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A Very Hairy Butterfly Encounter, 04-06-19

I led some of my Certified California Naturalist students on a walk around the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve.

My coworker Bill Grabert and our volunteer Roxanne Moger joined me. There were about 10 of us altogether. Because the nature center was hosting a donor event today, we stayed out of the parking lot and parked along the road that leads out of the preserve. It was about 52° when we got there, and it made it up to a mostly cloudy and overcast 68° by the afternoon.

A female coyote surprised us by stepping out into the parking lot and trotting down the road – too fast to get any photos of her. But otherwise, we saw mostly the usual suspects during the walk, but there were some deer that were being very cooperative, some of the wildflowers were showing up, and we saw quite a few nests and nesting cavities, including the Mourning Doves’ nest, a Red-Shouldered Hawk nest and several Bushtit nests.

Students also learned how to identify some of the local birds by their calls and saw their first pair of Common Mergansers – which was kind of a big deal to them because the males and females look so totally different from one another. Most of them recognized the female (with her reddish head and topknot), but the male (with his bright white breast, iridescent blue-green head and orange bill) was a big surprise to them.

The leucistic male turkey was also a first for many of the students, so that was fun to see.

The funniest thing that happened on the walk was when a female Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly flew into the hair of one of the students, Sue. Then Roxanne found a cooperative male butterfly and put him into Sue’s hair so everyone could see how to distinguish the males from the females (by the amount of blue on their hind wings). Sue was very patient and stayed still as everyone talked about the butterflies and took photos. Hah!

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

The subspecies of Pipevine Swallowtail, Battus philenor hirsuta, we see around here is endemic to the Central Valley of California and is found nowhere else on Earth.  And the word “hirsuta” refers to the “hairy” body this subspecies… so it was a very Hairy Butterfly Encounter.  Coolness.

We walked for almost 4 hours before heading out and going back to our respective homes. I’ll be doing another walk on Tuesday next week for any students who still need to add a field trip to their course requirements.

Species List:

1. Bedstraw, Cleavers, Galium aparine
2. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
3. Blue Dicks, Dichelostemma capitatum
4. Buckbrush, Ceanothus cuneatus
5. Bush Lupine, Lupinus albifrons
6. Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus
7. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
8. California Manroot, Marah fabaceus
9. California Pipevine, Aristolochia californica
10. California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica
11. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
12. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
13. Common Merganser, Mergus merganser
14. Destroying Angel Mushroom, Amanita verna
15. Dog Vomit Slime Mold, Fuligo septica
16. Douglas Iris, Iris douglasiana
17. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
18. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
19. False Turkey Tail Fungus, Stereum hirsutum
20. Fringepod, Thysanocarpus curvipes ssp. curvipes
21. Gold Dust Lichen, Chrysothrix candelaris
22. Golden-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
23. Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata
24. Hoary Lichen, Rosette Lichen, Physcia aipolia
25. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon
26. Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos
27. Mazegill Fungus, Daedalea quercina
28. Meadow Mushroom, Agaricus campestris
29. Miniature Lupine, Lupinus bicolor
30. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
31. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus
32. Oakmoss Lichen, Evernia prunastri
33. Painted Lady butterfly, Vanessa cardui
34. Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta
35. Pleated Ink Cap, Parasol Ink Cap, Parasola plicatilis
36. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
37. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
38. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
39. Rock Shield Lichen, Xanthoparmelia conspersa
40. Santa Barbara Sedge, Carex barbarae
41. Saw-Whet Owl, Sophia, Aegolius acadicus
42. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula
43. Storksbill, Longstalk Crane Bill, Geranium columbinum
44. Sunburst Lichen, Xanthoria elegans
45. Swainson’s Hawk, Orion, Buteo swainsoni
46. Tan Stink Bug, Euschistus tristigmus
47. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
48. Turkey Tail Fungus, Trametes versicolor
49. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
50. Valley Tassels, Narrow-leaved Owl’s Clover, Castilleja attenuate
51. Wavy-Leaf Soap Plant, Soaproot, Chlorogalum pomeridianum
52. Western Bluebird, Sialia mexicana
53. Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis
54. Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis
55. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis
56. Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa

Lots of Deer and a Squirrel Stuffing Her Face, 11-17-18

After giving the dog his breakfast, I headed over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk. The air quality has been so bad that the zoo and other recreation places in Sacramento have all shut down for the day. The nature center at Effie Yeaw was also closed, but the trails were still open.

It was about 38° at the river, so I could see my breath in the cold air; and it got up to about 60° by the afternoon. I don’t know how much the smoke is affecting the local temperatures, but I’m sure it’s contributing to the lows.

The first thing I saw when I went into the preserve was the big 4-pointer buck (now working on 5 points) with his harem of does.  In my head, I refer to him as “Big Boy” because of the size of his rack.  He was hanging out in the meadow right next to the picnic area, so I was able to get quite a few photos of him.  As I watched him, a spike buck (1-point) approached, following after a doe who had a fawn with her.  The fawn was pretty good-sized and out of its spot, but still considerably smaller than its mom.  The doe headed deeper into the meadow and the spike buck followed her but was cut off by Big Boy who then tried to get the doe into his own harem. The fawn got spooked and ran toward the harem while its mom was being pursued. She wasn’t receptive to either one of the boys and pretty much ignored them. I didn’t hang around there long enough to see when she reunited with her fawn.

At different points along the trail I saw other deer: some lone does, some small herds, and some of the other larger bucks, including a 3-pointer who, oddly enough, seemed to have the center of his back shaved. There was a large spot that was completely hairless, and the margins of the spot were too clean and symmetrical to have been natural (like mange or something). I couldn’t see any suture marks or anything that might have suggested the buck had gotten medical attention, so I wonder what had caused the bald patch. (I guess I’ll have to call him “Baldy” for now.)  The obvious “flaw” in his coat didn’t seem to detract from his attractiveness to the does. He had his own small harem of three or four of them.

When I was walking away from the 3-pointer and his group, a male photographer came up the trail. “He walked right by you, didn’t he?” he said, referring to Baldy.

“Yeah. He’s got some females with him right now.” I said.

The male photographer then joked that the deer weren’t cooperating with him much, but the squirrels were posing for him everywhere he looked. He even struck a couple of squirrelly poses to demonstrate. Hah!  I’d gotten a lot of squirrel photos, too. They were all over the place: California Ground Squirrels, Western Gray Squirrels, Eastern Fox Squirrels… I got photos of some of them chewing on black walnuts, and one female literally stuffing her face with grass and leaves for her winter nest.  So funny.

I also came across solitary deer throughout the forest; some camouflaged so well in the gold-brown grass that I was only able to see them because their silhouettes gave them away. I saw the doe with the peculiarly long, thin face (“Long Face”); she’s very distinctive. At one spot on the trail, I could HEAR the deer before I saw them.  There was a small group of does and fawn that were very loudly crunching on acorns (which are plentiful this time of year). They needed to eat with their mouths shut. Hah! I guess they felt safe enough, though, to make that much noise.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

One of the obvious things all along the trails today was the coyote scat. It seemed to be on every trail; some of it very fresh. I must have just missed seeing some of the coyotes.  I think, though, that a coyote is what caused a flock of Wild Turkeys to take off en masse from the top of a hill and fly down, right over my head, into the woods. Those things are BIG; I was surprised when none of them hit me or crashed into anything.

A neat sighting was a male Western Bluebird sitting on top of a bat box along the Natoma Trail. There are a few bat boxes on posts throughout the preserve, but I don’t think they attract very many bats. The boxes look too “exposed” to me; they get the full sun in the summer months. Bats need darkness and protection to sleep in during the day; I doubt that those sunny “saunas” are attractive to any of them.  I’ve seen lots of different birds use the boxes as perches, though, like the Western Bluebird, so I guess they’re not a complete waste.

On my way out of the preserve, I came across a couple of volunteers who were taking the nature center’s “animal ambassador” bird out for some air.  One was Wak-Wak, a female Peregrine Falcon, and the other was Orion, the Swainson’s Hawk I’d seen the last time I was there. Wak-Wak had been accidentally shot by hunters (who then rescued the bird and brought it in for care), so one of her wings is permanently mangled and she can’t fly.

I walked for about 3½ hours and then headed back home.

 

Lots and Lots and Lots of Deer, 09-15-18

OMG it was soooo beautiful outside today I could hardly believe it: around 53º when I got up around 6:30 am, and never made it past 77º by the afternoon. Breezy, sunny… just gorgeous! It had even rained a little bit during the night, so everything had that wonderful earthy smell to it… There were a lot of nimbus clouds in the sky, but they disbursed by the end of the day.

I went to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for my walk and was surprised to find the ambient nature sounds disrupted by the noise of some kind construction (or gravel work) being done further up river. The grinding, crunching, scraping noise lasted for about 90-minutes, and was replaced by the noise of a soccer game or something taking place on the lawn near the entrance to the preserve: men shouting “That’s mine! That’s mine!”, “To me! To Me!” and “Keep it moving!” Guh! So much for a quiet nature walk.  It also didn’t help that the loud, obnoxious group of trail-walkers came up behind me on one of the trails, and the leader yelled to the others, “We found the lone hiker!”  That group has no sense of respect for the place, the animals or the other people on the trails. When you’re out in nature BE QUIET, people!

Despite the noise and interruptions, I did get to see a LOT of deer, including some bachelor groups of bucks and a group of does with a fawn. Another doe on a different part of the trail also had a fawn with her. The baby was still in his spots, but it looked like he might’ve been attacked by something. Most of the hair around his neck was gone (leaving just crusty-looking skin) and he had a gash down his throat. It wasn’t deep but was very red and sore-looking. I wonder if one of the young coyotes had tried to get a hold of him.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos:

Among the bucks, one was still in his velvet and hanging out with the does. I guess I couldn’t hang with the guys until his antlers were more presentable. Hah!

As far as the birds went, I got photos of Lesser Goldfinches, Acorn Woodpeckers, a White-Breasted Nuthatch, a Black Phoebe eating a Jerusalem Cricket (those bugs are HUGE; it made for a good breakfast for the little bird), and Wild Turkeys. There was one spot along the trail where there was a huge mess of turkey feathers everywhere. A fox or coyote must’ve ambushed one of the turkeys – an early Thanksgiving dinner. I could hear the California Quails shouting out their “chi-ca-go!” call but couldn’t see any of them. I did get some photos of California Scrub Jays, though.

I watched (and videoed) an Eastern Fox Squirrel as it ran with big fat acorn and then buried it in the ground. Stocking up for winter (such as it is here).

You can see the video here: https://youtu.be/EJFjrlyiNmo

I also got to see a few specimens of the first Sulphur Shelf Fungus of the season. They don’t like it when it gets really wet outside, so they usually show up a month or two before the other fungi.

At the little pond in the front of the preserve, I noticed that all of the branches on the alder tree that had been sporting the Alder Tongue Galls I photographed earlier in the month, had all been cut off the tree. So, it was looking pretty barren and wretched around the bottom. I get that the groundskeepers probably don’t want the fungus up so close to the nature center but… it isn’t a “preserve” if all of the elements of the nature area aren’t allowed to do what they normally do – including the Alder Tongue Gall fungus.

I walked for a little over 3 hours and then headed home.

Big Bucks and Tiny Termites, 11-10-17

A little after 6:00, I headed over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk.  It was partly cloudy and around 55º outside when I got there, but the cloud cover intensified while I was there.

CLICK HERE to see the entire photo album.

As I entered the preserve, I saw a doe and her fawn right off the bat, and was able to see more mamas with single babies along the trails. One of the mamas was looking kind of thin to me; I worried that maybe she wasn’t getting enough to feed herself and make milk for her fawn.  The fawn made me smile. He’d walk for a while then settle himself down in the grass to rest… and mama would walk up and poke him in the butt with her nose to make him get back onto his feet and walk some more.  I saw them do this three or four times before the baby won and just stayed seated in the grass – with mom browsing nearby. Hah!

At another spot I saw a 2-pointer buck in the tall grass, and as I moved a little bit closer to where he was, I saw a doe and a 4-pointer buck in the same area. The 4-pointer was very cooperative and posed for some photos. The 2-pointer was less cooperative and eventually just sat down in the grass. I guess he figured there was no way he was going to be able to compete with the larger male.

There were a lot of regular-suspects birds out today including Spotted Towhees, Turkey Vultures, Acorn Woodpeckers, European Starlings, Mourning Doves, and wrens… There are a couple of bat boxes set up on posts in the preserves, and on one of them an Acorn Woodpecker was trying to bang holes in it.  If there were bats roosting in there, their little heads must have been throbbing!

Beth S., an awesome photographer who is also a Facebook friend, said she might be out at the preserve today, too.  I didn’t see her until I was working my way out of the place, but met up with her around the trail closest to the nature center. She was trying to get photos of an Oak Titmouse – one of my “nemesis birds”; I hardly ever get a decent photo of those little guys, they move so quickly.  While we were there, a Red-Shouldered Hawk flew into a nearby tree, so Beth went to see if she could get a shot of it from a better angle. While she was doing that, I noticed little insects flying around slowly here and there, and recognized their flight as that of the winged-version of termites.  When the termite mound has reached a saturation point, winged kings and queens take off to mate and find new places to establish their own mounds. The weather today was perfect for a flight… not too hot or too cold, no wind, not too wet…

At first I couldn’t see where the termites were coming from, but then I noticed that several different kinds of birds were gathering around a fallen tree and stump: Oak Titmice, Dark-Eyed Juncos, Northern Flickers and Ruby Kinglets (!).  So I went back down the trail to check out that area… and found that the termites were emerging from the little stump.  Cool!  I got several photos of them and some photos of the birds, too… And then Beth came back saying she’d gotten some good photos of the hawk.  I showed her where the termites were so she could take some photos, too, if she wanted to, and then headed out of the preserve.

I walked for about 4 hours today. Phew!