I got up around 5:30 and headed over to William Land Park for a short walk around 6:00 am. Trying to beat the heat. It got up to 100° F here today…
At the park, the sprinklers in the WPA Rock Garden and on some of the lawns were on or had just shut off, so things were wet and muddy in places, and the mud gummed up the tires on my walker. Note to self: the rock garden is not the best place for a walker. There are too many narrow turns and shallow steps, and I had to keep lifting the walker up to maneuver it around.
The gardeners there had apparently pulled out all of the Showy Milkweed in the place; I didn’t see a single plant. But I did see some small stands of Narrowleaf Milkweed and Tropical Milkweed. No signs of Monarchs yet.
The garden is in a transitional stage, too, from late spring blooms to summer blooms, so a lot of the plants are naked right now. Not a lot of different stuff for the pollinators to feed on; mostly lilies, buckwheat, and butterfly bushes.
Once again, I have to remark on how few insects I’m seeing when I’m out and about. Few bees, fewer butterflies and caterpillars, no praying mantises… It’s very concerning.
In the middle pond, the Sacred Lotus is now starting to bloom – and had taken over about ¾ of the water surface. The blooms are lovely, but all that overgrowth on the surface shades everything below it.
According to the Noble Research Institute: “…Its seeds, tubers and young unrolled leaves are edible for humans. The seeds are eaten by mallard and wood duck, the roots are eaten by beaver and muskrat, and the stems and leaves provide shade and habitat for fish, young waterfowl and marsh birds. Shade from its leaves can limit abundance of submersed aquatic plants. However, lotus can be aggressive and dominate most portions of a pond shallower than 7 feet [which] can limit more preferred duck food plants such as pondweeds, smartweeds and naiads…”
Naiads are dragonfly larvae. Too many lotus plants means fewer dragonflies – and all the aquatic insect control the dragonfly larvae provide. Humans just don’t think things through. *Sigh*
I had taken some duck food with me which I fed to the ducks as I walked around the edge of the pond. Mostly hybrid Mallards, and some Wood Ducks, including some young males who were just starting to get their adult feathers in. They were pretty scruffy looking.
As I was leaving the park, I passed by a Yellow-Faced Bumblebee sleeping on some old chamomile flowers. He’d apparently been sleeping when the sprinklers came on because he was dampish; very “bed-headed”. I got some photos and video snippets of him as he rousted himself awake, but I’m sure he would have continued dozing if I hadn’t come by.
There was Iceplant growing in a bed by the parking lot, and I found a few specimens of Iceplant Scale, alternately referred to as “cottony soft scale” or “cushion bears”. Hah!
These insects are interesting in that the female insects are followed by a white cottony “ovisac” in which she lays her eggs. The females only live for a couple of weeks, but can lay up to 2000 eggs. I tried to get a photo of the eggs, but the egg sac I opened was, as luck would have it, empty. I’ll try again next time I see them.
I was only out for about 2 hours and then headed back home.
I got up around 5:30 this morning and headed out with my friend Roxanne to go check out parts of the Arboretum in Davis. It was another hot day today (up to 99°), so we only stayed out for a few hours. At the arboretum, we walked through part of the Peter J. Shields Oak Grove and adjoining gardens.
This grove is only one part of the Davis Arboretum. There are other gardens and collections, including a native plants garden, desert collection, redwood grove and pollinator garden. The arboretum also abuts the Putah Creek Riparian Reserve. Each facet is accessible through different streets with varying parking availability. At the oak grove, there is adequate parking and a restroom facility that is covered in detailed mosaic murals.
The last time Rox and I were here was in September of last year. What a difference in what we saw today compared to then: fewer flowers, no galls, few birds, hot temperatures. What we seemed to see the most of today was a lot of different bee species.
Among the bees we saw were a Foothill Carpenter Bees that were sleeping on different stems of the same salvia plant. Because they were dozing, it was easy to get some close up photos of them. When the male Foothill bee started to wake up, he stretched himself out between two flowers on the plant (like Tarzan going from vine to vine).
The female bee would have slept in longer if another bee hadn’t jumped her and forced her off the plant. We weren’t sure if it was an attempt at mating (I think it was) or if it was an aggressive behavior, but the female bee just wasn’t having it.
Roxanne got this photo of them together:
Many of the carpenter bees we saw were “nectar robbing”. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. Rather than working their way to the nectar through a natural opening in a flower, some bees (and hummingbirds, too) will drill a hole in the base of the flower and take the nectar from there. It’s called “nectar robbing” because the bees get the benefits of the food, but flowers don’t get any pollination action.
How do you tell the carpenter bees apart? The following is from the UCD Blog:
California has three species of carpenter bees.
The biggest is the Valley carpenter bee, Xylocopa varipuncta. It’s about an inch long. The female is solid black, while the male, commonly known as “the teddy bear bee,” is a green-eyed blond. Why teddy bear? It’s fuzzy and does not sting… “Boy bees don’t sting.”
The second largest is the California carpenter bee or Western carpenter bee, Xylocopa californica, often found in the mountain foothill areas of northern and southern California. It’s known for its distinctive distinctive bluish metallic reflections on the body… The females have dark smoky brown wings.
The smallest is the foothill or mountain carpenter bee, Xylocopa tabaniformis orpifex. The females are black with light smoky-colored wings. The male has bright yellow marks on the lower part of its face and some yellow hairs on the top front of its thorax.
We saw a family of Western Bluebirds on one of the lawns, including this youngster. I was surprised to realize that it was banded, so I reported it to the Bird Banding Laboratory. Some birds aren’t banded with numbers, only color codes, like this one. So, even if you don’t see any alpha-numeric marking on the bands, reporting the birds still helps scientists to track them.
Roxanne and I walked through the Ruth Risdon Storer Garden, and went by the Moon Garden and gazebo. At the Moon Garden, all of the flowers are supposed to be white but there weren’t many blooms at all this time of year. The gazebo was occupied by a large group of people without face-masks on, so we didn’t go in there.
On the lawn near the Moon Garden, however, we found a small flock of Mallards (mostly hybrids) stretched out in the grass in the shade, all of them in a well-spaced circle. Social distancing duck-style. Hah!
Because of the heat, we walked for about 3 hours before heading out.
When we were done at the oak grove, we stopped briefly at the home of Bob Schneider. He’d invited us over to pick up copies of his new book, “Exploring the Berryessa Region: a Geology, Nature and History Tour”. He has advance copies that he’s selling, and all of the profits will be donated to nonprofit conservation organizations. (You can contact him through FB or email him at Verve2006@comcast.net), The cover art is by Obi Kaufmann.
Up at 5:00 this morning to get the dog and myself seen to before I headed off to the Cosumnes River Preserve for a walk with my friend and fellow naturalist Roxanne. This is the first day the preserve has opened since it was shut down for the COVID-19 thing. Even though we got there before the gates officially opened, we were still able to access the trails. I took the Rollator Walker with me for a “test drive” to see how it works on slightly uneven terrain. The trails and boardwalk at Cosumnes are wide enough to accommodate it.
When we got to the preserve, the gates weren’t open yet, so Roxanne parked on the road. The first thing we saw was a new nest box with a Tree Swallow on it who posed for some photos. Then, as we were walking down the sidewalk that leads toward the main pond – which is now completely dry — a ranger came and opened up the gate. So, Rox went back to the car and pulled it into the parking lot. Then we walked down the boardwalk and back, around the trail that looks at what is now open fields, and across the street to the oak tree forest. It was VERY windy all the while we were out, and sometimes the wind was strong enough to get my walker rolling away from me, so, I had to learn fast to lock the wheels whenever I stepped away from it.
I noticed immediately that I walk “differently” with the walker than I do with a cane. Most obvious was the fact that I could sit my heavy carry bag on the seat of the walker, instead of having it hang from my shoulder, so I walked more upright. It occurred to me that what might have been a factor in the arrival of The Poltergeist (my psoas flexor muscle pain) was that I was carrying that heavy bag on my shoulder on every outing (for about 5 years), and my body had to lean to the right to compensate for that extra weight on my left… It’ll be interesting to see if the change from the cane to the walker (along with my PT exercises) helps my posture and balance, and eliminates The Poltergeist.
Anyway, back to preserve: There’s basically no water at the preserve right now, which means no waterfowl, practically no dragonflies, and no fish or crayfish for the otters and mink to eat. So it’s pretty “desolate” out there. Until the insect galls start making themselves obvious in the late summer, there will be “nothing” to see at the preserve.
We also noticed how short the Jointed Charlock plants were this year; they all seem very low to the ground. Rox found one plant with this year’s growth looking dwarfish next to the towering remains of last year’s growth. Just not enough water, I’m guessing.
There are mostly Valley Oaks at the preserve, but we noted that the leaves on them are much, much smaller than the leaves of the Valley Oak trees we see around the American River. In some cases, the leaves on the trees here are ¼ of the size of the leaves on the trees elsewhere. I wonder if they’re a different subspecies, or if they’re just stunted by a lack of water (or maybe salts in the ground).
There was a lot of Bristly Oxtongue, cocklebur, dock, and Pennyroyal out on the waterless fields. We also found some pink Common Centuary and white Buttonbush in bloom. There were also several different grasses growing around including Dallis Grass, Canary Grass and Rabbitsfoot Grass. Grasses are the most difficult plants for me to ID, so I only recognize a few of them.
On one of the stalks of grass I saw what I first thought was an oddly-colored flowering head (Inflorescence) on it. Closer inspection, though, proved that I was actually looking at a super-fluffy Salt Marsh Moth caterpillar! That was fun find! We took several photos of it before releasing it to the wild again. It was having a “bad hair day”, so the close-up photos I got of its face were hysterical to look at.
In the oak forest area, along with the large oak apple galls, we found some galls of the Fuzzy Gall Wasp and the Round Gall Wasp (yes, very unimaginative names, I know). Both the Fuzzy and Round galls are round, but the Fuzzy ones grow on the stems of the Valley Oaks, and the Round galls grow at the base of the leaves.
We also came across several different kinds of birds’ nests. I’m not very good at ID-ing those either (there are literally thousands of different kinds), but I’d like to get better at it. I know what some nests look like and/or where they’re generally located, but when I find an abandoned nest with nothing it, I get stumped. Today, I recognized a Bushtit nest and a Kingbird nest, but was a bit stumped on two others.
There was one lodged deep inside the stems and branches of a small Valley Oak tree. The entire base of it was made of mud but the rest of it was made of grasses. Normally, I’d figure that was a Robin’s nest, but they generally use a lot more mud and the nests are, therefore, pretty heavy. I’m calling the one we found a Robin’s nest, but I’m not at all sure about that.
The other one we found was in some dried, tall marsh plants in a field. It had an open top and cup shape, and was made entirely of dried grass, with some of the grasses wrapped around the stems of the plant for stability. There was also a small egg inside of this one, but the egg had a hole in the side of it and was completely empty. Normally, I’d say the nest was that of a Red-Winged Blackbird, but the little egg was throwing me off. The egg was off-white with lots of brown spotting on it. Red-Winged Blackbird eggs are larger and “pale blue-green to gray, overlaid with streaks, blotches, and spots of black or brown” – and the spots and streaks can rub off.
Now, there are Brown-Headed Cowbirds in that area. They don’t build their own nests, and instead parasitize the existing nests of other birds (including blackbirds). Their eggs are “white, grayish white with brown/gray spots, usually denser at larger end”… and that describes the little egg we found in the abandoned nest.
The other possibility was that it was the nest of a Song Sparrow. The eggs look about right in color and mottling, but Song Sparrow eggs are larger than the egg we found. They’re usually about 1¼ inch long… and the one we found was smaller than that (just a little bit more than half an inch which is the size of a Cowbird egg.)
So, I’m deciding that the nest might have been that of a Red-Winged Blackbird with a Brown-Headed Cowbird egg in it. Could be totally wrong, but that’s what I’m going with…
Around the restroom facility near the boardwalk, we found several mantis oothecas, mud-dauber wasp nests, some Paper Wasp nests, and a large Black Widow spider with her egg sac. One of the Paper Wasp nests was just on its “first generation” of daughters. There were only a few cells built and a few wasps around it.
Among the Paper Wasps, the queen (“foundress”) builds all of the first cells by herself, lays eggs, feeds the babies and protect them until they hatch. Then her daughters help her build more cells and feed and care for the next round of babies while the foundress just lays eggs. None of the viable nests we saw were beyond the egg-laying stage yet; no obvious larvae in the cells. Once the larvae get big enough, the cells are closed off so the larvae can pupate and then emerge as full-grown adults. Everyone then works to enlarge the nest by adding cells until the end of the season, at which time everyone dies off except the queen. She won’t use the same nest again, so once everyone is gone, it’s safe to remove (or even keep) the nests.
While we were at the restroom facility, I noticed what looked like a turtle on the trail at some distance from us. Roxanne went to retrieve it so we could get a better look at it, and got peed on by the turtle for her efforts. D’oh! Urination is a common “defense strategy” among turtles and tortoises. This particular turtle, a female Red-Eared Slider, had a LOT of pee to eject which made me think she might have been storing it up to urinate on eggs…(Desert Tortoises urinate on freshly laid eggs to make them unpalatable to predators.) I don’t know if Sliders do that, too; it was just a thought.
How do you tell the males from the females? It can be tricky if the turtles are really young, but in adult turtles the easiest indicators to see in the females is that they’re much larger than the males, have a thin tail and short fingernails. (Males use their long front fingernails in their courtship behavior.) If you want to get more technical, look at the turtle’s cloaca: “…In females, the cloaca is close to the body, while males have a cloaca located almost at the tip of the tail…”
I thought this particular female might be looking for somewhere to lay eggs because she was moving AWAY from a water source (a small nearby pond). Although they’re technically aquatic turtles, the Sliders won’t lay their eggs in the water. Instead, they find a patch of ground where they can dig a shallow hole with their hind legs, lay the eggs in it, and then lightly cover it up again. “…One female can lay up to five clutches in the same year, and clutches are usually spaced 12 to 36 days apart…”
After we took some photos of the turtle, Roxanne set her back onto the side of the trail so she continue on in whatever direction he wanted to go.
We were out and about for about 4 hours before heading back home.
I got up around 5:30 this morning, did my morning ablutions stuff, fed and pottied the dog and then got ready for my friend Roxanne to arrive. Since this is supposed to the coolest day of the week, temperature-wise, we decided to go back into Davis to check out the West Davis Pond area. We left the house around 6:30 am.
Along County Road 104 we found that the Burrowing Owls have apparently migrated on for the summer. We saw lots of burrows but no owls. There was a farm worker in a truck along the road and he told us he hadn’t seen the owls for several weeks.
According to Cornell, the owls may migrate or choose to stay where they are depending on their local conditions. If they migrate, they’re usually on the move from August through October, heading south. So, the owls leaving here this early in the year is a little bit concerning. They should be back around February next year…
In the agricultural fields around where the owls’ burrows can usually be found were acres and acres of some kind of crop with tufted yellow flowers on them that Roxanne and I couldn’t identify from the car, so we got out to take a closer look at the plants. We were surprised to find them to be solid, stickery thistles. We couldn’t imagine what kind of crop thistles would be, so Roxanne took a photo with her cellphone and loaded it up to iNaturalist… and we discovered they were safflower plants! Safflower oil is extracted from their seeds. The plants are sometimes referred to as “bastard saffron”, because the flowering heads are sometimes used as a less expensive substitute for real saffron.
Among the safflower plants there were also some rogue tomato plants and another broad-leaf that Rox and I didn’t recognize. Turns out it was Ram’s Horn. We assumed those were “volunteers”, flown in on the wind or carried in by rodents.
“…The herbage is coated in glandular hairs carrying tiny oil droplets, making the plant feel oily to the touch and giving it a strong scent. The essential oil vaporizes into the air, and gives the landscape a “distinct acrid odor”… The fruit is a dehiscent capsule up to 10 centimeters [4inches] long with a long, narrow, curving beak. As the fruit dries and the flesh falls away, the hard beak splits into two horns…”
In other fields we found corn, almond trees, and acres of sunflowers. The first time we went by the sunflower field, we were going pretty fast with traffic behind us, so we couldn’t really stop and look at it. After our walk at the ponds, we drove back to the sunflower fields and found a dirt road to drive in and get a closer looks at them. While we were there, another car pulled in, and a man and woman got out of it. They wanted photos of the flowers, too.
We saw Assassin Bugs, Cabbage White Butterflies, honeybees, Harlequin Bugs (and nymphs), and some tree cricket nymphs on some of the flowers…
I understand the need for agricultural crops, but I don’t like the “single crop” way of planting (that forces pollinators to restrict their diets) and I don’t like that all of the trees and hedgerows have been decimated to make room for the crop plants.
There’s no reason why trees and hedgerows can’t be a part of modern farming. They allow for diversity, invite raptors that can keep down rodent populations, and provide housing for a variety of other birds that can control insects… Nature is such a friend to farmers; yet, she’s been banished from most of the farmlands around the US. It’s ridiculous. Because there’s no natural rodent and insect control in these fields, the farmers use poisons to try to eradicate pests… which poisons the planet.
There was recently this frightening article about pesticidesin the environment and their part in the decline of Monarch butterflies. This sounds so much like the DTT issues of the 1970’s that it’s horrifying. We’re poisoning the planet and killing it from the insects up again…
Anyway, after we left the fields, we went on to the West Davis Pond. Roxanne had never been there before, so it was all new to her.
There wasn’t much water in the pond; most of it was completely empty. And there weren’t any water-birds to speak of, just a few Canada Geese and a single Mallard. We also saw a Black Phoebe, some Scrub Jays and Mockingbirds, and heard a couple of Nuttall’s Woodpeckers.
We’re still surprised by the lack of obvious insects, but remember we’re in a “transition” period right now between the seasons – and the wonky weather doesn’t help anything. We were happy and surprised to see, though, some Spiny Leaf Galls on the leaves of the wild roses along the trail. They look like frilly urchins or fireworks caught mid-explosion, in varying shades of green and pink. I’ve seen these before, but not in this “fresh” state. The last ones I saw were old ones, pretty desiccated. Those were a fun find.
In the butterfly garden along the pond, we saw a variety of summer-blooming plants such as buckwheat, sages, and flowering onions, honeysuckles, hollyhocks and a variety of bushes and trees.
We also DID find some insect nymphs like those of the Milkweed Assassin Bug, leaf-footed bug, and Green Stink Bug. In one of the man-made bee condos, we got to see some leaf-cutter bees building up their brooding cells in a couple of the tubes. I got photos and a little video of them.
At first I thought they were mason bees, because the other cell around them were sealed in mud. But the still photos of the bees seemed to indicate they were actually Leaf-Cutter Bees, Megachile chichimeca.
And in another bee-condo, we found a nest of paper wasps in the butterfly alcove. There were several daughters helping out the queen, and we could see newly laid eggs in some of the cells. Those wasps develop pretty quickly, so I’d like to go back in a week or so to see how far the babies have grown.
The paper wasps are one of my favorites because they’re not as aggressive as some other wasp species and their constructions are a marvel.
“…Although it is difficult to find conspicuous variations among individuals with bare eyes, definite features are unique to each individual… The larger and the more scattered the clypeus (facial) marks on the foundress (female founder of the nest) are, the higher the chance for her to be dominant over other females… The dominant females are the principal egg layers, while the subordinate females (“auxiliaries”) or workers primarily forage and do not lay eggs. This hierarchy is not permanent, though; when the queen is removed from the nest, the second-most dominant female takes over the role of the previous queen…”
One of my Facebook friends, Beth, came across us on the trail and said something like, “Is that a Mary Hanson I see in my neighborhood? Find any weird galls I walked right past because I didn’t know what they were?” Hah! We share photos on Facebook. Beth is a far better photographer than I am, and she does a lot of “stacking” of images, still-lifes and landscapes… Very artsy-looking stuff. She’s won some awards for her work. Anyway, as Rox and I went along the trail, Beth messaged me to let me know that there was a Green Heron on the other side of the pond… By then, I’d been on my feet for too long and was heading back to the car, so I missed the heron. *Sigh*
We were out for about 5 hours before going back home.
Andalusian Horehound, Marrubium supinum
Apple, Malus pumila
Baby Sage, Salvia microphylla [red and white]
Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
Black Walnut, Eastern Black Walnut, Juglans nigra
Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra cerulea
Buckwheat, Saint Catherine’s Lace, Eriogonum giganteum
Cabbage White butterfly, Pieris rapae
California Flannelbush, Fremontodendron californicum
California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
California Wild Grape, Vitis californica
California Wild Rose, Rosa californica
Callery Pear, Pyrus calleryana
Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
Candleflame Lichen, Candelaria concolor
Carrot, American Wild Carrot, Daucus pusillus
Ceramic Parchment Lichen, Xylobolus frustulatus [hoary or pale brown, flat like parchment]
Chamomile, Chamaemelum nobile
Chinese Tallow tree, Triadica sebifera
Citron Bug, Leptoglossus gonagra [a kind of leaf-footed bug, red nymphs]
Common Buckthorn, Rhamnus cathartica
Common Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
Common Green Lacewing, Chrysoperla carnea [eggs]
Common Sunflower, Helianthus annuus
Common Tree Cricket, Oecanthus sp. [Probably either Four-spotted or Prairie. This is a 5th stage instar preparing for the final molt to adulthood — note the swollen wing sacs.]
Cork Oak, Quercus suber
Corn, Zea mays ssp. mays
Creeping Myoporum, Myoporum parvifolium [ground cover, small white flowers]
I got up around 6:00 am, and after the dog was fed and went potty, I headed out to Elk Grove to see if I could find the Laguna Creek Trail head at Edie MacDonald Park.
The trail is about 4 miles long, is mostly paved and runs along Laguna Creek. According to TrailLink.com:
“… The Laguna Creek Trail takes users from a trailhead to parks, retail centers and residential neighborhoods both north and south of Camden Lake. Perennial marsh within the Laguna Creek corridor is characterized by tall, dense stands of vegetation such as tules, cattails, nutsedge and smartweed. Non-native annual grasses are the dominant vegetation in this habitat and include species such as wild oats, soft chess, ripgut brome, barley, wild mustard, wild radish and clover. The annual grasslands habitat also supports populations of small mammals such as meadow vole, pocket gopher and black-tailed jackrabbit, which attract predators such as red-tailed hawks, white-tailed kites, Swainson’s hawks, coyotes and gopher snakes. The trail will be expanded and connected with other local trails as development occurs. The long-term vision for the parkway is to connect to the Elk Grove Creek Trail farther north, which will ultimately feed into the Sacramento River Parkway Trail that headsnorth into downtown Sacramento…”
So, more for us to explore in the future.
I found Edie MacDonald Park and all along the street were signs that read “Be Respectful [of residents] and Use the Parking Lot”. So, I looked for parking lot only to find it was locked. The park is still currently off limits.
I DID see what looked like an equestrian pull out off of Bond Road, though, so I might try to access the trail from there on another day.
Because I couldn’t get into the park, I decided to try the Cosumnes River Preserveand look around there. The preserve is still locked up, too, so I couldn’t get in there either. Guh! So, I did a couple of slow passes down Desmond and Bruceville Roads. Not too many birds, but there were quite a few cottontail rabbits in the fields…rabbits and cows.
At one point, I saw a small bird hopping in the middle of the road. It didn’t fly away, and I thought it was injured, so I stopped my car to see if I could help it. It hopped off into a field, and I was just about to get out of my car and go after it, when its parents flew down. They were Northern Mockingbirds.
The little one was a fledgling who had most of its feathers but couldn’t fly yet. Although it had apparently fallen from its nest and wandered off, the parents kept track of it. While I watched, they made several trips to collect insects and bring them to the little one to feed it. The baby would then hop toward where it last saw its parents depart, peeping and squawking, so they knew where it was. Strong little bugger! I’m so glad he was okay and had such attentive parents.
I was able to get a few photos of the baby and the family group, so that made the otherwise disappointing morning worth the mileage.