Category Archives: Volunteering

The Usual Suspects at Gristmill, 07-31-23

I got up around 5:30 this morning, fed and pottied my dog Esteban, and then went over to the Gristmill Recreation Area for a walk. I got out early in an attempt to beat today’s forecasted heat. I was hoping to see some butterflies and dragonflies but didn’t see a single one. *Sad face emoji*

Most of the flowering trees and plants were near or at the end of their bloom period, so offering few options for pollinators. I did see a lot of bees all along the trail flying low to the ground. This is usually the behavior of ground-dwelling bees looking for a new nesting spot.

According to an article posted on the 8 Billion Trees website, “Ground-Nesting Bees Identification Chart: 77 Kinds of Bees Live in the Ground”, the wild Western Honey Bee is a ground dweller, although they can develop hives in a variety of places. The bees I saw didn’t seem to be “coordinated”; they weren’t swarming. They seemed to be flying independent of one another, but also seemed to be everywhere I looked.

One of the first places I went was down the boat ramp to the rocky bank of the American River. I wanted to check out the cottonwood and willows along there. It’s really hard for me to walk on such uneven ground, so I had to move very slowly, and kept as close to the trees and shrubs along the bank. The water in the river has gone down quite a lot, exposing more of the bank, but not so much that I could walk down the bank as far as I wanted to.

American River. You can see how the water cuts off the bank here,

I saw the ubiquitous Canada Geese and Mallard, but among them, on the rocks and “islands” in the river, were lots of Spotted Sandpipers in their breeding spots. They were fun to see. I also saw some Bushtits, and heard birds like Scrub Jays, Nuttall’s Woodpeckers, Spotted Towhees, and Oak Titmice.

On the cottonwood trees along the bank, I saw both the Bead-Like aphid galls along the edges of the leaves, and the more hefty Cottonwood Petiole Galls. I don’t usually see galls, other than the Oak Apples, on the oak trees in this area, but today I found quite a few Spined Turban Galls. On the willow trees were both the Willow Rose Galls (found on the terminal end of branches) and the similar Willow Rosette Gall (found on the stems of the plant), and some Willow Apple galls.

I don’t know if the “convulsive” weather we’ve had this year has been messing with the gall formers (resulting in fewer galls seen overall so far), or if the gall formers themselves are dying out (like other insect species are around the globe). It will be interesting to see what the gall numbers are like by the end of the year.

Among the mammals, I saw Black-Tailed Jackrabbits, California Ground Squirrels, and some Eastern Fox Squirrels (one with a mouthful of nesting material that it carried up a tree). And the reptiles were represented by the Western Fence Lizard.

I was out for about 2 ½ hours. This was hike #41 of my #52hikechallenge for 2023.

Species List:

  1. Ash Flower Gall Mite, Aceria fraxiniflora
  2. Ash Leafcurl Aphid, Prociphilus fraxinifolii
  3. Ash Petiole Gall Midge, Dasineura tumidosae
  4. Bead-Like Cottonwood Gall Aphid, Thecabius populimonilis [leaf edges]
  5. Bees, European Honeybee, Western Honeybee, Apis mellifera
  6. Black Locust, Robinia pseudoacacia
  7. Black Walnut, Northern California Black Walnut, Juglans hindsii
  8. Blackberry, Armenian Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus [red canes, white flowers]
  9. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus
  10. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra cerulea
  11. California Black Walnut Pouch Gall Mite, Aceria brachytarsa
  12. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  13. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  14. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  15. Cottonwood Petiole Gall Aphid, Pemphigus obesinympha
  16. Coyote Tobacco, Nicotiana attenuata
  17. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger [rusty belly]
  18. Elm Tree, Field Elm, Ulmus minor
  19. Fennel, Sweet Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare
  20. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  21. Green Lacewing, Family: Chrysopidae
  22. Leaf-Miner Flies, Family: Agromyzidae
  23. Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  24. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  25. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii [heard]
  26. Oak Apple, California Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  27. Oak, Coast Live Oak, Quercus agrifolia
  28. Oak, Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  29. Oak, Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  30. Pumpkin Gall Wasp, Dryocosmus minusculus
  31. Roses, California Wild Rose, Rosa californica [pink]
  32. Spined Turban Gall Wasp, Cynips douglasii, unisexual, Summer generation [on leaf]
  33. Spotted Sandpiper, Actitis macularius
  34. Towhee, Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  35. Western Fence Lizard, Blue Belly, Sceloporus occidentalis
  36. Willow Apple Gall Sawfly, Euura californica
  37. Willow Rose Gall Midge, Rabdophaga rosaria [on the terminal end]
  38. Willow Rosette Gall Midge, Rabdophaga salicisbrassicoides [on the stem]
  39. Willow, Arroyo Willow, Salix lasiolepis
  40. Willow, Narrowleaf Willow, Sandbar Willow, Salix exigua

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A Short Walk at Sailor Bar, 07-18-23

I got up around 5:45 this morning, and got myself dressed, got the dog fed and pottied, and got myself out the door. I headed out to the Sailor Bar Community Park along the American River. The traffic was moving easily and I got a lot of green lights, so I was at the park by about 6:30 AM. It was already 67ºF outside and I knew it was going to warm up fast, so this was kind of an abbreviated excursion. I was only out for about 2 hours, and by then it was already 80ºF outside. Pleh!

I was hoping to see galls on the oak trees, but they weren’t really showing themselves yet. I saw only two single specimens of the Saucer Galls and one old specimen of a Hair Stalk Gall Wasp gall on a blue oak tree, but nothing on the Live Oaks or the Valley Oaks yet. It may be another month before we see anything else.

I did find quite few willow galls including the Willow Bead Galls, sawfly Apple Galls, Pinecone Galls, and some Rose Galls just starting to emerge. A sort of new-to-me gall was the gall of the Potato Gall Midge, Rabdophaga salicisbatatus. I don’t see this one very often, and when I first saw one, years ago, I couldn’t find a good species match for it. The “potato” ID must be relatively new to iNaturalist.

Along with the mosquitoes, I encountered a lot of Low-Jawed Orb-Weaver Spiders, including one that ran up onto some apple galls I was photographing as though she was claiming them as hers. There were no butterflies, but I did see some dragonflies hovering around a still pond in the river, and some Robber Flies on the ground.

As for the larger, more warm-blooded critters, I saw a few Cottontail Rabbits, California Quails, House Finches (feeding on the turkey mullein), Scrub Jays, some Crows, and a Green Heron resting in a tree near the river.

The tarweeds are starting to assert themselves, and the blackberry vines and blue elderberry trees are dripping with fruit. The California Mugwort is blooming as are the Buttonbush bushes, and fig trees. There was madia still in flower everywhere, and I found a couple of nice stands of Sacred Datura.

I feel a sense of urgency to photograph the plants and trees now before the summer heats really sets in and everything gets burned by the sun. But when it’s hot outside, I can only be out walking around in the very early morning hours when it’s still relatively cool (in the 60s).

As I mentioned, I was out for about 2 hours today. This was hike #39 of my #52hikechallenge for the year.

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. Bees, European Honeybee, Western Honeybee, Apis mellifera
  3. Blackberry, Armenian Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus [red canes, white flowers]
  4. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra cerulea
  5. Brazilian Vervain, Purpletop Vervain, Verbena brasiliensis
  6. Buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis
  7. California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana
  8. California Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta
  9. California Quail, Callipepla californica
  10. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  11. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  12. Common Madia, Madia elegans
  13. Crow, American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  14. Desert Cottontail Rabbit, Sylvilagus audubonii
  15. Dragonfly, Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum
  16. Fig, Common Fig, Ficus carica
  17. Fitch’s Tarweed, Centromadia fitchii
  18. Flies, Robber Fly, Efferia albibarbis
  19. Green Heron, Butorides virescens
  20. Hair Stalk Gall Wasp, Andricus pedicellatus [thread gall on blue oak]
  21. Heleomyzid Fly, Trixoscelis sp.
  22. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  23. Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  24. Mosquito, Super Family: Culicoidea
  25. Mullein, Doveweed, Turkey Mullein, Croton setiger
  26. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  27. Oak, Blue Oak, Quercus douglasii
  28. Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Western Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
  29. Potato Gall Midge, Rabdophaga salicisbatatus [on petiole, arroyo willow]
  30. Sacred Datura, Jimsonweed, Datura wrightii
  31. Saucer Gall Wasp, Andricus gigas
  32. Silver Long-Jawed Orbweaver, Tetragnatha laboriosa
  33. Stink Bugs, Family: Pentatomidae [eggs]
  34. Towhee, Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  35. Tree of Heaven, Ailanthus altissima
  36. Tripartite Sweat Bee, Halictus tripartitus
  37. Willow Apple Gall Sawfly, Euura californica
  38. Willow Bead Gall Mite, Aculus tetanothrix
  39. Willow Pinecone Gall Midge, Rabdophaga strobiloides
  40. Willow Rose Gall Midge, Rabdophaga rosaria [on the terminal end]
  41. Willow, Arroyo Willow, Salix lasiolepis
  42. Willow, Narrowleaf Willow, Sandbar Willow, Salix exigua

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Drum Powerhouse Road, 07-12-23

I got up around 5:00 AM, and got myself ready to go with my friend Roxanne to Drum Powerhouse Road. We’d been up there earlier in the year, during the City Nature Challenge, and wanted to see if there was anything different or new-to-us to see. After stopping for coffee, we were on our way.

As we turned onto Ice House Road, the first thing we encountered were some construction workers and their heavy machinery working on a massive wooden retaining wall. Rox pulled off to the side of the road opposite the construction, not to avoid the workmen, but to get some photos of a female Northern Flicker and young fledgling we believe she was helping to feed.

“… Unlike most other woodpeckers, the Northern Flicker feeds mostly on the ground where it laps up insects, primarily ants, with its long, barbed tongue. It also consumes fruits and seeds, especially during winter months… The Northern Flicker was a very efficient predator of larval tiger beetles in their subterranean burrows . Flickers have a remarkable protrusile tongue, derived by great elongation of the basihyal and part of the hyoid horns, that is characteristic of woodpeckers. Its sticky tongue darts out as much as 4 cm beyond the bill tip as it laps up adult and larval ants…” Birds of the World

As we went further along the road, we were seeing flowers we had never seen there before among the more common-to-us species, such as Sierra Milkwort, Rose Campion, Cardinal Catchfly, Scarlet Monkey Flower, California Fuchsia, and Wavyleaf Paintbrush.

Wavyleaf Paintbrush, Castilleja applegatei, and Bluehead Gilia, Gilia capitata

The Bleeding Hearts that had been so prolific in the spring, were now down to a few scraggly specimens. And the jewelflower plants that were just sprouting leaves in the spring, were now gone to see and burned dry by the summer heat. We missed their flowering period altogether. That was disappointing.

What made up for that, though, was the fact that we found several stands of the bright orange Humbolt Lilies (like Tiger Lilies). I’d caught a glimpse of some of them along the freeway before we got to Drum Powerhouse Road, so I was really hoping we’d see some more up close before the day was out. We also found some new-to-me Angelica, California Skullcaps, Deptford Pinks, and Wiry Snapdragons. All along the road, too, we saw lots of pale purple “feathery”-looking flowers that we discovered were California Hairbells.

Humboldt Lily, Lilium humboldtii humboldtii

More of the ferns seemed to be awake and established between the rocks and along the seeps. Specimens we saw included Hairy Brackenfern, Giant Chain Fern, Coastal Woodfern, Narrowleaf Swordfern, Lace Lip Fern, Brittle Bladderfern and Serpentine Fern, among others. A very nice showing.

There was also a great deal of Coyote Mint in bloom all along the road, and some spreads acted as beds for sleepy bees, as well as feeding posts for bees, butterflies, skippers and moths. We actually saw a variety of insects today including Yellow-Faced and Van Dyke’s Bumblebees, California Bumblebees, Western Tiger Butterflies, California Sister Butterflies, Woodland Skippers, and the small Callippe Fritillary Butterflies, which were new to me.

At first, it was as though the butterflies were deliberately avoiding having their picture taken, and I started taking it kind of personally. Eventually, though, I was able to get some shots including some of a new-to-me butterfly: the Clodius Parnassian, one of the Apollo swallowtail butterflies. They seemed to be everywhere, pale white and dusty grey with pale pink spots on the hind wings. Shapiro says, “…Larvae are crepuscular-nocturnal except on cloudy, cool days and mimic poisonous millipedes…” Yikes!

“…Males patrol habitat to find females; after mating they attach a pouch to female to prevent multiple matings. Females lay single eggs scattered on the host plant. Caterpillars feed at night at the base of host plant and pupate in a loose silk cocoon above ground. Overwintering is by the egg stage… Subspecies strohbeeni from California’s Santa Cruz Mountains is extinct…” Butterflies and Moths of North America

Other insects of note on our trip included a young grasshopper, some water striders and Water Scavenger Beetles, some wasps, and several handsome Ornate Checkered Beetles feeding in the Naked Buckwheat.

We were out for about 8 hours, and I really enjoyed it (in spite of being dissed by the butterflies for a while).

Because we were in the car for the majority of this trip, I’m not counting it toward my #52hikechallenge for the year.

Species List:

  1. Alumroot, Crevice Alumroot, Heuchera micrantha
  2. American Robin, Turdus migratorius
  3. Apollo Butterfly, Clodius Parnassian Butterfly, Parnassius clodius [lifer]
  4. Bay Laurel, California Bay, Umbellularia californica
  5. Bedstraw, Graceful Bedstraw, Galium porrigens [very smal]
  6. Bees, California Bumble Bee, Bombus californicus
  7. Bees, Van Dyke’s Bumble Bee, Bombus vandykei [lifer]
  8. Bitter Lettuce, Lactuca virosa
  9. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans [heard]
  10. Blackberry, Himalayan Blackberry, Rubus bifrons [red canes, pink flowers]
  11. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus
  12. Bluehead Gilia, Gilia capitata
  13. Broom, Spanish Broom, Spartium junceum [on freeway]
  14. Brown Fritillary, Fritillaria micrantha [seed pods]
  15. Buckbrush, Ceanothus cuneatus
  16. California Fuchsia, Epilobium canum
  17. California Harebell, Smithiastrum prenanthoides [thin, feathery purple flowers] [lifer]
  18. California Incense Cedar, Calocedrus decurrens
  19. California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana
  20. California Sister Butterfly, Adelpha californica
  21. California Skullcap, Scutellaria californica [lifer]
  22. California Tiger Lily, Leopard Lily, Lilium pardalinum [lifer]
  23. Callippe Fritillary Butterfly, Argynnis callippe [small, tortoiseshell] [lifer] The species is declining in the US portion of the range (and subspecies callippe is federally listed as Endangered in the United States) 
  24. Canadian Horseweed, Erigeron canadensis
  25. Catchfly, Cardinal Catchfly, Silene laciniata
  26. Chicory, Cichorium intybus
  27. Chinese Houses, Sticky Chinese Houses, Collinsia tinctoria [white]
  28. Coastal Brookfoam, Boykinia occidentalis [tiny white flowers]
  29. Columbine, Western Columbine, Aquilegia formosa
  30. Common Saint John’s Wort, Hypericum perforatum
  31. Common Selfheal, Prunella vulgaris
  32. Common Water Strider, Aquarius remigis
  33. Creeping Snowberry, Symphoricarpos mollis
  34. Crescent Map Lichen, Rhizocarpon lecanorinum
  35. Deerbrush Ceanothus, Ceanothus integerrimus
  36. Dendroalsia Moss, Dendroalsia abietina
  37. Deptford Pink, Dianthus armeria [lifer]
  38. Douglas Fir, Pseudotsuga menziesii
  39. Dudleya, Canyon Liveforever, Dudleya cymosa
  40. Emery Rocktripe Lichen, Umbilicaria phaea
  41. Fern, Brittle Bladderfern, Cystopteris fragilis
  42. Fern, Cliff Sword Fern, Polystichum imbricans imbricans
  43. Fern, Coastal Woodfern, Dryopteris arguta
  44. Fern, Giant Chain Fern, Woodwardia fimbriata
  45. Fern, Hairy Brackenfern, Pteridium aquilinum pubescens [lifer]
  46. Fern, Lace Lip Fern, Myriopteris gracillima
  47. Fern, Serpentine Fern, Aspidotis densa
  48. Flies, Picture-Winged Fly, Pseudotephritis vau [lifer]
  49. Grasses, Bristly Dogtail Grass, Cynosurus echinatus
  50. Humboldt Lily, Lilium humboldtii humboldtii [lifer]
  51. Irregular Spindle Gall Wasp, Andricus chrysolepidicola [on Canyon Live Oak]
  52. Manzanita, Whiteleaf Manzanita, Arctostaphylos viscida
  53. Monkeyflower, Scarlet Monkeyflower, Erythranthe cardinalis [red lips] [lifer]
  54. Monkeyflower, Seep Monkeyflower, Erythranthe guttata [yellow]
  55. Naked Buckwheat, Eriogonum nudum
  56. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
  57. Oak, California Black Oak, Quercus kelloggii
  58. Oak, Canyon Live Oak, Quercus chrysolepis
  59. Oak, Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  60. Ornate Checkered Beetle, Trichodes ornatus
  61. Pacific Bleeding Heart, Dicentra formosa
  62. Paintbrush, Wavyleaf Paintbrush, Castilleja applegatei
  63. Pea, Broad-Leaved Sweet Pea, Lathyrus latifolius [large]
  64. Phacelia, Mountain Phacelia, Phacelia imbricata [white]
  65. Pine, Ponderosa Pine, Pinus ponderosa
  66. Pine, Sugar Pine, Pinus lambertiana
  67. Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Western Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
  68. Predaceous Diving Beetles, Family: Dytiscidae
  69. Purple Foxglove, Digitalis purpurea
  70. Rose Campion, Silene coronaria
  71. Rose-of-Sharon, Hypericum calycinum
  72. Rubber Rabbitbrush, Ericameria nauseosa nauseosa [lifer]
  73. Sierra Milkwort, Rhinotropis cornuta [lifer]
  74. Spearleaf Agoseris, Agoseris retrorsa [puffhead like dandelion]
  75. Steller’s Jay, Cyanocitta stelleri [heard several]
  76. Stonecrop, Broad-Leaved Stonecrop, Sedum spathulifolium
  77. Sunflower, Common Woolly Sunflower, Eriophyllum lanatum
  78. Tapered Stem Gall Wasp, Protobalandricus spectabilis
  79. Thistle, Bull Thistle, Cirsium vulgare
  80. Thistle, Spotted Knapweed, Centaurea stoebe
  81. Two-Striped Grasshopper, Melanoplus bivittatus
  82. Water Scavenger Beetle, Family: Hydrophilidae
  83. Wavy-Leafed Soap Plant, Chlorogalum pomeridianum
  84. Western Gray Squirrel, Sciurus griseus
  85. Western Morning Glory, Calystegia occidentalis [like bindweed, yellow tinge]
  86. Western Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly, Papilio rutulus
  87. Western Wallflower, Erysimum capitatum
  88. Western Yellowjacket, Vespula pensylvanica
  89. White Sweetclover, Melilotus albus
  90. Wiry Snapdragon, Sairocarpus vexillocalyculatus [little, pink and white] [lifer]
  91. Woodland Skipper, Ochlodes sylvanoides
  92. Woolly Angelica, Angelica tomentosa [like white ranger buttons] [lifer]
  93. Yellow Salsify, Tragopogon dubius
  94. Yerba Santa, California Yerba Santa, Eriodictyon californicum

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To and Around the Lyons Creek Trail, 07-07-23

There was so much to look at during this trip, I know I’ll probably forget something. It was a long day for me, but FUN. My friend and fellow naturalist Roxanne and I documented over 130 species, including over 30 new-to-me “lifer” species. I got up around 5:30 AM, and got myself and my dog Esteban ready for when Roxanne picked us up for a drive to Lyons Creek Trail in the El Dorado National Forest.

To get to the trail is a straight-shot drive up Highway 50 East to Wrights Lake Road, then drive up that road for about 4 miles to get to the well-marked trailhead. You have to make a left turn onto Wrights Lake Road across the freeway with oncoming traffic, so be careful there if you go. And that road is paved but very narrow, so don’t drive too fast.

A few days before going on this trip, I checked out Charlie Russell’s Lyons Creek Wildflowers webpage. I gave me a heads up about the trail and what sorts of flowers we might see there. So helpful!

Roxanne was right on time [as per usual] and we stopped for coffee before heading up Highway 50 to our destination. Along the way, we stopped at the little Bridal Veil Falls on the rights side of the highway. It still had a good amount of water flowing through it.

“…The 150 foot waterfall pours down on massive polished granite boulders… The fall is on Esmeralda Creek, and flows into a  large picturesque pool, dotted with boulders around the border. The creek and falls lie along the Mormon Immigrant Trail, and the Pony Express Trail…”

As you face the falls, there’s a seep that runs along the parking area and the highway to the right, where there was the majority of the plant life today, including alumroot, columbine, sweetclover, and Seep Monkeyflower (the first of four monkeyflowers we saw for the day).

To the left of the falls is a steep cliff face and boulders, and on the ground to the left of that was a collection of Yellow-Faced Bumblebees flying low over and crawling on the ground. Roxanne and I surmised they were “puddling”, collecting water and minerals for themselves and/or for their hive from the moss and rock faces.

“…Like honey bees, B. vosnesenskii are eusocial, colony dwelling bees. Mated queens emerge in early Spring to scout suitable nesting sites, often setting up shop in abandoned rodent dens or other dry hollows in the ground. The queen will raise the first generation of workers, taking care of all the foraging, incubating and tending to the young. Once a workforce has matured, the queen’s function becomes solely reproductive. Mature colonies range from 200-300 individuals…” Bee and Bloom

“…This bee species prefers a select set of genera for foraging purposes. These include: Lupinus, Cirsium, Eriogonum, Phacelia, Clarkia, and Ericameria…” Wikiwand

The cliff face, next to where the bees were, was unusually dry, so the lichen (especially the Dog Pelt and Emery Rock Tripe) which usually clings to it were all desiccated. Rox and I know that some of the adjoining cliff was significantly altered during the torrential spring rains which cause mud- and boulder-slides, and we wondered if there has also been alterations to the water flow at the top of the cliff which in turn affected the waterfall. Where the rocks had formerly gotten a regular supply of splash from the water fall to keep them moist, that splash no linger exists [even though the flow of the waterfall is still healthy]. The loss of the spray also impacted a lot of different plant species which may or may not return. It will be interesting to see how this spot changes with the seasons now.

We then continued up Highway 50 and stopped briefly at a spot where we could see the South Fork of the American River. There were pink and white Sweet Peas, Yellow Salsify, Black Oaks, and Mountain Phacelia, among other plants. The phacelia was the first of three different kinds of phacelia we saw today.

We were then on the road again and found the turn out for Wrights Lake Road, I was very excited to see what we might see.

“…The best wildflower viewing is along the first section of trail between the Lyons Creek Trailhead and the junction with Bloodsucker Lake Trail. Peak flowering time is late June through July. The many wildflowers include alpine lily, Sierra larkspur, western columbine, Leichtlin’s mariposa lily, yampah, spiraea, and bigleaf lupine. At the lakes, enjoy red mountain heather and labrador tea…” US Forest Service

Continuing up Wrights Lake Road, we came to an area where we could see a lot of Deerweed, buckwheat, and other plants, so Rox pulled the car over and we started looking around, taking photos. I immediately set eyes on what, at a distance, looked like a long collection of bright yellow seeds hanging from the side of the flowering head of some kind of heavy grass species. [Can you tell that botany is NOT my specialty? Hah!]

As I got closer, I was surprised to find that I was looking at the under side of an enormous yellow caterpillar, a kind of hornworm. A quick check at iNaturalist proved it was the caterpillar of the White-lined Sphinx Moth, Hyles lineata. This particular moth goes through about 4 instars before pupating (in the ground). In the first photo below, you can see three of the instars on one plant. The largest caterpillar we found was about 4 or 5 inches long!

“…Larvae can occasionally occur in tremendous numbers and can move in hordes in search of food, consuming entire plants and covering roadways in slick masses. Such explosive outbreaks, especially common in the dry country of the west, provide moths that emigrate to colonize more northern areas. There are normally at least two generations per year, with multiple generations in warmer climates…”Wisconsin Horticulture

In the video below, you can see the 5th instar caterpillar wading through and ignoring the deerweed as it goes in search of buckwheat plants.

Also below, is a video of an adult White-Lined Sphinx Moth that I saw at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge in 2017. The moths are very large; about the size of a hummingbird, but “fatter”.

“…The flight of sphinx moths is a marvel, for while hovering or accelerating the wings beat so fast that they emit a fluttering buzz — wingbeat frequencies are typically 41 cycles (up and down) per second. To achieve the rate of wingbeats required for hovering and agile flight, white-lined sphinx moths raise their body temperatures higher than that of humans (98.5 degrees); when evening air temperatures are in the range of 60 to 90 degrees, sphinx body temperatures are maintained between 104 and 108 degrees…” University of Colorado

We were so fascinated by the caterpillars that it took a while before we actually started looking at the flowers and other plants in the area again. Here we found more monkeyflowers including the regular yellow Seep Monkeyflower and the tiny pink Brewer’s Monkeyflower

As we drove along, I was seeing a lot of plants on the roadside that I thought were Miner’s Lettuce gone to seed, so I didn’t pay too close attention to them. Then Rox mentioned that she had posted a photo of a plant like that to iNaturalist, thinking it was Miner’s Lettuce and someone pointed out that it was actually a jewelflower plant that was past its prime. Well, then you can be sure I was paying closer attention! Within seconds I found a plant that still had a few lingering flowers on it. Jewelflowers are (visually) one of my favorites, so I was very excited to find some so late in their season.

Among the insects and arachnids that we found along the way included grasshoppers, Bee-flies, Bristle flies, bugs, Stretch Spiders, a Wolf Spider carrying her spiderlings on her back, and a new-to-me metallic green beetle: Boreal Long-Lipped Tiger Beetle. It was at my feet and when I tried to get closer photos of it, it flew off.

And there were butterflies, too, of course along the road and on the trail. Most of them were very uncooperative, but I did manage to get a few photos, including some of the new-to-me Hoary Comma. I’ve seen those in books and always admired their sculpted wings, but I’d never seen one live before.

I guess, also along the insect line was the fact that we saw LOTS of galls on the manzanita trees created in reaction to the Manzanita Leafgall Aphid. There was such a variety in forms, though, that we wondered if maybe there were other various species or subspecies at work. We saw the typical red leaf curling galls, but also saw solitary green pouches and crowds of folds and pouches. Russo doesn’t mention that, but I understand that a lot of gall formers are not necessarily studied in that kind of depth.

“…The manzanita leaf-gall aphid, Tamalia coweni, is a widespread species native to the west coast of North America. This aphid engineers conspicuous red galls on manzanitas (Arctostaphylos species) that serve as domiciles and enriched food resources. As a specialist, Tamalia species are closely associated with rare and endangered manzanita host plants across California landscapes including isolated mountains in the Mojave desert, along coastal chaparral and woodlands, and inland mountains and valleys…” California Conservation Genomics Project

The other insect that made its presence abundantly obvious was the mosquito. We stopped where we saw other different flowers on either side of the road. A mini-waterfall and seeps were there, and the moisture meant the mosquitoes were thick. I had insect repellent, but had left it in the car when I went to look at the flowers, so I got chewed up by the skeeters before I could apply the repellant: on my arms, my hands, my face…and my back and chest right through my clothing! Yikes! In that area, though, we found a lot a lot of new-to-me wildflowers.

Among the flowers we saw were Mountain Bluebells, gooseberries, several kinds of monkeyflowers, irises, Big Deervetch, larkspur, and Jessica’s Stickweed. That was a brand new one for me. At first, I mistook it for Pacific Houndstongue, but the leaves were “wrong”.

As we continued up the road to the trailhead, we noticed that the flowers got smaller the higher we went. An interesting observation, it seemed most obvious in the size of the columbine flowers.

When we got to the Lyon’s Creek Trail trailhead, which is at about 6,700 feet in elevation, we parked by one of the large boulders that sit at the boundary of gravel parking lot, I was pleased by how well things were marked. [Sometimes, you go to a trail and you can barely find the trailhead, or walk the trail if it isn’t well maintained.] We sat on the boulders in the shade and ate our lunch. I was a “bad mommy” and had forgotten to bring Esteban’s water dish, so Rox suggested that I cut down one of our paper coffee cups and use that. It worked perfectly, and Esteban appreciated the extra hydration. Thanks, Roxanne!

When we got on the trail (which was well-marked and relatively easy to walk on for the first part of it, with little elevation gain), we found there was a LOT of larkspur, Five Spot, and Purple Honeysuckle [that was just starting to bloom], along with some Pretty Face, buttercups, and lots of Mariposa Lilies. The Corn Lilies weren’t in bloom yet. Both sides of the trail were lines with Lodgepole Pines.

I could only walk the trail for a short while before the elevation and summer heat got to me, and I needed to go back to the car. I sat with the A/C blowing on me and Esteban while Roxanne completed more of the trail. She stopped when the ground got too muddy and slippery (nearer to the creek). I’d like to go back to this location earlier in the morning and/or on a cooler day when I could get further along the trail, I want to see a Bog Orchid!

Roxanne returning to the car from the trail

We could hear birds along the way, including Steller’s Jays, but I wasn’t able to get any kind of photos of them. I saw, for example, a Green-Tailed Towhee singing next to the car, but as soon as I lifted my camera to get a photo of him, he flew off. So frustrating. That was a lifer bird for me!

Roxanne brought me samples of lichen and fungi she found on our trip, so there was a lot of diversity in species to see: lichen, plants, trees, birds, insects and spiders, fungi…

On the way back to highway, we noticed some of the collections of giant boulders on the side and top of some of the hillsides. Amazing.

Giant clusters of boulders on the hills along Wrights Creek Road.

We took a short “aside” drive up of part of Ice House Road, but didn’t see much of anything, so we turned around and went back to the highway. After a brief stop for some cool drinks, we got back to the house by around 4:30 PM. That was a long — but very fruitful — day for all of us. Esteban did very well for the whole trip, I was very proud of him.

This was hike #38 of my #52hikechallenge for the year.

Species List:

** means it’s a new-to-me “lifer” species. To see more, check out my iNaturalist observations.

  1. Alumroot, Crevice Alumroot, Heuchera micrantha
  2. American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  3. American Lady Butterfly, Vanessa virginiensis
  4. Antelope Bitterbrush, Purshia tridentata [white bark] **
  5. Bee Fly, Banded Bee Fly, Tribe: Villini
  6. Bee Fly, Greater Bee Fly, Bombylius major
  7. Bees, Yellow-Faced Bumble Bee, Bombus vosnesenskii
  8. Big Deervetch, Hosackia crassifolia **
  9. Bitter Cherry Tree, Prunus emarginata
  10. Blackberry, Armenian Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus
  11. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra cerulea
  12. Bluehead Gilia, Gilia capitata
  13. Boreal Long-Lipped Tiger Beetle, Cicindela longilabris [green] **
  14. Bridges’ Pincushionplant, Navarretia leptalea **
  15. Brown-Eyed Wolf Lichen, Letharia columbiana
  16. Cabbage White Butterfly, Pieris rapae
  17. California Buckeye Chestnut Tree, Aesculus californica
  18. California Incense Cedar, Calocedrus decurrens
  19. California Mountain Ash, Sorbus californica
  20. California Sister Butterfly, Adelpha californica
  21. California Valerian, Valeriana californica [white flowers]
  22. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica
  23. Carrot Plant Bug, Orthops scutellatus **
  24. Cherry Leaf Curl, Taphrina wiesneri [causes witches broom ]
  25. Clover, Long-Stalked Clover, Trifolium longipes **
  26. Clover, Small-Headed Clover, Trifolium microcephalum **
  27. Columbine, Western Columbine, Aquilegia formosa
  28. Common Madia, Madia elegans
  29. Copper Butterfly, Subfamily: Lycaeninae
  30. Corn Lily, Veratrum californicum
  31. Crown Brodiaea, Brodiaea coronaria
  32. Cutworms and Dart Moths, Subfamily: Noctuinae
  33. Dark-Eyed Junco, Junco hyemalis
  34. Deerbrush Ceanothus, Ceanothus integerrimus
  35. Deerweed, Acmispon glaber
  36. Dendroalsia Moss, Dendroalsia abietina
  37. Denseflower Willowherb, Epilobium densiflorum
  38. Diamond Clarkia, Clarkia rhomboidei **
  39. Diffuse Groundsmoke, Gayophytum diffusum
  40. Dock, Curly Dock, Rumex crispus
  41. Dog Pelt Lichen, Peltigera canina
  42. Emery Rocktripe Lichen, Umbilicaria phaea
  43. Fern, Common Bracken, Pteridium aquilinum
  44. Fireweed, Chamaenerion angustifolium
  45. Fivespot, Nemophila maculata
  46. Flies, Bristle Flies, Family: Tachinidae
  47. Flies, Muscoid Flies, Superfamily: Muscoidea
  48. Fringed Willowherb, Epilobium ciliatum
  49. Gooseberry, Mountain Gooseberry, Ribes montigenum
  50. Gooseberry, Sierra Gooseberry, Ribes roezlii
  51. Grasses, Bristly Dogtail Grass, Cynosurus echinatus
  52. Grasses, Intermediate Wheatgrass, Thinopyrum intermedium **
  53. Grasses, Orchard Grass, Dactylis glomerata **
  54. Grasses, Squirreltail Grass, Elymus elymoides
  55. Grasses, Subfamily: Pooideae
  56. Grasshopper, Crackling Forest Grasshopper, Trimerotropis verruculata
  57. Green-Tailed Towhee, Pipilo chlorurus ** [saw & heard but couldn’t photograph]
  58. Hairy Indian Paintbrush, Hairy Owl’s Clover, Castilleja tenuis **
  59. Harvest Brodiaea, Brodiaea elegans
  60. Hoary Comma Butterfly, Polygonia gracilis **
  61. Iris, Rainbow Iris, Iris hartwegii
  62. Jessica’s Stickseed, Hackelia micrantha [blue flowers] **
  63. Koch’s Wolf Spider, Alopecosa kochi [ carrying spiderlings on her back]
  64. Larkspur, Upland Larkspur, Delphinium nuttallianum **
  65. Lupine, Broadleaf Lupine, Lupinus latifolius
  66. Lupine, Silvery Lupine, Lupinus argenteus
  67. Manzanita Leafgall Aphid, Tamalia coweni
  68. Manzanita, Greenleaf Manzanita, Arctostaphylos patula
  69. Maple, Bigleaf Maple, Acer macrophyllum
  70. Meadow Stars, Hesperochiron nanus **
  71. Monkeyflower, Brewer’s Monkeyflower, Erythranthe breweri [tiny] **
  72. Monkeyflower, Kellogg’s Monkeyflower, Diplacus kelloggii [pink]
  73. Monkeyflower, Seep Monkeyflower, Erythranthe guttata [yellow]
  74. Monkeyflower, Tiling’s Monkeyflower Erythranthe tilingii
  75. Mosquito, Super Family: Culicoidea
  76. Mount Hood Pussypaws, Calyptridium umbellatum
  77. Mountain Bluebells, Mertensia ciliata **
  78. Mountain Jewelflower, Streptanthus tortuosus
  79. Mountain Misery, Chamaebatia foliolosa
  80. Mountain Wallflower, Erysimum perenne
  81. Mouse-Ear, Sticky Mouse Ears Chickweed, Cerastium glomeratum
  82. Mullein, Great Mullein, Verbascum thapsus
  83. Mullein, Moth Mullein, Verbascum blattaria [thin stick, white or yellow]
  84. Naked Buckwheat, Eriogonum nudum
  85. Naked Mariposa Lily, Calochortus nudus **
  86. Needleleaf Navarretia, Navarretia intertexta **
  87. Northern Indian Parsnip, Cymopterus terebinthinus **
  88. Oak, California Black Oak, Quercus kelloggii
  89. Oak, Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  90. One-Seeded Pussypaws, Calyptridium monospermum [small]
  91. Orange Sulphur Butterfly, Colias eurytheme
  92. Pale Swallowtail Butterfly, Papilio eurymedon **
  93. Pea, Broad-Leaved Sweet Pea, Lathyrus latifolius [large]
  94. Penstemon, Mountain Pride Penstemon, Penstemon newberryi [pink]
  95. Penstemon, Roezl’s Penstemon, Penstemon roezlii **
  96. Phacelia, Branching Phacelia, Phacelia ramosissima **
  97. Phacelia, Changeable Phacelia, Phacelia mutabilis **
  98. Phacelia, Mountain Phacelia, Phacelia imbricata [white]
  99. Pine, Lodgepole Pine, Pinus contorta
  100. Pine, Ponderosa Pine, Pinus ponderosa
  101. Pine, Sugar Pine, Pinus lambertiana
  102. Plantainleaf Buttercup, Ranunculus alismifolius
  103. Prettyface, Triteleia ixioides
  104. Primrose, Tall Evening Primrose, Oenothera elata
  105. Purple Salsify, Tragopogon porrifolius
  106. Purpleflower Honeysuckle, Lonicera conjugialis
  107. Queen Anne’s Lace, Daucus carota
  108. Raven, Corvus corax
  109. Rock Wart Lichen, Pertusaria plittiana
  110. Rushes, Dagger Rush, Juncus ensifolius **
  111. Rushes, Irisleaf Rush, Juncus xiphioides
  112. Sculptured Puffball, Calbovista subsculpta
  113. Sedges, Dense Sedge, Carex densa **
  114. Sedges, Tall Flatsedge, Cyperus eragrostis
  115. Sierra Lodgepole Pine, Tamarack Pine, Pinus contorta var. murrayana
  116. Slender Phlox, Microsteris gracilis [tiny, white flowers] **
  117. Spider Wasp, Aporus sp.
  118. Sticky Chinese Houses, Collinsia tinctoria [white] **
  119. Sticky Cinquefoil, Drymocallis glandulosa [fuzzy, yellow flower]
  120. Stonecrop, Moss Pygmy Weed, Crassula connata [tiny, red]
  121. Streambank Bird’s-Foot Trefoil, Hosackia oblongifolia [yellow/white] **
  122. Sunflower, Common Woolly Sunflower, Eriophyllum lanatum
  123. Tall Western Groundsel, Senecio integerrimus
  124. Thimbleberry, Rubus parviflorus **
  125. Thistle, Bull Thistle, Cirsium vulgare
  126. Thyme-Leaved Speedwell, Veronica serpyllifolia **
  127. Turkey Vulture, cathartes aura
  128. Veiled Polypore, Cryptoporus volvatus [“egg shell” like conk on pine trees]
  129. Versicolor Long-Jawed Orbweaver, Tetragnatha versicolor
  130. Wave Moth, Scopula sp.
  131. White Sweetclover, Melilotus albus
  132. White-lined Sphinx Moth, Hyles lineata
  133. Willow, Salix sp.
  134. Wolf Lichen, Letharia vulpina
  135. Yarrow, Common Yarrow, Achillea millefolium
  136. Yellow Cobblestone Lichen, Acarospora socialis
  137. Yellow Salsify, Tragopogon dubius
  138. Yerba Santa, California Yerba Santa, Eriodictyon californicum

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