Category Archives: Naturalist

West Davis Pond and Fields, 06-13-20

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. 

Safflower Thistle, Carthamus tinctorius

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…”

Ram’s Horn, Proboscidea louisianica

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

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…

Harlequin Bug nymphs, Murgantia histrionica

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 pesticides in 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.

Galls of the Spiny Leaf Gall Wasp, Diplolepis polita [on rose leaves]

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.

Paper Wasp, European Paper Wasp, Polistes dominula. You can see some of the eggs in this photo.

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.

Species List:

  1. Andalusian Horehound, Marrubium supinum
  2. Apple, Malus pumila
  3. Baby Sage, Salvia microphylla [red and white]
  4. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  5. Black Walnut, Eastern Black Walnut, Juglans nigra
  6. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra cerulea
  7. Buckwheat, Saint Catherine’s Lace, Eriogonum giganteum
  8. Cabbage White butterfly, Pieris rapae
  9. California Flannelbush, Fremontodendron californicum
  10. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  11. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica
  12. California Wild Rose, Rosa californica
  13. Callery Pear, Pyrus calleryana
  14. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  15. Candleflame Lichen, Candelaria concolor
  16. Carrot, American Wild Carrot, Daucus pusillus
  17. Ceramic Parchment Lichen, Xylobolus frustulatus [hoary or pale brown, flat like parchment]
  18. Chamomile, Chamaemelum nobile
  19. Chinese Tallow tree, Triadica sebifera
  20. Citron Bug, Leptoglossus gonagra [a kind of leaf-footed bug, red nymphs]
  21. Common Buckthorn, Rhamnus cathartica
  22. Common Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  23. Common Green Lacewing, Chrysoperla carnea [eggs]
  24. Common Sunflower, Helianthus annuus
  25. 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.]
  26. Cork Oak, Quercus suber
  27. Corn, Zea mays ssp. mays
  28. Creeping Myoporum, Myoporum parvifolium [ground cover, small white flowers]
  29. Drumstick Onion, Round-Headed Leek, Allium sphaerocephalon
  30. Eastern Gray Squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis
  31. European Honeybee, Western Honeybee, Apis mellifera
  32. Fortnight Lily, Dietes grandiflora
  33. Goldenrod Crab Spider, Misumena vatia
  34. Green Heron, Butorides virescens
  35. Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata
  36. Green Stink Bug, Chinavia hilaris
  37. Gumweed, Great Valley Gumweed, Grindelia camporum
  38. Harlequin Bug, Murgantia histrionica
  39. Hollyhock, Alcea rosea
  40. Hopley’s Oregano, Origanum laevigatum [small pink flowers]
  41. Horsefly-Like Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa tabaniformis [dark bee with pale eyes]
  42. Japanese Honeysuckle, Lonicera japonica [white flowers]
  43. Leafcutter Bee, Megachile chichimeca
  44. Leafhopper Assassin Bug, Zelus renardii
  45. Lion’s Ear, Leonotis nepetifolia [like Jerusalem sage but with bright orange flowers]
  46. Little Black Ant, Monomorium minimum
  47. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  48. Mason Bee, Osmia sp.
  49. Mediterranean Katydid, Phaneroptera nana
  50. Mexican Sage, Salvia mexicana [deep purple]
  51. Milkweed Assassin Bug, Zelus longipes
  52. Mimosa Tree, Persian Silk Tree, Albizia julibrissin
  53. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  54. Nipple Lichen, Pseudothelomma occidentale
  55. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii
  56. Oleander Aphid, Aphis nerii
  57. Paper Wasp, European Paper Wasp, Polistes dominula
  58. Ram’s Horn, Proboscidea louisianica
  59. Safflower Thistle, Carthamus tinctorius
  60. Santa Cruz Island Wild Buckwheat, Eriogonum arborescens
  61. Scriptured Leaf Beetle, Pachybrachis sp.
  62. Sea Mallow, Malva subovata [kind of looks like hibiscus]
  63. Seven-Spotted Ladybeetle, Coccinella septempunctata
  64. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa
  65. Small Milkweed Bug, Western Small Milkweed Bug, Lygaeus kalmii ssp. kalmii
  66. Smokebush, Smoke Tree, Cotinus coggygria
  67. Spined Stilt Bug, Jalysus wickhami [look like tiny Craneflies]
  68. Spiny Leaf Gall Wasp, Diplolepis polita [on rose leaves]
  69. Swift Crab Spider, Mecaphesa celer
  70. Tarnished Plant Bug, Lygus lineolaris
  71. Tomato, Cultivated Tomato, Solanum lycopersicum
  72. Velvetleaf, Abutilon theophrasti
  73. Wall Germander, Teucrium chamaedrys [pink flowers]
  74. Western Kingbird, Tyrant Flycatcher, Tyrannus verticalis
  75. Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis
  76. White Mulberry, Morus alba
  77. Yarrow, Achillea millefolium
  78. Yerba Mansa, Anemopsis californica
  79. Yerba Santa, California Yerba Santa, Eriodictyon californicum

A Baby Mockingbird, 06-12-20

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.

Chicory

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 heads north 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 Preserve and 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.

Species List:

  1. Ash-Throated Flycatcher, Myiarchus cinerascens
  2. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  3. Charolais Cattle, Bos Taurus var. Charolais
  4. Chicory, Cichorium intybus
  5. Desert Cottontail Rabbit, Sylvilagus audubonii
  6. Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis
  7. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  8. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  9. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  10. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  11. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  12. Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia
  13. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor

Mamas and Papas, 06-10-20

I got up around 6:00 this morning, and got the dog fed and pottied before heading over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk.  It’s supposed to be around 100° today, so I wanted to get out there before it got too hot.  When I arrived it was about 60° outside.

I saw no deer at all today; I figure the does are off looking for a quiet spot to have their fawns and the bucks are working on their tender antlers…

It looks like the Black Phoebes are repairing their nests and getting ready for a second brood.  I saw both the male and the female flying back and forth to two of their previously used mud nests, cleaning them out and repairing the mud walls of them.  The female will eventually choose which one she likes best.

Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans

They can have up to three broods per year.  The first one around February-March, the second one around May, and the third one later in the year.  It’s a tiny bit late for this pair if they’re working on their second brood.  ((Third broods are usually not successful and generally only take place because the birds have lost one of their previous broods.))  It usually takes them 5 to 7 days to refurbish an existing nest.

I also watched a papa Acorn Woodpecker feeding bugs to his babies in their tree cavity.  Because of the angle of the tree, I couldn’t see into the nest, so I don’t know how many young ones he had.

A male Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus, at the nesting cavity with a beak full of insects.

Then I came across a mama Wild Turkey with four poults. The babies seemed anxious to run off and explore on their own, but she kept them contained in the high grass as much as she could to keep them hidden from predators.  That made picture-taking difficult but I did get some pix of the more adventurous poult.

Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia,poult

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

There were quite a few Western Fence Lizards out and about. They love this warm weather. I saw one, though, doing a kind of scratching behavior I’d never seen before.  She was kicking dirt with all four of her feet; first this foot, then that foot, very rapidly. I’ve seen the lizards do their push-up displays and head-bobbing, raising their tails, arching their backs, doing their “gular extension” thing to show off their blue throats… but I’ve never seen one doing this scratching.  She didn’t seem disturbed by my being around, even when I moved in a little closer, she continued to scratch.  I wondered if she was covering eggs or something, but the ground there seemed too solid and dry for her to have laid anything. A conundrum…

Oh, and did you know: the lizards can change color from tan to almost black to aid them in thermoregulation while basking?  These things are so cool.

I only walked for about 2 hours.  By then it was already 75° outside and too warm for me to continue walking, so I headed back home.

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. Ash-Throated Flycatcher, Myiarchus cinerascens
  3. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  4. Black Walnut, Eastern Black Walnut, Juglans nigra
  5. Bordered Plant Bug, Largus californicus
  6. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  7. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  8. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica
  9. Coyote Mint, Monardella villosa
  10. Large-flowered Evening-Primrose, Oenothera glazioviana
  11. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii
  12. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  13. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  14. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa
  15. Trashline Orb Weaver Spider, Cyclosa conica
  16. Western Fence Lizard, Blue Belly, Sceloporus occidentalis
  17. Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis
  18. Yarrow, Achillea millefolium

Ibis Rookery and North Davis Ponds, 06-07-20

Up at 5:00 this morning, so I could get the dog pottied and fed before I headed out with my friend Roxanne toward Woodland by 6:00 am. It was 52° when we left Sacramento, and got up to 75° by the late afternoon.

The drive to Woodland was quick – no traffic on the freeway at all.  Knowing there were no restrooms at the rookery site, we stopped at the gas station on Road 102 to use their restroom then went on to the ibis rookery, getting there around 6:30 am.

White-Faced Ibis, Plegadis chihi. This one was just starting to construct her nest.
A White-Faced Ibis starting to nest (left) adjacent to a Pied-Billed Grebe nest (center).

At the rookery, I was surprised to see how high the water was. Last year, the high water could have been explained away by all the heavy rains we had in the winter and spring, but this year has been pretty dry, so…why all the water in the pond?  Only the very tops of the trees that the ibises normally roost in were showing. There weren’t too many ibises at the rookery yet, and those that were there were mostly fighting over the limited spaces available. A handful had constructed nests and a few others were just starting to build them, but we didn’t see any of their lovely turquoise eggs yet.

We saw a couple of Coot nests and a couple of Pied-Billed Grebe nests.  Both of the Coots nests were also sporting some hatchlings, and one of the grebe’s nests was filled with between 6 and 8 eggs. 

Because of their distance from the shore, it was difficult to get any really decent photos of the Coot chicks.  It was also difficult to get photos of the chicks of Black-Necked Stilts that were scurrying along the shore or joining their parents in the water. They were so tiny that they were dwarfed by a goose egg near them on the waterside.

A Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus, chick on the shore near an abandoned goose egg,

Among the Coots in the water, I saw two who had just finished sparring with one another and were swimming in different directions. I got a photo of one of them with its wings and tail lifted, showing off the white tail feathers in the back. According to Cornell, this is the “Paired Display”.

            “…[It] usually takes place along territorial boundaries and represents final act of aggression following Charging and Splattering. Often interspersed with fighting and nearly always follows a fight, being followed in turn by displacement feeding and preening. Both combatants hold their heads low, expand ruffs maximally, arch their wings high above backs, expand their undertail coverts, and pivot slowly, presenting their tails to one another. Up to 7 birds have been seen involved in a mutual paired display…”

I watched a couple of the Black-Necked Stilts attacking the Stilt chicks in the water, only to be driven off by the chicks’ parent.  According to Cornell, this behavior isn’t uncommon: “…After hatching, parent stilts are aggressive toward unrelated young and young of other species (particularly American Avocets)…”

I also saw some Stilts doing a flapping-wing display on the levy. I’d never seen this before, so I looked it up when I got home.  According to Cornell: “…In Hop-and-Flap behavior, individual hops a short distance to the side while simultaneously flapping wings several times; usually observed when resting birds are disturbed. Hop-and-Flap is also the basis for more intense response to ground predators…”  I think what we were seeing was birds responding to the cottontail rabbits that came too close to their territories/chicks.

Among the other birds we came across at the rookery were a pair of Killdeer that were mating on the side of the road, geese and White Pelicans in the water, Avocets, and lots of Western Kingbirds.  There was even a single Cinnamon Teal and a trio of Gadwalls.

CLICK HERE for the photos from the rookery. [We took so many photos today, I’ve broken mine down by location.]

We also saw several jackrabbits and cottontails rushing here and there. Some of the cottontails had moved in under a large pile of rocks and boulders. We thought that was odd in that the rock piles are perfect habitat for snakes. 

As we were leaving, Roxanne stopped to get some photos of Lesser Goldfinches, and I, on the other side of the car, noticed that in one of the tall, plastic, red stanchions on the corner there was a family of paper wasps that had taken up residence in a hole near its handle. Paper wasps are generally unobtrusive, but they might not be happy if someone grabs hold of that handle and tries to move their home.

Nest of Paper Wasps, Polistes dominula, in a stanchion.

When we were done at the rookery, we headed down Road 102 into Davis and stopped at the Northstar Park off of Anderson to see the ponds there (the “North Davis Ponds”). There’s a long greenbelt there that abuts a residential area and encompasses two ponds.  The smaller one is in a small park with a play area in it, and the larger one is a storm water retention basin now called the Julie Partansky Pond, named after a former mayor for the City of Davis.

Altogether, the greenbelt and ponds makeup about 29 acres.  Roxanne and I didn’t walk the whole length of it, but we’ll try that on another day when we can focus a whole trip on just that area.  We could hear bull frogs in the water all the while we were there. I know they’re an invasive species, but they’ve been around for so long that I consider them “naturalized”…And I love their big chunky bodies and their deep-throated cello-like calls. They make me smile.

We didn’t see many birds at the ponds, but did catch sight of a mama Pied-Billed Grebe who was piling up vegetation in the water so her two babies could get up onto it to get dry.  She was in the shade, though, so it was really hard to see her. And she was so far away, the camera didn’t really know what it was focusing on. So I got a video snippet, but it’s not the best.

Near the intersection of the two ponds there’s a little planter area with a cement bench next to it, and in the bench are embedded mosaic stars, tiny trilobite “fossils”, a heart made of snowflake obsidian and other goodies.  In one end of the bench is a little cubby hole, and inside the hole are a glazed clay, not-to-scale frog, yellow bunny rabbit and dark reddish-pink mouse.  Someone had cracked the ears off the bunny rabbit (“this is why we can’t have nice things”), but the frog and mouse looked pretty intact.  I love it when artists collaborate with masonry people to create things like this with little surprises stashed inside of them.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos from the park.

Rox and I also came across a few plants/trees we hadn’t seen before, like different kinds of sages, a kind of gum weed, and a tall grass with bracts on them that looked almost like shells.  We discovered it was Intermediate Wheatgrass…a name that really doesn’t describe how lovely its structure looked.

Intermediate Wheatgrass, Thinopyrum intermedium

We were again surprised by the lack of insects around the ponds, especially the lack of pollinators. Very few bees, very few butterflies, no gnats or midges to speak of, no ants.  Made me wonder if the place is sprayed down with insecticides.  We did see honeybees, a couple of Cabbage White butterflies and one Mournful Duskywing, but that was about it.

Mournful Duskywing Butterfly, Erynnis tristis

The big standout at the ponds this morning, though, were the dragonflies.  We saw Blue Dashers and some juvenile Widow Skimmers, including one that posed for us for quite a while, and turned its body around a few times so we could shoot it from different angles.

Widow Skimmer Dragonfly, Libellula luctuosa

There was one really brilliantly colored red skimmer that I thought might be a Neon (Libellula croceipennis) but further investigation showed it was actually a male Flame (Libellula saturata).  The lighter ones we were seeing were female Flames. You can tell the Flames from the Neons, in part, by the amount of color saturation on the wings. Neons have less color on the wings than Flames.

[This is NOT my photo]

I also saw one that I’m sure was a White-faced Meadowhawk. When I posted it to iNaturalist, others argued that it was a teneral Blue Dasher, but… I don’t think so. The eyes look more like the Meadowhawk than the Dasher… Anyway, having not seen a lot of variety of dragonflies yet this year, it was fun to see this many species in just one spot.

We also came upon an oak tree with deeply lobed leaves like a Valley Oak, but the placement of the lobes and the pointed tips of some of the leaves made us question its “Valley-ness”. We came to the conclusion that it might have been a Bur Oak, or a cross between a Bur and a Valley, but we’ll be able to tell for sure in the fall when it gets its acorns. 

Bur Oak, Quercus macrocarpa?

Oak trees can interbreed but they can only breed with trees that are in their “lineage”. Any white oak tree can interbreed with another kind of white oak tree, but not with a red oak tree or an intermediate oak tree.  Oracle Oaks are a cross between a Black Oak and an Interior Live Oak, for example; both are considered to be in the “red” oaks lineage.  Here’s a little cheat-sheet on the lineages for oak trees in California.

What cool about oak lineages, too, is that the cynipid wasps that create galls on the oak trees won’t cross that lineage barrier. A wasp that will its eggs on white oaks won’t lay them on red oaks. Nature is so intricate! 

Altogether, Rox and I were out exploring for about 5 hours before we stopped and headed back home.  By then, I was pooped and getting achy and her knees were sore. We need to get robotic all-terrain body armor to carry us into the field, so we can stay out longer and go on more rugged terrain without falling down… Hah!

Species List:

  1. Alkali Heliotrope, Heliotropium curassavicum
  2. American Avocet, Recurvirostra americana
  3. American Bull Frog, Lithobates catesbeianus
  4. American Coot, Fulica americana
  5. American White Pelican, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos
  6. Armored Scale Insects, Family: Diaspididae
  7. Aster, Pacific Aster, Symphyotrichum chilense [small purple-blue flowers with yellow center]
  8. Baby Sage, Salvia microphylla [red and white]
  9. Barn Swallow,  Hirundo rustica
  10. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  11. Black-Crowned Night Heron, Nycticorax nycticorax
  12. Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
  13. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus
  14. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum
  15. Blue Dasher Dragonfly, Pachydiplax longipennis
  16. Broadleaved Pepperweed, Lepidium latifolium
  17. Bull Thistle, Cirsium vulgare
  18. Bur Oak, Quercus macrocarpa
  19. Butterfly Bush, Buddleja davidii
  20. Cabbage White butterfly, Pieris rapae
  21. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  22. Chinese Tallow tree, Triadica sebifera
  23. Cinnamon Teal, Anas cyanoptera
  24. Cleveland Sage, Salvia clevelandii [purple, circles]
  25. Common Bluet Damselfly, Enallagma cyathigerum
  26. Common Gallinule, Gallinula galeata
  27. Common Rock-Rose, Helianthemum nummularium [yellow]
  28. Cottonwood Leaf Gall Aphid, Pemphigus populivenae
  29. Cottonwood Petiole Gall, Poplar Petiole Gall Aphid, Pemphigus populitransversus
  30. Curly Dock, Rumex crispus
  31. Desert Cottontail Rabbit, Sylvilagus audubonii
  32. Eurasian Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto
  33. European Honeybee, Apis mellifera
  34. Familiar Bluet Damselfly, Enallagma civile
  35. Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis
  36. Flame Skimmer Dragonfly, Libellula saturata
  37. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  38. Gadwall duck, Mareca Strepera
  39. Golden Columbine, Aquilegia chrysantha
  40. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  41. Greater Yellowlegs, Tringa melanoleuca
  42. Great-Tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus
  43. Gumweed, Great Valley Gumweed, Grindelia camporum
  44. Intermediate Wheatgrass, Thinopyrum intermedium [shell-shaped segments]
  45. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  46. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  47. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  48. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris
  49. Mournful Duskywing Butterfly, Erynnis tristis
  50. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  51. Narrowleaf Cattail, Cattail, Typha angustifolia
  52. Northern Harrier, Marsh Hawk, Circus hudsonius
  53. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  54. Oregon Ash, Fraxinus latifolia
  55. Paper Wasp, European Paper Wasp, Polistes dominula
  56. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  57. Purple Wood Sage, Salvia nemorosa
  58. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  59. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
  60. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  61. Rose Vervain, Glandularia canadensis
  62. Rough Cocklebur, Xanthium strumarium
  63. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula
  64. Spotted Spreadwing Damselfly, Lestes congener
  65. Swainson’s Hawk, Buteo swainsoni
  66. Tamarisk, Saltcedar, Tamarix ramosissima
  67. Toyon, Heteromeles arbutifolia
  68. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  69. Western Kingbird, Tyrant Flycatcher, Tyrannus verticalis
  70. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
  71. White Sage, Salvia apiana
  72. White-Faced Ibis, Plegadis chihi
  73. White-faced Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum obtrusum
  74. Widow Skimmer Dragonfly, Libellula luctuosa
  75. Yarrow, Achillea millefolium
  76. Yellow Water Iris, Yellow Flag, Iris pseudacorus [invasive]
  77. ?? tiny froglet on the sidewalk

Took a Fall at the River Bend Park, 06-05-20

I got up around 6:00 am, and was out the door by 6:30 pm to head over to the American River Bend Park for a walk.  It was a breezy morning with temperatures in the 60’s, and after the last too over-100° days, I was looking forward to getting outside and getting some fresh air and exercise.

I went down to the river bank, which I don’t normally do because the ground is so uneven there, but I wanted to see the summer plants that are starting to bloom there.  So, I took my cane with me to steady me, and for about an hour I did all right. 

Water Forget-Me-Not, Myosotis scorpioides

But then as I was walking closer to the river to get some photos of the willows, the rocks rolled under my foot and I fell down.  I didn’t hit my head, but I did land on my right butt cheek and hip.  My knees are bad as it is, so getting onto them to try to crawl toward a tree (which I’d hoped I could use as a brace to lift myself up) was excruciatingly painful and left them all bashed up and bruised.  I struggled for about 15 minutes and just couldn’t get my feet under myself to stand up, so I called 911 on my cellphone, and was glad that I could get service there.

I was weepy and embarrassed and in pain, but the 911 dispatcher was very understanding of my situation and did all she could to keep me calm.  In fact, she stayed on the line with me for the 30 minutes it took for EMTs to get to me.

Partway through the wait I told her two Turkey Vultures hand landed near me, and she laughed. “Don’t worry, they’re not there for you..” Hah!

Turkey Vultures, Cathartes aura

On the river bank there aren’t any markers or anything to tell you where you are, so if something happens, you might as well be in the middle of nowhere. I couldn’t see the trail from where I’d fallen and I have no sense of “distance”, so I couldn’t tell the dispatcher how far away I was from the boat launch area. To try to help, I told her what I could see on the opposite side of the river, namely the different houses.  In front of me, across the river, was a brown house with an arched picture window on it… To the left of me was a white house with a red tile roof and a large sun room on stilts… And to the right of me was a two-story tan house with railing around the balcony and a large lawn out in front…

Apparently, those descriptions were enough to help the EMTs kind of triangulate where I was.  Three of them showed up, lead by one named Brian.  Brian asked me questions, while one of the others took notes and the third one took my blood pressure, pulse and glucose readings.  Among the questions, Brian asked where I was, what my name was, what day it was, and who was the president. I answered that one with, “You mean the despicable Nazi?”  He looked down, stifled a smile and said, “Can you tell me his name?”  And I answered him, ending with “sorry”.  He said, “A lot of people don’t like that question…”

The guy who was taking all the readings tried twice to get a BP reading, but couldn’t get it to work. He did get a pulse, though, 100 bpm, so… not totally dead.

Brian then put electrode pads on my legs and arms and did a heart rhythm trace on me before saying that all of my vitals looked good. He and one of the other guys helped me up onto my feet and held onto me until I was more oriented and could them the direction in which I’d left my car. 

They started to walk me back, when the park ranger, Ranger Smillier, showed up with his truck. It took two of the EMTs, again, to get me up the high step into the front seat of the truck, but once I was situated, they trekked back to their firetruck and the ranger drove me to my car.  He waited until I’d gotten into it and started the engine before he left me.

I went straight home, sore all over with bruised knees and a bruise butt.  And, as Melissa warned me, I’ll be feeling it worse over the next few days… But I didn’t hit my head and never felt “concussed, so I’m okay.  And I have a lot of thank you notes to write and send out tomorrow.

What was weird was, even as I was sitting there in the rocks with 911 on the line, my Naturalist brain wouldn’t shut off and I kept taking photos of what I saw… including the vultures, a mama Mallard duck and her babies, and a mama Common Merganser with her 17, count ‘em, 17 red-headed ducklings.

Common Mergansers, Mergus merganser

Needless to say, I didn’t get very many photos today, but CLICK HERE for the album of what I was able to document.

Species List:

  1. Asian Clam, Corbicula fluminea [small white/brown freshwater clam]
  2. Black Dancer Caddisfly, Mystacides sepulchralis
  3. Brazilian Vervain, Verbena brasiliensis
  4. Buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis
  5. California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica
  6. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  7. Common Merganser, Mergus merganser
  8. Goodding’s Willow, Salix gooddingii
  9. Hairy Vetch, Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa ssp. villosa
  10. Lady’s Thumb Knotweed, Persicaria maculosa [pink]
  11. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  12. Mimosa Tree, Persian Silk Tree, Albizia julibrissin
  13. Moth Mullein, Verbascum blattaria
  14. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  15. Pennyroyal, Mentha pulegium
  16. Rabbitfoot Grass, Polypogon monspeliensis
  17. Rough Horsetail, Equisetum hyemale
  18. Smartweed, Persicaria lapathifolia [white]
  19. Sneezeweed, Rosilla, Helenium puberulum
  20. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  21. Water Forget-Me-Not, Myosotis scorpioides
  22. Western Bluebird, Sialia Mexicana

Quite a Few Sightings Today, 06-01-20

I got up a little before 6 o’clock this morning at it was 61° outside. I took the opportunity to get out for a walk before it got too hot, and went over to the Mather Lake Regional Park.

I saw the muskrat first thing in the water, but he was swimming away from me, so all I got was a video snippet of the back of his head.

The pennyroyal is starting to bloom all over the place, so everything smells like mint. Pennyroyal mimics spearmint: it looks like spearmint and smells like spearmint, but it’s poisonous and there’s no known antidote for it. So, DON’T EAT IT. It’s the concentrated oil that’s the most dangerous and contains cyclohexanone pulegone. In small doses it can cause nausea and vomiting, in larger doses it can cause multiorgan failure and death. It’s now most often used in insecticides.

The Bull Thistles and California Centuary are also starting to flower in the park dotting the banks with blotches of dark and pale pink. 

I was surprised to see so many Yellow-Faced Bumblebees sleeping on the plants along the edge of the lake. At first, I thought they were dead, but, nope.  Each one of them rousted itself to wakefulness when I approached and eventually flew off.

I was also faked out by a 3-foot long Valley Garter Snake that was sprawled out in a patch of grass by the trail.  It wasn’t moving as I approached, so I thought it was dead. When I stepped in a little closer though to get a few more photos, it suddenly flicked back to life and quickly silked its way through the grass to the water. Yikes!  They’re not venomous, but it really startled me!

Valley Garter Snake in the grass

There seemed to be a lot of Desert Cottontail rabbits around, but I only saw the outlines or ears of most of them because they stayed hidden in the tall grass and the adjoining fields. One did come up onto the trail and I got a couple of photos of it before it eyeballed me and took off.

CLICK HERE to see the full album of photos.

At one point, I was moving along the edge of the lake when I heard an odd bird sound I hadn’t heard before.  It was kind of like a sharp peep from a chick but more “mature” sounding, if that makes any sense. So, I looked around and realized it was coming from a White-Tailed Kite that had stopped briefly in a nearby tree. Cool!  I’d never heard them before.  I had to climb up away from the bank and through some cottonwood trees to get to a spot where I could get some photos of it.  I snapped off a few before it flew away.  They’re not the best, but at least I got them.

White-Tailed Kite

At another point along the lakeside, I could see the rushes and tules near the bank moving a bit, but I couldn’t see what was causing the movement.  I stepped in closer, and still couldn’t see anything, so I thought maybe the muskrat was under there, eating at the plants. Nope.  A few seconds later a Red-Eared Slider Turtle moved out of the rushes and swam off a bit with just its head and nose above the surface of the water.  Cheeky devil.

I was distracted for quite a while by a family of Mute Swans, a pair of adults and their five cygnets. The babies are growing up and just starting to get their first feathers in, so they’re kind of itchy all over. The group let me get to within about 5 feet of them while the babies dozed and preened and the parents stood guard.

Mute Swan cygnets

I had brought a small Ziploc bag of duck feed pellets with me, so I tossed some out to the swans, but none of them were interested.  That one toss, though, brought a huge creche of Canada Geese (adults, goslings and fledglings) over to me.  They had been on the trail behind me, and rushed in when they saw I had food. There were about 30 of them.

Some of the babies came right up to me and tried to look into the bag while the adults hissed at me.  When some of the geese got too close to the swans, one of the adult swans “busked” at them (raised its wings, puffed out its chest and pulled back its head) and chased them off.  It also tried busking at me, but when I stood my ground, it turned off back toward the cygnets.  Good thing for me, too; those swans are HUGE. If it wanted to, it could have done me some real damage.

((Now, as a naturalist, I don’t advocate feeding wild animals, but these are resident birds (that are used to and dependent upon human contact) at this park.  But for goodness sake, if you do feed them, DON’T feed them bread!  It’s not healthy for them, and the molds that can develop on it can poison them. Get some feed pellets made specifically for ducks/geese.  They’re not that expensive and are more nutritious for the birds.))

Among the other birds I saw today were some Double-Crested Cormorants, Tree Swallows, House Wrens, a pair of Barn Swallows, some Great Egrets flying overhead, and some Pied-Billed Grebes.  I didn’t spot any of the Common Galluniles we usually see around there.  Maybe they’re all nesting right now. The big surprise was having an adult American Bittern fly up out of the tules in front of me. It was so quick and startling that I didn’t get any photos of it.  It’s nice to know they’re out there, though.

I came across an area where several dozen cottonwood tree leaves had been pulled of the tree and the galls from the Petiole Gall Aphids smashed into the dirt.  That was VERY sad to see.  I can understand opening up ONE of the galls if you’re curious about them, but that kind of mindless destruction is inexcusable. What is wrong with people these days?

I was looking for dragonfly exuvia (shed skin) around the water’s edge as I went along, but didn’t see any.  I did spot a few damselflies (all of whom eluded my camera), however, and a few dragonflies: what I think was a teneral Blue Dasher (not colored up enough yet for me to tell for sure) and a green female Western Pondhawk. Seems to me, with all the heat we’ve been having, more dragonflies should be awake by now…

I walked for about 3 hours and then headed back home.

Species List:

  1. American Bittern, Botaurus lentiginosus
  2. Ash-Throated Flycatcher, Myiarchus cinerascens
  3. Barn Swallow, Hirundo rustica
  4. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  5. Blue Dasher Dragonfly, Pachydiplax longipennis [males blue, females and teneral males are diluted yellow-tan]
  6. Bull Thistle, Cirsium vulgare
  7. Bur Chervil, Anthriscus caucalis
  8. Bushtit, American Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus
  9. California Centaury, Zeltnera venusta [small pink flowers, white throat, yellow pollen]
  10. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  11. California Quail, Callipepla californica [heard]
  12. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  13. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  14. Case-Bearing Leaf Beetle, Cryptocephalus castaneus [tiny, thick bodied]
  15. Common Duckweed, Lemna minor
  16. Common Spike-Rush, Eleocharis palustris [has a head somewhat like SB Sedge]
  17. Cottonwood Leaf Gall Aphid, Pemphigus populivenae
  18. Cottonwood Petiole Gall, Poplar Petiole Gall Aphid, Pemphigus populitransversus
  19. Coyote Brush Bud Gall midge, Rhopalomyia californica
  20. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  21. Desert Cottontail Rabbit, Sylvilagus audubonii
  22. Dot-lined Angle Moth, Psamatodes abydata
  23. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
  24. Eurasian Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto
  25. Floating Water Primrose, Ludwigia peploides ssp. Peploides
  26. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  27. Gold Dust Lichen, Chrysothrix candelaris
  28. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  29. Great-Tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus
  30. Hairy Vetch, Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa ssp. villosa
  31. Himalayan Blackberry, Armenian Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus
  32. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  33. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon
  34. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  35. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  36. Meadow Salsify, Tragopogon pratensis
  37. Mint Moth, Pyrausta aurata [tiny, reddish brown]
  38. Muskrat, Ondatra zibethicus
  39. Mute Swan, Cygnus olor
  40. Narrowleaf Willow, Salix exigua
  41. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  42. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii [heard]
  43. Paper Wasp, European Paper Wasp, Polistes dominula [black & yellow]
  44. Pennyroyal, Mentha pulegium
  45. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  46. Red-Eared Slider Turtle, Trachemys scripta elegans
  47. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  48. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  49. Rose Clover, Trifolium hirtum
  50. Slender Path Rush, Juncus tenuis
  51. Soft Rush, Juncus effusus
  52. Tall Flatsedge,  Cyperus eragrostis
  53. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  54. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  55. Turkey Tangle Fogfruit, Phyla nodiflora
  56. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  57. Valley Garter Snake, Thamnophis sirtalis fitchi
  58. Western Pondhawk Dragonfly, Erythemis collocata [males are blue; females are green]
  59. Western Tailed Blue Butterfly, Cupido amyntula
  60. White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus
  61. Willow Pinecone Gall midge, Rabdophaga strobiloides
  62. Yellow Starthistle, Centaurea solstitialis
  63. Yellow-faced Bumblebee, Bombus vosnesenskii