Category Archives: Volunteering

A Drive Up Ice House Road, 07-23-21

I got up about 5:30 this morning, let my dog Esteban out for potty and fed him his breakfast before heading out with my friend and fellow naturalist Roxanne for a drive up to Ice House Road (around 4000-5000 feet,off of Highway 50 East). Rox hadn’t had a chance lately to get outdoors and was anxious for a nature fix. The road certainly gave us that.

Ice House Road is in the Pollock Pines area and winds its way through the Eldorado National Forest. Once we reached it, we just drove along the road and stopped wherever we saw something interesting. There’s a bit of travel on the road this time of year with lots of people heading out to camp and recreate at the reservoir, so we had to be careful where we parked.

Even in this summer month, the plants along the road were showing off a bit, and it seemed like everything was “berrying” to some degree. The first we noticed when we pulled off the road was a small patch of Showy Milkweed growing wild by a drainage ditch. We didn’t see any insects on it, but it was nice to see it out there. Nearby were several Coyote Mint plants still squeezing out a few flowery sprigs. There also seemed to be a LOT of phacelia all over the place. It’s all spent now, but in the spring I bet it was spectacular. We’ll definitely need to get back up there next year.

We stopped off at the Cleveland Corral Information Station for a look around, and found a mix of pine trees, cedars, and broadleaf trees including Black Oaks, Incense Cedars, cottonwood trees, Rocky Mountain Maple, Chokecherry trees, and Bitter Cherry trees. Some of those were new-to-me species.

We walked around taking photos of whatever sparked our interest and noticed on the information kiosk a sign that warned that the local chipmunks, ground squirrels, and other rodents might be carrying plague. Great. So we kept an eye out for plague-rats after that.

We also found a perfect little bird’s nest on the ground. It was made of twigs and lined with a thin layer of gray animal hairs. I wondered if it was possibly coyote hair. [It might be that of a Western Tanager.]

The next place we stopped had a lot of manzanita trees, some of them heavy with their “little apples”. Some also had bright red leaf galls on them. In that same area we found sunflowers, some blue penstemon still in bloom, Goldwire, Naked Buckwheat, and Squirreltail grass.

A wow moment was when we came around a corner and saw a small grove of aspen trees lining both sides of the road, their white bark glowing in the morning light. They were gorgeous. But we could only get photos from inside the car; there was nowhere to pull off the road and park.

Trembling Aspen, Populus tremuloides, along the road.

Further along, a small outcropping of blooming Fireweed caught my eye, so we stopped in a turnout there and took photos.

We were close enough to one of the tributaries to the South Fork of the American River, to hear the water rushing by. There was a path leading down to the water, but it was too steep for me. I might have been able to navigate the boulders to get down, but I wouldn’t be able get back up again. *Sigh* My bad hip and weak legs thwart me again. [Actually, though, the Poltergeist shut up for the majority of the day; I was able to keep ahead of the pain.]

OMG, I ended up with an album of almost 300 photos! CLICK HERE to see them.

Among the Fireweed flowers we found a variety of bees and different moths. Several orange butterflies flew by — probably Checkerspots — but we couldn’t tell for certain because they refused to land near us. We also saw quite a few Lorquin’s Admiral butterflies in the area, and I thought I briefly spotted a Monarch, but I’m not sure.

It was exciting to me to find lots of Wolf Lichen all over that spot. I don’t know why, but the Wolf Lichen always makes me happy.  Around there we also found white Mountain Coyote Mint and tiny purple fleabane flowers.

Wolf Lichen, Letharia vulpine [bright yellow-green], and Imshaug’s Tube Lichen, Hypogymnia imshaugii

Driving further on, we could see some of the lumber crews working among the trees and stopped to get a little video of one of the grappler units lifting felled logs from the ground on a neat pile, like giant matchsticks.

Then we parked in another shady spot where we could see Golden Dwarf Mistletoe growing in a tree near the road. To our surprise, there were some specimens of the stuff close to eye-level, and some of the mistletoe was bearing fruit. We’d never been able to see that, so we took a lot of photos.

Across the road there was an area that had been worked over by lumber crews; thinned out with lots of recently turned ground around. I could see a Sugarcone Pine tree (Sugar Pine, Pinus lambertiana) a few yards away, so I walked over to it to get one its cones for Roxanne to see.

Sugar Pines were called that because their resin is supposed to be sugary sweet.  They are supposed to be “the tallest and most massive pine tree, and has the longest cones of any conifer.”  The largest cone was measured at 31½ inches long. The one I picked up was as long as the distance between my elbow and my fingertips.  Maybe 15 or 16 inches.  Nineteen or twenty inches is the norm.

“…Yellow pine chipmunks (Neotamias amoenus) and Steller’s jays (Cyanocitta stelleri) gather and hoard sugar pine seeds. Chipmunks gather wind-dispersed seeds from the ground and store them in large amounts. Jays collect seeds by pecking the cones with their beaks and catching the seeds as they fall out. Although wind is a main dispersion factor of sugar pine seeds, animals tend to collect and store them before the wind can blow them far…” 

We saw one of the chipmunks as it ran across the road, and heard Stellar’s Jays in the trees at the “corral” (but didn’t see them).

Went then took a side road up to a view point at a ranger station on top of Big Hill Lookout Road, where there were incredible panoramic views.  We could see parts of both the Union Valley Reservoir and the smaller Ice House Reservoir.  The station there had a couple of large radio towers next to a small building (which was off limits to visitors), and we could sometimes hear the rangers talking to one another over the radio.

Part of the view from the Bill Hill ranger station

By that time of day, it was getting very warm outside, into the mid-80’s, and there was no shade along the road under the radio towers, so, tired, I hung back by the car while Roxanne did some more exploring. While I waited there, a silver truck drove up and parked behind the car. I could see the driver, a guy with a shaved head and tattoos talking loudly and gesturing a lot with his hands.

At first, I thought he was talking on a cell phone, but as he exited the truck and continued to walk closer to the car, I realized he was having some kind of episode. He was talking and gesturing to someone who wasn’t there. Most of the time, his dialog was just a rambling diatribe, but now and then he would pose a question to whatever he walking to, or answer a question I couldn’t hear. He freaked me out.

I got into the car and locked the doors, then texted Roxanne, asking her to come back to car as soon as she could. I also videod some of the guy’s ranting, just in case something ugly happened. The police would have his image and what kind of clothing he was wearing for identification purposes.

You have to really crank the sound up to hear his ranting.

The guy kept coming up closer and closer to the car until he was in line with the rearview mirrors, and just then Roxanne showed up. She walked straight toward the car, not engaging the crazy guy at all, and came up to the driver’s side window and looked in at me. The crazy guy retreated and went back to his own vehicle and drove off, speeding down the hill. It horrified me that he was out and about, obviously having some kind of psychotic break, and driving a truck… I hoped he wouldn’t kill anybody, on purpose or by accident.

We then continued up the road to the Crystal Basin Information Ranger Station, and pulled into the parking lot there. They were still following COVID protocols so had no water stations or restroom facilities open. But you could use the porta-potties there if you needed to. There were several rangers at the site, but would only give out information through an open window; you couldn’t go into the building to pick up brochures or anything.  Rox and I walked around the area directly adjacent to the building. There were a lot of young fir trees and lacy ferns in the understory, and it was shady there, so everything looked invitingly cooler and green. 

In some of the pine trees there was long thin, twining strands of lichen hanging down. At first, I thought it was lace lichen, but close inspection showed it was actually a long-form of beard lichen, “Witches Hair”. The tendrils were all smooth; no “fish boning” on any of them.  There was also more Wolf Lichen on the trees and littering the ground.

I got a glimpse of a male Junco standing beside a juvenile on a rock. They were there for only a moment, peeping softly to one another, but I was able to get a few photos. 

Dark-Eyed Juncos, Junco hyemalis; an adult male and a juvenile.

Near the rock under a cedar tree were some old specimens of Snow Plant, a kind of parasitic plant. 

“…Sarcodes is the monotypic genus of a north-west American flowering springtime plant in the heath family, containing the single species Sarcodes sanguinea, commonly called the snow plant or snow flower. It is a parasitic plant that derives sustenance and nutrients from mycorrhizal fungi that attach to tree roots…”

Snowplant, Sarcodes sanguinea [red, parasite]

I’d like to go back next spring to see if we can find some when they’re at their most beautiful.

By then it was around 11 o’clock and I was getting hungry and more tired, so we started to head back down the road, stopping now and again when we saw something we liked to explore more. There were lots of elderberry trees along the road, but we were having trouble finding a spot to stop and view one of them more closely. Finally, an opportunity presented itself, so we parked and got out of the car to take photos of it. Although the elderberry in the valley have lost their flowers and already have berries on them, the ones up along Ice House Road were just blossoming.

Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra cerulea

Nearby, were some buckwheat plants with some interesting-looking pollinators on them, so we tried to get some photos of those as well. Those guys were pretty small, though, and moved quickly to avoid the camera, so I didn’t get very many useable photographs of them.

We headed back to the Cleveland Corral Information Station, and sat at one of the little picnic tables there to eat or lunch before heading back home. While we were there, I noticed a bird in a tree behind Roxanne, and we followed it with our eyes until it showed itself — if only for a moment. It was a beautiful male Western Tanager. What a nice treat!

A male Western Tanager, Piranga ludoviciana, with its lunch, in a Black Cottonwood tree, Populus trichocarpa

On our way back to Sacramento, we stopped briefly at the Bridal Veil Falls in Pollock Pines. There’s a turnout on Highway 50, and the falls are right there. Here, in the summer, there wasn’t a lot of water, but what there was, was cascading prettily down the 80-foot drop from the top to the bottom.  I bet it’s gorgeous in the winter and spring when there’s more water (and some of the water freezes).

Although there were signs warning people not to try to climb to the base of the waterfall, some idiot and his family — including little kids — did just that. Some people are just plain stupid.

Rox and I took photos and some video of the falls, and then walked along a short ditch next to it that was full of water. There were Seep Monkeyflowers and California Columbine growing there.  And I also saw a few damselflies near the water.

A pair of Vivid Dancer, Argia vivida, damselflies (male in front, female behind). Note the arrowhead markings between the black bands.

It was a long but very fun drive. Definitely have to do it again in the fall and spring to see how the landscape changes.

By the time we got back onto to the highway and were on our way back to Sacramento, it was 88° in the foothills. When we got into the valley it was 102°. Blech! There was also a lot of smoke in the air from the wildfires burning all around. The AQI levels in the area reached the red zone: 151 AQI (Unhealthy).

Species List:

  1. Alpine Alumroot, Heuchera glabra
  2. Arroyo Willow, Salix lasiolepis
  3. Bitter Cherry, Prunus emarginata
  4. Black Cottonwood, Populus trichocarpa
  5. Bordered Fawn Moth, Sericosema juturnaria
  6. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra cerulea
  7. Bull Thistle, Cirsium vulgare
  8. California Black Oak, Quercus kelloggii
  9. Chokecherry, Prunus virginiana
  10. Cobwebby Thistle, Cirsium occidentale
  11. Common Morning-Glory, Ipomoea purpurea
  12. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus [ran across the road]
  13. Coyote Mint, Monardella villosa
  14. Coyote, Canis latrans [scat]
  15. Cudweed, California Cudweed, Pseudognaphalium californicum
  16. Cumberland Rock-Shield Lichen, Xanthoparmelia cumberlandia [gray on rocks, brown apotheca]
  17. Damselfly, Vivid Dancer, Argia vivida [arrowheads]
  18. Dark-Eyed Junco, Junco hyemalis
  19. Deerbrush Ceanothus, Ceanothus integerrimus
  20. Dog Pelt Lichen, Peltigera canina [“skin” with lots of “teeth” on the back of the pelt. I found it on moss on a rock]
  21. European Honeybee, Western Honeybee, Apis mellifera
  22. Fern, Common Bracken, Pteridium aquilinum
  23. Fern-leaf Yarrow, Achillea filipendulina [yellow flowers]
  24. Fireweed, Chamaenerion angustifolium [bright pink flowers]
  25. Golden Dwarf Mistletoe, Western Dwarf Mistletoe, Arceuthobium campylopodum
  26. Goldwire, Hypericum concinnum
  27. Imshaug’s Tube Lichen, Hypogymnia imshaugii
  28. Incense Cedar, Calocedrus decurrens
  29. Jagged Ambush Bug, Phymata americana
  30. Knobcone Pine, Pinus attenuata
  31. Kousa Dogwood, Cornus kousa
  32. Leafy Fleabane, Erigeron foliosus
  33. Manzanita Leaf Gall Aphid, Tamalia coweni
  34. Manzanita, Greenleaf Manzanita, Arctostaphylos patula
  35. Manzanita, Whiteleaf Manzanita, Arctostaphylos viscida
  36. Metallic Flea Beetle, Altica sp.
  37. Mirid Bug, Taedia sp.
  38. Mistletoe, Juniper Mistletoe, Phoradendron juniperinum [somewhat similar in looks to dwarf, but very large]
  39. Morning-Glory Leafminer Moth, Bedellia somnulentella
  40. Mountain Blue Penstemon, Penstemon laetus
  41. Mountain Monardella, Mountain Coyote Mint, Monardella odoratissima
  42. Mountain Spiraea, Meadowsweet, Spiraea splendens
  43. Mountain Whitethorn, Ceanothus cordulatus
  44. Mullein, Great Mullein, Verbascum thapsus
  45. Naked Buckwheat, Eriogonum nudum
  46. One-seeded Pussypaws, Calyptridium monospermum
  47. Oregon Grape, Barberry, Berberis aquifolium
  48. Pearly Everlasting, Anaphalis margaritacea
  49. Phacelia, Mountain Phacelia, Phacelia imbricata [white]
  50. Red-Tailed Hawk, Western Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis calurus
  51. Rimmed Navel Lichen, Rhizoplaca glaucophana [pale gray with black apotheca]
  52. Robber Fly, Efferia albibarbis
  53. Rock Tripe, Emery Rocktripe Lichen, Umbilicaria phaea
  54. Rocky Mountain Maple, Acer glabrum [huge leaves, hairy heads on the seedpods]
  55. Ruptured Twig Gall Wasp, Callirhytis perdens
  56. Salsify, Meadow Salsify, Tragopogon pratensis
  57. Seep Monkeyflower, Erythranthe guttata
  58. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa
  59. Sierra Gooseberry, Ribes roezlii
  60. Sierra Lessingia, Lessingia leptoclada [tiny purple flowering heads, native and endemic]
  61. Slug Sawfly, Caliroa sp. [we saw the larva]
  62. Snowplant, Sarcodes sanguinea [red, parasite]
  63. Spanish Clover, Acmispon americanus
  64. Squirreltail Grass, Elymus elymoides
  65. Sugar Pine, Pinus lambertiana
  66. Sunflower, Common Woolly Sunflower, Eriophyllum lanatum
  67. Thread-Waisted Wasp, Family: Sphecidae
  68. Trembling Aspen, Populus tremuloides
  69. Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum
  70. Velvety Goldenrod, Solidago velutina
  71. Western Columbine, Aquilegia formosa
  72. Western Morning Glory, Calystegia occidentalis
  73. Western Pine Beetle, Dendroctonus brevicomis   [“meaning tree killers”]
  74. Western Tanager, Piranga ludoviciana
  75. Witch’s Hair Lichen, Alectoria sarmentosa
  76. Willow Apple Gall Sawfly, Pontania californica
  77. Willow Fold-Gall Sawfly, Phyllocolpa sp.
  78. Wolf Lichen, Letharia vulpine [bright yellow-green]
  79. Yellow-Faced Bumblebee, Bombus vosnesenskii
  80. ??? bird’s nest [might be Western Tanager]
  81. ??? spider webbing and egg sacs

Emerging Aphids, 07-21-21

I got up around 6:00 this morning and it was 61° outside and a little breezy — nice — so I decided to try going out to the Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge off of Hood-Franklin Road. I’ve never been impressed with the place because although they tout their “Blue Heron Trails”, they’re basically just sidewalks around a field and a manmade pond.  But I thought I’d give it a try and then go to the We Heal Community Flower Garden at Stone Lake Farms afterwards,

Oh my gosh, the refuge is SUCH a mess. The whole of it was massively unkempt and obviously neglected. The pollinator garden, for example, was all dead except for some buckwheat plants and either naked of any kind of plant life, or messy with dried weeds and grasses. The wild bee condos were also in disarray, with many of the tubs pulled out, thrown on the ground or missing. Not a very good example of how the refuge cares for wildlife.

This is the current state of the “pollinator garden”. Disgraceful.

There’s a sign touting the “Little Green Heron Playscape”, but work hasn’t started on it.

Right now, the playscape looks like this:

The “Little Green Heron Playscape”

The pond, likewise, was surrounded by overgrown rose bushes, California and Himalayan blackberry vines, tules and cattails. In some spots, the water was completely covered by azolla (water fern).

Plants around the pond are so overgrown, you can barely see the water.

Around the pond I saw only two damselflies, both looked like Northern Forktails, and a couple of dragonflies, including a Black Saddlebags and a Variegated Meadowhawk. I didn’t see many butterflies besides a handful of Cabbage Whites.

Black Saddlebags Dragonfly, Tramea lacerata

I know it’s summer, and I wasn’t expecting a lot of birds, but, wow, there were so few it was shocking. The majority of the birdsong I heard was from a very active, very loud mockingbird.

The vast majority  of the trees on the plot had been planted there, so there was a big variety in a very small space including Valley Oaks, California Sycamores, Boxelder, Ash, Cottonwoods, willows, Buttonbush, and Coyote Brush.

Although there was signage inside the pollinator garden marking milkweed plants (that no longer existed there), I was glad to see that wild narrowleaf milkweed plants had established themselves in some of the open spaces around the pond. I didn’t see any Monarch caterpillars on any of them, but I did see Milkweed Bugs and Oleander Aphids.

Besides the big Oak Apple galls, there weren’t any galls showing on the Valley Oaks yet.  While I was looking at and taking photos of the galls on the leaves of one of the cottonwood trees, however, I noticed little white specks moving on one of the petiole galls, so I got out my macro lens to see if I could figure out what the specks were. They were the woolly-butt Cottonwood Petiole Gall Aphids, Pemphigus populitransversus, and they were just starting to emerge from the gall! 

The mother aphid chews on the petiole of the Cottonwood leaf until it swells up, and she climbs inside the swelling and seals it shut. Then she lays her eggs, and lets the babies hatch and grow… and when they’re all big enough, they open the gall and climb out of it. Sometimes, if the gall is too small and can’t accommodate all of the youngsters growing inside it, they zip it open early and some of them leave then close the gall shut behind them… They’re such fascinating little things.

“…The ‘wool’ on a woolly aphid is wax, produced by abdominal glands in order to make the aphid look less like a Happy Meal to its predators…” Hah!

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

On one of the elderberry trees, I found reddish-tan forms that I think were a kind of scale insect — the late instars of the insects themselves and some of their pupal cases. I took lots of photos and posted some of them to iNaturalist to try to get a better ID or alternative identification. Elderberries are potentially bothered by the European lecanium soft scale, but all of the photos I’ve seen of them, they’re brown, not the reddish and tan color I was seeing here. Need to do more research…

I walked for about three hours around the site, then headed out, intending to stop by the We Heal Community Flower Garden to pick some flowers, but I made a wrong turn coming out of the refuge and ended up on Highway 160. Yikes! After getting lost for a while on my own, I had Google just take me home. I’ll try the farm on another day.

This was walk #64 of my annual hike challenge.

When I got to the house, I went online to check out the Stone Lakes NWR’s, to see if there were other trails around the main site where I could walk.  But I found that the website was as badly neglected as the refuge itself. There’s very little information, and most of the links on their webpage are bad, leading to pages that don’t exist anymore. Your tax dollars at work. *Sigh* 

There is a “friends group” site, but I’m not sure how much good, if any, they’re doing for the place. 

“…There are occasional docent led walks (fall through spring) and staff led kayak trips on the lakes (summer).  These events take place in areas that are not normally open to the public…” But COVID put an end to that, so we’ll see if they start up again next spring. Still, in all, the place isn’t one I’d recommend visiting, at least not until they clean up their act — and the site .

Species List:

  1. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  2. Armored Scale Insects, Family: Diaspididae
  3. Arroyo Willow, Salix lasiolepis
  4. Azolla, Water Fern, Azolla filiculoides
  5. Black Saddlebags Dragonfly, Tramea lacerata
  6. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra cerulea
  7. Boxelder, Box Elder Tree, Acer negundo
  8. Bristly Oxtongue, Helminthotheca echioides
  9. Broadleaved Pepperweed, Lepidium latifolium
  10. Buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis
  11. Cabbage White butterfly, Pieris rapae
  12. California Buckwheat, Eriogonum fasciculatum
  13. California Bulrush, Schoenoplectus californicus
  14. California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica
  15. California Sycamore, Western Sycamore, Platanus racemose
  16. California Wild Rose, Rosa californica
  17. Cottonwood Leaf Gall Aphid, Pemphigus populivenae
  18. Cottonwood Petiole Gall, Poplar Petiole Gall Aphid, Pemphigus populitransversus
  19. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  20. Coyote, Canis latrans [scat]
  21. Curlycup Gumweed, Grindelia squarrosa
  22. Doveweed, Turkey Mullein, Croton setiger
  23. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  24. Goodding’s Black Willow, Salix gooddingii
  25. Himalayan Blackberry, European Blackberry, Rubus bifrons [white flowers]
  26. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  27. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  28. Leafy Bract Gall Wasp, Diplolepis californica [hard rosette gall on rose bush]
  29. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  30. Narrowleaf Cattail, Typha angustifolia
  31. Narrowleaf Milkweed, Mexican Whorled Milkweed, Asclepias fascicularis
  32. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  33. Oak Apple, California Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  34. Oleander Aphid, Aphis nerii
  35. Orbweaver Spider, Subfamily: Araneinae
  36. Oregon Ash, Fraxinus latifolia
  37. River Otter, North American River Otter, Lontra canadensis [scat, old]
  38. Saltbush, Big Saltbush, Atriplex lentiformis
  39. Sunflower, Common Sunflower, Helianthus annuus
  40. Trailing Blackberry, California Blackberry, Rubus ursinus
  41. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  42. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  43. Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum
  44. Velvety Goldenrod, Solidago velutina
  45. Western Small Milkweed Bug, Lygaeus kalmii kalmii
  46. Willow Bead Gall Mite, Aculus tetanothrix
  47. Woolly Rosemallow, Hibiscus lasiocarpos

Coyote Run, 07-17-21

I  was feeling pretty good this morning, so I headed over to the American River Bend Park for a walk. It was 62° at the river when I got there, but warmed up quickly to over 70 as soon as the sun got itself up. I took the trail that runs closest to the river (but sits above the shore). 

Not a lot of waterfowl are out now; most of them have migrated out of the area. But I saw the usual suspects like Mallards and Common Mergansers. There was a Great Blue Heron fishing near the shore, and because the trail I was on was ABOVE where the bird was standing, it wasn’t aware of me, so I was able to get a few photos of it.

At one point, I could hear Killdeer and other small birds complaining on the other side of the river, so I looked over there to see what was going on.  There was a young female coyote walking along the shore, scaring the critters up but not chasing after any of them. Just showing them who’s boss, I guess.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

There were Acorn Woodpeckers and Western Bluebirds flitting from one tree to the next in another area, but I couldn’t get a lot of good photos of them because they were moving too fast and wouldn’t pose for me. Hah!

Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus, male

I walked for about 2½ hours and head back to the car. When I got there, I saw a Western Gray Squirrel chewing at a clear jar. Closer inspection revealed that the jar was filled with dry-roasted peanuts. The squirrel had managed to chew through part of the cap, and was eating the nuts. Smart baby!

This was walk #63 of my annual hike challenge.

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra cerulea
  3. California Goldenrod, Solidago californica
  4. California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica
  5. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  6. Common Madia, Madia elegans [sticky, smells like lemons]
  7. Common Merganser, Mergus merganser
  8. Coyote, Canis latrans
  9. Darkling Beetle, Eleodes sp.  [small, pinprick dots all over the carapace]
  10. Goldenrod Bunch Gall, Goldenrod Floret Gall Midge, Rhopalomyia solidaginis
  11. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
  12. Greater Quaking Grass, Rattlesnake Grass, Briza maxi
  13. London Plane Tree, Platanus × acerifolia
  14. Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  15. Raccoon, Common Raccoon, Procyon lotor [tracks]
  16. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  17. Sneezeweed, Rosilla, Helenium puberulum
  18. Thin-Legged Wolf Spider, Pardosa sp.
  19. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  20. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  21. Western Bluebird, Sialia mexicana
  22. White Alder, Alnus rhombifolia
  23. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis
  24. ??? lizard tracks

Two Hours at Gristmill, 07-14-21

I got up around 5:45 this morning and headed out to the Gristmill Recreation Area for a walk. It was 56° at the river when I got there. Again, I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, so I was open to whatever I came across. I walked along the shore of the American River for a while then climbed up onto the trail to walk back to where the car was parked.

I found quite a few little toadlets in one area. There must be a nursery of them in there somewhere, but the riverside plants were too overgrown for me to see exactly where they coming from.

I also found a melanistic Bull Frog. It was a young one and kind of skinny, and because it was still a little chilly outside, the frog was torpid. That made it easy for me to catch him and get some photos of him.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

There were lots of galls on the willow trees, but nothing much, really, showing on the oaks there yet.

I saw a Great Blue Heron on the edge of the water, slumming with some Canada Geese. It let me get pretty close before it flew off, croaking at me. A male Belted Kingfisher was also cooperative, sitting on a snag by the water drying off from fishing. And a young Red-Shouldered Hawk flew into a tree right near the trail, and let me get some photos of it before it also took off across the river.

I walked for about 2 hours and then headed home.

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. African Cluster Bug, Agonoscelis puberula
  3. American Bull Frog, Lithobates catesbeianus
  4. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  5. Armenian Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus [pink flower]
  6. Arroyo Willow, Salix lasiolepis
  7. Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon
  8. Black Walnut Pouch Gall Mite, Aceria brachytarsa
  9. Black Walnut, Eastern Black Walnut, Juglans nigra
  10. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus
  11. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra cerulea
  12. Boxelder, Box Elder Tree, Acer negundo
  13. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  14. California Gull, Larus californicus [yellow legs; dark eye; red spot]
  15. California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana
  16. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis
  17. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  18. Coast Live Oak, Quercus agrifolia
  19. Common Merganser, Mergus merganser
  20. Crow, American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  21. Desert Cottontail Rabbit, Sylvilagus audubonii
  22. Doveweed, Turkey Mullein, Croton setiger
  23. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  24. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  25. Goodding’s Black Willow, Salix gooddingii
  26. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
  27. Hairy Woodpecker, Dryobates villosus [long bill]
  28. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  29. Interior Sandbar Willow, Salix interior
  30. Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  31. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  32. Mullein, Great Mullein, Verbascum thapsus
  33. Mullein, Moth Mullein, Verbascum blattaria [thin stick, white or yellow]
  34. Muscovy Duck, Cairina moschata
  35. Northern Catalpa, Indian Bean Tree, Catalpa speciosa
  36. Oak Apple, California Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  37. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  38. Silver Maple, Acer saccharinum
  39. Smooth Horsetail, Equisetum laevigatum
  40. Spanish Clover, Acmispon americanus
  41. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  42. Tall Flatsedge, Cyperus eragrostis
  43. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  44. Western Boxelder Bug, Boisea rubrolineata
  45. Western Toad, Anaxyrus boreas
  46. White Horehound, Marrubium vulgare
  47. Willow Apple Gall Sawfly, Pontania californica
  48. Willow Bead Gall Mite, Aculus tetanothrix
  49. Willow Beaked Twig Gall Midge, Rahdophaga rigidae
  50. Willow Mid-Rib Sawfly, Unknown species [per Russo, pg.219]
  51. Willow Rosette Gall Midge, Rabdophaga salicisbrassicoides
  52. Willow Stem Sawfly, Euura exiguae

Still Between Seasons, 07-12-21

Yesterday it was 102°. Today, it’s only supposed to get up to 95°.  I headed over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk, and it was 59° at the river when I got there. Such a relief!

Today’s walk was more about getting some exercise today than anything else, so I wasn’t looking for anything in particular. When I drove down the road toward the preserve, I saw several female Wild Turkeys with their poults; it looked like one or to babies per mother. I wanted to stop to take photos of them, but there was a car tailgating me…

When I got to the turnout for the preserve, there was a Western Bluebird sitting on top of the sign, but again, I couldn’t stop to get a photo because of the tailgater… Sometimes, I wish I were less careful; just let the tailgaters hit me. But people are insane these days, and you never know what little thing my escalate into road rage.

Inside the preserve, the Red-Shouldered Hawks were talking to each other, very loudly, again. I think one of the youngsters isn’t able to fly like it should. It’s still jumping from branch to branch and not getting far when it does try to fly. It was crying when its sibling found something to eat and was on a branch it couldn’t reach. I couldn’t tell what the other one was eating, but it look like it might have been a bird of some sort.

A juvenile Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

I was hoping, again, to see some fawns, but only saw a few lone does and a couple of bucks in their velvet. The moms must still be off somewhere with the young ones.

Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus, buck in his velvet.

I couldn’t find any galls on the Valley Oaks there, yet, but some galls are staring to emerge on the Blue Oaks — even the Frankenstein tree (a Blue/Valley cross). I found Saucer galls, a Hair Stalk galls, and some Crystalline galls.

I walked for about 3 hours and then headed home. By then it was 76° outside.  This was hike #61 of my annual hike challenge.  And all the fresh air and exercise made me sleepy. When I got home all I wanted to do was have some breakfast and take a nap.

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii
  3. Black Walnut Pouch Gall Mite, Aceria brachytarsa
  4. Black Walnut, Eastern Black Walnut, Juglans nigra
  5. Blue Oak, Quercus douglasii
  6. Buffalo Treehopper, Stictocephala alta [exuvia]
  7. Bushtit, American Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus
  8. California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana
  9. California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica
  10. California Quail, Callipepla californica
  11. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  12. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis
  13. Clustered Gall Wasp, Andricus brunneus
  14. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
  15. Common Madia, Madia elegans [sticky, smells like lemon]
  16. Crown Whitefly, Aleuroplatus coronata
  17. Crystalline Gall Wasp, Andricus crystallinus
  18. Cudweed, California Cudweed, Pseudognaphalium californicum
  19. Dallis Grass, Paspalum dilatatum
  20. Digger Bee, Tribe: Anthophorin
  21. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
  22. Hair Stalk Gall Wasp, Andricus pedicellatus [thread gall on blue oak]
  23. Harvester Ant, Western, Pogonomyrmex occidentalis [red]
  24. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  25. Jumping Oak Gall Wasp, Neuroterus saltatorius
  26. Mistletoe, American Mistletoe, Phoradendron leucarpum
  27. Narrowleaf Cattail, Typha angustifolia
  28. Oak Apple, California Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  29. Queen Anne’s Lace, Daucus carota
  30. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  31. Red-Tailed Hawk, Western Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis calurus
  32. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  33. Saucer Gall Wasp, Andricus gigas [cup shaped, sometimes rough edges]
  34. Tree of Heaven, Ailanthus altissima
  35. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  36. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  37. Western Bluebird, Sialia mexicana
  38. White Alder, Alnus rhombifolia
  39. Wooly Oak Aphid, Stegophylla essigi
  40. Yellow Starthistle, Centaurea solstitialis
  41. ?? Folded alder leaf parasite

At Cosumnes, 07-07-21

I got up at 5:30 this morning. Rox and I had planned to go to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge today, but she got a is it from her daughter, so I decided to go to the Consumes River Preserve by myself instead.

I took Franklin Blvd. from Sacramento to the preserve and at Cosumnes River Blvd. at a train crossing, the gates came down and the lights started flashing… and they stayed that way for five, ten, twelve, fifteen, twenty minutes with no train in sight anywhere. Some people were honking their horns (like that was going to do any good), and others worked together to lift one of the gates by hand and get their cars through.

I looked up “train crossing malfunctions” in Google and got a phone number to call. I told the guy on the line that the gates had been down for 20 minutes and there were no trains. He asked for the street names and the crossing’s DOT number. I didn’t know what that was. Apparently, every train crossing is marked with a blue sign that has a specific number on it that allows the dispatcher know exactly which crossing is involved. I could see the sign, but was too far away to read it.

The guy was still able to look things up and said there was a disabled light train on the rails that was moving very slowly, so it was setting off the crossing gate even though it wasn’t there yet. A few seconds later, the crippled train showed up. It was all dark gray, like it had burned up. It crept slowly through the crossing, honking its horn all along the way, and the gates finally went up.

All the while I was sitting in the car, stuck between cars and high curbs, waiting for the stupid gate to rise, all I could think of was that I was losing outdoor time when the temperatures were still pleasant. Priorities. Hah!

I finally got near the Consumes River Preserve around 7:30 and drove around Bruceville and Desmond Roads to see if there was anything interesting in the fields. There was only a little bit of water in one field, so no waterfowl. There were finches, a Killdeer, some Song Sparrows… and a cat.

There was also a spot where there were a lot of common sunflowers, so I got out of the car and checked them out — looking for pollinators and other insects. I found a couple of crab spiders, and a few bees, but that was about it. I’m still not seeing as many insects as I think I should be, and that’s really concerning to me.

Goldenrod Crab Spider, Misumena vatia

According to the BBC: “…Previous research indicated an alarming decline in numbers in all parts of world, with losses of up to 25% per decade. [A] new study [in 2020], the largest carried out to date, says the picture is more complex and varied. Land-dwelling insects are definitely declining the authors say, while bugs living in freshwater are increasing… Reports of the rapid and widespread decline of insects globally have caused great worry to scientists… Many people have an instinctive perception that insects are decreasing – often informed by the so-called ‘windscreen phenomenon’, where you find fewer dead bugs splattered on cars. The researchers say it’s real… However while many land-based species are declining, the new study shows that insects that live in fresh water, like midges and mayflies, are growing by 1.08% per year… The researchers believe this is because of legislation that has cleaned up polluted rivers and lakes…. The scientists say there is no smoking gun on insect declines but they find the destruction of natural habitats due to urbanisation, to be key… ‘The nice thing about insects is that most have incredibly large numbers of offspring, so if you change the habitat in the right way we will see them recover really fast’…”

Rox and I have noticed large swarms of midges in the freshwater areas where we hike, but the other land-based insects have been on an obvious (to us) decline for the past few years. I wonder if that will affect the gall production this year.

The summer wasp galls are just starting to show up on the trees. Along with the ubiquitous Oak Apples, I also found some early Yellow Wig galls, Ash Flower galls, Spiny Turban galls, and some Jumping Galls. Some of the younger Oak Apples were bright red, and I’m not sure what causes that. Maybe a lot of tannins in those particular trees?

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

There was only a little bit of water in the pond by the boardwalk parking lot, but I could see some birds around it, so I parked there and walked around the pond to get some photos. There were Tree Swallows, Western Kingbirds and Ash-Throated Flycatchers flying around, but none of them would land anywhere long enough for me to get any photos. One group of Kingbirds mobbed a Red-Shouldered Hawk in a nearby tree and chased it away, and the Tree Swallows dipped down into the water eating bugs.

Along one side of the pond, there was a Great Egret and a Great Blue Heron hunting in the water primrose and pond vegetation. Although both of them did a lot of their “stalking” behavior, I didn’t see either of them catch anything.

In the water, at the larger birds’ feet, there was a small Pied-Billed Grebe that was very successful in catching lots of fat crawfish in the shallows.

When I’d gotten my fill of photos from the pond, I walked across the road and followed the trail on that side for a couple of hours. The buttonbushes were in bloom, and everything was covered in the fluff from the willow and cottonwood trees.

I saw a few cottontail rabbits, and a pair of female Wild Turkeys. Each turkey was leading a single poult across the path and into the oak forest.

Desert Cottontail Rabbit, Sylvilagus audubonii

In some of the flowers of Curlycup Gumweed along the trail, I found some tiny beetles, and new-to-me Owlet Moth caterpillars. The caterpillars were transparent orange with black dots around each segment. They were really small but I was able to get some detail with my macro lens attachment. When I’m getting these super-close-up photos, though, I always forget to take a distance photo to show what the subject looks like in a “normal” view in comparison to the close-up.D’oh!      

The big surprise was a Lorquin’s Admiral butterfly. Their host plants are willows, cottonwoods, and various orchard trees like plums and cherries. They take nectar, but they also take fluids and nourishment from bird droppings and animal dung. The overwinter as larvae in a leaf cases on their host plant. I wonder if those cases are what’ve been seeing on the willow trees in the Gristmill area.

Lorquin’s Admiral Butterfly, Limenitis lorquini

According to butterfly expert, Art Shapiro, “…Since the late 1990s this species has been in precipitous and unexplained decline in the Sacramento Valley, becoming extinct in North Sacramento and Rancho Cordova and flirting with extinction in West Sacramento…”   

Well, they’re not wholly extinct, obviously. I see at least one around here every year.

As I was heading back to the car, I saw some goldfinches among the wild sunflowers growing in the now completely dry “wetland” area beside the parking lot.

I walked for about 2 hours and then headed back home. This was hike #60 of my annual hike challenge.


  1. Aphid, Family: Aphididae
  2. Ash Flower Gall Mite, Aceria fraxiniflora
  3. Ash-Throated Flycatcher, Myiarchus cinerascens
  4. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  5. Boxelder, Box Elder Tree, Acer negundo
  6. Bristly Oxtongue, Helminthotheca echioides
  7. Broadleaf Cattail, Bullrush, Typha latifolia
  8. Broadleaved Pepperweed, Lepidium latifolium
  9. Buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis
  10. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  11. California Wild Rose, Rosa californica
  12. Cat, Felis catus
  13. Chicory, Cichorium intybus
  14. Common Spikeweed, Centromadia pungens
  15. Crow, American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  16. Curlycup Gumweed, Grindelia squarrosa
  17. Desert Cottontail Rabbit, Sylvilagus audubonii
  18. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
  19. Fennel, Sweet Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare
  20. Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis
  21. Floating Primrose-Willow, Ludwigia peploides
  22. Flower Beetle, Listrus sp.
  23. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  24. Goldenrod Crab Spider, Misumena vatia
  25. Gray Hairstreak Butterfly, Strymon melinus
  26. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
  27. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  28. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  29. Jumping Oak Gall Wasp, Neuroterus saltatorius
  30. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  31. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  32. Lorquin’s Admiral Butterfly, Limenitis lorquini
  33. Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  34. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  35. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  36. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii
  37. Oak Apple, California Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  38. Oregon Ash, Fraxinus latifolia
  39. Owlet Moth, Subfamily: Heliothinae
  40. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  41. Plum, Prunus domestica
  42. Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Western Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
  43. Raccoon, Common Raccoon, Procyon lotor [2 roadkill, and a latrine spot]
  44. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  45. Ribbed Cocoon-Maker Moth, Oak Ribbed Skeletonizer,  Bucculatrix albertiella
  46. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  47. Robberfly, Machimus sp.
  48. Rough Cocklebur, Xanthium strumariumswal
  49. Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia
  50. Spined Turban Gall Wasp, Antron douglasii [spring gall, round on the stems, valley oaks]
  51. Sunflower, Common Sunflower, Helianthus annuus
  52. Swainson’s Hawk, Buteo swainsoni
  53. Tall Flatsedge, Cyperus eragrostis
  54. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  55. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  56. Water Smartweed, Persicaria amphibia
  57. Western Kingbird, Tyrant Flycatcher, Tyrannus verticalis
  58. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
  59. Yellow Wig Gall Wasp, Andricus fullawayi