Category Archives: photography

And More Galls at the Cosumnes Preserve, 08-03-20

I got up around 5:30 this morning, and headed out the door with my friend Roxanne to check out the Cosumnes River Preserve.  It was 64° when we got there – already almost too hot to start a walk – and got up to 99° by the late afternoon. 

On our way to the preserve, we spotted a couple Red-Tailed Hawks and what we believe was a Swainson’s Hawk, and also saw a coyote loping across a field. When we got to Twin Cities Road, we took the route around Bruceville and Desmond Roads to see if we could spot anything in the fields around there.

Not a whole lot is happening out there right now because the cattle weren’t using the land, and there’s no water for the bird for the most part.  We did see a rather large covey of California Quails, several males and females all scurrying around. They’re such adorable chubby birds.

 We also saw an adult cottontail rabbit and a tiny baby one (on the other side of the road).  Along with them we saw some blackbirds, Mockingbirds, and a handful of sparrows and finches in the blackberries bushes but that was about it.  Still no concentrations of insects, and next to nothing when it came to dragonflies.  Along Desmond Road we did find a few Buckeye butterflies and some blue damselflies, but not as many as there should be during this time of year.

While we were going down the stretch of Desmond Road we saw a pair of White-Tailed Kites, but the birds wouldn’t sit long enough in the treetops for us to get any photos of them.  Of course, most of the wetland areas and even the fields were dry, dry, dry.  There was only one part of the wetlands that had water in it, and we saw about a dozen Great Egrets in there along with a few ibis, some Killdeer, and a couple of Greater Yellowlegs.  Not a lot, but at least it was something.

Great Egrets, Ardea alba

There are quite a few Valley Oaks along one side of Desmond Road, though, so we parked the car and checked them out for galls.  Oddly enough, we’d never actually looked at them before (except for as perches for the birds in the area).  We were able to find specimens of quite a few different galls including some fuzzy Club Galls, along with some Western Spotted Orb-Weaver Spiders and a handful of Paper Wasps.  I’ll have to go back there in a few weeks and see if anything new crops up.

Gall of the Club Gall Wasp, Atrusca clavuloides

The gate to the boardwalk area was open, so when we got there Rox parked in the small parking lot there instead of on the street.  The slough and pond right by that entrance was nearly bone-dry and there were dead carp lying around stinking up the place. It’s just sad to see that.  Seems cruel to drain off the water and let the fish suffocate to death. [Sad-face emoji]

The carcasses of dead carp were lying in the nearly-emptied pond.

Rox and I walked to the outer edge of the pond where there are trees lined up near the road, and checked them out for galls as well.  It’s mostly Valley Oaks and White Ash trees along there, and we were able to find more wasp galls, including the “Woollybears”, and some really good specimens of ash leaf-curl (caused by aphids) and ash “flower galls” (caused by mites). 

Galls of the Woollybear Gall Wasp, Atrusca trimaculosa

Rox also got an incredible photo of a honeybee snacking on the drippings of a row of Flat-Topped Honeydew galls. Her photo is on the left below. The other two photos are by me.

I know I’ve told you this before, but it bears repeating when talking about gall wasps and the strategies their larvae use to defend themselves.  Some have thick skins of their galls, some of their galls have spines and prickly things, some pull tannins from the leaves which acts as a sort of insect repellent to keep predator insect species away from them while the larvae grow and develop inside their galls.  But the honeydew gall-wasps have a very interesting strategy.

They “pay” other insects to act as bodyguards for them.  Inside their gall, the larvae generate honeydew which is then exuded through the porous surface of the gall.  The honeydew attracts “aggressor species” like ants and Yellowjackets, who defend the cache of honeydew for themselves by driving off other insects.  The ants and Yellowjackets get the sugar that’s hard to find elsewhere in the summer months, and the gall-wasp larvae get protection.  I just think that’s so cool…

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

* Warning * Rant * Warning * Rant *

While we were gall hunting and taking photos, a gentleman came up to us to let us know that he was leaving and closing the gate behind him, but he wouldn’t lock it.  When we were done, we could open the gate to retrieve the car, but then needed to close the gate again when we left…so, we did that.  Apparently, we had unwittingly picked a date when the area around the boardwalk was closed because they were spraying Round-Up. 

Seriously?!  Round-Up?! I thought this was supposed to be a PRESERVE?

Science has proven that the stuff gives humans cancer and damages the environment.  “…Evidence is growing that glyphosate, the active ingredient of Roundup, [impacts] the metabolism, growth and reproduction of aquatic creatures and could be altering the essential gut bacteria of animals such as bees… The soil half-life of glyphosate is approximately 47 days (with a range of 2 to nearly 200 days depending on soil type and various environmental conditions)… Shifts in microbial community composition in soil, plants and animal guts resulted. Glyphosate may serve as one of the drivers for antibiotic resistance…” 

[[I also personally believe that Roundup also destroys the layer of mycelium under the surface of the soil, and some studies seem to support that contention.  It, like the neo-nics, is just plain BAD NEWS for the planet.]]

The Cosumnes preserve is a water-based river-front and wetland area.  And they’re dumping Roundup into it.  Unbelievable!  Who knows how much of that crap we were exposed to while we were there.

Okay, the Rant is Over Now. Continue Reading…

Rox and I left that area and went down the road next to the nature center.  There’s a long boat ramp there that cuts alongside an oak grove and field, and ends at the river.  We checked out the oak trees and looked for milkweed plants, and after some time there I just couldn’t walk anymore.  It was already 78°, too hot for me, so I sat on a bench in the shade while Rox went down to the water’s edge.  When she came back, she said there wasn’t a lot to see there – no dragonflies, no birds to speak of, but there was some invasive water hyacinth in the water.  We’d seen a LOT of that in drainage ditches along the highway.  She said there wasn’t a lot in the water by the boat launch – yet.  Give it a week; it’ll be covering everything. 

Photos I took of the water hyacinth in the Cosumnes River a few years ago.

Water hyacinth is a gorgeous plant that floats on the top of the water on its own air-filled bladder; its flowers are just beautiful.  But it’s totally invasive. It’s scientific name is Eichhornia crassipes, so a lot of people call it the “crappiest plant”. It was introduced to the US in the 1880’s as an ornamental water plant (for rich people’s gardens),but escaped as is now considered an invasive everywhere.  It got into California around 1904.  It can sprout from rhizomes (growing in the mud under the water) or from seed.  The seeds are sticky and cling to the feet and feather of waterbirds which then transport them to wherever the bird goes.  The plants grow really fast and can completely cover an clog ponds and waterways in just a matter of weeks. 

As it covers the water, it reduced the places where waterfowl can land, rest and feed, it blocks off sunlight so the water “dies” along with everything in it (oxygen levels drop, CO2 levels rise), and it also transpires a lot of water into the air (some calculations say it’s 8 times faster than normal evaporation)… so the water level in covered patches actually drops. Because the floating mats of the water hyacinth are so broad and dense, they force out native plants that wildlife needs for foraging purposes.  Most animals can’t eat the hyacinth because of its high tannin levels (and because the plants are about 95% water – so have no nutritional value. (So biodiversity plummets.) Standing water caught in and between the matted leaves of the plants become breeding pools for mosquitoes.  And when the hyacinth dies, it poisons the water so nothing can drink it.  Yikes!

How do you control the stuff?  Well, once it’s introduced there isn’t a lot you can do except rip it out, but you have to get every fragment of the plant and dredge up the rhizomes, which can be really labor-intensive and very expensive. You can’t use herbicides on it because the herbicides will poison the water the plants live in. Some places have tried using floating barriers to keep it contained, but that doesn’t stop the spread of the seeds… So, it’s tough.

            With so many “bad” attributes, Rox and I wondered if it had any useful properties at all.  There’s a report by United Diversity that says there are several different places trying to figure out what to do with the stuff.  It’s plant material, of course, and has fiber content, so most of the processes being tried are in the manufacture of paper, fiberboard, yarn, rope (basket-making) and charcoal briquettes. On a larger scale, it’s being tested out as a source of biomass fuel, and in some places is being tested as a first-step in water treatment (from sewage to fresh water).  Here is a PDF of that report.

When we were heading back home, I apologized to Rox for being such a “heat wuss” and cutting the walk short. But she pointed at the clock on the dashboard and said, “We’ve been out for four hours. We did our regular morning…”   I hadn’t realized I’d been walking for that long; no wonder I was tired!

Species List:

  1. American Robin, Turdus migratorius
  2. Ash Flower Gall Mite, Ash Key Gall, Eriophyes fraxinivorus
  3. Ash Leaf-Curl Aphid, Prociphilus fraxinifolii
  4. Asian Ladybeetle, Harmonia axyridis
  5. Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
  6. California Quail, Callipepla californica
  7. Chicory, Cichorium intybus
  8. Club Gall Wasp, Atrusca clavuloides
  9. Common Buckeye Butterfly, Junonia coenia
  10. Common Carp, Cyprinus carpio
  11. Common Green Lacewing, Chrysoperla carnea [eggs]
  12. Convoluted Gall Wasp, Andricus confertus
  13. Coyote, Canis latrans
  14. Desert Cottontail Rabbit, Sylvilagus audubonii
  15. Disc Gall Wasp, Andricus parmula [round flat, “spangle gall”]
  16. Familiar Bluet Damselfly, Enallagma civile
  17. Flat-Topped Honeydew Gall Wasp, Disholcaspis eldoradensis
  18. Fuzzy Gall Wasp galls, Disholcaspis washingtonensi [round faintly fuzzy galls on stems]
  19. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  20. Greater Yellowlegs, Tringa melanoleuca
  21. Gumweed, Curlycup Gumweed, Grindelia squarrosa
  22. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  23. Jumping Oak Gall Wasp, Neuroterus saltatorius
  24. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  25. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris
  26. Mediterranean Praying Mantis, Iris Mantis, Iris oratoria
  27. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  28. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  29. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii [heard]
  30. Oak Apple Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  31. Paper Wasp, European Paper Wasp, Polistes dominula
  32. Pennyroyal, Mentha pulegium
  33. Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Western Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
  34. Red Cone Gall Wasp, Andricus kingi
  35. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
  36. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  37. Spiny Turban Gall Wasp, Antron douglasii
  38. Swainson’s Hawk, Buteo swainsoni
  39. Tall Flatsedge, Cyperus eragrostis
  40. Trashline Orb Weaver Spider, Conical Trashline Spider,  Cyclosa conica
  41. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  42. Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum
  43. Water Hyacinth, Eichhornia crassipes
  44. Western Spotted Orbweaver Spider, Neoscona oaxacensis
  45. White Ash Tree, Fraxinus americana
  46. White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus
  47. White-Faced Ibis, Plegadis chihi
  48. Woolly Oak Aphid, Stegophylla brevirostris (lots of white fluff & honeydew)
  49. Woollybear Gall Wasp, Atrusca trimaculosa
  50. Yellow Wig Gall Wasp, Andricus fullawayi

Checking out the “Reverend Mother” tree, 07-31-20

I got up around 5:30 this morning and after giving Esteban his breakfast and letting him out for potty, I headed over to the William B. Pond Park along the American River to do a kind of recon on the galls there.

There are several oak trees on the manicured lawn that often provide an abundance of specimens, and then, of course, there’s what I call the “Reverend Mother” tree: a particular Valley Oak that I go to every year.  It sits at an intersection of different parts of the trail near the river, and sports a wide variety of galls throughout the late summer.  I wanted to see what was out there before I brought my friend Roxanne over there on a gall hunt; to make sure that there was something there to see.

The galls are still just starting to emerge, but I did see several different species, including a beautiful Rosette gall (on the Reverend Mother tree). 

Rosette Oak Gall Wasp, Andricus wiltzae

There were also a couple of oak apple galls that were oozing black goo.  I cut one open and found the wasp larva inside, but couldn’t see any indication of other insect that was causing the rot. So, I figured they had some kind of fungal infection.  I couldn’t find any information on that in my research yet, though, so I’m not sure.

The honeydew galls aren’t big enough or engorged enough to start dripping, but I did see some Yellow Jackets hanging around the tree, looking for them.

CLICK HERE for the full album pf photos.

While I was checking out some Round Galls, I saw a tiny red nymph, shaped kind of like a cigar, with black coloring at both ends.  I was surprised that it was relatively easy to figure out it was the nymph of some kind of Tube-Tailed Trip.  (Thank you, BugGuide.net)  But I’m still not seeing the number of insects I’d expect to find in the summer by the water.  I only saw one damselfly, some kind of Dancer.

Oddly enough, I didn’t see or hear many birds along the river, either, but I did come across some California Quail and a Bewick’s Wren. 

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

Seeing with a naturalist’s eye: so much life among the leaves.

Species List:

  1. Asian Ladybeetle, Harmonia axyridis
  2. Assassin Bug, Zelus sp. [eggs]
  3. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii
  4. California Quail, Callipepla californica
  5. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  6. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica
  7. California Wild Rose, Rosa californica
  8. Coast Live Oak, Quercus agrifolia
  9. Common Green Lacewing, Chrysoperla carnea
  10. Convoluted Gall Wasp, Andricus confertus
  11. Dancer Damselfly, Unidentified, Argia sp.
  12. Disc Gall Wasp, Andricus parmula [round flat, “spangle gall”]
  13. Flat-Topped Honeydew Gall Wasp, Disholcaspis eldoradensis
  14. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  15. Fuzzy Gall Wasp galls, Disholcaspis washingtonensi [round faintly fuzzy galls on stems]
  16. Gall-Like Scale, Allokermes rattani [striped ball]
  17. Himalayan Blackberry, Rubus  bifrons [white flowers]
  18. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  19. Irregular Spindle Gall Wasp, Andricus chrysolepidicola
  20. Jumping Oak Gall Wasp, Neuroterus saltatorius
  21. Liquid Ambar, American Sweetgum, Liquidambar styraciflua
  22. Live Oak Erineum Mite gall, Aceria mackiei
  23. Live Oak Gall Wasp, 1st Generation, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis
  24. Non-Biting Midge, Chironomus sp.
  25. Oak Apple Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  26. Red Cone Gall Wasp, Andricus kingi
  27. Ribbed Cocoon-Maker Moth, Bucculatrix albertiella [cocoon]
  28. Rosette Oak Gall Wasp, Andricus wiltzae
  29. Round Gall Wasp, Cynpis conspicuus [round gall near base of leaf on Valley Oaks, formerly Besbicus conspicuus]
  30. Ruptured Twig Gall Wasp, Callirhytis perdens
  31. Sheet Weaver Spiders, Family: Linyphiidae
  32. Silver Wattle, Acacia dealbata
  33. Solitary Oak Leaf Miner Moth, Cameraria hamadryadella [tracks on leaves]
  34. Spiny Turban Gall Wasp, Antron douglasii
  35. Tube-Tailed Trip, Family: Phlaeothripidae [red nymph]
  36. Two-Horned Gall Wasp, Dryocosmus dubiosus
  37. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  38. Western Fence Lizard, Blue Belly, Sceloporus occidentalis
  39. Western Tussock Moth, Orgyia vetusta [cocoon]
  40. Woolly Oak Aphid, Stegophylla brevirostris (lots of white fluff & honeydew)
  41. Yellow Wig Gall Wasp, Andricus fullawayi

And the Galls are Showing Up at the EYNC, 07-29-20

Up at 5:30 this morning and out the door by 6:00 am to go with my friend and fellow naturalist Roxanne to the Effie Yeaw Nature Center. I’m starting my Trail Walker duties there again after several months off.  I still need a neon orange reflective vest to wear (it was due today) to look more “official”, and I’ll wear that next time.  I can also wear the khaki vest my naturalist students bought for me, but it’s heavier material and I think it’ll be too warm to wear in the summer months.  So, today, I was just in shirt-sleeves – no vest. 

It was about 61° when we got there, and warmed up quickly. The high today was around 100°.

Rox and I were most focused on finding galls, and checked out some of the Valley oaks, Blue oaks and Live Oak trees scattered around the preserve. It’s still a little bit early in the season, but we saw quite a few different species.  On the Blue oaks, we found some small specimens of Crystalline galls, Plate galls, Saucer galls, and Urchin galls.  On the Valley Oaks we found Red Cones, Fimbriate galls, a Yellow Wig, and Spiny Turbans. 

And I was really happy to find lots of the spiny first-generation galls of the wasp Callirhytis quercuspomiformis.  I hadn’t seen them there yet (since the trees were trimmed), and was so happy that they had re-established themselves.  When they’re new and bright green, they feel spongy, but as the galls age, they firm up and turn tannish-brown.

Exteriors of the gall of a Live Oak Gall Wasp, 1st Generation, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis
Interior of the gall of the Live Oak Gall Wasp, 1st Generation, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis, showing the larva.

We saw a few deer, including a pair of bucks in their velvet: a four-pointer and a three-pointer. (The eye guards don’t count.)  When their antlers are growing, they’re very sensitive to touch, so there was no head-butting… just a deep long stare from the older buck telling the younger one to back off.            

Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus. Two bucks in their velvet.

Here’s an article I wrote about the deer and their antlers in July of last year.

We also saw a couple of females, one near the nature center and one out by the river. They were by themselves and we speculated that they were either young does that didn’t have fawns this year.  July is the fawning season at the preserve, but we didn’t see any babies during this trip.

Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus, doe

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

When we were heading out of the preserve after about 3 hours, we came across Rachael,the volunteer coordinator, who was helping to woman the docent table outside of the nature center building with some of the other volunteers.  She told us that earlier that morning, some of the docents had seen “tiny baby” coyote pups along the River Trail at the preserve!  Oooooo, how cool! I’d love to be able to see those little guys. I’ll have to keep an eye out for them the next time I’m out there.

She also said that later this summer, the river front near the preserve will be re-groomed to provide more spawning space for salmon.  Last year similar work was done along the Sailor Bar portion of the river, and this year will be the Effie Yeaw area’s turn.  The refit and reconstruction of salmon-friendly habitat will include dredging and reforming some of the river bed, and laying down tons of gravel that’s of the right size and consistency for the salmons’ “redds” (nests).  If the gravel is too big or too little, the salmon won’t lay their eggs on it.  The work at Sailor Bar was first done in 2009 and during that year about 1000 redds were spotted in the area.  Last year, there were ZERO because the majority of the finer gravel had washed away.

It’ll be interesting to watch the work progress in the river near the Effie Yeaw Nature Center/Preserve, and fun to see if lots of salmon can be spotted from the shore in the fall and winter months.

A parting view. As we left, we saw several Rio Grande Wild Turkeys, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia, stopping to take a drink from the pond.

[[I got the vest in via UPS in the late afternoon today.]]

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  3. Bark Rim Lichen, Lecanora chlarotera [looks like Whitewash Lichen but has apothecia]
  4. Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon [flying, chattering]
  5. Black Walnut Pouch Gall Mite Aceria brachytarsa
  6. Black Walnut, Eastern Black Walnut, Juglans nigra
  7. Blue Oak, Quercus douglasii
  8. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  9. California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana
  10. California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica
  11. California Quail, Callipepla californica [heard]
  12. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  13. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica
  14. California Wild Rose, Rosa californica
  15. Coast Live Oak, Quercus agrifolia
  16. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
  17. Crown Whitefly, Aleuroplatus coronata
  18. Crystalline Gall Wasp, Andricus crystallinus
  19. Cudweed, California Cudweed, Pseudognaphalium californicum
  20. Fimbriate Gall Wasp, Andricus opertus [on Valley Oak leaf]
  21. Flat-Topped Honeydew Gall Wasp, Disholcaspis eldoradensis
  22. Fluffy Dust Lichen, Pacific Fluffy Dust Lichen, Lepraria pacifica [blue-green dust lichen]
  23. Great Mullein, Verbascum Thapsus
  24. Himalayan Blackberry, Rubus  bifrons [white flowers]
  25. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  26. Irregular Spindle Gall Wasp, Andricus chrysolepidicola [on white oaks, Blue, Valley, etc.]
  27. Jumping Oak Gall Wasp, Neuroterus saltatorius
  28. Large-flowered Evening-Primrose, Oenothera glazioviana
  29. Leaf Gall Wasp/ Unidentified per Russo, Tribe: Cynipidi [on Valley Oak]
  30. Live Oak Erineum Mite gall, Aceria mackiei [kind of looks like rust on the backside of the leaf]
  31. Live Oak Gall Wasp, 1st Generation, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis
  32. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  33. Meadow Spittlebug, Philaenus spumarius
  34. Mule Fat, Baccharis salicifolia
  35. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  36. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii
  37. Oak Apple Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  38. Oleander Aphid, Aphis nerii
  39. Plate Gall Wasp, Andricus pattersonae
  40. Plum, Prunus cerasifera
  41. Red Cone Gall Wasp, Andricus kingi
  42. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  43. Saucer Gall Wasp, Andricus gigas
  44. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa
  45. Soft Rush, Juncus effusus
  46. Spiny Turban Gall Wasp, Antron douglasii
  47. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  48. Swift Crab Spider, Mecaphesa celer
  49. Trashline Orb Weaver Spider, Conical Trashline Spider,  Cyclosa conica
  50. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  51. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  52. Urchin Gall Wasp, Antron quercusechinus
  53. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  54. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis
  55. Woolly Oak Aphid, Stegophylla brevirostris (lots of white fluff & honeydew)
  56. Yellow Starthistle, Centaurea solstitialis
  57. Yellow Wig Gall Wasp, Andricus fullawayi
  58. ?? open wound on plum, oozing sap

Two Spots in Woodland, 07-26-20

Up at 5:30 am and out the door with my friend Roxanne to head out to the city of Woodland by 6:00 am. It was about 61° already that early in the day, and it got up to 100° by the late afternoon.

We wanted to visit the East Regional Pond and Ibis Rookery in Woodland.  Both of them are just off Road 102, and pretty close to one another.  We’d let Greg Ira (the statewide director for the University of California’s Certified California Naturalist program) know we were coming, so he met us at the East Regional Pond after we stopped at Dutch Brothers for some much-needed coffee.  I’d never been to the pond before, so it was a fun first for me. 

The pond is a large water retention pond right across the street from the turn out to Farmer’s Central Road in the city of Woodland, CA. It’s surrounded on three sides by private property and protected nature areas. Because these areas are screened off by fences, you cannot walk all the way around the pond. There is a wide gravel trail, however, and three viewing platforms from which you can view and photograph wildlife. 

This time of year, there isn’t a lot of water in the pond, but I could definitely see the potential for future outings in the winter and spring when the rains come and the weather cools off. I really enjoyed being able to see the place.

We got to see Showy Egrets, Great Egrets, American Avocets, Black-Necked Stilts, Greater Yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpipers, White-Faced Ibises, pelicans and other birds.  Many of them were in the far side of the pond, but as we walked from one viewing platform to another a handful of them sort of followed us around. 

There were little cottontail rabbits bounding all over the place.  Sometimes we’d see two or three together, running this way and that, chasing each other, stopping to munch a little bit on the vegetation. They were constant conversation interrupters.

Desert Cottontail Rabbits, Sylvilagus audubonii

We also saw about four or five Pacific Pond Turtles in the shallows of one part of the pond. They were all poking their heads up above the surface.  And when they moved around, they left a trail of mud floating behind them in the water.

Although there were gnats and midges in the air, we didn’t encounter many insects, and saw only one or two dragonflies. But we did find a large Paper Wasp nest. These wasps are usually pretty mellow, so I was able to tilt the nest up to get some better photos of it.

Paper Wasp, European Paper Wasp, Polistes dominula

The queen builds all the first cells and rears all the first offspring by herself. After that, her daughters do all the work, and she just lays the eggs. In this nest, we could see that the larvae were developing in their cells at different stages, and that some of the cells had already been sealed off. Inside the sealed cells, the larvae pupate, and then emerge as adult wasps. Here is an article I wrote about them in 2017.

After about an hour or so, we headed over to the ibis rookery.  I was assuming there would be a lot of juveniles out there by now, and I was right. There were a handful of the ibises still sitting on eggs, but most of the nests had trilling, begging, head-bobbing youngsters in them.  With their striped bills, they’re very striking.            

We also saw some Coots paddling through the water with their own youngsters behind and around them.  I hope they won’t hate me for saying it, but I think their babies are the goofiest, funniest, ugliest little things I’ve ever seen.  “Ugly Baby Judges You.”  They’re partially bald with red faces and yellow pokey-out feathers are called “ornaments”. The more ornaments a baby has, the more attention and food she’ll get from the parents.  Bling matters, apparently. Here’s an article I wrote about them in 2018.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

We were out for about 4 ½ hours round-trip.

Species List:

  1. Alkali Heliotrope, Chinese Parsley,  Heliotropium curassavicum
  2. American Avocet, Recurvirostra americana
  3. American Coot, Fulica americana
  4. American White Pelican, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos
  5. Barn Swallow,  Hirundo rustica
  6. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  7. Black Saddlebags Dragonfly, Tramea lacerate
  8. Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
  9. Broad-leaved Pepperweed, Lepidium latifolium
  10. California Buckwheat, Eriogonum fasciculatum
  11. California Fescue, Festuca californica
  12. California Fuchsia, Epilobium canum
  13. California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana
  14. California Wild Rose, Rosa californica
  15. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  16. Carrot, American Wild Carrot, Daucus pusillus
  17. Common Bluet Damselfly, Enallagma cyathigerum
  18. Common Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  19. Common Spikeweed, Centromadia pungens
  20. Common Sunflower, Helianthus annuus
  21. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  22. Desert Cottontail Rabbit, Sylvilagus audubonii
  23. European Honeybee, Western Honeybee, Apis mellifera
  24. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  25. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  26. Greater Yellowlegs, Tringa melanoleuca
  27. Great-Tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus
  28. Green Heron, Butorides virescens
  29. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  30. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  31. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  32. Mediterranean Praying Mantis, Iris Mantis, Iris oratoria [very narrow ootheca]
  33. Naked Buckwheat, Eriogonum nudum
  34. Non-Biting Midge, Chironomus sp.
  35. Northern Harrier, Marsh Hawk, Circus hudsonius
  36. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  37. Orbweavers, Family: Araneidae
  38. Pacific Pond Turtle, Western Pond Turtle, Actinemys marorata
  39. Paper Wasp, European Paper Wasp, Polistes dominula [black & yellow]
  40. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  41. Red-Eared Slider Turtle, Trachemys scripta elegans
  42. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus [nest]
  43. Ruddy Duck, Oxyura jamaicensis
  44. Saltbush, Big Saltbush, Atriplex lentiformis
  45. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula
  46. Spotted Sandpiper, Actitis macularius
  47. Steel-blue Cricket-hunter Wasp, Chlorion aerarium
  48. Swainson’s Hawk, Buteo swainsoni
  49. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  50. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  51. Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum
  52. Western Kingbird, Tyrant Flycatcher, Tyrannus verticalis
  53. White-Faced Ibis, Plegadis chihi

Back to Mather Lake, 07-24-20

Up at 5:00 am again, to head out to Mather Lake Regional Park at 6:00 with Roxanne. We wanted to check out the side of the lake opposite of where we were earlier in the week.  [[For some reason, my hair is doing this humorous pokey-out thing on one side of my head, so the left side looks “startled” and the right side looks “bored”. Hah!  I must have slept on it weird.]]

Not a ton of bird sightings today; mostly just the usual suspects.  We did catch a glimpse of some Belted Kingfishers when we first arrived, but they’re shy and moving very quickly, so getting a photo of one of them is really difficult.  We could HEAR they chattering on both sides of the lake, but couldn’t get into a position to see them clearly. 

A very bad photo of a Belted Kingfisher

There was one young Canada Goose fledgling that we spotted “doing yoga”, standing on one leg, on the lawn area.  It wasn’t until it moved that we realized it was missing a foot.  Everything below the knee was gone on one leg, so when the bird walked it had a very bad very distinct limp.  I presumed that it may have gotten its leg tangled in fishing line which eventually amputated the bottom part of the leg, but there’s no way to be sure.  It must have had that injury happen very early, when it was still a gosling, because the stumpy leg seemed totally healed, and the bird had seemingly adapted well to its “defect”.

Crippled Canada Goose fledgling

We were surprised to see a hawk flying around where we were looking at galls.  It was being harassed by small birds, and took sanctuary among the leaves of the trees, but always kept itself just out of sight, so we never got a really clear view of it.  By the mottling on the chest, I assumed it was a young bird, maybe a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk or Merlin, but the head just didn’t look right. I loaded the sighting into iNaturalist, and it came up as possibly a Sharp-Shined Hawk, but I’m not sure.  Let’s see if anyone can give me a better ID.

Cooper’s or Sharp-Shinned?

We saw quite a few galls on the oak trees (and willow trees), but most of them are still in their early development stages so they’re not very large yet.  In another two weeks or so, they should be out and looking quite beautiful.  I think we saw about 20 different species, which was great. 

Among them, we saw some unusually huge examples of the round, spiny first generation Live Oak Gall Wasp galls. I was happy to see them because I hadn’t seen ANY yet this year and was worried they weren’t going to make it out. These first generation galls contain a dozen or more parthenogenetic female larvae that reproduce asexually.  (The second generation has it’s own special gall and contains both male and female larvae that reproduce sexually.)

Live Oak Gall Wasp, 1st Generation, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis. This specimen was huge and could have contained 20 or more larvae.

On the Live Oak trees there seemed to be a LOT of acorns this year.  We also found one example of “drippy nut”, an acorn that was oozing clear sticky discharged caused by a bacteria called Brenneria quercina.  It gets into the acorn when the acorn is pieced by the ovipositor of a wasp or otherwise breached (by some other bug or a bird pecking into it).  The exudation is super-sticky. I got a little of it on my thumb and it took almost an hour to work it off of my skin.

Drippy Nut, Brenneria quercina, AKA Lonsdalea quercina [a bacterium that infects wounds in oak tissue/acorns]

As we were leaving, we spotted some juvenile California Ground Squirrels.  Some were playing, and one was digging in the dirt. As we watched the one that was digging, we saw it lift a large flat rock with its mouth and moved it out of the way so it could get at whatever underneath it.  I got a video snippet of that one.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

Species List:

  1. Assassin Bug, Zelus sp. [eggs]
  2. Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon [in flight, heard]
  3. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  4. Blue Dasher Dragonfly, Pachydiplax longipennis
  5. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  6. Broadleaf Cattail, Bullrush, Typha latifolia
  7. California Black Oak, Quercus kelloggii
  8. California Bulrush, Schoenoplectus californicus
  9. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  10. California Quail, Callipepla californica [glimpsed, heard]
  11. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  12. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  13. Cicada, Typical Cicadas, Subfamily: Tibicininae
  14. Common Sunburst Lichen, Golden Shield Lichen, Xanthoria parietina [yellow-orange,on wood/trees]
  15. Convoluted Gall Wasp, Andricus confertus
  16. Cork Oak, Quercus suber
  17. Cottonwood Leaf Gall Aphid, Pemphigus populivenae
  18. Cottonwood Petiole Gall, Poplar Petiole Gall Aphid, Pemphigus populitransversus
  19. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  20. Coyote Brush Bud Gall midge, Rhopalomyia californica
  21. Coyote Brush Stem Gall moth, Gnorimoschema baccharisella
  22. Desert Cottontail Rabbit, Sylvilagus audubonii
  23. Disc Gall Wasp, Andricus parmula
  24. Drippy Nut, Brenneria quercina, Lonsdalea quercina [a bacterium that infects wounds in oak tissue/acorns]
  25. Eurasian Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto
  26. Familiar Bluet Damselfly, Enallagma civile
  27. Flame Skimmer Dragonfly, Libellula saturate
  28. Floating Water Primrose, Ludwigia peploides ssp. peploides
  29. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  30. Fuzzy Gall Wasp galls, Disholcaspis washingtonensi [round faintly fuzzy galls on stems]
  31. Gold Dust Lichen, Chrysothrix candelaris
  32. Goldenrod Crab Spider, Misumena vatia
  33. Goodding’s Willow, Salix gooddingii
  34. Great-Tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus
  35. Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata
  36. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  37. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  38. Jumping Oak Gall Wasp, Neuroterus saltatorius
  39. Live Oak Bud Gall Wasp, Callirhytis quercusagrifoliae
  40. Live Oak Erineum Mite gall, Aceria mackiei [kind of looks like rust on the backside of the leaf]
  41. Live Oak Gall Wasp, 1st Generation, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis
  42. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  43. Mute Swan, Cygnus olor
  44. Narrowleaf Willow, Salix exigua
  45. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
  46. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii [heard]
  47. Oak Apple Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  48. Oak Leaf Blister Fungus, Taphrina caerulescens
  49. Pale Jumping Spider, Colonus hesperus
  50. Paper Wasp, European Paper Wasp, Polistes dominula [black & yellow]
  51. Pennyroyal, Mentha pulegium
  52. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  53. Red Cone Gall Wasp, Andricus kingi
  54. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus [heard]
  55. Red-Shouldered Stink Bug, Thyanta custator [eggs]
  56. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  57. Ruptured Twig Gall Wasp, Callirhytis perdens
  58. Sharp-Shinned Hawk, Accipiter striatus
  59. Soft Rush, Juncus effusus
  60. Spiny Turban Gall Wasp, Antron douglasii
  61. Squarestem Spikerush, Eleocharis quadrangulata
  62. Swamp Smartweed, Persicara hydropiperoides
  63. Tall Flatsedge, Cyperus eragrostis
  64. Tarweed, Fitch’s Tarweed, Centromadia fitchii
  65. Trashline Orb Weaver Spider, Conical Trashline Spider, Cyclosa conica
  66. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  67. Turkey Tangle Fogfruit, Phyla nodiflora
  68. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  69. Western Pondhawk Dragonfly, Erythemis collocata [males are blue; females are green]
  70. White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus [flying, on the way to the park]
  71. Willow Bead Gall Mite, Aculus tetanothrix
  72. Willow Pinecone Gall midge, Rabdophaga strobiloides
  73. Yellow Wig Gall Wasp, Andricus fullawayi
  74. ?? larvae amid possible flux on coyote brush bush
  75. ?? piled leaves gall on Valley Oak [asked Joyce Gross if she could identify it.]

Lots of Willow Galls and Cygnets, 07-21-20

I got up around 5:00 this morning so the dog and I could do our potty stuff…and then I stayed up, getting ready to go over to Mather Lake Regional Park for a walk with my friend and fellow naturalist Roxanne.  The weather was lovely today. It was about 59° when we got to the lake and then creeped up to about 88° by the late afternoon.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

When we got to the park, the first thing we noticed was that the Mute Swans seemed to be gathered in a corner near the walking trail on the far side of the lake. The cygnets are just about as large as their parents now, but they’re still making their baby peeping sounds, and they don’t have their full facial coloring yet.  We were sad to see one of the swans floating dead among the rushes. 

We met a fisherman later on during our walk, who said that he had seen another younger swan who looked dead on the shore, and when he went over to it, he found that was severely tangled in fishing line. Line remnants are a BIG problem on the banks.  Even today, while we were walking, my feet got tangled in the crap on two different occasions. Some of the lazier fishermen just don’t clean up after themselves and leave discarded line everywhere.  It’s such a hazard.

Anyway, one of the adult swans was chasing and nipping and trying to herd the younger swans into a corner, even as their parent tried to put its body between them and the aggressor.  The aggressor bird “busked” and chased after the parent and eventually drove it halfway across the pond before giving up its assault. While that was going on, the younger swans were peeping loudly at one another, trying to get to their mom who was being chased off, and obviously very distressed by the attack. 

The busking aggressor chases after one of the cygnets

Additionally, one of the other adult swans, who apparently wasn’t related to the youngsters, just didn’t want to get involved and stepped up onto the bank next to me.  You don’t realize how huge those birds are until they come up next to you.  They can get up to 5 ½ feet long and weigh around 30 pounds.

Mute Swan, Cygnus olor. Trying to get away from the aggressive bird, this one walked up onto the shore and stood next to me.

This one was quiet and polite, just a sort of “go with the flow” kind of bird, but further along the trail, we came across another parent and its youngsters, and it was very protective of them. It raised its head and hissed at me a couple of times to get me to back off.

My impression of the aggressive bird what that it was “being a jerk”, a bully. But then it occurred to me that the dead swan was in the same area where the aggressor was putting on its display, so I wonder if was trying to “protect” the dead bird or at least the area where the dead bird was located.

We also saw two color morphs among the juveniles, and I’d never seen/noticed that before. According to Cornell: “…Cygnets hatch as gray or white. Gray [Royal] cygnets become brownish as juveniles and begin molting to white by first winter. White [Polish] cygnets remain white as juveniles and adults. Gray juveniles usually retain some gray feathers  , especially on rump, until following molt. Legs and feet of cygnets and juveniles are either slate gray (gray morph) or pinkish tan (white morph). Bill color of juveniles  also varies between morphs: gray morph, slate; white morph, tan. Bills of both morphs become pinkish as they mature during winter. Basal knob is absent in cygnets and relatively small in juveniles. Lores of newly hatched cygnets are feathered, but during first winter, a juvenile’s lores become naked…”

As an additional aside, Cornell also says: “…Two views exist as to whether or not being a white morph (see Distinguishing Characteristics above) is advantageous. Several experiments using models determined that whiteness elicits aggressive response in adult Mute Swans and is therefore disadvantageous. These findings are consistent with the large amount of anecdotal evidence that suggests that white cygnets are at a disadvantage because they are perceived as threats to their parents’ territory. Another view is that being a white cygnet is advantageous because female cygnets that enter their first winter already in white plumage will be able to pair with older males and eventually gain breeding experience over their gray counterparts, therefore gaining reproductive advantage over gray morphs…”

The juveniles we saw being crowded and nipped at by the busking adult were all white ones… All of the gray morph youngsters we saw were in the water and pretty far away, so I wasn’t able to check them out too closely.  The gray ones looked to be the same age as the white ones, so I’m assuming they all hatched around the same time.

And another feature: the knob, that protuberance at the base of the top bill where it connects to the head.  According to Cornell: “…Males generally have larger knob than females. During breeding season (Jan–Jun), knob of adult males is enlarged, and breeding males have larger knob than nonbreeding males.”  Some of the guys we saw were pretty “knobby”.

This image show the knob at the base of the swan’s beak.

Among the birds, besides the swans, we saw Great-Tailed Grackles, Pied-Billed Grebes, tiny fast-moving Bushtits, Double-Crested Cormorants, Brewer’s Blackbirds, Canada Geese and a few others. The coolest sighting of the day, even though I wasn’t able to get any photos of it, was to see a White-Tailed Kite chasing and buzz-bombing a Red-Tailed Hawk that got too close to its territory. The birds moved pretty fast, and my camera doesn’t know what to focus on when I point it at the sky, so… no photos. Waaah!

We did get to see a Green Heron standing on a thin floating log in the water, and got to see it catch a tiny silvery fish.  Some of the swans swam right by the heron and either didn’t see it or weren’t interested in it.  When we first saw it, the heron was back-lit and just looked like a stick poking out of the water, but some close-up photos showed it was actually a bird.  We had to walk down the trail a bit to get the heron in better lighting so we could get a few better photos of it.

Green Heron, Butorides virescens

There weren’t anywhere near as many dragonflies as I thought there might be given all the water and the time of year, but we still have about month or so to go in the season.

I didn’t find a single example of dragonfly or damselfly exuvia along the water’s edge either, which was also an indicator of how disappointing spotting dragonflies was going to be.  Oddly enough, Roxanne did find the exuvia of some kind of cicada among the leaves of a coyote brush bush. 

Cicada exuvia

We also saw some stem galls on the coyote brush and four different kinds of galls on the willow trees along the water’s edge: pinecone galls, rosette galls and a couple of different blister galls.  Those are always cool to see.  On the side of the lake we were on there weren’t many oak trees, beyond the cork oaks, so we didn’t come across any oak wasp galls.  The next time I go out, I want to check out the opposite bank and see what, if anything, is on the trees there.  Among the cone galls, I was surprised to see some of them in clusters of six, eight and nine. I don’t remember seeing bunches that large before.

I was able to spot at least three different species of bee while I was out there, most of them feeding on the thistle flowers, and a couple of different kinds of wasps. 

The really nice treat was being able to see two very large Western Tiger Swallowtail butterflies feeding on the thistle nectar.  Roxanne had stopped to point out a dragonfly on the ground, and I alerted her to the “giant butterflies”. Hah!  Luckily, the dragonfly, a green female Pondhawk was still sitting on the ground when I stepped away from the butterflies to look for her.

Western Tiger Swallowtail, Papilio rutulus

We walked for about 3 ½ hours and then called it quits for the day.

Species List:

  1. American Bugleweed, Water Horehound, Lycopus americanus
  2. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  3. Barn Swallow,  Hirundo rustica
  4. Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon [in flight, heard]
  5. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  6. Black-Crowned Night Heron, Nycticorax nycticorax [in flight]
  7. Blue Dasher Dragonfly, Pachydiplax longipennis
  8. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  9. Broadleaf Cattail, Bullrush, Typha latifolia
  10. Bull Thistle, Cirsium vulgare
  11. Bushtit, American Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus
  12. California Bulrush, Schoenoplectus californicus
  13. California Quail, Callipepla californica [glimpsed, heard]
  14. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  15. California Wild Rose, Rosa californica
  16. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  17. Cicada, Typical Cicadas, Subfamily: Tibicininae
  18. Common Gallinule, Gallinula galeata
  19. Common Sunburst Lichen, Golden Shield Lichen, Xanthoria parietina [yellow-orange,on wood/trees]
  20. Common Vetch, Vicia sativa
  21. Cork Oak, Quercus suber
  22. Cottonwood Leaf Gall Aphid, Pemphigus populivenae
  23. Cottonwood Petiole Gall, Poplar Petiole Gall Aphid, Pemphigus populitransversus
  24. Coyote Brush Stem Gall moth, Gnorimoschema baccharisella
  25. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  26. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
  27. Eurasian Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto
  28. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  29. Familiar Bluet Damselfly, Enallagma civile
  30. Floating Water Primrose, Ludwigia peploides ssp. peploides
  31. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  32. Goodding’s Willow, Salix gooddingii
  33. Great Black Wasp, Sphex pensylvanicus [saw it flying low to the ground]
  34. Great-Tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus
  35. Green Heron, Butorides virescens
  36. Harvester Ant, Pogonomyrmex sp. [black]
  37. Himalayan Blackberry, Rubus  bifrons [white flowers]
  38. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  39. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  40. Muskrat, Ondatra zibethicus [got a glimpse of one]
  41. Mute Swan, Cygnus olor
  42. Narrowleaf Willow, Salix exigua
  43. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
  44. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  45. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii
  46. Pacific Forktail Damselfly, Ischnura cervula [males blue, 4 dots on thorax]
  47. Paper Wasp, European Paper Wasp, Polistes dominula [black & yellow]
  48. Pennyroyal, Mentha pulegium
  49. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  50. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
  51. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  52. Soft Rush, Juncus effusus
  53. Spanish Clover, Acmispon americanus
  54. Squarestem Spikerush, Eleocharis quadrangulata
  55. Swamp Smartweed, Persicara hydropiperoides
  56. Tall Flatsedge, Cyperus eragrostis
  57. Tarweed, Fitch’s Tarweed, Centromadia fitchii
  58. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  59. Tripartite Sweat Bee, Halictus tripartitus [tiny, striped abdomen]
  60. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  61. Urbane Digger Bee, Anthophora urbana  [looks like a pale blond and white bumblebee]
  62. Waterweed, Common Waterweed, Elodea canadensis
  63. Western Kingbird, Tyrant Flycatcher, Tyrannus verticalis
  64. Western Pondhawk Dragonfly, Erythemis collocata [males are blue; females are green]
  65. Western Tiger Swallowtail, Papilio rutulus
  66. White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus
  67. Willow Apple Gall Sawfly, Pontania californica
  68. Willow Bead Gall Mite, Aculus tetanothrix
  69. Willow Pinecone Gall midge, Rabdophaga strobiloides
  70. Willow Rose Gall Midge, Rabdophaga rosaria
  71. Yellow-faced Bumblebee, Bombus vosnesenskii
  72. ?? Tiny pale jumping spider
  73. ?? Small unidentified grasshopper