Category Archives: Writing

Helped Out a Fellow Naturalist, 09-10-21

In my email today, I got a follow up message from a fellow named Lauren de Boer.  He had written to me in March:

“I am currently taking the citizen naturalist certification course and decided to focus on oaks. I’ve run across you name many times in the course of my research. You are prolific! And the quality of your photography is impressive. There is one photo where you are holding two live oak leaves for comparison that would be very helpful for the pocket guide to oaks I am creating. Would it be possible to have permission to use the photo? Since the guide will be for print and online, I would need a hi res version.”

I gave him permission to use the photo — and whatever other photos he’d like to use — and today he says:

Thank you again for the use of the photo of oak leaves. The Pocket Guide to Northern California Oaks is finished and has been printed. Now I’d like to send you copy in gratitude for your contribution.”

Cool! I’m looking forward to seeing it and I’m so happy that I was able to assist an other naturalist with their capstone project.

Tiny Toad and Big Gall, 06-22-21

I got up at 5:30 this morning to a lovely 57° outside, and headed over to the Gristmill Recreation Area for a walk. (It got up to 88° by the late afternoon.) I slept better last night, but still had to get up around 1:00 am because of pain. I took some meds and went back to bed. When I got up, I took my regular 6:00 am meds and the pain was pretty much under control, so I was comfortable throughout my walk. Walking usually helps with pain control, too. I wish I had more stamina to do it more often and/or for longer periods of time.

I started out my walk by going along the river’s edge, keeping as close as I could to the spots where the river stone and gravel were less “rollie”.  One of the first things I noticed was something tiny jumping near my feet. At first I thought it was a gray grasshopper, but when I reached down and got a hold of it, I realized it was actually a teeny-tiny toad! I took a few photos of it, and then let it go again.

On some of the willows, I found several of the central vein galls on the leaves like the ones we found at Putah Creek, and also saw some beaked twig galls, and some very large petiole galls. 

On another willow leaf I saw a tiny string of colorful schmutz, not really knowing what it was I took a photo of it anyway. When I got home and blew the photo up, I realized it was some kind of caterpillar! Welcome the new-to-me caterpillar of a Zigzag Furcula Moth, Furcula scolopendrina. The long split tail is definitive.

Caterpillar of the Zigzag Furcula Moth, Furcula scolopendrina. Note the long split tail.

The mullein was in bloom, including Great Mullein, two colors of Moth Mullein, and Doveweed.

On a few more of the cottonwood trees, I again saw that heavy dangling stuff that I think is the flowering seed head or catkins deformed by mites of fungus or something. All of the specimens were up too high for me to grab, even with my cane, but I found an old, dried up one on the ground. It was pretty old and smashed up, but you could see that each “kernel” had been swollen and deformed into a wrinkled “flower”. I’ve been doing research on the formations since I first saw them, and I think I’ve figured them out. Finally.

I think it might be the work of the Cottonwood Catkingall Mite, Eriophyes neoessigi. I found an image online that’s similar to what I’m seeing, and the caption read: “This particular gall was about the size of a large bunch of grapes….and pretty heavy.”  Yep. I’m pretty sure that’s what it is.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

Not many birds on the water, mostly Canada Geese and Mallards. I saw one or two female Mergansers, too.  In the trees, though, I could hear all sorts of birds, even though I couldn’t see many of them or get photos of them. Along the trail, there were several areas where I could see both Nuttall’s and Hairy Woodpeckers foraging for insects. One would knock the other out of the way, or gang up with a mate and drive the odd bird out away from the tree. It’s so neat to see the two species working in such close proximity to one another.

When I was stopped on the trail, getting photos of a group of the woodpeckers, a gentleman walked up close to me. He stopped abruptly, startled and gripped his chest. Then he laughed. He’d been walking with his head down, and suddenly saw my shadow, like death, in front of him. It scared him a little bit. He said he was thinking about his brother, but I didn’t pry or ask him for more information because it looked like the mention of his brother was painful for him. I wished him a good walk, and he did likewise. Sometimes, the people on the trail are so nice.

I walked for about 3 hours and then headed back home. This was hike #55 on my 2021 hike challenge.

Species List:

  1. Almond Tree, Prunus dulcisaloe       
  2. Arroyo Willow, Salix lasiolepis
  3. Asian Clam, Corbicula fluminea [little tan or white shells]
  4. Asian Lady Beetle, Harmonia axyridis
  5. Black Locust Tree, Robinia pseudoacacia
  6. Black Mustard, Common Wild Mustard, Brassica nigra
  7. Black Walnut, Eastern Black Walnut, Juglans nigra
  8. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus
  9. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra cerulea
  10. Brazilian Vervain, Verbena brasiliensis
  11. Bushtit, American Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus
  12. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  13. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  14. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  15. Chinook Salmon, Oncorhynchus tshawytscha
  16. Coast Live Oak, Quercus agrifolia
  17. Common Merganser, Mergus merganser
  18. Cottonwood Catkingall Mite, Eriophyes neoessigi [long panicle, like a bunch of grapes, heavy]
  19. Crow, American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  20. Doveweed, Turkey Mullein, Croton setiger
  21. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
  22. Fennel, Sweet Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare
  23. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  24. Gold Dust Lichen, Chrysothrix candelaris
  25. Goldwire, Hypericum concinnum
  26. Goodding’s Black Willow, Salix gooddingii
  27. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias [flyover]
  28. Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata
  29. Hairy Woodpecker, Dryobates villosus [long bill]
  30. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanu
  31. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon
  32. Interior Sandbar Willow, Salix interior
  33. Johnson Grass, Sorghum halepense
  34. Long-Jawed Orb Weaver Spider, Tetragnatha sp.
  35. Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  36. Mullein, Great Mullein, Verbascum thapsus
  37. Mullein, Moth Mullein, Verbascum blattaria [thin stick, white or yellow]
  38. Non-Biting Midge, Cricotopus bicinctus [black and white, turned up tail]
  39. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii
  40. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus
  41. Pennyroyal, Mentha pulegium
  42. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  43. Sapromyza Fly, Sapromyza sp. [tiny, reddish-orange]
  44. Smooth Petiole Gall Sawfly, Euura sp. [willows]
  45. Sneezeweed, Rosilla, Helenium puberulum
  46. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  47. Tree of Heaven, Ailanthus altissima
  48. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  49. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  50. Western Toad, Anaxyrus boreas
  51. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis
  52. Willow Beaked Twig Gall Midge, Rabdophaga rigidae
  53. Willow Mid-Rib Sawfly, Unknown species [per Russo, pg.219]
  54. Zigzag Furcula Moth, Furcula scolopendrina

Looking for Burrowing Owls, 02-03-21

I got up around 6:30 this morning, and was out the door by 7:00 am with my friend Roxanne to go look for Burrowing Owls in Davis. It was breezy and cold, in the high 30’s, in the morning, got more densely overcast by the midafternoon, and then turned sunny by the late afternoon.

We went over to the Wildhorse Ag Buffer because there had been multiple reports that Burrowing Owls had been spotted along the trail there. I had never been to the place before, so I was just going by an eBird sighting to try to find the location where the owls had been seen.  We parked in the parking lot and took what we thought was a sidewalk along the back of the houses in the neighborhood, not realizing that the paved path was actually a golf cart route for the golf course there. 

One of the course markers on the golf course

So, we were getting a lot of dirty looks as we walked along, and finally a guy drove up in a cart and asked if we wanted to get hit by golf balls.  Rox quipped that a hit in the head might be helpful. Hah! The guy laughed. Then he said that we were walking right near where golfers who tee off often hit their balls, and pedestrians weren’t supposed to be walking there. We told him we were looking for the ag buffer, and he pointed ahead of us and said it was over there. He let us continue on our way, but said we’d need to walk back through the neighborhood to get back to the car.

We did eventually get to the ag buffer path which sits between the golf course and an area of protected special habitat that runs alongside some agricultural property. 

When we got to where the owls had previously been sighted, we were angry to find an incredibly stupid and selfish man letting his dog run through the area unleashed. The dog was posturing, threatening us and barking, and the owner didn’t even look at it; he kept walking along looking straight ahead, pretending he didn’t know what was going on. The weather may have been a factor in keeping the owls aground, but I’m certain the dog running back and forth over the spots where their burrows were, barking and growling, pretty much made certain that we would not see the owls this morning. 

So, that part of the trip was pretty much a bust.  However, Rox and I are of the mindset that we are willing to note whatever Nature wants to show us at any given place on any given day, so we were still grateful for the walk.  Along the way, we saw several species of songbirds, and also saw a Kite, a Kestrel and a young Cooper’s Hawk. I think, under better weather conditions we would have seen a lot more. We also know, now, where the buffer is and can get to it more easily without trespassing on the golf course again.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

Cooper’s Hawk, Acipiter cooperii, juvenile

As we were walking back to the car, we checked out the expensive properties there (over a million $ or more), and took photos of some of the plants in their front yards along the sidewalk. One of the oddest things, to me, was seeing a Buddha’s Hand citron tree heavy with fruit. The fruit looks like a big yellow octopus with fat legs. Rox knew what they were, but I had never seen them before. So weird!

Buddha’s Hand, Citrus medica sarcodactylis

The walk there was over a mile, so I was able to count it as hike #12 on my #52HikeChallenge. Yay!

When we got back to the car, we decided to head over to the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area. It was darkly overcast and a bit windy there, so, once again we were kind of thwarted as to how many birds we could see, but we still managed to see quite a few hawks, herons and egrets, and a smattering of different species of ducks.

Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
Great Egret, Ardea alba

We came across a flock of Coots, and found some of them doing that same side-face dirt digging behavior we’d seen before (at a different location). Where they turn their heads sideways to the ground and scoop up dirt with the side of their bill. Trying to get gravel for their crops, I think.

American Coots, Fulica americana,do the side-face digging thing…

We drove the auto-tour route and then headed back home and were back at the house by about 1:00 pm.

Species List:

  1. American Coot, Fulica americana
  2. American Kestrel, Falco sparverius
  3. American Mistletoe, Phoradendron leucarpum
  4. American Robin, Turdus migratorius
  5. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  6. Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon
  7. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  8. Bladderpod, Peritoma arborea [kind of looks like Jerusalem sage but gets bladder-like seed pods]
  9. Broadleaf Cattail, Bullrush, Typha latifolia
  10. Buddha’s Hand, Citrus medica sarcodactylis
  11. Bufflehead Duck, Bucephala albeola
  12. Bull Thistle, Cirsium vulgare
  13. Candleflame Lichen, Candelaria concolor [bright yellow-orange]
  14. Carrot, American Wild Carrot, Daucus pusillus
  15. Common Gallinule, Gallinula galeata
  16. Cooper’s Hawk, Acipiter cooperii
  17. Coyote Brush Bud Gall midge, Rhopalomyia californica
  18. Crow, American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  19. Desert Cottontail Rabbit, Sylvilagus audubonii
  20. Downy Woodpecker, Picoides pubescens
  21. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  22. Golden-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
  23. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
  24. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  25. Green-Winged Teal, Anas carolinensis
  26. Narrowleaf Cattail, Cattail, Typha angustifolia
  27. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
  28. Northern Harrier, Marsh Hawk, Circus hudsonius
  29. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  30. Northern Pintail, Anas acuta
  31. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata
  32. Oak Apple, California Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  33. Oyster Mushroom, Pleurotus ostreatus
  34. Pointleaf Manzanita, Arctostaphylos pungens [small leaves and flowers]
  35. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  36. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
  37. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  38. Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Regulus calendula
  39. Say’s Phoebe, Sayornis saya
  40. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula
  41. Toyon, Heteromeles arbutifolia
  42. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  43. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  44. Western Bluebird, Sialia Mexicana
  45. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
  46. White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus
  47. White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys

Quite a Few Surprises, 12-26-20

Woke up around 4:00 am in pain, and took some meds, but couldn’t get comfortable, so I couldn’t get back to sleep before 6:00 when I had to get up to get ready to go out birding with my friend Roxanne.

We were initially going to go to the Yolo Bypass, then changed our minds but got on the wrong freeway – D’oh! – and ended up instead going over to the Gray Lodge Wildlife Area.  The length of the drive was about the same, just in a different direction. As happens sometimes, we saw more wildlife along the highway and in the ag land areas than we did in the wildlife area itself… including over 30 hawks  along the way (mostly Red-Tailed Hawks, a couple of Red-Shouldered Hawks, and a Cooper’s Hawk).

I thought it was going to be drizzly and foggy, but it was actually a lovely day, weatherwise, with intermittent sunshine and lots of poufy clouds.

Along the more rural parts of the highway, we were surprised to find a dirt-filled lot that had Western Meadowlarks and Yellow-Billed Magpies in it, a field that had Tundra Swans in it, and another field that had Sandhill Cranes in it.  The big surprise was seeing a Bald Eagle sitting on the ground in yet another field with Turkey Vultures sitting to one side of it and a small flock of Crows sitting on the other side. All of them must have been there to scavenge something, but I couldn’t see any evidence of what it was that had brought them all there. 

Bald Eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus; Turkey Vultures, Cathartes aura; and Common Crows, American Crows, Corvus brachyrhynchos

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

Elsewhere, hawks decorated the trees and telephone poles, and more were inside the wildlife area. Most of them seemed to be the ruddy-red “rufous” morph Red-Tails.

There were more vultures throughout the wildlife area, including one that was displaying oddly to another vulture. At first, we saw it bowing in front of the other vulture (which was sitting on a post), with its wings arched downward and its tail lifted up with the tail feathers splayed wide.

Both birds flew off a short distance to other posts where the display continued. After a while, the posturing bird hopped off its post and walked off a few steps where it then sat on its feet.

From the head and beak, I think the posturing bird was younger than the other bird. Its head was still a bit dark and the tip of its beak wasn’t pure bone white yet. I don’t know if the posturing bird was a youngster begging for food or if was trying to initiate courtship or what. I’d never seen anything quite like it.

A young Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura,sitting on his feet after “dancing”

I know that vultures sometimes sit on their feet to conserve heat, but I tried looking up the crooked-wing display in Cornell’s. The only thing I could find was references to courtship and, “…Wing-spreading and hopping also occur during gregarious dance performed by Turkey Vultures in early spring, but function unknown…”

Some of the folks in the Facebook birding groups suggested it was courtship behavior, but I can’t imagine a younger bird trying to court an older one. So I’m still stumped.

Anyway, another surprise of the day was seeing a Red-Breasted Sapsucker in a tree along the auto tour route. And a female Northern Pintail with a band around her leg. I could only see a portion of it, but I reported it anyway.

Northern Pintails, Anas acuta, a banded female and a male.

After we left the wildlife area, we took Highways 45 and 20 back to the interstate. Along the way we stopped at one spot where there was an animal carcass in the road – a newly killed raccoon.

There were vultures on the side of the road, eyeing it, and a Red-Tailed hawk on the telephone pole on the side opposite the vultures. Then we saw a second hawk on the ground in the weeds, eating his fill of a part of the carcass he’d managed to pull over there. I took some photos, then quick ran out to pull the rest of the carcass out of he middle of the road to the side of the road, so the birds could eat it later without getting run over by cars.

At another spot, we saw a Red-Shouldered Hawk off a little ways from the road, and stopped to get some photos of it. Rox turned her hazard lights on to make the car more visible. We were only stopped there for maybe a minute, and these guys in a massive truck with an American flag mounted in the bed came up and yelled, “Are you in trouble?”

Rox told them politely, “No.”

“You’re in the middle of the road!” they shouted. You’re on a rise! No one will see you!” [Untrue. They could see us just fine.] “Get out of there!”  [If we had been MEN in the car, they would never have used that tone with us.] I don’t think I would have minded their “bullying concern” if they hadn’t been what I consider right-wing psychos – which are prevalent these days. I’m pretty much burned out on these pseudo-patriots in their gas-guzzling pick-ups waving their flags in my face. I was glad to see them gone.

As we cut through Colusa, heading to the interstate, we stopped at the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge. There were more geese there than at Gray Lodge: Snow Geese, Ross’s Geese and Greater White-Fronted Geese. Lots of Coots, too, and it seemed to us that the Coots we were seeing all seemed “young” and rather thin. Nothing much else to see there, today, so we headed on home.

A view of the Sutter Buttes from the Colusa preserve

We were out from about 6:30 am to 4:00 pm,9½ hours. A long day, but we saw a lot of different and unexpected things, and that was fun.

Species List:

  1. American Coot, Fulica americana
  2. American Kestrel, Falco sparverius
  3. American Pipit, Anthus rubescens
  4. American Wigeon, Anas Americana
  5. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  6. Bald Eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus
  7. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  8. Black-Crowned Night Heron, Nycticorax nycticorax
  9. Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
  10. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  11. Bufflehead Duck, Bucephala albeola
  12. Bushtit, American Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimu
  13. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  14. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  15. Common Crow, American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  16. Common Gallinule, Gallinula galeata
  17. Common Raven, Corvus corax
  18. Cooper’s Hawk, Acipiter cooperii
  19. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
  20. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  21. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  22. Gadwall duck, Mareca Strepera
  23. Goodding’s Black Willow, Salix gooddingii
  24. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
  25. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  26. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons
  27. Greater Yellowlegs, Tringa melanoleuca
  28. Green-Winged Teal, Anas carolinensis
  29. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  30. House Sparrow, Passer domesticus
  31. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  32. Loggerhead Shrike, Lanius ludovicianus
  33. Long-Billed Curlew, Numenius americanus
  34. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  35. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris
  36. Mistletoe, American Mistletoe, Big Leaf Mistletoe, Phoradendron leucarpum
  37. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  38. Northern Harrier, Marsh Hawk, Circus hudsonius
  39. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  40. Northern Pintail, Anas acuta
  41. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata
  42. Pampas Grass, Cortaderia selloana
  43. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  44. Raccoon, Procyon lotor
  45. Red-Breasted Sap Sucker, Sphyrapicus ruber
  46. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  47. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
  48. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  49. Ring-Necked Duck, Aythya collaris
  50. Ring-Necked Pheasant, Phasianus colchicus
  51. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  52. Ruddy Duck, Oxyura jamaicensis
  53. Sandhill Crane, Grus canadensis
  54. Smartweed, Persicaria lapathifolia [white]
  55. Snow Goose, Chen caerulescens
  56. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula
  57. Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia
  58. Sora, Porzana carolina
  59. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  60. Tundra Swan, Cygnus columbianus
  61. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  62. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
  63. White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus [kiting over a field]
  64. White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys
  65. White-Faced Ibis, Plegadis chihi
  66. White Horehound, Marrubium vulgare
  67. Yellow-Billed Magpie, Pica nuttalli