Category Archives: Volunteering

The Galls Are Just Starting to Emerge, 06-07-20

I got up around 5:30 this morning, and headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk. It was 61° at the river, but warmed up fast as soon as the sun was up.

At the preserve, it’s still between seasons, so there’s not tons to see, but I did get to see some deer, squirrels, some Red-Shouldered Hawks, and  a Cottontail rabbit what was “hiding” among the yarrow plants in the garden by the nature center. 

The plum trees are heavy with fruit and the blue elderberry bushes still have berries on them. The wild grapevines and blackberries are starting to show their fruit now, too.

Among the deer, I saw a couple of does and a skinny buck in his velvet. No babies yet.  The fawns should start showing up later this month.

Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

The fox squirrels are up in the trees snacking on black walnuts.  You can hear the scritch-scritch-scritch of their teeth on the nuts as they gnaw through the husk and try to crack the hard shells.

            Among the birds I saw, there was a mockingbird that was really putting on a display in the top of one of the oak trees. He had an exceptional repertoire mimicking Acorn Woodpeckers, Towhees, hawks, Scrub Jays, Killdeer, Titmice… while jumping up and down to attract the females. I got a little bit of video of him, but it doesn’t do him justice.

I was surprised not to see much of anything on the milkweed plants – no butterfly eggs or any other insects except for a handful of planthoppers. Some of the plants have been chopped down, and a sign indicated that the preserve was trying that to see if they could attract Monarchs to the plants with fresher leaves later in the season. If that works, it’ll be great.

The only really fun thing was finding the season’s first Spiny Turban galls forming on the Valley Oak trees, along with a LOT of new acorns. Some trees are heavy with acorns this year… I’ll have to keep an eye on that to see if that “gravid” condition is true across the region.

Galls of the Spiny Turban Gall Wasp, Antron douglasii,on the leaves of a Valley Oak, Quercus lobata

I only walked for bout 2 hours before heading back home. This was the first time I’d left my dog Esteban home in over a week.  I’d asked my sister Melissa to leave him in the bedroom unless he had to go potty to keep him confined in a space with flat floors so he couldn’t aggravate his back issues.  She said he did pretty well, but barked and whined all the while I was gone.  Poor bubby.

Esteban recovering from a back injury in the bedroom.

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  3. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  4. Black Walnut Erineum Mite galls, Eriophyes erinea
  5. Black Walnut, Eastern Black Walnut, Juglans nigra
  6. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra cerulea
  7. Blue Penstemon, Penstemon azureus
  8. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  9. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  10. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica
  11. California Wild Rose, Rosa californica
  12. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  13. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
  14. Common Green Lacewing, Chrysoperla carnea
  15. Coyote Mint, Monardella villosa
  16. Desert Cottontail Rabbit, Sylvilagus audubonii
  17. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
  18. European Honeybee, Western Honeybee, Apis mellifera
  19. Himalayan Blackberry, Armenian Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus
  20. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  21. Lace Lichen, Ramalina menziesii
  22. Large-flowered Evening-Primrose, Oenothera glazioviana
  23. Leaf Gall Wasp/ Unidentified per Russo, Tribe: Cynipidi [on Valley Oak]
  24. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  25. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  26. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  27. Plum, Prunus cerasifera
  28. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  29. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa
  30. Spiny Turban Gall Wasp, Antron douglasii
  31. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  32. Sunflower, Common Woolly Sunflower, Eriophyllum lanatum
  33. Tobacco, Tree Tobacco, Nicotiana glauca
  34. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  35. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  36. Western Fence Lizard, Blue Belly, Sceloporus occidentalis
  37. Yarrow, Achillea millefolium

Lots of Sacred Lotus and some Scale, 06-23-20

I got up around 5:30 and headed over to William Land Park for a short walk around 6:00 am. Trying to beat the heat.  It got up to 100° F here today…

At the park, the sprinklers in the WPA Rock Garden and on some of the lawns were on or had just shut off, so things were wet and muddy in places, and the mud gummed up the tires on my walker.  Note to self: the rock garden is not the best place for a walker.  There are too many narrow turns and shallow steps, and I had to keep lifting the walker up to maneuver it around.

The gardeners there had apparently pulled out all of the Showy Milkweed in the place; I didn’t see a single plant.  But I did see some small stands of Narrowleaf Milkweed and Tropical Milkweed.  No signs of Monarchs yet.

The garden is in a transitional stage, too, from late spring blooms to summer blooms, so a lot of the plants are naked right now. Not a lot of different stuff for the pollinators to feed on; mostly lilies, buckwheat, and butterfly bushes.           

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

Once again, I have to remark on how few insects I’m seeing when I’m out and about. Few bees, fewer butterflies and caterpillars, no praying mantises… It’s very concerning.

In the middle pond, the Sacred Lotus is now starting to bloom – and had taken over about ¾ of the water surface.  The blooms are lovely, but all that overgrowth on the surface shades everything below it. 

According to the Noble Research Institute: “…Its seeds, tubers and young unrolled leaves are edible for humans. The seeds are eaten by mallard and wood duck, the roots are eaten by beaver and muskrat, and the stems and leaves provide shade and habitat for fish, young waterfowl and marsh birds. Shade from its leaves can limit abundance of submersed aquatic plants. However, lotus can be aggressive and dominate most portions of a pond shallower than 7 feet [which] can limit more preferred duck food plants such as pondweeds, smartweeds and naiads…”

Naiads are dragonfly larvae.  Too many lotus plants means fewer dragonflies – and all the aquatic insect control the dragonfly larvae provide.  Humans just don’t think things through.  *Sigh*

I had taken some duck food with me which I fed to the ducks as I walked around the edge of the pond.  Mostly hybrid Mallards, and some Wood Ducks, including some young males who were just starting to get their adult feathers in. They were pretty scruffy looking.

Wood Duck, Aix sponsa, male

As I was leaving the park, I passed by a Yellow-Faced Bumblebee sleeping on some old chamomile flowers. He’d apparently been sleeping when the sprinklers came on because he  was dampish; very “bed-headed”.  I got some photos and video snippets of him as he rousted himself awake, but I’m sure he would have continued dozing if I hadn’t come by.

Yellow-faced Bumblebee, Bombus vosnesenskii

There was Iceplant growing in a bed by the parking lot, and I found a few specimens of Iceplant Scale, alternately referred to as “cottony soft scale” or “cushion bears”. Hah! 

These insects are interesting in that the female insects are followed by a white cottony “ovisac” in which she lays her eggs. The females only live for a couple of weeks, but can lay up to 2000 eggs.  I tried to get a photo of the eggs, but the egg sac I opened was, as luck would have it, empty. I’ll try again next time I see them.

I was only out for about 2 hours and then headed back home.

Species List:

  1. Angel’s Trumpet, Brugmansia arborea
  2. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  3. Annual Honesty, Lunaria annua [“Money Plant”, “Silver Dollar”]
  4. Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon [heard]
  5. Blue Lily, Lily of the Nile, Agapanthus praecox
  6. Bolander’s Lily, Lilium bolanderi
  7. Buff Orpington Duck, Anas platyrhynchos domesticus var Orpington
  8. California Barberry, California Holly-Grape, Berberis pinnata
  9. Cardoon, Artichoke Thistle, Cynara cardunculus
  10. Cayuga Duck, Anas platyrhynchos domesticus var. Cayuga
  11. Century Plant, Agave sp.
  12. Cerulean Flax-Lily, Dianella ensifolia [tiny flowers, blue seeds]
  13. Chamomile, Chamaemelum nobile
  14. Common Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  15. Common Hibiscus, Hibiscus syriacus
  16. Common Toadflax, Linaria vulgaris [kind of looks like snapdragon]
  17. Crested Duck, Anas platyrhynchos domesticus var. Crested
  18. Desert Willow, Chilopsis linearis
  19. Domestic Swan Goose, Chinese Goose, Anser cygnoides domesticus [white or gray, knob on forehead]
  20. European Honeybee, Western Honeybee, Apis mellifera
  21. Garden Sage, Salvia officinalis
  22. Garden Snail, Cornu aspersum
  23. Great Mullein, Verbascum thapsus
  24. Green Alga (freshwater), Chlorophyta ssp.
  25. Iceplant Scale, Pulvinariella mesembryanthem
  26. Italian Cypress, Cupressus sempervirens
  27. Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Arisaema sp.
  28. Kangaroo-Apple Nightshade, Solanum laciniatum
  29. Leaf-Cutter Bee, Megachile sp.
  30. Lilac Chaste Tree, Vitex agnus-castus [looks like butterfly bush]
  31. Mexican Honeysuckle, Justicia spicigera [orange flowers]
  32. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  33. Naked Buckwheat, Eriogonum nudum
  34. Narrowleaf Milkweed, Asclepias fascicularis
  35. Nettle-leaved Bellflower, Campanula trachelium [pale purple flowers]
  36. Peruvian Lily, Alstroemeria psittacine
  37. Petty Spurge, Euphorbia peplus
  38. Pig’s Ear, Round-Leaf Navel-Wort, Cotyledon orbiculata
  39. Pincushion Flower, Sweet Scabious, Sixalix atropurpurea [dark maroon or pale pink]
  40. Red Yucca, Hesperaloe parviflora [pink flowers; gnarly seedpods]
  41. Redvein Abutilon, Callianthe picta [hanging flowers]
  42. Sacred Lotus, Nelumbo nucifera
  43. Shasta Daisy, Leucanthemum maximum [large white daisy, yellow center]
  44. Smokebush, Smoke Tree, Cotinus coggygria
  45. Sweet Alyssum, Lobularia maritima
  46. Tropical Milkweed, Asclepias curassavica
  47. Upright Prairie Coneflower, Ratibida columnifera
  48. Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis
  49. Wild Basil, Clinopodium vulgare
  50. Wood Duck, Aix sponsa
  51. Yellow-faced Bumblebee, Bombus vosnesenskii
  52. ?? ground cover plant with small white flowers and red berries [maybe some kind of Valerian?]
  53. ?? ground cover plant with hanging heads; pink flowers in bracts [maybe some kind of shrimp-plant?]
  54. ?? long-leaved plant with long spires of red flowers [maybe some kind of bromeliad?]

Mostly a “Bee Day”, 06-19-20

I got up around 5:30 this morning and headed out with my friend Roxanne to go check out parts of the Arboretum in Davis.  It was another hot day today (up to 99°), so we only stayed out for a few hours.  At the arboretum, we walked through part of the Peter J. Shields Oak Grove and adjoining gardens.

This grove is only one part of the Davis Arboretum. There are other gardens and collections, including a native plants garden, desert collection, redwood grove and pollinator garden.  The arboretum also abuts the Putah Creek Riparian Reserve.  Each facet is accessible through different streets with varying parking availability.  At the oak grove, there is adequate parking and a restroom facility that is covered in detailed mosaic murals.

One of the murals on the restroom facility walls.

The last time Rox and I were here was in September of last year.  What a difference in what we saw today compared to then: fewer flowers, no galls, few birds, hot temperatures. What we seemed to see the most of today was a lot of different bee species.

Among the bees we saw were a Foothill Carpenter Bees that were sleeping on different stems of the same salvia plant. Because they were dozing, it was easy to get some close up photos of them.  When the male Foothill bee started to wake up, he stretched himself out between two flowers on the plant (like Tarzan going from vine to vine). 

The female bee would have slept in longer if another bee hadn’t jumped her and forced her off the plant.  We weren’t sure if it was an attempt at mating (I think it was) or if it was an aggressive behavior, but the female bee just wasn’t having it.

Roxanne got this photo of them together:

[Photo by Roxanne Moger]

Many of the carpenter bees we saw were “nectar robbing”. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. Rather than working their way to the nectar through a natural opening in a flower, some bees (and hummingbirds, too) will drill a hole in the base of the flower and take the nectar from there. It’s called “nectar robbing” because the bees get the benefits of the food, but flowers don’t get any pollination action.

A female Valley Carpenter Bee robbing nectar from a salvia flower.

How do you tell the carpenter bees apart? The following is from the UCD Blog:

California has three species of carpenter bees.

The biggest is the Valley carpenter bee, Xylocopa varipuncta. It’s about an inch long. The female is solid black, while the male, commonly known as “the teddy bear bee,” is a green-eyed blond. Why teddy bear? It’s fuzzy and does not sting… “Boy bees don’t sting.”

The second largest is the California carpenter bee or Western carpenter bee, Xylocopa californica, often found in the mountain foothill areas of northern and southern California. It’s known for its distinctive distinctive bluish metallic reflections on the body… The females have dark smoky brown wings.

The smallest is the foothill or mountain carpenter bee, Xylocopa tabaniformis orpifex. The females are black with light smoky-colored wings. The male has bright yellow marks on the lower part of its face and some yellow hairs on the top front of its thorax.

Banded Western Bluebird, juvenile. This one must have been banded right out the nest.

We saw a family of Western Bluebirds on one of the lawns, including this youngster. I was surprised to realize that it was banded, so I reported it to the Bird Banding Laboratory. Some birds aren’t banded with numbers, only color codes, like this one. So, even if you don’t see any alpha-numeric marking on the bands, reporting the birds still helps scientists to track them.

Roxanne and I walked through the Ruth Risdon Storer Garden, and went by the Moon Garden and gazebo.  At the Moon Garden, all of the flowers are supposed to be white but there weren’t many blooms at all this time of year.  The gazebo was occupied by a large group of people without face-masks on, so we didn’t go in there.

On the lawn near the Moon Garden, however, we found a small flock of Mallards (mostly hybrids) stretched out in the grass in the shade, all of them in a well-spaced circle. Social distancing duck-style. Hah!

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

Because of the heat, we walked for about 3 hours before heading out.

When we were done at the oak grove, we stopped briefly at the home of Bob Schneider.  He’d invited us over to pick up copies of his new book, “Exploring the Berryessa Region: a Geology, Nature and History Tour”.  He has advance copies that he’s selling, and all of the profits will be donated to nonprofit conservation organizations. (You can contact him through FB or email him at Verve2006@comcast.net),  The cover art is by Obi Kaufmann.

Here’s a write up on the book from the Daily Democrat newspaper.

Species List:

  1. Acanthus, Acanthus sp. [like bear’s breeches]
  2. Algerian Oak hybrid, Mirbeck’s Oak, Quercus canariensis x Quercus robur
  3. Aloe Vera, Aloe vera
  4. Annual Honesty, Lunaria annua [“Money Plant”, “Silver Dollar”]
  5. Aster, European Michaelmas-Daisy, “Purple Dome”, Aster amellus
  6. Baby Sage, Salvia microphylla [red and white]
  7. Blue Germander Sage, Salvia chamelaeagnea
  8. Buckwheat, Red-Flowered Buckwheat, Eriogonum grande var. rubescens [pink to deep red flowering heads]
  9. Buckwheat, Saint Catherine’s Lace, Eriogonum giganteum
  10. Bur Oak, Quercus macrocarpa
  11. Butterfly Rose, Rosa x odoratus Mutabilis [hybrid]
  12. California Barberry, California Holly-Grape, Berberis pinnata
  13. California Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa californica
  14. California Goldenrod, “Cascade Creek”, Solidago velutina californica
  15. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  16. Calla Lily, Zantedeschia aethiopica var. Green Goddess
  17. Chilean Lily-of-the-Valley Tree, Crinodendron patagua
  18. Chinkapin Oak, Quercus muehlenbergii
  19. Cleveland Sage, Salvia clevelandii [purple, circles]
  20. Coast Live Oak, Quercus agrifolia
  21. Common Green Lacewing, Chrysoperla carnea [eggs]
  22. Common Soapwort, Saponaria officinalis [“balls” of pink flowers, look like phlox]
  23. Common Whitetail Dragonfly, Plathemis Lydia
  24. Coral Tree, Indian Coral Tree, Erythrina variegata
  25. Cornelian Cherry, Cornus mas
  26. Cypress Oak, Quercus robur f. fasigiata
  27. Desert Willow, Chilopsis linearis
  28. Dog-Rose, Rosa canina [similar to wild rose]
  29. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
  30. English Oak, Quercus robur
  31. European Honeybee, Western Honeybee, Apis mellifera
  32. Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis
  33. Foothill Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa tabaniformis orpifex
  34. Garden Sage, Salvia officinalis [pale purples age]
  35. Garnet Geranium, Pelargonium sidoides
  36. Indian Blanket Flower, Gaillardia pulchella
  37. Jimsonweed, Sacred Thorn-Apple, Datura wrightii
  38. Laurustinus Viburnum, Viburnum tinus [white flowers, purple-blue berries]
  39. Leaf Gall Wasp/ Unidentified per Russo, Tribe: Cynipidi [on Valley Oak]
  40. Ligated Furrow Bee, Halictus ligatus [tiny bee, b/w striped abdomen, yellow legs]
  41. Madeiran Germander, Teucrium betonicum
  42. Magnolia Tree, Magnolia grandiflora
  43. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  44. Metallic Sweat Bees, Subgenus: Dialictus
  45. Mission Prickly-Pear Cactus, Opuntia ficus-indica
  46. Mournful Duskywing Butterfly, Erynnis tristis
  47. Oak Aphid Leaf-Curl Gall, Tuberculatus annulatus [on Coast Live Oak]
  48. Peach Leaf Curl Fungus, Taphrina deformans
  49. Peach Tree, Prunus persica
  50. Persian Oak, Quercus castanelfolia
  51. Peruvian Lily, White Peruvian Lily, Alstroemeria inticancha “Magic White”
  52. Pincushion Flower, Cream Scabious, Scabiosa ochroleuca [white/cream colored]
  53. Pincushion Flower, Small Scabious, Scabiosa columbaria [little, purple]
  54. Pink Sedum, Iceplant Stonecrop, Hylotelephium spectabile
  55. Purple Sage, Silverleaf, Cenzio, Leucophyllum frutescens
  56. Purpletop Vervain, Verbena bonariensis
  57. Red Coral Fountain, “St. Elmo’s Fire”, Russelia equisetiformis
  58. Resin Bee, Heriades sp. [nests in bee-condo block]
  59. Rocky Mountain Sage, Salvia lanceolata
  60. Rosemary, Salvia rosmarinus
  61. Santa Barbara Daisy, Mexican Fleabane, Erigeron karvinskianus [small yellow and white daisy-likeflowers]
  62. Sedge, Family: Cyperaceae
  63. Shrubby Hare’s-Ear, Bupleurum fruticosum [umbrels of yellow flowers]
  64. Silver Texas Mountain Laurel, Sophora secundiflora [dangling hard seedpods, fasciation]
  65. Smooth Blue Aster, Symphyotrichum laeve
  66. Spined Stilt Bug, Jalysus wickhami [look like tiny Craneflies]
  67. Star of Persia, Allium christophii [giant onion]
  68. Three-lined Potato Beetle, Lema daturaphila
  69. Tree-Anemone, Carpenteria californica [post-blooms, “yellow-green stars”]
  70. Valley Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa varipuncta
  71. Variegated Agave, American Century Plant, Agave americana
  72. Western Bluebird, Sialia mexicana
  73. Western Spotted Orbweaver Spider, Neoscona oaxacensis
  74. Western Sunflower Longhorn Bee, Svastra obliqua ssp. expurgata
  75. White Crepe Myrtle, Lagerstroemia subcostata var. fauriei
  76. White Oak, Quercus alba
  77. Yarrow, Achillea millefolium
  78. ?? black discoloration/gall on Valley Oak leaves

The Caterpillar was Having a Bad Hair Day, 06-17-20

Up at 5:00 this morning to get the dog and myself seen to before I headed off to the Cosumnes River Preserve for a walk with my friend and fellow naturalist Roxanne.  This is the first day the preserve has opened since it was shut down for the COVID-19 thing.  Even though we got there before the gates officially opened, we were still able to access the trails.  I took the Rollator Walker with me for a “test drive” to see how it works on slightly uneven terrain. The trails and boardwalk at Cosumnes are wide enough to accommodate it.

Rollator Walker

When we got to the preserve, the gates weren’t open yet, so Roxanne parked on the road. The first thing we saw was a new nest box with a Tree Swallow on it who posed for some photos.  Then, as we were walking down the sidewalk that leads toward the main pond – which is now completely dry —  a ranger came and opened up the gate.  So, Rox went back to the car and pulled it into the parking lot.  Then we walked down the boardwalk and back, around the trail that looks at what is now open fields, and across the street to the oak tree forest. It was VERY windy all the while we were out, and sometimes the wind was strong enough to get my walker rolling away from me, so, I had to learn fast to lock the wheels whenever I stepped away from it.

I noticed immediately that I walk “differently” with the walker than I do with a cane. Most obvious was the fact that I could sit my heavy carry bag on the seat of the walker, instead of having it hang from my shoulder, so I walked more upright. It occurred to me that what might have been a factor in the arrival  of The Poltergeist (my psoas flexor muscle pain) was that I was carrying that heavy bag on my shoulder on every outing (for about 5 years), and my body had to lean to the right to compensate for that extra weight on my left… It’ll be interesting to see if the change from the cane to the walker (along with my PT exercises) helps my posture and balance, and eliminates The Poltergeist.

Anyway, back to preserve: There’s basically no water at the preserve right now, which means no waterfowl, practically no dragonflies, and no fish or crayfish for the otters and mink to eat. So it’s pretty “desolate” out there.  Until the insect galls start making themselves obvious in the late summer, there will be “nothing” to see at the preserve.

We also noticed how short the Jointed Charlock plants were this year; they all seem very low to the ground. Rox found one plant with this year’s growth looking dwarfish next to the towering remains of last year’s growth.  Just not enough water, I’m guessing.

Jointed Charlock. The newer growth is green; last year’s growth is brown. Most of the preserve was covered in dead/dying grasses.

There are mostly Valley Oaks at the preserve, but we noted that the leaves on them are much, much smaller than the leaves of the Valley Oak trees we see around the American River. In some cases, the leaves on the trees here are ¼ of the size of the leaves on the trees elsewhere. I wonder if they’re a different subspecies, or if they’re just stunted by a lack of water (or maybe salts in the ground).

There was a lot of Bristly Oxtongue, cocklebur, dock, and Pennyroyal out on the waterless fields.  We also found some pink Common Centuary and white Buttonbush in bloom.  There were also several different grasses growing around including Dallis Grass, Canary Grass and Rabbitsfoot Grass.  Grasses are the most difficult plants for me to ID, so I only recognize a few of them. 

Rabbitfoot Grass, Polypogon monspeliensis

On one of the stalks of grass I saw what I first thought was an oddly-colored flowering head (Inflorescence) on it.  Closer inspection, though, proved that I was actually looking at a super-fluffy Salt Marsh Moth caterpillar! That was fun find! We took several photos of it before releasing it to the wild again.  It was having a “bad hair day”, so the close-up photos I got of its face were hysterical to look at.

Salt Marsh Moth, Estigmene acrea

In the oak forest area, along with the large oak apple galls, we found some galls of the Fuzzy Gall Wasp and the Round Gall Wasp (yes, very unimaginative names, I know).  Both the Fuzzy and Round galls are round, but the Fuzzy ones grow on the stems of the Valley Oaks, and the Round galls grow at the base of the leaves.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

We also came across several different kinds of birds’ nests. I’m not very good at ID-ing those either (there are literally thousands of different kinds), but I’d like to get better at it. I know what some nests look like and/or where they’re generally located, but when I find an abandoned nest with nothing it, I get stumped.  Today, I recognized a Bushtit nest and a Kingbird nest, but was a bit stumped on two others.        

There was one lodged deep inside the stems and branches of a small Valley Oak tree. The entire base of it was made of mud but the rest of it was made of grasses. Normally, I’d figure that was a Robin’s nest, but they generally use a lot more mud and the nests are, therefore, pretty heavy.  I’m calling the one we found a Robin’s nest, but I’m not at all sure about that.

The other one we found was in some dried, tall marsh plants in a field.  It had an open top and cup shape, and was made entirely of dried grass, with some of the grasses wrapped around the stems of the plant for stability. There was also a small egg inside of this one, but the egg had a hole in the side of it and was completely empty.  Normally, I’d say the nest was that of a Red-Winged Blackbird, but the little egg was throwing me off.  The egg was off-white with lots of brown spotting on it. Red-Winged Blackbird eggs are larger and “pale blue-green to gray, overlaid with streaks, blotches, and spots of black or brown” – and the spots and streaks can rub off.

Now, there are Brown-Headed Cowbirds in that area. They don’t build their own nests, and instead parasitize the existing nests of other birds (including blackbirds).  Their eggs are “white, grayish white with brown/gray spots, usually denser at larger end”… and that describes the little egg we found in the abandoned nest. 

The other possibility was that it was the nest of a Song Sparrow.  The eggs look about right in color and mottling, but Song Sparrow eggs are larger than the egg we found.  They’re usually about 1¼ inch long… and the one we found was smaller than that (just a little bit more than half an inch which is the size of a Cowbird egg.)

So, I’m deciding that the nest might have been that of a Red-Winged Blackbird with a Brown-Headed Cowbird egg in it. Could be totally wrong, but that’s what I’m going with…

Around the restroom facility near the boardwalk, we found several mantis oothecas, mud-dauber wasp nests, some Paper Wasp nests, and a large Black Widow spider with her egg sac. One of the Paper Wasp nests was just on its “first generation” of daughters. There were only a few cells built and a few wasps around it.

Paper Wasp, European Paper Wasp, Polistes dominula. You can see eggs in some of the cells.

Among the Paper Wasps, the queen (“foundress”) builds all of the first cells by herself, lays eggs, feeds the babies and protect them until they hatch. Then her daughters help her build more cells and feed and care for the next round of babies while the foundress just lays eggs.  None of the viable nests we saw were beyond the egg-laying stage yet; no obvious larvae in the cells.  Once the larvae get big enough, the cells are closed off so the larvae can pupate and then emerge as full-grown adults.  Everyone then works to enlarge the nest by adding cells until the end of the season, at which time everyone dies off except the queen.  She won’t use the same nest again, so once everyone is gone, it’s safe to remove (or even keep) the nests.

While we were at the restroom facility, I noticed what looked like a turtle on the trail at some distance from us.  Roxanne went to retrieve it so we could get a better look at it, and got peed on by the turtle for her efforts. D’oh! Urination is a common “defense strategy” among turtles and tortoises. This particular turtle, a female Red-Eared Slider, had a LOT of pee to eject which made me think she might have been storing it up to urinate on eggs…(Desert Tortoises urinate on freshly laid eggs to make them unpalatable to predators.) I don’t know if Sliders do that, too; it was just a thought.

Red-Eared Slider Turtle, Trachemys scripta elegans, “urination defense”.

How do you tell the males from the females? It can be tricky if the turtles are really young, but in adult turtles the easiest indicators to see in the females is that they’re much larger than the males, have a thin tail and short fingernails.  (Males use their long front fingernails in their courtship behavior.)  If you want to get more technical, look at the turtle’s cloaca: “…In females, the cloaca is close to the body, while males have a cloaca located almost at the tip of the tail…”

Red-Eared Slider Turtle, Trachemys scripta elegans

I thought this particular female might be looking for somewhere to lay eggs because she was moving AWAY from a water source (a small nearby pond).  Although they’re technically aquatic turtles, the Sliders won’t lay their eggs in the water.  Instead, they find a patch of ground where they can dig a shallow hole with their hind legs, lay the eggs in it, and then lightly cover it up again.  “…One female can lay up to five clutches in the same year, and clutches are usually spaced 12 to 36 days apart…”

After we took some photos of the turtle, Roxanne set her back onto the side of the trail so she continue on in whatever direction he wanted to go.

  We were out and about for about 4 hours before heading back home.

Species List:

  1. American Robin, Turdus migratorius [? Nest]
  2. Bird’s-foot Trefoil, Lotus corniculatus
  3. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  4. Blue-Eyed Darner Dragonfly, Aeshna multicolor [in flight]
  5. Bristly Oxtongue, Helminthotheca echioides
  6. Broad-leaved Pepperweed, Lepidium latifolium
  7. Brown-Headed Cowbird, Molothrus ater [? Egg]
  8. Bushtit, American Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus [nest]
  9. Buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis
  10. Cabbage White butterfly, Pieris rapae
  11. California Centaury, Zeltnera venusta
  12. California Praying Mantis, Stagmomantis californica [ootheca]
  13. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica
  14. Canary Grass, Reed Canary Grass, Phalaris arundinacea
  15. Cudweed, California Cudweed, Pseudognaphalium californicum
  16. Curly Dock, Rumex crispus
  17. Dallis Grass, Dallisgrass, Paspalum dilatatum
  18. Dense-Flowered Willowherb, Epilobium densiflorum [looks kind of like of like a giant owl’s clover, pink flowers]
  19. Fiddle Dock, Rumex pulcher [very small flowering heads/ seeds]
  20. Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis
  21. Fuzzy Gall Wasp galls, Disholcaspis washingtonensi [round faintly fuzzy galls on stems]
  22. Harvest Brodiaea, Brodiaea elegans
  23. Jointed Charlock, Wild Radish, Raphanus raphanistrum
  24. Leafhopper, Gyponana procera
  25. Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  26. Narrowleaf Willow, Salix exigua
  27. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  28. Oak Apple Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  29. Paper Wasp, European Paper Wasp, Polistes dominula [black & yellow]
  30. Pennyroyal, Mentha pulegium
  31. Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Western Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
  32. Queen Anne’s Lace, Wild Carrot, Daucus carota
  33. Rabbitfoot Grass, Polypogon monspeliensis
  34. Red-Eared Slider Turtle, Trachemys scripta elegans
  35. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus [? nest with Cowbird egg in it]
  36. Ribwort Plantain, Plantago lanceolata
  37. Rough Cocklebur, Xanthium strumarium
  38. Round Gall Wasp, Cynips conspicuous [round gall near base of leaf on Valley Oaks,formerly Besbicus conspicuous]
  39. Salt Marsh Moth, Estigmene acrea
  40. Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia [? Nest]
  41. Tall Flatsedge, Cyperus eragrostis
  42. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  43. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  44. Turkey Tangle Fogfruit, Phyla nodiflora
  45. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  46. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  47. Water Primrose, Ludwigia hexapetala [rounded leaves; not floating]
  48. Western Black Widow Spider, Latrodectus Hesperus [with egg sac]
  49. Western Kingbird, Tyrant Flycatcher, Tyrannus verticalis [? nest]
  50. Willow Herb, Epilobium brachycarpum [tiny pink flowers, seeds sort of like soaproot]
  51. Willow Pinecone Gall midge, Rabdophaga strobiloides
  52. Willow Stem Sawfly Gall, Euura exiguae
  53. Yellow-Legged Mud-Dauber Wasp, Sceliphron caementarium [nests and pupa cases]