More Galls Emerging, 05-30-21

I got up a little after 6:30 this morning, which was later than I’d hoped. The alarm on my phone didn’t go off.  But I headed out to the Mather Lake Regional Park anyway for a walk. I was hoping to beat today’s oncoming heat.

The first thing I saw when I entered the park was a gaggle of geese, a few adults and a mass of goslings at different levels of development (which meant they were from different broods).  They walked across the parking lot, up over a knoll covered in dried grass, then down to lakeside to get a drink and snuggle down in the grass there. All the while they’re walking, the babies stop to eat seeds and flower heads from the weeds around them. The delay causes some of them to get separated from the group, and they have to scurry to catch up. So cute.

Along with the regular contingent of Mallards, there was a large white Pekin Duck. I don’t remember seeing him there before.

There was a pair of Green Herons that lead me on a chase around the lake. I couldn’t get close enough to either one of them to get any really good photos.  But I did get a distant video snippet of one of them catching and eating something in the water.

I was a little surprised to see some leaves on poison oak that were skeletonized. Gotta give props to any critter that will eat that stuff.

Skeletonized leaves on Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Western Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum

“…Poison oak also serves as a food source for a number of animals. Several insect species, including a variety of butterflies and moths, feed on the leaves, as do deer and squirrels. The leaves not only provide calories to these hungry herbivores, they also provide them with calcium, phosphorus and other important nutrients. Their flowers also serve as a food source for beetles and bees, who spend their days sipping the nectar tucked inside…”

The Cottonwood trees throughout the park are “cottoning” now, so there’s white fluff all over the place, especially along the sides of the trails.

On one of the trees, some of the leaves and stems were saturated in ants that were herding aphids.

There were lots of Cottontail rabbits out running around, including some little babies (but I couldn’t get close enough to those to get a photo of them).  Nothing’s cuter than a young bunny.

Both the Mourning Doves and Eurasian Collared Doves were out cooing. I saw a male Mourning Dove collecting and carrying grass to its mate who was building a nest in a willow tree. There were so may twiggy branches in the way that I could hardly make out where the nest was.

Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

Little House Wrens were singing and buzzing all around the lake. I saw a female carrying food for her babies, and also saw one that came down to the lake’s edge to get a drink of water.

There were only a few swans out and about. I saw a set of parents with seven cygnets. The babies are getting bigger all the time, but are still smaller than their mom.

The galls of the Cottonwood Leaf Gall Aphid are just starting to appear along the edges of the cottonwood leaves. And on the willow there were bunches of galls of the Willow Pinecone Gall midge. The pinecone galls were still in the very early stages of forming and were rounded, without the pinecone “beak” they’ll get as the midge larvae inside develop more. There were also some Coyote Brush bud galls and stem galls, and one willow apple gall.  I’m actually kind of surprised I’m not seeing more bead galls on the willows.

So, I saw a little bit of this and that, but nothing super outstanding. Because of the heat, I left the lake after only about 2½ walking. This was hike #49 of my #52HikeChallenge.

Species List:

  1. Aphid, Family: Aphididae
  2. Black Mustard, Common Wild Mustard, Brassica nigra
  3. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  4. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  5. Broadleaf Cattail, Bullrush, Typha latifolia
  6. Bushtit, American Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus
  7. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  8. California Quail, Callipepla californica
  9. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  10. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis
  11. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  12. Chicory, Cichorium intybus
  13. Coast Live Oak, Quercus agrifolia
  14. Cork Oak, Quercus suber
  15. Cottonwood Leaf Gall Aphid, Pemphigus populivenae
  16. Coyote Brush Bud Gall midge, Rhopalomyia californica
  17. Coyote Brush Rust Gall, Puccinia evadens
  18. Coyote Brush Stem Gall Moth, Gnorimoschema baccharisella
  19. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  20. Cytospora Canker, Cytospora chrysosperma [bright orange fruiting body, looks like frozen dodder]
  21. Desert Cottontail Rabbit, Sylvilagus audubonii
  22. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
  23. Doveweed, Turkey Mullein, Croton setiger
  24. Eurasian Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto
  25. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  26. Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis
  27. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  28. Goldwire, Hypericum concinnum
  29. Goodding’s Black Willow, Salix gooddingii
  30. Green Heron, Butorides virescens
  31. Hairy Vetch, Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa ssp. villosa 
  32. Himalayan Blackberry, Rubus bifrons [white flowers]
  33. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon
  34. Jointed Charlock, Wild Radish, Raphanus raphanistrum
  35. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  36. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  37. Live Oak Gall Wasp, Spring Generation, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis
  38. Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  39. Marssonina Leaf Blight Fungus, Marssonina brunnea [cottonwoods, poplars]
  40. Meadow Salsify, Tragopogon pratensis
  41. Mosquito, Common House Mosquito, Culex pipiens
  42. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  43. Mute Swan, Cygnus olor
  44. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii
  45. Pacific Forktail Damselfly, Ischnura cervula [males have 4 spots on thorax]
  46. Pekin Duck, Anas platyrhynchos domesticus var. Pekin
  47. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  48. Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Western Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
  49. Red-Eared Slider Turtle, Trachemys scripta elegans
  50. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  51. Ribwort Plantain, Plantago lanceolata
  52. Soft Rush, Juncus effusus
  53. Tall Flatsedge, Cyperus eragrostis
  54. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  55. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  56. Turkey Tangle Fogfruit, Phyla nodiflora
  57. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  58. Western Bluebird, Sialia Mexicana
  59. Western Fence Lizard, Blue Belly, Sceloporus occidentalis
  60. Western Kingbird, Tyrant Flycatcher, Tyrannus verticalis
  61. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
  62. Western Mosquitofish, Gambusia affinis
  63. White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus
  64. Willow Apple Gall Sawfly, Pontania californica
  65. Willow Pinecone Gall midge, Rabdophaga strobiloides
  66. Willow Rust Fungus, Melampsora epitea
  67. Yorkshire Fog Grass, Holcus lanatus

All Around Yolo County, 05-28-21

I got up at 5:30 this morning and met up with my friend/fellow naturalist Roxanne to go see what was out and about in Yolo County. We had planned to go to the Putah Creek Riparian Reserve somewhere along the line, but we got waylaid by other sights and destinations, and then it got too warm for us to be walking around outdoors.

We went along Roads 105 and 30 to look for the hawks and other birds that had been reported in the fields there, then we went to the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area, then we headed over toward the Putah Creek access, but ended up in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven instead. At every place stopped, we saw something interesting and unexpected, and that’s always fun.

Roads 105 and 30 in Yolo County

On our way to Road 105, we saw a large, flat-faced, light-colored bird fly across the highway in front of us. We assumed by its GISS [general impression, shape and size] that it was an owl, possibly a barn owl, but we didn’t know for sure.

Rox had been in the area the day before, so knew where to look for the birds in the fields along Road 105. We pulled up onto Road 30 (where the traffic was practically nil), and got out of the car to take some photos and video.

We found a sizable collection of birds in one field, and although they were all pretty far away from us (and we didn’t want to trespass into the field itself) we were able to identify the species of the birds. 

Along with lots and lots of Swainson’s Hawks (all of them sitting down, partially hidden by the grass), we could see Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets, Black-Crowned Night Herons, Cattle Egrets, Great Blue Herons, crows and ravens, Red-Winged Blackbirds and Brewer’s Blackbirds all standing or flying in close proximity to one another.

There had been lots of reports of large gatherings of birds in the ag fields lately because some of the fields were being flooded, and that caused all the ground-dwelling mice, voles, and insects to come up in order to flee the water…then had to run the gauntlet of hungry birds. Swainson’s Hawks take both small rodents and insects, so their sitting on the ground was not uncommon for them. They’ll actually run on the ground after prey if they have to. 

And it was just Swainson’s Hawks out there, no other species. I think that’s because the Swainson’s often gather in large flocks which may be intimidating to other hawks. In one spot alone, I counted 18 Swainy’s.

According to Cornell: “…These elegant gray, white, and brown hawks hunt rodents in flight, wings held in a shallow V, or even run after insects on the ground. In fall, they take off for Argentine wintering grounds—one of the longest migrations of any American raptor—forming flocks of hundreds or thousands as they travel…”

In the field, the various birds on the ground seemed to be fine with their nearby neighbors.  The hawks didn’t bother the herons or egrets and vice versa. There was one young Swainson’s Hawk, however, who had somehow aggravated a group of blackbirds and a tenacious Kestrel, and was being chased back and forth and around the field. The hawk was crying all the while it flew, as though begging for help, but none of the adult hawks came to its rescue. It eventually landed in a tree on the edge of the field and hid itself among the leaves.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

As we were walking along the edges of the field, I found an owl pellet… and also saw one of the female Brewer’s Blackbirds take some grass to her nest in the top of a tree.

To try to see more of the birds in the field from a different angle, Rox drove further down Road 30.There we saw a solitary female Wild Turkey, and some young crows going through/coming out of a major molt.  “…When crows molt, the old feathers can appear brownish or scaly compared to the glossy new feathers…” And some of these looked very brown.

We then turned the car around and drove down the other end of Road 30, almost to where the paved road gave way to dirt and gravel. We were surprised to find that some of the folks who lived nearby did some “native plant planting” along the edges of the ag fields.  There were a couple of very nice stands of Showy and Narrow-Leaf Milkweed plants, most of them just starting to bloom. Along with the honeybees, we saw a Green Lacewing, and lots of Blue Milkweed Beetles.

The beetles are a dark metallic cobalt blue with black legs and antennae. They live on or around milkweed throughout their lifecycle, eating the leaves (and sometimes the roots of the plant), having sex, and laying eggs. The larvae can “skeletonize” the leaves of the plant, but that action doesn’t kill it. It simply goes dormant until the next season. Although these beetles have the ability to launch themselves (like click-beetles), none of that did that while we were looking at them… not even when we brought them close to the eyes of our cellphone cameras.

We found a couple of the honeybees that had been trapped by the milkweed and died. Milkweed plants are interesting in that they have a variety of unusual boobytraps built into them that other plants do not. Besides their sticky latex (the white sap that drips from the plant when it is damaged) which can trap a variety of insects, the milkweed flowers themselves can also be dangerous for pollinators.  

Rather than offering up its pollen on upright visible structures called “stigmas”, the milkweed flower has its pollen hidden inside special little crevices called “stigmatic slits”.  When a pollinator, like a honeybee, lands on the flower and walks over its surface to drink the flower’s nectar, the bee’s feet slip inside theses stigmatic slits.  Pollen inside the slit affixes itself to the bee’s feet, and when the bee moves to another flower, it carries that pollen with it. Transferring the pollen and putting its feet into the stigmatic slits of different milkweed flowers completes the process of pollination.

Occasionally, however, the bee’s foot may get caked in so much pollen that it simply cannot get its foot out of the slit. (Think of putting your hand into a jar with a narrow neck so you can grab a handful of candy at the bottom of the jar. Your candy-filled hand may then be so full and wide, it cannot get through the jar’s neck, and your hand gets stuck inside the jar.)  

A dead honey bee caught in the slits of a milkweed flower. Note the pollen sac attached to the foot it managed to get out.

Some bees actually amputate the trapped foot in order to escape. But if the bee is unable to do that and cannot manage to get its foot out of the stigmatic slit, it will eventually succumb to starvation and dehydration and die.

When we turned the car around again to head back to Road 105 (and onward toward the wildlife area), we found that the hawks had taken to the air in a swirling, dense kettle of over 50 birds. I’d never seen anything like that. It was amazing to witness. Flying in huge kettles is not uncommon for the Swainson’s Hawks.

According to Cornell: “…When it comes to forming kettles, Swainson’s Hawks are overachievers: they form flocks numbering in the tens of thousands, often mixing with Turkey Vultures…[other hawks and kites)…”  These giant kettles, of course, are during their migration to Argentina, but still… Wow!

We then went to the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area. There is virtually no water on the ground right now, so there was “nothing” to see. There were doves in several locations, but they were really the only birds, besides finches that we saw out there. It would have been a totally boring and disappointing stop had it not been for the dodder. We had never seen dodder in bloom before, so when we realized the stuff at the bypass was dense with flowers, we were super-excited.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

Roxanne did a write-upon the stuff for Facebook which was excellent, so I’m quoting her here: “…Ah, Dodder. It’s the golden, orangey or reddish silly string of the plant world. That’s right: a plant. Dodders have roots (temporary), leaves (often reduced to scales), flowers and seeds. Dodder is parasitic. Although it sprouts from seed, it mostly or completely lacks chlorophyll. Consequently, the new sprout must find a host between 5 and 10 days from sprouting or it dies. The sprout swirls around as it grows and once it touches a host plant it buries haustoria (knoblike organs along the shoot) into the host stem, drawing water, carbohydrates and minerals at the expense of the host plant. As well as “starving” the host plant, dodder is also implicated in the transmission of certain bacterial and virus diseases. Thus nourished, the dodder’s roots die and the dodder spreads out in a mat moving from plant to plant, branching as it goes. Broken bits can continue to thrive if haustoria are attached to the host plant. Animals, humans, or equipment moving across a dodder mat can thereby spread dodder to new areas.

            “Flowering dodder can produce thousands of seeds that can live in soil for up to 10 years. In many native habitats dodder is not considered particularly harmful. But in an ag context dodder can cause significant economic harm, especially to alfalfa, asparagus, citrus, clover, beans, melons, peppers, potato, tomato, safflower, sugarbeet, field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis), lambsquarters (Chenopodium album), and pigweed (Amaranthus species). It is easy to see why Dodder has enjoyed a variety of common names including love vine, goldthread, devil’s-guts, devil’s-ringlet, devil’s-hair, hellbine, hairweed, beggarweed, scaldweed, strangle tare, strangleweed, and witch’s hair.

            “CalFlora lists 31 species of dodder in CA, and only 5 are non-native (often arriving here in contaminated seed or in horticultural soils). Dodders can be found in California ag fields, forests, canyons, salt marshes, deserts, beaches and mountains up to 8200’. CalFlora lists two species here in the valley, Cuscuta campestris (Field dodder) and Cuscuta pentagona (Western field dodder) but several more species can be found in the Bay Area and into the foothills north and east of Sacramento. My frequent naturalist partner, Mary Hanson, and I first spotted a hillside of dodder two years ago in the lupin and poppy along Wilbur Springs Road about half way between the bridge and the gate to Wilbur Hot Springs. The next year we found less there but a whole hillside along Bear Valley Road not far from the bridge intersection. We ID’d this as Cuscuta californica (California Dodder) but now I’m not so sure. More study for distinguishing species is needed.

            “…Not far along the auto tour near the marsh viewing stand is a largish patch of golden yellow-orange dodder on the right side of the road in the Small Melilot (Melilotus indicus), Prostrate Knotweed (Polygonum aviculare), Bisnaga (Visnaga daucoides), and Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare). This is the first time we’ve seen the dodder in the bypass and the first time flowering. The shape of the tiny pale flowers grow in clusters and their shape and growth pattern help distinguish species.

            “Look for dodder when you are out and about and see if you can also spot the hautoria and tiny flowers. I’d be interested in hearing where else naturalists are finding it. FYI, dodder seeds are considered an herbal remedy, especially in Chinese and Korean herbal medicine. A quick Google search revealed lots of sources for seeds, extract powders, and tinctures…” Sooooo informative.

Charlie Russell, one of my former Certified California Naturalist program graduates and plant guru noted: “Dodder spreads vegetatively, so when they grade the ponds in the Yolo Bypass it spreads quite readily. Some years there can be multiple acres of solid dodder out there…”   Whoa!

There were Cabbage White butterflies all over the place. They’re “nervous fliers”, which means trying to get a still shot of one of them is tricky. The species was “accidentally introduced” in the late 1800’s. I got several photos of one foraging on mustard (Brassica rapa).

Studies seem to indicate “…some flowers, like Brassica rapa, have a UV guide for aiding nectar search for the butterfly where the petals reflect near UV light, whereas the center of the flower absorbs UV light, creating a visible dark center in the flower when seen in UV condition. This UV guide plays a significant role in foraging…” Cool, huh?

After the bypass drive, we went on to the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, which was right in route to the Putah Creek access area. Because the pollinator garden is only an acre and the paths are well drawn, it’s easy to walk around it. The street on which the garden is situated has a lot of tall olive trees along it, so there are a lot of shady places to park.  The garden is open from dawn to dusk year-round and admission is free. Rox had never been there before, and there were picnic tables in the shade of one of the old olive trees there, so we stopped for lunch and walked the grounds for a bit.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

All through the garden are paintings, sculptures and mosaics (most of them by local artist Donna Billick) that have been donated to the garden from local artists and from the art department at UC Davis.  For art students who need science class credit to graduate, they can take an art-and-science fusion class that lets them do something creative for the garden while they learn about the bees.  So there’s something new in the garden every year. The standout sculpture is of the giant “Miss Bee Haven” bee.

According to author Kathy Keatley Garvey: “…Miss Bee Haven [was built] using rebar, chicken wire, sand, cement, tile, bronze, steel, grout, fiberglass and handmade ceramic pieces. The project took [Billick] four months to complete… Anchored with 200 pounds of cement and with six bronze legs drilled into the pedestal, this worker bee is destined to stay put… Billick used lost wax bronze casting to craft the six legs, which extend from the thorax to rest on a ceramic purple dome aster, fabricated by Davis artist Sarah Rizzo.  The purple dome aster is among the flowers in the garden…”

The garden offers suggestions of what to plant in your own yard, how much water each species of plant needs, when they grow, etc. I was most impressed this time around by the lavish kiwi vines covered in their large leaves. Something of a surprise was seeing a Turkey Tangle Fogfruit plant covering an entire planter and flowing down onto the ground. I’d never seen one that was so prolific. Usually, when we come across the plants, they’re relatively small, maybe less than a hand’s breadth. So, to see one this big was kind of shocking.

Turkey Tangle Fogfruit, Phyla nodiflora

Among the flowering plants, we found several species of bees there including carpenter bees, honey bees, mason bees, leafcutter bees and sweat bees. We also saw a few Flame Skimmer Dragonflies. 

By the time we’d finished walking the acre, we were tired… and it was getting too hot for us to walk anymore, so we headed home. We were out for about 5 hours, and I counted today’s trek as hike #48 in my #52HikeChallenge.

Species List:

  1. Alfalfa Leafcutter Bee, Megachile rotundata
  2. Alfalfa, Medicago sativa
  3. Alkali Mallow, Malvella leprosa
  4. American Kestrel, Falco sparverius
  5. Apple, Malus pumila
  6. Baby Sage, Salvia microphylla [red, or red/white]
  7. Black Mustard, Common Wild Mustard, Brassica nigra
  8. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  9. Black-Crowned Night Heron, Nycticorax nycticorax
  10. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus
  11. Bladderpod, Peritoma arborea [kind of looks like Jerusalem sage but gets bladder-like seed pods]
  12. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum
  13. Blue Milkweed Beetle, Cobalt Milkweed Beetle, Chrysochus cobaltinus
  14. Bluebeard, Caryopteris x clandonensis
  15. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  16. Bristly Oxtongue, Helminthotheca echioides
  17. Broadleaved Pepperweed, Lepidium latifolium
  18. Brown-Headed Cowbird, Molothrus ater
  19. Cabbage White butterfly, Pieris rapae
  20. California Buckwheat, Eriogonum fasciculatum
  21. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  22. Cat, Felis catus
  23. Catmint, Nepeta x faassenii var. “Walker’s Low”
  24. Cattle Egret, Bubulcus ibis
  25. Cheeseweed Mallow, Malva parviflora
  26. Chicory, Cichorium intybus
  27. Chinese Wisteria, Wisteria sinensis
  28. Climbing Prairie Rose, Rosa setigera
  29. Common Checkered Skipper, Burnsius communis
  30. Common Spikeweed, Centromadia pungens
  31. Crambid Snout Moth, Family: Crambidae
  32. Crow, American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  33. Curly Dock, Rumex crispus
  34. Desert Cottontail Rabbit, Sylvilagus audubonii
  35. Dodder, California Dodder, Cuscuta californica
  36. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
  37. Eucalyptus Trees, Eucalyptus sp.
  38. European Honeybee, Western Honeybee, Apis mellifera
  39. Fennel, Sweet Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare
  40. Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis
  41. Flame Skimmer Dragonfly, Libellula saturata
  42. Foothill Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa tabaniformis orpifex [light eyes]
  43. Goldenrod Crab Spider, Misumena vatia
  44. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
  45. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  46. Green Lacewing, Chrysoperla rufilabris
  47. Gumweed, Grindelia integrifolia
  48. Harding Grass, Phalaris aquatica [a type of canary grass]
  49. Hollyhock, Alcea rosea
  50. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  51. House Sparrow, Passer domesticus
  52. Interior Sandbar Willow, Salix interior
  53. Italian Thistle, Carduus pycnocephalus
  54. Japanese Wisteria, Wisteria floribunda
  55. Khella, Bisnaga Weed, Toothpick Plant, Bishop’s Weed, Ammi visnaga [ a kind of carrot, invasive, “Bazinga”]
  56. Kiwi, Actinidia deliciosa
  57. Lollipop Verbena, Verbena bonariensis var. “Lollipop”
  58. Lupine, Golden Lupine, Lupinus densiflorus
  59. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris
  60. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  61. Mum, Chrysanthemum, Chrysanthemum sp.
  62. Narrowleaf Cattail, Typha angustifolia
  63. Narrowleaf Milkweed, Mexican Whorled Milkweed, Asclepias fascicularis
  64. Olive Tree, Olea europaea
  65. Pennyroyal, Mentha pulegium
  66. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum
  67. Prostrate Knotweed, Polygonum aviculare
  68. Raven, Common Raven, Corvus corax
  69. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  70. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  71. Ring-Necked Pheasant, Phasianus colchicus
  72. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  73. Shasta Daisy, Leucanthemum maximum
  74. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa
  75. Slender Vervain, Verbena rigida
  76. Sneezeweed, Rosilla, Helenium puberulum
  77. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula
  78. Stinking Chamomile, Anthemis cotula
  79. Sunflower, Common Sunflower, Helianthus annuus
  80. Swainson’s Hawk, Buteo swainsoni
  81. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  82. Tripartite Sweat Bee, Halictus tripartitus
  83. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  84. Turkey Tangle Fogfruit, Phyla nodiflora
  85. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  86. Western Fence Lizard, Blue Belly, Sceloporus occidentalis
  87. Western Kingbird, Tyrant Flycatcher, Tyrannus verticalis
  88. White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus
  89. Yarrow, Achillea millefolium
  90. Yarrow, Golden Yarrow, Eriophyllum confertiflorum
  91. Yellow Starthistle, Centaurea solstitialis
  92. ?? little red-eyed fly

Caddisfly Larvae and the Nemesis Bird, 05-25-21

I got up around 6:00 this morning and headed over to the Gristmill Recreation Area on the American River for a walk. I hadn’t been there for a while, so I missed the fledging of the Red-Shouldered Hawk babies there. It was about 57° when I arrived, but the sun came up fast and hot.

I walked the most-used trail and then ventured out a little bit onto the river’s edge where there was some still, shallow water.

On the trail I could see some birds in and around the bird boxes including House Wrens and Tree Swallows. The wrens fill their box full of twigs, so there’s stuff poking out through the entrance hole — which makes it pretty easy to figure out who’s in there.

While I was taking photos of them, a pair of California Quails ventured out from a tangle of wild blackberry vines and scuttled across the trail. Just one male and a female; no harem and no babies.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

As I walked along, I could hear the chattering sound (called a “rattle call”) of Belted Kingfishers in the trees along the riverside. They’re like my “nemesis birds”: I can hear them a lot, but seldom get to get any photos of them because they’re shy and move so quickly. I was lucky today, though, two females landed on the same branch, and I was able to get some photos and some video snippets of them.

A female Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon

Kingfishers excavate and live in burrows in the banks of the river. I think they’re nesting cavity may have been below where the females were sitting, but I’m not sure.

I was taking photos of one of the Kingfishers when a bird group went past me on the trail. A few second later, one of the men in the group came back to me and asked me my name. I told him it was “Mary”… and then gave him a closer look. “Gene?!”

“Yes!” he said. It was Gene Trapp, and his wife Jo Ellen Ryan was with him along with a few other people. Gene and Jo Ellen doing bird counts and maintain the pollinator garden at the West Davis Pond site in Davis. (They have a house within walking distance of the park.) I’d first met them when I worked at Tuleyome. Gene always supported my desire to be a naturalist, and attended the lectures I gave on plant galls. It was so nice to see them!

They walked me over to where their small birding group was and introduced the leader (who was hauling around a birding scope) as Jeri Langham. Jeri literally walks the trail almost every day. He’s the one who’s set up and monitors all the bird boxes there.

Jeri let us know that the little Western Screech Owl I’d seen regularly in one of the nest boxes had actually had two babies in there this year! Neither the mom nor the babies was outlooking around this morning, but it was fun to think of them hunkered down all safe in their little box-home.

He also pointed out another box in which, he said, had been occupied by Barn Owls. They laid eggs in the box over several days, but on one day, while they were away from the box, a Merganser had flown in and laid several eggs of her own in there.  Brood parasitism (egg-dumping) occurs frequently for these ducks. When the owls found the duck eggs, however, they abandoned the nest… Sad-face emoji.

I gave him my card, and asked him to contact me next time he was putting a group together.  After meeting everyone, and giving Gene and Jo Ellen a hug — which I wouldn’t have been able to do last year — I excused myself to continue my walk.

Along the river, we could see a mama Common Merganser duck teaching her red-headed babies how to dive and scan for fish in the water. Later, Jo Ellen got a photo of them resting and drying off.  The merganser babies are sooooo cute!

Common Merganser, Mergus merganser, mama and her babies resting after their swim.PHOTO BY JO ELLEN RYAN.

I also saw a Great Blue Heron on the shore trying to figure out how to tackle and eat a fish that was nearly as big as it was. I think it might have stolen the fish from a stringer owned by the fishermen further up the shore. I don’t think it was an older cast-off because it hadn’t attracted any vultures, and it looked too large for someone to have just thrown away. I watched the bird struggle with it for several minutes before it gave up.

Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias, with a fish it couldn’t figure out how to eat.

In the shallows by the river’s edge, I came across several killdeer.  I watched out for their nests (which they create in the stones) but didn’t see any; no babies either.

In the insect realm I found Boxelder Bugs, a Black Dancer Caddisfly, honeybees, a few jumping spiders (one hauling a fly that was as big as he was), and a colorful Case-Bearing Leaf Beetle, among others.  In the shallow water, scooting and hopping through the mud and silt, I found several Big-Eyed Toad Bugs.  Seriously. That’s what they’re called. They have big bulging eyes and a heavy “collar”, and they hop all over the place when disturbed. Never noticed them before.

The find of the day for me, though, was seeing and getting some close-up shots of caddisfly larvae. I was almost done with my walk when I found them, so I wasn’t able to spend as much time with them as I’d have liked to. I was tired, and it was it already getting “too warm” for me. I’ll go back some other morning, first thing, when I’m feeling stronger and it’s cooler outside.  Anyway, I picked up a few of the little buggers and took some photos and video snippets of them.

Caddisflies spend their larval stage underwater, then emerge (like dragonflies do) from the water as terrestrial adults. The most common adult Caddisfly was see around here is the Black Dancer Caddisfly, Mystacides sepulchralis. I’m not sure if the larvae I saw were Black Dancers or some other species, but I think they were from the suborder Integripalpia (the “portable case makers”). They protect their soft bodies by covering them with a case made of bits of gravel, sand, tiny sticks… whatever they can find. After the adults emerge, they only live for a week or two, just long enough to find a mate and reproduce.

“…Case-building caddisfly larvae use [their] silk to construct various portable shelters. They protect soft their abdomen from predators, and abrasion from coarse particles drifting in stream. If disturbed, larva can retreat into the case, which is constantly being repaired when damaged, or rebuilt as the larva grows…”

One of them that I picked up had a case made of sand crystals and tiny sticks; so interesting. While I was taking photos of it, the birding group caught up with me and asked what I was doing — so I gave them the 5-minute elevator speech about caddisfly larvae. I showed them some of the larvae walking through the water, and also pointed out the trails they’d left in the silt on nearby rocks. They were all very excited about it and thanked me fore teaching them something new.

I also found a few galls on this trip including the oak apples, and a couple of willow galls: stem galls created by sawflies, and rose gall created by midges. Lots of different things to see today…

I was out for about 3½ hours and headed back home.  This was hike #47 in my #52HikeChallenge.

Species List:

  1. Acute Bladder Snail, Physa acuta
  2. Armenian Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus [pink flower]
  3. Asian Clam, Corbicula fluminea [little tan or white shells]
  4. Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon
  5. Big-Eyed Toad Bug, Gelastocoris oculatus
  6. Black Dancer Caddisfly, Mystacides sepulchralis
  7. Black Fly, Family: Simuliidae
  8. Black Locust Tree, Robinia pseudoacacia
  9. Black Walnut Pouch Gall Mite, Aceria brachytarsa
  10. Black Walnut, Eastern Black Walnut, Juglans nigra
  11. Black-Chinned Hummingbird, Archilochus alexandri
  12. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus
  13. Bushtit, American Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus
  14. Buttonhook Leaf-Beetle Jumping Spider, Sassacus vitis
  15. Caddisfly, Suborder: Integripalpia (the “portable case makers”), larvae
  16. California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana
  17. California Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta
  18. California Quail, Callipepla californica
  19. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  20. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  21. Canada Rush, Juncus canadensis
  22. Case-Bearing Leaf Beetle, Cryptocephalus castaneus
  23. Coast Live Oak, Quercus agrifolia
  24. Common Fig, Ficus carica
  25. Common Merganser, Mergus merganser
  26. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
  27. European Honeybee, Western Honeybee, Apis mellifera
  28. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  29. Fennel, Sweet Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare
  30. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  31. Giant Mullein, Broussa Mullein, Verbascum bombyciferum
  32. Goodding’s Black Willow, Salix gooddingii
  33. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
  34. Hairy Woodpecker, Dryobates villosus [long bill]
  35. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon
  36. Interior Sandbar Willow, Salix interior
  37. Jersey Cudweed, Pseudognaphalium luteoalbum
  38. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  39. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  40. Mistletoe, Broadleaf Mistletoe, Phoradendron macrophyllum
  41. Moth Mullein, Verbascum blattaria
  42. Oak Apple, California Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
  43. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum
  44. Purpletop Vervain, Verbena bonariensis
  45. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  46. Tree of Heaven, Ailanthus altissima
  47. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  48. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  49. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  50. Western Bluebird, Sialia Mexicana [flyby]
  51. Western Boxelder Bug, Boisea rubrolineata
  52. Western Tailed-Blue Butterfly, Cupido amyntula
  53. White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus [across the river]
  54. Willow Rose Gall Midge, Rabdophaga rosaria
  55. Willow Stem Sawfly, Euura exiguae
  56. Wood Duck, Aix sponsa
  57. Yellow-Billed Magpie, Pica nuttalli
  58. ??? fly being eaten by spider

Looking for a Mandarin, 05-23-21

I got up at 6:00 am this morning, and headed out to the Elk Grove Regional Park because a Mandarin Duck (Aix galericulata) had been spotted there.  I had seen photos of the ducks before, but never saw a live one, in situ as it were. I walked around the whole 7½ acre lake, but didn’t find the duck I was looking for.

The park is easy to get to and sprawls out over 122 acres. It’s pretty but it’s  too “manicured”, too “Stepford” for me. There are gorgeous heritage oaks (including Black Oaks and Interior Live Oaks), Coast Redwoods, Weeping Willows, and others on the grounds that provide a lot of shade, but they’re trimmed up so high you can’t touch the leaves. So, nature is around you, but you can’t really interact with it very much. I’d prefer something more “scruffy” that I can explore, not just stand in  as though it’s a museum.

Those feelings aside…

I did see a lot of Mallards and Mallard hybrids, Wood Ducks, some Muscovy Ducks, Swan Geese and Canada Geese. Some of the Canadas had goslings at various levels of development. And I saw a group of tiny Wood Duck ducklings, that looked like newborns, swimming around in the water with no mama.

Something bad must have happened to her; I didn’t see her anywhere and she wasn’t responding to the ducklings’ cries. If they can find enough to eat, the ducklings can survive without mom, but they have no protection and no extra heat source when the nights get cold, so… the whole group may be goners. (see follow-up below)

Sad sights were seeing the handsome Yellow-Billed Magpies eating out of the trash cans, and going after the carcass of a squirrel on the road. And speaking of the squirrels… Although there are signs in the park telling people not to feed the geese or the squirrels, I saw one group of people blatantly feeding the geese; and the squirrels run right up to you looking for handouts. One came so close I expected it to grab my pant leg and demand breakfast.

An unexpected sighting was a Black Phoebe nest on one of the pilings in the lake. The babies inside were nearly fully fledged, but the parents were still feeding them. I could see four of them crammed into a nest that didn’t seem big enough to hold one.

Between feedings, the chicks rested in the sun, preened, and stretched their wings. I watched them for quite a while; couldn’t seem to get enough of them. Then I continued on to the other side of the lake and headed back to the car.

I was at the park for about 90 minutes and only walked about 0.7 miles, so it didn’t count toward my #52HikeChallenge tally.

Follow-Up on the Ducklings:

I got a message from Christy of the Sacramento Heron and Egret Rescue, who suggested I get in contact with local rescuer Ben Nuckolls. So, I did that, and Ben said he’d have the “duck lady” who’s at the park every day check on the ducklings. If they still look in distress or are unclaimed by a mama duck, they’ll try to coordinate a rescue. Thanks, everyone!

Species List:

  1. American Robin, Turdus migratorius
  2. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  3. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  4. Bushtit, American Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus
  5. California Black Oak, Quercus kelloggii
  6. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  7. Coast Redwood, Sequoia sempervirens
  8. Deodar Cedar, Cedrus deodara
  9. Eastern Gray Squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis
  10. Eurasian Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto
  11. Gray Pine, Pinus sabiniana
  12. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
  13. Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  14. Muscovy Duck, Cairina moschata
  15. Swan Goose, Chinese Goose, Anser cygnoides [can be white, or gray/brown, knob on the bill]
  16. Weeping Willow, Salix babylonica
  17. Wood Duck, Aix sponsa
  18. Yellow-Billed Magpie, Pica nuttalli

Pocket Rookery, 05-21-21

This morning I met with Jan Robertson been volunteering at the “Pocket Rookery” site in Sacramento, checking out the birds and keeping stats for the Sacramento Heron and Egret Rescue (SHER).

It took less time to get to the site off of Windbridge Drive than I thought it would. There was very little traffic, so I actually got there about 20 minutes early. That was okay with me. I’m the sort who would rather be 20 minutes early than 2 minutes late. Jan showed up about 10 minutes later and walked me around the site. 

Jan Robertson was myguide on this excursion.

There were birds in the fir trees along the road, and in the cottonwood and birch trees in the green areas at the adjacent apartment complex.

Jan said this is the first year there have been Great Egrets brooding there. We also saw Black-Crowned Night Herons, Snowy Egrets and Cattle Egrets. This was the first time I’d seen Cattle Egrets in their breeding plumage. Normally, they’re all white, but when they’re breeding their head, back and chest get a rusty-colored wash.

I loved hearing all the different calls.  I didn’t see the baby Black-Crowned Night Herons, but I could hear them making their tick-tick-tick calls. On top of that we could hear the adult herons rok-rok calls, and the egrets’ chatty burbling (think of Donald Duck trying to talk in water). Hah!

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

There were quite a few bluish-green eggs shells on the ground, including one that looked like it fell before the chick even started forming. And we also found the carcasses of three babies that fell from the nests.

As the babies grow and begin to fledge, Jan said, they’ll be more visible, and will line up on the fences along a nearby canal.

Today, there were about eight Turkey Vultures in the fir trees, and several more on the roof tops and on fences near the canal. They’re no threat to the living herons or egrets (they don’t take live prey), but they might go after carcasses of the dead ones.

The amount of bird droppings was considerable and immeasurable. In some spots, the stuff covered entire bushes. One of the major problems with housing rookeries for herons, egrets, cormorants and the like is the amount of ordure the birds produce. It’s difficult for the humans to clean it up, and if it gets dense enough, the stuff can kill plants and even the very trees the birds are nesting in. So, it’s a mess.

A bush covered in bird offal

Some of the people in the area are willing to deal with it — understanding that the birds aren’t there for very long, and they get to see baby birds  born and fledged. But other people have no patience for it, so it’s always something of a balancing act for volunteers like Jan who work with the birds in these urban rookeries.

We were out there for about 90 minutes and then headed back to our respective homes. The place will absolutely be worth another visit in a few weeks.

The site is on the corner of Windbridge Drive and Cutting Way. Some of the birds nest inside the grounds of the Waterford Cove Apartment complex. Do not enter the apartment grounds without expressed permission. It’s best to enter with one of the SHER volunteers or become a volunteer yourself. You can get more information about volunteering with SHER at: https://sacheronsave.org/help/volunteer/

Species List:

  1. American Robin, Turdus migratorius
  2. Birch, Silver Birch, Betula pendula
  3. Black-Crowned Night Heron, Nycticorax nycticorax
  4. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  5. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  6. Cattle Egret, Bubulcus ibis
  7. Cliff Swallow, Petrochelidon pyrrhonota
  8. Crow, American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  9. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  10. Giant Sequoia, Sequoiadendron giganteum
  11. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  12. Red Swamp Crayfish, Crawdad, Procambarus clarkii
  13. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula
  14. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura

New Cheetahs at the Zoo, 05-18-21

I got up around 7:00 this morning and leisurely eased into my day before heading off to the Sacramento Zoo. They still have their COVID protocols in place, which I appreciate. But I was surprised – with it being TUESDAY and not the weekend — that there were so many people in there, including way too many hideous gum chewing ferrets with no masks and no parental control.

They didn’t look like school kid tours, they were like a couple of families grouped together — and not properly supervising any of the children. Kids ran all around me, bumped into me, cut in front of me. I heard a lot of comments like, “Stop pestering that poor old woman”, and “Stay away from the woman with the death stare.” Hah!

Among the animals, I saw a lot of usual suspects: zebras, giraffes, chimps.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

I had gone to the zoo, however, specifically to see Rowdy and ZigZag, the new 4-year-old cheetah brothers. When I first approached their enclosure, one of them was standing up on a log, mewing. Just as I got my camera up to film that, a group of the raucous kids ran up and startled him. [Grrrr!] He then retreated to the back of the enclosure with his brother… where they started to groom one another.

The enclosure where the cheetahs were used to be used for the kangaroos. The ‘roos were moved to another enclosure in the front of the zoo where there was a lot more shade, and I think the ‘roos appreciated that. They looked very comfortable.

In one tiny cage with a really tight wire mesh around it I could see a Red-billed Hornbill bird fussing around the opening of a nesting cavity inside. Signage nearby explained that I was seeing was the male hornbill attending to his breeding female.

When the chicks are born, mom busts out the front of the nest again, so there’s enough room for everyone to get in and out, and both parents feed them.  Sooooo, interesting!  I wondered if the zookeepers would let her keep her babies when they hatched, or if they’d take them and hand-raise them… I just wish I could have seen the birds better. The old-style mesh was horrible.

She goes into the nesting cavity, and the male brings her grasses and bark to line the nest. Then the female closes herself up inside the cavity by sealing the entrance hole with mud, leftover food, and her own droppings, leaving an opening only large enough for her beak to poke out.  The male then feeds her while she lays and incubates her eggs. I could see him feeding her pinkie mice through the hole.

Near the Kampala Café, I found one of the American White Pelicans standing right on the other side of a pole fence, grooming itself. There are signs around warning folks not to feed or pet him because he’s known to bite, but he behaved himself well while I took some photos and video of him.

In the flamingo area, some of the flamingoes were sitting on their tall mud nests but I didn’t see any eggs, and in the alligator pit, I saw about twenty bright reddish-orange Flame Skimmer dragonflies that occasionally posed for photos while I drank a cherry Icee.

Caribbean Flamingoes, Phoenicopterus ruber

In the meerkat enclosure, I saw one of the meerkats lay down on the ground in the “full sploot” position (belly on the ground, all four legs extended out). The meerkat that was standing guard on the tower seemed to be concerned about this.

I saw a female meerkat go up into the tower to take point on the watch, relieving the one that was there. That meerkat climbed down from the tower and went over to the one that was splooting, and sat beside her for several minutes. I don’t know what that was about, but it was kind of nice to see.

I walked for 2½ hours before heading home. By then it was getting too warm for me, and the crowds annoying. I always have my “naturalist eyes” working, though. Out in one of the flower beds near the parking lot, I saw some Iceplant Scale. So, I stopped to take photos of those before driving home. 

The scale are interesting in that, if you look closely, you can see the females at various stages of development: pale green crawlers, to reddish brown crawlers, to larger sedentary forms with a cottony, mealy ovisac that’s two times the size of its body.

It’s this white ovisac that makes them most visible to the eye, kind of looking like bird droppings on the surface of the iceplant leaves. Opening the sac reveals dozens of tiny babies. What’s additionally interesting about the scale is that its crawlers are dispersed by wind and by contact with the bodies of animals (or human clothing). Example: a cat walks through the iceplant, and some of the scale rubs off onto its fur. It can then be carried that way for about 2 hours before dropping off at a new location.

Because the scale are plant suckers, they can do a lot of damage to plants if the infestation is great enough. It’s interesting to me that a lot of the information available about the scale was done by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) whose personnel did studies of it on iceplant planted along the freeways. 

“…In 1973 a survey of ice plant along highways in Alameda County was conducted by the Calif. Dept. of Transportation, and it was discovered that there were really two scale species present.  Pulvinaria delottoi has one generation per year and colonizes the mature lower portions of the plant, while P. mesembryanthemi has two generations per year and favors the new terminal growth…” 

Caltrans and the Division of Biological Control at the University of California, Berkeley got together and did a three year study of the critters, and found that by introducing the scale’s natural enemies (mainly different species of wasps) the scale could be controlled. “…The impact of the natural enemies has now almost eliminated the need for insecticidal sprays along freeways in California…”  How cool is that?!

This was hike #46 of my #52HikeChallenge.

Species List:

  1. African Cheetah, Acinonyx jubatus jubatus
  2. African Lion, Panthera leo
  3. American Alligator, Alligator mississippiensis
  4. American White Pelican, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos
  5. Bear’s Breeches, Acanthus mollis
  6. Black Crowned Crane, Balearica pavonina
  7. Caribbean Flamingo, Phoenicopterus ruber
  8. Chimpanzee, Pan troglodytes
  9. Chinese Stripe-Necked Turtle, Mauremys sinensis
  10. Citron Day-Lily, Hemerocallis citrina
  11. Comb-Billed Duck, Knob-Bill, Sarkidiornis melanotos
  12. Common Bird-of-Paradise Flower, Strelitzia reginae
  13. Coquerel’s Sifaka, Propithecus coquereli
  14. Eastern Gray Squirrel, Sciurus carolinensis
  15. Emu, Dromaius novaehollandiae
  16. Flame Skimmer Dragonfly, Libellula saturate
  17. Grevy’s Zebra, Equus grevyi
  18. Hawk-Headed Parrot, Deroptyus accipitrinus
  19. Iceplant Scale, Pulvinariella mesembryanthemi
  20. Kangaroo-Apple Nightshade, Solanum laciniatum
  21. Laughing Kookaburra, Dacelo novaeguineae
  22. Lion’s Ear, Leonotis nepetifolia
  23. Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  24. Masai Giraffe, Giraffa tippelskirchi
  25. Meerkat, Suricata suricatta
  26. Mongoose Lemur, Eulemur mongoz
  27. Nasturtium, Tropaeolum majus
  28. Northern Red-Billed Hornbill, Tockus erythrorhynchus
  29. Okapi, Okapia johnstoni
  30. Orange Bush Monkeyflower, Diplacus aurantiacus
  31. Orange Day-Lily, Hemerocallis fulva
  32. Ostrich, Common Ostrich, Struthio camelus
  33. Peruvian Lily, Alstroemeria sp.
  34. Red Bush Monkeyflower, Diplacus puniceus
  35. Red Kangaroo, Macropus rufus
  36. Red Panda, Ailurus fulgens
  37. Red River Hog, Potamochoerus porcus
  38. Sea Thrift, Armeria maritima
  39. Southern White-Faced Owl, Ptilopsis granti
  40. Tawny Frogmouth, Podargus strigoides
  41. Thick-Billed Parrot, Rhynchopsitta pachyrhyncha
  42. Umber Skipper, Lon melane
  43. White-Faced Whistling Duck, Dendrocygna viduata
  44. Wood Duck, Aix sponsa
  45. Woolly Hedgenettle, Stachys byzantine

Travels of a Certified California Naturalist