Category Archives: Volunteering

Between Seasons at Effie, 06-13-21

I got up around 5:30 this morning and headed over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk. It was relatively cool when I got there, but heated up fast so I was only out for about 2½ hours.

Because we’re sort of between season again, not quite spring but not quite summer yet, I wasn’t expecting to see a lot. I was hoping for some early season fawns, but no such luck. In fact, there weren’t many deer out and about at all. I only saw one young buck who was just starting to get his first antlers, and a doe with a wonky ear.

A young Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus, in what looks like his first year’s velvet.

Among the squirrels running around, I saw a Western Gray Squirrel with a furless chin. I don’t know if he had mange or some other skin issue. 

And I also saw an Eastern Gray Squirrel foraging in, of all things, a large poison oak vine. It was eating the seeds.

According to Bay Nature Magazine: “…Humans may have no use for it, but many California animal species do. Unaffected by the toxic oil, small animals like fox squirrels seek shelter in poison oak thickets and feed on its summer berries, says Anthony Fisher, a naturalist at Tilden Regional Park. Birds — notably the California towhee — have formed a symbiotic relationship with poison oak, building its nests among the plants and feeding on the white berries, then spreading the seeds through excrement…”

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

I looked for some early summer galls on the blue oak trees, but found very little. Just one or two of the Saucer Galls and what looked like a sprinkling of very early Crystalline Galls. We’ll have to see how those shape up.  It’s been hot enough recently to have sparked the emergence of some Jumping Galls.  I’ll need to go over to William Land Park to see if they’re awake there yet.

It was cool to see some pretty painted bee condos set up all over the preserve; octagonal-shaped boxes filled with cardboard straws. I wonder if that was a naturalist class capstone project. It didn’t look like any of the straws were inhabited yet.

It was also cool to find that, besides my favorite “bee tree” which is presently occupied, there was also a second “bee tree” nearer to the river. There, the bees had created what might have been an underground bunker with an opening at the base of a tree. I’m just glad to see ANY insects around. Seems to me there are so fewer over the past year or so there than there normally are.

And speaking of insects: on my way out of the preserve, I noticed a yellowjacket hanging from the end of an ash tree leaf. At first, I thought it might be chewing off leaf material to use in the making of its nest, but then I realized it had captured another smaller winged insect (like maybe a winged ant or termite). As I watched, it dispatched the smaller insect (while sometimes hanging from a single foot on the leaf), and cut off its wings before eating it. Nature is wicked-cool.

A Western Yellowjacket, Vespula pensylvanica, dispatching a smaller winged insect.

This was hike 53 of my #52HikeChallenge. Now I’m going for 104 hikes this year.

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. Ash Leaf Curl Aphid, Prociphilus fraxinifolii
  3. Bigfruit Evening Primrose, Oenothera macrocarpa
  4. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra cerulea
  5. Blue Oak, Quercus douglasii
  6. California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica
  7. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  8. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis
  9. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica
  10. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
  11. Coyote Mint, Monardella villosa
  12. Coyote, Canis latrans
  13. Crystalline Gall Wasp, Andricus crystallinus
  14. Darkling Beetle, Pinacate Stink Beetle, Eleodes scabrosa
  15. Eastern Gray Squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis
  16. European Honeybee, Western Honeybee, Apis mellifera
  17. Harvester Ant, black, Pogonomyrmex sp.
  18. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  19. Live Oak Gall Wasp, Summer Generation, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis [spiky ball]
  20. Mullein, Great Mullein, Verbascum thapsus
  21. Oak Apple, California Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  22. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus
  23. Oregon Ash, Fraxinus latifolia
  24. Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Western Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
  25. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  26. Saucer Gall Wasp, Andricus gigas [cup shaped, sometimes rough edges]
  27. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa
  28. Solitary Oak Leafminer Moth, Cameraria hamadryadella [leaves pockets in the leaf surface]
  29. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  30. Western Fence Lizard, Blue Belly, Sceloporus occidentalis
  31. Western Gray Squirrel, Sciurus griseus
  32. Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis
  33. Western Yellowjacket, Vespula pensylvanica
  34. Wooly Oak Aphid, Stegophylla essigi
  35. Yarrow, Achillea millefolium
  36. ?? Digger Bee hole

RRD and OTher Stuff, 06-11-21

I got up at 5:30 this morning, and went to Mather Lake Regional Park for a walk.  The first thing I saw when I got there was a young cottontail rabbit feeding along the edge of the parking lot, and a couple of female Wild Turkeys walking along the trail. There were some quail and a few more cottontails in the adjacent field.

In the lake, I could see an otter swimming along, but he moved too fast and dove under the surface before I could get my camera on him.*Sigh*  I did get a little video snippet of the muskrat swimming by, though.

Muskrat, Ondatra zibethicus

The White-Tailed Kites are still hanging around their nesting tree, but I don’t know if they have babies yet or not.  I got some photos of one of the adults sitting in an adjacent tree, presumably looking for breakfast. This time of year, there’s a lot for the raptors to choose from.

There were both Mourning Doves and Eurasian Collared Doves cooing their different songs from the trees. And I got some video and photos of a male Great-Tailed Grackle singing and posturing for the females.

I could hear the tiny House Wrens singing from almost every tree it seemed, but I could only get photos of one — and those were of its back. Nature. Gotta love it.

The Mute Swan cygnets are nearly as big as their parents now, but they still have “baby voices” and give out plaintive peeping sounds while they float and preen. Apparently, their emerging fledgling feathers are itchy.

Mute Swan, Cygnus olor, cygnets

A odd sight, to me, was seeing a male Nuttall’s Woodpecker fly out to a twiggy branch poking out of the water at the lakeside. He sat there for quite a while, apparently eyeing all of the midges and water bugs flying and skimming about on the water’s surface. For a moment, I thought he might try to dive in to get some, but he never did.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

All along the shore, the pennyroyal was filling the air with its spearmint scent, and the Goldwire was in bloom. In the water, I could see the noses of turtles poking through the surface as they came up to catch their breath. I only saw one turtle out basking, though; a Red-Eared Slider.

An adult Red-Eared Slider Turtle, Trachemys scripta elegans, shedding some of its scutes.

As I was walking back to the car, I was pleased to see a pair of young-ish California Ground Squirrels sitting on a fence post. They rushed down the post when they saw me, but ran up onto another one further down the walkway, so I was still able to get some photos of them. I just love those little guys; they always make me smile.

A pair of young California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi

What I also saw on my way to the parking lot were some fluffy-looking outbursts of witches broom on the canes of a wild rose bush. The cane was mixed in with some blackberry vines so at first I didn’t know what I was looking at. When I stepped down closer, I could see all of the individual clumps of the witches broom. On one cane, there was a tuft of the broom, naked cane, a tuft of broom, naked cane, a tuft of broom… almost like someone had glued the fluffy heads onto the cane in a pattern.  Very cool.

I’d seen witches broom in photos, and found some on a toyon bush along the Buttermilk Trail, but hadn’t seen it on a rose bush before, and certainly never in this kind of proliferation.  I didn’t know much about the rose witches broom, so I had to do some research when I got home. Apparently, what I was seeing was RRD, Rose Rosette Disease.

“…It is a virus, so there is no cure. It is spread by mites feeding on an infected rose and then passing it on as they feed on another rose bush.  Rose rosette can present itself with various symptoms, including red stems, excessive thorniness, distorted or mottled leaves, or bunchy new growth — often referred to as witches’ broom… The disease itself is a virus, but it requires a very tiny mite called an eriophyid mite to transfer the disease between plants. Eriophyid mites are so small that they can only be seen under strong magnification.. Leaves within the witches’ broom may be stunted, distorted, and pigmented red or yellow. Symptoms of witches’ broom, leaf discoloration, and/or distortion are often visible on one branch or more and may spread randomly across the entire plant…”

The Eriophyid mite is Phyllocoptes fructiphilus,and the virus is Emaravirus sp. Well, that was very new to me, so that was exciting.

What was also exciting was the fact that this was hike 52 in my #52HikeChallenge!  Woot-woot! I can get my “finishers” badge now.

Species List:

  1. American Dog Tick, Dermacentor variabilis
  2. American Kestrel, Falco sparverius
  3. Armenian Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus [pink flower]
  4. Azolla, Water Fern, Azolla filiculoides
  5. Black Mustard, Common Wild Mustard, Brassica nigra
  6. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  7. Bull Thistle, Cirsium vulgare
  8. Bushtit, American Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus
  9. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  10. California Quail, Callipepla californica
  11. Common Spike-Rush, Eleocharis palustris
  12. Cottonwood Leaf Gall Aphid, Pemphigus populivenae
  13. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  14. Dallis Grass, Paspalum dilatatum
  15. Desert Cottontail Rabbit, Sylvilagus audubonii
  16. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
  17. Eriophyid Mite, Phyllocoptes fructiphilus
  18. Eurasian Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto
  19. Floating Water Primrose, Ludwigia peploides ssp. peploides
  20. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  21. Goldwire, Hypericum concinnum
  22. Goodding’s Black Willow, Salix gooddingii
  23. Great-Tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus
  24. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon
  25. Interior Sandbar Willow, Salix interior
  26. Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  27. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris
  28. Mediterranean Fan Palm, Chamaerops humilis
  29. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  30. Muskrat, Ondatra zibethicus
  31. Mute Swan, Cygnus olor
  32. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii
  33. Pennyroyal, Mentha pulegium
  34. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  35. Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Western Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
  36. Red-Eared Slider Turtle, Trachemys scripta elegans
  37. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  38. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  39. RRD, Rose Rosette Disease, Emaravirus sp. [virus]
  40. Tall Flatsedge, Cyperus eragrostis
  41. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  42. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  43. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  44. Water Strider, Trepobates sp.
  45. Western Fence Lizard, Blue Belly, Sceloporus occidentalis
  46. Western Kingbird, Tyrant Flycatcher, Tyrannus verticalis
  47. White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus
  48. Willow Bead Gall Mite, Aculus tetanothrix
  49. Willow Pinecone Gall midge, Rabdophaga strobiloides

First Trip to the Putah Creek Reserve, 06-09-21

I got up around 5:30 this morning and was out the door with my friend Roxanne by 6:00 to go check out the trail along Putah Creek off of Pedrick Road. This is located at the western-most end of the Putah Creek Reserve.  There are three other access points that I think I’d like to explore later. (CLICK HERE for more information.) I had never been to any of the access sites before, so I let Rox lead the way. Water in the creek was low but moving swiftly and clear.

We took the part of the trail that went under the adjacent road, and found that Cliff Swallows had built up nests in some of the depressed weep-holes in the cement. According to Cornell:  “…Highway bridges selected in northern California typically were in areas with low urban development, and on structures with undersurfaces containing multiple junctures, water underneath the bridge, and large underpass openings…” 

The males pick the spot and start building, but then both parents finish the work. The nests can be made up of up to 1200 individual mud pellets.We noticed that nests placement seemed to be confined to one side of the culvert overhang and not the other, and speculated that sun exposure may have been an issue. Cornell says: “…There is no apparent preference for direction of nest exposure on any type of nesting site, although west-facing nests receive more direct afternoon sunlight and may be much warmer than nests facing in other directions…”

We couldn’t tell if all of the nests were occupied, but we did see activity in and around a few of them. We speculated that some might be nests with a single baby inside, but it seems more likely that we were actually seeing nests in which one of the parents was sitting on eggs.

We didn’t see any egg shells on the ground, and we didn’t see any “gaping” by the birds occupying the nests when the other parent arrived which seemed to enforce the idea that we were seeing adults both flying about and sitting in the nests. Because it’s almost impossible to tell the females from the males, we couldn’t tell which of the parent birds was which… And when they’d both enter the nest, we couldn’t tell if it was the same bird who flew out as flew in.

Cliff Swallows generally lay their eggs in late May and early June (which is the window we’re in right now), and usually lay one to six eggs.  Both parents share incubation duties. It takes about 23 days for the chicks to hatch.

We were seeing the same trees and understory plants along the creek as we did elsewhere throughout the area, so it was all “nothing new”. Or so we thought. We did find some galls there that I hadn’t seen before, and that’s always a bit exciting. On some of the willows we found some galls of the Willow Mid-Rib Sawfly, a species that has yet to be identified by Russo (but is shown in his new book).

We also found two different kinds of wasp galls on the leaves of the eucalyptus trees: little flattish speckly galls of Ophelimus maskelli that covered the surface of some of the leaves, and mid-rib galls of the Leptocybe invasaL. invasa is an invasive species indigenous to Australia. The females can reproduce asexually, so even though males sometimes show up in colonies, they’re not really necessary except to provide some diverse genetic material into the mix.

Moth Mullein was growing in places, but most of it seemed to be going to seed already. The Moth Mullein I’d seen in other places (such as along the American River) seemed to be just starting to appear. That made us wonder why the plants at Putah Creek were seeming “ahead” of similar plants elsewhere. Microclimates created by the creek might have been one reason.

Mullein, Moth Mullein, Verbascum blattaria [thin stick, white or yellow]

We walked around the creek for about 90 minutes and then headed over to the Woodland-Davis Clean Water Agency facility where the Ibis Rookery is located. It’s still too early for the ibis to be nesting in the settling pond there, but we thought maybe we’d see some Avocets or Pelicans in the water. No such luck. Along the water’s edge we saw quite a few noisy Black-Necked Stilts and Killdeer. No one had babies. I think the Killdeer should be pretty much done breeding by now. but I couldn’t remember if we were early or late for the Stilts.

Both species of bird nest on the ground, and use “scrapes” as the basic shape of the nest cup. Killdeer usually prefer gravelly sites, but the Stilts prefer little islands or other raised areas like that.  If memory serves, I think they lay between around June or July in this area… so their chicks are born right around the time the ibis start moving into the pond. I’ll have to keep an eye out for them as the months go by.

Along a spit in the pond, Rox spotted an usually large grouping of Pacific Pond Turtles. There were about 8 to 10 of them all collected in the same area. A few were basking on the shore but the majority of them were floating in the water with their heads poking up above the surface. Not a Red-Eared Slider among them. We found a few more of the turtles in the slough along the side of the road, so apparently they had a very good breeding season this year. It was so nice to see.

There were only a few damselflies among the vegetation around the pool, and I managed to catch a Tule Bluet by its wings so we could get closer shots of it. And we found a single teneral Variegated Meadowhawk dragonfly, not quite colored up yet. I don’t know if there are actually fewer of the dragonflies and damselflies than usual, or if I’m just impatient and they haven’t all emerged yet, but pickings seem very slim.

There were rabbits everywhere, Black-Tailed Jackrabbits and Desert Cottontails. They obviously had a good breeding season, too. Hah!

As we were leaving the area, Rox spotted a large gopher snake cross the road in front of us. Because the road isn’t used much, we were able to stop, and get out of the car in order to take some photos of the snake. It was maybe two-and-a-half feet long; a handsome honey color with a pale face. 

Coloration of the snakes in this species is actually quite varied: typical spotted versions with a background color from honey, to dark brown, to gray, to red; striped versions; and even albinos.  There are lots of snakes all over the region, but they’re so good at hiding that we very seldom actually see any of them.  So, spotting one, even a common gopher snake, is always a treat.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

We then headed over to Natomas where the Wyndham Heron Rookery is. We could hear lots of baby Black-Crowned Night herons “clicking” in the trees but couldn’t really see any of them. Sadly, there were quite a few dead chicks on the ground (at various levels of development).  Chicks can sometime simply blunder out of the nest, or fall out of nests that aren’t very well constructed, but siblicide is apparently common among the herons.  Larger nestmates bump smaller ones from the nest or suffocate them by “swallowing” the smaller sibling’s head, leaving the sibling near death and unable to compete for food. Yikes!

Dead heron chicks at various levels of development.

As far as we could tell, many of the adult were still sitting on eggs — and on small chicks — so there may be more chicks hatching and feathering up over the next several weeks. 

On the little island in the middle of the pond, the Showy Egrets were still nest building, and sitting on eggs. I saw a few chicks, but wasn’t able to get any really good photos of them because of the distance between the island and the walkway. Rox caught sight of a Green Heron fishing along the shore of the pond, but I wasn’t able to get any photos of it.

Among the insects found we saw several Pacific Forktail Damselflies, a Gray Hairstreak butterfly, and a tiny Heather Lady Beetle.  By the time we finished walking the loop around the pond it was almost 12:30 pm, so we called it quits and headed home.

It was fantastic to be able to get a good walk in after being confined to the house by pain over the last week.  The walk wore me out, though, and I fell asleep sitting up in bed after lunch. Hah!

This was hike #51 of my #52HikeChallenge for the year.

Species List:

  1. Alkali Heliotrope, Heliotropium curassavicum
  2. American Coot, Fulica americana
  3. American Elm Tree, Ulmus americana
  4. Armenian Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus [pink flower]
  5. Arroyo Willow, Salix lasiolepis
  6. Bird’s-Foot Trefoil, Lotus corniculatus
  7. Black Locust Tree, Robinia pseudoacacia
  8. Black Mustard, Common Wild Mustard, Brassica nigra
  9. Black Nightshade, Solanum nigrum
  10. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  11. Black Walnut, Eastern Black Walnut, Juglans nigra
  12. Black-Crowned Night Heron, Nycticorax nycticorax
  13. Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
  14. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus
  15. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum
  16. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra cerulea
  17. Boxelder, Box Elder Tree, Acer negundo
  18. Bristly Oxtongue, Helminthotheca echioides
  19. Broadleaf Cattail, Bullrush, Typha latifolia
  20. Broad-Leaved Dock, Rumex obtusifolius
  21. Broadleaved Pepperweed, Lepidium latifolium
  22. Bushtit, American Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus
  23. California Manroot, Bigroot, Marah fabaceus
  24. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  25. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica
  26. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  27. Chinese Pistache, Pistacia chinensis
  28. Cliff Swallow, Petrochelidon pyrrhonota
  29. Coast Live Oak, Quercus agrifolia
  30. Crepe Myrtle, White, Lagerstroemia indica
  31. Crow, American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  32. Curly Dock, Rumex crispus
  33. Curlycup Gumweed, Grindelia squarrosa
  34. Desert Cottontail Rabbit, Sylvilagus audubonii
  35. Eucalyptus Gall Wasp, Ophelimus maskelli [speckled; flat galls all over the leaf surface]
  36. Eucalyptus Mid-Rib Gall Wasp, Leptocybe invasa
  37. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  38. Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis
  39. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  40. Gadwall Duck, Mareca Strepera
  41. Gall Inducing Wooly Aphid, Stegophylla essigi [in live oaks, folds the leaf over itself; sometimes the leaf turns red/reddish]
  42. Goodding’s Black Willow, Salix gooddingii
  43. Gray Hairstreak Butterfly, Strymon melinus
  44. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons
  45. Green Heron, Butorides virescens
  46. Heather Lady Beetle, Chilocorus bipustulatus [very small, dark red with lighter red splotches]
  47. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  48. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  49. Interior Sandbar Willow, Salix interior
  50. Italian Thistle, Carduus pycnocephalus
  51. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  52. Leaf Gall Wasp/ Unidentified per Russo, Tribe: Cynipidi [on Valley Oak]
  53. Long-Jawed Orb Weaver Spider, Tetragnatha sp.
  54. Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  55. Mistletoe, American Mistletoe, Phoradendron leucarpum
  56. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  57. Mullein, Moth Mullein, Verbascum blattaria [thin stick, white or yellow]
  58. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  59. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii [heard]
  60. Oak Apple, California Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  61. Oregon Ash, Fraxinus latifolia
  62. Pacific Forktail Damselfly, Ischnura cervula [males have 4 spots on thorax]
  63. Pacific Gopher Snake, Pituophis catenifer catenifer
  64. Pacific Pond Turtle, Western Pond Turtle, Actinemys marorata
  65. Petiole Gall Wasp, Spring, Bi-Sexual Generation, Melikailla flora [live oak]
  66. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum
  67. Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Western Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
  68. Red Gum Eucalyptus, River Redgum, Eucalyptus camaldulensis
  69. Red Swamp Crayfish, Crawdad, Procambarus clarkii
  70. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  71. Say’s Phoebe, Sayornis saya
  72. Sneezeweed, Rosilla, Helenium puberulum
  73. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula
  74. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  75. Tule Bluet Damselfly, Enallagma carunculatum
  76. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  77. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  78. Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum
  79. Water Striders, Trepobates sp.
  80. Western Sycamore, Platanus racemosa
  81. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis [heard]
  82. Willow Beaked Twig Gall Midge, Rahdophaga rigidae
  83. Willow Mid-Rib Sawfly, Unknown species [per Russo]
  84. Willow Pinecone Gall midge, Rabdophaga strobiloides
  85. Willow Stem Sawfly, Euura exiguae
  86. Yellow-Billed Magpie, Pica nuttalli
  87. ?? tiny black spider [ant body]

A Little Drama on a Short Walk, 06-04-21

Ugh! I got absolutely no sleep last night because of the Poltergeist and hip pain. Ibuprofen cuts the edges off the hip pain, but doesn’t touch the nerve pain at all.  Still, I felt I should get outside and walk, so I took my dog Esteban with me to William Land Park.  It was 63° when we got here around 6:30, but warmed up fast. Within 90 minutes it was already 70° outside.

We walked through the WPA Rock Garden and around the middle pool, but I couldn’t do much more than that.

It’s almost impossible to maneuver my cane, my camera and my dog on a leash at the same time, so I’d resigned myself to not getting very many photos. Still, I got a few.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

As we were walking back to the car, I saw a woman in a Wildlife Rescue shirt carrying a large net.  She was going after a black duck — who was paired up with a larger white Pekin duck.  I could see something hanging off the black duck’s bottom and assumed it was a fishing lure or something like that. [I’d seen similar injuries to ducks and geese at Mather Lake Regional Park. More recently, a goose with a longbow bolt impaled in its bottom was rescued.]  I took some photos and some video, even though the action was pretty fast and most of the ducks’ movements were a blur.

Wildlife Rescue worker chasing down the black duck.

The woman chased them around trees and tried to corral them against a planter — but the ducks ran or flew off away from her, just out of reach. Eventually, she was successful in catching the black duck, and just as she did so, three or four other ducks ran at her (as though coming to the black one’s rescue).  None of them got near her, though, and she was able to get the netted bird by its wings and carried it back to her vehicle. My drama for the morning.

All the while this was going on, Esteban was watching, but made no attempt to chase the ducks, or bark, or interfere in any way.  I was very proud of him.

When I got home, I checked the pictures I’d managed to get of the black duck and realized that it wasn’t a fishing lure hanging from underneath it. It was the duck’s prolapsed penis. Ouch!  Most male birds don’t have a penis, but many ducks and geese do, and “prolapsed phallus” is apparently something they have to deal with quite often. 

There was even a TV animal rescue show that had a segment on the condition.

This happens when the male ducks “… are unable to retract their male genital (phallus) back inside of their body. It requires immediate attention to avoid complications such as secondary bacterial contamination and irreversible damage. A prolapsed phallus is usually trauma-induced, but can sometimes also be a clinical sign related to venereal disease or duck plague. When the phallus is outside of the body, it runs the risk of becoming enlarged and swollen, dry and ulcerating, and necrotic during advanced stages… But since (unlike mammals) a drake doesn’t use his penis for peeing, but only for procreation, he can get along just fine without it.” Poor drakes!

I walked for about 90 minutes, but because I didn’t get very far, I didn’t count this toward my #52HikeChallenge.

Species List:

  1. Bear’s Breeches, Acanthus mollis
  2. Blue Jacaranda, Jacaranda mimosifolia
  3. Caper Bush, Capparis spinosa
  4. Common Yucca, Yucca filamentosa
  5. Convergent Lady Beetle, Hippodamia convergens
  6. Coulter’s Matilija Poppy, Romneya coulteri
  7. Crested Duck, Anas platyrhynchos domesticus var. Crested
  8. Elegant Clarkia, Clarkia unguiculata
  9. European Honeybee, Western Honeybee, Apis mellifera
  10. Indian Runner Duck, Anas platyrhynchos domesticus var. Runner
  11. Italian Cypress, Mediterranean Cypress, Cupressus sempervirens
  12. Kangaroo Paws, Anigozanthos flavidus
  13. Lavender, Lavandula sp.
  14. Lavender-Cotton, Santolina chamaecyparissus [silver leaves, yellow button flowers]
  15. Leaf Footed Bug, Leptoglossus zonatus
  16. Love-in-a-Mist, Niallgella damascena
  17. Milky Slug, Deroceras reticulatum
  18. Mullein, Moth Mullein, Verbascum blattaria [thin stick, white or yellow]
  19. Pekin Duck, Anas platyrhynchos domesticus var. Pekin
  20. Prickly Poppy, Argemone sp.
  21. Sacred Lotus, Nelumbo nucifera
  22. Smokebush, Smoke Tree, Cotinus coggygria
  23. Swedish Blue Duck, Anas platyrhynchos domesticus var. Swedish Blue
  24. Western Sycamore, Platanus racemosa
  25. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis
  26. Wood Duck, Aix sponsa
  27. Yellow Bird-of-Paradise Shrub, Erythrostemon gilliesii

The Other Gristmill Trail, 06-02-21

I got up at 5:30 this morning and headed over to the Gristmill Recreation Area, getting there around 6:00 am.  It was 59° when I arrived there, but it warmed up to 70° before I left.

I walked over to where I normally see the Western Screech Owl, and was happy to see her — but she ducked down immediately when a loud Scrub Jay flew down in front of her.

I then walked on the longer trail on the opposite side of the parking lot. I hadn’t been on that one before, so I didn’t know what to expect, really. It was more “wild” than the other trail with lots of trees, plants, and wildflowers (some still surviving in the heat) that are not seen on the shorter trail. It was also flatter with direct access to the river in a few spots.

The little footbridge on the trail

I was surprised to see so many Elegant Clarkia flowers still in bloom. And it looks like there had been several stands of a kind of phacelia (caterpillar flowers) there — which I’ll have to keep an eye out for next year.

Elegant Clarkia, Clarkia unguiculata

There was much of anything on the water, although I did see a Great Egret and the mama Merganser with her red-headed babies. She’s still got her four little ones, so she’s been pretty successful in keeping them alive and safe.

Common Merganser, Mergus merganser

I found quite a few galls on the trees including those of the Black Walnut Pouch Gall Mite and the Willow Rosette Gall Midge.  The rosette galls, this time around, were new ones, still all shiny and green.  New-to-me galls included those of the Smooth Petiole Gall Sawfly and Willow Fold Gall Sawfly. 

As their names suggest, the petiole galls were at the petiole (the point where the leaf attaches to the plant) of the willow leaves, and the fold-galls were, well, folded. In some of the fold-over galls, I found aphids being tended by ants. I think the aphids were secondary dwellers, though, having taken over the folds after the sawfly larvae hatched out.  I’m not sure, though.

Formicine Ants, Subfamily Formicinae, tending to aphids

On one of the cottonwood trees, I saw a collection of about a dozen “things” hanging down from the branches.  They looked like bushtit nests or maybe masses of bees, but I could tell they weren’t. They were made of plant material. But they weren’t like any of the hanging seed pods, and there weren’t any of them on any of the other trees. They were — and still are — a bit of a mystery to me. I think they might be panicles of seedpods that have been taken over by some kind of fungus or insects — like large leafy galls. More research is required…

Among the insects, I found a single specimen of a tiny planthopper, Agalmatium bilobum.  It’s an “adventive” species, which means it’s not native but also not very well established yet.

Issid Planthopper, Agalmatium bilobum

I also found several examples of what I think is a kind of “moth leaf tier” on an Arroyo Willow. They were collections of leaves with a dead leaf in the center surrounded by several live leaves — and I think they hid moth caterpillars of some kind.

I opened up a couple of them, and found that whatever had been inside the leaves was now long gone, leaving just plant material and old webbing behind. I’m still searching for a more specific ID. The construction of the things was really interesting to see, though.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

Although I didn’t get any really good photos of it, the most interesting moment on the trail today was seeing a female Nuttall’s Woodpecker foraging in the bark of a tree, while below her, near the ground, was a female Downy Woodpecker foraging on Mugwort plants.

I’d never seen a woodpecker foraging on plants before, so I had to look it up.  For the Downy Woodpecker, it’s rather unusual (used only about 2% of the time). I assumed the bird was looking for ants more than plant matter itself.

Fun fact according to Cornell: “…Percussion not a means of securing prey, but rather a means of locating prey by rapidly tapping along a branch or trunk, presumably in order to hear resonance produced when tapping is above tunnel of a wood-boring insect…”

I was out on the trail for about 3 hours and then headed back to the car…and it was from the car when I got photos of House Finches and Lesser Goldfinches. Always have to keep my camera at the ready.  This was hike #50 of my #52HikeChallenge.

Species List:

  1. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  2. Aphid, Family: Aphididae
  3. Arroyo Willow, Salix lasiolepis
  4. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii
  5. Black Locust Tree, Robinia pseudoacacia
  6. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  7. Black Walnut Pouch Gall Mite, Aceria brachytarsa
  8. Black Walnut, Eastern Black Walnut, Juglans nigra
  9. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus
  10. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra cerulea
  11. Boxelder, Box Elder Tree, Acer negundo
  12. Bushtit, American Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus
  13. California Manroot, Bigroot, Marah fabaceus
  14. California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana
  15. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  16. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica
  17. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  18. Coast Live Oak, Quercus agrifolia
  19. Common European Greenbottle Fly, Lucilia sericata
  20. Common Merganser, Mergus merganser
  21. Conical Trashline Orbweaver, Cyclosa conica
  22. Dog, Canis lupus familiaris var. Golden Retriever
  23. Downy Woodpecker, Dryobates pubescens
  24. Elegant Clarkia, Clarkia unguiculata
  25. European Earwig, Common Earwig, Forficula auricularia
  26. European Praying Mantis, Mantis religiosa
  27. Exclamation Damselfly, Zoniagrion exclamationis
  28. Fennel, Sweet Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare
  29. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  30. Goldwire, Hypericum concinnum
  31. Goodding’s Black Willow, Salix gooddingii
  32. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  33. Green Lacewing, Chrysoperla rufilabris
  34. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  35. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon
  36. Issid Planthopper, Agalmatium bilobum
  37. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  38. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  39. Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  40. Moth Leaf Tier on Willow, Order: Lepidoptera
  41. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  42. Narrowleaf Willow, Salix exigua
  43. Northern Catalpa, Indian Bean Tree, Catalpa speciosa
  44. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  45. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii
  46. Oak Apple, California Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  47. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus
  48. Phacelia, Caterpillar Scorpionweed, Phacelia cicutaria [white]
  49. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  50. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  51. Smooth Horsetail, Equisetum laevigatum
  52. Smooth Petiole Gall Sawfly, Euura sp. [willows]
  53. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  54. Stink Bug, Trichopepla sp.
  55. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  56. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  57. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  58. Western Boxelder Bug, Boisea rubrolineata
  59. Western Ragweed, Ambrosia psilostachya
  60. Western Screech Owl, Megascops kennicottii
  61. White Horehound, Marrubium vulgare
  62. Willow Fold-Gall Sawfly, Phyllocolpa sp.
  63. Willow Rosette Gall Midge, Rabdophaga salicisbrassicoides
  64. Wood Duck, Aix sponsa
  65. ?? growth on cottonwood trees
  66. ?? soft blobby “eggs” on oak leaf

More Galls Emerging, 05-30-21

I got up a little after 6:30 this morning, which was later than I’d hoped. The alarm on my phone didn’t go off.  But I headed out to the Mather Lake Regional Park anyway for a walk. I was hoping to beat today’s oncoming heat.

The first thing I saw when I entered the park was a gaggle of geese, a few adults and a mass of goslings at different levels of development (which meant they were from different broods).  They walked across the parking lot, up over a knoll covered in dried grass, then down to lakeside to get a drink and snuggle down in the grass there. All the while they’re walking, the babies stop to eat seeds and flower heads from the weeds around them. The delay causes some of them to get separated from the group, and they have to scurry to catch up. So cute.

Along with the regular contingent of Mallards, there was a large white Pekin Duck. I don’t remember seeing him there before.

There was a pair of Green Herons that lead me on a chase around the lake. I couldn’t get close enough to either one of them to get any really good photos.  But I did get a distant video snippet of one of them catching and eating something in the water.

I was a little surprised to see some leaves on poison oak that were skeletonized. Gotta give props to any critter that will eat that stuff.

Skeletonized leaves on Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Western Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum

“…Poison oak also serves as a food source for a number of animals. Several insect species, including a variety of butterflies and moths, feed on the leaves, as do deer and squirrels. The leaves not only provide calories to these hungry herbivores, they also provide them with calcium, phosphorus and other important nutrients. Their flowers also serve as a food source for beetles and bees, who spend their days sipping the nectar tucked inside…”

The Cottonwood trees throughout the park are “cottoning” now, so there’s white fluff all over the place, especially along the sides of the trails.

On one of the trees, some of the leaves and stems were saturated in ants that were herding aphids.

There were lots of Cottontail rabbits out running around, including some little babies (but I couldn’t get close enough to those to get a photo of them).  Nothing’s cuter than a young bunny.

Both the Mourning Doves and Eurasian Collared Doves were out cooing. I saw a male Mourning Dove collecting and carrying grass to its mate who was building a nest in a willow tree. There were so may twiggy branches in the way that I could hardly make out where the nest was.

Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

Little House Wrens were singing and buzzing all around the lake. I saw a female carrying food for her babies, and also saw one that came down to the lake’s edge to get a drink of water.

There were only a few swans out and about. I saw a set of parents with seven cygnets. The babies are getting bigger all the time, but are still smaller than their mom.

The galls of the Cottonwood Leaf Gall Aphid are just starting to appear along the edges of the cottonwood leaves. And on the willow there were bunches of galls of the Willow Pinecone Gall midge. The pinecone galls were still in the very early stages of forming and were rounded, without the pinecone “beak” they’ll get as the midge larvae inside develop more. There were also some Coyote Brush bud galls and stem galls, and one willow apple gall.  I’m actually kind of surprised I’m not seeing more bead galls on the willows.

So, I saw a little bit of this and that, but nothing super outstanding. Because of the heat, I left the lake after only about 2½ walking. This was hike #49 of my #52HikeChallenge.

Species List:

  1. Aphid, Family: Aphididae
  2. Black Mustard, Common Wild Mustard, Brassica nigra
  3. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  4. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  5. Broadleaf Cattail, Bullrush, Typha latifolia
  6. Bushtit, American Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus
  7. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  8. California Quail, Callipepla californica
  9. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  10. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis
  11. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  12. Chicory, Cichorium intybus
  13. Coast Live Oak, Quercus agrifolia
  14. Cork Oak, Quercus suber
  15. Cottonwood Leaf Gall Aphid, Pemphigus populivenae
  16. Coyote Brush Bud Gall midge, Rhopalomyia californica
  17. Coyote Brush Rust Gall, Puccinia evadens
  18. Coyote Brush Stem Gall Moth, Gnorimoschema baccharisella
  19. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  20. Cytospora Canker, Cytospora chrysosperma [bright orange fruiting body, looks like frozen dodder]
  21. Desert Cottontail Rabbit, Sylvilagus audubonii
  22. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
  23. Doveweed, Turkey Mullein, Croton setiger
  24. Eurasian Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto
  25. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  26. Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis
  27. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  28. Goldwire, Hypericum concinnum
  29. Goodding’s Black Willow, Salix gooddingii
  30. Green Heron, Butorides virescens
  31. Hairy Vetch, Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa ssp. villosa 
  32. Himalayan Blackberry, Rubus bifrons [white flowers]
  33. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon
  34. Jointed Charlock, Wild Radish, Raphanus raphanistrum
  35. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  36. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  37. Live Oak Gall Wasp, Spring Generation, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis
  38. Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  39. Marssonina Leaf Blight Fungus, Marssonina brunnea [cottonwoods, poplars]
  40. Meadow Salsify, Tragopogon pratensis
  41. Mosquito, Common House Mosquito, Culex pipiens
  42. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  43. Mute Swan, Cygnus olor
  44. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii
  45. Pacific Forktail Damselfly, Ischnura cervula [males have 4 spots on thorax]
  46. Pekin Duck, Anas platyrhynchos domesticus var. Pekin
  47. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  48. Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Western Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
  49. Red-Eared Slider Turtle, Trachemys scripta elegans
  50. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  51. Ribwort Plantain, Plantago lanceolata
  52. Soft Rush, Juncus effusus
  53. Tall Flatsedge, Cyperus eragrostis
  54. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  55. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  56. Turkey Tangle Fogfruit, Phyla nodiflora
  57. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  58. Western Bluebird, Sialia Mexicana
  59. Western Fence Lizard, Blue Belly, Sceloporus occidentalis
  60. Western Kingbird, Tyrant Flycatcher, Tyrannus verticalis
  61. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
  62. Western Mosquitofish, Gambusia affinis
  63. White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus
  64. Willow Apple Gall Sawfly, Pontania californica
  65. Willow Pinecone Gall midge, Rabdophaga strobiloides
  66. Willow Rust Fungus, Melampsora epitea
  67. Yorkshire Fog Grass, Holcus lanatus