Category Archives: Citizen Science

Insects, Animals and Galls… oh my, 07-16-19

I headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for my Tuesday morning volunteer Monarch monitoring and Trail Walking thing.  It was about 61° when I got there around 6:00 am but was already up to 80° by 10:30 when I left.  Eew.

 I got to the preserve a little early but was eventually joined by Mary Messenger (“The Other Mary”) another trail-walking volunteer, and my friend and co-naturalist Roxanne Moger. Before “The Other Mary” and Roxanne arrived, I saw Bewick’s Wrens, Rio Grande Wild Turkeys, a doe, and a very cooperative Anna’s Hummingbird just within the first few feet.  I could also hear Bullfrogs doing their deep cello-calls from the little pond.  Nice! 

 Roxanne and I did our Monarch monitoring task: still no eggs or caterpillars in our plot.  We found a dead House Wren, though, covered in tiny ants, several young praying mantises, lots of Oleander Aphids, a few Milkweed Bugs, and several Trashline spiders. I also found what I think was either a Twice-Stabbed Ladybeetle or a dark morph Asian Ladybeetle, but I couldn’t see its pronotum (the part between the wing-case shell and the face), so I’m not sure.  Either find would have been okay with me. I’d never seen one before.  I was worried that “The Other Mary” was totally bored during this part because she didn’t really know what she was looking for, and I couldn’t stop every two seconds to try to see whatever it was she was seeing and identify it for her.  Between Roxanne and I, though, we got it done in about 45 minutes.

Then we all took off for a walk together. We saw some Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, including several does and a young buck in his velvet.  One of the does looked like she had a hernia or something; a swelling in her abdomen just near the crease of the right hind leg. It was maybe the size of a fist, but it didn’t seem to interfere with her movements.

We heard Red-Tailed Hawks screeling at each other, and saw one fly overhead, but I wasn’t able to get any photos of it.

We also saw a handful of dragonflies including a cooperative Flame Skimmer, a Black Saddlebags and a Variegated Meadowhawk.  The Flame Skimmer was sitting in a tree and stayed very still for us, so we were able to get quite a few photos of it. In many of those photos you can see that it was holding its first pair of legs folded up behind its eyes. The dragonflies often do that so they can protect their spindly thread-like necks when they fly. Super cool.

While we’d stopped at an oak tree to look at the galls, two ladies walked up to us and asked what we were doing.  So, we told them we were naturalists volunteering for Effie Yeaw and doing Monarch studies and trail walking… blah-blah-blah… And it turned out that one of the women was also a naturalist who did volunteer work at Point Reyes! Small world. I gave her my Tuleyome card – I really need to get cards of my own – and told her to join us when she could. We’ll see if she responds to the invitation.

We also found this metallic iridescent blue wasp rushing along through the grass.  Both Roxanne and I tried to get photos of it, but I wasn’t very successful in getting a clear one that showed just how gorgeous the wasp was.  I couldn’t tell if it was a Blue Mud-Dauber (Chalybion californicum) or a Steel-Blue Cricket Hunter (Chlorion aerarium), but both of those species are found in California.  The mud-dauber eats Black Widows and the Cricket Hunter eats – duh! – crickets.  They way this one was rushing around the ground and digging through the leaf litter, I’m going to presume it was a Steel-Blue Cricket Hunter.

I love it when I learn or see new stuff. Roxanne and I came across a Rusty Tussock Moth cocoon that I thought had been parasitized by something. We could see tiny pearly white eggs in the white fuzz encrusting the cocoon.

More research indicated, though, that what I was seeing was the eggs laid by the female tussock moth (who is flightless) all over the cocoon from which she herself had hatched! The white “hairs” covering the eggs were from mama Tussock Moth’s own body.

I KNEW the Tussock Moths did this (I’d read about it a lot), but I’d just never actually SEEN it quite like this before. [[What you imagine when you read something, isn’t nearly the same as when you actually experience it.]]  Mama Tussock Moth lays her eggs in a white foam that she’ll then rub her body on to deposit her hairs. When the foam dries, it hardens, so the eggs are encased in it. (Kind of like the ootheca of a praying mantis.)

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

This photo is NOT mine, it’s from a website devoted to Tussock Moths. It shows, though, the wingless female Tussock Moth exuding the foam that will encase her eggs on top of her cocoon. READ MORE HERE.

 We walked by the acre that had recently been burned when the refuge maintenance people took a lawn mower out there to cut down the Starthistle, nicked a rock with the blade which made a spark and started the grass on fire. Eh-hem. It was right across the trail from where I knew there was a California Ground Squirrel burrow. I hope the squirrels didn’t get smoked out or asphyxiated. 

In the major tree in the burned acre there was also a besting cavity for some Ash-Throated Flycatchers. Apparently, they survived the blaze all right.  We saw a juvenile flitting around the hole to the cavity, then one of the parents flew up, fed the juvenile some bugs and flew off again.  Cool!  I didn’t get photos of the feeding activity because it happened so fast, but I did get a few shots of the juvenile.  (A fun fact about these flycatchers: they don’t drink water. They get all the fluid they need from the food they eat.  So, they do well in the summer heat.)            

Somewhere along the way, we lost track of “The Other Mary”.  She went down to the riverbank while we investigated the leaves of oak trees for galls. We kept an eye out for her, but we didn’t see her again.  I wasn’t worried that’s she’d get lost or anything (she knows the trails there very well), but I didn’t want her to feel like we ditched her (as that was not our intention at all).  When Roxanne and I eventually got back to our cars, I found a bag of small nectarines from “The Other Mary” sitting on my vehicle.  Awwwww! 

Species List:

1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
2. American Bullfrog (sound, tadpoles), Lithobates catesbeianus
3. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
4. Ash-Throated Flycatcher, Myiarchus cinerascens
5. Asian Ladybeetle, Harmonia axyridis
6. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii
7. Black Saddlebags Dragonfly, Tramea lacerata
8. Black Walnut, Juglans nigra
9. Blue Mud-Dauber Wasp (?), Chlorion aerarium
10. Brown Stink Bug (larva), Euschistus servus
11. California Bay Laurel, Umbellularia californica
12. California Praying Mantis, Stagmomantis californica
13. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
14. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica
15. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
16. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
17. Coyote Mint, Monardella villosa
18. Crown Whitefly, Aleuroplatus coronata
19. Crystalline Gall Wasp, Andricus crystallinus
20. Flame Skimmer Dragonfly, Libellula saturata
21. Great Blue Heron (fly-over), Ardea herodias
22. Great Egret (fly-over), Ardea alba
23. Green Lacewing (eggs), Chrysoperla carnea
24. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon
25. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
26. Killdeer (heard), Charadrius vociferous
27. Large Milkweed Bug, Oncopeltus fasciatus
28. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
29. Nuttall’s Woodpecker (heard), Picoides nuttallii
30. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus
31. Oak Tree Hopper (exoskeletons), Platycotis vittata
32. Oleander Aphid, Aphis nerii
33. Pacific Tree Frog (tadpoles), Pseudacris regilla
34. Pumpkin Gall Wasp, Dryocosmus minusculus
35. Red Swamp Crayfish, Crawfish, Crawdad, Procambarus clarkii
36. Red-Tailed Hawk (fly-over), Buteo jamaicensis
37. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
38. Robber Fly, Family: Asilidae
39. Rusty Tussock Moth (cocoon and eggs), Orgyia antiqua
40. Saucer Gall Wasp, Andricus gigas
41. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa
42. Steel-Blue Cricket Hunter Wasp, Chalybion californicum
43. Trashline Orb-Weaver Spider, Cyclosa conica
44. Turkey Vulture (fly-over), Cathartes aura
45. Twice-Stabbed Ladybeetle, Chilocorus sp.
46. Two-Horned Gall Wasp, Dryocosmus dubiosus
47. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
48. Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum
49. Walnut Erineum Mite Gall, Aceria erinea
50. Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis
51. Woolly Mullein, Great Mullein, Verbascum thapsus
52. Yellow Salsify, Tragopogon dubius

CalNat Field Trip #2, Lake solano Park, 07-13-19

On the way to Lake Solano Park for our second Certified California Naturalist field trip of the summer, I stopped to put some gas in my car, and I was treated with the sight of some hot air balloons floating over the city of Winters and its surrounding fields. One of the balloons was either dragging or coming in for landing because it got REALLY low over downtown. I could see the people in the basket.  I was kind of surprised to see the balloons at all considering that it was already about 62° when I got to Winters.  Hot air balloons only work if the air around them is cooler than the air in the balloon (so they fly more successfully in the fall-to-spring time period than they do in the summer.)

I was the first one in our group to get to the park and pulled up into one of the upper parking lots because the lot nearest the park itself was still closed.  Technically, the park doesn’t open until 8:00 am, so I was there before the all-gates-open time. The rangers weren’t too pleased that I was in the upper lot before 7:30 am, but they didn’t say anything – until AFTER 8:00 am and my students had arrived, and we were in the park area itself.  I’ll know better next time not to get there early.

The reason for trying to get my group there earlier in the day, though, was to try to beat the heat. It got up to 79° by 10:30 am. So, we cut the trip a little short to get everyone back in their air-conditioned cars before we all overheated. Along with my co-worker Bill and most of the students in the class, Greg Ira (the Director of the Certified California Naturalist program at the University of California) joined us for our walk.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

One of the first things we pointed out to the group was the difference between the native Black Walnut trees and the English Walnut trees. English Walnut trees don’t generally do good in California, so they’re grafted onto the native Black Walnut root stock. We were able to show the students the graft mark in one of the trees (with the Black Walnut on the bottom and the English Walnut on top) and showed them that even through the tree itself was now primarily English Walnut, they could still see some shoots of Black Walnut stems and leaves growing up out of the root stock.

English Walnut grafted onto Black Walnut rootstock.

We seemed to hear more birds than we put eyes on, and my student Alison K., who like our student Ken E., is a birding expert, helped us with the sound IDs.  Alison also told the group about the sap wells we were seeing in the bark of some of the trees, created by Sapsucker birds who drill the wells not so much to suck the sap, but to attract insects they can eat.  On one tree we found several clear samples of the wells, along with some hefty outpourings of the sweet sap.

Tree sap oozing from wells drilled by Sapsuckers.

We also came across a large juvenile Great Blue Heron that was sitting in a tree adjacent to the trail.  It posed for some photos, pooped into the river and then flew off with a deep-throated croaky squawk. I guess he told us what he thought about us. We also came across a small creche of Peahens with their fledgling poults. A group of three moms were taking the babies to the edge of the river to get a drink.

 I myself was focused more on finding galls than seeing birds on this trip, however, and was able to point out newly budding examples of Pumpkin galls, Roll Gall Midge galls, Erineum Mite galls, Cluster Galls, Spiny Turbans, Two-Horned galls and Flat-Topped Honeydew galls. Most of the galls were just starting to emerge and weren’t their full size yet.  Give them another week or two and they should be spectacular.

 Our group also found quite a few different orb-weaver spiders included Spotted Orb Weavers and Long-Jawed Orb Weavers. And we spotted a variety of butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies including: California Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies, a sleepy Buckeye butterfly, a Painted Lady butterfly, and a Tiger Swallowtail butterfly on the wing; Widow Skimmer dragonflies, Flame Skimmers, Four-Spotted Skimmers, Pond Skimmers and Blue Dasher dragonflies, plus several damselflies that looked like they’d just emerged and weren’t colored-up yet.

Along with imparting some of what I know to the class, I always learn something new on these field trips or add to knowledge I already have, so it’s always fun and exciting to me. I found two galls I hadn’t seen before and found out that even the experts were having trouble properly identifying them. One was a gall made by the Roll Gall Midge (whose species is known but not its genus) and it took the form of rolled edges along the leaves of Live Oak trees.  The other was an odd tubular “prick” on the leaf of a Valley Oak tree. At first, I thought I was just looking at a weird anomaly on the leaf, but then I saw the exact same structure repeated on leaves of different Valley Oaks, so I took some photos and looked it up when I got home.  Experts recognize it as a wasp-induced gall but they don’t know what species it’s associated with yet, and think it might be a second-generation gall for an already identified gall wasp.  Everything I found on it called it a “Leaf Gall Wasp” gall but with the species listed as “Unidentified”. How neat!

Gall of the UNIDENTIFIED Leaf Gall Wasp.

 As we were looking at some California Wild Grape vines, Greg asked for the term for the process by which tendrils wrap around things. None of us could remember it at the time. Of course, when I got home, it came to me: “THIGMOTROPSIM”! Cool word, huh?  You can read more about it here: http://biology.kenyon.edu/edwards/project/steffan/b45sv.htm

Another word that wouldn’t come to mind yesterday when we were out on the field trip… We saw a lot of damselflies that had apparently just emerged and weren’t “colored up” yet, and I couldn’t remember the term for that state.  It’s “TENERAL“: the state of an insect immediately after molting. At this time the insect’s exoskeleton has not hardened and it may be pale in color.

A “teneral” damselfly

A little further along our walk, some of the students noticed frothy ooze coming out of the base of a Valley Oak tree. It looked something like Sudden Oak Death (SOD) to me, but it was a lot more frothy, and I’d never seen SOD near the bottom of a tree before. So, I looked it up when I got home.

 The foam is from a bacterial infection in the tree called “Alcoholic Flux” or Foamy Canker. It usually affects trees in the summer that have been stressed in some way. Bacteria infects the tree and ferments some of the sap. The fermentation is expelled by the tree in a frothy slime that kind of smells like sour beer. Unlike SOD, alcoholic flux isn’t usually a permanent or fatal kind of infection. It’s usually gone by the end of the summer.

“Alcoholic Flux” or Foamy Canker on the base of a Valley Oak tree.

We’d also seen a lot of small gnats around the ooze, and I’m not sure, but I’m going to infer that they were getting buzzed on the fermented juice. Hah!

By 10:30 it was already too hot to keep people out in the sun, so the group broke up and we all headed back to our cars by different routes.

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus,
  2. Alcoholic Flux bacteria, Foamy Canker, Slime Flux,
  3. American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus,
  4. Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon,
  5. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
  6. Black Walnut, Juglans nigra,
  7. Blue Dasher, Pachydiplax longipennis,
  8. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus cerulea,
  9. Box Elder Tree, Acer negundo,
  10. Bull Thistle, Cirsium vulgare,
  11. California Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta,
  12. California Pipevine, Aristolochia californica,
  13. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica,
  14. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica,
  15. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis,
  16. Common Buckeye Butterfly, Junonia coenia,
  17. Common Merganser, Mergus merganser,
  18. Convoluted Gall Wasp, Andricus confertus,
  19. Eight-Spotted Skimmer, Libellula forensic,
  20. English Plantain, Ribwort, Plantago lanceolata,
  21. English Walnut, Juglans regia,
  22. Flame Skimmer, Libellula saturate,
  23. Flat-Topped Honeydew Gall Wasp, Dishopcaspis eldoradrnsis,
  24. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias,
  25. Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata,
  26. Hoary Rosette Lichen, Physcia aipolia,
  27. Indian Peafowl, Pavo cristatus,
  28. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni,
  29. Leaf Gall Wasp, Unidentified
  30. Painted Lady Butterfly, Vanessa cardui,
  31. Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum,
  32. Pumpkin Gall Wasp, Dryocosmus minusculus,
  33. Roll Gall Midge, Contarinia sp.,
  34. Spiny Turban Gall Wasp, Antron douglasii,
  35. Spotted Orb Weaver Spider, Neoscona crucifera,
  36. Sunburst Lichen, Xanthoria elegans,
  37. Two-Horned Gall Wasp, Dryocosmus dubiosus ,
  38. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata,
  39. Walnut Erineum Mite Gall, Aceria erinea,
  40. Western Pondhawk, Erythemis collocata,
  41. Western Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly, Papilio rutulus,
  42. Widow Skimmer Dragonfly, Libellula luctuosa,
  43. Woolly Aphid, Prociphilus sp.,