Category Archives: General Blog

We Walked for 5 Hours, 03-10-20

I got up around 5:45 this morning and headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for my weekly volunteer trail walking gig.  It was clear and about 41° at the river, but warmed up to about 60° by the time we left.

I wanted to get there around 7:00 – forgetting that with the Stupid Time Change it would still be DARK when I got there.  My friend Roxanne and “The Other Mary” (Mary Messenger) showed up, too, and we all had to laugh about standing around in the dark until the sun came up.  What was cool, though, was the fact that the Worm Moon was still up, so we were able to get photos of that…and we could hear a Great Horned Owl hooting in a nearby tree (but it was too dark to see it).

The Worm Moon. It’s the first full moon in the month of March and coincides with the time when earthworms reappear after the winter months.

Once the sun came up a bit, we started walking in earnest and came across deer and turkeys right away.  Several of the turkeys were up in the trees, and we were able to get some silhouette shots of them with the few morning clouds painted by the rising sun behind them.

Later, Roxanne and I came across a small flock of the males following after a small flock of females.  (By that time The Other Mary had left; she’s still dealing with sciatica and couldn’t walk without pain anymore.) One of the female turkeys settled down in the grass, but presented her SIDE, not her back, to the males.  For a moment, I thought maybe she was injured or something, but no.  She eventually got up again and walked away when the males converged on her.  Wutta tease! 

Because it’s breeding season, all of the tom are looking fabulous in their iridescent copper and gold feathers and brightly colored faces.  We also saw a leucitic tom among them.  (Leucism is a condition in which there is partial loss of pigmentation in an animal—which causes white, pale, or patchy coloration of the skin, hair, feathers, scales or cuticle, but not the eyes.)  He had white edges on many of his feathers and a bright white bar across one wing.  I don’t know if that odd coloring if off-putting to the females, but the males kept trying to run him off so they must’ve considered him “competition”.

A leucistic Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia

Mama Red-Shouldered Hawk was up in her nest, and we saw several other hawks, including a Red-Tail along the trail.  One of the Red-Shouldered Hawks flew right down in front of us and landed on a tree stump, where it posed for a while.  The lighting kind of sucked, but we were still able to get some photos of him.

Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus

There were quite a few deer out today, mostly does and their yearlings, but we also found a small bachelor group of bucks, all of whom had just recently lost their antlers.  We could still see the swollen pedicles on the top of their heads.  We did come across one buck, though, who was still hanging onto his rack, an impressive 4-pointer.

We’re also starting to see the birds “fight” for nesting spots and doing some of their early courtship behavior. We spotted an Acorn Woodpecker checking out a nesting cavity in one of their granary trees. He got inside of it for a bit, but then came out to chase off some European Starlings and Tree Swallows who were also looking at the tree.  Starlings and Tree Swallows can’t excavate their own cavities, so they depend on the woodpeckers to do that for them. 

We watched one female Starling doing her courtship thing where she acted like a baby bird, flapping her wings and peeping loudly, to try to get the males to bring her something. I got a little video snippet of that behavior. It’s kind of funny because the females are SO LOUD when they’re doing that.

Among the other birds we saw today were Oak Titmice, Bewick’s and House Wrens, Bushtits, some Western Bluebirds and Turkey Vultures, among others.  We also got to see some Cottontail rabbits and a Jackrabbit along the trail.

Except for the invasive Periwnkle, there aren’t a lot of wildflowers blooming at the preserve yet. (The weird weather has them sooooo confused.) But we did find a couple of Blue Dicks and some Fringepod along the trail.  The warm weather made the Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies emerge a little earlier than usual and now they’re having trouble finding nectar to drink… 

I was happy, though, to see the bees in the “Bee Tree” again.  I thought they’d left, but now I think they were just hibernating.  Waiting for it to warm up again and for the flowers to start budding.  All of the oak trees in the preserve have their pollen-bearing catkins out right now, so the bees have something to collect until the flowers bloom.

We’re not seeing the galls of the Live Oak gall wasps yet, though, and that’s a little troubling.  We’re seeing a LOT of Two-Horned galls, though, which is unusual at the preserve.

At one tree, Roxanne and I stopped for several minutes and got loads of photos of the different lichen on it. We also saw tiny bundles of dried Witch’s Butter (jelly fungus)in among the lichen, and that was kind of surprising to see considering how dry it’s been lately.  I thought the jellies would be long-gone by now.            

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

Roxanne and I actually walked for about FIVE HOURS (!); it was noon when we left the preserve.  I was really astonished that I’d lasted that long.  I think I was buoyed up by adrenaline; we kept finding one interesting thing after another to photograph. 

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. Almond Tree, Prunus dulcis
  3. American Robin, Turdus migratorius
  4. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  5. Audubon’s Warbler, Setophaga coronata auduboni
  6. Azolla, Water Fern, Azolla filiculoides
  7. Bedstraw, Velcro Grass, Cleavers, Galium aparine
  8. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii
  9. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  10. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus
  11. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum
  12. Blue Dicks, Dichelostemma capitatum
  13. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra cerulea
  14. Blue Oak, Quercus douglasii
  15. Bur Chervil, Anthriscus caucalis
  16. Bushtit, American Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus
  17. Cabbage White butterfly, Pieris rapae
  18. California Buckeye Chestnut Tree, Aesculus californica
  19. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  20. California Manroot, Bigroot, Marah fabaceus
  21. California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana
  22. California Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta
  23. California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica
  24. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  25. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis
  26. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  27. Cloudless Sulphur Butterfly, Phoebis sennae
  28. Coffeeberry, California Buckthorn, Frangula californica
  29. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
  30. Common Fringepod, Thysanocarpus curvipes
  31. Common Snowberry, Symphoricarpos albus
  32. Common Stork’s-Bill, Red Stemmed Filaree, Erodium cicutarium
  33. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  34. Cranefly, Mosquito Hawk, Tipula dietziana
  35. Crown Whitefly, Aleuroplatus coronata [larvae]
  36. Cumberland Rock-Shield Lichen, Xanthoparmelia cumberlandia
  37. Desert Cottontail Rabbit, Sylvilagus audubonii
  38. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
  39. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  40. Farinose Cartilage Lichen,  Ramalina farinacea [like Oakmoss but very thin branches]
  41. Feral European Honeybee, Apis mellifera
  42. Gold Dust Lichen, Chrysothrix candelaris
  43. Golden Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
  44. Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus
  45. Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata
  46. Himalayan Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus
  47. Hoary Lichen, Hoary Rosette, Physcia aipolia
  48. Hooded Rosette Lichen, Physcia adscendens [hairs/eyelashes on the tips of the lobes]
  49. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon
  50. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  51. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous [heard lots]
  52. Live Oak Erineum Mite gall, Aceria mackiei [kind of looks like rust on the backside of the leaf]
  53. Live Oak Gall Wasp, 1st Generation, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis [old]
  54. Lords and Ladies, Wild Arum, Arum maculatum
  55. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  56. Miniature Lupine, Lupinus bicolor [just the leaves right now, no flowers]
  57. Mistletoe, American Mistletoe, Big Leaf Mistletoe, Phoradendron leucarpum
  58. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  59. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
  60. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii [heard lots]
  61. Oak Apple Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus [old]
  62. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus
  63. Oakmoss Lichen, Evernia prunastri
  64. Olive Tree, Olea europaea
  65. Periwinkle, Vinca major
  66. Pin-cushion Sunburst Lichen, Polycauliona polycarpa
  67. Plum, Prunus cerasifera
  68. Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Western Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
  69. Pumpkin Gall Wasp, Dryocosmus minusculus
  70. Purple Deadnettle, Lamium purpureum [a kind of henbit but with a purple tinge to some of the leaves]
  71. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  72. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
  73. Ribbed Cocoon-Maker Moth, Bucculatrix albertiella [cocoons]
  74. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  75. Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Regulus calendula
  76. Rusty Tussock Moth, Orgyia antiqua [cocoons]
  77. Shrubby Sunburst Lichen Polycauliona candelaria
  78. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula
  79. Soap Plant, Wavy Leafed Soaproot, Chlorogalum pomeridianum
  80. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  81. Strap Lichen, Western Strap Lichen, Ramalina leptocarpha
  82. Stream Mayflies, Family: Heptageniidae [exuvia]
  83. Streambank Springbeauty, Miner’s Lettuce, Claytonia parviflora
  84. Sunburst Lichen, Xanthoria elegans
  85. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  86. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  87. Two-Horned Gall Wasp, Dryocosmus dubiosus 
  88. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  89. Western Bluebird, Sialia Mexicana
  90. Western Chorus Frog, Pseudacris triseriata [heard]
  91. Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis
  92. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis [heard lots]
  93. Witches Butter, Tremella mesenterica
  94. Yellow Starthistle, Centaurea solstitialis

Attending the Sticker PArty, 03-09-20

Today, I attended a “Sticker Party” at the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve. My friend and fellow naturalist, Roxanne, volunteered too, as did “The Other Mary” (Mary Messenger). I think there were seven volunteers in all there.

The organization had something like 3500 brochures for their kids/school programs that had been accidentally printed with “2019-2020” on them so we had to put sticky labels over that with the correct “2020-2021” dates.  Some of the school districts also required special liability disclaimers on them, so those brochures also got labels with the language specified by the district.

Some of the brochures we “stickered” today

The Effie Yeaw volunteer coordinator, Rachael, had set up coffee, water and Danishes for us, and while we were working, the Executive Director, Kent, came in with a plate full of Girl Scout cookies for us, too.  That was nice.

Roxanne, The Other Mary and I worked on the brochures for about three hours. Between all of us volunteers we labeled a little over 1500 of them, so we felt really good about that.

One of the other volunteers there was a gentleman named Mike who I had met earlier in the year on a fungus walk I led at the preserve.  He had liked the Nikon the camera I use so much that he went out and bought one for himself.  He showed me some of the photos he’d gotten with it, and they were great! I’m so glad he was as pleased with the camera as I am.

When we were done working, The Other Mary left, but Roxanne and I stopped for a little bit to take photos around the nature center.  Bushtits have setup a nest in a Redbud tree there and I was able to see the mom fly back to the nest with a mouthful of what looks like bits of plant fluff and lichen.  So cute!  The resident Black Phoebes are also nesting under the eaves of the building and I got a few photos of them.

American Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus,nest in a Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis, tree
Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  3. Bushtit, American Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus
  4. California Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta
  5. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  6. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus
  7. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  8. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  9. Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis
  10. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis

Mostly Mating Newts, 03-07-20

I got up around 5:30 this morning, got the dog pottied and fed, and then headed out to Auburn with my friend and fellow naturalist Roxanne Moger to look for newts. We’d been told by another one of my naturalist class graduates, Pam Hofsted, that California Newts had been found swimming and mating in the Shirland Canal by the China Bar Trail in the Auburn State Recreation Area, so we had to go see if we could find any.

It was about 46° at the Rec Area and rain was threatening but we thought the cooler weather and wet might make the newts more apt to come out.  It’s been too hot and too dry lately for them.

After a quick stop for coffee and a breakfast biscuit, we got to the Rec Area in about an hour and found the main gate. 

According to their website: “…In the heart of the gold country, the Auburn State Recreation Area (Auburn SRA) covers 40-miles of the North and Middle Forks of the American river. Once teeming with thousands of gold miners, the area is now a natural area offering a wide variety of recreation opportunities to over 900,000 visitors a year… Black tailed deer and rabbits can be seen during the daylight hours, while raccoons, opossums, gray foxes and coyotes rule the night. Black bears, rattlesnakes, mountain lions and bobcats live in the park. The riparian habitat host California quail and canyon wrens. Red tailed hawks and bald eagles soar overhead, seeking their next meal… Auburn State Recreation Area Auburn Dam via Shirland Canal and Cardiac Bypass Trail is a 5 mile moderately trafficked loop trail that features a river and is rated as moderate. Dogs are also able to use this trail but must be kept on leash…”

We arrived there around 7:00 am but found that the main gate didn’t open until 8:00… but then were confused by the fact that there was a sign on the gate stating that there was supposed to a runners’ race there from 6:00 am until 9:00 am.  How could the runners get in if the gates were locked? Weird.

Right next to the gate was a small parking lot, a water fountain, payment kiosk (there’s a $10 fee for parking), and porta-potty. While I made use of the facility, Roxanne studied the lichen on the nearby boulders and paid the day-use fee. 

Then we both did a little bit more lichen hunting and looking for galls on the nearby coyote brush (and found a few). We decided that since the gate was still closed, we’d try walking down to the trailhead we wanted, but after walking just a few yards, my body needed to get back to the porta-potty (Bad breakfast sandwich, I think. *sigh*), so I headed back there and told Roxanne to look for “cool stuff” while I was ocupado. TMI, I know.

Common Gold Cobblestone Lichen, Pleopsidium flavum [bright yellow]; Scattered Button Lichen, Buellia dispersa [gray/off white on rocks with black spots] and some Sidewalk Firedot Lichen, Xanthocarpia feracissima [bright orange, on rocks]

While I was in the porta-potty, I could hear someone drive up, and heard Roxanne talking to whoever the driver was. It was one of the park maintenance crew, and he opened the gate for us.  Woot!  Once we got back into the car and started driving in, we were sooooo happy that the gate had been opened. The drive to the trailheads was downhill and relatively long.  If we had tried to walk it, I would have been exhausted by the trip down and probably not too able to make the walk back up to the parking lot. So, that was Nice Happenstance #1 today.

Roxanne below the cut rock-face at the river side,

I had forgotten to bring the map with the trails on it, d’oh!, so we followed the maintenance truck – which led us down to the river, below the trailhead we were actually looking for. Along the way we spotted a few wildflowers making their debut including some Bush Monkeyflower, Filddlenecks and some sort of Paintbrush.  ((We’d seen a few Lupin along the highway on the way into Auburn, but nothing around the trails.)) We took a few photos and headed back up the road, turning in to the little parking lot where the Cardiac Bypass Trail was.  Yes, that’s really its name. Hah!

There was a woman (with her two UNLEASHED dogs) setting up a table for the runners there, and we did eventually see maybe 20 of the runners as they passed through. While we were there we checked out the lichen on the trees, and found what we thought might have been some kind of dodder (red-orange thread stuff) on an old Cottonwood Tree. 

At first we thought this might be some kind of dodder… but it might also be Golden Hair-Lichen, Teloschistes flavicans. Need to do more research.

There was also a lot of Buckbrush in bloom there, and the pine trees were all doing their “male thing” sending out pollen all over everything. 

Pollen coming off the pine trees.

We were also a little surprised to see rust fungus, similar to what we found elsewhere on Coyote Brush, emerging from galls on some of the pines.  We’re assuming it’s from the same genus but a different species.

After a short while, we looked down the cliffside at the trail and figured it wasn’t one I’d be able to navigate at all – and it didn’t show any signs of hooking up with the canal anywhere, so we decided to nix that and go looking again for the China Bar trailhead. As we were loitering around, though, we met an older gentleman named Richard who was also deciding against taking the Cardiac Bypass Trail.  He said he knew where the canal was and offered to lead us there with his car.  So nice!  So, we followed him over to that trailhead and thanked him profusely for his help. That was Nice Happenstance #2.

The Shirland Canal by the China Bar Trail

The Shirland Canal was right off a little parking lot and we were finally able to start walking the trail there.  We came across another gentleman who was walking his elderly dog back to his car, and he asked us if we were looking for the newts. We told him, yes, and he said, “They’re here! I saw some balls of them.  Look for them in the more still shallow parts of the canal.” That was Nice Happenstance #3.

As we walked along, I was so focused on the water in the canal to my right that I’m sure I missed a lot of stuff along the left-hand side of the trail. I DID note the Golden Dwarf Mistletoe, Western Buttercups, a few Blue Dicks, and Turkey Tail Fungus, though.

Golden Dwarf Mistletoe, Western Dwarf Mistletoe, Arceuthobium campylopodum

The canal didn’t disappoint, and Roxanne and I counted 10 newts, some of them single, some in pairs, and some in en masse in a mating ball of four.  Because they were in the water it was hard to get any close-ups of their faces, but I was still pretty satisfied with the photos and video clips I was able to get.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

Mating ball of newts.

Rant: I WASN’T pleased when someone let their UNLEASHED dog jump into the canal, lay down and splash around in there right next to where the newts were. Unleashed dogs in wildlife areas is a pet peeve of mine – and I was especially upset by the fact that the humans made no effort whatsoever to clean up after their pets on the trail even though the Rec Area provided free doggie-dooley bags at the head of each trail.  There was dog crap EVERYWHERE. Guh!

I WASN’T pleased when someone let their UNLEASHED dog jump into the canal, lay down and splash around in there right next to where the newts were.

Anyway, we walked the trail until we came to a “slide” area where the canal started its downhill tilt.  I felt it was unsafe (for me), and figured the water would be running too fast for the newts to be settling in, so we turned around and headed back to the car.  Nice Happenstance #4 was that throughout our excursion the rain had held itself off, and didn’t start until just before we got back to the parking lot.

I figured we walked about 4 hours all together, but I still felt pretty good and energized because of the adrenaline rush I got from seeing the newts.

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. Bark Rim Lichen, Lecanora chlarotera
  3. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum
  4. Blue Dicks, Dichelostemma capitatum
  5. Buckbrush, Ceanothus cuneatus
  6. Bur Chervil, Anthriscus caucalis
  7. Bush Lupine, Lupinus albifrons
  8. Bush Monkeyflower, Diplacus aurantiacus
  9. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis
  10. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis [flight overhead]
  11. Chinese Praying Mantis, Tenodera sinensis [ootheca]
  12. Common Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  13. Common Fiddleneck, Amsinckia menziesii
  14. Common Gold Cobblestone Lichen, Pleopsidium flavum [bright yellow]
  15. Common Mustard, Brassica rapa
  16. Common Vetch, Vicia sativa
  17. Common Water Strider, Aquarius remigis
  18. Coyote Brush Bud Gall midge, Rhopalomyia californica
  19. Coyote Brush Rust, Puccinia evadens
  20. Coyote Brush Stem Gall moth, Gnorimoschema baccharisella
  21. Cumberland Rock-Shield Lichen, Xanthoparmelia cumberlandia
  22. Dark-Eyed Junco, Junco hyemalis
  23. False Turkey Tail fungus, Hairy Curtain Crust, Stereum hirsutum
  24. Giraffe’s Head Henbit, Henbit Deadnettle, Lamium amplexicaule
  25. Gold Dust Lichen, Chrysothrix candelaris
  26. Golden Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
  27. Golden Dwarf Mistletoe, Western Dwarf Mistletoe, Arceuthobium campylopodum
  28. Golden Hair-Lichen, Teloschistes flavicans
  29. Gray Pine, California Foothill Pine, Pinus sabiniana
  30. Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata
  31. Hoary Lichen, Hoary Rosette, Physcia aipolia
  32. Hooded Rosette Lichen, Physcia adscendens [hairs/eyelashes on the tips of the lobes]
  33. Ink Lichen, Placynthium nigrum [pitch black, fine grained]
  34. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  35. Interior Sandbar Willow, Salix interior
  36. Jointed Charlock, Wild Radish, Raphanus raphanistrum
  37. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous [heard at river]
  38. Mazegill Fungus, Daedalea quercina
  39. Mistletoe, American Mistletoe, Big Leaf Mistletoe, Phoradendron leucarpum
  40. Mud-dauber Wasps and Allies, Subfamily: Sceliphrinae
  41. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  42. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii [heard]
  43. Oleander, Nerium oleander
  44. Pin-cushion Sunburst Lichen, Polycauliona polycarpa
  45. Pine-Pine Gall Rust, Endocronartium harknessii
  46. Ponderosa Pine, Pinus ponderosa
  47. Popcorn Flowers, Plagiobothrys sp.
  48. Purple Sanicle, Sanicula bipinnatifida
  49. Pyracantha, Pyracantha coccinea
  50. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  51. Rock Shield Lichen, Xanthoparmelia conspersa
  52. Rock Tripe, Emery Rock Tripe, Umbilicaria phaea
  53. Scattered Button Lichen, Buellia dispersa [gray/off white on rocks with black spots]
  54. Shepherd’s Purse, Capsella bursa-pastori
  55. Short-lobed Paintbrush, Castilleja brevilobata
  56. Shrubby Sunburst Lichen Polycauliona candelaria
  57. Sidewalk Firedot Lichen, Xanthocarpia feracissima  [bright orange, on rocks]
  58. Sierra Newt, Taricha sierrae
  59. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  60. Strap Lichen, Western Strap Lichen, Ramalina leptocarpha
  61. Streambank Springbeauty, Miner’s Lettuce, Claytonia parviflora
  62. Tile Lichen, Lecidea tessellata
  63. Toothed Crust Fungus, Basidioradulum sp.
  64. Toyon, Heteromeles arbutifolia
  65. Turkey Tail Fungus, Trametes versicolor
  66. Western Buttercup, Ranunculus occidentalis
  67. Western Chorus Frog, Pseudacris triseriata
  68. White Leaf Manzanita, Arctostaphylos viscida ssp. viscida
  69. Whitewash Lichen, Phlyctis argena
  70. Willow Pinecone Gall midge, Rabdophaga strobiloides

At Park Winters, 03-05-20

I got up around 6:30 this morning, and gave Esteban his breakfast before getting myself ready to go out to Park Winters in, duh!, Winters.

The Inn at Park Winters

It was about 49°, sunny and clear when I got there. I immediately started taking photos, but focusing on the flowers and whatever birds I could see rather than taking photos of the venue itself. 

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

In another month or so, it should be more spectacular to look at, when the trees all have leaves on them, but right now there were mostly cultivated tulips, daffodils and other bulb-flowers… and I don’t get too excited about non-native plants.  I was surprised, for example, by the amount of common ivy and periwinkle on the grounds.  They’re both invasive species. From a naturalist standpoint, I would have been happier to see native plants and flowers throughout the place.

Garden Tulips, Tulipa gesneriana

On the grounds, there’s a huge Victorian house, silo and barn that are just pristine and gorgeous, and the grounds abut agricultural land. I wanted to see the chicken coop, which is supposed to be spectacular, but I missed it. 

I was walking across the lawn with the giant pecan tree in the middle of it, though, and came across a super-tall door.  There were glass inserts in the top of it, but too high for me to look through, and hedges on either side. I noticed that there was a handicapped button next to the door, so I pushed it… and the door opened slowly to reveal a huge swimming pool.  Very impressive.  ((I was also kind of jazzed to see battery hook-ups for cars in their parking lot.))  There’s also a large fountain full of koi fish and a “carved” English garden across from it.  Just lovely.

Koi Fish, Cyprinus carpio

I did get to see my first Painted Lady butterfly of the season and a Common Checkered Skipper. 

And I got photos of a robin, Spotted Towhee, Yellow-Billed Magpie, and Red-Breasted Nuthatch, among other birds.  The Nuthatch had landed on a ball of twigs and threads that one of several hanging from the limbs of the pecan tree.  At first I thought they were little hanging nests, but on closer inspection I could see that they were most likely man-made balls of excelsior, threads and fine ribbons for the birds around to use as extra nesting materials.

Red-breasted Nuthatch, Sitta canadensis, on a ball of nesting material

I walked the grounds and took photos for about 2 hours and then headed back home.

Species List:

  1. American Robin, Turdus migratorius
  2. Bearded Iris, Iris x Germanica
  3. Begonia, Begonia sp.
  4. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  5. Blue Magic Hyacinth, Muscari armeniacum
  6. Common Grape Hyacinth, Muscari botryoides
  7. Border Forsythia, Forsythia × intermedia
  8. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  9. Calla Lily, Zantedeschia aethiopica
  10. Camelia, Camellia japonica
  11. Canary Grass, Reed Canary Grass, Phalaris arundinacea
  12. Cardoon, Artichoke, Cynara cardunculus
  13. Chinese Pistache, Pistacia chinensis
  14. Common Asparagus Fern, Asparagus setaceus
  15. Common Blue Hyacinth, Hyacinthus orientalis
  16. Common Checkered-Skipper, Burnsius communis
  17. Common Ivy, Hedera helix
  18. Cooper’s Hawk, Acipiter cooperii
  19. Crevice Alumroot, Heuchera micrantha
  20. Double Daffodil, Narcissus sp.
  21. Eurasian Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto
  22. European Honeybee, Apis mellifera
  23. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  24. Garden Tulip, Tulipa gesneriana
  25. Golden Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
  26. Hen-and-chickens Echeveria, Echeveria secunda
  27. Hoverfly, Long-tailed Aphideater, Eupeodes fumipennis
  28. Hydrangea, Mophead Hydrangea, Hydrangea macrophylla
  29. Intermediate Periwinkle, Vinca difformis
  30. Italian Cypress, Cupressus sempervirens
  31. Jonquil, Narcissus jonquilla
  32. Koi Fish, Cyprinus carpio
  33. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  34. Lodgepole Pine, Pinus contorta
  35. Mistletoe, American Mistletoe, Big Leaf Mistletoe, Phoradendron leucarpum
  36. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  37. Oleander, Nerium oleander
  38. Olive Tree, Olea europaea
  39. Ornamental Freesia, Freesia alba × leichtlinii
  40. Painted Lady Butterfly, Vanessa cardui
  41. Pecan Tree, Carya illinoinensis
  42. Pincushion Flower, Mourningbride, Scabiosa atropurpurea
  43. Primrose Jasmine, Jasminum mesnyi
  44. Purple Passionflower, Passiflora incarnata,
  45. Ranunculus, Ranunculus sp.
  46. Red Maple, Acer rubrum
  47. Red Tip Photinia, Photinia × fraseri
  48. Red Valerian, Centranthus ruber
  49. Red-breasted Nuthatch, Sitta canadensis
  50. Rosemary, Salvia rosmarinus
  51. Saucer Magnolia, Magnolia × soulangeana
  52. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  53. Spring Sowbread Cyclamen, Cyclamen repandum
  54. Spurge, Euphorbia atropurpurea
  55. Star Magnolia, Magnolia stellata
  56. Strawberry Tree, Arbutus unedo
  57. Summer Snowflake, Leucojum aestivum
  58. Topped Lavender, Lavandula stoechas
  59. Weeping Willow, Salix × sepulcralis
  60. Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis
  61. White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys
  62. Yellow-Billed Magpie, Pica nuttalli

Spring is Springing, 03-03-20

I got up around 6:30 am this morning and after giving Esteban his breakfast, I headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for my weekly volunteer trail walking gig.

I HEARD a lot of creatures today, but didn’t manage to get photos of everyone… especially missed the coyotes. I could hear a pack of them yip-yowling near the pond area, but they were gone by the time I got over that way.  As I was walking near the river, I encountered a group of women who were walking together—and they had to stop me to show me the cellphone photos they got of a lone coyote who followed them for several yards along the rover trail.  That coyote was CLOSE; the cellphone photos they got of it were great.  So envious.

At one point, I sat on a bench and just let my cellphone record the sounds around me: Scrub Jays, wrens, nuthatches… Just lovely. CLICK HERE to listen in.

I did get to see a few cool things, though.  The Red-Shouldered Hawks are still working on the nest in the tree at the head of the main trail. I saw the female bringing more twigs to that one (while hubby sat in a tree further along the trail). While she was away looking for more sticks, an Eastern Fox Squirrel climbed “her” tree and sat in the nest for a while like he was testing it out. Then, he climbed out of the nest and started chewing off the tree’s new leaf-buds all around it.

The hawk came back and saw him there, and tried several times to smack him out of the tree and away from the nest, but the squirrel was persistent.  After several attempts to oust him, the hawk flew up into a nearby tree, and preened herself – while she kept an eye on the nest – until the squirrel finally left. 

A female Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus, watching the squirrel from an adjacent tree.

I was surprised the hawk didn’t just kill the intruder; she was certainly capable of doing that.  One good grip with her talons and she could’ve crushed him to death. The squirrel was lucky that he went near the nest of a live-and-let-live hawk. 

It will be interesting to see if he tries that again in the future.

CLICK HERE to see the full album of photos.

Later, on another part of the trail, I could hear Acorn Woodpeckers having a fit around one of their granary trees (where they store their acorns and sometimes also use their nesting cavities.) I was surprised to see a pair of Wood Ducks in the tree, with the woodpeckers dive-bombing them and yelling at them. 

Acorn Woodpeckers, Melanerpes formicivorus, harassing a pair of Wood Ducks, Aix sponsa

Wood Ducks nest in cavities, and they actually depend on woodpeckers, especially Northern Flickers, to drill the cavities for them when man-made duck boxes aren’t available.  The Wood Ducks in this granary tree were a pair, male and female, and I have no doubt that they were hoping to be able to nest there.  The Acorn Woodpeckers weren’t having that, though.  They did their raspy tantrum-thing until they were successful in chasing the ducks away from their tree.

There are quite a few duck boxes at the preserve, so I’m sure the ducks will be able to find somewhere else to nest.

Near the woodpeckers’ tree, I also came across some deer: a 4-pointer buck and another buck who had recently lost his antlers.  I got quite a few photos of them before they moved on. In other areas, I also found other small groups of deer, mostly does and their yearlings.

Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus

I also saw several groups of Tree Swallows who seemed to be staking out territories and looking for nests. It’s almost impossible to tell the males from the females because their markings are the same, but the males do a “vertical posture” courtship thing where they get up on a high branch, stretch their neck up, bill skyward and chatter to attract the females.  Then they take the females over to potential nesting cavities and let the females check them out.  Haven’t seen anyone settle on a spot yet, but it’s very early in the season.

According to Cornell, Tree Swallows are generally monogamous for the season, and sometimes carry their “marriages” from one season to the next if their nests are successful. Some males will mate with more with one female but only if the nests are a good distance away from one another; and it’s the female who solicits that extramarital mating. (The males never force it.)

This is another cavity-nester that relies on the woodpeckers (or humans) to build nesting sites for them.  The birds line their nesting cavities with feathers and big fights can break out over who has what feathers.

According to Cornell, “Birds in possession of feathers sometimes enter a cavity, but depart still carrying feather to rejoin melee. Also, birds carrying feathers but not being chased have been seen repeatedly dropping a feather high in the air, which results in attracting birds that begin chasing. These observations suggest that chases for feathers may serve some social function in addition to acquiring feathers for the nest.”

All of the Live Oak trees in the preserve are getting their catkins, and the Valley Oaks are just starting to get their leaves.  The Western Redbud trees are starting to bloom, and I found a few Pipevine and Manroot plants around. 

Catkins on Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni

On some of the oak trees I found the tiny white cocoons of the Ribbed Cocoon-Maker Moths.  The air was full of Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies, all hungry I presume after escaping from their chrysalises, but none of them landed anywhere around me where I could get photos of them. Most of them were in the air or high in the trees. 

Cocoon of a Ribbed Cocoon-Maker Moth, Bucculatrix albertiella

There aren’t any wildflowers in bloom yet, so nectar is in short supply. Since these butterflies ONLY drink nectar (and don’t use fruit or other food sources) I’m assuming they’re having to get what they need from local gardens, manroot flowers, and the like.  [[The caterpillars will eat the pipevines, but the butterflies need nectar.]]  I also saw a few Sulphur butterflies which I think were female Orange Sulphurs.  I wasn’t able to get photos of them either. Dang it.

I walked for about 3 ½ hours and then went back home.            

As an aside: to maintain my naturalist certification and get a pin for 2020, I have to volunteer at least 40 hours per year.  It’s only March 3rd, and my walk today put me at my 40 hours already. Woot! 

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. Almond Tree, Prunus dulcis
  3. American Kestrel, Falco sparverius
  4. American Robin, Turdus migratorius
  5. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  6. Azolla, Water Fern, Azolla filiculoides
  7. Bark Rim Lichen, Lecanora chlarotera [looks like Whitewash Lichen but has apothecia]
  8. Bedstraw, Velcro Grass, Cleavers, Galium aparine
  9. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii
  10. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra cerulea
  11. Bur Chervil, Anthriscus caucalis
  12. California Buckeye Chestnut, Aesculus californica
  13. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  14. California Manroot, Bigroot, Marah fabaceus
  15. California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana
  16. California Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta
  17. California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica
  18. California Quail, Callipepla californica [heard]
  19. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  20. California Sycamore, Platanus racemose
  21. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  22. Coffeeberry, California Buckthorn, Frangula californica
  23. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
  24. Common Goldspeck Lichen, Candelariella vitellina [bright yellow with rimmed apothecia on rocks]
  25. Common Green Lacewing, Chrysoperla carnea
  26. Common Snowberry, Symphoricarpos albus
  27. Cowpie Lichen, Diploschistes muscorum [light gray on rocks, similar to Crater Lichen but more pruinose]
  28. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  29. Crown Whitefly, Aleuroplatus coronata [larvae]
  30. Cumberland Rock-Shield Lichen, Xanthoparmelia cumberlandia
  31. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
  32. European Honeybee, Apis mellifera
  33. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  34. Golden Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
  35. Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata
  36. Himalayan Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus
  37. Hooded Rosette Lichen, Physcia adscendens [hairs/eyelashes on the tips of the lobes]
  38. Ink Lichen, Placynthium nigrum [pitch black, fine grained]
  39. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  40. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous [heard]
  41. Lords-And-Ladies, Arum maculatum
  42. Miner’s Lettuce, Claytonia perfoliata
  43. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  44. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
  45. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii [heard]
  46. Oak Apple Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  47. Orange Sulphur Butterfly, Colias eurytheme 
  48. Pacific Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
  49. Peregrine Falcon, Wek-Wek, Falco peregrinus
  50. Periwinkle, Vinca major
  51. Plum, Prunus cerasifera
  52. Pumpkin Gall Wasp, Dryocosmus minusculus
  53. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  54. Ribbed Cocoon-Maker Moth, Bucculatrix albertiella
  55. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  56. Rock Shield Lichen, Xanthoparmelia conspersa
  57. Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Regulus calendula
  58. Ruptured Twig Gall Wasp, Callirhytis perdens
  59. Shrubby Sunburst Lichen Polycauliona candelaria
  60. Smokey Eye Boulder Lichen, Porpidia albocaerulescens
  61. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  62. Stonewall Rim Lichen, Lecona muralis [pale green/gray thallus with rose/tan apothecia gathered in the center; color can be quite variable]
  63. Stork’s Bill, Broadleaf Filaree, Erodium botrys
  64. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  65. Turkey Tail Fungus, Trametes versicolor
  66. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  67. Two-Horned Gall Wasp, Dryocosmus dubiosus
  68. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  69. Velvety Tree Ant, Liometopum occidentale
  70. Western Fence Lizard, Blue Belly, Sceloporus occidentalis
  71. Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis
  72. White Horehound, Marrubium vulgare
  73. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis
  74. Wood Duck, Aix sponsa
  75. Yellow Starthistle, Centaurea solstitialis

Online Nature Journal Class,Session #3

As I’ve mentioned before, I started an online nature journaling class through Cornell. [There will also be a separate page showing all of the classes in case you’d like to take the course yourself or maybe want to start nature journaling on your own.]

Here are my notes from today’s class.

Science is a process of making observations while seeking to understand and attempting to explain what you observe. Just as in science, making observations is at the very core of nature journaling. An observation is any information you gather using your senses. Have fun and get creative exploring all the different types of observations you can make… You can challenge yourself to think like a scientist and explore scientific themes that can help you focus your observations and explanations. These themes include observing scale and quantity, looking for patterns, thinking about how form relates to function, exploring natural systems, and noticing change.

Nature journaling is your own creative form of data gathering. Through focused observation, you open up new ways of learning from your outdoor experiences.

In this lesson you’ll be…

  • Expanding your powers of observation.
  • Discovering the benefits of practicing the sit spot technique.
  • Experimenting with a variety of ingredients for making your journal pages come alive.
  • Designing a comparison study to identify and record patterns, connections, and relationships in the natural world.

Opening Your Senses

Slowing down, sitting quietly and observing nature with all your senses can be an awe-inspiring experience. Find a spot where you can sit comfortably for at least 15 to 20 minutes. Settle in and try not to make a sound. Open your senses and start to take in the world around you.

First, close your eyes and just listen.  Then open your eyes and look around you.  After several minutes you’ll notice that the creatures in the area grow more accustomed to your still presence and will resume their natural everyday habits.  Record what you observe in your journal.

A Sense of Awe

Making observations is at the core of nature journaling. Taking time to carefully observe allows you to notice and appreciate so much more. It’s also a practice that can help you experience a sense of awe more regularly.  Recent research says experiencing awe is good for you—and so much of nature is awesome. Among other benefits, you might feel happier and more connected to others. It can even sharpen your brain and help you think more clearly.

  1. Find a location to try a sit spot. You don’t have to go far. It could be in your yard. Sit quietly for at least 15 minutes.
  2. Do you notice birds or other animals returning after a period of time? Do they return at different intervals? Which comes back first?
  3. Open your journal and set up your page with your name, date, time, place, and weather notations.
  4. Start recording your observations, use as many of your senses as possible and play with including some measurements.

My first focused observation:

I was more focused on observing and taking notes than drawing, so my drawing for today isn’t very detailed.

I had just filled the birdfeeder outside my bedroom window, and watched the birds and squirrels that came to it.  I drew the Chinese Privet tree and the feeder, but also used my cellphone camera to get some images.

I saw White-Crowned Sparrows, Mourning Doves, a California Scrub Jay, House Finches, House Sparrows and an Oak Titmouse. 

I could hear the squirrels running across the roof, to and from the feeders. When the squirrels were around, the birds stayed back from the feeders but didn’t fly away.

I could hear the sparrows “chirp” at each other, and heard the male Mourning Dove cooing to the female as he followed closely after her along the ground. She didn’t seem interested in him and kept avoiding his attentions by scurrying away. I could hear the wind whistling through the doves’ tail feathers when they flew in and flew out.

The White-Crowned Sparrows were more interested in the suet blocks than the seeds in the feeder, and the doves ate the seeds that fell onto the ground. Some of the White-Crowns ate seeds off the ground, too; they kept looking up and around them every few seconds as they fed. Keeping an eye out for other birds and predators?  Some of the White-Crowns also flit up onto the window sill to peck up the seeds there.  They’d look up into the window as they fed.

Didn’t observe long enough to see “intervals” of movement; but I’m looking forward to doing more observations outside at more remote locations.

There was also a young Eastern Fox Squirrel who couldn’t quite figure out how to get the seeds in the feeder, and an adult Western Gray Squirrel who was adept at stealing the seeds.  That squirrel also went over to the hummingbird feeder and tipped it just enough to get the nectar inside to dribble out, and he drank from the feeder!  Ingenious.  [[A “sense of awe” moment, for sure.]]

Western Gray Squirrel drinking from hummingbird feeder

Noticing Themes in Nature

Nature journaling is a thought process—one that builds on itself to generate a deeper understanding of what you’re observing. When you use your observations as a springboard to develop possible explanations, it will inspire more curiosity and more appreciation. As a way to help fuel your own curiosity cycle, start noticing scientific themes and incorporating them in your journal.

  • Scale and Quantity: How big or small? How many are there? What is most common or rare? Noticing the scale or quantity of something can lead to further investigations.
  • Patterns: Patterns are the regular and repeated ways in which something occurs. They may involve appearance, sound, structure, or even behavior. [pattern of a fawn’s spots]
  • Form and Function: This is a “big idea” in biology. Basically, it is that the shape of something is closely related to, and therefore a clue to, its function.
  • Systems and Energy Flow: Systems involve parts working together, and fail when critical components are missing. For example, ecosystems have many different members playing different roles: producers, consumers, and decomposers. Materials and energy flow through this system. Think about where your subject fits into its system.
  • Noticing Change: Living things and ecosystems change constantly. Explore the scope, timespan, and causes of the changes you observe.

My friend Roxanne and I are always trying to learn from what we see and ask ourselves questions about forms and functions.  I’ve been focusing a lot on lichen lately, and have begun to observe the different ways the lichen reproduce.  Some use apothecia through which they produce and release spores, some use soredia (crumbly-looking bundles of algae and fungus cells that they shed – which then go on to form another lichen), some use isidia (structures that look like eyelashes on the edges of the lichen)… and some use a combination of those structures. I used to think of lichen as fairly “commonplace” somewhat “simple” structures, but observation has shown me how complex and varied they are.  I’ve been using a macro attachment for my cellphone to observe some of the deeper details and structures of lichen.  Here’s an example of what Bark Rim Lichen, Lecanora chlarotera looks like to the naked eye and to the macro attachment:

Without close observation, you miss all the details.

The Power of Comparison

Drawing and recording observations about two similar subjects side-by-side on a page provides a simple way to focus your observations and get more from a journaling session. Through focused comparison it’s often easier to discover new patterns, connections, and relationships.

  1. Head outside with your journal and choose two similar subjects—perhaps flowers, tree branches, or rocks—and complete a comparison study.
  2. Try different ways of recording your observations by exploring drawings, words, numbers, and/or diagrams.
  3. Through your study did you notice anything of interest involving patterns, form following function, change, scale or quantity, or systems?
  4. What questions come to mind about your subjects from this study?

I did my comparison study on the feet of American Coots and Mallard ducks.  Coots have lobed toes and very sharp toenails; Mallards have webbed feet and somewhat flat toenails.  Coots legs and feet are a mix of blue gray, green, and yellow; Mallard feet and legs are various shades of orange and umber.  The toe formation, webbing variance and different colors made me wonder why the birds were put together like that.

The Coots are more or less confined to marsh lands.  Their lobed toes give them traction in the water when they’re swimming, but the separation between the toes also allows for more flexibility on land and walking through and over matts of marsh plants.  The Coots also use their feet in dominance battles. I would assume that the light color of their legs and feet make it less likely that predators under the water could see them, and might mistake them for wafting plant fronts.  On land, they WALK rather than WADDLE.

I know that Mallards are the ancestors of all of the domestic duck (except the Muscovy) and they can thrive in a variety of habitats.  Although they nest on ground, they spend a lot of time in the water feeding and displaying to one another. On land, the ducks WADDLE rather than WALK. Obviously, their webbed feet make it easier to maneuver in the water while still allowing them to travel on land.  The orange color, though, is suddenly interesting to me.  Why such a bright and obvious color on their feet? 

I did a little more research on them and discovered that the color of their feet can vary depending on their age and hormone levels. The feet turn bright orange in the breeding season, signaling to others that they’re old enough and healthy enough to breed.

CLICK HERE for the PDF of my notes from today’s session.