Category Archives: #52HikeChallenge

Looking for Lichen at Kenny Ranch 01-09-21

I got up around 6:30 this morning, and headed out to Grass Valley with my friend and fellow naturalist Roxanne Moger to go mushroom and lichen hunting at Kenny Ranch

On the way to the location, we’ll pulled off to the side of the highway were there were a few trees covered in lichen that were within reach of the shoulder.  The ground there was still icy, especially in the shadier spots, and I was sort of glad I’d brought an extra heavier jacket with me along with my regular hoody.  It was COLD; 37° F, and there was a slight breeze that added to the chill factor. 

When we got to the ranch, we put on our heavier clothing, but regretted it as soon as the sun cut through the clouds and fog. It got up to about 57° while we were out there: cold in the shade, too warm in the sun. It’s hard to know how to dress for weather like that.

Tree lichens are different species from rock lichens, and we were expecting to see mostly rock lichens at Kenny Ranch, so the stop off along the way allowed us to capture photos and information on more species.  There was one stick we picked up that was loaded with a variety of different species in different colors. That phenomenon always amazes me: so much life clinging to one discarded twig.

The most species we found, though, were among the rock lichen, which this particular spot (Kenny Ranch) has in abundance. There’s a large field filled with boulders, and each boulder is covered in one or more species of lichen.

CLICK HERE to see the full album of photos.

I was hoping to see some rag lichen on the trees and some birds’ nest fungus, but didn’t find either of those. Whereas, the ranch did not scrimp on the number of rock lichens to see, but the fungi were few and far between.  We did find the oddly-named Scurfy Twiglet, the very large Yellow Knights, and some Bleach-Scented Mycenas (also called Nitrous Bonnets) with their sharp bleach smell.

Nitrous Bonnet, Bleach-Scented Mycena, Mycena leptocephali

Mycena is a very large genus and includes over 500 species worldwide.  Some smell like bleach, some smell like garlic, some smell like watermelon.  Some species are edible while others are toxic.  And over 30 of the species are bioluminescent. The ‘shrooms themselves are, for the most part, pretty unremarkable when you see them: little plain gray or tan guys with a translucent veined cap and tender stipe.

In some patches of disturbed earth among the boulders where the rock lichens were found, we found different formations of ice including “needle ice”, incredible extrusion of ice from the earth. Rox did some research on it when we got home and found:

“… One of our wonderful finds today was many patches of needle ice. Needle ice forms in saturated soils especially those high in clay. The air temperature has to be colder than the soil temperature and then the rest is capillary action. And the result is delicate pillars of ice in neat vertical stacks. Here’s an article that explains it a little better. And a few photos...”

So fascinating!

All along the way, we saw piles of scat that we assumed were from coyotes… but most of them were deposited on rocks rather than directly onto the ground, which we thought was odd and interesting.

One of our favorite sightings at Kenny Ranch was finding some Rosy Short-Headed Millipedes. We knew where to look for them, and were hoping to find some, so it was encouraging to actually see some of them under a log. Like their name implies, they’re a pale rosy pink. Whereas most millipedes feed on leaf litter, these guys feed primarily on fungus, so we were keeping an eye out for them in the same places where we were looking for mushrooms.

Rosy Short-Head Millipede, Brachycybe rosea

We always find them in colonies, which is typical of the species. The colonies are multi-generational (closer to the spring you’ll find adults layered on top of pale whitish young), and as there is no apparent “caste system”, all adults are supposedly able to reproduce.

Another standout feature of this particular genera of millipede, is that the males care for the eggs until they hatch. The female lays the eggs in a cluster, and the male coils its body around the mass, lifts the eggs from the ground (so soil fungus doesn’t affect them), and protects them from ants and other predators. The millipedes have defense glands that secrete a chemical compound, like buzonamine, that repels ants.

According to a study published in the Biodiversity Data Journal, the males don’t differentiate between “their” clutch of eggs and other males’ eggs, and will flail around to collect eggs that seem to be “abandoned”. The study also indicated that when the scientists removed the eggs, the males would go seek them and collect them up again.

Rosy Short-Head Millipede, Brachycybe rosea

Their many-many legs are hidden from view by the paranota that extend off of each segment of their bodies giving them an almost “feathery” look. Close ups of the paranota show that, in this species, they’re decorated with tiny bumps. Such interesting little guys!

Other fun finds were some tube lichens and some turret spider holes.

Hole of a California Turret Spider, Antrodiaetus riversi

We walked about halfway around the major loop trail, then turned around and went back to the car (about a 3 hour trip).  We parked among the cedars and had our lunch, then looked for the other end of the trail by the NID irrigation ditch. We weren’t successful in locating that other end, so decided to head back home from there. 

This was hike #2 of my #52HikeChallenge.

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. Alder Tongue, Western American Alder Tongue Gall Fungus, Taphrina occidentalis
  3. American Robin, Turdus migratorius
  4. Audubon’s Warbler, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata auduboni
  5. Bonnet Mushrooms, Genus: Mycena
  6. Bracket Fungus, Family: Hymenochaetaceae
  7. California Black Oak, Quercus kelloggii
  8. California Camouflage Lichen, Melanelixia californica [dark green with brown apothecia, on trees]
  9. California Turret Spider, Antrodiaetus riversi
  10. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus [tracks]
  11. Concentric Boulder Lichen, Porpidia crustulata [circles of black spots on rock]
  12. Coyote, Canis latrans [scat]
  13. Cramp Ball Fungus, Annulohypoxylon thouarsianum
  14. Creeping Mahonia, Creeping Barberry, Berberis repens
  15. Creeping Moss, Conardia compacta
  16. Cumberland Rock-Shield Lichen, Xanthoparmelia cumberlandia [gray on rocks, brown apotheca]
  17. Dendroalsia Moss, Dendroalsia abietina [long, curling tendrils on trees]
  18. Dog, Canis lupus familiaris
  19. False Turkey-Tail, Stereum hirsutum
  20. Farinose Cartilage Lichen,  Ramalina farinacea [like Oakmoss but very thin branches]
  21. Fluffy Dust Lichen, Pacific Fluffy Dust Lichen, Lepraria pacifica [blue-green dust lichen]
  22. French Broom Gall Mite, Aceria genistae
  23. French Broom, Genista monspessulana
  24. Gem-Studded Puffball, Common Puffball, Lycoperdon perlatum
  25. Golden Dwarf Mistletoe, Western Dwarf Mistletoe, Arceuthobium campylopodum
  26. Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata
  27. Grey-cushioned Grimmia Moss, Grimmia pulvinate [clumpy, on rocks]
  28. Hare’s Foot Inkcap Mushroom, Coprinopsis lagopus
  29. Hidden Goldspeck Lichen, Candelariella aurella [small, scattered, yellow, on rocks]
  30. Hooded Rosette Lichen, Physcia adscendens [hairs/eyelashes on the tips of the lobes]
  31. Hooded Sunburst Lichen, Xanthomendoza fallax [leafy, yellow-orange, on trees]
  32. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  33. Incense Cedar, Calocedrus decurrens
  34. Liquid Ambar, American Sweetgum, Liquidambar styraciflua
  35. Manzanita Leaf Gall Aphid, Tamalia coweni
  36. Mountain Misery, Chamaebatia foliolosa [fern-like leaves]
  37. Nitrous Bonnet, Bleach-Scented Mycena, Mycena leptocephali
  38. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
  39. Pink Honeysuckle, California Honeysuckle, Lonicera hispidula
  40. Plume Moss, Dendroalsia abietina
  41. Ponderosa Pine, Pinus ponderosa
  42. Powderhorn Lichen, Common Powderhorn, Cladonia coniocraea
  43. Rock Greenshield Lichen, Flavoparmelia baltimorensis [light green to gray, crumbly center]
  44. Rock Tripe, Emery Rocktripe Lichen, Umbilicaria phaea
  45. Rosy Short-Head Millipede, Brachycybe rosea
  46. Sagebrush Goldspeck Lichen, Candelariella rosulans [bright yellow, lumpy clumps on rocks]
  47. Scurfy Twiglet Mushroom, Tubaria furfuracea [small, tan-yellow]
  48. Shadow Lichen, Family: Physciaceae
  49. Sheet Weaver Spiders, Family: Linyphiidae
  50. Shrubby Sunburst Lichen, Polycauliona candelaria
  51. Small Moss Oysterling, Arrhenia retiruga [tan, thin like a fingernail, tan or brownish]
  52. Smokey-Eyed Boulder Lichen, Porpidia albocaerulescens
  53. Speckled Greenshield Lichen, Flavopunctelia flaventior
  54. Star Moss, Syntrichia ruralis
  55. Sunken Disk Lichens, Aspicilia sp. [tan, flat, grainy-looking on rocks]
  56. Tree-skirt Moss, Pseudanomodon attenuatus
  57. Trembling Crust, Merulius tremellosus [flat, kind of like stereum, white fuzzy edges when young/growing, can have teeth/netting underneath]
  58. Turkey Tail Fungus, Trametes versicolor
  59. Veined Mossear, Rimbachia bryophila [small, while, fingernail like]
  60. Western Bluebird, Sialia Mexicana
  61. Western Shield Lichen, Parmelia hygrophila [blue-gray, foliose, dull isidia on leaves]
  62. White Alder, Alnus rhombifolia
  63. Whiteleaf Manzanita, Arctostaphylos viscida
  64. Whitewash Lichen, Phlyctis argena
  65. Yellow Knight Mushroom, Tricholoma equestre
  66. Yellow Map Lichen, Rhizocarpon geographicum [bright yellow-green with dark spots]

Eagle versus Otters, 01-07-21

I went to Mather Lake Regional Park and walked for about 3 hours.  I was looking for the osprey again, but didn’t find it. I was surprised by other things, though – including a Bald Eagle! 

It was foggy and damp, around 43° when I got to the lake, and the temperature didn’t change much while I was out there. Everything seemed to be made of varying shades of gray and silver and black. I took photos of a couple of kinds of lichen, including Poplar Sunburst, and some mushrooms, including Mica Caps (a kind of ink cap) and Oyster mushrooms.

The Mute Swans were out in force on the lake, but I didn’t see the Tundra Swan this time. I wonder if it moved on in its migration. There were also large numbers of Coots, some of them sticking together in large covers while they were feeding on aquatic plants. I also saw some of the usual suspects: Double-Crested Cormorants, Mockingbirds, Canada Geese, Pied-Billed Grebes, and a Great Egret.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

I caught a glimpse of a muskrat as it was swimming across the surface of the water, and also saw about five river otters. The first otter I saw was a lone one, but then I saw a group of four.  All of them were swimming and feeding on the fish they were able to catch. It’s always exciting to see them.  I was hoping they would come up onto the shore at some point so I could get some full body shot of them, but I guess they were too focused on breakfast.  Several of them popped up long enough to look directly at me and snort loudly at my presence.

I was following this same raft of otters in the water, then saw the Bald Eagle over my head in a tree.  Although eagles are historically not uncommon at the lake, they hadn’t been spotted there for years. So, I was very surprised when I saw it. More surprising, though, was when the otters gathered in the water underneath where the eagle was perched and huffed and snorted loudly at it.

Then the eagle swooped down off of its branch and flew low over the water. All of the otters ducked but didn’t fully submerge. The eagle approached one of them and literally raked its talons cross the top of the otter’s head before landing in a tree further down the bank. I didn’t get the impression that the eagle was trying to catch the otter; rather it seemed like it was flicking the otter hard on the head to show it who was boss.  Of course, my camera wasn’t focusing on anything at that moment; all I got was a blur, dang it! [When I got home, I made sure to log my sighting with the River Otter Ecology Project]

Other raptors noted today were two White-Tailed Kites, a Red-Tailed Hawk, and a Red-Shouldered Hawk (heard).

A White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus, with a very full crop

Along one part of the trail, I came upon the broken skull of what I think was a small vole. It was alongside some scat that I couldn’t identify because it was too degraded. It might have been from a coyote. I know mink eat voles, but I don’t know if otter eat them as well. The scat definitely looked “mammalian”; not something that was part of a bird pellet.

A small vole skull, I believe

As I was leaving, I came across a man with his unleashed, old, Yellow Lab.  The man was walking back to his car, and the dog was following its owner with a soggy tennis ball in its mouth.  At one point, the dog stopped and put its ball on the ground. The man, realizing that his dog was no longer following him, turned to look at the dog, and the dog started whining loudly and “mouthing words” at the man. 

“No, you can’t go in the water,” the man said to the dog. “It’s too cold. Pick up your ball and come on.” The dog picked up the ball and continued to follow the man to the parking lot. Even as much as I HATE seeing unleashed dogs in public areas, I had to laugh at that exchange.      

I walked for about 3 hours before heading home. 


In response to my “otter spotter” submission on the otter versus eagle moment today, Megan Isadore at the River Otter Ecology Project emailed me:

“…Thanks for that very interesting sighting! I’m not sure if you’ve seen our series on Otter and Bald Eagle at Jenner a couple of years ago? Here’s my favorite shot of the group; the eagle had tried to “share” the otter’s prey, which he’d dragged up onto the rock. The otter prevailed…”

Photo by Bill Barrett…Jenner, Ca.


Species List:

  1. American Coot, Fulica americana
  2. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  3. Azolla, Water Fern, Azolla filiculoides
  4. Bald Eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus
  5. Beaver, American, Beaver, Castor canadensis [sign]
  6. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  7. Bluegill, Lepomis macrochirus
  8. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  9. Bufflehead Duck, Bucephala albeola
  10. California Quail, Callipepla californica
  11. California Wild Rose, Rosa californica
  12. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  13. Common Crow, American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  14. Common Gallinule, Gallinula galeata
  15. Crisped Pincushion Moss, Ulota crispa
  16. Cytospora Canker, Cytospora chrysosperma [bright orange fruiting body, looks like frozen dodder]
  17. Dog, Canis lupus familiaris
  18. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
  19. Downy Woodpecker, Picoides pubescens
  20. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  21. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  22. Gold Dust Lichen, Chrysothrix candelaris
  23. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  24. Great-Tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus
  25. Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata
  26. Himalayan Blackberry, Rubus bifrons [white flowers]
  27. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  28. Mica Cap, Coprinellus micaceus [an inkcap, tan cap, dark gills]
  29. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura   
  30. Muskrat, Ondatra zibethicus
  31. Mute Swan, Cygnus olor
  32. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
  33. Northern Harrier, Marsh Hawk, Circus hudsonius
  34. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  35. Oyster Mushroom, Pleurotus ostreatus
  36. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  37. Poplar Sunburst Lichen, Xanthomendoza hasseana [on Cottonwood]
  38. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  39. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
  40. River Otter, North American River Otter, Lontra canadensis
  41. Savannah Sparrow, Passerculus sandwichensis
  42. Say’s Phoebe, Sayornis saya
  43. Sheet Weaver Spiders, Family: Linyphiidae
  44. Shrubby Sunburst Lichen, Polycauliona candelaria
  45. Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia
  46. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  47. Star Moss, Syntrichia ruralis
  48. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  49. Water Vole, Arvicola amphibius [skull]
  50. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
  51. White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus

Hike #1 of my #52hikechallenge. Miles: 1.32