Lots of Willow Galls and Cygnets, 07-21-20

I got up around 5:00 this morning so the dog and I could do our potty stuff…and then I stayed up, getting ready to go over to Mather Lake Regional Park for a walk with my friend and fellow naturalist Roxanne.  The weather was lovely today. It was about 59° when we got to the lake and then creeped up to about 88° by the late afternoon.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

When we got to the park, the first thing we noticed was that the Mute Swans seemed to be gathered in a corner near the walking trail on the far side of the lake. The cygnets are just about as large as their parents now, but they’re still making their baby peeping sounds, and they don’t have their full facial coloring yet.  We were sad to see one of the swans floating dead among the rushes. 

We met a fisherman later on during our walk, who said that he had seen another younger swan who looked dead on the shore, and when he went over to it, he found that was severely tangled in fishing line. Line remnants are a BIG problem on the banks.  Even today, while we were walking, my feet got tangled in the crap on two different occasions. Some of the lazier fishermen just don’t clean up after themselves and leave discarded line everywhere.  It’s such a hazard.

Anyway, one of the adult swans was chasing and nipping and trying to herd the younger swans into a corner, even as their parent tried to put its body between them and the aggressor.  The aggressor bird “busked” and chased after the parent and eventually drove it halfway across the pond before giving up its assault. While that was going on, the younger swans were peeping loudly at one another, trying to get to their mom who was being chased off, and obviously very distressed by the attack. 

The busking aggressor chases after one of the cygnets

Additionally, one of the other adult swans, who apparently wasn’t related to the youngsters, just didn’t want to get involved and stepped up onto the bank next to me.  You don’t realize how huge those birds are until they come up next to you.  They can get up to 5 ½ feet long and weigh around 30 pounds.

Mute Swan, Cygnus olor. Trying to get away from the aggressive bird, this one walked up onto the shore and stood next to me.

This one was quiet and polite, just a sort of “go with the flow” kind of bird, but further along the trail, we came across another parent and its youngsters, and it was very protective of them. It raised its head and hissed at me a couple of times to get me to back off.

My impression of the aggressive bird what that it was “being a jerk”, a bully. But then it occurred to me that the dead swan was in the same area where the aggressor was putting on its display, so I wonder if was trying to “protect” the dead bird or at least the area where the dead bird was located.

We also saw two color morphs among the juveniles, and I’d never seen/noticed that before. According to Cornell: “…Cygnets hatch as gray or white. Gray [Royal] cygnets become brownish as juveniles and begin molting to white by first winter. White [Polish] cygnets remain white as juveniles and adults. Gray juveniles usually retain some gray feathers  , especially on rump, until following molt. Legs and feet of cygnets and juveniles are either slate gray (gray morph) or pinkish tan (white morph). Bill color of juveniles  also varies between morphs: gray morph, slate; white morph, tan. Bills of both morphs become pinkish as they mature during winter. Basal knob is absent in cygnets and relatively small in juveniles. Lores of newly hatched cygnets are feathered, but during first winter, a juvenile’s lores become naked…”

As an additional aside, Cornell also says: “…Two views exist as to whether or not being a white morph (see Distinguishing Characteristics above) is advantageous. Several experiments using models determined that whiteness elicits aggressive response in adult Mute Swans and is therefore disadvantageous. These findings are consistent with the large amount of anecdotal evidence that suggests that white cygnets are at a disadvantage because they are perceived as threats to their parents’ territory. Another view is that being a white cygnet is advantageous because female cygnets that enter their first winter already in white plumage will be able to pair with older males and eventually gain breeding experience over their gray counterparts, therefore gaining reproductive advantage over gray morphs…”

The juveniles we saw being crowded and nipped at by the busking adult were all white ones… All of the gray morph youngsters we saw were in the water and pretty far away, so I wasn’t able to check them out too closely.  The gray ones looked to be the same age as the white ones, so I’m assuming they all hatched around the same time.

And another feature: the knob, that protuberance at the base of the top bill where it connects to the head.  According to Cornell: “…Males generally have larger knob than females. During breeding season (Jan–Jun), knob of adult males is enlarged, and breeding males have larger knob than nonbreeding males.”  Some of the guys we saw were pretty “knobby”.

This image show the knob at the base of the swan’s beak.

Among the birds, besides the swans, we saw Great-Tailed Grackles, Pied-Billed Grebes, tiny fast-moving Bushtits, Double-Crested Cormorants, Brewer’s Blackbirds, Canada Geese and a few others. The coolest sighting of the day, even though I wasn’t able to get any photos of it, was to see a White-Tailed Kite chasing and buzz-bombing a Red-Tailed Hawk that got too close to its territory. The birds moved pretty fast, and my camera doesn’t know what to focus on when I point it at the sky, so… no photos. Waaah!

We did get to see a Green Heron standing on a thin floating log in the water, and got to see it catch a tiny silvery fish.  Some of the swans swam right by the heron and either didn’t see it or weren’t interested in it.  When we first saw it, the heron was back-lit and just looked like a stick poking out of the water, but some close-up photos showed it was actually a bird.  We had to walk down the trail a bit to get the heron in better lighting so we could get a few better photos of it.

Green Heron, Butorides virescens

There weren’t anywhere near as many dragonflies as I thought there might be given all the water and the time of year, but we still have about month or so to go in the season.

I didn’t find a single example of dragonfly or damselfly exuvia along the water’s edge either, which was also an indicator of how disappointing spotting dragonflies was going to be.  Oddly enough, Roxanne did find the exuvia of some kind of cicada among the leaves of a coyote brush bush. 

Cicada exuvia

We also saw some stem galls on the coyote brush and four different kinds of galls on the willow trees along the water’s edge: pinecone galls, rosette galls and a couple of different blister galls.  Those are always cool to see.  On the side of the lake we were on there weren’t many oak trees, beyond the cork oaks, so we didn’t come across any oak wasp galls.  The next time I go out, I want to check out the opposite bank and see what, if anything, is on the trees there.  Among the cone galls, I was surprised to see some of them in clusters of six, eight and nine. I don’t remember seeing bunches that large before.

I was able to spot at least three different species of bee while I was out there, most of them feeding on the thistle flowers, and a couple of different kinds of wasps. 

The really nice treat was being able to see two very large Western Tiger Swallowtail butterflies feeding on the thistle nectar.  Roxanne had stopped to point out a dragonfly on the ground, and I alerted her to the “giant butterflies”. Hah!  Luckily, the dragonfly, a green female Pondhawk was still sitting on the ground when I stepped away from the butterflies to look for her.

Western Tiger Swallowtail, Papilio rutulus

We walked for about 3 ½ hours and then called it quits for the day.

Species List:

  1. American Bugleweed, Water Horehound, Lycopus americanus
  2. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  3. Barn Swallow,  Hirundo rustica
  4. Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon [in flight, heard]
  5. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  6. Black-Crowned Night Heron, Nycticorax nycticorax [in flight]
  7. Blue Dasher Dragonfly, Pachydiplax longipennis
  8. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  9. Broadleaf Cattail, Bullrush, Typha latifolia
  10. Bull Thistle, Cirsium vulgare
  11. Bushtit, American Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus
  12. California Bulrush, Schoenoplectus californicus
  13. California Quail, Callipepla californica [glimpsed, heard]
  14. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  15. California Wild Rose, Rosa californica
  16. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  17. Cicada, Typical Cicadas, Subfamily: Tibicininae
  18. Common Gallinule, Gallinula galeata
  19. Common Sunburst Lichen, Golden Shield Lichen, Xanthoria parietina [yellow-orange,on wood/trees]
  20. Common Vetch, Vicia sativa
  21. Cork Oak, Quercus suber
  22. Cottonwood Leaf Gall Aphid, Pemphigus populivenae
  23. Cottonwood Petiole Gall, Poplar Petiole Gall Aphid, Pemphigus populitransversus
  24. Coyote Brush Stem Gall moth, Gnorimoschema baccharisella
  25. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  26. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
  27. Eurasian Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto
  28. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  29. Familiar Bluet Damselfly, Enallagma civile
  30. Floating Water Primrose, Ludwigia peploides ssp. peploides
  31. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  32. Goodding’s Willow, Salix gooddingii
  33. Great Black Wasp, Sphex pensylvanicus [saw it flying low to the ground]
  34. Great-Tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus
  35. Green Heron, Butorides virescens
  36. Harvester Ant, Pogonomyrmex sp. [black]
  37. Himalayan Blackberry, Rubus  bifrons [white flowers]
  38. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  39. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  40. Muskrat, Ondatra zibethicus [got a glimpse of one]
  41. Mute Swan, Cygnus olor
  42. Narrowleaf Willow, Salix exigua
  43. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
  44. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  45. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii
  46. Pacific Forktail Damselfly, Ischnura cervula [males blue, 4 dots on thorax]
  47. Paper Wasp, European Paper Wasp, Polistes dominula [black & yellow]
  48. Pennyroyal, Mentha pulegium
  49. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  50. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
  51. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  52. Soft Rush, Juncus effusus
  53. Spanish Clover, Acmispon americanus
  54. Squarestem Spikerush, Eleocharis quadrangulata
  55. Swamp Smartweed, Persicara hydropiperoides
  56. Tall Flatsedge, Cyperus eragrostis
  57. Tarweed, Fitch’s Tarweed, Centromadia fitchii
  58. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
  59. Tripartite Sweat Bee, Halictus tripartitus [tiny, striped abdomen]
  60. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  61. Urbane Digger Bee, Anthophora urbana  [looks like a pale blond and white bumblebee]
  62. Waterweed, Common Waterweed, Elodea canadensis
  63. Western Kingbird, Tyrant Flycatcher, Tyrannus verticalis
  64. Western Pondhawk Dragonfly, Erythemis collocata [males are blue; females are green]
  65. Western Tiger Swallowtail, Papilio rutulus
  66. White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus
  67. Willow Apple Gall Sawfly, Pontania californica
  68. Willow Bead Gall Mite, Aculus tetanothrix
  69. Willow Pinecone Gall midge, Rabdophaga strobiloides
  70. Willow Rose Gall Midge, Rabdophaga rosaria
  71. Yellow-faced Bumblebee, Bombus vosnesenskii
  72. ?? Tiny pale jumping spider
  73. ?? Small unidentified grasshopper

Hunting Dragonflies, 07-19-20

I got up around 5 o’clock this morning, and was out the door around 5:30 am to head toward the North Davis Ponds, Northstar Pond Park, where I met with Greg Ira, statewide director of the UC’s Certified California Naturalist program, for a walk. We were hoping to see a lot of dragonflies and maybe some galls, too.

Greg said he’d never been to that park before, so he checked it out late yesterday afternoon when he was driving through town. He said there were a lot of dragonflies around the pond and manicured lawn area. He’s been trying to get “super-slow-motion” video of the dragonflies as they take off from their landing perches, and he tried several time while we were out there to get some footage.

Greg trying to capture super-slow-motion video of the dragonflies.

When we first got there it was around 61° F, so a bit too cool for the dragon flies to be up and flying. We didn’t see any at all at first, so we walked down the shaded walkway toward Covell Park. We went about 3 or four bocks before turning around and heading back toward the ponds.
Both Greg and I were wearing face masks, and I was happy to see about half of the people we encountered wearing them, too.

This was nice to see in the middle of the parkway.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

Along the way, we stopped to take some photos of whatever we encountered. I got a few shots of the aphid galls on the leaves of a cottonwood tree, but also found a couple of first-of-the-season galls on Valley Oaks like the Convoluted Gall and the Red Cone Gall.

I was surprised to see a very “fresh-looking” specimen of Common Sunburst Lichen, Xanthoria parietina, on a ginkgo tree in Davis yesterday. This time of year, most of the lichen are dried out and colorless.

Common Sunburst Lichen, Golden Shield Lichen, Xanthoria parietina

We also found some Leaf-Footed Bugs at various instars (from nymphs to adults) on a pomegranate tree. The tree was near a fence that looked into a private back yard and a gentleman came out of the house to ask what we were looking at. I told him, “Leaf-Footed Bugs!” and said we were photographing some adults and babies. “Are they unusual?” he asked, and I told him, no, they’re fairly common. He wasn’t impressed, but told us to enjoy our day.

Western Leaf-Footed Bug, Leptoglossus zonatus

When we got back to the pond, the dragonflies were finally up and about and we saw some Pondhawks, Widow Skimmers, Flame Skimmers, and Blue Dasher Dragonflies.

I saw one of the Flame Skimmers turn around and snatch a tiny bee out of the air, then land on a cattail leaf to eat it. While I took some photos and video of it, Greg tried to get some super-slow-mo footage of it… but it wasn’t very cooperative with that. It was too interested in its meal to pay him any attention.

I also found some stink bug eggs (and a few nymphs) and Greg caught a couple of tiny Sierran Tree Frog froglets.  They looked mostly brown when they were boinging through the grass, but in close-up photos, you could see how beautifully and subtly colored they really are.

Sierran Tree Frog froglet, Pseudacris sierra

We saw quite a few birds in the area, but I wasn’t able to get photos of most of them because they were too far away or were in flight: a White-Tailed Kite, American Robins, Black Phoebes, Scrub Jays, and doves, among others.

American Robin, Turdus migratorius. Look at its beak!

We walked for about 3 hours, and by then it was 75° outside and I was starting to heat up (and sweat), so we called it a day.

I’d taken the walker with me on this trip and it did great on the paved paths throughout the park. I was probably actually walking faster than I normally might had I been by myself, because by the time I left I was exhausted.  When I got home, I had to crash for a few hours.

Species List:

  1. American Robin, Turdus migratorius
  2. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  3. Asian Ladybeetle, Harmonia axyridis [eggs]
  4. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  5. Blue Dasher Dragonfly, Pachydiplax longipennis
  6. Blue Lily, Lily of the Nile, Agapanthus praecox
  7. Broadleaf Cattail, Bullrush, Typha latifolia
  8. Brown Marmorated Stink Bug, Halyomorpha halys [eggs and nymphs]
  9. California Black Oak, Quercus kelloggii
  10. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  11. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  12. Chinese Pistache, Pistacia chinensis
  13. Common Green Lacewing, Chrysoperla carnea [eggs]
  14. Common Sunburst Lichen, Golden Shield Lichen, Xanthoria parietina
  15. Convoluted Gall Wasp, Andricus confertus
  16. Cottonwood Leaf Gall Aphid, Pemphigus populivenae
  17. Cottonwood Petiole Gall, Poplar Petiole Gall Aphid, Pemphigus populitransversus
  18. Eurasian Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto
  19. Fig, Common Fig, Ficus carica
  20. Flame Skimmer Dragonfly, Libellula saturata
  21. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  22. Ginkgo Tree, Ginkgo biloba
  23. Golden Haired Inkcap, Parasol Inkcap, Parasola auricoma
  24. Goldenrain Tree, Koelreuteria paniculata
  25. Mealy Rim Lichen, Lecanora strobilina
  26. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  27. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  28. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii [heard]
  29. Pomegranate Tree, Punica granatum
  30. Red Cone Gall Wasp, Andricus kingi
  31. Red-Eared Slider Turtle, Trachemys scripta elegans
  32. Sierran Tree Frog, Pseudacris sierra
  33. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  34. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  35. Velvetleaf, Abutilon theophrasti
  36. Western Leaf-Footed Bug, Leptoglossus zonatus
  37. Western Pondhawk Dragonfly, Erythemis collocata
  38. White Sweetclover, Melilotus albus
  39. White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus
  40. Widow Skimmer Dragonfly, Libellula luctuosa
  41. Yellow Water Iris, Yellow Flag, Iris pseudacorus [invasive]

More Jumping Galls and Scale, 07-17-20

Around 6:30 I headed over to William Land Park, again, to check on the jumping galls and iceplant scale.  I wanted to see if they’d increased or matured in any way since I last saw them on Monday when I went to the zoo.

There were only a few jumping galls out on Monday, but significantly more have dropped from the leaves of the trees and onto the ground now. There were long swaths of them in the gutters along the parking lot, and many more of them gathered under fallen leaves.  I was able to get a “pinch” of them into the palm of my hand so I could feel them moving, and vibrating and jumping. So cool!

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos and look for more videos at my YouTube site.

Nearby, on the iceplant, I checked out the Iceplant Scale again, hoping to see eggs this time. Well, I was too late for the eggs, but I did get to see quite a few of the babies and larger scale insects that didn’t have their scale “shells” yet. I’d never seen that before.

Because of the summer heat, there’s not a lot flowering in the garden right now, so not a lot to look at there.  The pond is still totally overgrown with Sacred Lotus, most of it going to seed. 

Sacred Lotus, Nelumbo nucifera

While I walked once around the pond, taking photos of the flowers, a pair of Asian ladies did a fast-walk around the same pond THREE TIMES. Hah!

Lot of geese and domestic ducks in the pond, but nothing unusual. I did see a light-morph female Mallard who had two ducklings with her. One of the babies wasn’t really ready to be awake yet, and kept snoodling down in against her feathers to sleep. They’re so cute.

Mama Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos, and her ducklings

I was at the park for about 90-minutes and then headed back home.

Species List:

  1. Aster, Pacific Aster, Symphyotrichum chilense [small purple-blue flowers with yellow center]
  2. Bear’s Breeches, Acanthus mollis
  3. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  4. Bull Thistle, Cirsium vulgare
  5. California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica
  6. Common Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  7. Common Toadflax, Linaria vulgaris [kind of looks like snapdragon]
  8. Cutleaf Teasel, Dipsacus laciniatus
  9. Dense-flowered Mullein, Verbascum densiflorum
  10. House Holly-Fern, Cyrtomium falcatum
  11. Iceplant, Pigface Iceplant, Highway Iceplant, Carpobrotus edulis
  12. Iceplant Scale, Pulvinariella mesembryanthem
  13. Jumping Oak Gall Wasp, Neuroterus saltatorius
  14. Leaf Gall Wasp/ Unidentified per Russo, Tribe: Cynipidi [on Valley Oak]
  15. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  16. Mission Prickly-Pear Cactus, Opuntia ficus-indica
  17. Narrowleaf Milkweed, Asclepias fascicularis
  18. Nightshade, Kangaroo-Apple Nightshade, Solanum laciniatum
  19. Oceanblue Morning Glory, Ipomoea indica
  20. Pleated Ink Cap, Parasol Ink Cap, Parasola plicatilis
  21. Queen Anne’s Lace, Wild Carrot, Daucus carota
  22. Red Amaranth, Cock’s Comb, Amaranthus cruentus
  23. Sacred Lotus, Nelumbo nucifera
  24. Santa Cruz Island Wild Buckwheat, Eriogonum arborescens
  25. Strawberry Tree, Arbutus unedo
  26. Sweet Four-o’Clock, Mirabilis longiflora [white flower, long pink stamens]
  27. Wand Mullein, Verbascum virgatum
  28. Western Lily, Lilium occidentale
  29. Western Marsh Rosemary, Sea Lavender, Limonium californicum
  30. White Sage, Salvia apiana

I Went to See the Alligators, 07-13-20

I headed over to the Sacramento Zoo for a visit. Haven’t been there since the COVID lockdown started months ago.  It was 71° when I got there, and got up to 95° by the late afternoon.

I parked across the street in a shady spot, and while heading toward the street and the zoo’s main gate, I stopped near the big Valley Oak tree along a part of the sidewalk where, each year, I see jumping galls in the summer months. 

It’s early in the season for them, but it’s been so hot, I thought they might have been “activated”.  I was right.  There weren’t a lot, but they were out there.  I got some video of them hopping on the pavement.  Each tiny gall (about the size of a mustard seed) has a wasp larva in it. The larvae thrash back and forth in the gall, making it jump, so they can get into the shade in any nearby leaf litter.  I got a little video snippet of them jumping. 

While I was watching the galls, there was a Red-Shouldered Hawk in the tree above my head, calling and calling…

The zoo had set up protocols for COVID-19, including having to wear a mask and distancing 6 feet or more from others… but they weren’t enforcing anything. So, after some people wore their masks to get through the main gate, they took them off as soon as they got further into the zoo and out of sight of the gate-keepers.

In the photo areas where they normally have little cut-outs you can put your head through, the zoo had the holes blocked off with masked faces.

And there were kids were running around, cramming in against one another, touching everything, grabbing onto people they didn’t know… no masks, no clue about social distancing. At the meerkat exhibit, for example, they were touching the glass, putting their faces against it, jockeying for position around whomever else was nearby. Their parents should have been teaching them better, should have been protecting them better, but they just stood around gabbing to one another or talking on their cellphones.  It was kind of disgusting to watch. 

With my cancer and diabetes, I’m immunocompromised; so, whenever I saw someone wearing a mask, I thanked them for it.

The only time I removed my mask was to lift it while I drank a soda and ate some French fries.

Hard to eat fries with a mask on…

And speaking of the food: the zoo had some protocols in place there, too, but they hadn’t really worked out the kinks yet. They wouldn’t accept cash, so you had to pay for everything with a credit card. That made sense to me, because so many different people touch money before it ever gets into your wallet… What I didn’t like was that you’d place your order at one station, get you food at another and your soda at another—so, in instead of being waited on (and exposed to) ONE person, you were exposed to THREE. Then the young man who served me my plate of fries handed it to me with his gloved hand, but then dropped packets of ketchup on top of the fries with an UNGLOVED hand.  How was that helpful? 

There was seating outside the zoo’s café, but I had no idea when they’d been sanitized last, so I tried not to touch the table with my hands and sat on the seat on my walker. They should offer you a sanitary wipe with your meal.

[[If I come down with COVID-19, you’ll all know where I most likely got exposed to it.]]

All of the exhibits in the zoo were open, except for the reptile house, but it was warm outside, so not all of the animals were willing to venture out into the heat. The otters, snow leopards and anteaters weren’t making themselves visible.

I’d gone specifically to see the new alligator exhibit, and was pleased to see one of the gators (out of the 6 the zoo has) out in the water sun-bathing and swimming slowly around.  It kept following me as I walked around its pond.  I think with my mask on, pushing my walker, I may have looked like one of its keepers delivering food.

American Alligator, Alligator mississippiensis

The lions and jaguar were out, but as it got warmer, they laid down to nap in the shade where they could.

African Lion, Panthera leo

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

In the Red Panda enclosure, one of the adults and the young Gizmo, who was born at the zoo last June.  His face is whiter than the adults’, so he’s easy to spot.  He was in a special enclosure with his mom the last time I saw him, but he’s old enough now to be out and about on his own.  And, besides, Gizmo’s mom, Amaya had a new cub just this month.  (She actually had twins, but only one of the babies survived.)  The name and sex of the new cub haven’t been revealed yet.

Gizmo the Red Panda, Ailurus fulgens

After I had my light lunch of fries and a soda, I stopped by the flamingos, and saw several of them sitting on their mud-mound nests.  Some of them grabbed feather that were floating around the area on the wind and stuck them onto or into the mud.  One of them reached out to a nearby unused mound and scraped bits of mud off to add to her own pile. She wasn’t very successfully as most of the mud rolled right off the side of her nest when she tried to set it down.

I walked down by the vet hospital in the zoo, and they were working on a female Giant Garter Snake (who wasn’t so giant). The Giant Garter Snake, Thamnophis gigas, is an endangered species that’s endemic to California.  This particular snake had been brought in from the DFW, and the zoo was doing a health check on her and getting her ready to tag before she is released back into the wild.

After, doing some x-rays, however, they realized she was preggers (and was full of eggs), so they decided not to put her through the stress of implanting a tracker into her. Instead, they continued with her health check, which included getting some swabs done. At one point, they used a credit card-like thing to open her mouth so they could get a swab of the inside of her mouth and throat. 

As I was leaving, I stopped by the alligator pond again, and was surprised to see several different species of dragonflies and butterflies around it: Western Tiger Swallowtails, Cabbage Whites, Flame Skimmers and Twelve-Spotted Skimmers.  I hardly ever see the 12-spotters, so they were like and extra treat.

Twelve-Spotted Skimmer Dragonfly, Libellula pulchella

Species List:

  1. African Lion, Panthera leo
  2. American Alligator, Alligator mississippiensis
  3. American Robin, Turdus migratorius
  4. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  5. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  6. Cabbage White butterfly, Pieris rapae
  7. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  8. Caribbean Flamingo, Phoenicopterus ruber
  9. Chimpanzee, Pan troglodytes
  10. Chinese Stripe-necked Turtle, Thread Turtle, Mauremys sinensis
  11. Comb Duck, Sarkidiornis melanotos
  12. Common Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  13. Crested Coua, Coua cristata
  14. Crested Screamer, Chauna torquata
  15. Eastern Bongo, Tragelaphus eurycerus isaaci
  16. Emu, Dromaius novaehollandiae
  17. Flame Skimmer Dragonfly, Libellula saturata
  18. Giant Garter Snake, Thamnophis gigas
  19. Goldfish, Carassius auratus
  20. Grevy’s Zebra, Equus grevyi
  21. Jaguar, Panthera onca
  22. Jumping Oak Gall Wasp, Neuroterus saltatorius
  23. Koi, Cyprinus rubrofuscus
  24. Laughing Kookaburra, Dacelo novaeguineae
  25. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  26. Masai Giraffe, Giraffa tippelskirchi
  27. Meerkat, Suricata suricatta
  28. Okapi, Okapia johnstoni
  29. Ostrich, Struthio camelus
  30. Red Kangaroo Paw, Anigozanthos rufus
  31. Red Kangaroo, Macropus rufus
  32. Red Panda, Ailurus fulgens
  33. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  34. Reticulated Giraffe, Giraffa camelopardalis reticulata
  35. Sumatran Orangutan, Pongo abelii
  36. Thick-billed Parrot, Rhynchopsitta pachyrhyncha
  37. Twelve-Spotted Skimmer Dragonfly, Libellula pulchella
  38. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
  39. Western Tiger Swallowtail, Papilio rutulus
  40. White-faced Saki, Pithecia pithecia
  41. White-faced Whistling Duck, Dendrocygna viduata

Grebes and Eagles, 07-08-20

Got up early-early around 5:00 am to get myself and the dog ready to head over to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. I was hoping to see some Clark’s Grebes there today, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The drive into and back from the refuge was uneventful, and with so little traffic on the roads, I was able to make the 2-hour drive in 90 minutes.  That was nice.  It was about 64° when I got to the refuge and warmed up fast, which was hard on my old car. The engine in the Sebring is air-cooled, so when the car is moving, it’s fine. But in the summer heat, when the car is sitting still, it just gets hotter and hotter. So, I could only stop for short periods of time to get photos, and had to keep the car moving as much as possible. Not ideal for viewing wildlife along the auto-tour route.

There wasn’t much of a variety of damselflies and dragonflies out there yet which was a tiny bit disappointing.  With most of the refuge dry as a bone in the summer months, one of the main draws for me are the Odonata around the permanent wetland pool. There were tons of Familiar Bluets and Variegated Meadowhawks all over the place, but I only saw a few Pondhawks and a couple of Black Saddlebag dragonflies (on the fly). I also didn’t see a lot of exuvia, which I thought was odd considering the number of dragonflies and damselflies I saw. 

I could HEAR frogs along the shore of the pond, but couldn’t find a spot where I could SEE any.

As I said, I’d gone mainly looking for Clark’s Grebes, and I saw quite a few of them.  There were several of their floating nests on the water (most of them toward the end of the extension loop) and some pairs of parents in the water, carrying their fuzzy white-gray babies on their backs.  Most of them were right on the edge of where my camera can reach (and heat waves coming off the car and the ground didn’t help with the focus), but I managed to get quite a few shots and a couple of short video snippets.

Another one of the grebes was adding its nest which already had eggs in it, and another one was trying to reclaim its nest from a Common Tern that insisted on standing on it. Following is the video of the mom rebuilding her nest:

It looks like she’s also removing broken egg shells from it, so I wonder if something had attacked the nest earlier. Because the nests are floating on the water, the eggs and the parent sitting on the nest are vulnerable to attack from a variety of predators including river otters and Bald Eagles.  If the nest is destroyed, the birds will try again before the breeding season is over.

Among the Clark’s Grebes, there were also quite a few Pied-Billed Grebes (but I couldn’t see any of their nests) and, surprisingly, quite a few pairs of Ruddy Ducks.  The males are in their full breeding plumage now, so their bills are bright blue.

Ruddy Duck, Oxyura jamaicensis

The big surprise of the day, though, was seeing a pair of Bald Eagles on the little island in the middle of the pool that’s usually occupied by pelicans and cormorants.  Usually, you don’t see eagles around the refuge in the summer (they’re more prevalent in winter and spring), but maybe there aren’t a lot of places they can look for fish or waterfowl when it’s so dry everywhere (due to the lack of rain), so they came to the permanent wetland to cruise for breakfast.

While I watched them, the female eagle ate her fill of a bird carcass, then put the carcass into one of her feet and walked it over to the male who was waiting his turn a few feet away.  They “talked” to each other for a moment, and then the male started eating from the carcass while the female walked off to clean her beak off in the water. 

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

I came across several jackrabbits along the way, and also got to see a few deer.  One of the does had a fawn with her, and another doe had a pair of twins. The twins looked like they were only a few days old, tiny babies.

Can you find the twin fawns in this photo?

Despite the heat and the long drive, I thought the trip was well worthwhile. For the majority of the ride, I had my dog Esteban in his new soft enclosure in the car.  Like a pop-up tent for dogs, it is made of broadcloth and has mesh sides. It fills up about half of the back seat. He was able to stand up and move around in it while still being contained.  I had been worried that the g-forces of being in the car might have had a negative impact on his back, but he seemed to handle it very well.

We were at the refuge for about 3½ hours, and we got back to the house around 11:30 am, and by then it was already 83° outside.  Pleh!

Species List:

  1. Alkali Heliotrope, Chinese Parsley,  Heliotropium curassavicum
  2. American Coot, Fulica americana
  3. American White Pelican, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos
  4. Bald Eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus
  5. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii
  6. Black Saddlebags Dragonfly, Tramea lacerate
  7. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus
  8. Bristly Oxtongue, Helminthotheca echioides
  9. Bull Thistle, Cirsium vulgare
  10. Cabbage White butterfly, Pieris rapae
  11. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  12. Clark’s Grebe, Aechmophorus clarkii
  13. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
  14. Common Teasel, Dipsacus fullonum
  15. Common Tern, Sterna hirundo
  16. Deer Fly, Chrysops vittatus
  17. Desert Cottontail Rabbit, Sylvilagus audubonii
  18. Familiar Bluet Damselfly, Enallagma civile
  19. Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis
  20. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  21. Great-Tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus
  22. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  23. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  24. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris
  25. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  26. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  27. Painted Lady Butterfly, Vanessa cardui
  28. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  29. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum
  30. Red Gum Eucalyptus, River Redgum, Eucalyptus camaldulensis
  31. Red Gum Lerp Psyllid, Glycaspis brimblecombei
  32. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
  33. Ring-Necked Pheasant, Phasianus colchicus
  34. River Otter, North American River Otter, Lontra canadensis [scat and slides]
  35. Ruddy Duck, Oxyura jamaicensis
  36. Sheet Weaver Spiders, Family: Linyphiidae
  37. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  38. Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum
  39. Water Primrose, Ludwigia hexapetala [rounded leaves; not floating]
  40. Western Fence Lizard, Blue Belly, Sceloporus occidentalis
  41. Western Kingbird, Tyrant Flycatcher, Tyrannus verticalis
  42. Western Pondhawk Dragonfly, Erythemis collocata [males are blue; females are green]
  43. Western Spotted Orbweaver Spider, Neoscona oaxacensis
  44. White Ash Tree, Fraxinus americana
  45. Willowleaf Lettuce, Lactuca saligna

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

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

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

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

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

Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Esteban recovering from a back injury in the bedroom.

Species List:

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

Travels of a Certified California Naturalist