I got up around 6:00 this morning to cool temperatures and a little breeze after a fairly good night’s sleep. I needed a walk, so I went over to Mather Lake Regional Park, not really looking for anything in particular, just wanting the movement in Nature. It was 57º when I got there, and 63º by the time I left.
One of the first things I saw when I got into the park was a Black Phoebe singing on a fence post. Fuzzy little thing, it was fluffed up against the chill.
I also saw a female Western Bluebird, Starlings, and a male Nuttall’s Woodpecker among other birds. The Mute Swans, Mallards and some Coots were on the water, and I saw a Great Heron flying back and forth between the shores of the lake. Oh, I also saw a White-Crowned Sparrow, my first of the season!
I was hoping to see some otters or a muskrat, but no such luck. I DID see some turtles swimming in the water with the snouts up above the surface so the could catch a breath of air.
I was drawn to a cottonwood tree where there were, I knew, lots of ants tending the aphids in the petiole and leaf galls. But at this time, there were also wasps hanging around, looking for honeydew run-off. So, I looked closer, and realized that a majority of the aphids had left their galls and were congregated on the stems of the leaves. There were various instars, including some alates (winged ones), all being herded by the ants.
Among the aphids, though, were long, white, blobby looking things that were larger than the aphids but smaller than the ants. Doing a little research, I determined these were hoverfly larvae. They eat aphids, and I think I saw one of the larvae snacking on one. The ants didn’t seem to mind the larvae and, in fact, just walked over them like they weren’t there… like the zombies in “World War Z” who couldn’t see the sick people.
I also found a couple of cottonwood petiole galls that were rosy, like little apples, and they were just at the stage where the slit-door on the bottom of them was open. I cracked them open and found the early instar woolly aphids inside of them.
One still had the bloated, orange mama aphid inside (the “fundatrix”). She rolled around on the edge of the opened gall, too bloated to do much of anything else, and eventually just rolled out into my hand. Very cool… and a little funny.
I also found a webpage that had more closeups of theses aphids. Check it out. This find helped me to realize that there are TWO kinds of petiole galls on the cottonwood trees. The regular, pale green gall of the Cottonwood Petiole Gall, Poplar Petiole Gall Aphid, Pemphigus populitransversus AND the red-blushed gall of the Cottonwood Leaf-Base Gall Aphid, Pemphigus populicaulis. Learn something new every day!
I got up around 6:30 this morning and headed out to Lake Solano Park with my friend and fellow naturalist Roxanne. The park hadn’t been open since the start of COVID-19, so we hadn’t been there in “forever”. The weather was fairly cooperative, about 61º when we got there, but it warmed up fast and was a bit humid, so after only two hours we were starting to sweat. Still, we were out there for about 3½ hours.
After stopping off for some coffee, we got to the park right around 8:00 am when the gates opened. We drove down to the PAD D parking lot, and went looking right away for the little Screech Owl that lives in a tree around there. Driving along to the parking area, we could see how close the year’s wildfires had come to the park. The firefighters were pretty much able to stop the fires at the edge of the parking lots and paved areas. Amazing.
We didn’t see the little owl right away, and were worried that he had abandoned his tree. Later, though, as we were resting before leaving the park, a couple of birders came by and let us know that he was back in his regular spot again. (I’m saying “he”, but I don’t know if it’s a male or a female.) We went over to his tree and there he was, poking his head out and showing off his beautiful yellow eyes! After a few seconds, he ducked back into his tree, and waited to see if he’d come back up again. I played some screech owl calls to try to lure him out, but he wasn’t buying it. He DID answer, though; we could hear him hooting softly from inside his tree. Awwwwww!
There were lots of Acorn Woodpeckers around, filling up and defending their granary trees. We saw some chase away a squirrel and others go after other birds that got too close. Eventually, one male came down to a tree trunk near us and posed for a while before getting back to work.
We chased a little yellow bird around the park, but couldn’t get a clear shot of it. I thought it might have been a migrating Yellow Warbler.
We caught fleeting sight of some other birds and heard a lot of them but we couldn’t get photos of most of them. It’s still super early in the migration season, so I wasn’t too concerned with the lack of solid sightings.
One very cool sighting though was when Rox noticed a bird flying quickly past us with something in its talons. I knew if it had something in its talons it had to be some kind of raptor, so I walked a little ways down the lakeside to see if I could see where it landed. It was in a spot where it was backlit, so we couldn’t get the best of photos, but we could still see it was an Osprey feasting on a huge fish! So cool!
Some of the local peacocks were walking around the park. Like most birds this time of year, they were molting. Neither of the males we saw had any of their long fan feathers.
We saw a few galls on the oak trees in the park, but were surprised to find that some of the trees were absolutely sticky with some kind of residue. We thought it might have been honeydew, but there was sooooo much of it; it got our hands totally dirty, so we had to detour to the restroom facility to wash up before continuing on with our searches. We were happy to come across some live oak kermes on one of the trees. We still have not seen a single spiny-ball Live Oak Wasp Gall. That’s so distressing to me.
We found a large, dark Orbweaver spider on one of her two webs, and also came across quite a few assassin bugs and their egg cases. There were also LOTS of midges in the air, and I had to be careful not to take in any deep breaths when around them; I didn’t want to get a mouthful of them. Hah!
We were able to walk down the two lengths of the trail at the end of the park. They’re usually overgrown with blackberry vines and horsetails, but the groundskeepers have gone through them and cut out all of the overgrowth making it possible to get down to the water’s edge down there. We were hoping to see some birds and maybe even an otter or two there, but…nope. Maybe next time.
We DID eventually see some otters in the water across the lake from us. We tried to keep up with them, but they were very fast. We decided to drive to the other end of the park to see if we could catch them there, but they fooled us, and stalled mid-lake, so we couldn’t get any closeup photos of them. Wiley critters. I did report them to Otter Spotter site.
We were out for about 3½ hours and by then I was tired, so we headed into Winters for lunch. We wanted to go to the Putah Creek Café but couldn’t find a place to park. Rox suggested she’d drop me off in front of the restaurant and she’d go find a place to park nearby. I nixed that idea, so Rox drove around and went into the parking lot of Rotary Park that was kitty-corner to the restaurant. She found an open spot in the shade of a tree, and exclaimed, “What’s that on the leaves?” We looked closely and realized they were pale fuzzy galls — galls we’d never seen before. We were so excited. It was as though we were SUPPOSED to park there!
The galls were those of the Wool-Bearing Gall Wasp and were on a Southern Live Oak, a tree we had never seen before as well. According to cecidologist Joyce Gross: “…This oak is not native in California but is sometimes planted in parks and other locations in the state. The galls on this oak are made by wasps also not native to California. Both the oak and wasp are native to the eastern U.S…”
We thought it was amazing that the wasps were able to follow or travel with the trees and establish themselves here.
Oh, and cecidologist is like our new word. Hah! It means one who studies plant galls (known in botany as cecidia). That discovery kind of made our day. We then had a yummy lunch at the Putah Creek Café including some Bacon Bloody Marys before going home.
I got up around 6:30 this morning, and worked on my journaling until about 8:15 when I headed over to the Sacramento Zoo. It was a cool 61º when I got there (which at 9 o’clock is pretty good) and about 73º when I left around 11:30 am. I wanted mostly to see the new capybara, but also just enjoy walking around, looking at the animals.
“…The idea behind fake wasp nests is that wasps are territorial and will avoid living in an area that already has wasps. While the fake wasp nests don’t repel the wasps, they are intended to encourage the wasps to move to a different area to live, much further from the home, so they aren’t as much of a risk for homeowners and their families. The main goal is to keep wasps away from the home, so people and pets do not have to worry about being stung when they’re outside… There have been reports of wasps creating a nest right next to the fake wasp nest or one actually inside of the fake wasp nest. The wasps will notice that there aren’t any wasps actually living in the nest, which means to them it’s fine to set up their own nest inside…
“On top of the territorial aspect being incorrect and ineffective, many wasps actually build their nests inside the ground. Wasps such as yellow jackets will nest on or in the ground, which means they’re not going to care about fake wasp nests hanging outside of the home…”
I couldn’t get around some portions of the zoo because they were doing maintenance and trimming the trees. You’d think they could do that kind of stuff overnight so the guests aren’t interfered with. The jaguar wasn’t out and neither were the giraffes because of the work.
I walked in the direction of the Reptile House, which hasn’t been open since COVID hit, and was happy to see that it was open (with a mask-wearing requirement). What I didn’t like was the fact that although I was the first one to get there, two family groups with little kids saw me enter and they rushed in after me. One had a kid who asked loudly, “What’s in there? What’s in there?” at every single display but then never waited for an answer before asking again. And, of course, there was a screaming baby, which in the close, stone-walled tunnel-like environment of the reptile house was deafening. That along with the harsh Clorox smell inside the building gave me a temporary but harsh headache. Couldn’t wait to get out of there. [Later someone’s unmasked kid turned and sneezed all over me. Guh! Kids are like petri dishes for plague!]
Everything was pretty same ol’, same ol’ inside the reptile house, but I think there were more species of frogs than I’d seen before, and the pale Catalina Island Rattlesnake was new to me.
Over in the “Australian” section of the zoo, the Laughing Kookaburra had been moved into a brighter area by the Kangaroo enclosure. And inside the Kangaroo’s habitat, there seemed to be a lot more ‘roos than I remember there being in there — including some youngsters. At first, I thought the smaller ‘roos were wallabies but, nope, they were little Kangaroos. In fact, I don’t think I saw a single wallaby in there.
There was only one of the Red River Hogs out in the adjacent habitat, and it seemed to be interested in whatever was on the other side of the closed doors along the back of the enclosure. I don’t know if the other hogs were back there or if it was a keeper preparing its breakfast, but it kept trying to open the door with its snout.
The Chimpanzees weren’t out yet when I went by their enclosure and although the Orangutans were out, they were very much aware of the people staring at them, and kept their backs to everyone.
But the Wolf’s Guenon monkeys were out, and the baby was running around like crazy. It climbed, and hung off the vines, tore and chewed at leather strips and paper treat bags (which were empty),and then jumped on its parent’s back. The parent reached back with one hand, pulled the baby off of it and set it down beside it — and then the baby took off running again. So much energy in such a little body!
The Squirrel Monkeys were apparently, finally, feeling more comfortable in their enclosure. The last few times I’d seen them, they were all bunched up inside their little houses, and only visible through badly scratched plexiglass. Today, they were out, active, jumping around and chattering to one another. Such cute tiny things.
About halfway through my walk, I stopped for a rest at the café and got some water and a plate of nachos. They make their nachos with red, white and blue tortilla chips so it’s all very colorful. The food there is very expensive, but I understand that a big chunk of the money goes to feed the animals, so I don’t complain about the expense. The water I got was in a refillable zoo-logo bottle that I can keep with me to remind me to hydrate regularly.
The Cheetah brothers were out, and they’re beautiful to look at — such graceful, trim-bodied cats. I was worried though that one of them was pacing and pacing, back and forth across the front of their enclosure. That’s usually an indicator that the animal is anxious and uncomfortable.
Other studies have found that pacing is particularly prevalent on gunite; however, further research that controls for substrates is necessary to understand this variable. That said, the results reveal that pacing “is likely not a species-typical behavior, or a behavior characteristic of most wild individuals in a given species and advantageous for their survival and propagation.” In other words, pacing is indicative of an animal who is coping with stress by “disengaging from [its] environment” through repetitive, goal-less behavior…” Sad.
The pacing one’s brother looked a little more comfortable, walked about more slowly and chewed on some grass.
I could hear the male African Lion roaring loudly from its enclosure, but by the time I got to him, he’d gone quiet again. He was perched up on his rock, though, looking handsome and imperious, so I was able to get some photos of him.
The Lioness was laying down in the glassed in hallway between the two sections of the lions’ habitat. A little girl walked up to the glass and could see the male lion through it, but didn’t realize the female was right there — until the female jumped up at the girl and slapped her paws against the glass. Scared the bejeezus out of the kid and her family members, but I couldn’t help but laugh. (Was that mean?)
Another sound-miss was when I was over looking at the Flamingos and I could hear the Abyssinian Ground Hornbill honking noisily. But I couldn’t get over there fast enough to see him doing his thing. *Sigh*
Anyway, one of the Snow Leopards was out. I think it was Blizzard, the big male. He was laying in the grass, sleepy, stretching, yawning. Then he sat up and posed for a few photos. Such a handsome cat.
A few habitats down from the Snow Leopard was where the Capybara was being housed. She was living inside the Anteater’s habitat. A nearby docent told me that the anteater is about 17 years old and doesn’t like to come out anymore, so they let the Capybara use its enclosure in the morning hours, and let the anteater out in the afternoon.
The Capybara is three years old, still considered a youngster, and weighs about 90 pounds. They expect her to get bigger as she matures more. Capybara’s are the largest living rodents in the world. She kind of made my day.
Right now, the zoo has just the one female, which I think is kind of sad because they’re highly social animals. Isolation can be bad for them. The docent said the zoo is looking for a companion for her. They’re semiaquatic animals, too, and the current habitat they have her in doesn’t really supply her with any sort of a pool, so I hope the zoo is able to construct something more true-to-life for her to live in, in the future.
This female, so far though, was looking comfortable, sitting like the Queen of Sheba so close to the glass of the enclosure that you could almost touch her. There’s an auction going on right now for the privilege of naming her. I’d love to be able to do that, but right now the top bid is $2,650. Waaaaay out of my league.
There was a handful of Meerkats in their enclosure when I went by. One was in the turret, and the other ones were below it, grooming one another in the sand. I think the one in the center of the group was the dominant female, but I’m not sure.
On my way out of the zoo, I could hear a Red-Shouldered Hawk calling from a nearby tree. I was able to get some photos of it before I left. I walked for about 2½ hours and then went back home. Despite the “ferrets” and my sore hip poking at me all the while, I enjoyed my visit and all of the animals.
I got up around 6:00 this morning and headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk. I hadn’t been there in a while. It was 61º when I got there, and went up to 90º by the afternoon.
Noise from the work being done in the river was really distracting, even overwhelming at times. Huge trucks are carrying and dumping gravel along the river side, and even larger front loaders are shoveling it around and laying it down in layers. The work is to reform the river bottom to make it more amenable to the winter run salmon and steelhead.
From the Water Forum: “…For over 10 years, the Water Forum has partnered with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), along with the city and county of Sacramento to implement gravel restoration projects in the lower American River to promote the wild spawning of native steelhead and salmon… Quality spawning and rearing habitat for Chinook salmon and steelhead is limited on the lower American River because of Nimbus and Folsom Dams.
“Fall-run Chinook Salmon migrate upstream as adults to spawn from October through December. In the egg-laying process, females create a ‘nest’ in loose gravel in flowing water, depositing their eggs and then covering them up with more gravel. Gravel is carefully placed in the river before fall-run salmon are triggered by cooling temperatures to spawn, and after the high spring and summer flows. The channel restoration projects are designed to create habitat based on modeling that takes into account factors such as water velocity and depth. The project replenishes a resource that has historically been an important part of the lower American River and its delicate ecosystem…”
This is the first time work has been done near the Effie Yeaw preserve. It will be interesting to see if the changes really lure the salmon in to lay their eggs there. This is site 30 of about 53 work sites along the river, and the cost for the work on just this site is over $4-million. Yikes!
Anyway, the first thing I saw was a female coyote. She crossed the road in front of my car, then loped up into the tall grass. Two people walked by with their dogs on leashes, and the coyote turned to follow them. The humans walking the dogs saw the coyote, and pulled their pets behind them to protect them. The coyote then turned back and disappeared into the woods. She was beautiful; I wish I had been able to get more photos of her.
I saw a few deer, including a pair of moms with their fawns. These were the first fawns I’ve seen this season. They were maybe three or four months old and just getting out of their spots. The fawns were really feeling their oats and were running, stotting, and boinging off of tree trunks and fallen snags. It was hard to get photos of them; they were mostly just moving blurs. Finally, their moms led them off into the high grass and understory twiggy things where I couldn’t follow.
I came across one young buck, still in his velvet, but I didn’t see any older ones. I wonder if the noise in the river is keeping them at bay?
I saw Acorn Woodpeckers collecting acorns and moving them about in their granary trees. I also saw one drilling a new hole. According to Cornell: “…The birds drill the holes primarily in the winter, in the thick bark of dead limbs where the drilling does no harm to a living tree…”
And a good article on the birds can be found HERE.
I also came across wild turkeys, quail and a few other birds, but not a lot.
I walked for about 2 ½ hours and started to head back to the car. Even though I was tired by then, I made the effort to go take a look at the “bee tree” down one of the other trails. For some reason, seeing that the hive there is still active makes me happy. [And it was very active this morning.]
I also noticed little flags in the ground in the field near the tree and a new narrow trench dug out. I think they’re working on restoring and upgrading their fire suppression system. [So, more noise and dirt for the wildlife to have to deal with.]
The surprise of the day was seeing two very small specimens of Sulphur Shelf fungus. It’s usually the first fungus to appear in the fall because it doesn’t need a lot of rain to wake up the spores. Should be seeing a lot of it out over the next few months.