Category Archives: Citizen Science

Wanted Galls and a Young Coyote, 07-21-22

I got up around 5:30 this morning and got myself ready to head over to Mather Lake Regional Park again. This time, I walked along the “manicured” side where there are picnic tables and benches set up. I don’t usually go on that side because it’s too “picnicky” and not very interesting as far as wildlife goes. But I knew there was a trail that walked around a series of oak trees: valley oaks, interior live oaks and coast live oaks.

Mute Swan and fisherman on the lake

I was looking especially for the spiny galls of the Live Oak Apple Gall Wasp [Summer Generation, Amphibolips quercuspomiformis]. We haven’t seen any of those around the area for almost two years and I was worried that we might have lost the species to Climate Change. Well, you can imagine how overjoyed I was when I found a multitude of the galls on a couple of interior live oak trees. Woot!  Some were green, some tan, some bicolored; some were singles, some were in pairs. I was sooooo happy to see them!  Way to go, little dudette wasps!

On the valley oaks I found a few Spined Turban galls, and just-starting-to-emerge Red Cones and Yellow Wigs. Nothing spectacular yet. This is going to be a “late” year for galls it seems. And, of course, there were lots of galls on the cottonwood trees created by the action of aphid mothers. and their broods.

There seemed to be a lot of California Ground Squirrels out and about today. Some of them were busy patrolling and squeaking out alarms to their buddies.

I also saw a few dragonflies. They seem to coming out late this year, too.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

On the way home, a encountered a skinny, long-legged young coyote that was loping down the road straight at me. It paused for a moment to spray on a fence post, then crossed the road and took off behind me.

“…Coyote packs have a “home range”—the entire area in which they live—and a “territory” that they will defend against other coyotes and whose boundaries are marked with urine (like dogs). Coyotes also use scat to mark the most heavily defended core areas (unlike dogs)…”

I was outside for about 3 hours and then headed back home. This was hike #43 of my #52HikeChallenge for the year; and for the Summer Series, this was 3 more hours of a required 20 hours for the challenge [so, 15½ hours toward that total so far.]

Species List:

  1. Bee, Leafcutter Bee, Megachile sp.
  2. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans 
  3. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  4. California Sycamore, Western Sycamore, Platanus racemose
  5. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  6. Cobweb Spider, Family: Theridiidae
  7. Common Sunburst Lichen, Golden Shield Lichen, Xanthoria parietina [yellow-orange, on wood/trees]
  8. Coyote Brush Bud Gall midge, Rhopalomyia californica
  9. Coyote, Canis latrans
  10. Damselfly, Pacific Forktail, Ischnura cervula
  11. Damselfly, Tule Bluet Damselfly, Enallagma carunculatum
  12. Dragonfly, Blue Dasher Dragonfly, Pachydiplax longipennis
  13. Dragonfly, Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum
  14. Dragonfly, Western Pondhawk Dragonfly, Erythemis collocata [females are green, males are blue]
  15. Eurasian Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto
  16. Flat-Topped Honeydew Gall Wasp, Disholcaspis eldoradensis
  17. Floating Primrose-Willow, Ludwigia peploides
  18. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  19. Grebe, Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  20. Hoary Rosette Lichen, Physcia aipolia [hoary, black or brown apothecia]
  21. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  22. Live Oak Erineum Mite Gall, Aceria mackiei
  23. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  24. Mute Swan, Cygnus olor
  25. Oak Apple, California Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  26. Oak, Coast Live Oak, Quercus agrifolia
  27. Oak, Cork Oak, Quercus suber
  28. Oak, Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  29. Oak, Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  30. Orb-Weaver Spider, Family: Araneidae
  31. Pennyroyal, Mentha pulegium
  32. Poplar Petiole Gall Aphid, Pemphigus obesinymphae [new American species, “slit mouth”]
  33. Red Cone Gall Wasp, Andricus kingi
  34. Red-Eared Slider Turtle, Trachemys scripta elegans
  35. Robber Fly, Machimus notatus
  36. Shrubby Sunburst Lichen, Polycauliona candelaria
  37. Spined Turban Gall Wasp, Cynips douglasii [summer gall, pink, spikey top]
  38. Swallow, Barn Swallow, American Barn Swallow, Hirundo rustica erythrogaster
  39. Tall Flatsedge, Cyperus eragrostis
  40. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
  41. Western Mosquitofish, Gambusia affinis

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Visiting the Reverend Mother Tree, 07-19-22

I got up around 5:30 this morning, fed and pottied the dogs, and then headed out for a walk at William Pond Park. I knew the walk was going to be a short one. When I got to the park it was already 68º… and by the time I left it was 80º.  I can’t walk in the heat. Anything over 70º is too warm for me. The high today was 102º. Gross. When I drove into the park, it was partly cloudy so a tiny but humid on top of everything else.

I wanted to check out what I call the Reverend Mother tree at the park. She’s a huge Valley Oak that stands by herself at the intersection of several trails. Every year she gets a wide variety of wasp galls on her.

Near the parking lot, I could see Yellow-Billed Magpies all over the place. As abundant as they are sometimes, they can also be difficult to photograph because they move quickly, turn their back to you a lot, and then fly away just as you get them into focus. Hah! In the same area there were groups of House Finches. Some of the males were sooooo colorful. Everyone was looking for seeds among the Doveweed.

As I started out on the trail I could hear quail vocalizing from under the mounds of blackberry vines. When I was taking photos of some Lesser Goldfinches eating the seedy tufts on the top of the star-thistle plants, a cottontail rabbit came wandering down the trail and stopped right in front of me as though, for a second, it didn’t know what I was.  Then it scurried off.

Desert Cottontail, Sylvilagus audubonii

The Reverend Mother tree was just starting to show off some galls. Many of them were tiny, just starting to bud out. Spined Turbans, Red Cones, Flat-Topped Honeydew galls, Round Galls, some Club Galls, and Yellow Wigs. There were also some Oak Apple galls and some Rosette galls. A nice variety. In another week or two she should really be showing off what she has.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

I stopped down by the permanent pond at the end of the boardwalk. I seldom rarely see anything of interest down there, but the site is pretty, so I took a few photos. I could hear Belted Kingfishers chattering to each other, and saw them swoop over my head as they chased each other through the trees and into the lawn area.  I also saw an Ash-Throated Flycatcher feeding its fledgling. Then the adult flew off, leaving the baby behind so I could get some photos of it.

As I left, there were some Black Phoebes flitting around under a sycamore tree. One or two of them stopping long enough for me to get some fast photos.

I was out for about 2½ hours. This was hike #42 of my #52HikeChallenge for the year; and for the Summer Series, this was 2½ more hours of a required 20 hours for the challenge [so, 12½ hours toward that total thus far. The summer challenge ends on August 28th].

Species List:

  1. Ash-Throated Flycatcher, Myiarchus cinerascens
  2. Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon
  3. Bindweed, Convolvulus sp.
  4. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  5. Blackberry, Armenian Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus [red canes]
  6. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra cerulea
  7. California Quail, Callipepla californica [heard]
  8. California Sycamore, Western Sycamore, Platanus racemose
  9. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica
  10. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  11. Club Gall Wasp, Atrusca clavuloides
  12. Desert Cottontail, Sylvilagus audubonii
  13. Fennel, Sweet Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare
  14. Flat-Topped Honeydew Gall Wasp, Disholcaspis eldoradensis
  15. Goldwire, Hypericum concinnum
  16. Gouty Stem Gall Wasp, Callirhytis quercussuttoni
  17. Graylag Goose, Domestic Graylag Goose, Anser anser domesticus
  18. Grebe, Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  19. Greylag × Canada Goose, Anser anser × Branta canadensis
  20. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  21. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  22. Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  23. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  24. Mullein, Turkey Mullein, Doveweed, Croton setiger
  25. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  26. Oak Apple, California Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  27. Oak, Coast Live Oak, Quercus agrifolia
  28. Oak, Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  29. Oak, Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  30. Prickly Lettuce, Lactuca serriola
  31. Red Cone Gall Wasp, Andricus kingi
  32. Red-Eared Slider Turtle, Trachemys scripta elegans
  33. Rosette Gall Wasp, Andricus wiltzae [on Valley Oak]
  34. Round Gall Wasp, Burnettweldia washingtonensis [on valley oak]
  35. Spined Turban Gall Wasp, Cynips douglasii [summer gall, pink, spikey top]
  36. Sycamore Powdery Mildew, Erysiphe platani
  37. Telegraphweed, Heterotheca grandiflora
  38. Towhee, California Towhee, Melozone crissalis
  39. Tree-of-Heaven, Ailanthus altissima
  40. Western Fence Lizard, Blue Belly, Sceloporus occidentalis
  41. Yellow Star-Thistle, Centaurea solstitialis
  42. Yellow Wig Gall Wasp, Druon fullawayi
  43. Yellow-Billed Magpie, Pica nuttalli

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Sweating Plants and Some Galls, 07-13-22

I got up around 5:00 am so I could get the dogs fed and pottied, and got myself ready to go with my friend and fellow naturalist Roxanne to look for galls. We started off going to the Jepson Prairie Preserve to look for a stand of oak trees we had been told about.  But we didn’t see ANY oaks around the area; only eucalyptus trees. It was partly cloudy there with a VERY stiff wind that made photographing anything difficult.

We found some plants I’d never seen before including purple star thistle, Button Celery, and Alkali Heath. The heath really intrigued me because as I was holding it, my hand was getting drenched in “water”. The plants was literally SWEATING salt water. Amazing. 

According to the Nature Collective: “…Alkali heath eliminates the toxic salt by excreting concentrated salt water through specialized glands. As the sun evaporates the water, crystals of salt are left on the foliage…” Some of the photos I took of it show the droplets of sweat, and we tasted some of the exudate to see just how salty it was. Growing right next to the heath was some Akali Weed, which was also new to me.

We then headed over toward Woodland to look for spiders and other insects. As we were driving along Highway 113, we could see Valley Oaks planted along the side of the road. Roxanne asked if I wanted to checkout the oaks for galls and I said, “Sure!” It’s fun having a friend who thinks the same way you do and is ready for an at-the-moment adventure. So we found a spot where we could pull well off the highway and checked out some of the trees. I was glad we did. We ended up finding about nine different kinds of galls. The Red Cones and Yellow Wigs were just starting to form, very tiny.

The most exciting find for me was a tree that had about a dozen or more Rosette Galls. Usually, I only find solitary ones of the Valley oaks, and most of those in an aged state.  Here, we were seeing lots of the galls at different stages: some bright green, some starting to brown. It was so exciting.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

We also found a few Gouty Twig Galls (or something like that): swellings that seemed to be associated in part to collections of old honeydew galls. It made us wonder if the dripping honeydew had aggravated the stem tissue and caused it to swell. Collections of honeydew can lead to things like sooty mold which can adversely affect leaves, but I don’t know if that kind of mold can actually affect the stem tissue itself or cause it to swell. More research needed.

As we were leaving, we notice a Highway Patrol vehicle coming down the freeway, heading toward us. Although pulling off the highway isn’t illegal, the CHP doesn’t like folks just randomly parking off road, because they don’t know if you need help or not. It wastes their resources to stop and check n you if you don’t really need anything. We pulled our car up near the edge of the road as the CHP vehicle got closer, and he actually slowed down traffic so a space opened up for us on the road. That was nice of him!

We then went over to the East Regional Pond in Woodland. I was hoping to find some galls on the Big Saltbush plants, but… nuthin’. In the summer months, there really isn’t much of anything to see there, even if there’s water in the shallow pond.

By this time, it was already getting too warm for us to walk anymore. So, we skipped “spider-land” and headed home.  We were out for about 5 hours.

Species List:

  1. Alkali Heath, Frankenia salina [sweats salt]
  2. Alkali Heliotrope, Heliotropium curassavicum
  3. Alkali Mallow, Malvella leprosa
  4. Alkali Weed, Cressa truxillensis
  5. American Kestrel, Falco sparverius
  6. Ant, Argentine Ant, Linepithema humile
  7. Bindweed, Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis [pink, blush]
  8. Bindweed, Hillside False Bindweed, Calystegia subacaulis [all white]
  9. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  10. Brown-Headed Cowbird, Molothrus ater
  11. Buckwheat, California Buckwheat, Eriogonum fasciculatum
  12. California Fuchsia, Epilobium canum
  13. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  14. Case-Bearing Leaf Beetle, Diachus sp.
  15. Chicory, Cichorium intybus
  16. Clover, Strawberry Clover, Trifolium fragiferum
  17. Coastal Button-Celery, Prickly Coyote Thistle, Eryngium armatum
  18. Coyote Brush Bud Gall midge, Rhopalomyia californica
  19. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  20. Eucalyptus, River Redgum, Eucalyptus camaldulensis
  21. Flat-Topped Honeydew Gall Wasp, Disholcaspis eldoradensis
  22. Fly, Common Flesh Fly, Sarcophaga sp.
  23. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  24. Fuzzy-Gall Wasp, Cynips conspicuus [round mealy bumpy; on Valley oak]
  25. Gouty Stem Gall Wasp, Callirhytis quercussuttoni
  26. Great-Tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus
  27. Gumweed, Great Valley Gumweed, Grindelia camporum
  28. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  29. Hoverfly, Margined Calligrapher, Toxomerus marginatus
  30. Ladybeetle, Seven-Spotted Lady Beetle, Coccinella septempunctata
  31. Leaf Gall Wasp/ Unidentified per Russo, Tribe: Cynipidea [on Valley Oak]
  32. Meadow Spittlebug, Philaenus spumarius
  33. Mullein, Turkey Mullein, Doveweed, Croton setiger
  34. Narrow-Leaf Bird’s-Foot Trefoil, Lotus tenuis
  35. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  36. Oak Apple, California Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  37. Oak Powdery Mildew, Erysiphe alphitoides
  38. Oak, Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  39. Purple Star-Thistle, Centaurea calcitrapa
  40. Raven, Common Raven, Corvus corax
  41. Red Cone Gall Wasp, Andricus kingi
  42. Red-Tailed Hawk, Western Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis calurus
  43. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  44. Rosette Gall Wasp, Andricus wiltzae [on Valley Oak]
  45. Round Gall Wasp, Burnettweldia washingtonensis [on valley oak]
  46. Saltbrush, Atriplex sp.
  47. Saltbush, Big Saltbush, Atriplex lentiformis
  48. Shot Hole Borer, Polyphagous Shot Hole Borer Beetle, Euwallacea fornicatus sp.
  49. Spined Turban Gall Wasp, Cynips douglasii [summer gall, pink, spikey top]
  50. Stink Bugs, Family: Pentatomidae [eggs]
  51. Sunflower, Common Sunflower, Helianthus annuus
  52. Tarweed, Woodrush Tarweed, Hemizonia congesta luzulifolia
  53. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
  54. Yellow Wig Gall Wasp, Druon fullawayi
  55. ?? Turtle in the water, just nose visible

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The Paper Wasps were the Standouts, 07-10-22

I got up around 5:30 AM, so I could tend to the dogs and then head out to the Cosumnes River Preserve to look for galls on the oak trees there.

On the way to the preserve, I made a couple of stops along the way where there were some wild roses and narrow-leak milkweed plants growing among the humps of blackberry vines.  On one of the rose bushes I found a lot of witch’s broom formation caused by Rose Rosette Disease. One twig was covered in the broom which was also covered by the seed-fluff from nearby willow trees. I stupidly tried to pull the fluff away with my hand and got a handful of thorns instead! Ouch!! Handling the plant more gingerly after that, I was able to get quite a few photos.

I was hoping to find evidence of Monarchs on the milkweed, but… nothing. I did come across a milkweed bug, though. I also came across a plant I had never seen before: Sharp-Point Fluellen, a kind of Cancerwort. The tiny flowers on it looked like a cross between a snapdragon and columbine. It’s a non-native, but hasn’t been classified as “invasive” in California yet.

Along the road, I didn’t find any galls on the oak trees and that was VERY worrisome. Near the small pond by the boardwalk area, however, I found a few galls on the oaks. They’re just starting to emerge, and many were very small, tiny even. I also found some galls on the ash trees. So, maybe in another week or two more galls will be evident – hopefully. I’m really worried that the wasps associated with the galls are vanishing…

In the pond by the boardwalk area, I saw several birds looking for a meal including a Snowy Egret, an American Robin, and a Killdeer. The Killdeer also stopped to take a quick bath.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

Elsewhere, I saw a few Black Phoebes and all of them were looking a bit ratty. I wondered if they were fledglings or adults going through major molts. In the birdhouse near the gate, which was previously occupied by Western Bluebirds, there was a family of Tree Swallows. I saw adult birds going in and out of the box, and “claim” and “protect” the box by standing on top of it. I don’t know if they had babies or eggs in there or not. Tree Swallows can have two broods per year.

I also saw a couple of dark voles scurrying across the ground, and saw I think were some of their above-ground runways that they use to find food

I always check the kiosk and restroom facility near the parking lot area at the boardwalk because praying mantises and wasps often use those to build nests and leave oothecas. I looked at the back of the kiosk and didn’t find anything but the old nests of mud-dauber wasps, but then I was surprised to see several large nests near the top of the kiosk, all of them active. I got some photos and video snippets of those.

The videos show several of the wasps fanning their wings around the top of the nest. I looked up the behavior and found that, like bees, the wasps fan the nest to keep it cool enough for proper growth of the eggs and larvae. [I kind of figured that was what I was seeing, but I wasn’t sure.]  I also found this out:

“…Once the eggs hatch, the larvae will expect plenty of food so that they can pupate and emerge as adult wasps. While the larvae are wailing for food, you may hear noises that resemble popping, such as that emitted by a drop of water from a leaky faucet hitting the tub. This popping/dripping sound is the larvae mashing their mouths, signaling to the queen (later to worker wasps) they are hungry…”

Oooo, I’ll need to try to hear that next time I can get close to a  nest. Paper Wasps are pretty mellow and don’t freak out by humans coming closer (as long as they or next aren’t tampered with). This is VERY different from Yellow Jackets who will attack en masse if you come anywhere near their nest.

On the outside wall of the restroom facility, there was another large nest. Some of the cells were shut (so the larvae inside could finish their pupation), and others were open. I could see the developing larvae in some of the open cells. So cool. Outside the edge of the nest was a Western Black Widow Spider hanging in its web. I wonder if it would go after the larvae in the wasp’s nest (or even the wasps themselves).

I was out for 4 hours.  This was hike #41 of my #52HikeChallenge for the year; and for the Summer Series, this was 4 more hours of a required 20 hours for the challenge [so, 10 hours toward that total so far].

Species List:

  1. American Robin, Turdus migratorius
  2. American Serpentine Leaf Miner Fly, Liriomyza trifolii
  3. Ant, Argentine Ant, Linepithema humile
  4. Ash Flower Gall Mite, Aceria fraxiniflora
  5. Ash, Oregon Ash, Fraxinus latifolia
  6. Ash-Throated Flycatcher, Myiarchus cinerascens [heard, glimpsed]
  7. Bee, Metallic Sweat Bee, Lasioglossum dialictus ssp.
  8. Bee, Sunflower Chimney Bee, Diadasia enavata
  9. Blackberry, Armenian Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus [red canes]
  10. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  11. Bristly Oxtongue, Helminthotheca echioides
  12. California Quail, Callipepla californica
  13. Cancerwort, Sharp-Point Fluellen, Kickxia elatine
  14. Chicory, Cichorium intybus
  15. Denseflower Willowherb, Epilobium densiflorum [small, dense, pinkish flowers]
  16. Drippy Nut Disease, Lonsdalea quercina [Proteobacteria]
  17. Flat-Topped Honeydew Gall Wasp, Disholcaspis eldoradensis
  18. Floating Primrose-Willow, Ludwigia peploides
  19. Freshwater Apple Snails, Family: Ampullariidae
  20. Great Egret, Ardea alba [flew up onto an electrical box along the road]
  21. Hayfield Tarweed, Hemizonia congesta [white]
  22. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  23. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  24. Ladybeetle, Seven-Spotted Lady Beetle, Coccinella septempunctata
  25. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  26. Mantis, Mediterranean Mantis, Iris oratoria [thin ootheca]
  27. Milkweed, Narrowleaf Milkweed, Asclepias fascicularis
  28. Mud-Dauber Wasp, Sceliphron sp. [black and yellow]
  29. Oak Apple, California Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  30. Oak, Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  31. Paper Wasp, Black Paper Wasp, European Paper Wasp, Polistes dominula
  32. Prickly Lettuce, Lactuca serriola
  33. Red Cone Gall Wasp, Andricus kingi
  34. Red-Tailed Hawk, Western Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis calurus [several hunting along the road]
  35. Ring-Necked Pheasant, Phasianus colchicus [heard]
  36. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia [along the road]
  37. Rose Rosette Disease (RRD), Rose rosette emaravirus [carried by mites]
  38. Rose, California Wild Rose, Rosa californica [pink]
  39. Round Gall Wasp, Burnettweldia washingtonensis [on valley oak]
  40. Skeletonizing Leaf and Flea Beetles, Subfamily: Galerucinae
  41. Small Milkweed Bug, Lygaeus kalmii
  42. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula
  43. Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia [heard]
  44. Spined Turban Gall Wasp, Cynips douglasii [summer gall, pink, spikey top]
  45. Sunflower, Common Sunflower, Helianthus annuus
  46. Swallow, Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  47. Tick, American Dog Tick, Dermacentor variabilis
  48. Tricolored Blackbird, Agelaius tricolor
  49. Virginia Opossum, Didelphis virginiana
  50. Vole, California Vole, Microtus californicus eximus 
  51. Western Black Widow Spider, Latrodectus hesperus
  52. Western Spotted Orbweaver, Neoscona oaxacensis
  53. Yellow Wig Gall Wasp, Druon fullawayi

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