Tag Archives: Agelaius phoeniceus

The 1st Summer 2019 Naturalist Field Trip, 06-15-19

I got up at 4:00 this morning, got the dog fed and outside to pee, and then headed out to Woodland for our first field trip for the summer naturalist class.  I got to the Woodland Library around 5:45 am and waited for my coworker Bill and the students arrive. The weather was VERY cooperative today. I was worried that the summer heat would make our field trips unbearable in the summer, but today it was nice.  It was in the low 60’s when we headed out, and only about 78° when we came back, so that was great.  There was also a slight breeze which helped, too.

When everyone got to the library and had signed in, we all headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  I left my car in the parking lot and went with Bill in his van along with our student, Jeanette, who is a middle school teacher.

  • Locate and identify at least fifteen (15) animal species (birds, amphibians, reptiles)
  • Locate and identify at least ten (10) plant species
  • Locate and identify at least ten (10) insect species

While we were walking around the nature center, I think they all got the majority of those requirements!  The insects were probably the most difficult for everyone, but we’ll see on Friday (at class) how well everyone did. 

Near the nature center, we came across a large fat weevil sitting on the top of the flowering head of a tule.  Bill rapped on the weevil a couple of times and figured it was dead, but when I stroked it, its feet moved, so we all inferred that the weevil was in a state of torpor, waiting for the sun to get a little higher in the sky so it could warm up more and start moving around. 

Everyone took photos of it and tried to identify it using the iNaturalist app we’d told them about in class on Friday.  It came up as a Billbug Weevil from the genus Sphenophorus. If you look at the map in iNaturalist, though, you’ll see that Billbug Weevils have been sighted all over the globe. So, calling this a Billbug Weevil is somewhat accurate, but for a more precise ID, I wanted the students to try get down to the species level on the weevil when they got home. Insects can be especially hard to ID because there are literally millions of them, and you have to deal with taxon levels that include superfamilies, tribes and subtribes before you can get close to the species. It will be interesting to see how far the students are able to get.

We also found a buckwheat plant that I didn’t recognize as buckwheat at all because its shape wasn’t like any buckwheat plant I’d seen before.  The signage by the plant said it was California Buckwheat, Eriogonum fasciculatum, as did iNaturalist, but that didn’t quite look right to me. The leaves were the wrong shape.  So, I did a little more research, and I believe it was actually St. Catherine’s Lace, Eriogonum giganteum, a kind of wild buckwheat that usually only grows in Southern California. When we were studying the plant, two of the students (Jeanette and Edna) also observed that some of the flowers still had their pink pollen balls and others did not… and we inferred that those that didn’t have their pollen balls anymore had already been pollinated.

Buckwheat, St. Catherine’s Lace, Eriogonum giganteum, with pollen blass intact

When it came time to drive the auto-tour route, I drove Bill’s van so he could do more observations, and Jeanette and another student, Mica, a retired farmer, came along with us. Bill was able to open up both sides of his van, so the gals could get an unobstructed view of what was out on the preserve. Although everyone was able to go at their own pace along the route, we stopped at two of the park-and-stretch areas so we could compare notes and get a closer look at things.  At the first stop, the students Ken and Alison, who are already expert birders, were helping the students spot and identify bird species and also explained what they meant when they talked about the birds’ GISS.

GISS stands for “General Impression, Shape, and Size” (originally a military term). Birders often use the bird’s GISS as a way to do a preliminary or in-field identification of a bird when it’s backlit (only seen in silhouette) or is too far away to see any details of its coloring. So, Alison and Kent were able to distinguish a pair of Northern Harriers flying over our heads from the Red-Tailed Hawk that was flying near them by nothing but their GISS. Very cool.  I’m nowhere near being that kind of an expert. 

At the second park-and-stretch spot, students relaxed with their lunches for a little while, and I was able to find a couple of examples of a specific kind of gall to tell them about, a Cottonwood Petiole Gall and is created by the aphid, Pemphigus populitransversus. The wingless female aphid called a “stem mother” chews at the leaf petiole (the stalk that joins a leaf to a stem) until it swells and then she climbs inside the swelling and has her babies inside of it. The baby aphids are born live and can be in either a winged form (called an “alate”) or without wings.

Cottonwood Petiole Aphid Gall,
Pemphigus populitransversus

While the students were resting and checking up on their notes, one of them, Alison, let us see what she’d put into her field journal for the morning. She’s an artist, and she uses fountain pens and watercolors to write and decorate her entries. It was beautiful. I can hardly wait for Friday when all the students share their journals, so I can take photos and let you see what they’re doing…

I also overheard a couple of students talking about how much they enjoyed the class, how much they’ve learned already (in just two sessions) and how many resources we’ve introduced them to that they didn’t even know existed before now.  That is so gratifying!

One more learning moment: On the eucalyptus trees along the end auto-tour route on Saturday, I also stopped to pull a leaf off of an obliging eucalyptus tree, so I could show the students in our vehicle the white teepee-like formation on it that some folks mistake for galls.  The formations are actually called “lerps” and they’re created by a tiny insect called the Red Gum Lerp Psyllid, Glycaspis brimblecombei. These insects spin little white houses for themselves made of sugars and wax pulled from the leaves. They’re often very sticky with the honeydew produced by the insects.             

When we were done with the tour, everyone went their separate ways.

Species List:

  1. American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus,
  2. American Robin, Turdus migratorius,
  3. American Wigeon, Anas americana,
  4. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna,
  5. Ash-Throated Flycatcher, Myiarchus cinerascens,
  6. Bermuda Grass, Cynodon dactylon,
  7. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii,
  8. Billbug Weevil, Sphenophorus sp.,
  9. Birds-foot Trefoil, Lotus corniculatus,
  10. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
  11. Black Saddlebags Dragonfly, Tramea lacerata,
  12. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicusm,
  13. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum,
  14. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus,
  15. Bristly Oxtongue, Helminthotheca echioides,
  16. Buckwheat, St. Catherine’s Lace, Eriogonum giganteum,
  17. Bulbous Canary Grass, Phalaris aquatica,
  18. Bullock’s Oriole, Icterus bullockii,
  19. California Flannelbush, Fremontodendron californicum,
  20. California Fuchsia, Epilobium canum,
  21. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi,
  22. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis,
  23. Cinnamon Teal, Anas cyanoptera,
  24. Cleveland Sage, Salvia clevelandii,
  25. Common Checkered Skipper, Pyrgus communis,
  26. Common Minnow, Phoxinus phoxinus,
  27. Common Teasel, Dipsacus fullonum,
  28. Cottonwood Petiole Aphid Gall, Pemphigus populitransversus,
  29. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis,
  30. Desert Cottontail, Sylvilagus audubonii,
  31. Eurasian Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto,
  32. European Heliotrope, Heliotropium europaeum,
  33. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris,
  34. Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis,
  35. Field Mustard, Sinapis arvensis,
  36. Flax-leaved Horseweed, Erigeron bonariensis,
  37. Floating Water Primrose, Ludwigia peploides ssp. peploides,
  38. Fremont Cottonwood, Populus fremontii,
  39. Gold Dust Lichen, Chrysothrix candelaris,
  40. Goodding’s Willow, Salix gooddingii,
  41. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias,
  42. Great Egret, Ardea alba,
  43. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons,
  44. Great-Tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus,
  45. Green-Winged Teal, Anas carolinensis,
  46. Italian Thistle, Carduus pycnocephalus,
  47. Jimson Weed, Datura stramonium,
  48. Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos,
  49. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris,
  50. Monarch Butterfly, Danaus plexippus,
  51. Mosquitofish, Gambusia affinis,
  52. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura,
  53. Mute Swan, Cygnus olor,
  54. Mylitta Crescent Butterfly, Phyciodes mylitta mylitta,
  55. Narrowleaf Cattail, Cattail, Typha angustifolia,
  56. Narrowleaf Milkweed, Asclepias fascicularis,
  57. Northern Bluet Damselfly, Enallagma cyathigerum,
  58. Northern Pintail, Anas acuta,
  59. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata,
  60. Oleander Aphid, Aphis nerii,
  61. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps,
  62. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum,
  63. Raccoon, Procyon lotor,
  64. Red Gum Lerp Psyllid, Glycaspis brimblecombei,
  65. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus,
  66. Rough Cocklebur, Xanthium strumarium,
  67. Sharp-leaved Fluellen, Kickxia elatine,
  68. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa,
  69. Spotted Orb-Weaver Spider, Neoscona crucifera,
  70. Striped Horsefly, Tabanus lineola,
  71. Sunburst Lichen, Xanthoria elegans,
  72. Teasel, Wild Teasel, Dipsacus fullonum,
  73. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus,
  74. Turkey Tangle, Fogfruit, Phyla nodiflora,
  75. Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum,
  76. Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
  77. Western Kingbird, Tyrannus verticalis,
  78. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta,
  79. Yellow Starthistle, Centaurea solstitialis

Lots of Snowy Egrets, 05-31-19

I got up about 5:30 this morning, fed the dog his breakfast and then headed out to the Cosumnes River Preserve for a walk.

There was little to no water in the “wetland” areas, so not a lot of birds or dragonflies. I walked along the slough on the side of the road, and then walked through the oak woodland to the nature center, and then back to the car.  Along the slough, I saw Tree Swallows, a pair of Western Kingbirds, and a trio of Brown-Headed Cowbirds doing their bowing thing. They were on the top of a tree, so bowing was difficult, and they kept rolling off their twiggy branches. Eventually, they gave up and flew off.

Further along, I came across a small flock of Snowy Egrets who were feeling for things in the water with their feet.  As I was watching them and taking pictures, a Great Egret flew in and joined them. Seeing the great Egret and the Snowy Egrets side-by-side really exemplifies their size difference. It looked like a mama bird with lots of babies around her.  Some of the Snowy Egrets were flashing their top knots at one another. I got the sense that it was a more an aggressive, territorial thing than a romance thing. None of the birds had their long, trailing feathers in; and none of them were sporting the pink blush in the face the Snowies get when their breeding.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

Beyond the regular Oak Apple galls, there weren’t a lot of other ones out yet. I saw some Red Cones just starting to grow – looking like tiny red pimples on the leaves of some of the Valley Oaks.  I did see the curling leaf galls and “flower” galls on the ash trees, but not as much as I’m used to seeing.

As I was walking through the oak woodland, I was surprised to see a large flock of American White Pelicans fly overhead. By the time I got my camera up and focused, though, they were gone. It’s always so neat to see those big birds flying.  They don’t look like they should be able to stay aloft, but they’re so graceful in the sky.

I also got a glimpse of a Green Heron when he flew out from the rushes around the bridge area, and up into a willow tree.  There were so many twiggy branches around him, though, it was hard to get any decent shots of him.

Near the nature center, I saw some House Finches, Anna’s Hummingbirds, and a baby cottontail rabbit. The baby was a surprise; my brain couldn’t get itself around how small it was at first, and I just stared at it. I did come to enough to get a few shots of the bunny before it scrambled away, though.

Even going down to the boat launch area, I was surprised by the lack of insects. I was hoping to see dragonflies, damselflies and spiders there, but… nothing.

I walked for about three hours and then started to head home.  My insides were starting to complain, and I hurried to the restroom near the boardwalk area where my car was parked – only to find that the thing was locked shut. Seriously?! Guh! I hate it when that happens.

Species List:

  1. American White Pelican, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos,
  2. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna,
  3. Ash Flower Gall Mite, Eriophyes fraxinivorus,
  4. Ash Leaf Curl Aphid, Prociphilus fraxinifolii,
  5. Asian Ladybeetle, Harmonia axyridis,
  6. Bermuda Grass, Cynodon dactylon,
  7. Bindweed, Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis,
  8. Birds-Foot Trefoil, Lotus corniculatus,
  9. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
  10. Blue-Eyed Grass, Sisyrinchium angustifolium,
  11. Broadleaf Cattail, Bullrush, Typha latifolia,
  12. Broadleaf Mistletoe, Phoradendron macrophyllum,
  13. Brown-Headed Cowbird, Molothrus ater,
  14. Buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis,
  15. California Brodiaea, Brodiaea californica,
  16. California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica,
  17. California Wild Rose, Rosa californica,
  18. Cleveland Sage, Salvia clevelandii,
  19. Common Knotweed, Persicaria lapathifolia,
  20. Common Yarrow, Achillea millefolium,
  21. Convergent Ladybeetle, Hippodamia convergens,
  22. Coyote Brush Bud Gall Midge, Rhopalomyia californica,
  23. Curly Leaved Dock, Rumex crispus,
  24. Desert Cottontail Rabbit, Sylvilagus audubonii,
  25. Doveweed, Turkey Mullein, Croton setigerus,
  26. English Field Daisy, Bellis perennis,
  27. Fennel, Sweet Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare,
  28. Floating Water Primrose, Ludwigia peploides,
  29. Goodding’s Willow, Salix gooddingii,
  30. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias,
  31. Great Egret, Ardea alba,
  32. Green Heron, Butorides virescens,
  33. Green Pea Aphid, Acyrthosiphon pisum,
  34. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus,
  35. Hoverfly, Syrphidae,
  36. Hummingbird Sage, Salvia spathacea,
  37. Jointed Charlock, Raphanus raphanistrum,
  38. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferus
  39. Lippia, Turkey Tangle, Fogfruit, Phyla nodiflora,
  40. Long-Jawed Orb Weaver, Tetragnatha extensa,
  41. Oak Apple Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus,
  42. Oregon Ash, Fraxinus latifolia,
  43. Pearly Everlasting, Anaphalis margaritacea,
  44. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum,
  45. Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum,
  46. Purple Finch, Haemorhous purpureus,
  47. Purpletop Vervain, Verbena bonariensis,
  48. Rabbitsfoot Grass, Polypogon monspeliensis,
  49. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus,
  50. Seven-Spotted Ladybeetle, Coccinella septempunctata,
  51. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula,
  52. Swift Crab Spider, Mecaphesa celer
  53. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor,
  54. Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus,
  55. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata,
  56. Variable Flatsedge, Cyperus difformis,
  57. Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
  58. Western Kingbird, Tyrannus verticalis,
  59. Wild Onion (white), Allium sp.,
  60. Willow Apple Gall Wasp, Pontania californica,
  61. Willow Bead Gall Mite, Aculops tentanothrix,
  62. Willow Bud Gall Mite, Aculops aenigma,
  63. Willow Stem Gall Wasp, Euura exiguae,

A Somewhat Disappointing Excursion, 05-23-19

Feeling tired and stressed, I decided to try making the drive to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. Rather than being a therapeutic and relaxing time, however, I was faced with irritation after irritation, so the drive actually left me feeling more stressed and exhausted than I was before I started. *Heavy sigh*

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

Traffic wasn’t too terribly terrible, but it seemed like I hit every freaking red light there was, and the monster semi’s on the highway were “always” in front of me like giant snails. When I got to the refuge, I could see Bank Swallows collecting mud in the slough near the front gate, so I stopped to take some photos – and, of course, the birds wouldn’t cooperate, and two employees pulled up in their cars behind me and honked at me. Grrrrr. The rest of the day kind of went like that: I saw Gallinules, but they ducked into the tules before I could get a photo; I could hear Bitterns giving their “pumperlunk” calls close by, but couldn’t see them; it was windy, so most of the birds were hunkered down near the ground or deep in the trees; where there would normally be dozens of Marsh Wrens around, I saw only two deep in the tules; the dragonflies hadn’t come up from the water yet; what damselflies there were around were the tiniest ones that are like trying to photograph a strand of hair; there weren’t any of the Clark’s or Western Grebes that I was expecting to be out there by now; I couldn’t even get shots of ground squirrels… It was just one frustration after another. By the time I left, I had a splitting headache and just wanted to ram someone with my car. ((I didn’t though.)) *Heavy sigh-2*

Species List:

  1. American Avocet, Recurvirostra americana,
  2. American Bittern, Botaurus lentiginosus,
  3. American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus,
  4. American White Pelican, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos,
  5. Bank Swallow, Riparia riparia,
  6. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
  7. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus,
  8. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum,
  9. Cabbage White Butterfly, Pieris rapae,
  10. California Dock, Rumex californicus,
  11. California Milkweed, Asclepias californica,
  12. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis,
  13. Cinnamon Teal, Anas cyanoptera,
  14. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus,
  15. Common Gallinule, Gallinula galeata,
  16. Convergent Lady Beetle, Hippodamia convergens,
  17. Desert Cottontail, Sylvilagus audubonii,
  18. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auritus,
  19. Downingia, Downingia sp.,
  20. English Lawn Daisy, Bellis perennis,
  21. Eurasian Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto,
  22. Familiar Bluet Damselfly, Enallagma civile,
  23. Goodding’s Willow, Salix gooddingii,
  24. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias,
  25. Great Egret, Ardea alba,
  26. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons,
  27. Italian Thistle, Carduus pycnocephalus,
  28. Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos,
  29. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris,
  30. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura,
  31. Mute Swan, Cygnus olor,
  32. Northern Pintail, Anas acuta,
  33. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata,
  34. Painted Lady Butterfly, Vanessa cardui,
  35. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum,
  36. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis,
  37. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus,
  38. Ring-Necked Pheasant, Phasianus colchicus,
  39. Short-tailed ichneumon wasps, Ophion sp.,
  40. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula,
  41. Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia,
  42. Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus,
  43. Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum,
  44. Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
  45. Western Kingbird, Tyrannus verticalis,
  46. Wild Teasel, Dipsacus fullonum,

At the Sacramento and Colusa Wildlife Refuges, 05-06-19

Certified California Naturalist, Roxanne Moger and I went out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge around 6:00 am this morning. The weather was beautiful today, but there wasn’t a lot to see at the preserve. We’re kind of in between seasons, so the large flocks of birds have all left, but the insects (like dragonflies, damselflies, and orb-weaver spiders) haven’t arrived yet. We did see swarms of Painted Lady butterflies and some Cabbage White, but none of the other species normally seen there in the late spring/early summer.

Roxanne did all the driving, but we stopped a couple of time to get out of the car and walk parts of the trail or explore the boundaries of the park-and-stretch areas. Some of the vernal pools on the site were in bloom: all golden yellow and purple with Goldfields and Downingia. Just beautiful.

Although the species list at the end of the day wasn’t as long or as varied as I’d like, I did like the fact that I saw a few things I’d never seen before and learned more about some species than I’d known before. That’s what really makes these outings fun.

A large fly landed on the passenger side mirror of the car partway through the auto-tour and at first I thought it was a Robber Fly (those guys are pretty big). We were both intrigued by the fly’s huge goggle-like eyes and his tenaciousness.  He held onto that mirror for quite a long time.

When I got home, I looked up the fly to see if I could find its scientific name and found that it was actually a male Striped (or Lined) Horsefly, Tabanus lineola. I’d never seen one before. And, of course, once I find something new to me, I have to research it more.  Never having encountered a Horsefly before, I was surprised to learn that although the males drink nectar, the females drink blood (usually from large mammals like livestock). She had scissor-like mouth parts that slice into the skin so she can get to the blood. This species is usually found along the east coast and Gulf of Mexico, so it was something of a surprise to find it here… assuming I got the ID correct.

We also got to see a male Red-Winged Blackbird flaring his epaulets at a female, and a pair of Brown-Headed Cowbirds performing what we thought was courtship behavior.  The two birds sat across from one another, then one ruffled its feathers, opened its wings a bit and bowed down at the other, and the other responded in kind.

Roxanne and I inferred the behavior was “courtship” but, from what I read, after I got home, what we were seeing was actually two males trying to outdo one another in a machismo contest.  Apparently, the females don’t respond well to the males’ bows, which they see as aggressive, so the males only bow to one another. (You can read more here.)  The males open their wings to one another, and to females, to show how mature they are. Juveniles have pale markings on the inside of the wings.

You can see the video snippet I took of the birds HERE.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

And we found a couple of Black Phoebe nests, one stuffed full of babies who were almost fully fledged. They were stacked up, one on top of the other, with their tails sticking out over the edge of the nest. And toward the end of the auto tour route we came across a dead tree where there was a Western Meadowlark, a Red-Winged Blackbird and a tiny Song Sparrow all singing their respective songs.

We caught glimpses of American Goldfinches and Bullock’s Orioles, and hear Bitterns, but didn’t see any. One oddity was sighting a Mute Swan in the permanent wetlands area. That was odd because swans hardly ever go into the refuge, and Mute Swans are actually an invasive species. Unlike the Tundra Swans, the Mute Swans are super-aggressive and destroy the habitat they live in by ripping up water-plants from the roots.

When we were done at the Sacramento refuge, we decided to go over to the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge to show Roxanne the day-roost of the Black-Crowned Night Herons at the end of the auto-tour there. We were astonished to discover that the auto-tour there was roped off so no one could get to it… but the rope and signage was only visible AFTER you entered the refuge and started driving down the route. Stupid. They should have put the signs on the front gate or in the parking area.  A “manager” who showed up a little while after did, said that the auto-route was shut down because they were short handed and couldn’t patrol it well enough. Sad.

So, we didn’t do that tour and instead walked around a little bit in the native flower garden they have near the restroom facility.  Along part of a path near the garden, Roxanne found some galls we’d never seen before: the gall of the Elm Balloon-Gall Aphid, Eriosoma lanuginosum.

According to what I’ve read, the galls are initiated by a “fundatrix”, a parthenogenetic female aphid whose presence causes an extreme enlargement of the soft cell tissue on one side of the leaf. The galls are hollow and feel rubbery. They start out green and are covered with fine white hairs (which we saw) and turn brown as they age.

Inside the gall the fundatrix has her babies which are wingless and yellow until they mature. There can also be second generation aphids, called “alates” (usually winged individuals) which are dark green to black and wax powdered. Not all of the adults grow wings, however, and wing-growth seemed to be associated to crowding inside the galls, a short supply of food, and/or changes in the environment. Nature is so cool!

After walking around a bit, we headed back home to Sacramento and got there around 3:00 pm.

Species List:

1. American Avocet, Recurvirostra americana,
2. American Bittern, Botaurus lentiginosus,
3. American Coot, Fulica americana.
4. American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos,
5. American Goldfinch, Spinus tristis,
6. American Robin, Turdus migratorius,
7. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna,
8. Annual Yellow Sweet Clover, Melilotus indicus,
9. Arches Moth, Habrosyne sp.
10. Bird’s Foot Trefoil, Lotus corniculatus,
11. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
12. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus,
13. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum,
14. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus cerulea,
15. Bristly Oxtongue, Helminthotheca echioides,
16. Brown-Headed Cowbird, Molothrus ater,
17. Bullock’s Oriole, Icterus bullockii,
18. Bur Clover, Burr Medic, Medicago polymorpha,
19. California Flannelbush, Fremontodendron californicum,
20. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi,
21. California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica,
22. California Wild Rose, Rosa californica,
23. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis,
24. Cinnamon Teal, Anas cyanoptera,
25. Clark’s Grebe, Aechmophorus clarkia,
26. Cleveland Sage, Salvia clevelandii,
27. Common Mustard, Brassica rapa,
28. Convergent Lady Beetle, Hippodamia convergens,
29. Curly Dock, Rumex crispus,
30. Damselfly, Pacific Forktail, Ischnura cervula, (dots on thorax)
31. Damselfly, Sooty Dancer, Argia lugens, (no blue tip; rings around segments)
32. Desert Cottontail, Sylvilagus audubonii,
33. Dogtail Grass, Cynosurus echinatus,
34. Elm Balloon-Gall Aphid, Eriosoma lanuginosum,
35. Eurasian Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto,
36. Field Elm Tree, Smooth-Leaf Elm, Ulmus Minor,
37. Foothills Penstamon, Penstemon heterophyllus,
38. Foxtail Barley, Hordeum murinum ssp. glaucum,
39. Fremont Cottonwood Tree, Populus fremontii,
40. Fuller’s Teasel, Wild Teasel, Dipsacus fullonum,
41. Goldfields, Contra Costa Goldfields, Lasthenia conjugens,
42. Great Egret, Ardea alba,
43. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons,
44. Greenbottle Fly, Lucilia sericata,
45. Himalayan Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus,
46. Hood Canarygrass, Phalaris paradoxa,
47. Hoover’s Downingia, Hoover’s Calicoflower, Downingia bella,
48. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus,
49. House Sparrow, Passer domesticus,
50. Jimson Weed, Datura stramonium,
51. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous,
52. Large Oxtongue Aphid, Uroleucon picridis,
53. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris,
54. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura,
55. Mute Swan, Cygnus olor,
56. Narrowleaf Milkweed, Asclepias fascicularis,
57. Northern Paper Wasp, Polistes fuscatus,
58. Northern Pintail, Anas acuta,
59. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata,
60. Oleander Aphid, Aphis nerii,
61. Pacific Pond Turtle, Western Pond Turtle, Actinemys marmorata,
62. Pacific Tree Frog, Chorus Frog, Pseudacris regilla,
63. Painted Lady Butterfly, Vanessa cardui,
64. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps,
65. Plantain, Ribwort, Plantago lanceolata,
66. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum,
67. Purple Finch, Haemorhous purpureus,
68. Purple Needle Grass, Stipa pulchra,
69. Rabbit Tail Grass,Hare’s Tail Grass, Lagurus ovatus,
70. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis,
71. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus,
72. Rush, California Bulrush, Schoenoplectus californicus,
73. Sedge, Pennsylvania Sedge, Carex pensylvanica
74. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciose,
75. Silverpuff, Microseris acuminata,
76. Snow Goose, Chen caerulescens,
77. Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia,
78. Striped Horsefly, Tabanus lineola,
79. Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus,
80. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura,
81. Valley Popcorn Flower, Plagiobothrys canescens,
82. Varied Carpet Beetle, Anthrenus verbasci,
83. Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum,
84. Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
85. Western Kingbird, Tyrannus verticalis,
86. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta,
87. Willow, Gooding’s Willow, Salix gooddingii

Going Back to Bear Valley Road, 04-22-19

I got up around 5:00 am and was out the door with the dog before 6:00 am.  I wanted to check out the wildflowers along Bear Valley Road again to see if I could find the Most Beautiful Jewel Flower that was spotted there during the last Tuleyome driving tour.  Trying to drive the car on a dirt road, with sheer cliff walls on one side and a drop into a deep ravine on the other, while I tried to search for a tiny plant with nearly black flowers on it proved… difficult. Hah!  So, I didn’t find that flower, but I did see some I hadn’t seen the last time I was out there, and I was also compensated with the surprise find of an in-the-wild Burrowing Owl in one of the cattle ranch fields!

I saw what I thought at first was a ground squirrel poking its head up in a field, so I stopped the car to get some photos of it. As I zoomed in with the camera, I realized I wasn’t looking at a squirrel, I was looking at a Burrowing Owl. Cool! I’d met one at the Sacramento Zoo, but I had never seen one in its natural habitat before. I got out of the car to try to get closer to the fence that separated me from the owl, but the car door blew shut with a bang(!). [[It was windy out there.]]  The owl hunkered down near the opening of its burrow, which made it a lot more difficult to photograph, but I was glad I got to see it at all.

On another part of the road, I saw some Red-Winged Blackbirds mobbing a crow in the air. They were dive-bombing at him and grabbing at him.  Then I saw him land on the ground and thought that was weird of him because it made him an easier target for the blackbirds.  But then I saw the crow pick up a small blue egg out of a nest hidden in the long grass. I’m not sure, but I think the crow swallowed it. (I didn’t see him drop it.)  One of the blackbirds landed on the ground behind the crow and then rushed up again, smacking the crow in the back of the head, but the crow didn’t move right away. Instead, he reached down into the nest again. Two of the blackbirds attacked him once more and were finally successful in chasing him off.  I couldn’t see into the nest, so I’m not sure how much damage the crow did, but it seems like any nest on the ground is easy-pickings.

I always thought the blackbirds built their nests near water at the base of tules and other tall vegetation, so I was surprised there was one on the ground in an open field filled with roaming cattle.  According to the Audubon website, though, the birds also nest “in dense grass in fields. Nest (built by female) is bulky open cup, lashed to standing vegetation, made of grass, leaves, rootlets, lined with fine grass.” I love learning new stuff like this!

There were a lot of California Quails all along the sides of the road, several coveys.  But they moved too quickly for me to get any decent photos of them. There were also Killdeer along the road but, again, no photos.

And I saw some Western Kingbirds in what I think was part of their courtship displays.  There were also lot of them along the fence lines on the side of the road. Another nice surprise was being able to see a lovely Lark Sparrow. I hardly ever see those guys, and I think the patterns on their faces are so pretty.

CLICK HERE for the photos from today.

I stopped at the Keegan Ranch, which allows you to come onto the property to experience the wildflowers there, and I got to see a LOT of flowers. The fields were like “oceans” of them, with cattle “swimming” through them.  I also watched while a rancher on horseback rounded up some cows and their calves with the help of a handful of herding dogs. This ranch and the adjoining Epperson Ranch are actually protected by conservation easements (since 2016).  So, they cannot be drastically changed or built upon in perpetuity.

According to an article on them by the California Rangeland Trust: “From the rare serpentine soils, extensive wildflower fields and native grasses to the productive rangeland, this working cattle ranch is a great example of how ranchers can work with conservation groups to voluntarily protect the natural environment and sustain a way of life. These ranches are the first in California to be funded by NRCS’s Grasslands of Special Environmental Significance under its Agricultural Conservation Easement Program. The Keegan and Epperson Ranches are a great example of a multi-agency and private partnership that will protect vital habitats for plants and wildlife, expand and protect wildlife corridors, and will help wildlife adapt to climate change in perpetuity. Conservation of these ranches helps meet several goals aimed at reducing pressures to the Northern California Interior Coast Range Ecoregion outlined in California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s 2015 State Wildlife Action Plan…”

Combined, the ranches comprise 4,049 acres of now-protected landscape.  Makes me love this place even more.

My dog, Sergeant Margie, was great through the whole drive.  We stopped every once in a while so I could take photos, and when I did, I let him out to pee. On the way home, I had to go potty so I drove up Highway 16 a little ways to use the restrooms at Cowboy Camp.  One of the restroom buildings was locked, and the other one had no handle on the door.  I used that one, but had no privacy, obviously. Then I stopped at a Shell station in Williams and got a sandwich and cucumber smoothie for supper.

I got home around 2:30 pm.  Another long day.

Species List:

1. American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos,
2. Big Heron’s Bill, Erodium botrys,
3. Bird’s Eye Gilia, Gilia tricolor,
4. Black Angus Cattle, Bos Taurus,
5. Blister Beetle, Black Blister Beetle, Epicauta pennsylvanica,
6. Blow Wives, Achyrachaena mollis,
7. Blue Dicks, Dichelostemma capitatum,
8. Blue Witch Nightshade, Solanum umbelliferum,
9. Bulbous Blue Grass, Poa bulbosa,
10. Burrowing Owl, Athene cunicularia,
11. Bush Lupine, Silver Bush Lupine, Lupinus albifrons,
12. Butter Lupine, Lupinus luteolus,
13. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi,
14. California Plantain, Plantago erecta,
15. California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica,
16. California Quail, Callipepla californica,
17. Canyon Live-Forever, Dudleya cymose,
18. Caterpillar Flower, Lacy Phacelia, Phacelia tanacetifolia,
19. Clover, Rabbitfoot Clover, Trifolium arvense,
20. Clover, Strawberry Clover, Trifolium fragiferum
21. Clover, Rose Clover, Trifolium hirtum,
22. Common Fiddleneck, Amsinckia intermedia,
23. Common Mustard, Brassica rapa,
24. Cream Cups, Platystemon californicus.
25. European Honeybee, Apis mellifera,
26. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris,
27. Frying Pan Poppy, Eschscholzia lobbii,
28. Giant Death Camas, Zigadenus exaltatus,
29. Goldfields, Lasthenia californica,
30. Gray Pine, Pinus sabiniana,
31. Hawkweed, Hieracium argutum,
32. Hereford Cattle, Bos taurus,
33. Hog Fennel, Lomatium utriculatum,
34. Holstein Cattle, Bos taurus,
35. Indian Paintbrush, Castilleja affinis,
36. Ithuriel’s Spears, Triteleia laxa,
37. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous,
38. Lark Sparrow, Chondestes grammacus,
39. Larkspur, Delphinium decorum,
40. Lupine, Lupinus sp.,
41. Milk Vetch, unidentified, Astragalus sp.,
42. Miniature Lupine, Lupinus bicolor,
43. Mountain Dandelion, Agoseris heterophylla,
44. Mule’s Ears, Smooth Mules Ears, Wyethia glabra,
45. Owl’s Clover, Dense Flower Owl’s clover, Castilleja densiflora,
46. Painted Lady butterfly, Vanessa cardui,
47. Pepperweed, Common Pepper Grass, Lepidium densiflorum,
48. Q Tips, Slender Cottonweed, Micropus californicus var. californicus,
49. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus,
50. Shepherd’s Purse, Capsella bursa-pastoris,
51. Sierra Tidy Tips, Layia pentachaeta ssp. pentachaeta,
52. Silver Puffs, Uropappus lindleyi,
53. Snowbrush, Ceanothus velutinus,
54. Tamarisk, Salt Cedar, Tamarix parviflora,
55. Tidy Tips, Fremont’s Tidy Tips, Layia fremontii,
56. Tidy Tips, Smooth Tidy Tips, Layia chrysanthemoides,
57. True Babystars, Leptosiphon bicolor,
58. Valley Tassels, Castilleja attenuate,
59. Wallflower, Erysimum capitatum,
60. Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
61. Western Hawksbeard, Crepis occidentalis,
62. Western Kingbird, Tyrannus verticalis,
63. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta,
64. Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis,
65. Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa,
66. Yellow-Faced Bumblebee, Bombus vosnesenskii,

Plant Studying At the Silver Spur Ranch, 04-16-19

Up at 5:30 am, so I could leave before 6:30 and head out to Woodland to the Tuleyome office.  It was overcast and drizzling when I left the house, but by mid-morning the clouds had broken up, letting the sun in, so it was a beautiful day.

My coworker, Nate, had set aside this day to take me out to Tuleyome’s Silver Spur Ranch property where we’re doing the wildlife study paid for in part by a grant from the Sacramento Zoo. We weren’t servicing the field cameras today, instead we were doing a plant and wildlife photo outing.  And volunteer Roxanne came with us.  It’s about a 90-minute drive to the property, but we were pretty much out in the middle of nowhere, so traffic was never an issue. The roads are all dirt, and some of them were pretty scarred up by illegal OVH users and the recent hard rains, but Nate knew the path well, so we didn’t have any issues with that either.

The last time I’d seen the Silver Spur property was after the Pawnee Wildfire in 2018, and everything was dirt and blackened trees. Now it’s all bursting with new life and new growth. Green grasses, fields and hillsides covered in wildflowers, water in the seasonal pond and streams, critters in the water… I’m so glad I got see it!  ((So, Nate, once again: thank you, thank you, thank you, ad infinitum…)

Nate was also awesome on the trip. He helped me over uneven ground, pulled me out of a divot when I accidentally sat down in it at lunchtime (D’OH!), he pulled me back up onto my feet… and he did the “pack-mule” thing for me, carrying all of my bag, on the way out of the property.

And how great that Roxanne got to go with us! My sister Melissa jokingly says, “You can’t go out with Roxanne anymore, you never get home.” Hah! ((I’d spent a whole day out with Roxanne when he did the wildflower outing together, and then again today.  Two long days.  This one was actually longer. I didn’t get back to the house until almost 7:00 pm!))

When we got to the property, Nate ran off to the south-camera to see if he could find the pouch associated with it that fell off of Bill’s motor scooter on their trip out to service the cameras there last Thursday.  He couldn’t find the pouch, but on the way back to meet up with Roxanne and I, he did find some wildflowers that we didn’t get to see – and even laid down in a field of them and took a selfie.

So. Many. Flowers. In some areas, they lined the dirt road, in other areas they covered whole fields and hillsides. It seemed like the farther we walked in, the more spectacular they got.  We saw a lot of stuff that Roxanne and I had seen on our wildflower excursion (as many of the wildflowers are common and natives) but there were some new ones (for us), like Golden Violets, Mosquito Bill Shooting Stars (also called Henderson’s Shoot Stars), California Indian Pink (which is sub-species of the Cardinal Catchfly), Long-Spurred Seablush (that kind of looks like double-decker clover), what we think might have been Gambleweed (Pacific Sanicle), and some wicked-looking thistle with twisting purple-blue, thorn-rimmed leaves.

I insisted on getting myself to the seasonal pond on the property, so it was a long walk. The dirt road into the property is too damaged by erosion to get a car in there, so Nate parked at the gate and we walked in. Going in, it’s all downhill, so coming back (obviously) it’s all uphill which can be especially trying when you’re already tired from the rest of the day’s walk. I think I covered about 4 kilometers altogether.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

We picnicked in the shade of a big oak by the seasonal pond before heading back to the car, stopping every now and then to take more photos, and more photos, and more photos.  We got to the point where we’d seen so many Painted Native butterflies sipping nectar from wildflowers that we pretty much ignored them on the way out. Hah!

At the pond, Nate dipped a dish and net in to see if we could find anyone interesting: Water Boatmen, Water Striders, some insect larva… I was hoping to see some of the California Newt eggs or some of their tadpoles, but there was just the “jelly” left from the eggs and all of the babies (except one or two newborns) had apparently ridden the streams out to more permanent water structures.  In the puddle, though, I did get some video of what I think were crab shrimp and some mosquito larvae.  By the pond, where the water-striders were I also saw some small crustacean-looking things that I’ll need to work on identifying. The mosquito larvae were in a turgid-looking puddle and when my shadow passed over the puddle, they all dove down from the surface, only to rise, very slowly again later. Eeew! Hah!

When Nate, Roxanne and I were eating lunch, there Red-Winged Blackbirds tending to their nests and courtship rituals in the tules at the far end of the pond.  I watched while one of the males flew out to the side of the stream that fed the pond, and then started rolling rocks over so he could eat what he found underneath them. I had never seen that behavior before, so that was cool to see!

We didn’t see much wildlife, so I only got a few photos of birds, but we could ear more birds than we could see… and at one point saw a large crow fly over our heads with a beak full of nesting material.  We tried to see where it landed, but it disappeared over the crest of a hill.  There was also a Mourning Dove nest near the front gate, but it was unoccupied.

The trip was totally exhausting, but totally fun.

Species List:

1. American Robin, Turdus migratorius,
2. Baby Blue Eyes, Nemophila menziesii,
3. Bay Laurel, Laurus nobilis,
4. Bedstraw, Sticky Willy, Velcro Grass, Cleavers, Galium aparine,
5. Big Heron’s Bill, Erodium botrys,
6. Bird’s Eye Gilia, Gilia tricolor,
7. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
8. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum,
9. Blue Dicks, Dichelostemma capitatum,
10. Blue Oak, Quercus douglasii,
11. Buckbrush, Ceanothus cuneatus,
12. Bulbous Blue Grass, Poa bulbosa,
13. Butter ‘n’ Eggs, Johnny Tuck, Triphysaria eriantha,
14. California Burclover, Medicago polymorpha,
15. California Clam Shrimp, Cyzicus californicus,
16. California Geranium, Geranium californicum,
17. California Golden Violet, Viola pedunculata,
18. California Indian Pink, Silene laciniata ssp. californica, (as subspecies of the Cardinal Catchfly),
19. California Maidenhair Fern, Adiantum jordanii,
20. California Manroot, Bigroot, Marah fabaceus,
21. California Newt, Taricha torosa
22. California Pipevine, Aristolochia californica,
23. California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica,
24. Chamise, Adenostoma fasciculatum,
25. Chinese Houses, Collinsia heterophylla,
26. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus,
27. Common Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos,
28. Common Fiddleneck, Amsinckia intermedia,
29. Common Fringepod, Thysanocarpus curvipes,
30. Common Mustard, Brassica rapa,
31. Common Woodland Star, Lithophragma affine,
32. Common Yarrow, Achillea millefolium,
33. Damselfly, Vivid Dancer Damselfly, Argia vivida (note the arrow-markings on the abdomen),
34. Damselfly, Western Forktail, Ischnura perpava (note the mostly black abdomen),
35. Dwarf Sack Clover, Castilleja exserta ssp. exserta,
36. Fragrant sumac, Rhus aromatica,
37. Frying Pan Poppy, Eschscholzia lobbii
38. Giant Death Camas, Zigadenus exaltatus,
39. Giraffe’s Head Henbit, Henbit Deathnettle, Lamium amplexicaule,
40. Golden Fairy Lantern, Diogenes’ Lantern, Calochortus amabilis,
41. Goldfields, Lasthenia californica,
42. Gray Pine, California Foothill Pine, Pinus sabiniana,
43. Hawksbeard, Crepis sp.,
44. Hog Fennel, Lomatium utriculatum,
45. Houndstongue, Pacific Houndstongue, Cynoglossum grande,
46. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon
47. Indian Paintbrush, Castilleja affinis,
48. Jeweled Onion, Allium serra,
49. Larkspur, Delphinium decorum,
50. Lichen, Rock Firedot Lichen, Caloplaca Saxicola,
51. Lomatium, Lomatium sp.,
52. Long-Spurred Seablush, Plectritis ciliosa,
53. Lupine, Lupinus sp.,
54. Manzanita, Arctostaphylos sp.,
55. Miniature Lupine, Lupinus bicolor,
56. Miner’s Lettuce, Claytonia parviflora
57. Mosquito, family Culicidae,
58. Mosquito Bill Shooting Star, Primula hendersonii,
59. Mouse Ear Chickweed, Cerastium fontanum,
60. Mule’s Ears, Smooth Mules Ears, Wyethia glabra,
61. Narrow Leaf Collinsia, Collinsia linearis
62. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii,
63. Oregon Grape, Mountain Grape, Berberis aquifolium,
64. Owl’s Clover, Dense Flower Owl’s clover, Castilleja densiflora,
65. Pacific Peavine, Canyon Sweet Pea, Lathyrus vestitus,
66. Pacific Sanicle, Gambleweed Sanicula crassicaulis,
67. Painted Lady butterfly, Vanessa cardui,
68. Pepperweed, Common Pepper Grass, Lepidium densiflorum,
69. Pineapple Weed, Matricaria discoidea,
70. Pink Grass, Windmill Pink, Petrorhagia dubia,
71. Plectritis ciliosa, Long spurred plectritis,
72. Popcorn Flower, Plagiobothrys chorisianus,
73. Purple Sanicle, Sanicula bipinnatifida,
74. Q Tips, Slender Cottonweed, Micropus californicus var. californicus,
75. Red Maids, Calandrinia ciliate,
76. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus,
77. Scarlet Pimpernel, Lysimachia arvensis,
78. Shrubby Butterweed, Bush Groundsel, Senecio flaccidus,
79. Spinster’s Blue-Eyed Mary, Few Flowered Collinsia, Collinsia sparsiflora,
80. Tomcat Clover, Trifolium willdenovii,
81. Toyon, Heteromeles arbutifolia,
82. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor,
83. True Babystars, Leptosiphon bicolor,
84. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata,
85. Valley Tassels, Castilleja attenuate,
86. Variable-leaf Nemophila, Canyon Nemophila, Nemophila heterophylla,
87. Wallflower, Erysimum capitatum,
88. Water Strider, Aquarius remigis
89. Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
90. Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis,
91. White Seablush, Plectritis macrocera,
92. Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa ssp. varia,