Category Archives: General Blog

Twig Galls are Rupturing, 10-13-19

Up at 7:00 am today, and I headed out to the American River Bend Park for a walk. It was a chilly 43º at the river in the morning and got up to 80º by the afternoon. I’m really liking this fall weather. It’s one of my favorite times of the year. It was still smelling smoky outside, but not as bad as it was yesterday.

I took a different route than I normally do for my walk, hoping to maybe see something a little different, but the “between the seasons” lack of subject matter continued. I did get to see two different species of wrens: the Bewick’s Wren and House Wren. Those little, buzzy guys are staking out territories this time of year.

An easy way to tell the Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii, from a House Wren is to look for the bright white eyebrow over the eye. The House Wren doesn’t have that.

The standout for the day, though, was actually the galls of the Ruptured Twig Gall Wasp, Callirhytis perdens. They are “rupturing” this time of year. The tiny wasp lays its eggs inside the softer twigs of the Live Oak trees, and the tree forms a capsule around each one. Then as the wasp larvae grow and develop, the capsules get larger and twig swells. When the wasps are ready to hatch out, the capsules burst out through the skin of the twig and fall to the ground, where the wasps escape their capsules and fly off. I think it’s odd for an insect to wait until October to go through its breeding cycle, but I guess there’s an insect for every season…

Galls of the Live Oak Gall Wasp, 1st Generation, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis

I also found a few first-generation galls of the Live Oak Gall Wasp (round balls with spikes on them), including a grouping of the galls. I’ve seen them singly before lots of times, but had never seen a grouping before, so that was cool.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

I walked for about 2½ hours and then headed back home.

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. Alder Tongue Gall Fungus, Taphrina alni
  3. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii
  4. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra cerulea
  5. California Brickellbush, Brickellia californica
  6. California Buckwheat, Eriogonum fasciculatum
  7. California Sycamore, Platanus racemose
  8. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica
  9. Chinese Tallow tree, Triadica sebifera
  10. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  11. Goldenrod Bunch Gall, Goldenrod Floret Gall Midge, Solidago canadensis
  12. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
  13. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon
  14. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  15. Live Oak Gall Wasp, 1st Generation, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis
  16. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  17. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus [red-shafted]
  18. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus
  19. Oregon Ash, Fraxinus latifolia
  20. Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta [chrysalis]
  21. Pipevine, California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica
  22. Pumpkin Gall Wasp, Dryocosmus minusculus
  23. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  24. Ruptured Twig Gall Wasp, Callirhytis perdens
  25. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  26. Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum
  27. Western Bluebird, Sialia mexicana
  28. Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis
  29. White Alder, Alnus rhombifolia

Not Enough Water on the Wetlands, 10-11-19

A l-o-n-g day.  I got up at 4:30 am so I’d be ready to head out with my friend and fellow naturalist Roxanne to the Sacramento and Colusa National Wildlife Refuges.  We wanted to see what state the refuges were in – if they had water standing in the wetland areas for the incoming migrating birds, if there were any “new” birds out there. We weren’t expecting a lot but were open to whatever Nature wanted to show us today.  And the fresh air is always good.  The weather was gorgeous: about 45º in the early morning hours and a high of about 81º, sunny and a little breezy.

We went to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge first. They’re still REALLY short on water there. The refuge needs to get a wiggle on if they’re going to host the migrating birds and give them ample room to rest and feed.  The Greater White-Fronted Geese have moved in to quite a few places, and there were handfuls of waterfowl species, but it’s still a little early in the season.  I’m hoping there will be a lot more to see when I go out on the 30th to use the photo blind there.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

Early on, we saw a raven chasing and attacking a hawk in the air. I got some video of it, but because the birds were far away and moving so quickly, the video was pretty shaky.  I was able to pull some still frames off the video, however, so you can see some of the drama that took place. I don’t know what had the raven off, but it was brutal in its attack of the hawk. Eventually a second hawk came in to defend the first one and the raven flew off.  But it flew off into a tree and was then chased away by a small flock of Red-Winged Blackbirds. No rest for the wicked.

A common Raven chasing and attacking a hawk

A little further along, we saw a pair of young Columbian Black-Tailed Deer “spike bucks” jousting on the side of the road.  Not a lot to fight with when you only have those single spikes, even when they’re out of their velvet.  The bucks broke off their battle as soon as they saw the car and wandered off in separate directions, but it was fun to see them.  We also saw a couple of bachelor groups of Ring-Necked Pheasants.  No females, just small groups of the boys.  It always amazes me that these huge birds can disappear so easily when they step off the trail into the high grass.  Poof!

When we were done with the auto-tour at the Sacramento refuge, we went on to the Colusa refuge.  The auto-tour route there is about half the size of the one at the Sacramento refuge, and had a little bit more water in it. (Not enough, though. They still have a long way to go.)  Near the entrance, the pool by the viewing platform was nearly full and sprinkled with groups of Greater White-Fronted Geese, Greater Yellow-legs and different species of ducks: Northern Pintails, Northern Shovelers (most of them in their eclipse plumage), Mallards, American Wigeons and Gadwalls.

Some of the geese were wading around in “gangs”, honking at other groups, sometime engaging in noisy confrontations while they lowered their heads, raised their wings and stretched their necks out.  At some points, the honking reached a crescendo with high-pitched whining notes mixed in with lower-toned honks and “growls”.  I tried getting the sound on video but didn’t manage that.  Dang it.

Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons . The more mature they are, the more dark stripes they have across their bellies.

We also saw a few other bird species around including Coots (which were in much smaller numbers than I normally see them), a few Snow Geese, some American White Pelicans and Sandhill Cranes flying overhead, Black-Necked Stilts, a couple of nonbreeding Common Gallinules, Great Egrets and a young Great Blue Heron, among others. 

I was surprised by how many damselflies and dragonflies we saw; mostly Northern Bluet damselflies and Variegate Meadowhawk dragonflies. Everyone seemed to be trying to get in some last-minute mating and egg-laying before the season was over.  We found one pair of Northern Bluets that were connected but struggling a bit on the ground. 

Northern Bluet Damselfly, Enallagma cyathigerum . The blue male is on the left, and the dark female is on the right. She did NOT like him.

To complete mating, the female had to curl her body, raise her tail and press it against the male’s chest where his sex organs are. But this female apparently didn’t like the male that had grabbed her by the head and kept her body rail straight.  She dug her feet into the ground and tried to pull herself out of his grip, eventually managing to get him to let go and fly away. Picky lady.

A pair of Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonflies, Sympetrum corruptum. The male holds the female behind her eyes and guides her to the water, tapping her lightly against the surface to lay her eggs.

At the end of that auto-tour route, I was surprised to see how very few Black-Crowned Night Herons were there.  I usually see 30 to 50 birds using the trees there as their day roost.  Today, there were less than a dozen.  This species doesn’t really migrate, and I’ve never seen so few there, so it was a little distressing. Where did the rest of the flock go? 

An adult Black-Crowned Night Heron, Nycticorax nycticorax,
preening himself while resting in his day roost.

After finishing the route at the Colusa refuge, we headed back home, getting back into Sacramento around 3:00 pm… so that was a long day for me; longer than I’ve had in quite a while.  I was exhausted. Had an early supper and then went to bed.

Species List:

  1. American Coot, Fulica americana
  2. American White Pelican, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos [in flight]
  3. American Wigeon, Anas americana
  4. Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon
  5. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  6. Black-Crowned Night Heron, Nycticorax nycticorax
  7. Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
  8. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  9. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica
  10. California Wild Rose, Rosa californica
  11. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  12. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
  13. Common Gallinule, Gallinula galeata
  14. Common Raven, Corvus corax
  15. Cottonwood, Fremont Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  16. Dead Man’s Foot Fungus, Pisolithus arhizus
  17. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
  18. Gadwall duck, Mareca strepera
  19. Golden Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
  20. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
  21. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  22. Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus
  23. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons
  24. Greater Yellowlegs, Tringa melanoleuca
  25. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  26. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  27. Long-Billed Dowitcher, Limnodromus scolopaceus
  28. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  29. Northern Harrier, Marsh Hawk, Circus hudsonius
  30. Northern Pintail, Anas acuta
  31. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata
  32. Paper Wasp, European Paper Wasp, Polistes dominula
  33. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  34. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  35. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
  36. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  37. Ring-Necked Pheasant, Phasianus colchicus
  38. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  39. Sandhill Crane, Grus canadensis
  40. Savannah Sparrow, Passerculus sandwichensis
  41. Snow Goose, Chen caerulescens
  42. Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia
  43. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  44. Tule Bluet Damselfly, Enallagma carunculatum
  45. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  46. Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum
  47. Velvetleaf, Velvet Leaf, Abutilon theophrasti
  48. Western Fence Lizard, Blue Belly, Sceloporus occidentalis
  49. Western Gull, Larus occidentalis
  50. White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys
  51. White-Faced Ibis, Plegadis chihi

Mostly Fawns and Spike Bucks, 10-08-19

I got up around 7:00 am and was out the door in about 15 minutes to go to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for my regular volunteer trail walking gig there.  It was 54º at the river, and got up to a high of 86º by the afternoon

Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.
Video of does grooming each other:

I saw a lot of Acorn Woodpeckers pulling acorns from the oak trees and stashing them in their granary trees.  The woodpeckers wait until this time of year, when the sap is running down in the tree, to drill new holes in the trees, and I saw a little bit of that, too.  They don’t drill new holes in the trees in the spring and summer when the sap is moving up in the tree, so they don’t damage any living tissue in the tree. 

I also saw lots and lots of fawns with their moms all over the park, and a few young “spike bucks” with their new, out-of-their-velvet single spike antlers. The pedicles on the head that hold the antlers aren’t strong enough to support an antler until the buck is at least 2 years old. So, even though the spike bucks have only one prong on their antlers (a “spike”) they’re probably two or three years old. 

Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus, “spike buck” with a swollen jaw most likely caused by “impaction”.

One of the bucks was traveling with his mom and his younger sibling, a fawn just born this summer.  Another one had a swollen jaw on his right side. It was hard for me to get a photo of it because he kept turning away from me. This swelling is usually called by a condition called “impaction”. Food gets caught in the lining of the cheek and the wound expands as more food gets caught in there. If it’s not dislodged or otherwise treated, eventually the impaction will keep the deer from chewing, and he’ll starve to death. So sad.

The fawns are out of their spots now but are still “snack sized”; half the size of their moms.  They’re so cute with their huge ears sticking out.  Some of them were very curious and got within about 6 feet of me before they backed off.

Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus, fawn

I walked for abut 3 hours and then headed back to the house.

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. American Robin, Turdus migratorius
  3. Asian Lady Beetle, Harlequin Labybug, Harmonia axyridis
  4. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii
  5. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  6. Blue Oak, Quercus douglasii
  7. California Buckeye Tree, Aesculus californica
  8. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  9. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis
  10. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
  11. Common Green Lacewing, Chrysoperla carnea [nymph]
  12. Coyote, Canis latrans
  13. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
  14. Feral Honeybees, Apis mellifera
  15. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  16. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  17. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
  18. Oleander Aphid, Aphis nerii
  19. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  20. Sulphur Shelf Fungus, Western Sulphur Shelf Fungus, Laetiporus gilbertsonii
  21. White Horehound, Marrubium vulgare