Category Archives: Writing

Deer, Oh, Deer, 10-02-20

I got up around 6:30 this morning, and was out the door a little after 7:00 to head out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk.  It’s supposed to get up to 92° by this afternoon, and once again the smoke in the air is really bad. 173 AQI (Unhealthy)  

I saw lots and lots of deer throughout the preserve today, including does, a couple of fawns, yearlings, spike bucks, 2-pointer bucks and a 4-pointer.  One of the does had a partially swollen head. I couldn’t get any closeup photos, so I don’t know if she had wound or not, but the distortion of her head was very obvious.

A female Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus, with a deformation on her head.

The 4-pointer buck walked down the hill from the residential area and tried to duck through a break in the fence. Just as I got my camera focused on him, the battery died. Arrrgh!  By the time I got a new battery into my camera, the buck had moved down to another part of the fence, jumped it and rushed down the trail. So, I just got a few somewhat blurry shots of him.

A large Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus, buck.

The other deer were more cooperative.  They were browsing together – including eating a lot of acorns — and grooming one another.  When I saw one of the fawns, it was being groomed by an adult deer… but it kept mewling, that little “kitten” sound the fawns make when they’re feeling vulnerable. I thought at first that he was  worried about my being there, but then I realized his mom was actually behind me on the other side of a chain link fence. The fawn walked tentatively to me, still mewling, and his mom stepped closer to the fence.  The fawn had to cross in front of me on the trail to get to her, and I think that was really difficult for him.  I told him, “Go ahead, baby,” and he walked carefully out to the edge of the trail then RAN to mom. Awww!

Further along the trail, I was going to sit on a bench near the pond area, but as I walked toward it, I discovered a buck hidden in the tules, drinking water, and was shocked to realize he was there. For such a large animal, I couldn’t believe he could hide so well in the tules.  At one point, he stepped out onto the trail in front of me, so I couldn’t get to the bench I wanted to sit on, and I had to back up and go to the bench nearer to the front of the pond. The buck went back into the pond to drink and dig around the base of the tules, getting his antlers tangled in them. 

Another photographer came up while I was watching the buck, and took several picture, too.  She also stayed there after I left that area.  I saw her again when I was closer to the nature center. She asked if I was photographing another deer, and I told her, no, “Fungus!”  She gave me a disappointed, “oh,” and kept on walking.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

There were several very large specimens of Sulphur Shelf fungus throughout the preserve. They’re so bright and strikingly pretty this time of year, it’s hard to miss them.

There were bees in the “bee tree”, but on another part of the trail, I got attacked by wasps.  I don’t know where their nest was -– because I was trying to get away from them as fast as I could – but I’m assuming it was in the ground near the trail and my walking by created vibrations they didn’t like. I got stung twice: one on the side of my face near my jaw, and once on my shoulder.  I’m not allergic, so I don’t worry too much about getting stung, but wasp stings are painful (to me); they burn, like someone holding a match to your skin. The two stings hurt for the rest of the day.

While I was standing in the area where the bee tree I saw a pair of Red-Shouldered Hawks flying in over the trail.  One of them lighted on the edge of the nest in the top of the tree near the 4B post, and made some soft calls. Then they both flew off again.

Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus

The nest has been there for a couple of years now, but I don’t think the hawks have used it yet. The way it’s situated in the tree, it’s nearly impossible to see inside of it, but if the hawks raised young there, there are a lot of large leafless snags around it on which the fledglings and juveniles could rest as they grew.  That could provide lots of photo ops… but so far the hawks have avoided using that particular nest. I don’t know why.

I also saw quite a few squirrels at the preserve, including fox squirrels, gray squirrels and California Ground Squirrels. They’ll all stashing and picking up acorns and walnuts to feed on through the winter. I came across one ground squirrel that was stuffing its face with acorns it found in the parking lot. It’s cheeks were so full, they nearly dragged on the ground.  Hah!

California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi, with its cheeks full of acorns

I walked for about 3 hours and then headed home.

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  3. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  4. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  5. California Quail, Callipepla californica [heard]
  6. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  7. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis
  8. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica
  9. California Wild Rose, Rosa californica
  10. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  11. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
  12. Common Green Lacewing, Chrysopa coloradensis
  13. Common Pillbug, Woodlouse, Armadillidium vulgare
  14. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  15. Coyote, Canis latrans [scat]
  16. Deer Grass, Muhlenbergia rigens
  17. Desert Cottontail Rabbit, Sylvilagus audubonii
  18. Devil’s Beggarticks, Bidens frondosa
  19. Dun Skipper, Euphyes vestris [dark, dusky brown]
  20. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
  21. European Honeybee, Western Honeybee, Apis mellifera
  22. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  23. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  24. Live Oak Gall Wasp, 1st Generation, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis [spiky ball]
  25. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  26. Mule Fat, Baccharis salicifolia
  27. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
  28. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  29. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii [heard]
  30. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus
  31. Oleander Aphid, Aphis nerii
  32. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  33. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  34. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa
  35. Spice Bush, California Sweetshrub, Calycanthus occidentalis
  36. Spotless Lady Beetle, Cycloneda sanguinea
  37. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus [heard]
  38. Sulphur Shelf Fungus, Western Hardwood Sulphur Shelf, Laetiporus gilbertsonii
  39. Western Gray Squirrel, Sciurus griseus
  40. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis
  41. Yarrow, Achillea millefolium
  42. Yellowjacket, Western Yellowjacket, Vespula pensylvanica
  43. ?? beetle galleries

Two Spots in Woodland, 07-26-20

Up at 5:30 am and out the door with my friend Roxanne to head out to the city of Woodland by 6:00 am. It was about 61° already that early in the day, and it got up to 100° by the late afternoon.

We wanted to visit the East Regional Pond and Ibis Rookery in Woodland.  Both of them are just off Road 102, and pretty close to one another.  We’d let Greg Ira (the statewide director for the University of California’s Certified California Naturalist program) know we were coming, so he met us at the East Regional Pond after we stopped at Dutch Brothers for some much-needed coffee.  I’d never been to the pond before, so it was a fun first for me. 

The pond is a large water retention pond right across the street from the turn out to Farmer’s Central Road in the city of Woodland, CA. It’s surrounded on three sides by private property and protected nature areas. Because these areas are screened off by fences, you cannot walk all the way around the pond. There is a wide gravel trail, however, and three viewing platforms from which you can view and photograph wildlife. 

This time of year, there isn’t a lot of water in the pond, but I could definitely see the potential for future outings in the winter and spring when the rains come and the weather cools off. I really enjoyed being able to see the place.

We got to see Showy Egrets, Great Egrets, American Avocets, Black-Necked Stilts, Greater Yellowlegs, Spotted Sandpipers, White-Faced Ibises, pelicans and other birds.  Many of them were in the far side of the pond, but as we walked from one viewing platform to another a handful of them sort of followed us around. 

There were little cottontail rabbits bounding all over the place.  Sometimes we’d see two or three together, running this way and that, chasing each other, stopping to munch a little bit on the vegetation. They were constant conversation interrupters.

Desert Cottontail Rabbits, Sylvilagus audubonii

We also saw about four or five Pacific Pond Turtles in the shallows of one part of the pond. They were all poking their heads up above the surface.  And when they moved around, they left a trail of mud floating behind them in the water.

Although there were gnats and midges in the air, we didn’t encounter many insects, and saw only one or two dragonflies. But we did find a large Paper Wasp nest. These wasps are usually pretty mellow, so I was able to tilt the nest up to get some better photos of it.

Paper Wasp, European Paper Wasp, Polistes dominula

The queen builds all the first cells and rears all the first offspring by herself. After that, her daughters do all the work, and she just lays the eggs. In this nest, we could see that the larvae were developing in their cells at different stages, and that some of the cells had already been sealed off. Inside the sealed cells, the larvae pupate, and then emerge as adult wasps. Here is an article I wrote about them in 2017.

After about an hour or so, we headed over to the ibis rookery.  I was assuming there would be a lot of juveniles out there by now, and I was right. There were a handful of the ibises still sitting on eggs, but most of the nests had trilling, begging, head-bobbing youngsters in them.  With their striped bills, they’re very striking.            

We also saw some Coots paddling through the water with their own youngsters behind and around them.  I hope they won’t hate me for saying it, but I think their babies are the goofiest, funniest, ugliest little things I’ve ever seen.  “Ugly Baby Judges You.”  They’re partially bald with red faces and yellow pokey-out feathers are called “ornaments”. The more ornaments a baby has, the more attention and food she’ll get from the parents.  Bling matters, apparently. Here’s an article I wrote about them in 2018.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

We were out for about 4 ½ hours round-trip.

Species List:

  1. Alkali Heliotrope, Chinese Parsley,  Heliotropium curassavicum
  2. American Avocet, Recurvirostra americana
  3. American Coot, Fulica americana
  4. American White Pelican, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos
  5. Barn Swallow,  Hirundo rustica
  6. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  7. Black Saddlebags Dragonfly, Tramea lacerate
  8. Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
  9. Broad-leaved Pepperweed, Lepidium latifolium
  10. California Buckwheat, Eriogonum fasciculatum
  11. California Fescue, Festuca californica
  12. California Fuchsia, Epilobium canum
  13. California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana
  14. California Wild Rose, Rosa californica
  15. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  16. Carrot, American Wild Carrot, Daucus pusillus
  17. Common Bluet Damselfly, Enallagma cyathigerum
  18. Common Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  19. Common Spikeweed, Centromadia pungens
  20. Common Sunflower, Helianthus annuus
  21. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  22. Desert Cottontail Rabbit, Sylvilagus audubonii
  23. European Honeybee, Western Honeybee, Apis mellifera
  24. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  25. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  26. Greater Yellowlegs, Tringa melanoleuca
  27. Great-Tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus
  28. Green Heron, Butorides virescens
  29. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  30. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  31. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  32. Mediterranean Praying Mantis, Iris Mantis, Iris oratoria [very narrow ootheca]
  33. Naked Buckwheat, Eriogonum nudum
  34. Non-Biting Midge, Chironomus sp.
  35. Northern Harrier, Marsh Hawk, Circus hudsonius
  36. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  37. Orbweavers, Family: Araneidae
  38. Pacific Pond Turtle, Western Pond Turtle, Actinemys marorata
  39. Paper Wasp, European Paper Wasp, Polistes dominula [black & yellow]
  40. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  41. Red-Eared Slider Turtle, Trachemys scripta elegans
  42. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus [nest]
  43. Ruddy Duck, Oxyura jamaicensis
  44. Saltbush, Big Saltbush, Atriplex lentiformis
  45. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula
  46. Spotted Sandpiper, Actitis macularius
  47. Steel-blue Cricket-hunter Wasp, Chlorion aerarium
  48. Swainson’s Hawk, Buteo swainsoni
  49. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  50. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  51. Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum
  52. Western Kingbird, Tyrant Flycatcher, Tyrannus verticalis
  53. White-Faced Ibis, Plegadis chihi

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