Category Archives: City Nature Challenge

Beautiful Caterpillar, 05-01-21

Got up early again, and headed out with Roxanne for day-two of the #CityNatureChallenge2021. We don’t usually do back-to-back-to-back outings, so we may pay for all of this later but we hit a few go-to places today in the hope of collecting more specimens for our challenge lists.

First we went to the American River Bend Park to see if the Great Horned Owl owlets were still hanging around. They weren’t; they’d all fledged and flown off. Hopefully, we’ll see mom again next year. We DID get to see a male Mourning Dove collecting grasses for his girlfriend’s nest. So cute.

A male Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura, collecting twigs for his girlfriend

According to Cornell: “…Once nest site is chosen, male selects small twigs, etc., and delivers them to the female while standing on her back. She arranges them around her while using her body to form simple bowl…Nest usually flimsy, often little more than a platform to hold eggs and young; has little insulation value…”

This male was very particular about what he wanted, and rejected quite a few bits before he found one he liked. The nest was somewhere in a nearby tree hidden by leaves, so we didn’t get to see it.

We then went on to the Nimbus Fish Hatchery to see what was going on there.  There is still a lot of construction going on. This new fish ladder still isn’t finished and there was heavy equipment everywhere.       

Behind one of the construction fences there were old logs laying on the ground. On one of them, a House Sparrow had managed to yank out some of the cambium from under the log’s bark, and was pulling out bits to use as nesting material. What was cute, was that a female Lesser Goldfinch saw this, and sat across from the sparrow, waiting for it to finish. When the sparrow flew off with a beak full of cambium, the goldfinch moved in and took some of the stuff for herself.

A female Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria, collecting tree cambium to line her nest

I couldn’t see where the goldfinch went with her nesting materials, but could see that the House Swallows were building nests in the open mouths of the large pipes that form the frame for the net structures around the fish raceways. In some places, the swallows had ripped holes in the netting to get to the openings in the poles.  At one of these nest, I saw a starling try to barge it way inside. The House Sparrow came out, right to the edge of the entrance, and forced the intruder out again. Starlings are cavity nesters just like the sparrows, and if they can steal a home, they will.

A House Sparrow, Passer domesticus, defending the post hole where it has its nest.

The raceways are where the young salmon and trout are housed and fed before they’re big enough to release into the river.  Fish-eating birds try to exploit the area, stealing an easy meal; thus, the netting over the raceways. We saw a Green Heron inside the raceway area, having somehow gotten through a door or a gap in the netting, and walking along the top of the netting, we saw a Black Crowned Night Heron and a Great Blue Heron trying to get in.

There was an unusual amount of Miniature Lupine in bloom everywhere along the trail (which also seems to be true throughout the regions right now. Folsom Lake is currently surrounded by lupine). There were also lots of Yellow Water Irises in bloom along the water’s edge. They’re beautiful, but they’re also totally invasive.

In the fennel plants that grow wild around the place, we found the caterpillar of an Anise Swallowtail butterfly. It was in one of its final instars (molts) and was absolutely beautiful: a background of green with black, yellow and blue mottling in stripes along each segment. When they start out, the caterpillars are black and brown with a white blotch in the middle of them making them look like bird poop. It takes five molts to get to its colorful adult stage.

I think caterpillar anatomy is so interesting. Here is a brief lesson on their legs from The Caterpillar Lab:

“…Caterpillars use their muscles to move. But muscles can’t contract on their own. People and other vertebrate creatures have skeletons—hard structures that help us contract our muscles. Many soft-bodied animals (like octopuses) can harden their bodies by pressurizing their internal fluids, which works like a skeleton to help their muscles contract.

“Caterpillars, on the other hand, have no skeleton and can’t pressurize their bodies to harden like a skeleton for the purposes of walking. So how do they use their muscles? By attaching their bodies to a hard surface. How do they do that? They use their prolegs!”

Anise Swallowtail Butterfly, Papilio zelicaon [caterpillar]

Prolegs aren’t actually used to propel caterpillars forward. Instead, they act as anchors that hold the caterpillars tightly in place during movement of other body segments. Prolegs bind the caterpillar to a rigid substrate, such as a twig. That twig acts like an external skeleton, which provides the stability caterpillars need to contract their muscles…” Cool, huh?

We watched some Brown-Headed Cowbirds doing some of their posturing and courting behaviors. They do a wing-spread, then a deep bow, then stand up and raise their heads high.

When directed at other males, it’s a posturing macho thing. When directed at females, it’s courting… But the females don’t like the wing-spread part so much, so it’s usually eliminated when the male court them.

The oddest thing we saw there was a crow who had a tiny white fish (fry) in its beak. Crows have a varied diet and will eat just about anything(including Fresh fries),but this crow wasn’t eating the fish. Instead, it carried it around, set it down in the water, picked it up again, and carried it to another area on the rocks. I don’t know if it was playing with the thing, or trying to use it as a lure and fishing for other fish (like Green Herons sometimes do). Very interesting. But it flew off with its catch before we could see any more of the behavior.

A Crow, American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos, with a small fish in the run-off pond by the raceways at the Nimbus Fish Hatchery

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

We walked for a little while longer before heading back to the car, and went over to Johnson-Springview Park in Rocklin to look for springtime galls.  When we got into the parking lot, we saw a large rock covered with ladybeetle pupas. It seemed such an odd, exposed place for them to be.

Most of the galls were ones I’d seen before, but there were a couple that were new to me, and that always makes the searching fun. One was a Live Oak Petiole Gall, a bulge of the petiole base of a leaf on a live oak tree.  The other was the spring generation gall of a Striped Volcano Gall Wasp. The summer galls look like tiny red and yellow striped volcanoes on the leave Blue Oaks. The spring galls look like soft balls on the edge of the leaves. The “skin” of the gall is thin and papery, and its black inside. Very cool.  We also saw Live Oak Wasp galls, and some fimbriate galls.

After walking for a short while more, it was starting to get too hot for me (anything over about 70° is “too hot” for me when walking; I melt in the heat.) So, we decided to quit and go somewhere for lunch.

Altogether we were out for over 5½ hours. I counted this as hike #41 of my #52HikeChallenge.

Species List:

  1. Anise Swallowtail Butterfly, Papilio zelicaon [caterpillar]
  2. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  3. Arizona Mantis, Stagmomantis limbata [large ootheca]
  4. Blackberry Rust, Gymnoconia nitens
  5. Black-Crowned Night Heron, Nycticorax nycticorax
  6. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum
  7. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra cerulea
  8. Blue Oak, Quercus douglasii
  9. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  10. Brown-Headed Cowbird, Molothrus ater
  11. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  12. California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica
  13. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  14. Chaparral Honeysuckle, Lonicera interrupta
  15. Coast Live Oak, Quercus agrifolia
  16. Coffeeberry, California Buckthorn, Frangula californica
  17. Common Cat’s-Ear, Hypochaeris radicata
  18. Common Fig, Ficus carica
  19. Common Madia, Madia elegans
  20. Common Merganser, Mergus merganser
  21. Convergent Lady Beetle, Hippodamia convergens
  22. Coppered White-Cheeked Jumping Spider, Pelegrina aeneola
  23. Coyote Brush Bud Gall midge, Rhopalomyia californica
  24. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  25. Crow, American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  26. Cytospora Canker, Cytospora chrysosperma [bright orange fruiting body, looks like frozen dodder]
  27. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
  28. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  29. Fennel, Sweet Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare
  30. Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis
  31. Fimbriate Gall Wasp, Andricus opertus
  32. Green Heron, Butorides virescens
  33. Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata
  34. Hairy Vetch, Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa ssp. villosa 
  35. Himalayan Blackberry, Rubus bifrons [white flowers]
  36. Hoary Rosette Lichen, Physcia aipolia [hoary, brown apothecia]
  37. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  38. House Sparrow, Passer domesticus
  39. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  40. Interior Sandbar Willow, Salix interior
  41. Italian Thistle, Carduus pycnocephalus
  42. Ithuriel’s Spear, Triteleia laxa
  43. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  44. Little Black Ant, Monomorium minimum
  45. Live Oak Gall Wasp, Spring Generation, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis [looks like a soft funnel, green to brown]
  46. Live Oak Petiole Gall Wasp, Melikaiella flora [gall at the stem end of the leaf]
  47. Lupine, Miniature Lupine, Lupinus bicolor
  48. Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  49. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  50. Narrowleaf Willow, Salix exigua
  51. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii
  52. Ookow, Dichelostemma congestum
  53. Pineapple-Weed, Matricaria discoidea
  54. Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Western Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
  55. Poplar Sunburst Lichen, Xanthomendoza hasseana [sunburst on Cottonwood]
  56. Potato Mirid Bug, Closterotomus norwegicus [yellow-green bug]
  57. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  58. Rock Pigeon, Columba livia
  59. Round Leaf Gall Wasp, Heteroecus flavens [formerly Andricus flavens, ball in the middle of the leaf, live oak]
  60. Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia
  61. Striped Volcano Gall Wasp, Andricus atrimentus, Spring generation [looks like a ball at the base of the leaf; dark inside]
  62. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  63. Two-Horned Gall Wasp, bisexual gall, spring generation,  Dryocosmus dubiosus [looks like a hard, shiny, brown “beak” on the edge of the leaf]
  64. Western Fence Lizard, Blue Belly, Sceloporus occidentalis
  65. Yellow Water Iris, Yellow Flag, Iris pseudacorus [invasive]
  66. Yellow-Billed Magpie, Pica nuttalli

Peña Adobe and Grizzly, 04-30-21

I got up around 5:00 am to head out with my friend Roxanne to the Peña Adobe Regional Park near Vacaville. This was the first day of the #CityNatureChallenge2021.

The park is about 45 minutes from Sacramento, and is comprised of 306 acres.  We went there hoping to see Lagoon Valley Park, and the lake there…but were surprised once we arrived to see that there was no water in the lake at all. Totally dry, the bottom dirt cracked and covered with wild weeds. Dang it!

Dry lake bottom with Canada Geese, Branta canadensis

We found some Kermes on one of the oak trees; they’re little scale insects that build a round gall-like structures around them. In this particular species, the structures are reddish orange with dark mottling on them. The insects produce a kind of honeydew that attracts ants, and the ones we saw had ant protectors all around them.

We didn’t see much of anything else new. There were some Cliff Swallows under a bridge.

On the dry lake bottom, we saw a bird that looked like a cross between a Canada Goose and a domestic Swan-Goose. It had a pure white head and neck and a Canada Goose body (although somewhat lighter in color).

Hybrid goose

We walked around for maybe an hour, and then decided to head over to the Grizzly Island Wildlife Area.

Earlier in the year when things were still wet and the large flocks of migrating birds were going through, there would have been more to see all along the road, but a lot of the water is gone right now.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

There were some areas where there was enough water to fish in, like the David D. Bohannan Memorial Pond, and fishermen were gathered in small groups along the shore and road.

We’d never been there before either, and were pretty much open to see whatever we could see there. Grizzly Island Wildlife Area is approximately 12,900 acres of this prime habitat and the complex is a patchwork of 10 distinct land parcels, many of which are not connected and are surrounded by private land. 

In the fall, there are supposed to be elk on the property going through their rut (October-ish), so a trip back then might be in order.

As we were driving through a hilly dry patch, we saw lots of California Ground Squirrels, including some babies, and one group that was standing up in the high grass like meerkats looking around.

I wondered aloud what they were looking at/or for, and was answered within a few second when a coyote came running down the side of the hill in their general direction. A female. When she saw us, the coyote stopped and turned around to go back up the hill again.  We then saw a second coyote on the opposite side of the hill and assumed it was either her mate or her young adult offspring.

As we continued down the windy road, we saw signs warning campers not to star fires because the peat on the bottom of the dried pool can burn and smolder for days. In earlier years, grass fires in the region ignited the peat which caused the fires to explode into wildfires and burn thousands of acres. Yikes!

When we got to the sign-in building, which is actually about 9 miles down the road from where we entered the area, I stayed in the car while Rox signed us in, and got some photos of Black Phoebes, House Sparrows and lots of Barn Swallows. One of the swallows had a nest inside the doorway to the sign-in shed!

One of the phoebes had claimed a pump handle as its watchtower, but a House Sparrow wanted it, too,so they had some brief scuffles over it. The sparrow won.

In the watery areas we saw handfuls of Avocets, Killdeer, sandpipers, herons, egrets and other birds. And also came across a few small flocks of American White Pelicans. They’re such large birds, it’s always astonishing when we see them.

American White Pelican, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos

As we were driving along one of the sloughs, I saw an otter sitting on top of the levy. We screeched to a halt and then backed up, but by then the otter had disappeared down into the slough. I thought we’d lost him, but then Roxanne saw him swimming in the water.

We were able to get quite a few photos of him as he swam back and forth for a while. At one point, the otter swam over to the weir at the end of the slough and “hid” behind the legs of the platform there, then came back out again. Such a cute — and healthy looking — thing. [Grizzly Island has one of California’s largest populations of river otters.]

Rather than doing the full circle route — because we were seeing less and less as we went along — we turned around and headed back the way we’d come. We stopped at a slough near the fishing area and walked along the berm for a short distance. On a rock in the water we found a fat Pacific Pond turtle sunning itself. A really nice specimen.

Pacific Pond Turtle, Western Pond Turtle, Actinemys marorata

It was pretty breezy by the late afternoon, which made it a little difficult for the smaller birds to sing from their favorite perching spots.

By the time we got back to where we’d entered the area, it was after 2:00 pm, so we decided to head back home. It was a long day, and we saw a few cool things, but I bet this place will be a goldmine of species in the fall and winter.  Definitely worth a trip back.

I counted this as hike #40 of my #52HikeChallenge.

Species List:

  1. Alkali Heliotrope, Heliotropium curassavicum
  2. American Avocet, Recurvirostra americana
  3. American White Pelican, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos
  4. Barn Swallow, Hirundo rustica
  5. Barnacles, Class: Hexanauplia
  6. Bay Laurel Tree, Laurus nobilis
  7. Bird’s-Foot Trefoil, Lotus corniculatus
  8. Black Mustard, Common Wild Mustard, Brassica nigra
  9. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  10. Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
  11. Broadleaved Pepperweed, Lepidium latifolium
  12. Bur Clover, Medicago polymorpha
  13. Cabbage White butterfly, Pieris rapae
  14. California Bulrush, Schoenoplectus californicus
  15. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  16. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  17. Cheeseweed Mallow, Malva parviflora
  18. Cinnamon Teal, Anas cyanoptera
  19. Cliff Swallow, Petrochelidon pyrrhonota
  20. Coast Live Oak, Quercus agrifolia
  21. Common Fig, Ficus carica
  22. Common Reed, Phragmites australis
  23. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  24. Coyote, Canis latrans
  25. Cranefly, California Tipula, Tipula californica
  26. Dog, Canis lupus familiaris
  27. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
  28. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
  29. Fat-Hen, Atriplex prostrata
  30. Fig Rust, Cerotelium fici
  31. Formica Ant, Lasius americanus
  32. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  33. French Broom, Genista monspessulana
  34. Gall Inducing Wooly Aphid, Stegophylla essigi [in live oaks, folds the leaf over itself; sometimes the leaf turns red/reddish]
  35. Goodding’s Black Willow, Salix gooddingii
  36. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
  37. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  38. Greater Yellowlegs, Tringa melanoleuca
  39. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  40. House Sparrow, Passer domesticus
  41. Iceplant, Hardy Yellow Iceplant, Delosperma nubigenum
  42. Iceplant, Pink Trailing Iceplant, Delosperma cooperi
  43. Indian Hawthorn Tree, Rhaphiolepis indica [pink flowers]
  44. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  45. Jointed Charlock, Wild Radish, Raphanus raphanistrum
  46. Least Sandpiper, Calidris minutilla
  47. Live Oak Gall Wasp, Spring Generation, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis [looks like a soft funnel, green to brown]
  48. Long-Billed Dowitcher, Limnodromus scolopaceus
  49. Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  50. Musk Stork’s-Bill, Erodium moschatum
  51. Mute Swan, Cygnus olor
  52. Northern Harrier, Marsh Hawk, Circus hudsonius
  53. Pacific Pond Turtle, Western Pond Turtle, Actinemys marorata
  54. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  55. Pineapple-Weed, Matricaria discoidea
  56. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum
  57. Purple Salsify, Tragopogon porrifolius
  58. Raven, Common Raven, Corvus corax
  59. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  60. River Otter, North American River Otter, Lontra canadensis
  61. Ruddy Duck, Oxyura jamaicensis
  62. Seven-Spotted Lady Beetle, Coccinella septempunctata
  63. Soldier Beetle, Silis sp.
  64. Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia
  65. Spurge, Eggleaf Spurge, Euphorbia oblongata
  66. Striped Kermes, Allokermes rattani
  67. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  68. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  69. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  70. Wall Barley, Hordeum murinum
  71. Western Gray Squirrel, Sciurus griseus
  72. Western Kingbird, Tyrant Flycatcher, Tyrannus verticalis
  73. Western Seapurslane, Sesuvium verrucosum [kind of stonecrop]
  74. Wild Teasel, Dipsacus fullonum
  75. Yellow Sweetclover, Melilotus officinalis
  76. ?? Eucalyptus Trees, Eucalyptus sp.
  77. ?? Hybrid goose, Canada x Swan Goose
  78. ?? Moth, Tribe: Xanthorhoini

Galls, Swallows, and Baby Killdeer, 04-28-21

I got up around 5:30 this morning, so I could get out by 6:00 and join my friend and fellow naturalist Roxanne Moger for walks at the American River Bend Park, West Davis Pond, and the Yolo Bypass. We were hoping to see owls, but didn’t find any.

At the River Bend Park, the Great Horned Owl owlets had all fledged and moved on. There wasn’t a sign of any of them or their mom. So we continued on to Davis. We looked for Burrowing Owls along Road 104, and didn’t see any of them either. So the beginning of the trip was something of a bummer.

Rye, Secale cereale

But on Road 104, next to fields of rye, we got to see Killdeer, Western Kingbirds, Mourning Doves, blackbirds, and an American Goldfinch among a few others. When we were  done looking around there, we went on to the West Davis Pond.

The “pond” is actually a stormwater retention basin in the city of Davis, with varying levels of water in it depending on rainfall. This year, rainfall was practically nonexistent, so the pond was practically empty… so, no waterfowl or ducks with babies. Sigh. But in the butterfly garden we got to see a lovely assortment of plants (all grown for pollinators), several different galls, some Rose Weevils, and all sorts of bees.

On the rose plants (which were practically overridden by Japanese Honeysuckle vines) we found three distinct galls, two of which I’d never seen before.

One looked like spiky balls on the leaves of the plants, another looked like leafy rosettes and is called a “Leafy Bract Gall”.  The third one was in its final stages when we found it. It just looked like a shriveled chunk charcoal-looking stuff on the stem of the plant. When it’s new, the gall looks like a collection of fine greenish-red hairs (and is called a “Mossy Rose Gall”). Eventually, the gall loses its hairs and goes “bald” but retains some thin spiny projections. This is usually a summer gall, which is why we’re not seeing new ones yet. Might be worth a trip back in June to check them out.

We also saw galls on Coyote Brush plants and their relatives, the Mule Fat plants. I’ve seen galls on Coyote Brush lots of times (stem and bud galls), but had never seen the blister-like ones on the Mule Fat before.

Although finding new-tome galls is always exciting, the most fun thing at the garden was watching the bees. There were the typical honeybees, of course, but we also saw several species of carpenter bees, including the thumb-sized Valley Carpenter Bee, and the smaller Foothill Carpenter Bee.  The carpenter bees were “nectar robbing”, drilling a hole in the side of the flower to get at the nectar rather than going through the front of the flower.

Clinically speaking, “…Nectar robbers are frequently described as cheaters in the plant-pollinator mutualism, because it is assumed that they obtain a reward (nectar) without providing a service (pollination). Nectar robbers are birds, insects, or other flower visitors that remove nectar from flowers through a hole pierced or bitten in the corolla…”

Foothill Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa tabaniformis orpifex. You can see it pulling nectar from the side of the flower.

We were seeing the honeybees, which aren’t usually nectar robbers, follow after the carpenter bees to feed on nectar through the holes the carpenter bees chewed into the flowers. Smart little guys. I’d never noticed that behavior before.

After taking photos and video snippets, we left the garden and went for a drive around the auto tour route at the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Refuge. Not a lot to see there, because of the distinct lack of water. We were waylaid for a little while, watching and photographing the Cliff Swallows living under the freeway bridge. 

According to Cornell: “…The Cliff Swallow is one of the most social landbirds of North America. These birds typically nest in large colonies, and a single site may contain up to 6,000 active nests… The Cliff Swallow’s highly colonial life style has led to the evolution of some complex behavioral traits. For instance, Cliff Swallows brood-parasitize neighboring nests both by laying parasitic eggs and by moving eggs from their own nest into others; they have a sophisticated vocal system for distinguishing their own young from the offspring of many other individuals within a colony; and they observe each other’s foraging success and learn from other colony residents the locations of food… In addition, the species is closely associated with an endemic vector-borne virus that has led to insights into how changes in hosts drive the evolution of different pathogen strains…”

And besides being cool, they’re also beautifully colored, and distinguished by a white “aviator goggles” strip over the eyes (in the adults). Their eye color has been described as “dark claret brown”.

They build mud nests, one little mud pellet at a time, and the nests can overlap, sometimes as many as eight nests deep depending on the size of the colony.

Cornell says: “…Both sexes build the nest, although the male may initiate construction before he attracts a mate. Birds gather mud in their bills along the bank of a stream, lake, or temporary puddle… A bird brings a mud pellet back to the colony and molds it into the nest with a shaking motion of the bill. The shaking causes a partial liquefaction of the mud, disperses moisture, and allows fresh mud to overrun small air spaces, resulting in a stronger structure when dry… A newly built nest begins as a narrow mud ledge affixed to the wall. Birds add to the ledge until it is a crescent shape…”

Then the wall and ceiling are built up until there is only a small hole for the entrance. Dried grass is brought in to line the nest. Slapdash repairs to the nest may continue throughout the breeding season.  The birds will reuse nests from one season to the next, but around here, old nests are knocked down by humans after the nestlings have fledged.

Sometimes House Finches and House Sparrows will parasitize the nests, laying their own eggs in them.  We saw House Sparrows under the bridge. They were nesting inside the drain holes, watching the swallows work hard on their own nests.

CLICK HERE to see the full album of photos.

We saw a few Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, and Great Blue Herons. One of the Great Blues had something sticking out of its throat. It looked like it was coming from the inside out, like the bird had jabbed at something to eat among sticks and impaled itself.  The stick (or whatever it was) didn’t seem to interfere with the bird’s ability to move around and turn its head, but we couldn’t tell if it would interfere with the bird’s ability to feed itself.

After she got home, Roxanne contacted the people she knew at the Yolo Basin Foundation (the organization that oversees the bypass wildlife area) to let them know about the bird. She got the impression that they were indifferent to the bird’s distress and probably weren’t going to do anything. I understand the whole “circle of life” thing, but I believe that if you’re paid to manage a wildlife area and are in a position to help an injured animal, you should do what you can… otherwise, what are you “managing”?  The dirt? It frustrates me.

Downingia, Flatface Calicoflower, Downingia pulchella

Two surprises on the trip included seeing patches of purple-blue downingia growing in a few dense clumps in the otherwise dry pond areas, and finding baby Killdeer. Those little things are so danged cute! They’re little striped fuzz balls with disproportionately long legs that run all over the place.  I was trying to video one of them and could barely keep it in view. Hah!

The chicks are precocial (able to fend for itself almost immediately) and nidifugous (able to leave the nest) almost immediately after hatching.

We were out for about six hours before heading home. I counted this as hike #39 of my #52HikeChallenge.

Species List:

  1. ?? Stink Bug Eggs
  2. Aleppo Pine, Pinus halepensis
  3. Almond Tree, Prunus dulcisaloe
  4. American Goldfinch, Spinus tristis
  5. Aphid, Family: Aphididae
  6. Baby Sage, Salvia microphylla [red, or red/white]
  7. Bird’s-Foot Trefoil, Lotus corniculatus
  8. Bird’s-Eye Gilia, Gilia tricolor
  9. Black Mustard, Common Wild Mustard, Brassica nigra
  10. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  11. Black Sage, Salvia mellifera
  12. Black Walnut, Eastern Black Walnut, Juglans nigra
  13. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum
  14. Blue Blossom, Ceanothus thyrsiflorus thyrsiflorus
  15. Brown-Headed Cowbird, Molothrus ater
  16. Bur Clover, Medicago polymorpha
  17. California Flannelbush, Fremontodendron californicum
  18. California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica
  19. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica
  20. California Wild Rose, Rosa californica
  21. Callery Pear, Pyrus calleryana
  22. Carmel Ceanothus, Ceanothus griseus
  23. Cheeseweed Mallow, Malva parviflora
  24. Cleveland Sage, Salvia clevelandii [purple, circles]
  25. Cliff Swallow, Petrochelidon pyrrhonota
  26. Coast Redwood, Sequoia sempervirens
  27. Common Vetch, Vicia sativa [pink flowers]
  28. Coyote Brush Bud Gall midge, Rhopalomyia californica
  29. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  30. Cranefly, European Crane Fly, Tipula paludosa
  31. Crow, American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  32. Curlycup Gumweed, Grindelia squarrosa
  33. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
  34. Downingia, Flatface Calicoflower, Downingia pulchella
  35. European Honeybee, Western Honeybee, Apis mellifera
  36. Foothill Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa tabaniformis orpifex [light eyes]
  37. Fortnight Lily, Dietes grandiflora
  38. Giant Needle Grass, Celtica gigantea
  39. Goldenrod Crab Spider, Misumena vatia
  40. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
  41. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  42. Harding Grass, Phalaris aquatica [a type of canary grass]
  43. Hoary Rock-Rose, Cistus creticus
  44. Hollyhock, Alcea rosea
  45. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  46. House Sparrow, Passer domesticus
  47. Japanese Honeysuckle, Lonicera japonica [white flowers turn yellow]
  48. Khella, Bisnaga Weed, Toothpick Plant, Bishop’s Weed, Ammi visnaga [ a kind of carrot, invasive species]
  49. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  50. Lavender, Topped Lavender, Lavandula stoechas
  51. Leaf Footed Bug, Leptoglossus zonatus
  52. Leafy Bract Gall Wasp, Diplolepis californica [rosette gall on rose bush]
  53. Lupine, Yellow Lupin, Lupinus luteus
  54. Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  55. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris
  56. Mason Bee, Osmia sp.
  57. Mock Strawberry, Potentilla indica
  58. Mossy Rose Gall Wasp, Diplolepis rosae
  59. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  60. Mule Fat Blister Mite, Aceria baccharices
  61. Mule Fat, Baccharis salicifolia
  62. Pacific Forktail Damselfly, Ischnura cervula [males have 4 spots on thorax]
  63. Paper Wasp, Black Paper Wasp, European Paper Wasp, Polistes dominula
  64. Parasitoid Wood Wasps, Family: Orussidae
  65. Pineapple-Weed, Matricaria discoidea
  66. Pinkladies, Oenothera speciosa
  67. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum
  68. Potato Mirid Bug, Closterotomus norwegicus [yellow-green bug]
  69. Rabbitfoot Grass, Polypogon monspeliensis
  70. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  71. Ring-Necked Pheasant, Phasianus colchicus
  72. Rose Weevil, Merhynchites sp.
  73. Rye, Secale cereale
  74. Saint Catherine’s Lace, Eriogonum giganteum [a kind of buckwheat]
  75. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa
  76. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula
  77. Spiny Leaf Gall Wasp, Diplolepis polita [on rose leaves]
  78. Spurge, Mediterranean Spurge, Euphorbia characias
  79. Stinking Chamomile, Anthemis cotula
  80. Tidytips, Frémont’s Tidytips, Layia fremontii
  81. Toyon, Heteromeles arbutifolia
  82. Valley Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa varipuncta
  83. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  84. Western Kingbird, Tyrant Flycatcher, Tyrannus verticalis
  85. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
  86. Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis
  87. White-Faced Ibis, Plegadis chihi
  88. Willow Dock, Rumex salicifolius
  89. Yarrow, Golden Yarrow, Eriophyllum confertiflorum
  90. Yellow Sweetclover, Melilotus officinalis

The Buttermilk Trail, 04-26-21

I got up around 5:30 this morning, so I could head out with my friend and fellow naturalist Roxanne to go into the South Yuba River State Park in the Penn Valley area of Nevada County. We were interested in hiking the Buttermilk Bend Trail. It was partly cloudy, slightly breezy and cool all day. A lovely day for a nature walk.

It took about 2 hours to get to the park, including stops for gas, coffee and a potty break. We got there via highways 70, 49 and 20 to Pleasant Valley Road. For the most part, there was a lot to see on the drive, especially as we got closer to the park. Some of the roadside embankments were covered in white Globe Lilies, irises, yellow Pretty Face, blue Ithuriel’s Spears, and French broom. Pretty!

Prettyface, Triteleia ixioides

We went past the historic barn and the covered bridge(which is undergoing a complete overhaul), and pulled into the main parking lot near the head of the trail. We attacked the trail from near the kiosk and had to climb a steep incline to get to the trail itself. Next time, we’ll enter the trail from the end of the parking lot where there’s a shallower incline and several small bridges that lead up onto the trail. After that initial incline, the rest of the trail was VERY easy to walk, and provided beautiful views of flowers, the river, and acres of a wide variety of trees.

All the while we were walking, we were lulled by the sounds of the river.

Between the views, the research we were able to do, the company, and the weather, it was a great hike.

CLICK HERE for photo album #1.
CLICK HERE for photo album #2.

We could smell and see smoke in some spots on the other side of the river, and figured that they were controlled burns. Cal Fire was out there — and that turned out to be a good thing for me. I’ll tell you more about that later.

There were several different kinds of oak trees in the area: coast live, interior live, blue, valley and black oaks.  So, we got to see quite a few galls including some folded leaf galls, some old Gray Mid-Rib Galls, Round Leaf Galls, spring generation galls of the Live Oak Gall Wasp (that look like funnels with a cap on them), and lots of spring generation galls of the Two-Horned Gall Wasp (that look like shiny brown beaks).

We were surprised to find galls on some of the wild lupine, and some examples of “witches’ broom” on a toyon bush.  The broom is caused by a fungus that creates “…an abnormal brush-like cluster of dwarfed weak shoots arising at or near the same point…” Very cool-looking. I’d seen photos of them, but had never seen a live one before.

Also on toyon, was found some wrinkled leaf effects created by woolly aphids. There was one leaf that was so full of the little guys that the honeydew they produced literally poured out onto our hands making everything sticky.

We got to see quite a few butterflies including Pipevine Swallowtails, a Tiger Swallowtail, several beautiful Checkerspots, and some Cabbage Whites. We also saw some species of Blood Bees, mason bees, a camel cricket, and caterpillars. 

As I mentioned before, the flowers were just lovely. We saw one of my favorites: the Twining Snake Lily. They have a spray of dark pink florets at the end of a long stem that twines its way through the trees, bushes and undergrowth to find the sunlight. One of them was growing over our head and came down from the side of the hill and into the tree branches above us.

New-to-me flowers included the White Globe Lilies, Linear-Lobed Owl’s-Clover, Blue Head Gilia and Ookow. The Ookow were so intensely purple-blue they really stood out.

We saw a couple of squirrels and could hear a few different species of birds, including Lesser Goldfinches. They were eating the seeds and tufts from the plants along the trail.

On some of the rocks along the trail, we came across a handful of Western Fence Lizards (the “blue belly” lizard that do push-ups), including one that had splayed itself over the warm surface of the rock, stretching its legs out in all directions so it could flatten its belly on the stone.  On another rock, we found a VERY pregnant female. She had to lift herself up on her front legs to keep her belly from dragging on the ground. Poor baby.

We walked for a little over four hours, which is usually past my strength and pain threshold, but we were seeing so many thing, and the weather was so beautiful, I didn’t stop when I should have.  Just as we got close to the parking lot, I “hit the wall”. I was dizzy, suddenly completely exhausted, and couldn’t walk. Even the feel of the camera and my carry bag around my neck and shoulders was too much. I found a fence post and leaned over it for support while Roxanne went to get the car and bring it closer to me.

As fate would have it, that was the same time the firefighters were returning to their vehicles after working on the controlled burns. I wasn’t going to bother them, but as the seconds went by, I was feeling worse and worse, so I called out with a very weak voice. Thankfully, some of them heard me and two came right over to see if I was okay. Those two firefighters ushered me back to the car while another one ran to get me a bottle of water. 

The Cal Fire crew

I felt I was hydrated well enough, but I hadn’t stopped anywhere along the four hours to get something to eat, so I think my glucose levels had just crashed. The firefighters made sure I was safe in the car with Rox and hung around until I ate something. A few minutes later, after some rest and something to eat I was fine. [[THANK YOU to Rox, the Universe, and the guys from Cal Fire @CALFIRENEU]]

It was a long day, but one of my favorite outings in a long time. I was so happy we were told about this trail.

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. American Robin, Turdus migratorius
  3. Arabesque Orbweaver Spider, Neoscona arabesca
  4. Asian Lady Beetle, Harmonia axyridis
  5. Bark Rim Lichen, Lecanora chlarotera [looks like Whitewash Lichen but has apothecia]
  6. Barometer Earthstar, Hygroscopic Earthstar, Astraeus hygrometricus
  7. Bedstraw, Graceful Bedstraw Galium porrigens [very tiny leaves and flowers]
  8. Big Berry Manzanita, Arctostaphylos glauca
  9. Bigelow’s Spike Moss, Selaginella bigelovii
  10. Bird’s Foot Cliffbrake, Pellaea mucronata
  11. Black Grain-Spored Lichen, Sarcogyne hypophaea [black, grainy, on rocks]
  12. Black Locust Tree, Robinia pseudoacacia
  13. Blood Bee, Sphecodes sp.
  14. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra cerulea
  15. Blue Oak, Quercus douglasii
  16. Bluehead Gilia, Gilia capitata
  17. Bowltube Iris, Iris macrosipho
  18. Bristly Fiddleneck, Amsinckia tessellate
  19. Broad-Nosed Weevil, Subfamily: Entiminae
  20. Brown-Eyed Shingle Lichen, Pannaria rubiginosa [on trees]
  21. Buckbrush, Ceanothus cuneatus
  22. Bulbous Meadow-Grass, Poa bulbosa
  23. Bumble Bee, Bombus sp.
  24. Cabbage White butterfly, Pieris rapae
  25. California Black Oak, Quercus kelloggii
  26. California Buckeye Chestnut Tree, Aesculus californica
  27. California Bumble Bee, Bombus californicus
  28. California Buttercup, Ranunculus californicus
  29. California Camouflage Lichen, Melanelixia californica [dark green with brown apothecia]
  30. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  31. California Manroot, Bigroot, Marah fabaceus
  32. California Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta
  33. California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica
  34. California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica
  35. California Quail, Callipepla californica [heard]
  36. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  37. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica
  38. Camel Cricket, Gammarotettix sp.
  39. Canyon Live-Forever, Dudleya cymosa
  40. Canyon Live Oak, Quercus chrysolepis
  41. Chaparral Honeysuckle, Lonicera interrupta
  42. Chinese Houses, Purple Chinese Houses, Collinsia heterophylla
  43. Cliff Swallow, Petrochelidon pyrrhonota
  44. Common Sunburst Lichen, Golden Shield Lichen, Xanthoria parietina [yellow-orange]
  45. Concentric Boulder Lichen, Porpidia crustulata [circles of black spots on rock]
  46. Conical Trashline Orbweaver, Cyclosa conica
  47. Convergent Lady Beetle, Hippodamia convergens
  48. Copper Underwing Moth, Amphipyra pyramidoides [caterpillars are green with thin white stripe]
  49. Coppered White-Cheeked Jumping Spider, Pelegrina aeneola
  50. Cowpie Crater Lichen, Diploschistes muscorum [pale grey with sunken black apotheca]
  51. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  52. Cretanweed, Hedypnois rhagadioloides [small, yellow, dandelion-like]
  53. Crow, American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  54. Deerbrush Ceanothus, Ceanothus integerrimus [white]
  55. Dendroalsia Moss, Dendroalsia abietina [long, curling tendrils on trees]
  56. Dove’s-Foot Crane’s-Bill, Geranium molle
  57. Elegant Camouflage Lichen, Melanohalea elegantula [leafy like hoary lichen but much darker gray/black]
  58. Elegant Clarkia, Clarkia unguiculata [red line on leaves]
  59. False Turkey-Tail, Stereum ostrea
  60. Flame Firedot Lichen, Caloplaca ignea [orange on rock, elongated lobes and orange apothecia]
  61. Flower Buprestid Beetle, Acmaeodera hepburnii
  62. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  63. French Broom, Genista monspessulana
  64. Fringepod, Sand Fringepod, Common Lacepod, Thysanocarpus curvipes
  65. Gabb’s Checkerspot Butterfly, Chlosyne gabbii
  66. Gall Inducing Wooly Aphid, Stegophylla essigi [in live oaks, folds the leaf over itself; sometimes the leaf turns red/reddish]
  67. Goldback Fern, Pentagramma triangularis
  68. Grassy Tarweed, Madia gracilis
  69. Gray Mid-Rib Gall Wasp, Besbicus multipunctatus
  70. Gray Pine, Pinus sabiniana
  71. Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata
  72. Gumweed, Grindelia integrifolia
  73. Hairy Vetch, Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa ssp. villosa 
  74. Himalayan Blackberry, Rubus bifrons [white flowers]
  75. Hoary Rosette Lichen, Physcia aipolia [hoary, brown apothecia]
  76. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  77. Ithuriel’s Spear, Triteleia laxa
  78. Labyrinth Orbweaver Spider, Metepeira labyrinthea
  79. Lecidella Lichen, Lecidella elaeochroma [round black spots on white background]
  80. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  81. Linear-Lobed Owl’s-Clover, Castilleja lineariloba
  82. Live Oak Gall Wasp, Spring Generation, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis [looks like a soft funnel, green to brown]
  83. Lupine Stem Gall Midge, Neolasioptera lupini
  84. Lupine, Bush Lupine, Silver Lupine, Lupinus albifrons var. albifrons
  85. Lupine, Chick Lupine, Lupinus microcarpus
  86. Lupine, Miniature Lupine, Lupinus bicolor
  87. Lupine, Spider Lupine, Lupinus benthamii
  88. Madrone, Pacific Madrone, Arbutus menziesii
  89. Musk Stork’s-Bill, Erodium moschatum
  90. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus
  91. Oakmoss Lichen, Evernia prunastri [with soredia]
  92. Ookow, Dichelostemma congestum
  93. Osage-Orange, Maclura pomifera
  94. Periwinkle, Greater Periwinkle, Vinca major [on the roadside]
  95. Phacelia, Caterpillar Scorpionweed, Phacelia cicutaria [white]
  96. Pine Spittlebug, Aphrophora cribrata
  97. Pineapple-Weed, Matricaria discoidea
  98. Pipestem Clematis, Old Man’s Beards, Clematis lasiantha
  99. Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Western Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
  100. Ponderosa Pine, Pinus ponderosa
  101. Popcorn Flower, Common Popcorn Flower, Plagiobothrys fulvus
  102. Potter’s Wasp, Stenodynerus sp.
  103. Prettyface, Triteleia ixioides
  104. Q-Tips, Micropus californicus
  105. Red Maids, Calandrinia menziesii
  106. Redberry, Hollyleaf Redberry, Rhamnus ilicifolia
  107. Resurrection Plant, Selaginella lepidophylla
  108. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia [on the roadside]
  109. Rock Tripe, Emery Rocktripe Lichen, Umbilicaria phaea
  110. Rose Clover, Trifolium hirtum
  111. Round Leaf Gall Wasp, Heteroecus flavens [formerly Andricus flavens, ball in the middle of the leaf, live oak]
  112. Sanicle, Pacific Sanicle, Sanicula crassicaulis [large, yellow flowers]
  113. Seven-Spotted Lady Beetle, Coccinella septempunctata [larva]
  114. Shining Pepperweed, Lepidium nitidum
  115. Silver Hairgrass, Ghost Grass, Aira caryophyllea
  116. Silverpuffs, Uropappus lindleyi [like blow wives but with pointed ends]
  117. Simbicid Sawfly, Abia americana [pale caterpillar with black and yellow markings]
  118. Slender Clarkia, Clarkia gracilis
  119. Small-Flowered Catchfly, Silene gallica
  120. Smooth Cliffbrake, Pellaea glabella
  121. Snake Apple Vine, Ibervillea lindheimeri
  122. Snakefly, Agulla adnixa
  123. Striped Volcano Gall Wasp, Andricus atrimentus, Spring generation [looks like a ball at the base of the leaf; dark inside]
  124. Sunflower, Common Woolly Sunflower, Eriophyllum lanatum
  125. Thread-Waisted Wasps, Family: Sphecidae [mud dauber]
  126. Toyon, Heteromeles arbutifolia
  127. True Babystars, Leptosiphon bicolor [green puffball with pink flowers]
  128. Tufted Poppy, Eschscholzia caespitosa
  129. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  130. Twining Snakelily, Dichelostemma volubile
  131. Two-Horned Gall Wasp, bisexual gall, spring generation,  Dryocosmus dubiosus [looks like a hard, shiny, brown “beak” on the edge of the leaf]
  132. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  133. Western Fence Lizard, Blue Belly, Sceloporus occidentalis
  134. Western Gray Squirrel, Sciurus griseus
  135. Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis
  136. Western Spotted Cucumber Beetle, Diabrotica undecimpunctata undecimpunctata
  137. Western Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly, Papilio rutulus
  138. Western Tussock Moth, Orgyia vetusta
  139. Western Virgin’s Bower, Clematis ligusticifolia
  140. White Globe Lily, Calochortus albus
  141. Wild Oat Grass, Chrysopogon aciculatus
  142. Windmill Pink, Hairy Pink, Petrorhagia dubia
  143. Winter Moth, Operophtera brumata [little green caterpillar on oak]
  144. Witches’ Broom on Toyon, Phytoplasma sp.
  145. Wooly Oak Aphid, Stegophylla essigi
  146. Yarrow, Achillea millefolium

So Much to See Today!, 04-29-90

I got up around 6:00 this morning, and was out the door by 6:30 to go over to the WPA Rock Garden and William Land Park.  There was an odd overcast for most of the day which helped to save off some of the heat we’ve been experiencing lately, so it was about 61°F all the while I was out walking and only got up to about 77° by the end of the day.  Nice!

There were a few other people in the park and garden, but they all respected the social distancing thing, which I appreciated.  The WPA Rock Garden was pretty much showing off with a variety of cultivated and native plants and flowers.  Lots of sages, roses, irises, lilies, and one of my favorites: Tower of Jewels.  I’m sure I located over 70 different species there.

CLICK HERE for the album of flowers.
CLICK HERE for the album of other photos from today. [There were so many, I had to split the images up.]

I was surprised that I didn’t see as many birds and insects as I expected to this time of year.

I then walked around the middle-sized pond in the park.  It’s getting overrun with Sacred Lotus again. Once more, I didn’t see a whole lot of wild birds, but there were plenty of resident geese and domestic ducks around, as well as a few pairs of Wood Ducks.  I did see a pair of Western Bluebirds when they landed near the edge of the pond to get a drink and bathe a little bit.  Oh, and I saw a couple of Double-Crested Cormorants.

Western Bluebirds, Sialia Mexicana

There were also quite a few Douglas Squirrels and Eastern Fox Squirrels running around, and several Red-Eared Slider Turtles in the water and sunning themselves on the banks.

Red-Eared Slider Turtle, Trachemys scripta elegans

When I walked around the amphitheater near the pond, I was happy to come across the nest of a Black Phoebe. Mom periodically sat on the eggs/babies while dad kept guard.  I was able to get a few photos of them.

Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans

When I was done at the garden, I drove over to the larger pond in the park and walked around that one, too.  The first thing I notice there was a pair of Wood Ducks in a tree.  The female was checking out one of the manmade duck boxes set up for them, but she didn’t seem all that comfortable with it.  She flew up against the opening, but didn’t go in. I wonder if there was already a bird in there.

I saw Mallard ducklings in a variety of stages from fuzzy newborns to young fledglings.  There was a one tight group of ducklings (which I think were Wood Ducks) that were without their parents.  They were swimming around the pond all the while I was there, peeping and crying.  No one answered their calls and it made me wonder if the parents had abandoned them or had been killed (or stolen). 

Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos,ducklings all by themselves.

There was a pair of dark Muscovy Ducks mating in the water, and I thought it was interesting how the male kept making sure his mate could breathe (by putting in bill under her chin and lifting it up).  I’ve seen Mallards mate in the water and sometimes the females get pushed down so far they can’t get their head up and drown.

When I was taking photos of a couple of groups of goslings, one of the white Chinese Goose (AKA Swan Goose) decided she didn’t like me around there and started to rush me, head down, ready to bite.  I told her “no” a few times, but that didn’t deter her.  So, I took my hat off and held it in front of my thigh figuring that if she struck at me, she’d get the straw hat and not my skin.  The lowering of the hat discouraged her and she finally walked off. Phew!

Canada Goose, Branta canadensis,goslings

While I was dealing with her, though, I could hear a very odd, exceedingly loud honking sound coming from the edge of the pond. When I went over to investigate I realized it was a hybrid goose, probably part Canada Goose and part Chinese Goose.  It’s call was so weird though, sounding like a mix between a scream and a honk, CREE-onk! CREE-onk! CREE-onk!  It was like its voice cracked mid-sound.  I tried to get video of its sound, but every time I turned the camera on it, the goose went quiet.

The Canada Goose X Greylag Goose hybrid.

I walked for about 5 hours (!) and then headed back home.

Species List:

  1. African Blue Sage, Salvia africana
  2. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  3. Autumn Sage, Salvia greggii [deep red]
  4. Balloon Flower, Platycodon grandifloras [deep purple]
  5. Bearded Iris, Iris × germanica
  6. Bear’s Breeches, Acanthus mollis
  7. Beauty Bush, Linnaea amabilis [pink flowers, look similar to Catalpa]
  8. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  9. Black Sage, Salvia mellifera [kind of looks like horehound]
  10. Blue Agave, Tequilla Agave, Agave tequilana
  11. Blue Statice, Limonium sinuatum
  12. Borage, Borago officinalis
  13. Brass Buttons, Cotula coronopifolia
  14. Brazil Raintree, Brunfelsia pauciflora
  15. Bronze Fennel, Florence Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare dulce
  16. Buff Orpington Duck, Anas platyrhynchos domesticus var. Orpington
  17. Buffelgrass, Fountain Grass, Cenchrus ciliaris
  18. Bush Katydid, Scudderia furcata [nymph]
  19. Bushtit, American Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus
  20. California Goldenbanner, Thermopsis californica [kind of looks like broom]
  21. California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica
  22. California Sycamore, Platanus racemose
  23. Calla Lily, Zantedeschia aethiopica
  24. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  25. Cape Honey Flower, Melianthus major
  26. Cardoon, Artichoke, Cynara cardunculus
  27. Cayuga Duck, Pekin Duck, Anas platyrhynchos domesticus var. Cayuga
  28. Chinese Weeping Cypress, Cupressus pendula
  29. Common Columbine, Aquilegia vulgaris
  30. Common Greenbottle Fly, Lucilia sericata
  31. Common Poppy, Red Poppy of Flanders, Papaver rhoeas
  32. Common Stretch Spider, Long-Jawed Orb Weaver, Tetragnatha extensa
  33. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  34. Crested Duck, Anas platyrhynchos domesticus var. Crested
  35. Crevice Alumroot, Heuchera micrantha [tiny pink flowers]
  36. Dame’s Rocket, Hesperis matronalis
  37. Domestic Swan Goose, Chinese Goose, Anser cygnoides domesticus [white or gray, knob on forehead]
  38. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
  39. Douglas’ Squirrel, Tamiasciurus douglasii [small brown squirrel, white belly]
  40. Dutch Iris, Flag Iris, Iris × hollandica
  41. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
  42. Fern, Japanese Netvein Hollyfern, Cyrtomium falcatum
  43. Field Penny-Cress, Thlaspi arvense [“silver dollar”]
  44. Garden Snail, Cornu aspersum
  45. Giant Fennel, Ferula communis
  46. Giant Herb-Robert Geranium, Geranium maderense
  47. Giant Mullein, Broussa Mullein, Verbascum bombyciferum
  48. Golden Columbine, Aquilegia chrysantha
  49. Grass Sharpshooter, Draeculacephala Minerva
  50. Graylag Goose, Anser anser
  51. Hairy Matilija Poppy, Romneya trichocalyx
  52. Hedgehog Holly, Ilex aquifolium
  53. Hellebore, Stinking Hellebore, Helleborus foetidus
  54. Hoary Rock-Rose, Cistus criticus [bright pink, crinkly petals]
  55. Honeywort, Blue Shrimp Plant, Cerinthe major ssp. purpurascens [purple]
  56. Honeywort, Cerinthe major [yellow]
  57. Hoverfly, Common Flower Fly, Syrphus ribesii
  58. Japanese Yellow Woodland Sage, Salvia koyamae [yellow]
  59. Jerusalem Sage, Phlomis sp.
  60. Juniper Leaved Grevillea, Grevillea juniperina [spidery,orange]
  61. Leatherleaf Mahonia, Leatherleaf Barberry, Berberis bealei
  62. Lords and Ladies, Wild Arum, Arum maculatum
  63. Love-in-a-Mist, Nigella damascena
  64. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  65. Mexican Sage, Salvia Mexicana [deep purple]
  66. Moss Verbena, Verbena pulchella
  67. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  68. Multiflora Rose, Rosa multiflora
  69. Muscovy Duck, Cairina moschata domestica
  70. Naples Garlic, Allium neapolitanum [white with green seed center]
  71. Northern Catalpa, Indian Bean Tree, Catalpa speciosa
  72. Pacific Bleeding Heart, Dicentra formosa
  73. Pacific Forktail Damselfly, Ischnura cervula
  74. Pacific-Slope Flycatcher, Empidonax difficilis
  75. Pekin Duck, Anas platyrhynchos domesticus var. Pekin
  76. Peruvian Lily, Alstroemeria aurea
  77. Pinkladies, Oenothera speciosa
  78. Red Hot Poker, Kniphofia uvaria
  79. Red Valerian, Centranthus ruber
  80. Red-Eared Slider Turtle, Trachemys scripta elegans
  81. Rose, Rosa sp.
  82. Rosemary Grevillea, Grevillea rosmarinifolia [spidery, red]
  83. Sacred Lotus, Nelumbo nucifera
  84. Scarlet Kammetjie, Freesia laxa
  85. Sea Mallow, Malva subovata [kind of looks like hibiscus]
  86. Seaside Daisy, Erigeron glaucus [like fleabane]
  87. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa
  88. Small Honey Ant, Prenolepis imparis
  89. Smokebush, Smoke Tree, Cotinus coggygria
  90. Soap Aloe, Aloe maculata
  91. Society Garlic, Tulbaghia violacea
  92. Spice Bush, California Sweetshrub, Calycanthus occidentalis
  93. Spurge, Mediterranean Spurge, Euphorbia characias
  94. Spurge, Sun Spurge, Euphorbia helioscopia
  95. Swedish Blue Duck, Anas platyrhynchos domesticus var. Swedish Blue
  96. Sweet-William, Dianthus barbatus
  97. Tasmanian Flax-Lily, Dianella tasmanica [develops bright blue seeds]
  98. Tobacco, Coyote Tobacco, Nicotiana attenuata
  99. Tower-of-Jewels, Giant Viper’s-Bugloss, Echium pininana
  100. Valley Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa varipuncta
  101. Western Bluebird, Sialia Mexicana
  102. Wild Beardstyle, Stalked Bulbine, Bulbine frutescens [spray of orange or yellow flowers]
  103. Wood Duck, Aix sponsa
  104. Yellow Iris, Iris pseudacorus
  105. ellow-faced Bumble Bee, Bombus vosnesenskii

Cygnets and Goslings, 04-26-20

I got up at 6 o’clock this morning and headed out with my friend Roxanne to the Mather Lake Regional Park by 6:30 am.  We were hoping to walk the full length of the trail along the far side of the lake (the less manicured side) and wanted to check in on the swans to see if they were off their nests yet.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

The first thing we saw when we got into the park were several families of Canada Geese and their goslings.  One pair was looking after 30 (yes, 30) of the fuzzy babies.  Most of the geese have up to 8 goslings, so, when you see a large group of them (like 30) it’s a group of goslings from different parents (called a creche) that are being overseen by babysitters while the parents go off to feed. Creches usually occur where a lot of geese nest in a small area.

A very chubby Canada Goose, Branta canadensis, gosling

Except for the creches and the parenting behavior we saw among the geese, in which the male steps forward to protect his babies while the female herds the kids away to another location, we also saw a lot of “rule by tyranny” behavior with the nonbreeding adults posturing, honking at, and threatening others who came near them.  Once the breeding season is over, the flocks are less apt to be so aggressive.

Canada geese mate for life, but will take a new partner if their spouse dies.  The goslings are remarkable. They leave the nest within 24 hours of hatching, and can walk, feed, swim and dive without parental supervision.  But they do still need their parents for warmth and protection.

Because there were so many baby birds around, I was constantly being distracted by them and their fluffy cuteness, and I wasn’t being a very observant naturalist,s o I’m sure I missed tons of stuff along the trail.  I know that I missed the specimen of Dog Vomit Slime Mold that Roxanne saw and photographed. D’oh!  Still, I managed to get about 70 species on my list for today.       

We saw and heard several Great-Tailed Grackles along the trail. The males are singing and posturing for the females right now, so they’re very vocal. Some of their calls are quite loud and carried all the way across the lake.

Another unexpectedly loud creature was a Mute Swan who, without babies, was harassing the geese and other swans in the water.  It would run across the surface of the water in the direction of whomever it was focused on, slapping its feet and smacking its wing tips against the water, making a great noisy, splashing display obviously designed to intimidate.  Cornell calls this a “Foot-Slapping Display” and is usually related to territory.  “The sound produced by this display can be heard several hundred meters away,” says Cornell.  That’s for sure!  I could hardly believe how noisy it was. “Although both sexes can show aggressive behavior, it is more common and dramatic with males.”

I liked this photo of one of the parent Mute Swans (which actually are not mute). This posture is referred to as a “busk”; it’s a threat posture. Depending on how aggressive the bird is feeling the busk can take on more dramatic forms, with a deeper tuck of the neck and higher arch of the wings. This swan had babies with her, and she wasn’t thrilled when another swan came near them.

As I think I’ve mentioned before, Mute Swans were introduced into the US in the 1800’s as decorative accents to city parks and rich people’s homes.  In California, they’re considered an invasive species and it’s illegal to own them without a permit.  The “feral” ones in this park, though, are seemingly left to breed at will. 

The males are called “cobs” and the females are called “pens”. There were a lot of both on the water today, and several of the pairs had broods of cygnets (between 6 and 10).  I had never seen live cygnets before, so I was captivated by them and their white fuzziness. I watched as the moms reached down deep into the water to pull up aquatic plants for the babies to eat. 

About 80% of the swans’ diet is made of water plants, and because of the way they feed – roots to tips — they can completely tear out all of the very stuff they need to live on. The rest of their diet can include small fish, larger dead fish, and ripe berries (like blackberries).

You’ll note that some of the swans look like they have rusty-looking feathers on the top of the head. This is not any special kind of coloration. In fact, Cornell says: “…Plumage entirely white. Feathers of head and upper neck may become stained green, brown, or rust color from foraging among various substrates (MAC)…”

We also saw some of the swans basking in the warm morning light and a pair of adults sitting across the lake with their cygnets all gathered up in the nest.

As we walked along the trail, kind of chasing after the swans from the shore, we were inundated by a minty smell all around us.  It took us a moment to figure out where the smell was coming from, but then we decided that it was all the Pennyroyal around and under our feet.  None of it was in bloom yet, so we didn’t recognize it right away.

Pennyroyal mimics spearmint, but it’s actually poisonous. Although it’s been used in herbal medicines, ingestion or absorption through the skin can cause severe liver damage; it’s often used as an insect repellent.  Because it’s not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, though, people still use and abuse it.

We were attacked by ticks all day, more so than anywhere else we’ve walked lately, and I swear some of them were just falling out of the trees onto our heads and limbs. I got rid of three of them during our walk, and found three more in my hair after I got home. CHECK FOR TICKS! 

American Dog Tick, Dermacentor variabilis

Among the other insects we saw were some female Valley Carpenter Bees (the largest bees in California; about the size of your thumb) and several species of damselflies (including Sooty Dancers, Pacific Forktails, and Northern Bluets).  We also found a small Sweat Bee rolling around in Hawksbeard flowers and its entire body was caked in yellow pollen. Hah!

In the lake was got to see quite a few Gallinules (but none of them came very close to the shore) and lots of Pied-Billed Grebes.  We could hear and see the grebes calling to one another, but whenever I got my came up ready to video them, they’d go quiet.  We saw a pair of three of the grebes, one smaller than the other two, and speculated about what could cause the distinct size difference.  We threw out the idea that maybe it was a set of parents and a juvenile because all of the birds had their adult breeding coloring on. So we settled on the group as being two large males and a smaller female.

Elsewhere in the lake, we watched one of the grebes catch and eat something.  From our distance, we couldn’t tell what it had caught, but I got some video of it and discovered it was a crayfish.  I was amazed that the little bird could swallow that big hard-shelled creature whole.

There were a lot of Tree Swallows around the lake, and we were able to get photos of some of them in and near their nesting cavities.  We also saw a pair trying to mate in a tree, but it seemed like the male just couldn’t get into the right position.  He’d light on the female, flutter off, light on the female flutter off.  She didn’t seem to be trying to get away from him or drive him off; in fact, she just kind of sat there. The mess-up was all on the male’s part; he just couldn’t get his act together.

The most exciting sighting of the day, though, was as we were heading back to the car.  Roxanne mentioned that she’d love to be able to see the muskrat again, and almost as soon as she said that, I spotted the muskrat in the water close to where we were walking.  It swam away from the shore, dove under the water, and came back up with a mouth full of water plants.  Then it swam straight at us, toward the shore, and disappeared under the water again… but I was still able to see it for a few seconds as is swam under the surface.  So neat!  [If you watch the video, just ignore my  gleeful squee-ing.]

Muskrat, Ondatra zibethicus

We were out for about 5½ hours.

When we headed back home, we stopped at a drive-through to get some iced coffee and grilled cheese sammiches, and while we were waiting in line, we saw some House Sparrows going to and from the nest they had setup in one of the drain holes near the roof of the building. Nature adapts.

Species List:

  1. American Coot, Fulica americana
  2. American Dog Tick, Dermacentor variabilis
  3. American Robin, Turdus migratorius
  4. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  5. Azolla, Water Fern, Azolla filiculoides
  6. Black Bean Aphid, Aphis fabae
  7. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  8. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum
  9. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  10. California Black Oak, Quercus kelloggii
  11. California Brome, Bromus carinatus
  12. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  13. California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica
  14. California Quail, Callipepla californica
  15. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  16. California Scrub Oak, Quercus berberidifolia
  17. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  18. Common Gallinule, Gallinula galeata
  19. Common Green Lacewing, Chrysoperla carnea [larvae]
  20. Cork Oak, Quercus suber
  21. Cottonwood Leaf Gall Aphid, Pemphigus populivenae
  22. Cottonwood Petiole Gall, Poplar Petiole Gall Aphid, Pemphigus populitransversus
  23. Coyote Brush Bud Gall midge, Rhopalomyia californica
  24. Coyote Brush Rust Gall, Puccinia evadens
  25. Coyote Brush Stem Gall moth, Gnorimoschema baccharisella
  26. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  27. Crimson Clover, Trifolium incarnatum
  28. Curly Dock, Rumex crispus
  29. Eurasian Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto
  30. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  31. Filamentous Green Algae, Spirogyra sp.
  32. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  33. Great Blue Heron, Ardea Herodias
  34. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  35. Great-Tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus
  36. Green Heron, Butorides virescens
  37. Hairy Vetch, Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa ssp. villosa 
  38. Hare’s Foot Inkcap, Coprinopsis lagopus
  39. Hawksbeard, Smooth Hawksbeard, Crepis capillaris
  40. House Sparrow, Passer domesticus
  41. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon
  42. Italian Thistle, Carduus pycnocephalus
  43. Jersey Cudweed, Pseudognaphalium luteoalbum
  44. Jointed Charlock, Wild Radish, Raphanus raphanistrum
  45. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  46. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  47. Mediterranean Praying Mantis, Iris Mantis, Iris oratoria [very narrow ootheca]
  48. Mediterranean Stork’s-Bill, Erodium botrys
  49. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  50. Multiflora Rose, Rosa multiflora
  51. Muskrat, Ondatra zibethicus
  52. Mute Swan, Cygnus olor
  53. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii [heard]
  54. Pacific Forktail Damselfly, Ischnura cervula [males blue, 4 dots on thorax]
  55. Pennyroyal, Mentha pulegium
  56. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  57. Popcorn Flowers, Plagiobothrys sp.
  58. Rabbitfoot Grass, Polypogon monspeliensis
  59. Red-Eared Slider Turtle, Trachemys scripta elegans
  60. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  61. Ribwort Plantain, Plantago lanceolata
  62. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  63. Scarlet Pimpernel, Lysimachia arvensis
  64. Slender Path Rush, Juncus tenuis
  65. Sooty Dancer Damselfly, Argia lugens
  66. Stork’s Bill, Big Heron Bill, Broadleaf Filaree, Erodium botrys
  67. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  68. Tripartite Sweat Bee, Halictus tripartitus [tiny, striped abdomen]
  69. Turkey Tangle Frogfruit, Phyla nodiflora
  70. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  71. Unidentified Willow, Salix sp.
  72. Valley Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa varipuncta
  73. Water Milfoil, Myriophyllum triphyllum
  74. Western Fence Lizard, Blue Belly, Sceloporus occidentalis
  75. Western Kingbird, Tyrant Flycatcher, Tyrannus verticalis
  76. Western Polished Lady Beetle, Cycloneda polita
  77. White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus [kiting high overhead]
  78. Wild Mustard, Sinapis arvensis
  79. Yellow-Headed Blackbird, Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus