Birds and Flowers, 03-16-22

fellow naturalist Roxanne Moger and I had planned to have breakfast in Winters, then go up Mix Canyon Road again, and then drive further down Highway 128.

On the way to Winters, however, amidst other conversations, we were talking about seeing photos of Yellow-headed Blackbirds at the Yolo Bypass. Since the bypass was on our way, we drove into the preserve to look for the blackbirds. We drove the whole auto tour loops that took a couple of hours.

There was more water on the ground than we’d seen there in a long time, so we were hopeful that we’d see SOMETHING. We didn’t see any of the Yellow-headed Blackbirds but we did get to see an American Bittern in a small pool, and a Great Horned Owl sitting on her nest.

We always get excited when we see the Bitterns because we don’t get to see them very often, and they’re such interesting birds. They have stripes on their neck and chest that help them to camouflage themselves against the tules in the areas where they hunt. The one we saw was standing in a shallow pond, but it still tried out its camouflage technique by raising it head, exposing the stripes, and tilting its eyes forward so it could see us better.

When we found the owl, I saw its nest first and remarked on how large it was. I wondered what had built it. Then I saw the owl’s plumicorns poking up from the center of the nest. If it stays with that site, it should be fun to watch the nest and see if the owl has any babies over the next few weeks.

As for the Yellow-headed Blackbirds, when I got home I saw another photo posted to a Facebook group of the birds taken at the Yolo Bypass just yesterday. Arrrgh!

PHOTO BY CHRIS WOLFGRAM of Yellow-Headed Blackbirds at the bypass.

I think it might have been taken later in the day when the birds were looking for a place to overnight. So, Rox and I decided to pencil in a trip back to the bypass on the 26th around 4:00 PM to see if we can find the birds then. Going later, too, means we might be able to see bats, or Night Herons, or mama owl’s hubby…Should be interesting.

At the bypass today there seemed to be lots and lots of Greater Yellowlegs. We seemed to find at least one almost everywhere we looked. The Meadowlarks were out singing; they’re such “joyful” birds.

When we’d finished the loop at the bypass, we went on to Winters. By then it was lunchtime, so we had sandwiches and Bloody Marys at the Putah Creek Café.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

Then it was on to Mix Canyon Road. The wildflowers usually bloom in waves – first one handful of species and then another – so we were hoping to see flowers on this trip that we didn’t see when we were up the road in mid-February.

Hillsides near Mix Canyon Road. Orange patches are poppies

What struck us the most when we went up the road this time was the fact that the County had apparently gone up in the intervening month and sprayed herbicide – most likely Round Up – on both sides of the road, killing everything from the street up to about 4 or 5 feet above that. I think that’s such a stupid and shitty thing to do at this time of year, when all of the pollinators are out.

Round Up and the other herbicides like it don’t just poison the plant life; they also kill and maim pollinators, pollute the groundwater, and have been found to be hazardous to the humans who handle them. There’s no reason why, if this kind of reckless plant killing must go on, it couldn’t be done in the summer, when nature has already thinned out the plant population by itself and most of the pollinators are less active.

Because the poison went up four or five feet up the side if the road, the still living plants were above that line, so we were looking UP a great deal to get photographs. Certified California Naturalist, Roxanne Moger.

Because the poison went up four or five feet up the side if the road, the still living plants were above that line, so we were looking UP a great deal to get photographs.

We did get to see some things we hadn’t seen in February including a few Ithuriel’s Spears, lots and lots of Red Larkspur, some clusters of the purple-blue Zigzag Larkspur, a few Chinese Houses, and even some Checker Lilies.  The Mountain Phacelia was blooming in great swaths here and there, and the hillsides were covered in poppies.

As we were driving past a collection of flat boulders, a movement caught my eye as we drove past – a striped lizard of some kind — so I asked Rox to backup a little to see if I could catch sight of it again in or to get a picture of it.  She obliged, but when we got back to the rock cluster, the lizard had moved itself to the edge of one of the boulders and was, to my eye, barely visible. Then I saw it move slightly, so I aimed my camera at the spot where the movement was and shot blindly, hoping to get SOMETHING. As luck would have it, I was able to get two halfway decent photos with enough detail to allow me to identify the lizard as an adult Western Skink [no blue tail like the juveniles have].

Skink, Western Skink, Plestiodon skiltonianus [juveniles have a blue tail]

In some areas, the air was full of mayflies, and I was surprised there weren’t birds flying around gobbling them up. The mayflies aren’t very strong fliers, but they were just fast enough to avoid being caught by us. [I need to get a butterfly net. Hah!] Roxanne was able to get one of them but kind of bent it in the process of closing her hand around it. Based on the shape and size of its cerci and claspers, I think it was a male.

We drove up and down the road for a few hours and then headed back home. It was a long day, but a fun and fruitful one.

Species List:

  1. American Bittern, Botaurus lentiginosus
  2. American Coot, Fulica americana
  3. American Pipit, Anthus rubescens
  4. Arundo, Giant Reed, Arundo donax
  5. Bay Laurel, California Bay, Umbellularia californica
  6. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  7. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum
  8. Blue Dicks, Dipterostemon capitatus
  9. Bluewitch Nightshade, Solanum umbelliferum
  10. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  11. Buckbrush, Ceanothus cuneatus
  12. Bur Clover, Medicago polymorpha
  13. Buttercup, Ranunculus sp.
  14. California Buckeye Chestnut Tree, Aesculus californica
  15. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  16. Canyon Live-Forever, Dudleya cymosa
  17. Cattail, Narrowleaf Cattail, Typha angustifolia
  18. Checker Lily, Fritillaria affinis
  19. Cheeseweed Mallow, Malva parviflora
  20. Chinese Houses, Purple Chinese Houses, Collinsia heterophylla
  21. Clematis, Western Virgin’s Bower, Clematis ligusticifolia
  22. Crow, American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  23. Fern, California Maidenhair Fern, Adiantum jordanii
  24. Fern, California Polypody, Polypodium californicum
  25. Fern, Goldback Fern, Pentagramma triangularis
  26. Fiddleneck, Common Fiddleneck, Amsinckia menziesii
  27. Fringepod, Sand Fringepod, Thysanocarpus curvipes [pinholes]
  28. Garlic, Naples Garlic, Allium neapolitanum [like white onion flowers]
  29. Grasses, Ripgut Brome, Bromus diandrus
  30. Grasses, Wall Barley, Hordeum murinum
  31. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
  32. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  33. Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus
  34. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons
  35. Greater Yellowlegs, Tringa melanoleuca
  36. Hillside Woodland Star, Lithophragma heterophyllum
  37. Hollyhock Rust, Puccinia malvacearum
  38. Ithuriel’s Spear, Triteleia laxa
  39. Jointed Charlock, Raphanus raphanistrum
  40. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  41. Larkspur, Red Larkspur, Delphinium nudicaule
  42. Larkspur, Zigzag Larkspur, Delphinium patens [dark purple-blue]
  43. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  44. Lupine, Arroyo Lupine, Lupinus succulentus
  45. Lupine, Chick Lupine, Lupinus microcarpus [white or yellow]
  46. Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  47. Manroot, California Manroot, Bigroot, Marah fabaceus
  48. Manzanita, Arctostaphylos sp.
  49. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris
  50. Mayfly, Order: Ephemeroptera
  51. Milkmaids, Cardamine californica
  52. Miner’s Lettuce, Claytonia perfoliata
  53. Monkeyflower, Orange Bush Monkeyflower, Diplacus aurantiacus           
  54. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  55. Mule Fat, Baccharis salicifolia
  56. Mule’s Ears, Gray Mule-Ears, Wyethia helenioides
  57. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata
  58. Oak, Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  59. Oak, Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  60. Oxalis, Bermuda Buttercup, Oxalis pes-caprae
  61. Pacific Pea, Lathyrus vestitus
  62. Paintbrush, Woolly Indian Paintbrush, Castilleja foliolosa
  63. Pale Dewplant, Drosanthemum floribundum
  64. Paper Wasp, Black Paper Wasp, European Paper Wasp, Polistes dominula
  65. Periwinkle, Greater Periwinkle, Vinca major
  66. Phacelia, Mountain Phacelia, Phacelia imbricata [white]
  67. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum
  68. Poppy, Field Poppy, Tufted Poppy, Eschscholzia caespitosa
  69. Red-Tailed Hawk, Western Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis calurus
  70. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  71. Ring-Necked Pheasant, Phasianus colchicus
  72. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  73. Rocketsalad, Eruca vesicaria [like charlock but very tall, in thin colums]
  74. Sage, Hummingbird Sage, Salvia spathacea
  75. Savannah Sparrow, Passerculus sandwichensis
  76. Seablush, Shortspur Seablush, Plectritis congesta [white or pink, single head]
  77. Shepherd’s-Purse, Capsella bursa-pastoris
  78. Shooting Star, Henderson’s Shooting Star, Primula hendersonii
  79. Skink, Western Skink, Plestiodon skiltonianus [juveniles have a blue tail]
  80. Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia
  81. Stork’s Bill, Musk Stork’s-Bill, Erodium moschatum
  82. Sunflower, California Sunflower, Helianthus californicus
  83. Tamarisk, Saltcedar, Tamarix ramosissima
  84. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  85. Vetch, Common Vetch, Vicia sativa [pink flowers]
  86. Vetch, Hairy Vetch, Vicia villosa
  87. Wallflower, Western Wallflower, Erysimum capitatum
  88. Warrior’s Plume, Pedicularis densiflora
  89. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
  90. Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis
  91. White Nemophila, Nemophila heterophylla
  92. White Sweetclover, Melilotus albus
  93. White-Faced Ibis, Plegadis chihi
  94. Wild Mustard, Sinapis arvensis
  95. Willows, Salix sp.
  96. ?? white substance on rock; possible lichen or a mineral exudate (like laumontite or calcite maybe)

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