Category Archives: Naturalist

First Trip to the Putah Creek Reserve, 06-09-21

I got up around 5:30 this morning and was out the door with my friend Roxanne by 6:00 to go check out the trail along Putah Creek off of Pedrick Road. This is located at the western-most end of the Putah Creek Reserve.  There are three other access points that I think I’d like to explore later. (CLICK HERE for more information.) I had never been to any of the access sites before, so I let Rox lead the way. Water in the creek was low but moving swiftly and clear.

We took the part of the trail that went under the adjacent road, and found that Cliff Swallows had built up nests in some of the depressed weep-holes in the cement. According to Cornell:  “…Highway bridges selected in northern California typically were in areas with low urban development, and on structures with undersurfaces containing multiple junctures, water underneath the bridge, and large underpass openings…” 

The males pick the spot and start building, but then both parents finish the work. The nests can be made up of up to 1200 individual mud pellets.We noticed that nests placement seemed to be confined to one side of the culvert overhang and not the other, and speculated that sun exposure may have been an issue. Cornell says: “…There is no apparent preference for direction of nest exposure on any type of nesting site, although west-facing nests receive more direct afternoon sunlight and may be much warmer than nests facing in other directions…”

We couldn’t tell if all of the nests were occupied, but we did see activity in and around a few of them. We speculated that some might be nests with a single baby inside, but it seems more likely that we were actually seeing nests in which one of the parents was sitting on eggs.

We didn’t see any egg shells on the ground, and we didn’t see any “gaping” by the birds occupying the nests when the other parent arrived which seemed to enforce the idea that we were seeing adults both flying about and sitting in the nests. Because it’s almost impossible to tell the females from the males, we couldn’t tell which of the parent birds was which… And when they’d both enter the nest, we couldn’t tell if it was the same bird who flew out as flew in.

Cliff Swallows generally lay their eggs in late May and early June (which is the window we’re in right now), and usually lay one to six eggs.  Both parents share incubation duties. It takes about 23 days for the chicks to hatch.

We were seeing the same trees and understory plants along the creek as we did elsewhere throughout the area, so it was all “nothing new”. Or so we thought. We did find some galls there that I hadn’t seen before, and that’s always a bit exciting. On some of the willows we found some galls of the Willow Mid-Rib Sawfly, a species that has yet to be identified by Russo (but is shown in his new book).

We also found two different kinds of wasp galls on the leaves of the eucalyptus trees: little flattish speckly galls of Ophelimus maskelli that covered the surface of some of the leaves, and mid-rib galls of the Leptocybe invasaL. invasa is an invasive species indigenous to Australia. The females can reproduce asexually, so even though males sometimes show up in colonies, they’re not really necessary except to provide some diverse genetic material into the mix.

Moth Mullein was growing in places, but most of it seemed to be going to seed already. The Moth Mullein I’d seen in other places (such as along the American River) seemed to be just starting to appear. That made us wonder why the plants at Putah Creek were seeming “ahead” of similar plants elsewhere. Microclimates created by the creek might have been one reason.

Mullein, Moth Mullein, Verbascum blattaria [thin stick, white or yellow]

We walked around the creek for about 90 minutes and then headed over to the Woodland-Davis Clean Water Agency facility where the Ibis Rookery is located. It’s still too early for the ibis to be nesting in the settling pond there, but we thought maybe we’d see some Avocets or Pelicans in the water. No such luck. Along the water’s edge we saw quite a few noisy Black-Necked Stilts and Killdeer. No one had babies. I think the Killdeer should be pretty much done breeding by now. but I couldn’t remember if we were early or late for the Stilts.

Both species of bird nest on the ground, and use “scrapes” as the basic shape of the nest cup. Killdeer usually prefer gravelly sites, but the Stilts prefer little islands or other raised areas like that.  If memory serves, I think they lay between around June or July in this area… so their chicks are born right around the time the ibis start moving into the pond. I’ll have to keep an eye out for them as the months go by.

Along a spit in the pond, Rox spotted an usually large grouping of Pacific Pond Turtles. There were about 8 to 10 of them all collected in the same area. A few were basking on the shore but the majority of them were floating in the water with their heads poking up above the surface. Not a Red-Eared Slider among them. We found a few more of the turtles in the slough along the side of the road, so apparently they had a very good breeding season this year. It was so nice to see.

There were only a few damselflies among the vegetation around the pool, and I managed to catch a Tule Bluet by its wings so we could get closer shots of it. And we found a single teneral Variegated Meadowhawk dragonfly, not quite colored up yet. I don’t know if there are actually fewer of the dragonflies and damselflies than usual, or if I’m just impatient and they haven’t all emerged yet, but pickings seem very slim.

There were rabbits everywhere, Black-Tailed Jackrabbits and Desert Cottontails. They obviously had a good breeding season, too. Hah!

As we were leaving the area, Rox spotted a large gopher snake cross the road in front of us. Because the road isn’t used much, we were able to stop, and get out of the car in order to take some photos of the snake. It was maybe two-and-a-half feet long; a handsome honey color with a pale face. 

Coloration of the snakes in this species is actually quite varied: typical spotted versions with a background color from honey, to dark brown, to gray, to red; striped versions; and even albinos.  There are lots of snakes all over the region, but they’re so good at hiding that we very seldom actually see any of them.  So, spotting one, even a common gopher snake, is always a treat.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

We then headed over to Natomas where the Wyndham Heron Rookery is. We could hear lots of baby Black-Crowned Night herons “clicking” in the trees but couldn’t really see any of them. Sadly, there were quite a few dead chicks on the ground (at various levels of development).  Chicks can sometime simply blunder out of the nest, or fall out of nests that aren’t very well constructed, but siblicide is apparently common among the herons.  Larger nestmates bump smaller ones from the nest or suffocate them by “swallowing” the smaller sibling’s head, leaving the sibling near death and unable to compete for food. Yikes!

Dead heron chicks at various levels of development.

As far as we could tell, many of the adult were still sitting on eggs — and on small chicks — so there may be more chicks hatching and feathering up over the next several weeks. 

On the little island in the middle of the pond, the Showy Egrets were still nest building, and sitting on eggs. I saw a few chicks, but wasn’t able to get any really good photos of them because of the distance between the island and the walkway. Rox caught sight of a Green Heron fishing along the shore of the pond, but I wasn’t able to get any photos of it.

Among the insects found we saw several Pacific Forktail Damselflies, a Gray Hairstreak butterfly, and a tiny Heather Lady Beetle.  By the time we finished walking the loop around the pond it was almost 12:30 pm, so we called it quits and headed home.

It was fantastic to be able to get a good walk in after being confined to the house by pain over the last week.  The walk wore me out, though, and I fell asleep sitting up in bed after lunch. Hah!

This was hike #51 of my #52HikeChallenge for the year.

Species List:

  1. Alkali Heliotrope, Heliotropium curassavicum
  2. American Coot, Fulica americana
  3. American Elm Tree, Ulmus americana
  4. Armenian Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus [pink flower]
  5. Arroyo Willow, Salix lasiolepis
  6. Bird’s-Foot Trefoil, Lotus corniculatus
  7. Black Locust Tree, Robinia pseudoacacia
  8. Black Mustard, Common Wild Mustard, Brassica nigra
  9. Black Nightshade, Solanum nigrum
  10. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  11. Black Walnut, Eastern Black Walnut, Juglans nigra
  12. Black-Crowned Night Heron, Nycticorax nycticorax
  13. Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
  14. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus
  15. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum
  16. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra cerulea
  17. Boxelder, Box Elder Tree, Acer negundo
  18. Bristly Oxtongue, Helminthotheca echioides
  19. Broadleaf Cattail, Bullrush, Typha latifolia
  20. Broad-Leaved Dock, Rumex obtusifolius
  21. Broadleaved Pepperweed, Lepidium latifolium
  22. Bushtit, American Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus
  23. California Manroot, Bigroot, Marah fabaceus
  24. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  25. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica
  26. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  27. Chinese Pistache, Pistacia chinensis
  28. Cliff Swallow, Petrochelidon pyrrhonota
  29. Coast Live Oak, Quercus agrifolia
  30. Crepe Myrtle, White, Lagerstroemia indica
  31. Crow, American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  32. Curly Dock, Rumex crispus
  33. Curlycup Gumweed, Grindelia squarrosa
  34. Desert Cottontail Rabbit, Sylvilagus audubonii
  35. Eucalyptus Gall Wasp, Ophelimus maskelli [speckled; flat galls all over the leaf surface]
  36. Eucalyptus Mid-Rib Gall Wasp, Leptocybe invasa
  37. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  38. Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis
  39. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  40. Gadwall Duck, Mareca Strepera
  41. Gall Inducing Wooly Aphid, Stegophylla essigi [in live oaks, folds the leaf over itself; sometimes the leaf turns red/reddish]
  42. Goodding’s Black Willow, Salix gooddingii
  43. Gray Hairstreak Butterfly, Strymon melinus
  44. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons
  45. Green Heron, Butorides virescens
  46. Heather Lady Beetle, Chilocorus bipustulatus [very small, dark red with lighter red splotches]
  47. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  48. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  49. Interior Sandbar Willow, Salix interior
  50. Italian Thistle, Carduus pycnocephalus
  51. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  52. Leaf Gall Wasp/ Unidentified per Russo, Tribe: Cynipidi [on Valley Oak]
  53. Long-Jawed Orb Weaver Spider, Tetragnatha sp.
  54. Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  55. Mistletoe, American Mistletoe, Phoradendron leucarpum
  56. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  57. Mullein, Moth Mullein, Verbascum blattaria [thin stick, white or yellow]
  58. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  59. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii [heard]
  60. Oak Apple, California Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  61. Oregon Ash, Fraxinus latifolia
  62. Pacific Forktail Damselfly, Ischnura cervula [males have 4 spots on thorax]
  63. Pacific Gopher Snake, Pituophis catenifer catenifer
  64. Pacific Pond Turtle, Western Pond Turtle, Actinemys marorata
  65. Petiole Gall Wasp, Spring, Bi-Sexual Generation, Melikailla flora [live oak]
  66. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum
  67. Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Western Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
  68. Red Gum Eucalyptus, River Redgum, Eucalyptus camaldulensis
  69. Red Swamp Crayfish, Crawdad, Procambarus clarkii
  70. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  71. Say’s Phoebe, Sayornis saya
  72. Sneezeweed, Rosilla, Helenium puberulum
  73. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula
  74. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  75. Tule Bluet Damselfly, Enallagma carunculatum
  76. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  77. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  78. Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum
  79. Water Striders, Trepobates sp.
  80. Western Sycamore, Platanus racemosa
  81. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis [heard]
  82. Willow Beaked Twig Gall Midge, Rahdophaga rigidae
  83. Willow Mid-Rib Sawfly, Unknown species [per Russo]
  84. Willow Pinecone Gall midge, Rabdophaga strobiloides
  85. Willow Stem Sawfly, Euura exiguae
  86. Yellow-Billed Magpie, Pica nuttalli
  87. ?? tiny black spider [ant body]

A Little Drama on a Short Walk, 06-04-21

Ugh! I got absolutely no sleep last night because of the Poltergeist and hip pain. Ibuprofen cuts the edges off the hip pain, but doesn’t touch the nerve pain at all.  Still, I felt I should get outside and walk, so I took my dog Esteban with me to William Land Park.  It was 63° when we got here around 6:30, but warmed up fast. Within 90 minutes it was already 70° outside.

We walked through the WPA Rock Garden and around the middle pool, but I couldn’t do much more than that.

It’s almost impossible to maneuver my cane, my camera and my dog on a leash at the same time, so I’d resigned myself to not getting very many photos. Still, I got a few.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

As we were walking back to the car, I saw a woman in a Wildlife Rescue shirt carrying a large net.  She was going after a black duck — who was paired up with a larger white Pekin duck.  I could see something hanging off the black duck’s bottom and assumed it was a fishing lure or something like that. [I’d seen similar injuries to ducks and geese at Mather Lake Regional Park. More recently, a goose with a longbow bolt impaled in its bottom was rescued.]  I took some photos and some video, even though the action was pretty fast and most of the ducks’ movements were a blur.

Wildlife Rescue worker chasing down the black duck.

The woman chased them around trees and tried to corral them against a planter — but the ducks ran or flew off away from her, just out of reach. Eventually, she was successful in catching the black duck, and just as she did so, three or four other ducks ran at her (as though coming to the black one’s rescue).  None of them got near her, though, and she was able to get the netted bird by its wings and carried it back to her vehicle. My drama for the morning.

All the while this was going on, Esteban was watching, but made no attempt to chase the ducks, or bark, or interfere in any way.  I was very proud of him.

When I got home, I checked the pictures I’d managed to get of the black duck and realized that it wasn’t a fishing lure hanging from underneath it. It was the duck’s prolapsed penis. Ouch!  Most male birds don’t have a penis, but many ducks and geese do, and “prolapsed phallus” is apparently something they have to deal with quite often. 

There was even a TV animal rescue show that had a segment on the condition.

This happens when the male ducks “… are unable to retract their male genital (phallus) back inside of their body. It requires immediate attention to avoid complications such as secondary bacterial contamination and irreversible damage. A prolapsed phallus is usually trauma-induced, but can sometimes also be a clinical sign related to venereal disease or duck plague. When the phallus is outside of the body, it runs the risk of becoming enlarged and swollen, dry and ulcerating, and necrotic during advanced stages… But since (unlike mammals) a drake doesn’t use his penis for peeing, but only for procreation, he can get along just fine without it.” Poor drakes!

I walked for about 90 minutes, but because I didn’t get very far, I didn’t count this toward my #52HikeChallenge.

Species List:

  1. Bear’s Breeches, Acanthus mollis
  2. Blue Jacaranda, Jacaranda mimosifolia
  3. Caper Bush, Capparis spinosa
  4. Common Yucca, Yucca filamentosa
  5. Convergent Lady Beetle, Hippodamia convergens
  6. Coulter’s Matilija Poppy, Romneya coulteri
  7. Crested Duck, Anas platyrhynchos domesticus var. Crested
  8. Elegant Clarkia, Clarkia unguiculata
  9. European Honeybee, Western Honeybee, Apis mellifera
  10. Indian Runner Duck, Anas platyrhynchos domesticus var. Runner
  11. Italian Cypress, Mediterranean Cypress, Cupressus sempervirens
  12. Kangaroo Paws, Anigozanthos flavidus
  13. Lavender, Lavandula sp.
  14. Lavender-Cotton, Santolina chamaecyparissus [silver leaves, yellow button flowers]
  15. Leaf Footed Bug, Leptoglossus zonatus
  16. Love-in-a-Mist, Niallgella damascena
  17. Milky Slug, Deroceras reticulatum
  18. Mullein, Moth Mullein, Verbascum blattaria [thin stick, white or yellow]
  19. Pekin Duck, Anas platyrhynchos domesticus var. Pekin
  20. Prickly Poppy, Argemone sp.
  21. Sacred Lotus, Nelumbo nucifera
  22. Smokebush, Smoke Tree, Cotinus coggygria
  23. Swedish Blue Duck, Anas platyrhynchos domesticus var. Swedish Blue
  24. Western Sycamore, Platanus racemosa
  25. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis
  26. Wood Duck, Aix sponsa
  27. Yellow Bird-of-Paradise Shrub, Erythrostemon gilliesii

The Other Gristmill Trail, 06-02-21

I got up at 5:30 this morning and headed over to the Gristmill Recreation Area, getting there around 6:00 am.  It was 59° when I arrived there, but it warmed up to 70° before I left.

I walked over to where I normally see the Western Screech Owl, and was happy to see her — but she ducked down immediately when a loud Scrub Jay flew down in front of her.

I then walked on the longer trail on the opposite side of the parking lot. I hadn’t been on that one before, so I didn’t know what to expect, really. It was more “wild” than the other trail with lots of trees, plants, and wildflowers (some still surviving in the heat) that are not seen on the shorter trail. It was also flatter with direct access to the river in a few spots.

The little footbridge on the trail

I was surprised to see so many Elegant Clarkia flowers still in bloom. And it looks like there had been several stands of a kind of phacelia (caterpillar flowers) there — which I’ll have to keep an eye out for next year.

Elegant Clarkia, Clarkia unguiculata

There was much of anything on the water, although I did see a Great Egret and the mama Merganser with her red-headed babies. She’s still got her four little ones, so she’s been pretty successful in keeping them alive and safe.

Common Merganser, Mergus merganser

I found quite a few galls on the trees including those of the Black Walnut Pouch Gall Mite and the Willow Rosette Gall Midge.  The rosette galls, this time around, were new ones, still all shiny and green.  New-to-me galls included those of the Smooth Petiole Gall Sawfly and Willow Fold Gall Sawfly. 

As their names suggest, the petiole galls were at the petiole (the point where the leaf attaches to the plant) of the willow leaves, and the fold-galls were, well, folded. In some of the fold-over galls, I found aphids being tended by ants. I think the aphids were secondary dwellers, though, having taken over the folds after the sawfly larvae hatched out.  I’m not sure, though.

Formicine Ants, Subfamily Formicinae, tending to aphids

On one of the cottonwood trees, I saw a collection of about a dozen “things” hanging down from the branches.  They looked like bushtit nests or maybe masses of bees, but I could tell they weren’t. They were made of plant material. But they weren’t like any of the hanging seed pods, and there weren’t any of them on any of the other trees. They were — and still are — a bit of a mystery to me. I think they might be panicles of seedpods that have been taken over by some kind of fungus or insects — like large leafy galls. More research is required…

Among the insects, I found a single specimen of a tiny planthopper, Agalmatium bilobum.  It’s an “adventive” species, which means it’s not native but also not very well established yet.

Issid Planthopper, Agalmatium bilobum

I also found several examples of what I think is a kind of “moth leaf tier” on an Arroyo Willow. They were collections of leaves with a dead leaf in the center surrounded by several live leaves — and I think they hid moth caterpillars of some kind.

I opened up a couple of them, and found that whatever had been inside the leaves was now long gone, leaving just plant material and old webbing behind. I’m still searching for a more specific ID. The construction of the things was really interesting to see, though.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

Although I didn’t get any really good photos of it, the most interesting moment on the trail today was seeing a female Nuttall’s Woodpecker foraging in the bark of a tree, while below her, near the ground, was a female Downy Woodpecker foraging on Mugwort plants.

I’d never seen a woodpecker foraging on plants before, so I had to look it up.  For the Downy Woodpecker, it’s rather unusual (used only about 2% of the time). I assumed the bird was looking for ants more than plant matter itself.

Fun fact according to Cornell: “…Percussion not a means of securing prey, but rather a means of locating prey by rapidly tapping along a branch or trunk, presumably in order to hear resonance produced when tapping is above tunnel of a wood-boring insect…”

I was out on the trail for about 3 hours and then headed back to the car…and it was from the car when I got photos of House Finches and Lesser Goldfinches. Always have to keep my camera at the ready.  This was hike #50 of my #52HikeChallenge.

Species List:

  1. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  2. Aphid, Family: Aphididae
  3. Arroyo Willow, Salix lasiolepis
  4. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii
  5. Black Locust Tree, Robinia pseudoacacia
  6. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  7. Black Walnut Pouch Gall Mite, Aceria brachytarsa
  8. Black Walnut, Eastern Black Walnut, Juglans nigra
  9. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus
  10. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra cerulea
  11. Boxelder, Box Elder Tree, Acer negundo
  12. Bushtit, American Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus
  13. California Manroot, Bigroot, Marah fabaceus
  14. California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana
  15. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  16. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica
  17. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  18. Coast Live Oak, Quercus agrifolia
  19. Common European Greenbottle Fly, Lucilia sericata
  20. Common Merganser, Mergus merganser
  21. Conical Trashline Orbweaver, Cyclosa conica
  22. Dog, Canis lupus familiaris var. Golden Retriever
  23. Downy Woodpecker, Dryobates pubescens
  24. Elegant Clarkia, Clarkia unguiculata
  25. European Earwig, Common Earwig, Forficula auricularia
  26. European Praying Mantis, Mantis religiosa
  27. Exclamation Damselfly, Zoniagrion exclamationis
  28. Fennel, Sweet Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare
  29. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  30. Goldwire, Hypericum concinnum
  31. Goodding’s Black Willow, Salix gooddingii
  32. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  33. Green Lacewing, Chrysoperla rufilabris
  34. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  35. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon
  36. Issid Planthopper, Agalmatium bilobum
  37. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  38. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  39. Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  40. Moth Leaf Tier on Willow, Order: Lepidoptera
  41. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  42. Narrowleaf Willow, Salix exigua
  43. Northern Catalpa, Indian Bean Tree, Catalpa speciosa
  44. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  45. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii
  46. Oak Apple, California Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  47. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus
  48. Phacelia, Caterpillar Scorpionweed, Phacelia cicutaria [white]
  49. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  50. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  51. Smooth Horsetail, Equisetum laevigatum
  52. Smooth Petiole Gall Sawfly, Euura sp. [willows]
  53. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  54. Stink Bug, Trichopepla sp.
  55. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  56. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  57. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  58. Western Boxelder Bug, Boisea rubrolineata
  59. Western Ragweed, Ambrosia psilostachya
  60. Western Screech Owl, Megascops kennicottii
  61. White Horehound, Marrubium vulgare
  62. Willow Fold-Gall Sawfly, Phyllocolpa sp.
  63. Willow Rosette Gall Midge, Rabdophaga salicisbrassicoides
  64. Wood Duck, Aix sponsa
  65. ?? growth on cottonwood trees
  66. ?? soft blobby “eggs” on oak leaf

More Galls Emerging, 05-30-21

I got up a little after 6:30 this morning, which was later than I’d hoped. The alarm on my phone didn’t go off.  But I headed out to the Mather Lake Regional Park anyway for a walk. I was hoping to beat today’s oncoming heat.

The first thing I saw when I entered the park was a gaggle of geese, a few adults and a mass of goslings at different levels of development (which meant they were from different broods).  They walked across the parking lot, up over a knoll covered in dried grass, then down to lakeside to get a drink and snuggle down in the grass there. All the while they’re walking, the babies stop to eat seeds and flower heads from the weeds around them. The delay causes some of them to get separated from the group, and they have to scurry to catch up. So cute.

Along with the regular contingent of Mallards, there was a large white Pekin Duck. I don’t remember seeing him there before.

There was a pair of Green Herons that lead me on a chase around the lake. I couldn’t get close enough to either one of them to get any really good photos.  But I did get a distant video snippet of one of them catching and eating something in the water.

I was a little surprised to see some leaves on poison oak that were skeletonized. Gotta give props to any critter that will eat that stuff.

Skeletonized leaves on Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Western Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum

“…Poison oak also serves as a food source for a number of animals. Several insect species, including a variety of butterflies and moths, feed on the leaves, as do deer and squirrels. The leaves not only provide calories to these hungry herbivores, they also provide them with calcium, phosphorus and other important nutrients. Their flowers also serve as a food source for beetles and bees, who spend their days sipping the nectar tucked inside…”

The Cottonwood trees throughout the park are “cottoning” now, so there’s white fluff all over the place, especially along the sides of the trails.

On one of the trees, some of the leaves and stems were saturated in ants that were herding aphids.

There were lots of Cottontail rabbits out running around, including some little babies (but I couldn’t get close enough to those to get a photo of them).  Nothing’s cuter than a young bunny.

Both the Mourning Doves and Eurasian Collared Doves were out cooing. I saw a male Mourning Dove collecting and carrying grass to its mate who was building a nest in a willow tree. There were so may twiggy branches in the way that I could hardly make out where the nest was.

Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

Little House Wrens were singing and buzzing all around the lake. I saw a female carrying food for her babies, and also saw one that came down to the lake’s edge to get a drink of water.

There were only a few swans out and about. I saw a set of parents with seven cygnets. The babies are getting bigger all the time, but are still smaller than their mom.

The galls of the Cottonwood Leaf Gall Aphid are just starting to appear along the edges of the cottonwood leaves. And on the willow there were bunches of galls of the Willow Pinecone Gall midge. The pinecone galls were still in the very early stages of forming and were rounded, without the pinecone “beak” they’ll get as the midge larvae inside develop more. There were also some Coyote Brush bud galls and stem galls, and one willow apple gall.  I’m actually kind of surprised I’m not seeing more bead galls on the willows.

So, I saw a little bit of this and that, but nothing super outstanding. Because of the heat, I left the lake after only about 2½ walking. This was hike #49 of my #52HikeChallenge.

Species List:

  1. Aphid, Family: Aphididae
  2. Black Mustard, Common Wild Mustard, Brassica nigra
  3. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  4. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  5. Broadleaf Cattail, Bullrush, Typha latifolia
  6. Bushtit, American Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus
  7. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  8. California Quail, Callipepla californica
  9. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  10. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis
  11. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  12. Chicory, Cichorium intybus
  13. Coast Live Oak, Quercus agrifolia
  14. Cork Oak, Quercus suber
  15. Cottonwood Leaf Gall Aphid, Pemphigus populivenae
  16. Coyote Brush Bud Gall midge, Rhopalomyia californica
  17. Coyote Brush Rust Gall, Puccinia evadens
  18. Coyote Brush Stem Gall Moth, Gnorimoschema baccharisella
  19. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  20. Cytospora Canker, Cytospora chrysosperma [bright orange fruiting body, looks like frozen dodder]
  21. Desert Cottontail Rabbit, Sylvilagus audubonii
  22. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
  23. Doveweed, Turkey Mullein, Croton setiger
  24. Eurasian Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto
  25. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  26. Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis
  27. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  28. Goldwire, Hypericum concinnum
  29. Goodding’s Black Willow, Salix gooddingii
  30. Green Heron, Butorides virescens
  31. Hairy Vetch, Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa ssp. villosa 
  32. Himalayan Blackberry, Rubus bifrons [white flowers]
  33. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon
  34. Jointed Charlock, Wild Radish, Raphanus raphanistrum
  35. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  36. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  37. Live Oak Gall Wasp, Spring Generation, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis
  38. Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  39. Marssonina Leaf Blight Fungus, Marssonina brunnea [cottonwoods, poplars]
  40. Meadow Salsify, Tragopogon pratensis
  41. Mosquito, Common House Mosquito, Culex pipiens
  42. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  43. Mute Swan, Cygnus olor
  44. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii
  45. Pacific Forktail Damselfly, Ischnura cervula [males have 4 spots on thorax]
  46. Pekin Duck, Anas platyrhynchos domesticus var. Pekin
  47. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  48. Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Western Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
  49. Red-Eared Slider Turtle, Trachemys scripta elegans
  50. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  51. Ribwort Plantain, Plantago lanceolata
  52. Soft Rush, Juncus effusus
  53. Tall Flatsedge, Cyperus eragrostis
  54. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  55. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  56. Turkey Tangle Fogfruit, Phyla nodiflora
  57. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  58. Western Bluebird, Sialia Mexicana
  59. Western Fence Lizard, Blue Belly, Sceloporus occidentalis
  60. Western Kingbird, Tyrant Flycatcher, Tyrannus verticalis
  61. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
  62. Western Mosquitofish, Gambusia affinis
  63. White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus
  64. Willow Apple Gall Sawfly, Pontania californica
  65. Willow Pinecone Gall midge, Rabdophaga strobiloides
  66. Willow Rust Fungus, Melampsora epitea
  67. Yorkshire Fog Grass, Holcus lanatus

All Around Yolo County, 05-28-21

I got up at 5:30 this morning and met up with my friend/fellow naturalist Roxanne to go see what was out and about in Yolo County. We had planned to go to the Putah Creek Riparian Reserve somewhere along the line, but we got waylaid by other sights and destinations, and then it got too warm for us to be walking around outdoors.

We went along Roads 105 and 30 to look for the hawks and other birds that had been reported in the fields there, then we went to the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area, then we headed over toward the Putah Creek access, but ended up in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven instead. At every place stopped, we saw something interesting and unexpected, and that’s always fun.

Roads 105 and 30 in Yolo County

On our way to Road 105, we saw a large, flat-faced, light-colored bird fly across the highway in front of us. We assumed by its GISS [general impression, shape and size] that it was an owl, possibly a barn owl, but we didn’t know for sure.

Rox had been in the area the day before, so knew where to look for the birds in the fields along Road 105. We pulled up onto Road 30 (where the traffic was practically nil), and got out of the car to take some photos and video.

We found a sizable collection of birds in one field, and although they were all pretty far away from us (and we didn’t want to trespass into the field itself) we were able to identify the species of the birds. 

Along with lots and lots of Swainson’s Hawks (all of them sitting down, partially hidden by the grass), we could see Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Black-Crowned Night Herons, Cattle Egrets, Great Blue Herons, crows and ravens, Red-Winged Blackbirds and Brewer’s Blackbirds all standing or flying in close proximity to one another.

There had been lots of reports of large gatherings of birds in the ag fields lately because some of the fields were being flooded, and that caused all the ground-dwelling mice, voles, and insects to come up in order to flee the water…then had to run the gauntlet of hungry birds. Swainson’s Hawks take both small rodents and insects, so their sitting on the ground was not uncommon for them. They’ll actually run on the ground after prey if they have to. 

And it was just Swainson’s Hawks out there, no other species. I think that’s because the Swainson’s often gather in large flocks which may be intimidating to other hawks. In one spot alone, I counted 18 Swainy’s.

According to Cornell: “…These elegant gray, white, and brown hawks hunt rodents in flight, wings held in a shallow V, or even run after insects on the ground. In fall, they take off for Argentine wintering grounds—one of the longest migrations of any American raptor—forming flocks of hundreds or thousands as they travel…”

In the field, the various birds on the ground seemed to be fine with their nearby neighbors.  The hawks didn’t bother the herons or egrets and vice versa. There was one young Swainson’s Hawk, however, who had somehow aggravated a group of blackbirds and a tenacious Kestrel, and was being chased back and forth and around the field. The hawk was crying all the while it flew, as though begging for help, but none of the adult hawks came to its rescue. It eventually landed in a tree on the edge of the field and hid itself among the leaves.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

As we were walking along the edges of the field, I found an owl pellet… and also saw one of the female Brewer’s Blackbirds take some grass to her nest in the top of a tree.

To try to see more of the birds in the field from a different angle, Rox drove further down Road 30.There we saw a solitary female Wild Turkey, and some young crows going through/coming out of a major molt.  “…When crows molt, the old feathers can appear brownish or scaly compared to the glossy new feathers…” And some of these looked very brown.

We then turned the car around and drove down the other end of Road 30, almost to where the paved road gave way to dirt and gravel. We were surprised to find that some of the folks who lived nearby did some “native plant planting” along the edges of the ag fields.  There were a couple of very nice stands of Showy and Narrow-Leaf Milkweed plants, most of them just starting to bloom. Along with the honeybees, we saw a Green Lacewing, and lots of Blue Milkweed Beetles.

The beetles are a dark metallic cobalt blue with black legs and antennae. They live on or around milkweed throughout their lifecycle, eating the leaves (and sometimes the roots of the plant), having sex, and laying eggs. The larvae can “skeletonize” the leaves of the plant, but that action doesn’t kill it. It simply goes dormant until the next season. Although these beetles have the ability to launch themselves (like click-beetles), none of that did that while we were looking at them… not even when we brought them close to the eyes of our cellphone cameras.

We found a couple of the honeybees that had been trapped by the milkweed and died. Milkweed plants are interesting in that they have a variety of unusual boobytraps built into them that other plants do not. Besides their sticky latex (the white sap that drips from the plant when it is damaged) which can trap a variety of insects, the milkweed flowers themselves can also be dangerous for pollinators.  

Rather than offering up its pollen on upright visible structures called “stigmas”, the milkweed flower has its pollen hidden inside special little crevices called “stigmatic slits”.  When a pollinator, like a honeybee, lands on the flower and walks over its surface to drink the flower’s nectar, the bee’s feet slip inside theses stigmatic slits.  Pollen inside the slit affixes itself to the bee’s feet, and when the bee moves to another flower, it carries that pollen with it. Transferring the pollen and putting its feet into the stigmatic slits of different milkweed flowers completes the process of pollination.

Occasionally, however, the bee’s foot may get caked in so much pollen that it simply cannot get its foot out of the slit. (Think of putting your hand into a jar with a narrow neck so you can grab a handful of candy at the bottom of the jar. Your candy-filled hand may then be so full and wide, it cannot get through the jar’s neck, and your hand gets stuck inside the jar.)  

A dead honey bee caught in the slits of a milkweed flower. Note the pollen sac attached to the foot it managed to get out.

Some bees actually amputate the trapped foot in order to escape. But if the bee is unable to do that and cannot manage to get its foot out of the stigmatic slit, it will eventually succumb to starvation and dehydration and die.

When we turned the car around again to head back to Road 105 (and onward toward the wildlife area), we found that the hawks had taken to the air in a swirling, dense kettle of over 50 birds. I’d never seen anything like that. It was amazing to witness. Flying in huge kettles is not uncommon for the Swainson’s Hawks.

According to Cornell: “…When it comes to forming kettles, Swainson’s Hawks are overachievers: they form flocks numbering in the tens of thousands, often mixing with Turkey Vultures…[other hawks and kites)…”  These giant kettles, of course, are during their migration to Argentina, but still… Wow!

We then went to the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area. There is virtually no water on the ground right now, so there was “nothing” to see. There were doves in several locations, but they were really the only birds, besides finches that we saw out there. It would have been a totally boring and disappointing stop had it not been for the dodder. We had never seen dodder in bloom before, so when we realized the stuff at the bypass was dense with flowers, we were super-excited.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

Roxanne did a write-upon the stuff for Facebook which was excellent, so I’m quoting her here: “…Ah, Dodder. It’s the golden, orangey or reddish silly string of the plant world. That’s right: a plant. Dodders have roots (temporary), leaves (often reduced to scales), flowers and seeds. Dodder is parasitic. Although it sprouts from seed, it mostly or completely lacks chlorophyll. Consequently, the new sprout must find a host between 5 and 10 days from sprouting or it dies. The sprout swirls around as it grows and once it touches a host plant it buries haustoria (knoblike organs along the shoot) into the host stem, drawing water, carbohydrates and minerals at the expense of the host plant. As well as “starving” the host plant, dodder is also implicated in the transmission of certain bacterial and virus diseases. Thus nourished, the dodder’s roots die and the dodder spreads out in a mat moving from plant to plant, branching as it goes. Broken bits can continue to thrive if haustoria are attached to the host plant. Animals, humans, or equipment moving across a dodder mat can thereby spread dodder to new areas.

            “Flowering dodder can produce thousands of seeds that can live in soil for up to 10 years. In many native habitats dodder is not considered particularly harmful. But in an ag context dodder can cause significant economic harm, especially to alfalfa, asparagus, citrus, clover, beans, melons, peppers, potato, tomato, safflower, sugarbeet, field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis), lambsquarters (Chenopodium album), and pigweed (Amaranthus species). It is easy to see why Dodder has enjoyed a variety of common names including love vine, goldthread, devil’s-guts, devil’s-ringlet, devil’s-hair, hellbine, hairweed, beggarweed, scaldweed, strangle tare, strangleweed, and witch’s hair.

            “CalFlora lists 31 species of dodder in CA, and only 5 are non-native (often arriving here in contaminated seed or in horticultural soils). Dodders can be found in California ag fields, forests, canyons, salt marshes, deserts, beaches and mountains up to 8200’. CalFlora lists two species here in the valley, Cuscuta campestris (Field dodder) and Cuscuta pentagona (Western field dodder) but several more species can be found in the Bay Area and into the foothills north and east of Sacramento. My frequent naturalist partner, Mary Hanson, and I first spotted a hillside of dodder two years ago in the lupin and poppy along Wilbur Springs Road about half way between the bridge and the gate to Wilbur Hot Springs. The next year we found less there but a whole hillside along Bear Valley Road not far from the bridge intersection. We ID’d this as Cuscuta californica (California Dodder) but now I’m not so sure. More study for distinguishing species is needed.

            “…Not far along the auto tour near the marsh viewing stand is a largish patch of golden yellow-orange dodder on the right side of the road in the Small Melilot (Melilotus indicus), Prostrate Knotweed (Polygonum aviculare), Bisnaga (Visnaga daucoides), and Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare). This is the first time we’ve seen the dodder in the bypass and the first time flowering. The shape of the tiny pale flowers grow in clusters and their shape and growth pattern help distinguish species.

            “Look for dodder when you are out and about and see if you can also spot the hautoria and tiny flowers. I’d be interested in hearing where else naturalists are finding it. FYI, dodder seeds are considered an herbal remedy, especially in Chinese and Korean herbal medicine. A quick Google search revealed lots of sources for seeds, extract powders, and tinctures…” Sooooo informative.

Charlie Russell, one of my former Certified California Naturalist program graduates and plant guru noted: “Dodder spreads vegetatively, so when they grade the ponds in the Yolo Bypass it spreads quite readily. Some years there can be multiple acres of solid dodder out there…”   Whoa!

There were Cabbage White butterflies all over the place. They’re “nervous fliers”, which means trying to get a still shot of one of them is tricky. The species was “accidentally introduced” in the late 1800’s. I got several photos of one foraging on mustard (Brassica rapa).

Studies seem to indicate “…some flowers, like Brassica rapa, have a UV guide for aiding nectar search for the butterfly where the petals reflect near UV light, whereas the center of the flower absorbs UV light, creating a visible dark center in the flower when seen in UV condition. This UV guide plays a significant role in foraging…” Cool, huh?

After the bypass drive, we went on to the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, which was right in route to the Putah Creek access area. Because the pollinator garden is only an acre and the paths are well drawn, it’s easy to walk around it. The street on which the garden is situated has a lot of tall olive trees along it, so there are a lot of shady places to park.  The garden is open from dawn to dusk year-round and admission is free. Rox had never been there before, and there were picnic tables in the shade of one of the old olive trees there, so we stopped for lunch and walked the grounds for a bit.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

All through the garden are paintings, sculptures and mosaics (most of them by local artist Donna Billick) that have been donated to the garden from local artists and from the art department at UC Davis.  For art students who need science class credit to graduate, they can take an art-and-science fusion class that lets them do something creative for the garden while they learn about the bees.  So there’s something new in the garden every year. The standout sculpture is of the giant “Miss Bee Haven” bee.

According to author Kathy Keatley Garvey: “…Miss Bee Haven [was built] using rebar, chicken wire, sand, cement, tile, bronze, steel, grout, fiberglass and handmade ceramic pieces. The project took [Billick] four months to complete… Anchored with 200 pounds of cement and with six bronze legs drilled into the pedestal, this worker bee is destined to stay put… Billick used lost wax bronze casting to craft the six legs, which extend from the thorax to rest on a ceramic purple dome aster, fabricated by Davis artist Sarah Rizzo.  The purple dome aster is among the flowers in the garden…”

The garden offers suggestions of what to plant in your own yard, how much water each species of plant needs, when they grow, etc. I was most impressed this time around by the lavish kiwi vines covered in their large leaves. Something of a surprise was seeing a Turkey Tangle Fogfruit plant covering an entire planter and flowing down onto the ground. I’d never seen one that was so prolific. Usually, when we come across the plants, they’re relatively small, maybe less than a hand’s breadth. So, to see one this big was kind of shocking.

Turkey Tangle Fogfruit, Phyla nodiflora

Among the flowering plants, we found several species of bees there including carpenter bees, honey bees, mason bees, leafcutter bees and sweat bees. We also saw a few Flame Skimmer Dragonflies. 

By the time we’d finished walking the acre, we were tired… and it was getting too hot for us to walk anymore, so we headed home. We were out for about 5 hours, and I counted today’s trek as hike #48 in my #52HikeChallenge.

Species List:

  1. Alfalfa Leafcutter Bee, Megachile rotundata
  2. Alfalfa, Medicago sativa
  3. Alkali Mallow, Malvella leprosa
  4. American Kestrel, Falco sparverius
  5. Apple, Malus pumila
  6. Baby Sage, Salvia microphylla [red, or red/white]
  7. Black Mustard, Common Wild Mustard, Brassica nigra
  8. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  9. Black-Crowned Night Heron, Nycticorax nycticorax
  10. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus
  11. Bladderpod, Peritoma arborea [kind of looks like Jerusalem sage but gets bladder-like seed pods]
  12. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum
  13. Blue Milkweed Beetle, Cobalt Milkweed Beetle, Chrysochus cobaltinus
  14. Bluebeard, Caryopteris x clandonensis
  15. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  16. Bristly Oxtongue, Helminthotheca echioides
  17. Broadleaved Pepperweed, Lepidium latifolium
  18. Brown-Headed Cowbird, Molothrus ater
  19. Cabbage White butterfly, Pieris rapae
  20. California Buckwheat, Eriogonum fasciculatum
  21. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  22. Cat, Felis catus
  23. Catmint, Nepeta x faassenii var. “Walker’s Low”
  24. Cattle Egret, Bubulcus ibis
  25. Cheeseweed Mallow, Malva parviflora
  26. Chicory, Cichorium intybus
  27. Chinese Wisteria, Wisteria sinensis
  28. Climbing Prairie Rose, Rosa setigera
  29. Common Checkered Skipper, Burnsius communis
  30. Common Spikeweed, Centromadia pungens
  31. Crambid Snout Moth, Family: Crambidae
  32. Crow, American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  33. Curly Dock, Rumex crispus
  34. Desert Cottontail Rabbit, Sylvilagus audubonii
  35. Dodder, California Dodder, Cuscuta californica
  36. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
  37. Eucalyptus Trees, Eucalyptus sp.
  38. European Honeybee, Western Honeybee, Apis mellifera
  39. Fennel, Sweet Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare
  40. Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis
  41. Flame Skimmer Dragonfly, Libellula saturata
  42. Foothill Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa tabaniformis orpifex [light eyes]
  43. Goldenrod Crab Spider, Misumena vatia
  44. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
  45. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  46. Green Lacewing, Chrysoperla rufilabris
  47. Gumweed, Grindelia integrifolia
  48. Harding Grass, Phalaris aquatica [a type of canary grass]
  49. Hollyhock, Alcea rosea
  50. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  51. House Sparrow, Passer domesticus
  52. Interior Sandbar Willow, Salix interior
  53. Italian Thistle, Carduus pycnocephalus
  54. Japanese Wisteria, Wisteria floribunda
  55. Khella, Bisnaga Weed, Toothpick Plant, Bishop’s Weed, Ammi visnaga [ a kind of carrot, invasive, “Bazinga”]
  56. Kiwi, Actinidia deliciosa
  57. Lollipop Verbena, Verbena bonariensis var. “Lollipop”
  58. Lupine, Golden Lupine, Lupinus densiflorus
  59. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris
  60. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  61. Mum, Chrysanthemum, Chrysanthemum sp.
  62. Narrowleaf Cattail, Typha angustifolia
  63. Narrowleaf Milkweed, Mexican Whorled Milkweed, Asclepias fascicularis
  64. Olive Tree, Olea europaea
  65. Pennyroyal, Mentha pulegium
  66. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum
  67. Prostrate Knotweed, Polygonum aviculare
  68. Raven, Common Raven, Corvus corax
  69. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  70. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  71. Ring-Necked Pheasant, Phasianus colchicus
  72. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  73. Shasta Daisy, Leucanthemum maximum
  74. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa
  75. Slender Vervain, Verbena rigida
  76. Sneezeweed, Rosilla, Helenium puberulum
  77. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula
  78. Stinking Chamomile, Anthemis cotula
  79. Sunflower, Common Sunflower, Helianthus annuus
  80. Swainson’s Hawk, Buteo swainsoni
  81. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  82. Tripartite Sweat Bee, Halictus tripartitus
  83. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  84. Turkey Tangle Fogfruit, Phyla nodiflora
  85. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  86. Western Fence Lizard, Blue Belly, Sceloporus occidentalis
  87. Western Kingbird, Tyrant Flycatcher, Tyrannus verticalis
  88. White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus
  89. Yarrow, Achillea millefolium
  90. Yarrow, Golden Yarrow, Eriophyllum confertiflorum
  91. Yellow Starthistle, Centaurea solstitialis
  92. ?? little red-eyed fly

Caddisfly Larvae and the Nemesis Bird, 05-25-21

I got up around 6:00 this morning and headed over to the Gristmill Recreation Area on the American River for a walk. I hadn’t been there for a while, so I missed the fledging of the Red-Shouldered Hawk babies there. It was about 57° when I arrived, but the sun came up fast and hot.

I walked the most-used trail and then ventured out a little bit onto the river’s edge where there was some still, shallow water.

On the trail I could see some birds in and around the bird boxes including House Wrens and Tree Swallows. The wrens fill their box full of twigs, so there’s stuff poking out through the entrance hole — which makes it pretty easy to figure out who’s in there.

While I was taking photos of them, a pair of California Quails ventured out from a tangle of wild blackberry vines and scuttled across the trail. Just one male and a female; no harem and no babies.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

As I walked along, I could hear the chattering sound (called a “rattle call”) of Belted Kingfishers in the trees along the riverside. They’re like my “nemesis birds”: I can hear them a lot, but seldom get to get any photos of them because they’re shy and move so quickly. I was lucky today, though, two females landed on the same branch, and I was able to get some photos and some video snippets of them.

A female Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon

Kingfishers excavate and live in burrows in the banks of the river. I think they’re nesting cavity may have been below where the females were sitting, but I’m not sure.

I was taking photos of one of the Kingfishers when a bird group went past me on the trail. A few second later, one of the men in the group came back to me and asked me my name. I told him it was “Mary”… and then gave him a closer look. “Gene?!”

“Yes!” he said. It was Gene Trapp, and his wife Jo Ellen Ryan was with him along with a few other people. Gene and Jo Ellen doing bird counts and maintain the pollinator garden at the West Davis Pond site in Davis. (They have a house within walking distance of the park.) I’d first met them when I worked at Tuleyome. Gene always supported my desire to be a naturalist, and attended the lectures I gave on plant galls. It was so nice to see them!

They walked me over to where their small birding group was and introduced the leader (who was hauling around a birding scope) as Jeri Langham. Jeri literally walks the trail almost every day. He’s the one who’s set up and monitors all the bird boxes there.

Jeri let us know that the little Western Screech Owl I’d seen regularly in one of the nest boxes had actually had two babies in there this year! Neither the mom nor the babies was outlooking around this morning, but it was fun to think of them hunkered down all safe in their little box-home.

He also pointed out another box in which, he said, had been occupied by Barn Owls. They laid eggs in the box over several days, but on one day, while they were away from the box, a Merganser had flown in and laid several eggs of her own in there.  Brood parasitism (egg-dumping) occurs frequently for these ducks. When the owls found the duck eggs, however, they abandoned the nest… Sad-face emoji.

I gave him my card, and asked him to contact me next time he was putting a group together.  After meeting everyone, and giving Gene and Jo Ellen a hug — which I wouldn’t have been able to do last year — I excused myself to continue my walk.

Along the river, we could see a mama Common Merganser duck teaching her red-headed babies how to dive and scan for fish in the water. Later, Jo Ellen got a photo of them resting and drying off.  The merganser babies are sooooo cute!

Common Merganser, Mergus merganser, mama and her babies resting after their swim.PHOTO BY JO ELLEN RYAN.

I also saw a Great Blue Heron on the shore trying to figure out how to tackle and eat a fish that was nearly as big as it was. I think it might have stolen the fish from a stringer owned by the fishermen further up the shore. I don’t think it was an older cast-off because it hadn’t attracted any vultures, and it looked too large for someone to have just thrown away. I watched the bird struggle with it for several minutes before it gave up.

Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias, with a fish it couldn’t figure out how to eat.

In the shallows by the river’s edge, I came across several killdeer.  I watched out for their nests (which they create in the stones) but didn’t see any; no babies either.

In the insect realm I found Boxelder Bugs, a Black Dancer Caddisfly, honeybees, a few jumping spiders (one hauling a fly that was as big as he was), and a colorful Case-Bearing Leaf Beetle, among others.  In the shallow water, scooting and hopping through the mud and silt, I found several Big-Eyed Toad Bugs.  Seriously. That’s what they’re called. They have big bulging eyes and a heavy “collar”, and they hop all over the place when disturbed. Never noticed them before.

The find of the day for me, though, was seeing and getting some close-up shots of caddisfly larvae. I was almost done with my walk when I found them, so I wasn’t able to spend as much time with them as I’d have liked to. I was tired, and it was it already getting “too warm” for me. I’ll go back some other morning, first thing, when I’m feeling stronger and it’s cooler outside.  Anyway, I picked up a few of the little buggers and took some photos and video snippets of them.

Caddisflies spend their larval stage underwater, then emerge (like dragonflies do) from the water as terrestrial adults. The most common adult Caddisfly was see around here is the Black Dancer Caddisfly, Mystacides sepulchralis. I’m not sure if the larvae I saw were Black Dancers or some other species, but I think they were from the suborder Integripalpia (the “portable case makers”). They protect their soft bodies by covering them with a case made of bits of gravel, sand, tiny sticks… whatever they can find. After the adults emerge, they only live for a week or two, just long enough to find a mate and reproduce.

“…Case-building caddisfly larvae use [their] silk to construct various portable shelters. They protect soft their abdomen from predators, and abrasion from coarse particles drifting in stream. If disturbed, larva can retreat into the case, which is constantly being repaired when damaged, or rebuilt as the larva grows…”

One of them that I picked up had a case made of sand crystals and tiny sticks; so interesting. While I was taking photos of it, the birding group caught up with me and asked what I was doing — so I gave them the 5-minute elevator speech about caddisfly larvae. I showed them some of the larvae walking through the water, and also pointed out the trails they’d left in the silt on nearby rocks. They were all very excited about it and thanked me fore teaching them something new.

I also found a few galls on this trip including the oak apples, and a couple of willow galls: stem galls created by sawflies, and rose gall created by midges. Lots of different things to see today…

I was out for about 3½ hours and headed back home.  This was hike #47 in my #52HikeChallenge.

Species List:

  1. Acute Bladder Snail, Physa acuta
  2. Armenian Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus [pink flower]
  3. Asian Clam, Corbicula fluminea [little tan or white shells]
  4. Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon
  5. Big-Eyed Toad Bug, Gelastocoris oculatus
  6. Black Dancer Caddisfly, Mystacides sepulchralis
  7. Black Fly, Family: Simuliidae
  8. Black Locust Tree, Robinia pseudoacacia
  9. Black Walnut Pouch Gall Mite, Aceria brachytarsa
  10. Black Walnut, Eastern Black Walnut, Juglans nigra
  11. Black-Chinned Hummingbird, Archilochus alexandri
  12. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus
  13. Bushtit, American Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus
  14. Buttonhook Leaf-Beetle Jumping Spider, Sassacus vitis
  15. Caddisfly, Suborder: Integripalpia (the “portable case makers”), larvae
  16. California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana
  17. California Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta
  18. California Quail, Callipepla californica
  19. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  20. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  21. Canada Rush, Juncus canadensis
  22. Case-Bearing Leaf Beetle, Cryptocephalus castaneus
  23. Coast Live Oak, Quercus agrifolia
  24. Common Fig, Ficus carica
  25. Common Merganser, Mergus merganser
  26. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
  27. European Honeybee, Western Honeybee, Apis mellifera
  28. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  29. Fennel, Sweet Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare
  30. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  31. Giant Mullein, Broussa Mullein, Verbascum bombyciferum
  32. Goodding’s Black Willow, Salix gooddingii
  33. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
  34. Hairy Woodpecker, Dryobates villosus [long bill]
  35. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon
  36. Interior Sandbar Willow, Salix interior
  37. Jersey Cudweed, Pseudognaphalium luteoalbum
  38. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  39. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  40. Mistletoe, Broadleaf Mistletoe, Phoradendron macrophyllum
  41. Moth Mullein, Verbascum blattaria
  42. Oak Apple, California Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  43. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum
  44. Purpletop Vervain, Verbena bonariensis
  45. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  46. Tree of Heaven, Ailanthus altissima
  47. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  48. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  49. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  50. Western Bluebird, Sialia Mexicana [flyby]
  51. Western Boxelder Bug, Boisea rubrolineata
  52. Western Tailed-Blue Butterfly, Cupido amyntula
  53. White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus [across the river]
  54. Willow Rose Gall Midge, Rabdophaga rosaria
  55. Willow Stem Sawfly, Euura exiguae
  56. Wood Duck, Aix sponsa
  57. Yellow-Billed Magpie, Pica nuttalli
  58. ??? fly being eaten by spider