Category Archives: Firsts

A Hawk Day, 10-20-20

I got up around 6:30 this morning, and headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk. It was very much a “hawk” day today, although I also saw songbirds and lots of deer.

The first thing I saw when I got there was a male Western Bluebird skittering across the lawn outside the nature center.  As I headed out onto the main trail, I saw my first Red-Shouldered Hawk of the morning. She was sitting on the top of an old snag near the meadow. I then followed a small herd of  black-tailed deer that were browsing on the edge of the meadow and then crossed the trail into another field. 

As I was taking the photos of the deer, a Red-Shouldered Hawk flew right down on the limb of a tree in front of me with her breakfast in her talons. (I don’t know if the same bird I’d seen earlier on the snag, but I had a sense it might be.) 

The hawk had an alligator lizard, which it quickly dispatched by biting and twisting off its head.  I got photos and video snippets of the bird as it continued to eat.  It seemed oblivious to me, despite my close proximity, and eventually finished off the lizard by sucking down its tail before flying off. That was so cool to see.

Then I was back on the trails again, going along the Meadow Trail to the Pond Trail, back to the main trail and over to the Bluff Trail before going back toward the nature center.  I found more deer along the way, including a split-prong (2-pointer) and a spike buck.  I also found a small sapling that had had much of its bark rubbed off by the deer rubbing their antlers against it.  They do that in part to remove any remaining velvet from the antlers and in part to lay down their scent for other deer to sniff and follow.

Along the way, I came across three species of squirrels: Western Gray, Eastern Fox, and California Ground Squirrel. I also found Mourning Doves, a Bewick’s Wren, a House Wren, Dark-Eyed Juncos and other birds. I caught glimpses of Nuttall’s Woodpeckers but couldn’t get photos of any of them, and watched as the Acorn Woodpeckers moved acorns around between their granary trees and periodically chased off encroaching Starlings. 

At one spot, I found an ash tree with white foamy exudate on the bark. Most of the stuff had dried and gone sicky, and it looked like each line of the ooze came from a point where something had bored into the tree. I think we have several species of ash borer beetles here in California, including the emerald and the banded, but I didn’t get close enough to the tree to inspect under the bark for them. There were ants on ooze, which isn’t unusual. The “soar beer” smell of the flux exudate often attracts a variety of insects.

Alcoholic Flux bacteria, Foamy Canker, Slime Flux, Phytophthora sp. X other bacteria

There were lots of bees clustered around the opening to the hive in the bee tree. I wondered, in the cool morning air, if they were so tightly gathered to help keep each other (and their queen) warm.  I caught sight of a cottontail rabbit at the base of the same tree, but he was too hidden in the overgrowth for me to get a clear photos of him.

European Honeybee, Western Honeybee, Apis mellifera

When I was nearer to the nature center again, I stopped to photograph some ground squirrels who were gathered around their burrows. One of them was sitting on a stump near one of the openings to the burrows, making a soft but constant “peeping” sound.  I’ve hear the squirrels give out loud, sharp alarm calls before, but nothing like this one, so I got some video of it to help document it for myself. 

Then suddenly, a Red-Shouldered Hawk swooped down and landed right next to the burrow! The squirrel that had been giving out the soft call, broke out into its sharp, bright, loud alarm call, and the other squirrels around the burrow ducked down into the burrows. The alarmist remained on its stump to keep an eye on the hawk that was now on the ground. And the hawk, having seemingly missed whatever it had been after, stood there for a moment looking frustrated and confused. It then lifted itself up and flew off into a nearby tree (where I was later able to get a few more photos of it.)

While I was watching all that happening, the Effie Yeaw volunteer coordinator, Rachael, was out nearby with two new volunteers. They’d heard the alarm call and saw the hawk take off, but didn’t see what happened. Rachael wondered if the hawk had been after one of the squirrels, but based on what I saw, I didn’t think so. The squirrels I could see were all near the entrances to the burrows, and the hawk landed in the grass a few feet away from them. [And it’s the wrong time of the year for baby squirrels to be about.] I think it was after a snake or lizard, or maybe a mouse or vole. Whatever it was, it got away.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

As I was heading out of the preserve, I saw two California Towhees taking a bath in the shallow “pump pool” next to the pond.  I stopped to take some photos and video of them, and as I was doing that, I saw a Black Phoebe standing on top of a broken tule near them… a trio of Lesser Goldfinches, and a White-Breasted Nuthatch.

One of the male goldfinches and the nuthatch came down onto low branches near where the towhees were bathing, watching them. I got the sense that they wanted to take baths, too, but being much smaller than the towhees, they didn’t dare try to run them out of the water. So they waited patiently for the towhees to leave.

Here’s a video snippet of the nuthatch:

I walked for about 3½ hours before heading back home, and felt I’d had a very fun and productive photo morning.

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. Alcoholic Flux bacteria, Foamy Canker, Slime Flux, Phytophthora sp. X other bacteria
  3. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  4. Azolla, Water Fern, Azolla filiculoides
  5. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii
  6. Black Garden Ant, Common Black Ant, Lasius niger
  7. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  8. Bushtit, American Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus
  9. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  10. California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana
  11. California Quail, Callipepla californica [heard]
  12. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  13. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis
  14. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis [flying overhead]
  15. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
  16. Common Crow, American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  17. Crisped Pincushion Moss, Ulota crispa [tight bunches]
  18. Dark-Eyed Junco, Junco hyemalis
  19. Desert Cottontail Rabbit, Sylvilagus audubonii
  20. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
  21. European Honeybee, Western Honeybee, Apis mellifera
  22. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  23. Golden Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
  24. Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata
  25. Hoary Lichen, Hoary Rosette, Physcia aipolia
  26. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon
  27. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  28. Labyrinth Orb-Weaver Spider, Metepeira labyrinthea [web]
  29. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  30. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  31. Northern Alligator Lizard, Elgaria coerulea
  32. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
  33. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii [heard]
  34. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus
  35. Plum, Prunus cerasifera
  36. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  37. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  38. Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Regulus calendula
  39. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus [heard]
  40. Sulphur Shelf Fungus, Western Hardwood Sulphur Shelf, Laetiporus gilbertsonii
  41. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  42. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  43. Western Bluebird, Sialia Mexicana
  44. Western Fence Lizard, Blue Belly, Sceloporus occidentalis
  45. Western Gray Squirrel, Sciurus griseus
  46. White Ash Tree, Fraxinus americana
  47. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis
  48. White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys

Our First Bitterns of the Season, 10-12-20

Happy Indigenous People’s Day! I got up around 6:00 this morning and was out the door by 6:30 to head out for an all-day birding drive with my friend and fellow naturalist, Roxanne. We stopped off to get some breakfast at a drive-through and then got on the freeway, heading north.

We stopped first at the cemetery in the little town of Maxwell, looking for the Vermillion Flycatcher that has been spotted and photographed there over the past few weeks. We saw doves, finches, blackbirds and starlings… but didn’t see the flycatcher.

Eurasian Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto in a cypress tree at the cemetery.

He’s a bright red bird with black highlights, so it’s not like we could’ve missed him if we ever caught sight of him. But I guess he wasn’t up yet. Dang it! (What was a double dang-it was the fact that someone else went there later in the afternoon and got photos of him. Arrrgh!)

Vermilion Flycatcher, male. Photo by Janell Darroch at the Maxwell Cemetery

We then went to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge to see what the water situation was there, and to look for bitterns. Other people have posting photos of them from there recently, and Rox had never seen one before, so we were hoping to get lucky.

The first thing we saw when we drove into the turnout was a family of four river otters in the slough that runs parallel to the railroad tracks. They were pretty far away, and moving quickly in the water, so getting photos and videos of them was a bit difficult – but we felt it was an auspicious start to the morning there.  We could see that some of them were crunching up crayfish.

We stopped off at the nature center to use the restroom, and were greeted by a sign telling visitors to keep a look out for bees that had moved into part of the pergola outside the building. We could see where people had tried to fill gaps between the wooden parts of the pergola with expanding foam…but the bees still managed to find a way in.

As soon as we got on the auto tour route, we saw a juvenile Kite in one of the trees along the entrance path.  And it was a pretty good day for viewing raptors.  Along with the Kite, we also saw a Red-Shouldered Hawk, some Red-Tailed Hawks, Turkey Vultures, a Peregrine Falcon, and a couple of Kestrels. We were hoping to see eagles, too, but none were out when we were there.

Peregrine Falcon, Falco peregrinus

One of the kestrels we saw was a female who was up in a bare-branched tree eating what looked like a large green praying mantis. She was harassed by blackbirds, and at one point lost her meal, but she wouldn’t let them chase her out of the tree.

There were large flocks of Greater White-Fronted Geese in the areas that had water in them.  Most of the refuge is still dry, dry, dry, but water was present in a few ponds and in the sloughs. We also got to see a couple of the bitterns.  Others had photographed them around the slough near the turn-off for the (now closed) extension loop. One was in the shade in the water, and the other was hunting along the side of the road. As I mentioned, Rox had never seen them “live” before, so she was excited to be able see and photograph them.

We also found a large flock of mostly Tree Swallows (with some Barn Swallows thrown in the mix) that were sitting on the road. I’d never seen that behavior before so, of course, I had to look it up when I got home. According to Cornell, Tree Swallows are attracted to warm surfaces, especially roads, and “often bask with belly or back to sun, wings slightly spread, apparently in effort to warm themselves”. That’s kind of what we were seeing. I’d worry, though, if they were on a road surface where there were a lot of cars that wouldn’t necessarily slow down or stop for them.

As an aside, a flock of swallows is called a “flight”, a “gulp”, a “richness” or a “swoop”. Hah!

Speaking of gulps: in one area we saw not fully developed Bull Frogs popping to the surface of the water in a slough to get a breath of air as they metamorphosed from their aquatic water-breathing bodies to their adult air-breathing bodies.

As we were heading out of the refuge, we came across a shallow pond there some ducks and geese were resting, and in among them was a pair of deer. The birds didn’t seem to mind the big animals so close to them; it was really neat to see.

Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus, among the Greater White-Fronted Geese and ducks.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

Then we headed over to the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge to see what might be out there. The majority of the auto tour route was a complete disappointment because things are bone dry out there. Even the pond by the viewing platform was nearly empty. I’d never been out there when it was THAT devoid of water.

The only places where we really saw anything were along the sloughs, and then we saw a lot of Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons. We also saw a couple of Pacific Pond Turtles basking on the top of a log poking out of the water, and a couple of Black-Crowned Night Herons. The big draw at that refuge is the huge flock of the Night Herons that usually gather at the end of the auto tour route. Today, there were only about four birds – when normally we’d see 40. So, we felt kind of cheated by that trip. 

The only surprise was seeing a couple of Sandhill Cranes hiding in the tall grasses and smartweeds.

Oh, and I found a banded Mallard, but I could only read part of its band, so I took a photo and reported it through email.

Banded Mallard, male; either a juvenile, hybrid or adult in eclipse plumage.

There are picnic tables near the restroom facility, but they’re all out in the hot sun, with no shade around them at all. So, when we were done driving the route, we pulled over in the shade in the bus turn-around area and parked, then had our lunch and took a potty break. 

There’s a kind of kiosk in front of the restrooms with flyers and signs on it. Under the roof of it I saw what I assumed was a Phoebe’s nest along with some mud-dauber wasp nests and paper wasp nests. On the side of the building, there was also a single little mud cup that I noticed because a wasp had flown up to it. I thought maybe she was building the cup – but then noticed there was already a wasp inside of it! One of her babies?  I got a few photos and determines she was probably a European Tube Wasp, Ancistrocerus gazella. Cool.

European Tube Wasp, Ancistrocerus gazella

When we finished our lunch, we headed back home.  All in all, we were out for about 8 hours.

Species List:

  1. American Bittern, Botaurus lentiginosus
  2. American Bull Frog, Lithobates catesbeianus
  3. American Coot, Fulica americana
  4. American Kestrel, Falco sparverius
  5. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  6. Barn Swallow,  Hirundo rustica
  7. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  8. Black-Crowned Night Heron, Nycticorax nycticorax
  9. Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
  10. Blue-Eyed Darner Dragonfly, Aeshna multicolor
  11. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  12. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  13. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  14. Cinnamon Teal, Anas cyanoptera
  15. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
  16. Common Crow, American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  17. Common Gallinule, Gallinula galeata
  18. Common Raven, Corvus corax
  19. Common Teasel, Dipsacus fullonum
  20. Cracked Cap Polypore, Phellinus robiniae
  21. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
  22. Eurasian Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto
  23. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  24. European Tube Wasp, Ancistrocerus gazella
  25. Floating Water Primrose, Ludwigia peploides ssp. peploides
  26. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  27. Gadwall duck, Mareca strepera
  28. Golden Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
  29. Goodding’s Black Willow, Salix gooddingii
  30. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
  31. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  32. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons
  33. Green-Winged Teal, Anas carolinensis
  34. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  35. House Sparrow, Passer domesticus
  36. Jimsonweed, Sacred Thorn-Apple, Datura wrightii
  37. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  38. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  39. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  40. Mediterranean Cypress, Cupressus sempervirens
  41. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  42. Mud-Dauber Wasps and Allies, Subfamily: Sceliphrinae
  43. Narrowleaf Milkweed, Asclepias fascicularis
  44. Northern Harrier, Marsh Hawk, Circus hudsonius
  45. Northern Pintail, Anas acuta
  46. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata
  47. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii
  48. Pacific Pond Turtle, Western Pond Turtle, Actinemys marorata
  49. Paper Wasp, European Paper Wasp, Polistes dominula
  50. Peregrine Falcon, Falco peregrinus
  51. Red Gum Eucalyptus, River Redgum, Eucalyptus camaldulensis
  52. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  53. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
  54. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  55. Ring-Necked Pheasant, Phasianus colchicus
  56. River Otter, North American River Otter, Lontra canadensis
  57. Sandbar Willow, Salix exigua var. hindsiana
  58. Sandhill Crane, Grus canadensis
  59. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa
  60. Smartweed, Persicaria lapathifolia [white]
  61. Snow Goose, Chen caerulescens
  62. Speckled Dun Mayfly, Callibaetis californicus
  63. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  64. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  65. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  66. Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum
  67. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
  68. White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus
  69. White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys

Some Galls and Flux along the Cosumnes River Trail, 10-09-20

I got up around 6:30 this morning and was off to the Cosumnes River Preserve by about 7:15. It was partly cloudy, and I was actually hoping there would be some fog nearer to the preserve – but, no.

I went around Bruceville and Desmond Roads before going into the preserve itself. Again, there were cattle in the fields – including a lot of cute calves.  I got to watch one as he was nursing, and drooling out stands of spit and milk. Hah!

Charolais calf, Bos Taurus var. Charolais

There were different kinds of sparrows in among the weeds and overgrowth, and small flocks of Western Meadowlarks, blackbirds, and Brown-Headed Cowbirds. Along Desmond Road, in the distant fields, I could see mixed flocks of blackbirds, Canada Geese, Great and Snowy Egrets and Sandhill Cranes. I noticed that one of the cranes was sporting some leg bands. I couldn’t see if there were numbers on any of them, but I reported the sighting to Saving the Cranes anyway .

Sandhill cranes among Canada Geese, egrets and blackbirds.

I had just been to the preserve on Sunday of this week, but today, I wanted to take the River Walk Trail behind the nature center, heading toward the river. I wasn’t able to do the whole round-trip three miles, but still, I thought I did pretty well. There isn’t any water, really, in the fields along the trail, so not a lot of waterfowl to see there.

Listen to the sound of the Red-Winged Blackbirds along the river!

I was astonished to find some of the branches on the smaller Valley oaks just covered with Flat-Top Honeydew galls. I usually see those galls singly or in small clusters, but on these trees, there were dozens and dozens of the gall all crammed in against one another.  I wondered if there was some kind of correlation between those smaller trees and the floods that the preserve is subjected to every year. The small trees would be under water for a month or more… Maybe that makes them “softer” or more easy for the wasps to lay their eggs into the bark?  I don’t know; just wondering.

Galls of the Flat-Topped Honeydew Gall Wasp, Disholcaspis eldoradensis

I also found several of the oaks “weeping” with either some kind of flux or Sudden Oak Death pathogen. One of the trees had the classic flux symptoms: breaks in the bark near the base of the tree, blackish ooze leaking out, and insects clustered around the wounds.  Flux is also called “wet wood” or “slime flux”, and is caused by bacteria that gets into the tree. It gets in through breaks in the bark or bore-holes from beetles, and kills the cambium near the openings. The ooze it produces turns black when it hits the oxygen in the air, and the whole thing takes on an “alcohol” smell as it ferments.

Evidence of Alcoholic Flux bacteria, Foamy Canker, Slime Flux, Phytophthora sp., with a Western Yellowjacket, Vespula pensylvanica

According to The Plant Doctor: “…Sap may continue to ooze for several weeks or months, but usually it eventually stops with no treatment and no apparent damage to the tree. This slime flux may be triggered by heat, drought, and other stress…”

I was hoping to see lots of spiders’ webs in the growth along the trail, but beyond sheet-webs, I didn’t see much of anything… except for a beautiful Labyrinth Orb-Weaver spider.  These spiders make webs that are a combination of an incomplete orb web and other irregular strands. The spider makes a “tent” for itself somewhere along the web out of leaves and debris to hide itself from its prey. The one I saw was wrapped inside a leaf that was hung suspended between several very strong vertical web-strands. The spider was hunched inside the leaf with its legs pulled up around its face.  I was able to coax it out so I could get some photos of it.

“…The labyrinth spider is active, with its webs visible, from March through October. During the rainy season, the female mates and lays eggs. The female usually produces 5 or 6 egg sacs with an average of 55 eggs each. She puts her eggs into several silken discs strung together in a bead-like row, and then builds an egg case around the eggs and hangs it in the web near her retreat, where it is camouflaged by other debris in her web. Once the young emerge they are self-sufficient; they leave the mother’s nest by ballooning…”

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

I also found an interesting-looking burl on the branch of a cottonwood tree and wondered what caused it.

“…A burl is a tree growth in which the grain has grown in a deformed manner.. It is caused by some kind of stress, such as injury, virus, fungus, insect infestation or mold growth…  The inside of a burl is unique, not like the straight grained wood in the rest of the tree. Cutting open a burl reveals a wood grain that is twisted, contorted and deformed… Burls begin life as a gall…”

I thought the one I saw might have been a large gall caused by a now vacant outcropping of mistletoe, but I’m not sure.

Even though I felt like I wasn’t seeing a lot, I was surprised when I got back to the car that I had been walking for about 4 hours(!).

Species List:

  1. Alcoholic Flux bacteria, Foamy Canker, Slime Flux, Phytophthora sp.
  2. Armenian Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus [pink flowers]
  3. Ash Flower Gall Mite, Eriophyes fraxinivorus
  4. Azolla, Water Fern, Azolla filiculoides
  5. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  6. Brazilian Vervain, Verbena brasiliensis
  7. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  8. Brown-Headed Cowbird, Molothrus ater
  9. Buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis
  10. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica
  11. California Wild Rose, Rosa californica
  12. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  13. Charolais Cattle, Bos Taurus var. Charolais
  14. Chinese Praying Mantis, Tenodera sinensis [ootheca]
  15. Convoluted Gall Wasp, Andricus confertus
  16. Crampball Fungus, Daldinia concentrica
  17. Denseflower Willowherb, Epilobium densiflorum
  18. Desert Cottontail Rabbit, Sylvilagus audubonii
  19. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
  20. Flat-Topped Honeydew Gall Wasp, Disholcaspis eldoradensis
  21. Floating Water Primrose, Ludwigia peploides ssp. Peploides
  22. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  23. Golden Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
  24. Goodding’s Black Willow, Salix gooddingii
  25. Grape Erineum Mite, Colomerus vitis
  26. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  27. Green Alga (freshwater), Chlorophyta ssp.
  28. Jumping Oak Gall Wasp, Neuroterus saltatorius
  29. Labyrinth Orb-Weaver Spider, Metepeira labyrinthea
  30. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris
  31. Narrowleaf Cattail, Cattail, Typha angustifolia
  32. Oak Apple Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  33. Oregon Ash, Fraxinus latifolia
  34. Panicled Willowherb, Epilobium brachycarpum
  35. Pin-cushion Sunburst Lichen, Polycauliona polycarpa
  36. Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Western Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
  37. Red Cone Gall Wasp, Andricus kingi
  38. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  39. Ribbed Cocoon-Maker Moth, Oak Ribbed Skeletonizer,  Bucculatrix albertiella
  40. Sandbar Willow, Salix exigua var. hindsiana
  41. Sandhill Crane, Grus canadensis
  42. Savannah Sparrow, Passerculus sandwichensis
  43. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula
  44. Spiny Turban Gall Wasp, asexual, fall generation, Antron douglasii
  45. Strap Lichen, Western Strap Lichen, Ramalina leptocarpha
  46. Trashline Orb Weaver Spider, Conical Trashline Spider,  Cyclosa conica
  47. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  48. Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum
  49. Water Hyacinth, Eichhornia crassipes
  50. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
  51. White Alder, Alnus rhombifolia
  52. White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys
  53. Willow Apple Gall Sawfly, Pontania californica
  54. Willow Bead Gall Mite, Aculus tetanothrix
  55. Willow Stem Sawfly Gall, Euura exiguae
  56. Woollybear Gall Wasp, Atrusca trimaculosa
  57. Yellow Wig Gall Wasp, Andricus fullawayi
  58. Yellowjacket, Western Yellowjacket, Vespula pensylvanica

In Search of Sandhill Cranes, 10-04-20

I got up around 6:00 am today and was out the door by 6:30 to head out for some nature walking with my friend and fellow naturalist Roxanne.  After stopping at a drive-through for some breakfast, we went first to the Cosumnes River Preserve, taking Franklin Blvd. instead of the freeway. Once we got near the preserve, we drove down Bruceville and Desmond Roads to see if there was anything interesting in the agricultural fields yet. We were going on the hunt for Sandhill Cranes which had been reported in the area.

House Sparrow, Passer domesticus

All along the route, we saw large flocks of Wild Turkeys in the empty lots and fields. They’re getting ready for the males to do their fall/winter strut.

We saw lots of sparrows and finches in the brambles and tules on the roadside, including Song Sparrows, Savanah Sparrows, House Sparrows, White-Crowned Sparrows, House Finches and Lesser Goldfinches. Among them was a bird I’d never seen before: a little bright yellow fellow with a black mask. He was in among some tules and I kept saying, “what IS that?!”, as I tried to get his picture. The shots I got weren’t all that good, but they were good enough to make an ID. He was a Common Yellowthroat, Geothlypis trichas. They’re migrating through the area now, so several people have seen them. 

Common Yellowthroat, Geothlypis trichas

Another nice sighting further along the road was a Say’s Phoebe, Sayornis saya.  We see Black Phoebes all the time, but the Say’s not so much. There were also Red-Winged Blackbirds and Brewer’s Blackbirds feeding and flying in small flocks; some singing from the tree tops.

It was so great to see all bird-life activity again after the dearth of it for the past several weeks. Migrations are starting. We should be seeing tons more birds over the next several months.  The only thing that really seemed to be obviously missing were the hawks. We only saw a couple of them during the whole trip.

Charolais Cattle, Bos Taurus var. Charolais

There were lots of cattle in the fields, some of them bellowing loudly.  In one field, close to the fence line, there were whitish Charolais Cattle: moms with calves. Some of the calves were playing with one another, bouncing around, jostling and head-butting each other.  So cute!

Charolais Cattle, Bos Taurus var. Charolais

At the preserve itself, there still isn’t very much water; most of it is still bone dry which doesn’t bode well for the migratory birds. We did see a lot of Least Sandpipers in one little marshy area along with some Killdeer and one or two Greater Yellowlegs.

A Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous, and a Least Sandpiper, Calidris minutilla

Along the boat ramp, we found several trashline spiders and their webs, and some larger orb-weaver webs (some with spiders, some without). There were some dragonflies flitting about, but none of them would sit still for any length of time. I think I got a single photo of a Variable Meadowhawk. Down by the water, I could see the Water Hyacinth was still clogging part of the waterway, but they must’ve cleared it out around the dock because it wasn’t around there.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

River with Water Hyacinth, Eichhornia crassipes, in it

We when got back to the car, we headed over to Staten Island Road. On the way there, we had to stop for a bit while a farmer used his tractor to clear a fallen tree limb off the road. We gave him a thank-you wave when he was done.

Along Staten Island Road, nothing much is flooded there yet, so there weren’t a lot of different waterfowl that we could see.  We did see lots of Sandhill Cranes, though, which is what we were hoping to see.  Adults and juveniles were in the fields, doing their crackling-calls to one another, feeding, flying overhead. It was great to see them.  We also saw a flock of Cackling Geese, the shorter cousins of the Canada Geese.

We drove up and down the road once, and then headed over to the Woodbridge Ecological Preserve

On the way there, we saw a Northern Mockingbird posing nicely on top of a road sign, but just as I raised my camera to take its picture, the battery died. I told the bird to wait while I changed out the spent battery for a new one, and Roxanne quipped, “Watch. It will wait until you’re ready again, and then fly away.” And sure enough. The bird sat there, looking handsome, while I changed out the battery and as soon as I lifted my camera to take its photo, it flew away.  Hah!

There were more cranes at the preserve, but they were in the fields across from the fenced-in preserve. In one field there was over 200 of them! Amazing.            

There was water on the ground in the preserve itself, on the other side of the fence, and there were birds in the water, but everything was too far and backlit, so we couldn’t get any decent photos of any of them.  We did see a flock of White-Faced Ibis flying overhead, and could also hear lots of Red-Winged Blackbirds in the elderberry bushes along the road. In the culverts on one side of the road, water was running and there was more water hyacinth growing in there, and Great Egrets fishing.

Great Egret, Ardea alba,in the roadside culvert with Water Hyacinth, Eichhornia crassipes

We saw signage for The Black Hole wetland preserve, a privately owned preserve overseen by the Wetland Preservation Foundation.  I sent them an email to see if I can get Roxanne and I onto the property to do some photography and species identification.

We were out and about for about 6 hours and headed back home.

Species List:

  1. Alfalfa, Medicago sativa
  2. Amaranth, Redroot Pigweed, Amaranthus retroflexus
  3. Azolla, Water Fern, Azolla filiculoides
  4. Bagrada Bug, Bagrada hilaris
  5. Black Angus Cattle, Bos Taurus var. Black Angus
  6. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  7. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra cerulea
  8. Boxelder, Box Elder Tree, Acer negundo
  9. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  10. Buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis
  11. Cackling Goose, Branta hutchinsii
  12. California Quail, Callipepla californica
  13. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  14. Charolais Cattle, Bos Taurus var. Charolais
  15. Club Gall Wasp, Atrusca clavuloides
  16. Common Crow, American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  17. Common Duckweed, Lemna minor
  18. Common Yellowthroat, Geothlypis trichas
  19. Convoluted Gall Wasp, Andricus confertus
  20. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  21. Dead Man’s Foot Fungus, Pisolithus arhizus
  22. Deer Grass, Muhlenbergia rigens
  23. Devil’s Beggarticks, Bidens frondosa
  24. European Honeybee, Western Honeybee, Apis mellifera
  25. Flat-Topped Honeydew Gall Wasp, Disholcaspis eldoradensis
  26. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  27. Fuzzy Gall Wasp, Disholcaspis washingtonensi [round faintly fuzzy galls on stems]
  28. Goldenrod Bunch Gall, Goldenrod Floret Gall Midge, Solidago canadensis
  29. Goldenrod, California Goldenrod, Solidago velutina californica
  30. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
  31. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  32. Greater Yellowlegs, Tringa melanoleuca
  33. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  34. House Sparrow, Passer domesticus
  35. Hoverfly, Margined Calligrapher Fly, Toxomerus marginatus [very tiny]
  36. Interior Sandbar Willow, Salix interior
  37. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  38. Least Sandpiper, Calidris minutilla
  39. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  40. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris [nest]
  41. Mistletoe Gall, caused by Mistletoe  haustorium growing on a tree
  42. Mistletoe, American Mistletoe, Big Leaf Mistletoe, Phoradendron leucarpum
  43. Narrowleaf Milkweed, Asclepias fascicularis
  44. Northern Harrier, Marsh Hawk, Circus hudsonius
  45. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  46. Oak Apple Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  47. Oleander Aphid, Aphis nerii
  48. Orange Sulphur Butterfly, Colias eurytheme
  49. Pin Mold, Order: Mucorales
  50. Potato, Russet Potato, Solanum tuberosum
  51. Red Cone Gall Wasp, Andricus kingi
  52. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  53. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  54. Rough Cocklebur, Xanthium strumarium
  55. Sandhill Crane, Grus canadensis
  56. Sandhill Skipper, Polites sabuleti
  57. Savannah Sparrow, Passerculus sandwichensis
  58. Say’s Phoebe, Sayornis saya
  59. Small Honey Ant, Prenolepis imparis
  60. Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia
  61. Spiny Turban Gall Wasp, asexual, fall generation, Antron douglasii
  62. Swainson’s Hawk, Buteo swainsoni
  63. Swamp Smartweed, False Water-Pepper, Persicara hydropiperoides [pink]
  64. Tall Flatsedge, Cyperus eragrostis
  65. Trashline Orb Weaver Spider, Conical Trashline Spider,  Cyclosa conica
  66. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  67. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  68. Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum
  69. Water Hyacinth, Eichhornia crassipes
  70. Western Fence Lizard, Blue Belly, Sceloporus occidentalis
  71. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
  72. Western Spotted Orbweaver Spider, Neoscona oaxacensis
  73. White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys
  74. White-Faced Ibis, Plegadis chihi
  75. Yellow Wig Gall Wasp, Andricus fullawayi
  76. ?? spider egg sac

Two Nimbus Locations in One Day, 09-21-20

I got up around 6:00 this morning, and headed out the door about 6:30 am to join my friend and fellow naturalist, Roxanne, for a walk at the Nimbus Fish Hatchery.  It was relatively cool outside, around 63°, and fairly clear. The air quality go worse later in the afternoon, though.   152 AQI (Unhealthy) . We stopped to get some coffee and a breakfast biscuit on the way.

As we got near the hatchery turn out, I mentioned that I’d read about a park that was supposed to be on Lake Natoma on the side of the street opposite the hatchery, the Nimbus Flat State Recreation Area/ Lake Natoma. I’d driven by the entrance once, but had never checked it out before, so we stopped there before going to the hatchery itself. 

Lake Natoma

According to Recreation.gov: “Recreation at Lake Natoma is managed by the California Department of Parks and Recreation under agreement with the Bureau of Reclamation. The Lake was created by Nimbus Dam across the American River. Lake Natoma is a regulating reservoir for releases from Folsom Lake. The Dam and Lake are features of the Central Valley project…”  

Lake Natoma is a small lake along the lower American River, between Folsom and Nimbus Dams in Sacramento County. The lake has 500 surface acres of water.  There are paved trails for jogging and bicycling, and unpaved trails for hikers and equestrians.  A dense 14 mile long riparian ecosystem encircles the lake.  Although fishing is a big pastime here, it’s generally “catch and release” because there is a high concentration of mercury in the fish here.

Because we were trying to save time to get over to the hatchery, we didn’t spend as much time at the rec area as we might have, and didn’t cover much of the trails.  We’re between seasons right now, so the park wasn’t showing itself off to its full potential, but I could absolutely see how intriguing it might be in the late fall, winter and early spring.

Gray Pine, Pinus sabiniana

The lake surface was pretty much devoid of birds, but we did see a flock of gulls and what looked like a hybrid goose.  Migrations are just starting, so hopefully there will be more birds on the water over the next few months. There were Canada Geese and Wild Turkeys on the shore and the part of the trail we covered. We heard a few other birds, but had trouble finding and photographing them.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

In the water there were quite a few swimmers, many with swim buoys trailing from their backs. Besides providing them with a little protection –- the colorful buoys make the swimmers more visible in the open water – they also provide some drag, which helps to strengthen the swimmers as they work to pull the buoys along with them.  We also saw some kayakers and paddle-boarders on the water.

Kayakers on the water

 Throughout the riparian forest there were lots of cottonwood trees, oak trees, gray pines and alders with a smattering of sycamore, redbud and wattle trees throughout. Occasionally, we saw oddities – like a juniper tree growing on the side of the lake.

Some of the alder trees seemed to have very swollen portions on their limbs and one had some kind of dark ooze weeping out of it. So many different pathogens can cause this kind of damage, it’s hard for a lay person like me to correctly identify the cause. I thought at first that some of the swellings were in response to mistletoe, but not all of the trees had mistletoe on them. 

There’s an invasive pathogen called Phytophthora alni uniformis that only attacks alders. P. uniformisis indigenous to North America.  “…Symptoms are typical of Phytophthora root and collar diseases on broadleaved trees. This includes sparse foliage with abnormally small yellow leaves, dieback and canker at the base of the main stem… Black exudates ooze from spots across the canker surface. These tarry spots turn to a rust color with time…”  I don’t know if that’s what we were seeing, but it sounds close.

In one area along the trail, there were large piles of leaves, twigs, chopped up branches and seed pods.  We assumed that the workers whose job it is to clean up the place, were piling up the cuttings until they could be burned or hauled away. Everything was dried out and the different shapes, textures and colors were actually quite pretty to look at; very “autumnal”. 

There were some Lesser Goldfinches in among the debris, picking off smaller seeds and fluff.  We also saw a lot of Variegated Meadowhawk dragonflies in there, resting on the twiggy branches.

After we were done with our cursory walk at the rec area, we went over to the Nimbus Fish Hatchery.  There wasn’t a lot to see there because so much construction is underway there right now. 

In 2018, the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) approved funding for a three-part construction project to take place at the hatchery. The two-year project was supposed to involve the construction of a fishway from the Nimbus Fish Hatchery to the stilling basin below Nimbus Dam and removing the existing diversion weir. The fishway would consist of three sections: a concrete flume fishway, a pool and drop fish ladder, and a rock-lined trapezoidal channel. 

“…The changes will also minimize American River flow fluctuations associated with installation and removal of the hatchery’s weir and eliminate health and safety concerns relative to the deterioration of the existing weir structure. The new spawning habitat opened up by the permanent removal of the weir will improve juvenile salmon production and increase harvest opportunities downstream… First, the fish passageway extension will be built. Second, operations and assessments of the passageway will take place before removing outdated facilities. Lastly, although not necessary, the removal of the existing weir would be considered by Reclamation once the new passageway is deemed successful for two seasons…”

Well, the whole project was supposed to be done by October of this year, but it looked to me like they left all of the work until the last minute.  I don’t know how they’ll get it all done before the salmon spawning season starts next month. They were still digging the trenches for the fishway. 

At the same time this major work is taking place, they’re also working on building an improved open-air theatre near the visitor’s center and a new boardwalk and viewing platform near the end of the trail.  We walked right by where they were working on the theater, but couldn’t get to where the viewing platform is going to be because fences had been erected to keep people out.

Because of all of the noise and personnel, there were only a handful of birds along the river in the area. I think we saw two Great Egrets, one Great Blue Heron, a handful of gulls, a single Green Heron, and a Black Phoebe.  No migrating waterfowl.

Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias

We saw a couple of Double-Crested Cormorants perched on the wire across the river, what Cornell calls a “diurnal loafing site”. Hah!  While we watched them, the adult sat down then stood up next to the juvenile, doing its “gular flutter” thing, when it opens its mouth and causes the orange gular skin on its throat to vibrate.

“…Gular flutter supplements evaporation due to respiration, and involves a rapid vibration of the moist membranes of the gular region, driven by the hyoid…”

While the adult bird had its mouth open, you could see some of blue coloring inside the mouth and throat. This color increases to a brilliant blue during the breeding season.

Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus

We did catch glimpses of some of the early-arrival Chinook Salmon; their humped backs and dorsal fins came up on occasional swells across the water’s surface.  At the hatchery, all of the salmon and trout runs were closed. We think they were flushing out the runs and taking the opportunity of the closure to clean them up before putting new salmon and trout fry in them later in the year.  It will be interesting see, in another few months, if the hatchery is actually able to do any of their spawning work there this year.

Overall, I think we were out walking for about 3½ to 4 hours. Phew!

By about 11 o’clock, though, it was getting too warm for me outside, and I had to head back to the car. It seemed like the last 10 or 15 feet was almost impossible for me to get through. All I could feel was the heat coming off the asphalt in the parking lot.  I was starting to overheat, and getting kind of light-headed.  I made it, though, and Rox turned up the AC in the car to help cool me off. (She takes good care of me.)

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus [heard]
  2. Alder Tongue, Western American Alder Tongue Gall Fungus, Taphrina occidentalis
  3. Alder Tree Pathogen, Phytophthora alni uniformis
  4. Armenian Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus
  5. Ashe Juniper, Juniperus ashei [white berries]
  6. Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon [saw one on a bridge]
  7. Black Locust Tree, Robinia pseudoacacia
  8. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  9. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra cerulea
  10. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  11. California Fuchsia, Epilobium canum
  12. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  13. California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica      
  14. California Sycamore, Platanus racemose
  15. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis
  16. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica
  17. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  18. Chinook Salmon, Oncorhynchus tshawytscha [in the river]
  19. Coffeeberry, California Buckthorn, Frangula californica
  20. Common Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  21. Common Green Lacewing, Chrysopa coloradensis [eggs]
  22. Common Madia, Madia elegans [yellow flowers, some with red staining near center, smells like lemon]
  23. Cottonwood Leaf Gall Aphid, Pemphigus populivenae
  24. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  25. Dallis Grass, Dallisgrass, Paspalum dilatatum
  26. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
  27. Doveweed, Turkey Mullein, Croton setiger
  28. Fennel, Sweet Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare
  29. Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis
  30. Fig, Common Fig, Ficus carica
  31. Flat-Topped Honeydew Gall Wasp, Disholcaspis eldoradensis
  32. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  33. Fuzzy Gall Wasp, Disholcaspis washingtonensi [round faintly fuzzy galls on stems]
  34. Gold Dust Lichen, Chrysothrix candelaris
  35. Goodding’s Black Willow, Salix gooddingii
  36. Gray Pine, Pinus sabiniana
  37. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
  38. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  39. Green Heron, Butorides virescens
  40. Hollyleaf Cherry, Prunus ilicifolia
  41. Hutton’s Vireo, Vireo huttoni
  42. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  43. Interior Sandbar Willow, Salix interior
  44. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  45. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  46. Little Rattlesnake Grass, Little Quaking Grass, Briza minor
  47. Live Oak Erineum Mite gall, Aceria mackiei [kind of looks like rust on the backside of the leaf]
  48. Live Oak Gall Wasp, 1st Generation, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis [spiky ball]
  49. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  50. Mistletoe Gall, caused by Mistletoe  haustorium growing on a tree
  51. Mistletoe, American Mistletoe, Big Leaf Mistletoe, Phoradendron leucarpum
  52. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  53. Narrowleaf Willow, Salix exigua
  54. Netted Crust Fungus, Byssomerulius corium
  55. Northern Catalpa, Indian Bean Tree, Catalpa speciosa
  56. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii [heard]
  57. Oak Apple Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  58. Pale Jumping  Spider, Colonus hesperus
  59. Panicled Willowherb, Epilobium brachycarpum
  60. Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Western Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum  
  61. Puncture Vine, Tribulus terrestris
  62. Purpletop Vervain, Verbena bonariensis
  63. Pyracantha, Firethorn,  Pyracantha coccinea
  64. Red Cone Gall Wasp, Andricus kingi
  65. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  66. Rock Greenshield Lichen, Flavoparmelia baltimorensis
  67. Ruptured Twig Gall Wasp, Callirhytis perdens
  68. Silver Wattle, Acacia dealbata
  69. Spiny Turban Gall Wasp, asexual, fall generation, Antron douglasii
  70. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  71. Toyon, Heteromeles arbutifolia
  72. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  73. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  74. Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum
  75. Western Fence Lizard, Blue Belly, Sceloporus occidentalis
  76. Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis
  77. Western Sycamore, Platanus racemosa
  78. Western Tussock Moth, Orgyia vetusta [cocoons]
  79. White Alder, Alnus rhombifolia
  80. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis
  81. Woodland Skipper, Ochlodes sylvanoides
  82. Yellow Starthistle, Centaurea solstitialis

A Few Firsts for Me, 09-18-20

I got up around 6:00 this morning and was out the door by about 6:30 to go over to the Cosumnes River Preserve.  It was 63° when I left and mostly cloudy. The cooler temperatures lasted until the late afternoon, but it felt a little humid.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

When I got near the preserve, I drove down Bruceville and Desmond Roads to see if there were any interesting birds out there. I was hoping there would be some water on the preserve now that the migrations have started, but the place still nearly bone dry. Only one of the fields along Desmond was partially filled, and only a small pond on the preserve itself had water in it.  So, that was something of a disappointment. But I DID get to see some things I wasn’t expecting to see.

Tricolored Blackbird, Agelaius tricolor

Along Bruceville Road there was a large covey of quail, some Great Egrets, and several cottontail rabbits. But the big surprise was a large flock of Tricolored Blackbirds, Agelaius tricolor, this morning! One even landed on a fence near my car, so I was able to get some video of it preening. 

“Trikes”, as they’re endearingly referred to, are visually very similar to Red-Winged Blackbirds in that they are also black with red epaulets on their shoulders.  But the Trikes’ epaulets are rimmed with white feathers, not yellow like those of the Red-Wings.

Already listed as Endangered by the IUCN-World Conservation Union, the species has been a candidate for listing under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA), as well as California’s state ESA. It was given temporary “endangered” status in 2015 but that was only for 6 months and has since expired. As it stands, right now the species is still considered “threatened”. Further consideration of an “endangered” status was dumped when Trump and his crew took over the White House and the Department of the Interior.

In the same area as the Trikes, there was a pair of Brewer’s Blackbirds. The female had what looked like nesting material in her beak, and she was pursued by a male who strutted and postured and cheeped behind her. I got a little bit of video, but it wasn’t in the sharpest focus…and it didn’t help that a car drove past, obscuring my view. Still, the male’s display was so “cute”, I wanted to preserve it.

According to Cornell: “…n resident and many migratory populations, pair formation begins as gradual process in late-winter… As courtship progresses, female initiates Generalized Display, which merges imperceptibly with Pre-copulatory Display, a more fully expressed version of the former with more crouched posture, tail held at higher angle, and accompanied by different call. In both displays, body tipped forward on flexed legs with breast lowered toward ground, bill slightly raised, wings lowered and rapidly shivered while unspread tail is cocked… Male Pre-coitional Display given just prior to mounting and copulation. Feather ruffing more conspicuous than in male Song-spread, bill pointed downward, and yellow eyes bordered by fluffed violet feathers of head appearing prominent. Position of tail and wings more exaggerated than in Song-spread. In this posture, male deliberately approaches female, and if on ground sometimes makes half-circle in strutting motion. Wing and tail feathers scrape ground. Approach sometimes silent, other times accompanied by 1 of the 2 song forms…”

Brewer’s Blackbirds are “seasonally monogamous”, and I’m sure I was seeing the work and displays of a pair bond.

Among the bindweed along the side of the road, I found a new-to-me kind of stinkbug called a Conchuela Bug, Chlorochroa ligata.  It’s black with an orange border.  When I picked it up to get closer photos of it, it pooped out some of its stink-fluid, staining my index finger top orange. The smell was pretty gross, but it dissipated relatively quickly.

Conchuela Stink Bug, Chlorochroa ligata

The trees along Desmond Road and around the preserve are still covered in galls, but it’s near the end of the season, so many of the gall are empty and are shriveling away. The Flat-Topped Honeydew galls are going black with age, but some of them are still producing a little honeydew and still have a few ants in attendance. I wonder if, at this time of year, the honeydew has fermented or if the sugary substance has promoted some fungal development.  The Convoluted galls and Yellow Wig galls are now much larger than they have been as the larvae inside develop and pupate.

As an aside, I was excited to learn (later in the day) that Ron Russo has a new book coming out next year: Plant Galls of the Western United States. Woot!! The book covers 536 gall species with 232 species not previously included in any field guide.  Double-woot!  Russo’s last book is like the bible for us gall chasers, but it’s out of print now, and VERY expensive (anywhere between $80 and $200 depending on who has it). We’ve all been hoping the publishers would re-release it, but with this new book coming out that won’t be necessary   — and maybe any copies of the original book will now drop in price. The new guide is due to be released in late March of 2021, and I’ve pre-ordered one through Amazon.com at the more reasonable price of $29.

While I was checking out the trees along the boat ramp trail, I saw something gray on one of the twiggy branches, and I got closer to investigate.  I was overjoyed when I saw that it was a vase-like pot of a California Potter Wasp, Eumenes sp.  I’ve seen photos before, but never a “live” one. The pots are perfect, beautiful little things.

Clay pot created by a Potter Wasp, California Potter Wasp, Eumenes sp.

The Potter Wasps are a species of solitary wasp that creates these pots to house their larvae. They make a pot out of mud and saliva, fill it full of spiders and caterpillars, lay an egg on the pile of food and then seal the pot shut. The larva develops and pupates, eating from the pantry mom left it, then when it’s a mature wasp, it pops the seal on the pot and climbs out. The pot I found was open and empty.

At the end of the boat launch trail, where there’s river access, I could see that part of the water was already clogged full of Water Hyacinth, Eichhornia crassipes.  Some of the river was still open, but the plants multiply quickly. It’ll only be a matter of time before that whole area is covered with the stuff.  Some of the hyacinth was in bloom, and it’s actually quite pretty.  Too bad it’s so horribly invasive.

Water Hyacinth, Eichhornia crassipes

On other parts of the trail and on the side of the pond across from the nature center parking lot, I saw some Variegated Meadowhawk dragonflies. I also saw some Green Darners, including a mated pair that was flying around near the water’s edge. I lost them in the dried vegetation in the water, and just aimed my camera in the direction where I last saw them. I was VERY surprised when I got home to find that I’d actually gotten a photo of them, still connected, resting on the side of an old cocklebur plant. Sometimes, you get lucky.

Green Darner Dragonflies, Anax junius. Male on top, female below.

In that same pond, I was happy to see some shorebirds and waterfowl, early arrivals from the migrations, among the blackbirds and Brown-Headed Cowbirds.  There were Killdeer, Black-Necked Stilts, a few Dunlin, and lots of Greater Yellowlegs.  There were also some Mallards, and some small flocks of Northern Shovelers.  It looked like all of the Shovelers were females, but closer inspection proved that there were males in there, too, but in their “eclipse” plumage.

Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata, male in his “eclipse” plumage

“…Eclipse plumage is temporary or transition plumage. Ducks are peculiar in that they molt all their flight feathers; the long, wing feathers; at once. For about a month, they can’t fly and very vulnerable to predators. To provide some protection, particularly for the brightly-colored males, the molt starts with their bright body feathers. These are replaced by dowdy brown ones, making them look much like females. Once the flight feathers have regrown, the birds molt again, and by October the full colors are back and the various species of ducks are easily recognizable once more…”

 You can tell the eclipsed adult males from the females by their bright yellow eyes.

So, although there weren’t a lot of birds to see, it was nice to see that they’re starting to move in.  The biggest flocks of migrating birds should be here in December, but they’ll be trickling in from now until then.

I walked for about 3½ hours and then headed back home.

Species List:

  1. Azolla, Water Fern, Azolla filiculoides
  2. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  3. Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
  4. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  5. Brown-Headed Cowbird, Molothrus ater
  6. Bur Clover, Medicago polymorpha
  7. Buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis
  8. California Quail, Callipepla californica
  9. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  10. California Wild Rose, Rosa californica
  11. Chicory, Cichorium intybus
  12. Club Gall Wasp, Atrusca clavuloides
  13. Common Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  14. Common Green Lacewing, Chrysopa coloradensis
  15. Common Snowberry, Symphoricarpos albus
  16. Common Sow-Thistle, Sonchus oleraceus
  17. Conchuela Stink Bug, Chlorochroa ligata
  18. Convoluted Gall Wasp, Andricus confertus
  19. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  20. Coyote Brush Bud Gall midge, Rhopalomyia californica
  21. Desert Cottontail Rabbit, Sylvilagus audubonii
  22. Disc Gall Wasp, Andricus parmula [round flat, “spangle gall”]
  23. Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis
  24. Flat-Topped Honeydew Gall Wasp, Disholcaspis eldoradensis
  25. Fuzzy Gall Wasp, Disholcaspis washingtonensi [round faintly fuzzy galls on stems]
  26. Goldenrod Bunch Gall, Goldenrod Floret Gall Midge, Solidago canadensi
  27. Goldenrod, California Goldenrod, Solidago velutina californica
  28. Goodding’s Black Willow, Salix gooddingii
  29. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  30. Greater Yellowlegs, Tringa melanoleuca
  31. Green Darner Dragonfly, Anax junius
  32. Green-Winged Teal, Anas carolinensis
  33. Gumweed, Curlycup Gumweed, Grindelia squarrosa
  34. Hayfield Tarweed, Hemizonia congesta [white]
  35. Himalayan Blackberry, Rubus bifrons [white flowers]
  36. Jumping Oak Gall Wasp, Neuroterus saltatorius
  37. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  38. Least Sandpiper, Calidris minutilla [small like a Dunlin but with yellow legs]
  39. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  40. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  41. Mediterranean Praying Mantis, Iris Mantis, Iris oratoria [very narrow ootheca]
  42. Mistletoe, American Mistletoe, Big Leaf Mistletoe, Phoradendron leucarpum
  43. Narrowleaf Milkweed, Asclepias fascicularis
  44. Narrowleaf Willow, Salix exigua
  45. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata
  46. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii
  47. Oak Apple Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  48. Oleander Aphid, Aphis nerii
  49. Panicled Willowherb, Epilobium brachycarpum
  50. Potter Wasp, California Potter Wasp, Eumenes sp.
  51. Red Cone Gall Wasp, Andricus kingi
  52. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  53. Rough Cocklebur, Xanthium strumarium
  54. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa
  55. Spiny Turban Gall Wasp, asexual, fall generation, Antron douglasii
  56. Trashline Orb Weaver Spider, Conical Trashline Spider,  Cyclosa conica
  57. Tricolored Blackbird, Agelaius tricolor
  58. Turkey Tangle Fogfruit, Phyla nodiflora
  59. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  60. Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum
  61. Vinegarweed, Trichostema lanceolatum
  62. Water Hyacinth, Eichhornia crassipes
  63. Willow Apple Gall Sawfly, Pontania californica
  64. Woolly Oak Aphid, Stegophylla brevirostris (lots of white fluff & honeydew)
  65. Yellow Wig Gall Wasp, Andricus fullawayi