This was one of the few days this week when my sister and I didn’t have anything on the calendar, and when the heat of the weekend — [when it was supposed to get up to 108ºF] — wasn’t on us yet. So, I took the opportunity to go over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk.
I was hoping to see some pregnant does and/or maybe some early summer fawns, but didn’t see either. I did see what looked like a very impressive 6-point (?) buck in his velvet, but only saw him from the back. A little later, I saw one lone doe browsing in the tall grass.
I could hear a lot of birds around me in the trees and the underbrush, but I couldn’t get photos of most of them. I was able to get some photos of finches, Acorn Woodpeckers, and a White-Breasted Nuthatch in a nesting box. Later, as I was leaving the preserve, I saw two Red-Shouldered Hawks: a female and a male calling to one another from the tops of trees.
I could hear a bullfrog in the small pond, but couldn’t find exactly where it was. I did, however, find a new-to-me willowherb among the cattails, rushes, and tules.
Many of the species I recorded for the day were little ones found on the plants near the nature center. There were ladybeetles at varying levels of development, and a pair of the beetles having sex. There were also larval forms of a kind of hoverfly and a kind of lacewing. There was also a katydid nymph.
Along the trail, on the ground, there were a few more species to look at.
In the dying flowers of the Showy Milkweed, there were a few dead bees that had gotten their feet caught in the flowers.
CLICK HERE to read an excellent article, with photos, on this phenomenon.
There were signs along different parts of the trails warning hikers about nesting ground-dwelling bees and wasps, but I didn’t see or hear any evidence of that. I was overjoyed, though, to see that despite all of the disruption around the “bee tree” that I had seen the last time I was at the preserve, the bees were swarming happily around the entrance to the hive there. The queen must have still been in residence. I was so happy about that.
Along with the deer I saw early in my walk, I saw several cottontail rabbits, Fox Squirrels and California Ground Squirrels. I didn’t see any coyotes but I did find some of their scat.
I got up around 5:00 AM to get myself and my dog, Esteban, ready to go on a day-trip with my friend and fellow naturalist Roxanne in search of the meadow and riparian area at Lake Van Norden in Nevada County.
“…Lake Van Norden is a reservoir in Placer County and has an elevation of 6,772 feet. Lake Van Norden is situated nearby to the hamlets Soda Springs and Donner…”
Getting to the area where we wanted to start our investigations was a straight shot up Highway 80 East, to EXIT 174 and on to Soda Springs Road. We couldn’t see anything that indicated exactly where the lake and its meadow were, so we missed the turn out to them when we first drove in down Soda Springs Road.
Along the road, though, we were treated to seeing quite a few plant species we don’t normally see in Sacramento County like Kellogg’s Sedge, Sticky Cinquefoil, Tall Western Groundsel, and the remarkable Pinemat Manzanita, among others. Lots of yellow. And everything was surrounded by a mixed pine forest dominated by Sierra Lodgepole Pines (also called Tamarack Pines).
We noticed that a lot of the Lodgepoles had branches on just one side of the tree — commonly called “flag trees”. I did a little research and found that several factors can cause this including prevailing winds, snow pressure, avalanches, and the amount of sun the tree receives.
“… (A) Some experts think that winter desiccation (drying) prevents foliage from surviving on the upwind side. The idea is that dry winter winds dehydrate buds and needles faster than the tree can replace water through its roots, especially when groundwater may be frozen. The tree then becomes a flag tree. (B) Other experts think that snow and ice crystals scour away any new buds on the upwind side, keeping one side bare. This creates a flag tree. (C) Still other experts think that continual pressure on the upwind side causes the tree to release hormones (e.g., auxins) that inhibit lateral bud growth on that side. Chemistry creates the flag tree…” — Trees of the Pacific NW
As we continued down Soda Springs Road, we ended up down by the Serene Lakes. Here there were stands of Corn Lilies that hadn’t started blooming yet, and lots of Bitter Cherry that were covered in white flowers. Some of the cherry trees were also sporting knots of Witches Broom caused by the plant pathogen Taphrina wiesneri.
We drove around the curving and circling roads near the lakes until we came to a dead end. We asked a pair of women who were walking their dogs there where we could find the meadow, and they said we had passed it; it was about 2 miles back near where the railroad tracks were. They warned us, though, that the whole meadow was under water right now.
So, we headed back toward the railroad tracks, and found the spot where the meadow should have been, and the women were right: it was a giant mud hole right now. There was too much water from the rains and snowmelt. It would be a month or more for some of the water to recede enough to allow flowers to grow out and bloom. All access points to it were blocked off by cones and boulders. We could hear lots and lots of frogs or toads criiiicket-ing, but couldn’t get near them.
We did get so see some more Gooseberry plants, some Snowbrush Ceanothus, and some One-seeded Pussypaws there, however. And also got a view of some of the snow-covered mountains around us.
Since the meadow was a bust, Roxanne then decided to continue up toward Donner Lake to see what we could see along the way. Here, we saw all sorts of wildflowers on the roadside and among the rocks and boulders.
Eventually, we came to another dead end — or more specifically a partially opened gate on the road that I wasn’t sure we should go through. Rox turned the car around, and we met a gentleman coming toward us from the opposite direction. Rox let him know that we were naturalists and we were looking for some meadows to explore.
He said the one at Lake Van Norden was underwater — which we knew — and he said he was very concerned about that, He had a dinner-on-the-meadow planned for mid-July and wasn’t sure if it would be presentable or accessible by then. There was another one, though, he said. If we headed back to Lake Van Norden and took Pahatsi Road, we should see some other areas to explore in there. So, back we went.
Pahatsi Road became Kidd Lakes Drive and went deeper into the forest where the road wasn’t paved anymore, so we were on mud and gravel for part of the drive. There was also snow piled up on either side of us. Yes, snow. There was a lot of it, in piles and drifts on the ground all around us, most of it melting and creating mini waterfalls along the sides of the road.
Along the way, we saw just a few birds, although we could hear many of them high in the trees or deep in the underbrush. I only managed to get photos of a handful of them, including the new-to-me Cassin’s Finch, some Mountain Chickadees and Steller’s Jays. The Steller’s Jays would come near the edge of the road to scold us, but kept themselves in the shadows for the most part so getting photos was very challenging.
There wasn’t a lot of lichen to look at beyond the Wolf Lichens, and I think that’s in part due to the fact the snow and ice scrape them off the trees and boulders.
A cool find today, though, was being able to see several trees with a kind of fungus on them called Veiled Polypore, Cryptoporus volvatus. It’s got an egg-shell hard top and soft underside, and grows on trees affected by bark beetles, wildfires, or other catastrophes.
“…Between the pore surface and the covering tissue, spores fall into a chamber and are trapped. If its spore dispersal strategy involved only the “normal” dependence on air currents, Cryptoporus volvatus might have been selected for extinction many moons ago, since the spores cannot fall free of the covering. But Cryptoporus thinks outside the box, and has ingeniously devised an alternative way to disperse spores. As the fungus matures and spores are released, a tiny trap-door appears on the covering tissue. Wood-boring beetles, in search of food, enter the chamber to feast on the mushroom’s tubes and spores–then carry the spores away. When the beetles bore into new wood, Cryptoporus spores are carried along, ready to germinate and take up residence…” — MushroomExpert.com
We only took Kidd Lakes Drive until I felt we’d pretty much seen as much as we were going to see today — [There will be more to see when the snow melts and the water receeds a bit more.] — and the road was looking kind of sketchy. We headed back toward I-80 via some other shorter roads that wound around the trees and A-frame houses.
Another favorite find along the way was being able to see some Snowplants. Their color sets them off from everything around them.
“… The common name of this plant is considerably less grotesque than its scientific name, given it by John Torrey, a famous New York botanist of the 19th Century. It translates roughly to “the bloody flesh-like thing,” an allusion to the bright red color of the plant – the entire plant, not just the flowers… Many conifers (among other plants) require these fungi to live normally. Mycorrhizae are composed of strands of cells (mycelia) that grow about in the soil; these strands are quite numerous and extensive, and the conifer uses them to bring water and minerals to itself. In return, the conifer provides the fungus with some of the products of its photosynthesis. Snow plant takes advantage of this felicitous arrangement by parasitizing the mycorrhizae of the photosynthate provided it by the conifer, which makes sense, given that it is a plant without chlorophyll, and therefore a plant that cannot photosynthesize. In this indirect way, Sarcodes is a parasite of conifers; this is why they are always seen beneath (or very close to) them…” — US Forest Service
We got back onto the highway and headed toward Donner Lake, stopping at a vista point to eat our bagged lunches.
After lunch, we headed back home, stopping in Colfax to get something cool to drink.
It was a long day, 9 hours, but because most of it was done in the car, I’m not counting this toward my #52hikechallenge. It was exhausting, but I had so much fun.
American Robin, Turdus migratorius
Anderson’s Larkspur, Delphinium andersonii
Aspen Tree, Trembling Aspen, Populus tremuloides [white bark]
I went over to the William B. Pond Park on the American River, which is across the river from the American River Bend Park. It was about 52ºF and windy when I got there, so that cut down one the number of bird sightings and whether or not I would see dragonflies flitting around.
Most of the birds I saw were either transporting nesting material, or feeding fledglings on the ground. I could hear Red-Shouldered Hawks calling to one another from the tree tops, caught some glimpses of Ash-Throated Flycatchers, and saw some Tree Swallows flying around, but I couldn’t get photos of them.
By the sound of them, there were quite a few Northern Mockingbirds around, but I only saw one that was carrying some food and/or nesting material with it.
The Yellow-Billed Magpies were, likewise, quite noisy, but much of the noise was coming from young birds demanding food from their parents.
A lot of the usual plants were all around. The White Clover was going a bit crazy on the more manicured lawns, and the Spanish Clover was starting to flower out along the trails.
The river was flowing high and fast, and in one area had undercut the shallow roots of a eucalyptus tree and toppled it. That tree was in a spot where the tall eucalyptus trees were actually holding each other up. Without the support of their fallen comrade, I wouldn’t be surprised if the other trees fell soon as well. Scary. In other parts of the river, trees were being swamped by the water.
On the leaves of the eucalyptus trees, I found a slew of honeydew covered lerps spun by the Red Gum Lerp Psyllids.
Other insects found on my walk were very limited. There was a small Jalisco Petrophila Moth and a Black Dancer Caddisfly.
I’m fascinated by caddisflies, but wasn’t able to see many in their larval form this year because the river was so high and washed out most of the areas where I look for the critters. Caddisfly larvae cover themselves with rocks and gravel, and I had been able to see some of them in the slow-moving shallows of the American River before. Here are some photos I took in 2021:
Backtracking on the trail toward the bridge that spans the river, I found an Arroyo Willow with galls on it, including the Willow Apple Sawfly galls, and the new-to-me Willow Tube galls made in response to a species of Iteomyia midge. They look kind of the Willow Apples, but on one side of the leaf, the galls taper into a point. I’d never seen those around the river before, so that was an exciting find for me.
Once again, I was seeing a LOT of Oak Apple galls on the Valley Oaks.
There wasn’t much else to see or photograph this morning, so I was only out for about 2½ hours. The exercise was good for me, though. This was hike #36 of my #52hikechallenge for the year.
Ash-Throated Flycatcher, Myiarchus cinerascens
Blackberry Orange Rust, Gymnoconia peckiana
Blackberry, Armenian Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus [red canes, white flowers]
Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra cerulea
Caddisfly, Black Dancer Caddisfly, Mystacides sepulchralis
California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
California Wild Grape, Vitis californica
Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
Clover, Spanish Clover, Acmispon americanus
Clover, White Clover, Trifolium repens
Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
Eucalyptus, Red Gum Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus camaldulensis
European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
Fennel, Sweet Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare
Iris, Yellow Water Iris, Iris pseudacorus
Jalisco Petrophila Moth, Petrophila jaliscalis
Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
Mullein, Moth Mullein, Verbascum blattaria [thin stick, white or yellow]
Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
Oak Apple, California Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
Oak, Coast Live Oak, Quercus agrifolia
Oak, Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
Oak, Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
Red Gum Lerp Psyllid, Glycaspis brimblecombei
Red-Shouldered Hawk, California Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus elegans
I got myself ready t head out to the American River Bend Park again around 6:00 AM. The location is close, and I was trying to beat today’s heat. It was already 60ºF by the time I got to the river.
I saw three deer near the front entrance kiosk again. I worry about them being so close to an area where car are going in and out all day. In fact, one of the deer looked as though it had had a violent encounter with an automobile. There was an open wound on her hip, and a long gash along her side. This time of year is when the pregnant does are moving around and having their fawns in this area, so seeing one injured like this is very concerning.
Further along the road inside the park, there were three more deer browsing on the green grass near the horseshoe pit, and a fourth deer walking up toward them. They all looked like bucks in their velvet: young spike bucks to two-pointers.
I only saw one jackrabbit (and only got a photo of the tips of its ears), but I saw quite a few squirrels: Fox Squirrels [including what I think were a couple of youngsters scrambling around and jumping between trees at hypersonic speed. Hah!], Western Gray Squirrels and California Ground Squirrels. So, the mammals were pretty much covered for the morning.
Lots and lots of Oak Apples on the Valley Oak trees. It seems there has been a population explosion of those galls wasps. I recently read an interesting article on this species and the other species that occupy the galls.
“…Galls frequently accumulate parasitoid individuals, which feed predominantly on the gall inducer, and inquilines, which feed on the gall itself—an act that may harm the gall inducer. Likewise, the parasitoids or inquilines of the gall may be attacked by yet another trophic level of hyperparasitoids… Galls provide their inducer with a consistent food source, a predictable abiotic environment, and a refuge from potential enemies. Each of these functions are proposed as drivers of gall morphology in the “nutrition hypothesis”, “microclimate hypothesis”, and “natural enemy hypothesis” respectively… The three most common parasitoids of A. quercuscalifornicus were Baryscapus gigas, Torymus californicus, and Eurytoma californica. Filbert moths (Cydia latiferreana) and an associated parasitoid (Bassus nucicola) were also among the most common insects… [So] A. quercuscalifornicus galls are used by a community of insects that include parasitoids, inquilines, parasitoids of inquilines, and transient occupants…” — Biodiversity and Conservation
I also found quite a few galls on the rabbitbrush plants along the trail. They’re created in response to tephritid flies. According to Russo:
“…Galls have numerous relatively thin, leafy bracts that stick out and sometimes recurve from the main gall body. The galls are usually green with white hairs on the leafy bracts… The central larval chamber is vertical and measures up to 8mm long… There is one generation per year…”
On the bird front I heard/saw the usual suspects: Canada Geese [including one pair with a fledgling]. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Acorn Woodpeckers, Lesser Goldfinches, California Scrub Jays, Black Phoebes, Oak Titmice, and both the California- and Spotted Towhees, among others. There were also wrens, but they were moving so fast — and often backlit by the sun — I couldn’t get any photos of them. And I could hear Nuttall’s Woodpeckers throughout the forest, but couldn’t catch sight of them.
The Wild Turkeys were out, too, the males still strutting for the females.
The wildflowers are fading fast in the increasing heat as summer approaches: monkeyflowers, Elegant Clarkia, Miniature Lupine. The pipevine plants seem to be going strong, however, and the Wild Grape vines are everywhere, up into the heights of the trees and all along the ground. I only saw a few of the Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillars and butterflies. I think I saw a female butterfly laying eggs on the pipevine on the ground, but I couldn’t get a good shot of her in action this time around.
Several years go, I was able to get the egg-laying on video:
There were a few bees buzzing around including honeybees and a couple of the Valley Carpenter Bees’ smaller cousin, the Northern California Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa californica californica. I was able to get some shots of one of the bees on Saint John’s Wort, including a photo of the bee’s face that was good enough to see not only its large compound eyes, but it’s smaller simple eyes as well. That was my favorite photo of the day.
I also found a tiny parasitoid wasp sitting on a black walnut. I think it’s one of the Platygastrinae, but I’m not sure.