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.
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 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.
Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
Bees, European Honeybee, Western Honeybee, Apis mellifera
Blackberry, Armenian Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus [red canes, white flowers]
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.
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.
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.
Alumroot, Crevice Alumroot, Heuchera micrantha
American Robin, Turdus migratorius
Apollo Butterfly, Clodius Parnassian Butterfly, Parnassius clodius[lifer]
Bay Laurel, California Bay, Umbellularia californica
Brown Fritillary, Fritillaria micrantha [seed pods]
Buckbrush, Ceanothus cuneatus
California Fuchsia, Epilobium canum
California Harebell, Smithiastrum prenanthoides [thin, feathery purple flowers] [lifer]
California Incense Cedar, Calocedrus decurrens
California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana
California Sister Butterfly, Adelpha californica
California Skullcap, Scutellaria californica[lifer]
California Tiger Lily, Leopard Lily, Lilium pardalinum[lifer]
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)
Canadian Horseweed, Erigeron canadensis
Catchfly, Cardinal Catchfly, Silene laciniata
Chicory, Cichorium intybus
Chinese Houses, Sticky Chinese Houses, Collinsia tinctoria [white]
Coastal Brookfoam, Boykinia occidentalis [tiny white flowers]
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 toLyons Creek Trailin 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.
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!
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.
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.