In my email today, I got a follow up message from a fellow named Lauren de Boer. He had written to me in March:
“I am currently taking the citizen naturalist certification course and decided to focus on oaks. I’ve run across you name many times in the course of my research. You are prolific! And the quality of your photography is impressive. There is one photo where you are holding two live oak leaves for comparison that would be very helpful for the pocket guide to oaks I am creating. Would it be possible to have permission to use the photo? Since the guide will be for print and online, I would need a hi res version.”
I gave him permission to use the photo — and whatever other photos he’d like to use — and today he says:
“Thank you again for the use of the photo of oak leaves. The Pocket Guide to Northern California Oaks is finished and has been printed. Now I’d like to send you copy in gratitude for your contribution.”
Cool! I’m looking forward to seeing it and I’m so happy that I was able to assist an other naturalist with their capstone project.
Got up around 6:00 am and headed over to the Mather Lake Regional Park for a walk. On the way there, I saw a White-Tailed Kite “kiting” in the air; and later, when I left, I saw a Say’s Phoebe “kiting” in the air. Like bookends.
It was about 39°F when I got to the park, and remained relatively cool (under 60°) all day. A lot of the willows are now starting to get their leaves, the wild plum trees were in blossom, and some of the other trees were just starting to bud new leaves and catkins. Here and there, the Jointed Charlock plants were blossoming. They’re basically “weeds” but I think the flowers are pretty, especially in their variety of colors.
Among the sparrows, I also saw a couple of chubby Robins. One of them, seemingly, had lost an eye, but it was still able to get around all right. Robins hunt by sound, listening for worms under the surface of the ground…so losing an eye wouldn’t be too much of a disadvantage as far as finding food goes.
There were both Mourning Doves and Eurasian Collared Doves cooing from the trees and telephone lines. The Great-Tailed Grackles and House Wrens were out singing, too. So much birdsong!
The real standouts of the day, though, were the Tree Swallows. They were everywhere, foraging for bugs, chasing one another, singing their gurgly songs, looking for nesting cavities. One of the folks in the Birding California Facebook group suggested I read “White Feathers: The Nesting Lives of Tree Swallows” by Bernd Heinrich… so that’s on my wish list right now. Heinrich noted that the Tree Swallows line their nests with only white feathers.
There were lots of Coots and some Pied-Billed Grebes swimming and foraging around the edges of the lake. One of the grebes caught a little fish, and swallowed it down whole. I got a video snippet, but the bird turned its back to me for most of it. Hah!
I also got some really bad, really fuzzy video of a muskrat as it swam its way across the lake. It was headed toward shore, but I can’t move very fast with my cane. When I got to the place where I thought it might have landed, it was already gone. Sigh.
One of the last bits of video I got was of a pair of Canada Geese. I’ve seen this species of geese all over the place, in forested areas, along the river, lakes and ponds, and in urban areas. But I’d never seen them mating before. The geese form pair bonds that last throughout their lives, but they won’t form a bond or start mating until they’re about three years old.
A lot of the display I watched, before I started filming, was the typical “Triumph Display” where the pair approach one another honking loudly. The honking is followed by a sort of “snorting” or “snoring” sound and the threat of a bite. Once in the water, the pair I was watching did the “head-dipping” routine — like they were bathing, dipping their heads into the water and then lifting the head so the water flowed over their neck and body. Then the male mounted the female. She was bouncing like a bobber, and he had trouble staying on top, so I don’t know if he actually accomplished anything. Poor dude.
As I mentioned before, on my way out of the park, I saw a brown bird “kiting” in the air over a field. I didn’t recognize what it was at first, so I took some video of it.
Luckily, the bird flew in closer to the edge of the road and landed briefly on the fencepost, so I was able to get a few clear shots of it. I was surprised to realize it was a Say’s Phoebe.
According to Cornell, these phoebes kite when they’re foraging and when the male is displaying around a nesting site to show the female where it is. Say’s Phoebes, unlike the Black Phoebes, don’t make mud nests to they don’t need to nest near a water site. They can sometimes use old nests of Black Phoebes, but otherwise build their nest of a variety of materials, like weeds, wood and other plant fibers, rocks, cocoons and spiderwebs, hair, paper, basically whatever is readily available and can be easily manipulated.
Like the Black Phoebes, the Say’s nest in or around ledges, where the nest can be partially or wholly covered to protect it from the weather, like on rafters, shelves, ledges, drainpipes, eaves, etc. I’ve never found one, but now, at least, I know what I’m looking for.
I walked for about 3½ hours and then headed back home. This was hike #27 in my #52HikeChallenge.
I got up around 6:00 this morning and was out the door by about 6:30 to go over to the Cosumnes River Preserve. It was 63° when I left and mostly cloudy. The cooler temperatures lasted until the late afternoon, but it felt a little humid.
When I got near the preserve, I drove down Bruceville and Desmond Roads to see if there were any interesting birds out there. I was hoping there would be some water on the preserve now that the migrations have started, but the place still nearly bone dry. Only one of the fields along Desmond was partially filled, and only a small pond on the preserve itself had water in it. So, that was something of a disappointment. But I DID get to see some things I wasn’t expecting to see.
Along Bruceville Road there was a large covey of quail, some Great Egrets, and several cottontail rabbits. But the big surprise was a large flock of Tricolored Blackbirds, Agelaius tricolor, this morning! One even landed on a fence near my car, so I was able to get some video of it preening.
“Trikes”, as they’re endearingly referred to, are visually very similar to Red-Winged Blackbirds in that they are also black with red epaulets on their shoulders. But the Trikes’ epaulets are rimmed with white feathers, not yellow like those of the Red-Wings.
Already listed as Endangered by the IUCN-World Conservation Union, the species has been a candidate for listing under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA), as well as California’s state ESA. It was given temporary “endangered” status in 2015 but that was only for 6 months and has since expired. As it stands, right now the species is still considered “threatened”. Further consideration of an “endangered” status was dumped when Trump and his crew took over the White House and the Department of the Interior.
In the same area as the Trikes, there was a pair of Brewer’s Blackbirds. The female had what looked like nesting material in her beak, and she was pursued by a male who strutted and postured and cheeped behind her. I got a little bit of video, but it wasn’t in the sharpest focus…and it didn’t help that a car drove past, obscuring my view. Still, the male’s display was so “cute”, I wanted to preserve it.
According to Cornell: “…n resident and many migratory populations, pair formation begins as gradual process in late-winter… As courtship progresses, female initiates Generalized Display, which merges imperceptibly with Pre-copulatory Display, a more fully expressed version of the former with more crouched posture, tail held at higher angle, and accompanied by different call. In both displays, body tipped forward on flexed legs with breast lowered toward ground, bill slightly raised, wings lowered and rapidly shivered while unspread tail is cocked… Male Pre-coitional Display given just prior to mounting and copulation. Feather ruffing more conspicuous than in male Song-spread, bill pointed downward, and yellow eyes bordered by fluffed violet feathers of head appearing prominent. Position of tail and wings more exaggerated than in Song-spread. In this posture, male deliberately approaches female, and if on ground sometimes makes half-circle in strutting motion. Wing and tail feathers scrape ground. Approach sometimes silent, other times accompanied by 1 of the 2 song forms…”
Brewer’s Blackbirds are “seasonally monogamous”, and I’m sure I was seeing the work and displays of a pair bond.
Among the bindweed along the side of the road, I found a new-to-me kind of stinkbug called a Conchuela Bug, Chlorochroa ligata. It’s black with an orange border. When I picked it up to get closer photos of it, it pooped out some of its stink-fluid, staining my index finger top orange. The smell was pretty gross, but it dissipated relatively quickly.
The trees along Desmond Road and around the preserve are still covered in galls, but it’s near the end of the season, so many of the gall are empty and are shriveling away. The Flat-Topped Honeydew galls are going black with age, but some of them are still producing a little honeydew and still have a few ants in attendance. I wonder if, at this time of year, the honeydew has fermented or if the sugary substance has promoted some fungal development. The Convoluted galls and Yellow Wig galls are now much larger than they have been as the larvae inside develop and pupate.
As an aside, I was excited to learn (later in the day) that Ron Russo has a new book coming out next year: Plant Galls of the Western United States. Woot!! The book covers 536 gall species with 232 species not previously included in any field guide. Double-woot! Russo’s last book is like the bible for us gall chasers, but it’s out of print now, and VERY expensive (anywhere between $80 and $200 depending on who has it). We’ve all been hoping the publishers would re-release it, but with this new book coming out that won’t be necessary — and maybe any copies of the original book will now drop in price. The new guide is due to be released in late March of 2021, and I’ve pre-ordered one through Amazon.com at the more reasonable price of $29.
While I was checking out the trees along the boat ramp trail, I saw something gray on one of the twiggy branches, and I got closer to investigate. I was overjoyed when I saw that it was a vase-like pot of a California Potter Wasp, Eumenes sp. I’ve seen photos before, but never a “live” one. The pots are perfect, beautiful little things.
The Potter Wasps are a species of solitary wasp that creates these pots to house their larvae. They make a pot out of mud and saliva, fill it full of spiders and caterpillars, lay an egg on the pile of food and then seal the pot shut. The larva develops and pupates, eating from the pantry mom left it, then when it’s a mature wasp, it pops the seal on the pot and climbs out. The pot I found was open and empty.
At the end of the boat launch trail, where there’s river access, I could see that part of the water was already clogged full of Water Hyacinth, Eichhornia crassipes. Some of the river was still open, but the plants multiply quickly. It’ll only be a matter of time before that whole area is covered with the stuff. Some of the hyacinth was in bloom, and it’s actually quite pretty. Too bad it’s so horribly invasive.
On other parts of the trail and on the side of the pond across from the nature center parking lot, I saw some Variegated Meadowhawk dragonflies. I also saw some Green Darners, including a mated pair that was flying around near the water’s edge. I lost them in the dried vegetation in the water, and just aimed my camera in the direction where I last saw them. I was VERY surprised when I got home to find that I’d actually gotten a photo of them, still connected, resting on the side of an old cocklebur plant. Sometimes, you get lucky.
In that same pond, I was happy to see some shorebirds and waterfowl, early arrivals from the migrations, among the blackbirds and Brown-Headed Cowbirds. There were Killdeer, Black-Necked Stilts, a few Dunlin, and lots of Greater Yellowlegs. There were also some Mallards, and some small flocks of Northern Shovelers. It looked like all of the Shovelers were females, but closer inspection proved that there were males in there, too, but in their “eclipse” plumage.
“…Eclipse plumage is temporary or transition plumage. Ducks are peculiar in that they molt all their flight feathers; the long, wing feathers; at once. For about a month, they can’t fly and very vulnerable to predators. To provide some protection, particularly for the brightly-colored males, the molt starts with their bright body feathers. These are replaced by dowdy brown ones, making them look much like females. Once the flight feathers have regrown, the birds molt again, and by October the full colors are back and the various species of ducks are easily recognizable once more…”
You can tell the eclipsed adult males from the females by their bright yellow eyes.
So, although there weren’t a lot of birds to see, it was nice to see that they’re starting to move in. The biggest flocks of migrating birds should be here in December, but they’ll be trickling in from now until then.
I walked for about 3½ hours and then headed back home.
Azolla, Water Fern, Azolla filiculoides
Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
Brown-Headed Cowbird, Molothrus ater
Bur Clover, Medicago polymorpha
Buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis
California Quail, Callipepla californica
California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
California Wild Rose, Rosa californica
Chicory, Cichorium intybus
Club Gall Wasp, Atrusca clavuloides
Common Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
Common Green Lacewing, Chrysopa coloradensis
Common Snowberry, Symphoricarpos albus
Common Sow-Thistle, Sonchus oleraceus
Conchuela Stink Bug, Chlorochroa ligata
Convoluted Gall Wasp, Andricus confertus
Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
Coyote Brush Bud Gall midge, Rhopalomyia californica
Desert Cottontail Rabbit, Sylvilagus audubonii
Disc Gall Wasp, Andricus parmula [round flat, “spangle gall”]
Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis
Flat-Topped Honeydew Gall Wasp, Disholcaspis eldoradensis
Fuzzy Gall Wasp, Disholcaspis washingtonensi [round faintly fuzzy galls on stems]
Goldenrod Bunch Gall, Goldenrod Floret Gall Midge, Solidago canadensi
Goldenrod, California Goldenrod, Solidago velutina californica
I got up around 5:30 this morning and headed out with my friend Roxanne to go check out parts of the Arboretum in Davis. It was another hot day today (up to 99°), so we only stayed out for a few hours. At the arboretum, we walked through part of the Peter J. Shields Oak Grove and adjoining gardens.
This grove is only one part of the Davis Arboretum. There are other gardens and collections, including a native plants garden, desert collection, redwood grove and pollinator garden. The arboretum also abuts the Putah Creek Riparian Reserve. Each facet is accessible through different streets with varying parking availability. At the oak grove, there is adequate parking and a restroom facility that is covered in detailed mosaic murals.
The last time Rox and I were here was in September of last year. What a difference in what we saw today compared to then: fewer flowers, no galls, few birds, hot temperatures. What we seemed to see the most of today was a lot of different bee species.
Among the bees we saw were a Foothill Carpenter Bees that were sleeping on different stems of the same salvia plant. Because they were dozing, it was easy to get some close up photos of them. When the male Foothill bee started to wake up, he stretched himself out between two flowers on the plant (like Tarzan going from vine to vine).
The female bee would have slept in longer if another bee hadn’t jumped her and forced her off the plant. We weren’t sure if it was an attempt at mating (I think it was) or if it was an aggressive behavior, but the female bee just wasn’t having it.
Roxanne got this photo of them together:
Many of the carpenter bees we saw were “nectar robbing”. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. Rather than working their way to the nectar through a natural opening in a flower, some bees (and hummingbirds, too) will drill a hole in the base of the flower and take the nectar from there. It’s called “nectar robbing” because the bees get the benefits of the food, but flowers don’t get any pollination action.
How do you tell the carpenter bees apart? The following is from the UCD Blog:
California has three species of carpenter bees.
The biggest is the Valley carpenter bee, Xylocopa varipuncta. It’s about an inch long. The female is solid black, while the male, commonly known as “the teddy bear bee,” is a green-eyed blond. Why teddy bear? It’s fuzzy and does not sting… “Boy bees don’t sting.”
The second largest is the California carpenter bee or Western carpenter bee, Xylocopa californica, often found in the mountain foothill areas of northern and southern California. It’s known for its distinctive distinctive bluish metallic reflections on the body… The females have dark smoky brown wings.
The smallest is the foothill or mountain carpenter bee, Xylocopa tabaniformis orpifex. The females are black with light smoky-colored wings. The male has bright yellow marks on the lower part of its face and some yellow hairs on the top front of its thorax.
We saw a family of Western Bluebirds on one of the lawns, including this youngster. I was surprised to realize that it was banded, so I reported it to the Bird Banding Laboratory. Some birds aren’t banded with numbers, only color codes, like this one. So, even if you don’t see any alpha-numeric marking on the bands, reporting the birds still helps scientists to track them.
Roxanne and I walked through the Ruth Risdon Storer Garden, and went by the Moon Garden and gazebo. At the Moon Garden, all of the flowers are supposed to be white but there weren’t many blooms at all this time of year. The gazebo was occupied by a large group of people without face-masks on, so we didn’t go in there.
On the lawn near the Moon Garden, however, we found a small flock of Mallards (mostly hybrids) stretched out in the grass in the shade, all of them in a well-spaced circle. Social distancing duck-style. Hah!
Because of the heat, we walked for about 3 hours before heading out.
When we were done at the oak grove, we stopped briefly at the home of Bob Schneider. He’d invited us over to pick up copies of his new book, “Exploring the Berryessa Region: a Geology, Nature and History Tour”. He has advance copies that he’s selling, and all of the profits will be donated to nonprofit conservation organizations. (You can contact him through FB or email him at Verve2006@comcast.net), The cover art is by Obi Kaufmann.