Emerging Aphids, 07-21-21

I got up around 6:00 this morning and it was 61° outside and a little breezy — nice — so I decided to try going out to the Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge off of Hood-Franklin Road. I’ve never been impressed with the place because although they tout their “Blue Heron Trails”, they’re basically just sidewalks around a field and a manmade pond.  But I thought I’d give it a try and then go to the We Heal Community Flower Garden at Stone Lake Farms afterwards,

Oh my gosh, the refuge is SUCH a mess. The whole of it was massively unkempt and obviously neglected. The pollinator garden, for example, was all dead except for some buckwheat plants and either naked of any kind of plant life, or messy with dried weeds and grasses. The wild bee condos were also in disarray, with many of the tubs pulled out, thrown on the ground or missing. Not a very good example of how the refuge cares for wildlife.

This is the current state of the “pollinator garden”. Disgraceful.

There’s a sign touting the “Little Green Heron Playscape”, but work hasn’t started on it.

Right now, the playscape looks like this:

The “Little Green Heron Playscape”

The pond, likewise, was surrounded by overgrown rose bushes, California and Himalayan blackberry vines, tules and cattails. In some spots, the water was completely covered by azolla (water fern).

Plants around the pond are so overgrown, you can barely see the water.

Around the pond I saw only two damselflies, both looked like Northern Forktails, and a couple of dragonflies, including a Black Saddlebags and a Variegated Meadowhawk. I didn’t see many butterflies besides a handful of Cabbage Whites.

Black Saddlebags Dragonfly, Tramea lacerata

I know it’s summer, and I wasn’t expecting a lot of birds, but, wow, there were so few it was shocking. The majority of the birdsong I heard was from a very active, very loud mockingbird.

The vast majority  of the trees on the plot had been planted there, so there was a big variety in a very small space including Valley Oaks, California Sycamores, Boxelder, Ash, Cottonwoods, willows, Buttonbush, and Coyote Brush.

Although there was signage inside the pollinator garden marking milkweed plants (that no longer existed there), I was glad to see that wild narrowleaf milkweed plants had established themselves in some of the open spaces around the pond. I didn’t see any Monarch caterpillars on any of them, but I did see Milkweed Bugs and Oleander Aphids.

Besides the big Oak Apple galls, there weren’t any galls showing on the Valley Oaks yet.  While I was looking at and taking photos of the galls on the leaves of one of the cottonwood trees, however, I noticed little white specks moving on one of the petiole galls, so I got out my macro lens to see if I could figure out what the specks were. They were the woolly-butt Cottonwood Petiole Gall Aphids, Pemphigus populitransversus, and they were just starting to emerge from the gall! 

The mother aphid chews on the petiole of the Cottonwood leaf until it swells up, and she climbs inside the swelling and seals it shut. Then she lays her eggs, and lets the babies hatch and grow… and when they’re all big enough, they open the gall and climb out of it. Sometimes, if the gall is too small and can’t accommodate all of the youngsters growing inside it, they zip it open early and some of them leave then close the gall shut behind them… They’re such fascinating little things.

“…The ‘wool’ on a woolly aphid is wax, produced by abdominal glands in order to make the aphid look less like a Happy Meal to its predators…” Hah!

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

On one of the elderberry trees, I found reddish-tan forms that I think were a kind of scale insect — the late instars of the insects themselves and some of their pupal cases. I took lots of photos and posted some of them to iNaturalist to try to get a better ID or alternative identification. Elderberries are potentially bothered by the European lecanium soft scale, but all of the photos I’ve seen of them, they’re brown, not the reddish and tan color I was seeing here. Need to do more research…

I walked for about three hours around the site, then headed out, intending to stop by the We Heal Community Flower Garden to pick some flowers, but I made a wrong turn coming out of the refuge and ended up on Highway 160. Yikes! After getting lost for a while on my own, I had Google just take me home. I’ll try the farm on another day.

This was walk #64 of my annual hike challenge.

When I got to the house, I went online to check out the Stone Lakes NWR’s, to see if there were other trails around the main site where I could walk.  But I found that the website was as badly neglected as the refuge itself. There’s very little information, and most of the links on their webpage are bad, leading to pages that don’t exist anymore. Your tax dollars at work. *Sigh* 

There is a “friends group” site, but I’m not sure how much good, if any, they’re doing for the place. 

“…There are occasional docent led walks (fall through spring) and staff led kayak trips on the lakes (summer).  These events take place in areas that are not normally open to the public…” But COVID put an end to that, so we’ll see if they start up again next spring. Still, in all, the place isn’t one I’d recommend visiting, at least not until they clean up their act — and the site .

Species List:

  1. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  2. Armored Scale Insects, Family: Diaspididae
  3. Arroyo Willow, Salix lasiolepis
  4. Azolla, Water Fern, Azolla filiculoides
  5. Black Saddlebags Dragonfly, Tramea lacerata
  6. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra cerulea
  7. Boxelder, Box Elder Tree, Acer negundo
  8. Bristly Oxtongue, Helminthotheca echioides
  9. Broadleaved Pepperweed, Lepidium latifolium
  10. Buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis
  11. Cabbage White butterfly, Pieris rapae
  12. California Buckwheat, Eriogonum fasciculatum
  13. California Bulrush, Schoenoplectus californicus
  14. California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica
  15. California Sycamore, Western Sycamore, Platanus racemose
  16. California Wild Rose, Rosa californica
  17. Cottonwood Leaf Gall Aphid, Pemphigus populivenae
  18. Cottonwood Petiole Gall, Poplar Petiole Gall Aphid, Pemphigus populitransversus
  19. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  20. Coyote, Canis latrans [scat]
  21. Curlycup Gumweed, Grindelia squarrosa
  22. Doveweed, Turkey Mullein, Croton setiger
  23. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  24. Goodding’s Black Willow, Salix gooddingii
  25. Himalayan Blackberry, European Blackberry, Rubus bifrons [white flowers]
  26. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  27. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  28. Leafy Bract Gall Wasp, Diplolepis californica [hard rosette gall on rose bush]
  29. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  30. Narrowleaf Cattail, Typha angustifolia
  31. Narrowleaf Milkweed, Mexican Whorled Milkweed, Asclepias fascicularis
  32. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  33. Oak Apple, California Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  34. Oleander Aphid, Aphis nerii
  35. Orbweaver Spider, Subfamily: Araneinae
  36. Oregon Ash, Fraxinus latifolia
  37. River Otter, North American River Otter, Lontra canadensis [scat, old]
  38. Saltbush, Big Saltbush, Atriplex lentiformis
  39. Sunflower, Common Sunflower, Helianthus annuus
  40. Trailing Blackberry, California Blackberry, Rubus ursinus
  41. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  42. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  43. Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum
  44. Velvety Goldenrod, Solidago velutina
  45. Western Small Milkweed Bug, Lygaeus kalmii kalmii
  46. Willow Bead Gall Mite, Aculus tetanothrix
  47. Woolly Rosemallow, Hibiscus lasiocarpos