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.
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…
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.
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 Sacramentoand 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
American Coot, Fulica americana
American White Pelican, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos [in flight]
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
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.
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.
I walked for abut 3 hours and then headed back to the house.
Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
American Robin, Turdus migratorius
Asian Lady Beetle, Harlequin Labybug, Harmonia axyridis
Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii
Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
Blue Oak, Quercus douglasii
California Buckeye Tree, Aesculus californica
California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi