Tag Archives: ants

Lots of Nesting Birds, 04-30-19

I got up around 5:30 and was out the door by about 6:15 am to go to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for my regular Tuesday trail-walking gig. The weather was beautiful: about 53° when I got to the preserve and about 70° when I left. Sunny and a little bit windy.

I saw LOTS of birds’ nests: European Starlings bringing some twigs for the nesting cavity and some bugs and worms for the hatchlings. (I could hear the babies squawking inside the tree); Phoebes bringing bugs for their babies; an Oak Titmouse carrying fecal sacs out of her nest; a male House Wren showing a nesting cavity to a female, even going to far as to get into the cavity himself, stick his head out and sing to her. Hah!

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

Saw lots of squirrels, especially young Fox Squirrels who were running around, jumping, and putting just about everything they could into their mouths.  Generally, acting “squirrely”. Hah!

I found some caterpillars I’d never noticed before on the Redbud trees. They were pale green and had folded themselves inside the soft leaves of the tree.  You’ll never guess what they’re called…  Redbud Leaf-folder Moth caterpillars. Sometimes the names are like, “Duh!”, obvious.

I also found caterpillars on the leaves of the blackberry bushes, and these guys were tricky. They had an escape hatch, so if I touched the front of their silk “nest”, they would zip out the back and fall onto the leaf below them. Some of them had black faces and some of them had reddish-tan faces. I haven’t really ID-ed them yet.

And, of course, there were Tussock Moth caterpillars everywhere.  Here’s a video snippet of an active guy on the top of one of the water stanchions at the preserve: https://youtu.be/Bj9nZiy_EmI

I think I’d mentioned before about the fact that I was finding tiny dirt-clod turrets on the trail.  They look like “hoodoos”; y’know like the big stone ones at Bryce Canyon, but on a tiny-tiny scale.  I couldn’t figure out what was making them, so I put my naturalist students on the hunt for information. Naturalist graduate Deborah Dash sent me some photos of the Diadasia bees and the turrets they make, but all of the photos were from the top of the turrets not the side, so I couldn’t really compare them to the photos I had.  But, that tip led me to look up other Diadasia bees, and I think I found the right one.  I now believe these are the turrets of the “aggregate nests” of the solitary, native Mallow-Loving Digger Bee, Diadasia sp., subgenus Coquillettapis, This website shows how the turrets are created. So neat! (http://nathistoc.bio.uci.edu/hymenopt/Diadasia%20Coquillettapis.htm)

Near the end of my walk, I couldn’t understand why I was so frigging tired. Then I looked at the time and realized I’d been walking for FIVE HOURS!  Yikes!  I get so wrapped up in what I’m seeing on the trail that I lose track of time.

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus,
  2. American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus,
  3. Ants, Little Black Ants, Monomorium minimum,
  4. Ash-Throated Flycatcher, Myiarchus cinerascens,
  5. Asian Lady Beetle, Harmonia axyridis
  6. Azolla, Water Fern, Azolla filiculoides,
  7. Bedstraw, Cleavers, Galium aparine,
  8. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii,
  9. Black Bean Aphid, Aphis fabae,
  10. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
  11. Black Walnut Erineum Mite galls, Eriophyes erinea,
  12. Black Walnut, Juglans nigra,
  13. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus cerulea,
  14. Blue Oak, Quercus douglasii,
  15. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi,
  16. California Manroot, Bigroot, Marah fabaceus,
  17. California Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta,
  18. California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica,
  19. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica,
  20. California Towhee,
  21. Coffeeberry, Frangula californica,
  22. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus,
  23. Common Catchfly, Silene gallica,
  24. Convergent Lady Beetle, Hippodamia convergens,
  25. Coyote Brush Bud Midge gall, Rhopalomyia californica,
  26. Cranefly, family Tipulidae,
  27. Cutworm, Olive Angle Shade Moth, Phlogophora iris,
  28. Desert Cottontail, Sylvilagus audubonii,
  29. Dog Vomit Slime Mold, Fuligo septica,
  30. Dogtail Grass, Cynosurus echinatus,
  31. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger,
  32. Elder Moth, Achatodes zeae
  33. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris,
  34. Fiery Skipper, Hylephila phyleus,
  35. Himalayan Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus,
  36. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon,
  37. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni,
  38. Lazuli Bunting, Passerina amoena (stripe across wing),
  39. Live Oak Gall Wasp gall, 2nd Generation, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis
  40. Mallow-Loving Digger Bee turrets, Diadasia sp., subgenus Coquillettapis http://nathistoc.bio.uci.edu/hymenopt/Diadasia%20Coquillettapis.htm
  41. Northern California Grape, Vitis californica
  42. Oak Apple Wasp Gall, Andricus quercuscalifornicus,
  43. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus,
  44. Orange Tortrix Moth, Argyrotaenia franciscana
  45. Painted Lady butterfly, Vanessa cardui,
  46. Periwinkle, Vinca major,
  47. Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta,
  48. Plum, Prunus cerasifera,
  49. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum,
  50. Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum,
  51. Purple Needle Grass, Nassella pulchra,
  52. Redbud Leaffolder Moth, Fascista cercerisella,
  53. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus,
  54. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia,
  55. Rusty Tussock Moth caterpillar, Orgyia antiqua
  56. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciose,
  57. Silver Hairgrass, Aira caryophyllea,
  58. Spittlebug, Meadow Spittlebug, Philaenus spumarius,
  59. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus,
  60. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor,
  61. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata,
  62. Western Bluebird, Sialia mexicana,
  63. Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
  64. Western Gray Squirrel, Sciurus griseus,
  65. Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis,
  66. White Horehound, Marrubium vulgare,
  67. Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa,
  68. Woodland Skipper, Ochlodes sylvanoides,

The Baby Deer Has a Bad Cough, 06-30-18

I got up around 5:00 am, and headed out to the Effie Yeaw Preserve again before it got too hot outside. It’s supposed to get up to 103º today. It was 61º at the river when I got there, and by the time I left at 8:30 am it was already 78º. Ugh!

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

When I drove in, there were Yellow-Billed Magpies and American Robins trying to snatch up early morning bugs near the kiosk.

By the nature center, a male Anna’s Hummingbird posed in a tree long enough for me to get a few photos of him.

I watched as a Wild Turkey went up to a blue elderberry bush and jumped up and down to snag the ripe berries from it and pulled them to the ground. At another spot, I was standing under a wild plum tree, and Scrub Jays were in the branches knocking the plums down. Almost got hit by some of those!

Further along the trail, I got to see a pair of American Kestrels in the top of a tree; a little male and a female. They’re so talkative! I also got to see a Red-Tailed Hawk, and a juvenile Turkey Vulture (along with some adults). You don’t get to see the juveniles very often, so it’s always kind of a treat when they’re out and about.

The young fawn and its mother that I’ve seen on my last few trips to the preserve has come down with a horrible cough. It always looks kind of skinny and scrawny to me, but I’d never heard it cough so much before. I looked up pneumonia in deer and apparently, it’s a thing. It affects Big Horn Sheep and White-Tailed Deer more often, but can affect Black Tailed Deer, especially if they’re living near water in a confined space (as they sort of are at the Effie Yeaw Preserve). I don’t know if the preserve staff can do anything for the baby, but that cough is surely going to make him a target for the local coyotes. It’s loud, and it advertises that the fawn is in poor condition. His mom also looks like she might be pregnant again, so I don’t know how she’ll manage with a newborn and a sick yearling… Poor baby.

In one of the ant colonies I cam across, winged adults were emerging, getting ready to start a new nest somewhere else. They were emerging out into the sun, but when I stepped closer to the ant hill to get some photos, by shadow blocked the entrance – and they all went back inside. When I stepped away again to let the light hit the entrance, they all came back out again. Interesting.

And it seems to me that the oak trees are getting awfully full of acorn buds this year. Maybe we’ll have a mast year this fall?

Second Photo-Walk with the CalNat Graduates, 05-05-18

I left the house about 7 o’clock to go to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a second photo-outings with my naturalist class graduates .

We had lots of time to practice with lighting and focus settings. There was an overcast that sort of “diffused” the light so we weren’t dealing with harsh shadows or glare most of the time we were out. The insects are all out doing their thing, and we got to see some katydid nymphs, lots of Pipevine Swallowtail, Tussock Moth and Monarch butterfly caterpillars. I was surprised the Monarch babies were out so early. Last year, they didn’t show up until almost October!

The Lady Beetle larvae and pupa were out in force, too, and all of them gave us lots of practice with macro settings and close-up shots.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

The Tree Swallows were very cooperative and posed for lots of photos. We also saw a couple of Red-Shouldered Hawks that sat still for quite a while, letting us shoot them from different angles. Mama R-S H was up in her nest, but we only caught glimpses of her head and tail. I also spotted a Cooper’s Hawk dashing through the trees, but only got a handful of bad photos of it before it took off again.

We saw a small herd of mule deer, but not as many as we normally might at the preserve. I figured maybe the pregnant moms were off having their babies and so were making themselves scarce.

On our way back to the nature center we saw a firetruck, ambulance and police car pull up next to the building. By the time we got to the center, the emergency personnel were gone, but there were two docents with snake hooks and a bucket poking and prodding along the stone in the nature flower garden by the Maidu Village. A young girl had been bitten by a rattlesnake (thus the ambulance) and the docents were trying to locate it. They found it rather quickly and deposited it in the bucket – and let us take photos of it before carrying it off to show it to a Ranger. The snake will be relocated but will not be killed. It was a young one, almost “cute”.

The docents were quick to reiterate that the notion that young rattlers are more dangerous than adult ones is a complete myth. Young rattlesnakes’ venom sacs are so small that even if they gave you everything they had in a single bite, it wouldn’t amount to much. It also takes a long time for a rattler to produce venom between bites, and without it they’re pretty vulnerable, so they don’t discharge venom unless they have to and control what they do discharge – even the baby rattlers.

When we’d started on the walk it was about 53º at the preserve, but by the time we left, around 1:00 pm, it was 80º and we were ready to quit for the day. Too hot for walking! We sat around the picnic area for a little while, sharing looks at the photos we all got on our cameras… and finding several more Tussock Moth caterpillars. #CalNat

Photo Tour #1 with the Naturalist Class Graduates

I got up around 6:00 am and was out the door a little after 7:00 to go to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve.  I’m leading a photography walk with some of my naturalist class graduates today. From the Nona Way house, it takes about 45 minutes to get there. From the Hollygrove house today, it still took 45 minutes because Friday morning traffic on Watt was horrible.  It took me 10 minutes just to get through one intersection. Yikes!

The weather was beyond gorgeous today: sunny, breezy and in the low 70’s. Lissa remarked that it could stay like this for the rest of the year if it wanted too. That wouldn’t make for much plant and animal diversity, but sure would be nice for us humans. Hah!

When I got to the preserve, three of the graduates were there and two more joined us later so that was nice.  There was a lot to see out there today, but we needed to finish by noon, so we didn’t get very far through the preserve.  Even with the abbreviated route, we saw lots of wildflowers, deer, insects, birds and even some raccoon tracks in the mud around a small pond.

While we walked, I showed the group how change the lighting to get better shots, how to use a macro lens to focus on the small stuff – and how to get the automatic cameras to focus on what YOU want it to focus on, and how to frame the subject(s) in a photo BEFORE you take it so you don’t have to crop it so much afterwards.  The stars of the day, as far as subject matter goes, were the insects. We found some really unusual-looking guys including a species of long-horned beetle, a pink and white moth, and a semi-iridescent beetle we couldn’t readily identify. Because there are literally millions of insects, getting a proper ID is a daunting task even for the experts.

We also got to watch a pair of Black Phoebes bring insects to their nest full of fledglings. Mom and dad took turns flying back and forth to feed the kids. I saw one of the parents m with a large hoverfly, and another one with a large bright green worm. Those kids get fed well!  Because we were standing near the where the next was, the parents would stop and sit for a little while before transporting the food directly to the kids. This gave us the opportunity to gets some good close-ups and still shots of them.  We could also see the babies in the nest – almost fully fledged already, they looked too big to still be hand-fed by their folks. This particular pair of Phoebes have been nesting under the eaves of the nature center at the preserve for years. They come back season after season.  Their nests are mud cups filled with grasses and other soft plant fibers.

We found the Red-Shouldered Hawk’s nest on the Pond Trail. We could hear mama calling from the nest but couldn’t get an angle on the structure that allowed us to see her. she must be sitting eggs at the moment.  And we found several tree cavity nests of wrens, Starlings, and Acorn Woodpeckers (some of them in or near the same tree).

We also got to see some Ash-throated Flycatchers. Besides being pretty birds, these guys are kind of special because they don’t drink water. They get what fluid they need from the stuff they eat.

Among the deer we saw, I believe one of them was very pregnant and may have been experiencing some early contractions. She’d walk along and life her tail like she wanted to defecate, but nothing came out.  Might be seeing some fawns in the next month or so!

On our way out of the preserve, one of the graduates and I loitered around the small pond again and tried to get photos of the Bullfrog tadpoles and crawfish under the water.  Getting the camera to focus past the surface of the water is always an interesting trial… and I can never really tell if I got the shots I want until after I get the photos home and download them, so I can see them better.

We finished up our walk around noon. #CalNat

More Photos from the Wildlife Refuge

CLICK HERE for some more photos taken at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge on 11-29-17.

Encounter with a Juvenile Turkey Vulture, 09-23-17

I headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve and it was 48º when I got there. Fall has fallen. I love it when it’s like this!

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos and video snippets.

Saw some deer right off the bat, and a European Starling poking its head out of its tree-cavity nest. I also got to watch an Acorn Woodpecker trying to pull green acorns off of a tree so he could stash them in his troop’s granary tree (the tree where they keep all of their nuts and acorns and winter food).

They drill new holes into their granary trees only during this time of the year, when the sap in the tree is running low, so they don’t kill the tree. Then they find acorns and other food stuff and shove them into the newly drilled holes for the winter. In the spring and summer, you may see them banging on the trees, too, but they’re not drilling new holes then (except maybe for their nesting space); instead, they are moving those nuts and acorns that have shrunk in size from one hole to another to wedge them in more tightly. They’re such ingenious little birds, and funny too. They’re a hoot to watch.

Among the deer I saw a lot of does, some does with fawns (out of their spots and growing bigger), some bucks with their full racks of antlers (no long covered in velvet) and even a young “spike buck” (only one point; so he was around 2 years old).

The highlight along my walk today, though, was coming across a fledgling Turkey Vulture. It was full size but didn’t have all of its adult feathers in yet, and it couldn’t fly very well. It’s face was still grey (not red yet) and its beak was still metallic black (instead of bone white). I spotted it first in the low branches of a tree, and tried to get photos of it through the branches. It worked its way up to a slightly high branch, flew clumsily over my head and landed on a dead skag-tree. It then walked up the naked branches of that, and parked itself on the top of the tree. I got several photos of it and then realized an adult Turkey Vulture was flying in low circles around the skag.

As I watched, the adult flew into the upper branches of a nearby tree, and the youngster flew to it, kind of crashing into a branch just below the adult. The adult then fed the youngster and flew off again. So cool! At one point while I was taking photos of the juvenile, several people came up and looked on. I explained to them that they were seeing a juvenile and what differences to look for between adults and their babies. They all pulled out their cell phones to take photos. A teaching moment. It was fun.

You can see the video here.

On the way out of the preserve, I stopped at the frog pond… and two other “old women” with cameras came up to join me in finding and taking photos of the bullfrogs there. It was obvious that the pond had recently been cleaned out: it was easier to see the bottom of it today than it has been for a long time; most of the cattails were gone; and the pond had been scraped free of a lot of duckweed. All of the full grown, large-as-your-hand bullfrogs were also gone. But the pond was full of minnows, tadpoles and small bullfrogs, so there was still a lot to look at (and all of the remaining frogs seemed to be females).

It eventually became a kind of jovial contest between us old ladies over who could find the best angle on the loveliest frog. Hah! We had more fun there than the kids who passed by did. (This is why I’d rather host nature outings for adults than for kids.)

I walked for almost four hours (phew!) and then headed home.