Dragonflies and Things Eating Things, 07-04-21

Independence Day. Happy 4th of July. People in the neighborhood were already shooting off fireworks, including illegal ones that fizzed and flew into the air. So annoying.  It’ll be worse tonight, I’m sure.

I slept pretty well once I got to sleep. My back was spasming a bit again, but I eventually found a position I could lay in where it didn’t give me any problems. I’m hoping this new pain is because I haven’t walked in the last two days — and not a new symptom of The Poltergeist.

I got up around 6:00 am and headed over to the Mather Lake Regional Park for a walk.  It was 61° outside when I got there but heated up to 73° really fast. I was thankful for the slight breeze and intermittent cloud cover (where did that come from?) that helped keep me comfortable.

The first thing I saw when I got there was a pair of Wild Turkeys near the entrance, some ground squirrels, and a creche of Canada Geese. Their goslings are “teenagers” now, almost as big as the parents. What really caught my weird naturalist eye, though, was some fasciation on a mustard plant.

“… [Fasciation] is a relatively rare condition of abnormal growth in vascular plants in which the apical meristem (growing tip), which normally is concentrated around a single point and produces approximately cylindrical tissue, instead becomes elongated perpendicularly to the direction of growth, thus producing flattened, ribbon-like, crested (or “cristate”), or elaborately contorted tissue… The phenomenon may occur in the stem, root, fruit, or flower head… Fasciation can be caused by hormonal imbalances in the meristematic cells of plants, which are cells where growth can occur…”

Fasciation of the stem of a mustard plant.

What I was seeing on the mustard plant was the “ribbon” effect in one of the stems.  It was flattened out and about 5 times as wide as normal stems. Most people wouldn’t even notice something like that, but I always find fasciation fascinating.

There were Killdeer running around on the parking lot. I always worry about them getting hit by cars. Rather than running away from moving vehicles, they run in front of them. Not the brightest birds in the world.  One egg short of a clutch.

Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous

 Watched a Great Egret scanning the lake from a variety of perches in the cottonwood trees along the shore. At one point, it flew up on to the top of a snag relatively close to me, and I was able to get photos of it before it took off, flew across the lake and disappeared into the trees over there.

 There were lots of Pied-Billed Grebes in the water, fishing and hooting to one another. I love their odd calls. You can hear one in this video (not mine):

I can never seem to get a recording of the call; they always stop when I put my camera on them. I’d kind of like to rent a boat to go out onto the parts of the lake you can’t get to from shore to see if I can find their nests. They building floating mats like the Clark’s and Western Grebes do.

I saw two small flocks of Bushtits. It’s so hard to get pictures of them, though, because they’re small and they flit really fast from one perch to the next. So, I usually just point the camera in their direction and shoot hoping to get something. It’s about 70-30; 70% failures,30% at-least-you-can-tell-it’s-a-bird. Lots of butt-shots. Today, I got a couple of faces, though, so…yay!

A female Bushtit, American Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus

Another yay: I’m finally seeing some dragonflies at the lake! (But, oddly enough, I haven’t found any exuvia, so I can’t tell from where the dragonflies are emerging from the water. Maybe on the other side of the lake?) Species I saw today included Variegated Meadowhawks, Blue Dashers, Western Pondhawks, and a Black Saddlebags dragonfly. The Saddlebags wouldn’t sit still long enough for me to get any pictures.

I saw one dragonfly sitting on top of a snag, and got a few photos of it. When I accidentally bumped the snag, the dragonfly took off, and was immediately caught by a Black Phoebe! I tried to get photos of the phoebe with the dragonfly in its mouth, but it chose to land in the scraggly twigs of a willow, and I couldn’t get any decent shots. Dang it!

I saw lots of female Great-Tailed Grackles around, looking for stuff to eat. I saw one carrying a dragonfly, but once again weedy stuff intervened, and I couldn’t get a clear shot. But I saw another one eating a crawfish she’d caught at the edge of the lake. The grackles usually eat plant material as their normal diet, but during the breeding season, they eat insects and other invertebrates (like the crawfish).

A female Great-Tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus, eating a crawfish.

According to Cornell: “…Forages along shores or in shallows, turning over stones and drift-wood for invertebrates; also wades for tadpoles, small fish, and other aquatic animals. Hovers and plucks food items from water or plunges into water…[They also] feed on eggs and nestlings of other birds…”  Being smart, this mama bashed it a few times on the ground and then ate the tail first — thus avoiding the claws in the front. I got a few photos and a little bit of video of that.

Female grackles always look “ferocious” to me, probably because of their bright eyes and long bills.  Reading up on them, I found that the females do most of the work in the relationship. They choose the nest sites, they build the nests, they brood the eggs, they feed and care for the young, they keep the nest clean (drop fecal sacs into the water). According to Cornell: “…[The female] shades nestlings during extreme heat and continuously broods very young nestlings from sunset to sunrise… Only female feeds nestlings… [and] may dip food in water before feeding it to nestlings…”

Around the same area, I saw a small fence lizard grappling with something on the ground before it ran off into the rocks. At first I thought it might have been fighting another smaller lizard, but when I was able to get a photo of it, I realized it had caught a bee!

A Western Fence Lizard, Blue Belly, Sceloporus occidentalis, with a bee it caught.

I wondered if the lizards were immune to bee venom, but evidently they’re not (if they get stung a lot). Bees do seem to be a favorite, however, and I found this account by E.W. Moore from 1904.

“…While eating at my luncheon in the shack at the apiary I noticed, when I commenced, several bees buzzing on the window; also that a lizard was scurrying about inside the shade. In the course of a short time I observed that there was but one bee left, and came to the conclusion that the various scurries I had heard had meant that each denoted the end of a bee, so I determined to pay particular attention to what became of this last one. After a short wait I heard another scramble, and the buzz of the last bee had ceased. Gently raising and looking under the shade I saw the lizard with the bee in its mouth. It was holding the head and body, up to the thorax, in its mouth, with the abdomen out, under side up, the bee vainly thrusting its sting in the air. While watching, it began a series of quick side rubs on the curtain until it eventually severed the abdomen, which fell to the floor, while it swallowed the portion held in its mouth…”

The lizard I saw had the bee by the middle of its body, but I don’t know if it got stung during the scuffle in the dirt, or if it scraped the stinger off on the rocks.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

There were lots of people out at the lake fishing today, but I only heard one guy catch anything. I can’t stand the mess they leave behind. My foot got caught in a couple of different knots of fishing line, and I could see lures hanging from a couple of tree (one of them right up near the opening of a nesting cavity). I picked up what I could, but the lures were up too high for me to reach.

I saw one guy carrying his rod and reel over his shoulder, and then heard him utter, “Shit, shit, shit!” The line from his rod had tangled in a tree and he had to fight with it to get it out. Hah-hah!

I saw one otter in the water. It looked like it was fishing over and over in the same spot, but it didn’t seem to catch anything.

And, of course, I added this sighting to the River Otter Ecology Project “Otter Spotters” database.

There was a pair of kestrels that kept flying back and forth from the nearby golf course to the trees around the lake. I was able to catch them a couple of time resting on the top of snags before they took off again. It looked like the male was leading the female along. I wonder if he was showing her potential nesting sites.

There were lots of turtles sunning themselves on branches in the water. They all looked like Red Eared Sliders; no Pacific Pond Turtles.

Red-Eared Slider Turtle, Trachemys scripta elegans

The willows and cottonwood trees are starting to show their galls. I found both leaf and petiole galls on the cottonwood, and on the willows I found the typical bead galls, apple galls and pinecone galls.

I walked for about 3½ hours and then headed home. This was hike #59 of my annual hike challenge.

I had walked further and longer than I thought I might, and ended up tweaking my hip and back something fierce. I was going to pick up some dog food at the supermarket, but hurt too much.  And when I got home, I had trouble walking without my cane. I was “wrecked” for the rest of the day. Stupid body.

Species List:

  1. American Kestrel, Falco sparverius
  2. American Robin, Turdus migratorius
  3. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  4. Aphid, Family: Aphididae
  5. Armenian Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus [pink flower]
  6. Arroyo Willow, Salix lasiolepis
  7. Azolla, Water Fern, Azolla filiculoides
  8. Black Mustard, Common Wild Mustard, Brassica nigra
  9. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  10. Black Saddlebags Dragonfly, Tramea lacerata
  11. Blue Dasher Dragonfly, Pachydiplax longipennis
  12. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  13. Broadleaf Cattail, Bullrush, Typha latifolia
  14. Brown-Headed Cowbird, Molothrus ater
  15. Bull Thistle, Cirsium vulgare
  16. Bushtit, American Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus
  17. California Bulrush, Schoenoplectus californicus
  18. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  19. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  20. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis
  21. California Wild Rose, Rosa californica
  22. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  23. Common Duckweed, Lemna minor
  24. Common Spike-Rush, Eleocharis palustris
  25. Cork Oak, Quercus suber
  26. Cottonwood Leaf Gall Aphid, Pemphigus populivenae
  27. Cottonwood Petiole Gall, Poplar Petiole Gall Aphid, Pemphigus populitransversus
  28. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  29. Desert Cottontail Rabbit, Sylvilagus audubonii
  30. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
  31. Eurasian Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto
  32. European Honeybee, Western Honeybee, Apis mellifera
  33. Floating Water Primrose, Ludwigia peploides ssp. peploides
  34. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  35. Goldwire, Hypericum concinnum
  36. Goodding’s Black Willow, Salix gooddingii
  37. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  38. Great-Tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus
  39. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  40. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  41. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  42. Mute Swan, Cygnus olor
  43. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii
  44. Pale Smartweed, Persicaria lapathifolia [pale drooping flowering heads]
  45. Pennyroyal, Mentha pulegium
  46. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  47. Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Western Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
  48. Red-Eared Slider Turtle, Trachemys scripta elegans
  49. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  50. River Otter, North American River Otter, Lontra canadensis
  51. Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia
  52. Swamp Smartweed, Persicaria hydropiperoides [white, single stem]
  53. Swift Crab Spider, Mecaphesa celer
  54. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  55. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  56. Western Fence Lizard, Blue Belly, Sceloporus occidentalis
  57. Western Kingbird, Tyrant Flycatcher, Tyrannus verticalis
  58. Western Pondhawk Dragonfly, Erythemis collocata
  59. Western Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly, Papilio rutulus
  60. White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus
  61. Willow Apple Gall Sawfly, Pontania californica
  62. Willow Bead Gall Mite, Aculus tetanothrix
  63. Willow Pinecone Gall midge, Rabdophaga strobiloides