogymnia imshaugii
  28. Incense Cedar, Calocedrus decurrens
  29. Jagged Ambush Bug, Phymata americana
  30. Knobcone Pine, Pinus attenuata
  31. Kousa Dogwood, Cornus kousa
  32. Leafy Fleabane, Erigeron foliosus
  33. Manzanita Leaf Gall Aphid, Tamalia coweni
  34. Manzanita, Greenleaf Manzanita, Arctostaphylos patula
  35. Manzanita, Whiteleaf Manzanita, Arctostaphylos viscida
  36. Metallic Flea Beetle, Altica sp.
  37. Mirid Bug, Taedia sp.
  38. Mistletoe, Juniper Mistletoe, Phoradendron juniperinum [somewhat similar in looks to dwarf, but very large]
  39. Morning-Glory Leafminer Moth, Bedellia somnulentella
  40. Mountain Blue Penstemon, Penstemon laetus
  41. Mountain Monardella, Mountain Coyote Mint, Monardella odoratissima
  42. Mountain Spiraea, Meadowsweet, Spiraea splendens
  43. Mountain Whitethorn, Ceanothus cordulatus
  44. Mullein, Great Mullein, Verbascum thapsus
  45. Naked Buckwheat, Eriogonum nudum
  46. One-seeded Pussypaws, Calyptridium monospermum
  47. Oregon Grape, Barberry, Berberis aquifolium
  48. Pearly Everlasting, Anaphalis margaritacea
  49. Phacelia, Mountain Phacelia, Phacelia imbricata [white]
  50. Red-Tailed Hawk, Western Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis calurus
  51. Rimmed Navel Lichen, Rhizoplaca glaucophana [pale gray with black apotheca]
  52. Robber Fly, Efferia albibarbis
  53. Rock Tripe, Emery Rocktripe Lichen, Umbilicaria phaea
  54. Rocky Mountain Maple, Acer glabrum [huge leaves, hairy heads on the seedpods]
  55. Ruptured Twig Gall Wasp, Callirhytis perdens
  56. Salsify, Meadow Salsify, Tragopogon pratensis
  57. Seep Monkeyflower, Erythranthe guttata
  58. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa
  59. Sierra Gooseberry, Ribes roezlii
  60. Sierra Lessingia, Lessingia leptoclada [tiny purple flowering heads, native and endemic]
  61. Slug Sawfly, Caliroa sp. [we saw the larva]
  62. Snowplant, Sarcodes sanguinea [red, parasite]
  63. Spanish Clover, Acmispon americanus
  64. Squirreltail Grass, Elymus elymoides
  65. Sugar Pine, Pinus lambertiana
  66. Sunflower, Common Woolly Sunflower, Eriophyllum lanatum
  67. Thread-Waisted Wasp, Family: Sphecidae
  68. Trembling Aspen, Populus tremuloides
  69. Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum
  70. Velvety Goldenrod, Solidago velutina
  71. Western Columbine, Aquilegia formosa
  72. Western Morning Glory, Calystegia occidentalis
  73. Western Pine Beetle, Dendroctonus brevicomis   [“meaning tree killers”]
  74. Western Tanager, Piranga ludoviciana
  75. Witch’s Hair Lichen, Alectoria sarmentosa
  76. Willow Apple Gall Sawfly, Pontania californica
  77. Willow Fold-Gall Sawfly, Phyllocolpa sp.
  78. Wolf Lichen, Letharia vulpine [bright yellow-green]
  79. Yellow-Faced Bumblebee, Bombus vosnesenskii
  80. ??? bird’s nest [might be Western Tanager]
  81. ??? spider webbing and egg sacs