Around 7:00 I was out the door with my friend Roxanne, to head over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk. The first thing we saw was a pair of California Towhees in the parking lot, then when we stepped into the preserve, we saw a Red-Shouldered Hawk sitting in a tree.
While we were watching it and taking photos, we were glad to spot Rachael Cowan, the former volunteer coordinator at Effie Yeaw. I was so happy to see that she was still well and kicking.
At the preserve the air was full of birdsong; it seemed like it was never-ending. That was so different from our recent experience at Kenny Ranch where the forest seemed completely silent for the most part. We were able to identify most of the birds by their song: Red-Shouldered Hawks, Acorn Woodpeckers, Oak Titmice, starlings, wrens, nuthatches, Spotted Towhees, Wild Turkeys… But we weren’t always able to see them well enough to get photos each time.
We also saw a few deer, including some does and yearlings, a spike buck, and a pair of 2-pointer bucks who were jousting, if half-heartedly. They kept pushing one another into deep folds between the hillocks, so we could only see them when they came up for air. I got a few shots of the head butting, but would have liked to have gotten more.
The does seemed focused on eating, and they seemed to really like the leaves of the olive trees on the property. One of them even walked down into a little ravine where the low branches of an olive tree trailed down over the side. Another doe tried to eat the leaves off a twiggy branch by pulling it around her head and stripping the leaves off as the twig ran through her mouth. It was fun watching them.
I was hoping to find some fungi, and we did come across a few common species, but it really needs to rain more to see more variety and specimens. I also found some green Trichoderma viride mold growing on a cast-off log.
“… The mold can grow directly on wood, which is mostly composed of cellulose, and on fungi, the cell walls of which are mainly composed of chitin. It parasitizes the mycelia and fruiting bodies of other fungi, including cultivated mushrooms, and it has been called the ‘green mold disease of mushrooms’…”
We were only out walking for about 2 hours – I was dragging a bit – but we were able to complete the one-mile necessary to count this as #4 of my #52HikeChallenge.
I got up around 7:00 am to overcast skies and high fog, with temps in the 40’s, and headed over to the Cosumnes River Preservefor a walk. I wasn’t expecting very much, but was hoping to maybe see some fungus along the walkway that goes through the oak forest. Nope. No fungi. Not even a single little mushroom. I was hoping to see an otter or mink, too, and again, nope. Nothing.
I checked the trees for lichen, and pretty much saw the usual suspects. I also checked out the lichen on the walls of the metal bridge the crosses an especially marshy area at the preserve.
I caught sight of many different waterfowl, but many were too far away to get any good photos of them – which is kind of what I expected. Recent reports have suggested the photo-taking opportunities juts aren’t there…and it may be because it’s still cold, overcast, and intermittently drizzly around here right now. When the sun shows itself, things may be different.
I did get to see a small flock of Buffleheads,and in among them was the first Common Goldeneye of the season.
In this video [above] you can see both male and female Buffleheads. In the first part of the video, you’ll see one of the males doing the head-bobbing gesture that’s part of their courtship ritual. You’ll also see a male and female pair fly off from the water, and see a larger male Northern Shoveler come in for a landing.
Cornell explains: “…Head-bobbing is the most common courtship display. The male swims toward a female and starts making a movement in which the head is repeatedly extended upwards and forwards (about 60° to the surface), and then retracted in rapid jerks, with brief pauses in the lowered stance. A characteristic sequence of actions during courtship involves Fly-over and Landing, Head-shake-forwards and Wing-lifting, and small Head-bobbing. Fly-over and Landing occur when a male courts a female in the presence of other males. The male makes a short flight over the female with the head held forward and low. At landing, the male is upright and the crest is erected as he “skis” on water with his feet pointing forward, thereby showing his conspicuous black and white upper plumage and bright pink feet. After he settles on the water, the head is thrust forward (Head-shake-forwards), and the wings are raised sharply behind the head (Wing-lifting). Head-bobbing follows.”
Among Buffleheads monogamy is the rule, but the pair bonds break when the breeding season is over, and then resume again the following year. The sex ratio favors the males, about 5 (males) to 1 (female). Copulation is brief as the male mounts the female for only 10–15 seconds and like most ducks, male Buffleheads have a penis.
Sparrows and other small birds seemed to dominate my photo-taking today. At one point, I was getting pictures of a Hairy Woodpecker on one side of the trail, and a Nuttall’s Woodpecker on the other.
In another spot, there were Golden-Crowned Sparrows, some California Towhees, and a Fox Sparrow all sharing the same leaf pile. More sightings like those would have been most welcome.
All together I walked for about 3½ hours and covered almost 3 miles, so I was pleased by the exercise. This was #3 of my #52HikeChallenge.
American Coot, Fulica americana
American Kestrel, Falco sparverius
American Pipit, Anthus rubescens
American Wigeon, Anas americana
Bare-bottom Sunburst Lichen, Xanthomendoza weberi [yellow to orange, shrubby, on rock/metal]
I got up around 6:30 this morning, and headed out to Grass Valley with my friend and fellow naturalist Roxanne Moger to go mushroom and lichen hunting at Kenny Ranch.
On the way to the location, we’ll pulled off to the side of the highway were there were a few trees covered in lichen that were within reach of the shoulder. The ground there was still icy, especially in the shadier spots, and I was sort of glad I’d brought an extra heavier jacket with me along with my regular hoody. It was COLD; 37° F, and there was a slight breeze that added to the chill factor.
When we got to the ranch, we put on our heavier clothing, but regretted it as soon as the sun cut through the clouds and fog. It got up to about 57° while we were out there: cold in the shade, too warm in the sun. It’s hard to know how to dress for weather like that.
Tree lichens are different species from rock lichens, and we were expecting to see mostly rock lichens at Kenny Ranch, so the stop off along the way allowed us to capture photos and information on more species. There was one stick we picked up that was loaded with a variety of different species in different colors. That phenomenon always amazes me: so much life clinging to one discarded twig.
The most species we found, though, were among the rock lichen, which this particular spot (Kenny Ranch) has in abundance. There’s a large field filled with boulders, and each boulder is covered in one or more species of lichen.
I was hoping to see some rag lichen on the trees and some birds’ nest fungus, but didn’t find either of those. Whereas, the ranch did not scrimp on the number of rock lichens to see, but the fungi were few and far between. We did find the oddly-named Scurfy Twiglet, the very large Yellow Knights, and some Bleach-Scented Mycenas (also called Nitrous Bonnets) with their sharp bleach smell.
Mycena is a very large genus and includes over 500 species worldwide. Some smell like bleach, some smell like garlic, some smell like watermelon. Some species are edible while others are toxic. And over 30 of the species are bioluminescent. The ‘shrooms themselves are, for the most part, pretty unremarkable when you see them: little plain gray or tan guys with a translucent veined cap and tender stipe.
In some patches of disturbed earth among the boulders where the rock lichens were found, we found different formations of ice including “needle ice”, incredible extrusion of ice from the earth. Rox did some research on it when we got home and found:
“… One of our wonderful finds today was many patches of needle ice. Needle ice forms in saturated soils especially those high in clay. The air temperature has to be colder than the soil temperature and then the rest is capillary action. And the result is delicate pillars of ice in neat vertical stacks. Here’s an articlethat explains it a little better. And a few photos...”
All along the way, we saw piles of scat that we assumed were from coyotes… but most of them were deposited on rocks rather than directly onto the ground, which we thought was odd and interesting.
One of our favorite sightings at Kenny Ranch was finding some Rosy Short-Headed Millipedes. We knew where to look for them, and were hoping to find some, so it was encouraging to actually see some of them under a log. Like their name implies, they’re a pale rosy pink. Whereas most millipedes feed on leaf litter, these guys feed primarily on fungus, so we were keeping an eye out for them in the same places where we were looking for mushrooms.
We always find them in colonies, which is typical of the species. The colonies are multi-generational (closer to the spring you’ll find adults layered on top of pale whitish young), and as there is no apparent “caste system”, all adults are supposedly able to reproduce.
Another standout feature of this particular genera of millipede, is that the males care for the eggs until they hatch. The female lays the eggs in a cluster, and the male coils its body around the mass, lifts the eggs from the ground (so soil fungus doesn’t affect them), and protects them from ants and other predators. The millipedes have defense glands that secrete a chemical compound, like buzonamine, that repels ants.
According to a study published in the Biodiversity Data Journal, the males don’t differentiate between “their” clutch of eggs and other males’ eggs, and will flail around to collect eggs that seem to be “abandoned”. The study also indicated that when the scientists removed the eggs, the males would go seek them and collect them up again.
Their many-many legs are hidden from view by the paranota that extend off of each segment of their bodies giving them an almost “feathery” look. Close ups of the paranota show that, in this species, they’re decorated with tiny bumps. Such interesting little guys!
Other fun finds were some tube lichens and some turret spider holes.
We walked about halfway around the major loop trail, then turned around and went back to the car (about a 3 hour trip). We parked among the cedars and had our lunch, then looked for the other end of the trail by the NID irrigation ditch. We weren’t successful in locating that other end, so decided to head back home from there.
I went to Mather Lake Regional Parkand walked for about 3 hours. I was looking for the osprey again, but didn’t find it. I was surprised by other things, though – including a Bald Eagle!
It was foggy and damp, around 43° when I got to the lake, and the temperature didn’t change much while I was out there. Everything seemed to be made of varying shades of gray and silver and black. I took photos of a couple of kinds of lichen, including Poplar Sunburst, and some mushrooms, including Mica Caps (a kind of ink cap) and Oyster mushrooms.
The Mute Swans were out in force on the lake, but I didn’t see the Tundra Swan this time. I wonder if it moved on in its migration. There were also large numbers of Coots, some of them sticking together in large covers while they were feeding on aquatic plants. I also saw some of the usual suspects: Double-Crested Cormorants, Mockingbirds, Canada Geese, Pied-Billed Grebes, and a Great Egret.
I caught a glimpse of a muskrat as it was swimming across the surface of the water, and also saw about five river otters. The first otter I saw was a lone one, but then I saw a group of four. All of them were swimming and feeding on the fish they were able to catch. It’s always exciting to see them. I was hoping they would come up onto the shore at some point so I could get some full body shot of them, but I guess they were too focused on breakfast. Several of them popped up long enough to look directly at me and snort loudly at my presence.
I was following this same raft of otters in the water, then saw the Bald Eagle over my head in a tree. Although eagles are historically not uncommon at the lake, they hadn’t been spotted there for years. So, I was very surprised when I saw it. More surprising, though, was when the otters gathered in the water underneath where the eagle was perched and huffed and snorted loudly at it.
Then the eagle swooped down off of its branch and flew low over the water. All of the otters ducked but didn’t fully submerge. The eagle approached one of them and literally raked its talons cross the top of the otter’s head before landing in a tree further down the bank. I didn’t get the impression that the eagle was trying to catch the otter; rather it seemed like it was flicking the otter hard on the head to show it who was boss. Of course, my camera wasn’t focusing on anything at that moment; all I got was a blur, dang it! [When I got home, I made sure to log my sighting with the River Otter Ecology Project]
Other raptors noted today were two White-Tailed Kites, a Red-Tailed Hawk, and a Red-Shouldered Hawk (heard).
Along one part of the trail, I came upon the broken skull of what I think was a small vole. It was alongside some scat that I couldn’t identify because it was too degraded. It might have been from a coyote. I know mink eat voles, but I don’t know if otter eat them as well. The scat definitely looked “mammalian”; not something that was part of a bird pellet.
As I was leaving, I came across a man with his unleashed, old, Yellow Lab. The man was walking back to his car, and the dog was following its owner with a soggy tennis ball in its mouth. At one point, the dog stopped and put its ball on the ground. The man, realizing that his dog was no longer following him, turned to look at the dog, and the dog started whining loudly and “mouthing words” at the man.
“No, you can’t go in the water,” the man said to the dog. “It’s too cold. Pick up your ball and come on.” The dog picked up the ball and continued to follow the man to the parking lot. Even as much as I HATE seeing unleashed dogs in public areas, I had to laugh at that exchange.
I walked for about 3 hours before heading home.
In response to my “otter spotter” submission on the otter versus eagle moment today, Megan Isadore at the River Otter Ecology Projectemailed me:
“…Thanks for that very interesting sighting! I’m not sure if you’ve seen our series on Otter and Bald Eagle at Jenner a couple of years ago? Here’s my favorite shot of the group; the eagle had tried to “share” the otter’s prey, which he’d dragged up onto the rock. The otter prevailed…”
I got up around 7:00 this morning, and headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk. (And, yes, Vincenzo started right up, so the battery issue is no longer an issue.)
The full moon was still out, but heading down into the clouds on the horizon, so I only got a fast photo of it through a tree in the neighbor’s yard.
I got to the preserve around 8:00 am. It was 33° at the river when I got there, but crept up to about 53° by the time I left. In the shaded areas, frost was still heavy on the ground.
The first thing I saw was a Scrub Jay being harassed by two Yellow-Billed Magpies. I don’t know what their argument was about, but I couldn’t get any photos of them because they were high in a tree among all the stickery branches. What I saw the most of today (besides lichen) were the Columbian Black-Tailed deer.
I counted fourteen deer throughout my walk, including a couple of spike bucks, two 4-pointers and a 2-pointer buck. I was hoping to see some jousting, but no such luck. Among the spikes, I saw two of them with sort of “mirrored” antlers. One had a long spike on the left and a short one on the right, and the other had a long spike on the right and a short one on the left.
I got a few photos of the bucks doing their “Flehmen Sniff” thing, where they curl their upper lip, suck the air and pull the scent into their mouth through their upper teeth to the organ in the roof of the mouth that can parse out the data in the scent: the age of the doe, the state of her health, is she reading mating… Amazing.
Towards the end of my walk, I came across one of the large 4-point bucks just sitting in a field, in the tall grass, with his back to the trees. Just sitting there, watching all the humans go by. He was quite impressive.
Most of the birds were being very elusive – hiding behind grasses or twiglets, or flitting away just as I was focusing the camera on them. The frustrations of a nature photographer.
While I was trying to get photos of a Spotted Towhee, though, two deer walked up behind me on the trail and crossed over to climb a hill on the opposite side. I didn’t even know they were there until they started their ascent. Sneaky! I got a few pix of them just before a young spike buck arrived to sniff the other two deer up. That hillside it pretty steep, so there was no way I could follow them up it, but I did get a few photos of them from the base of it.
There were Fox Squirrels all over the place, eating or hiding acorns, and chasing one another around the trees.
About halfway through the walk, I stopped at a bench to rest for a minute and saw a sign taped to the bench that warned that it was under surveillance to keep people from vandalizing it. The first thought that went through my mind was, “damn those vandals!”, and the second thought was, “I guess I’d better watch what I do while I’m out here resting,” hah!
When I got up from the bench, I was startled to see a doe and a buck with vegetation stuck in his antlers, racing past me toward another part of the preserve – and a huge, thick-furred coyote chasing after them. Even at her rate of speed, there was no way the coyote was able to catch up with the deer. They were just too long-legged and moving too fast. I then saw the coyote break off and start chasing a jackrabbit, but she wasn’t successful in getting that either. Of course, while all this action is happening, I’m not able to focus on or film any of it.
When the coyote gave up on the jackrabbit, it turned around and came toward where I was, and I got a little bit of video of it through the grasses and trees. The coyote was really panting by then, so I don’t know if she had enough energy for another chase right away.
Later, I saw a real mangy coyote (almost devoid of fur) crossing the rocks near the river’s edge. It’s tail was just a long naked rope trailing behind it. He was NOT a healthy boy.
Along with the tree and rock lichen I photographed today, I also came across some of the first mushrooms of the season: some Oak-Loving Gymnopus and some Honey Fungus. I was hoping to see some nice Barometer Earthstars, but only found a few very small specimens.
I walked for about three hours and the headed back home.
Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
Bark Rim Lichen, Lecanora chlarotera [looks like Whitewash Lichen but has apothecia]
I got up around 6:00 this morning, and was out the door with my friend Roxanne around 6:30. We headed over to Mather Lake Regional Park. Our last trip there had been so successful, we were hoping for another good day of nature watching…
Before I left the house, I’d let my dog Esteban outside to do his potty thing. As he was coming into the house, I could see movement across the fence across the back of the yard. At first I thought it was one of the neighbor’s cats, but as it drew closer, I realized it was a Striped Skunk! Ignoring me, the skunk proceeded to squash its body underneath the bottom of the fence and disappeared into the neighbor’s yard. Welp, I gotta shore up that spot at the base of the fences, that’s for sure. Hah!
It was in the 30’s, frosty and foggy when we got to the park. We were struck by how “little” we saw in the way of wildlife this time around (compared to our last trip there.) So, the photo album will be a bit thin on this one.
Along with the usual Mute Swans, Coots, and Pied-Billed Grebes, there were a lot of the tiny Ruby-Kinglets flitting through the trees. They’re moving in for the winter months, and seem to be everywhere. But they’re so small and move so fast, it’s really difficult to get any clear photos of them. I’m seeing mostly females, and have yet to get a photo of a male with the red-crown. It’s frustrating.
I was upset to see a large machine sitting in the water right near where we think the beaver lodge is, and where the otters like to fish. I didn’t know what it was, and railed about human interference again. But my anger was misplaced. We learned later, when we saw the machine working its way around the stand of tules, and came across one of the workmen who was there, that the machine was a “water mower”.
“…[It’s] mounted on a pontoon that’s designed for inland water management. The harvester is hydraulically driven to travel through clogged ponds and lakes.The sizeable floating machine has reciprocating blades underwater located on the harvesting head. The blades cut and harvest different vegetation like reeds, weeds and aquatic plant life that’s causing detriments to your lake or pond. Removing plants from a body of water is called aquatic harvesting. First, the weeds are cut vertically, then horizontally, to separate the mass. A harvester removes aquatic weeds about two to three meters below the water’s surface. It also removes algae and other forms of debris that’s built up in the system. Once the weeds and reeds are cut, they move to the conveyor system on the machine’s deck. The conveyor fills over time and stores the biomass, packing it tightly. The vegetation then transfers to your lake or pond’s shoreline or a truck for other uses. If being reused, the plants are pressed to remove any moisture…”
With all the noise made by the mower, the some of the wildlife had left for the morning.
The workman we talked to was in the truck with the flatbed trailer on the back. He was waiting for the mower to come up and dump its load on the flatbed, so he could drive it over to a drying area. He said if we walked up over the shallow hill on the side of the park, we’d see all the refuse that had already been set out there. I wanted to go look at the piles to see if there was any aquatic life that had been pulled up with the weeds, but by that time, I had already been walking for several hours, and didn’t have the strength to climb the hill.
In the trees near the back of the lake, we could see large raptors sitting. One was a White-Tailed Kite and the other one, surprisingly, was an Osprey! I’d never seen an osprey around there before, so that was a cool discovery. Of course, the birds were so far away, I couldn’t really get any clear photos of either of them. Sighting the osprey was a first for this year. We eventually walked around to the opposite side of the lake from where we were in the hopes of getting a closer look at the osprey. And it did fly in closer – but was completely backlit, so we still couldn’t get a clear shot of it. *Sigh*
The lake is stocked with bass, trout and bluegill, and they’re confined in a small area, so that would make for easy pickings for a hungry osprey. I hope it sticks around so we can see it again.
When trying to get closer to some Northern Flickers and a Kite, to get photos of them, Rox took the low road over a field and I took the high road along a graveled path, hoping to catch the birds between us. My photos were not great, because the birds were at a distance from us up in the top of trees, and the Kite took off as soon as I lifted my camera. *Double-Sigh!
As I was walking along the graveled path, I saw some wild turkeys on the opposite side of a chain-link fence. They were walking near a large coyote brush bush, and I could hear quail complaining from under the dense bush. Hah! I never saw the quail, but it was funny to listen to them fuss. Along that path, I DID see a Downy Woodpecker and could hear a Red-Shouldered Hawk calling, but could get a clear photo of it as it was hidden behind a mass of twigs and sticks.
In the lawn near the picnic tables there was a flock of Great-Tailed Grackles – and all of them looked like females. We also saw some Brewer’s Blackbirds, Canada Geese and Mallards.
Much of the trail that leads along that side of the lake looked like it had just been re-cut; it was all naked, rutted and muddy.
I thought we’d see more lichen on the trees on that side of the lake (on mostly older willows and oak trees), but was surprised to find there wasn’t much. And among what we did see, there was nothing new. I’m feeling an urge/need to find another source of lichen – maybe go up to Kenny Ranch again?
After heading back to the car, we took the long way home, taking photos of birds as we saw them along the road: Meadowlarks, sparrows, a Shrike, and a Red-Tailed Hawk sitting up on top of a mound. In one spot we saw about fifteen Turkey Vultures “kittling” overhead. So cool.
Not including the drive, I think we walked for about 2½ hours before heading home. It was so clear outside by then that we were able to see the snow on the Sierras along the horizon. So pretty!
American Coot, Fulica americana
Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
Armenian Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus [pink flowers]