Category Archives: Surprises

Dr. Seuss-Like Seed Heads at Folsom Lake!, 05-31-23

I was up around 6:00 AM so I could feed and potty my dog, Esteban, and then get myself ready to head out to Rocklin and Johnson-Springview Park with my friend and fellow naturalist, Roxanne. We were looking for springtime galls.

There aren’t a whole lot of spring galls (most of the galls appear in the summer months), so the pickings were kind of slim. We did find a few, however, including a few Hair Stalk Galls, a Fimbriate Gall, the bisexual spring generation gall of the Stripe Volcano Wasp, and Oak Apples in the BLUE oak trees. Yes, in blue oaks; you usually only see them on Valley Oak trees. But the Blue Oaks and the Valley Oaks are both in the white oak lineage, so there can be crossover between those trees. Here’s how those lineages look on the oaks native to California:

The Blue and Valley Oaks in this park also grow very close to one another, and some, I’m sure have been hybridized.

We saw a few, but not very many, insects, and I’m going to raise the alarm again about the fact that we’re losing insect species every year; even I can see that.

“…The world has lost 5% to 10% of all insect species in the last 150 years — or between 250,000 and 500,000 species, according to a February 2020 study in the journal Biological Conservation. Those losses are continuing, though estimates vary due to patchy data as well as uncertainty over how many insects exist…One April 2020 analysis in the journal Science suggested the planet is losing about 9% of its land-dwelling insect population each decade. Another January 2021 paper tried to paint a clearer picture by synthesizing more than 80 insect studies and found that insect abundance is declining around 1% to2% per year. For comparison, the human population is growing at slightly less than 1% per year…The demise of insects can’t be attributed to any single cause. Populations are facing simultaneous threats, from habitat loss and industrial farming to climate change. Nitrogen overloading from sewage and fertilizers has turned wetlands into dead zones; artificial light is flooding out nighttime skies; and the growth of urban areas has led to concrete sprawl…” –The Collapse of Insects

Among the insects we did see were aphids, Mirid bugs, a lacewing larva (commonly called an “aphid lion”), and ladybeetles. We found one lady beetle that had just emerged from its pupal case and was sitting on top of it while it “colored up”. Closer inspection of the pupal cases showed two silk threads anchoring the cases to their leaves. I had never seen that before. I wonder if it’s truly unusual or maybe species-specific.

At the park we also saw a few bird species including House Sparrows, Robins, Yellow-Billed Magpies, Scrub Jays, Lesser Gold Finches and House Finches, a few Killdeer, and Acorn Woodpeckers. One of the magpies was harassing a Fox Squirrel that was in IT’S tree. So much noise! The Goldfinches were eat seeds among a stand of thistles and oat grass.

There were stands of Harvest Brodiaea among the tall grasses on the ground. That was a little bit of a surprise as neither Roxanne nor I could remember seeing them in the park before. There was also more color in the small citizens’ garden there: snapdragons, sunflowers, sweet peas, marigolds, garlic and artichoke thistles.

On our way out of the park we got to see a California Ground Squirrel among the rocks. There was another ground squirrel giving off a loud and piercing alarm call. Here’s a 2019 video I took of a ground squirrel giving off that call.

After we were done in the park — having seen just about all we were going to see there today — we made a plan to go to brunch and then head off toward Folsom to see what we could see there. We decided to go to the Granite Rock Grill, one of our favorite haunts, for brunch. Their servings are always large, and the food is flavorful. What’s not to like?

Then we headed over to the Folsom Lake State Recreational Area and drove a few miles around the perimeter of the lake. The lake is actually a man-made reservoir, and is currently at about 85% capacity thanks to the intense winter rains and the current snow-melt.

I had actually never been to the lake myself, so it was all new to me. I was surprised by how many wildflowers were still in bloom around it. There were huge swaths of bright pink Elegant Clarkia, and Tiling’s and Bush Monkeyflowers, in some areas as far as the eye could see, That was true of the blooming Buckeye trees, too. They were all over the place.

We also found young Wild Carrots, Mule’s Ears, Spider Lupine, some Willowherbs, Rabbitfoot Clover, flowering Coffeeberry, Madia, and Harvest Brodiaea, and others.

Among some of the Harvest Brodiaea, we found several of them with galls in their stems. We’d seen old, dried out versions of these at Sailor Bar on the American River and thought they were associated with Ithuriel’s Spears. It didn’t occur to me that they were in the Harvest Brodiaea. The galls are caused by midges.

Another sweet find was seeing a collection of pink Twining Snakelilies along the side of the road winding their way through grasses and over fallen trees. And around the same area, the Pipestem Clematis was going into its seed form with Dr. Seuss-like heads on long tendrils. The clematis “… can climb to 20 feet and can take light shade or full sun…”

Beyond a single Great Egret, some Turkey Vultures, and some Canada Geese we really didn’t see much in the way of bird life. As far as I could tell from the views of the lake I got, the lake was pretty much devoid of water fowl.

Altogether, we saw a lot more than I thought we might! This was hike #31 of my #52hikechallenge for the year.

Species List:

  1. American Robin, Turdus migratorius
  2. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  3. American Wild Carrot, Daucus pusillus
  4. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna [fly by]
  5. Aphid Lion, Carnea-Group Green Lacewings, Chrysoperla carnea
  6. Aphids, Family: Aphididae
  7. California Buckeye Chestnut Tree, Aesculus californica
  8. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  9. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  10. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  11. Chaparral Honeysuckle, Lonicera interrupta
  12. Clover, Rabbitfoot Clover, Trifolium arvense
  13. Clover, Rose Clover, Trifolium hirtum
  14. Coffeeberry, Frangula californica
  15. Common Madia, Madia elegans
  16. Common Saint John’s Wort, Hypericum perforatum
  17. Cudweed, California Cudweed, Pseudognaphalium californicum
  18. Deerweed, Acmispon glaber
  19. Denseflower Willowherb, Epilobium densiflorum [fuzzy all over]
  20. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger [rusty belly]
  21. Elegant Clarkia, Clarkia unguiculata
  22. Fimbriate Gall Wasp, Andricus opertus [on Valley or Blue Oak leaf]
  23. Foxglove, Purple Foxglove, Digitalis purpurea
  24. Garlic, Allium sativum
  25. Gladioli, Gladiolus sp.
  26. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  27. Hair Stalk Gall Wasp, Andricus pedicellatus [thread gall on blue oak]
  28. Harvest Brodiaea, Brodiaea elegans
  29. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  30. Ithuriel’s Spears, Triteleia laxa
  31. Jointed Charlock, Raphanus raphanistrum
  32. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  33. Korean Mulberry, Morus indica [leaves aren’t lobed]
  34. Lady Beetle, Convergent Lady Beetle, Hippodamia convergens
  35. Leaf-Hopper, Zyginama sp. [pale with yellow markings]
  36. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  37. Lily Stem Gall Midge, Lasioptera sp. [on Itherial’s Spears and Harvest Brodiaea in the stem under the flowering head]
  38. Live Oak Apple Gall Wasp, asexual summer generation, Amphibolips quercuspomiformis [spiky ball]
  39. Live Oak Erineum Mite, Aceria mackiei
  40. Love-in-a-Mclemist. Nigella damascena
  41. Lupine, Spider Lupine, Lupinus benthamii
  42. Mirid Bug, Plant Bug, Dichrooscytus sp.
  43. Mistletoe, Broadleaf Mistletoe, Phoradendron macrophyllum
  44. Monkeyflower, Orange Bush Monkeyflower, Diplacus aurantiacus
  45. Monkeyflower, Tiling’s Monkeyflower, Erythranthe tilingii [yellow]
  46. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  47. Mule’s Ears, Narrowleaf Mule-Ears, Wyethia angustifolia [orange]
  48. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii [heard]
  49. Oak Apple, California Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus [several on BLUE oaks]
  50. Oak Leaf Blister Fungus, Taphrina caerulescens
  51. Oak, Blue Oak, Quercus douglasii
  52. Oak, Coast Live Oak, Quercus agrifolia
  53. Oak, Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  54. Oak, Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  55. Ookow, Round-Tooth Ookow, Dichelostemma multiflorum
  56. Pea, Sweet Pea, Lathyrus odoratus
  57. Pipestem Clematis, Old Man’s Beard, Clematis lasiantha
  58. Pot Marigold, Calendula officinalis
  59. Red-Tailed Hawk, Western Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis calurus [fly over]
  60. Snapdragon, Antirrhinum majus
  61. Sparrow, House Sparrow, Passer domesticus
  62. Striped Volcano Gall Wasp, Andricus atrimentus, bisexual spring generation [looks like a papery ball with a black interior]
  63. Sunflower, Common Sunflower, Helianthus annuus
  64. Thistle, Artichoke Thistle, Cynara cardunculus
  65. Thistle, Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum
  66. Towhee, Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus [heard]
  67. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  68. Twining Snakelily, Dichelostemma volubile
  69. Western Bluebird, Sialia mexicana [fly by]
  70. Wild Oat, Avena fatua
  71. Willow Bead Gall Mite, Aculus tetanothrix
  72. Willow, Salix sp.
  73. Yarrow, Common Yarrow, Achillea millefolium
  74. Yellow Salsify, Tragopogon dubius
  75. Yellow-Billed Magpie, Pica nuttalli

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Low to No Water at the SNWR, 05-26-23

I got up around 5:30 this morning, so I could get the dog and myself ready to make the long drive to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge (SNWR). It takes about 2 hours to get there from the house. We stopped to top off the gas tank and get some coffee, and were on the road in earnest by 6:00 AM.

With the place nearly devoid of any standing water, it was more like a late-spring grassland than a wetland area.

There was a little water near the turnouts on the auto route, but not a lot. And I didn’t see any waterfowl in those areas.

Even the large “permanent wetland” pool was just barely full of water. It looked like it was maybe only a few inches deep, and when the coots and grebes swam through it, their knobby knees came up over the surface of the water.

This pond had recently been reformed, and along a large swath of the bank all of the vegetation had been completely removed. I didn’t understand that. The place is supposed to be a “refuge” for wildlife, but removing the vegetation meant the little Marsh Wrens wouldn’t be able to build their nests there, dragonflies and damselflies wouldn’t be able to emerge there, and the summer spiders wouldn’t have anywhere to build their webs.

The lack of vegetation does mean you have a much better view of the water. But with the lack of waterfowl at the moment and the shallow depths of the pool, there wasn’t much to see anyway. I also noticed that some of the “islands” that had stood in the pond previously, were now gone. That was upsetting because traditionally, cormorants and White Pelicans used to rest on those islands.

I DID get to see some of the usual suspects like the Coots, Canada Geese, the last of the migrating Snow Geese, Killdeer, Lesser Goldfinches, Meadowlarks and Mallards. In some places along the auto tour route, the Killdeer ran in front of the car, sometimes laying down in their “broken wing” displays — which meant they had nests on the ground around there. I drove really slowly, worrying all the while that I was inadvertently crushing the nests and their eggs hidden in the gravel. Yikes!

In the water of the permanent pool were a few Clark’s and Western grebes floating about, but none of them seemed to be paired up yet. There were also a few Pied-Billed grebes. One of them was hoot-calling to its mate; such a cool sound. I also got a little footage of a Black-Necked Stilt complaining about something. They’re so loud!

There was also a pod of Ruddy Ducks, males and females, and most of the males were in their breeding plumage, bright blue bills and everything.

I saw a couple of the males doing their courtship displays, which are really kind of hilarious. The males swim in front of the females with their tails and eyebrows raise high, then they thrum against their chests with their bills, making bubbles appear in front of them. Hah!

“…They punctuate the end of the display with a belch-like call,,, Everything about this bird is interesting to the naturalist, but almost nothing about it is interesting to the sportsman…” –– Cornell

I got a tiny bit of video of the behavior, but the birds were pretty far away, and sometimes had their back to me.

I had better luck getting some video and photos of the male Marsh Wrens, including one that was standing next to one of the nests it had built.

Along another part of the pond, there was nothing but Bird’s-Foot Trefoil on the bank. And in other areas there was Poison Hemlock, Blessed Milk Thistle, and teasel in various levels of blossoming. I also saw some Brass Buttons, Downingia, Spikeweed, Cocklebur, Smartweeds, and Dock. The Yellow Star-Thistle was just starting to emerge.

One of the things that surprised me was seeing a few different forms of witches broom on the mustard plants. The wild growth is caused by a kind of phytoplasma.

…Phytoplasmas are obligate intracellular parasites of plant phloem tissue and of the insect vectors that are involved in their plant-to-plant transmission. Phytoplasmas were discovered in 1967 by Japanese scientists who termed them mycoplasma-like organisms…” — Wikipedia

“…Dr. Saskia Hogenhout, a scientist at the John Innes Centre in England, and her colleagues reveal that some of these creepy alterations are driven by the work of a single protein from the parasite called SAP05, which stands in the way of the plant’s maturation…In the new paper, they explain how SAP05 seems to drive some of the more surprising effects, like the life-span extension. ‘It looks like it stays in a juvenile phase,’ [she] said…” — The Indian Express

I didn’t see any evidence of the large orb-weaver spiders that usually inhabit the pond area in the summer, and I only found a few damselflies and dragonflies. Among the dragons, I only found male and female Variegated Meadowhawks. It’s still early in the season, though. A kind of Deer Fly with “crazy eyes” came into the car for a short period of time. I also saw some Sulphur and Cabbage White butterflies flitting around, but I was only able to get photos of a cooperative West Coast Lady butterfly.

As I left the pond area and headed toward the viewing platforms, I saw some Cliff Swallows darting back and forth, into and through a drainage block. [I assume they were building nests in there, and/or feeding nestlings.] Some of the fledglings sat among the tules, waiting for their parents to feed them.

Other critters I saw today were quite a few jackrabbits, a pond turtle, some Western Fence Lizards, and a California Ground Squirrel grooming itself.

Because I was in my vehicle for the majority of this trip, I didn’t count it toward my #52hikechallenge for the year.

Species List:

  1. American Coot, Fulica americana
  2. American Pipit, Anthus rubescens
  3. Ash Tree, California Ash, Fraxinus dipetala
  4. Bees, European Honeybee, Western Honeybee, Apis mellifera
  5. Bindweed, Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis
  6. Bird’s-Foot Trefoil, Lotus corniculatus
  7. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  8. Blackberry, Armenian Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus [red canes, white flowers]
  9. Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
  10. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus
  11. Brass Buttons, Cotula coronopifolia
  12. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  13. Bufflehead Duck, Bucephala albeola
  14. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  15. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  16. Cinnamon Teal, Spatula cyanoptera
  17. Common Spikeweed, Centromadia pungens
  18. Dock, Curly Dock, Rumex crispus
  19. Dock, Fiddle Dock, Rumex pulcher
  20. Downingia, Flatface Calicoflower, Downingia pulchella
  21. Dragonfly, Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum
  22. Eucalyptus, Tasmanian Blue Gum, Eucalyptus globulus
  23. Flax-Leaved Horseweed, Erigeron bonariensis
  24. Flies, Deer Fly, Chrysops sp. [many have wild-looking eyes]
  25. Flies, Face Fly, Musca autumnalis
  26. Grasses, Foxtail Barley, Hordeum murinum
  27. Grasses, Harding Grass, Phalaris aquatica [a kind of canary grass]
  28. Grasses, Rabbitfoot Grass, Polypogon monspeliensis
  29. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  30. Grebe, Clark’s Grebe, Aechmophorus clarkii [black above the eye]
  31. Grebe, Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  32. Grebe, Western Grebe, Aechmophorus occidentalis [black through/below the eye]
  33. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  34. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  35. Kingbird, Western Kingbird, Tyrannus verticalis
  36. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  37. Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  38. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  39. Pacific Pond Turtle, Western Pond Turtle, Actinemys marorata
  40. Pineappleweed, Matricaria discoidea
  41. Phytoplasmas, Phytoplasma sp. [creates witch’s broom]
  42. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum
  43. Red-Tailed Hawk, Western Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis calurus
  44. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  45. Rough Cocklebur, Xanthium strumarium
  46. Ruddy Duck, Oxyura jamaicensis
  47. Rushes, Sea Clubrush, Bolboschoenus maritimus
  48. Smartweed, Pale Smartweed, Persicaria lapathifolia
  49. Sneezeweed, Helenium sp.
  50. Snow Goose, Chen caerulescens
  51. Swallow, Cliff Swallow, Petrochelidon pyrrhonota
  52. Teasel, Fuller’s Teasel, Dipsacus sativus [flowers in bands]
  53. Teasel, Wild Teasel, Dipsacus fullonum [flowers overall]
  54. Thistle, Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum
  55. Thistle, Yellow Star-Thistle, Centaurea solstitialis
  56. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  57. West Coast Lady Butterfly, Vanessa annabella [blue spots]
  58. Western Fence Lizard, Blue Belly, Sceloporus occidentalis
  59. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
  60. White-Faced Ibis, Plegadis chihi
  61. Wren, Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris

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This and That at Effie Yeaw, 05-21-23

Around 6:45 AM today, I decided to go over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk. My “cancer-leg” was hurting, around a “5”, but I thought the walk might loosen up the muscles and stretch it out.

I was surprised that it was actually cloudy and chilly at the preserve. I wished I had brought my jacket with me. The place was pretty quiet as far as humans went; I saw just a handful of people on the trails and most of them were around my age — and that made for a quiet restful place to walk this morning. No screaming children.

There was a lot of birdsong in the air, but I was unable to get photos of most of the birds — like the Black Phoebes, wrens and quails. I did get a few photos, though, of the ubiquitous Acorn Woodpeckers, Spotted Towhees, a Western Bluebird, White-Breasted Nuthatches, and others.

It was really a “squirrel day”, though. I saw them everywhere. Mostly Eastern Fox Squirrels — including one very pregnant female. But I also came across Western Gray Squirrels and a few California Ground Squirrels. One of the Ground Squirrels was a pregnant female who seemed to be standing guard outside her large burrow. As I watched, another Ground Squirrel came up from the burrow and relieved her. [You can READ MORE about the Ground Squirrels in an article I wrote in 2017.]

The Ground Squirrels and Western Gray Squirrels are native to California, but in many areas the Western Grays have been driven out by the invasive Fox Squirrels.

“…Both eastern gray and eastern fox were brought from the other side of the United States in the early 1900s and have been increasing their range and population ever since, both on their own and from humans deliberately spreading them through the state, unaware of the consequent damage to environment, agriculture, and property that would cause. Meanwhile, the western gray has decreased in range and abundance…” Bay Nature

A very pregnant Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger [rusty belly]

Another reason why the Fox Squirrels outnumber the Gray Squirrels is because the Fox Squirrels breed twice a year, and the Gray Squirrels only breed once a year.

“…Fox Squirrels mate twice a year, from mid-December to early January and June. Gray Squirrels mate from December to February and May to June…” Welcome Wildlife.

As I was walking along — I took the Pond Trail –I noticed that the tree across from the 4B stanchion had been felled. That upset me because for several consecutive years the resident Red-Shouldered Hawks had used that tree to hold their back-up nesting site. The hawks cleaned and brought new material for a nest in that tree each year– even though they actually chose a different site to nest.

And worse than that loss was the fact that it looked like the “bee tree”, where wild honeybees had built and maintained a hive for several years, had been broken open, its different trunks split apart. I couldn’t see the entrance hole to the hive and didn’t see any bees there. A travesty. That made me so angry and sad. And it just seemed to really hit home for me that there is NOTHING in the preserve that hasn’t been disrupted or manipulated by humans tasked with “protecting” the space.

There are plots where they’re trying to grow more Showy Milkweed at the expense of natural plants and grasses. And there were outcroppings of Lupines and Fleabane that has escaped the confines of the gardens near the Nature Center and showed up near the river. I also saw what looked like dip-system lines and hoses in the “nature area”.