Tag Archives: Belted Kingfisher

CalNat Field Trip #2, Lake solano Park, 07-13-19

On the way to Lake Solano Park for our second Certified California Naturalist field trip of the summer, I stopped to put some gas in my car, and I was treated with the sight of some hot air balloons floating over the city of Winters and its surrounding fields. One of the balloons was either dragging or coming in for landing because it got REALLY low over downtown. I could see the people in the basket.  I was kind of surprised to see the balloons at all considering that it was already about 62° when I got to Winters.  Hot air balloons only work if the air around them is cooler than the air in the balloon (so they fly more successfully in the fall-to-spring time period than they do in the summer.)

I was the first one in our group to get to the park and pulled up into one of the upper parking lots because the lot nearest the park itself was still closed.  Technically, the park doesn’t open until 8:00 am, so I was there before the all-gates-open time. The rangers weren’t too pleased that I was in the upper lot before 7:30 am, but they didn’t say anything – until AFTER 8:00 am and my students had arrived, and we were in the park area itself.  I’ll know better next time not to get there early.

The reason for trying to get my group there earlier in the day, though, was to try to beat the heat. It got up to 79° by 10:30 am. So, we cut the trip a little short to get everyone back in their air-conditioned cars before we all overheated. Along with my co-worker Bill and most of the students in the class, Greg Ira (the Director of the Certified California Naturalist program at the University of California) joined us for our walk.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

One of the first things we pointed out to the group was the difference between the native Black Walnut trees and the English Walnut trees. English Walnut trees don’t generally do good in California, so they’re grafted onto the native Black Walnut root stock. We were able to show the students the graft mark in one of the trees (with the Black Walnut on the bottom and the English Walnut on top) and showed them that even through the tree itself was now primarily English Walnut, they could still see some shoots of Black Walnut stems and leaves growing up out of the root stock.

English Walnut grafted onto Black Walnut rootstock.

We seemed to hear more birds than we put eyes on, and my student Alison K., who like our student Ken E., is a birding expert, helped us with the sound IDs.  Alison also told the group about the sap wells we were seeing in the bark of some of the trees, created by Sapsucker birds who drill the wells not so much to suck the sap, but to attract insects they can eat.  On one tree we found several clear samples of the wells, along with some hefty outpourings of the sweet sap.

Tree sap oozing from wells drilled by Sapsuckers.

We also came across a large juvenile Great Blue Heron that was sitting in a tree adjacent to the trail.  It posed for some photos, pooped into the river and then flew off with a deep-throated croaky squawk. I guess he told us what he thought about us. We also came across a small creche of Peahens with their fledgling poults. A group of three moms were taking the babies to the edge of the river to get a drink.

 I myself was focused more on finding galls than seeing birds on this trip, however, and was able to point out newly budding examples of Pumpkin galls, Roll Gall Midge galls, Erineum Mite galls, Cluster Galls, Spiny Turbans, Two-Horned galls and Flat-Topped Honeydew galls. Most of the galls were just starting to emerge and weren’t their full size yet.  Give them another week or two and they should be spectacular.

 Our group also found quite a few different orb-weaver spiders included Spotted Orb Weavers and Long-Jawed Orb Weavers. And we spotted a variety of butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies including: California Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies, a sleepy Buckeye butterfly, a Painted Lady butterfly, and a Tiger Swallowtail butterfly on the wing; Widow Skimmer dragonflies, Flame Skimmers, Four-Spotted Skimmers, Pond Skimmers and Blue Dasher dragonflies, plus several damselflies that looked like they’d just emerged and weren’t colored-up yet.

Along with imparting some of what I know to the class, I always learn something new on these field trips or add to knowledge I already have, so it’s always fun and exciting to me. I found two galls I hadn’t seen before and found out that even the experts were having trouble properly identifying them. One was a gall made by the Roll Gall Midge (whose species is known but not its genus) and it took the form of rolled edges along the leaves of Live Oak trees.  The other was an odd tubular “prick” on the leaf of a Valley Oak tree. At first, I thought I was just looking at a weird anomaly on the leaf, but then I saw the exact same structure repeated on leaves of different Valley Oaks, so I took some photos and looked it up when I got home.  Experts recognize it as a wasp-induced gall but they don’t know what species it’s associated with yet, and think it might be a second-generation gall for an already identified gall wasp.  Everything I found on it called it a “Leaf Gall Wasp” gall but with the species listed as “Unidentified”. How neat!

Gall of the UNIDENTIFIED Leaf Gall Wasp.

 As we were looking at some California Wild Grape vines, Greg asked for the term for the process by which tendrils wrap around things. None of us could remember it at the time. Of course, when I got home, it came to me: “THIGMOTROPSIM”! Cool word, huh?  You can read more about it here: http://biology.kenyon.edu/edwards/project/steffan/b45sv.htm

Another word that wouldn’t come to mind yesterday when we were out on the field trip… We saw a lot of damselflies that had apparently just emerged and weren’t “colored up” yet, and I couldn’t remember the term for that state.  It’s “TENERAL“: the state of an insect immediately after molting. At this time the insect’s exoskeleton has not hardened and it may be pale in color.

A “teneral” damselfly

A little further along our walk, some of the students noticed frothy ooze coming out of the base of a Valley Oak tree. It looked something like Sudden Oak Death (SOD) to me, but it was a lot more frothy, and I’d never seen SOD near the bottom of a tree before. So, I looked it up when I got home.

 The foam is from a bacterial infection in the tree called “Alcoholic Flux” or Foamy Canker. It usually affects trees in the summer that have been stressed in some way. Bacteria infects the tree and ferments some of the sap. The fermentation is expelled by the tree in a frothy slime that kind of smells like sour beer. Unlike SOD, alcoholic flux isn’t usually a permanent or fatal kind of infection. It’s usually gone by the end of the summer.

“Alcoholic Flux” or Foamy Canker on the base of a Valley Oak tree.

We’d also seen a lot of small gnats around the ooze, and I’m not sure, but I’m going to infer that they were getting buzzed on the fermented juice. Hah!

By 10:30 it was already too hot to keep people out in the sun, so the group broke up and we all headed back to our cars by different routes.

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus,
  2. Alcoholic Flux bacteria, Foamy Canker, Slime Flux,
  3. American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus,
  4. Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon,
  5. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
  6. Black Walnut, Juglans nigra,
  7. Blue Dasher, Pachydiplax longipennis,
  8. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus cerulea,
  9. Box Elder Tree, Acer negundo,
  10. Bull Thistle, Cirsium vulgare,
  11. California Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta,
  12. California Pipevine, Aristolochia californica,
  13. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica,
  14. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica,
  15. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis,
  16. Common Buckeye Butterfly, Junonia coenia,
  17. Common Merganser, Mergus merganser,
  18. Convoluted Gall Wasp, Andricus confertus,
  19. Eight-Spotted Skimmer, Libellula forensic,
  20. English Plantain, Ribwort, Plantago lanceolata,
  21. English Walnut, Juglans regia,
  22. Flame Skimmer, Libellula saturate,
  23. Flat-Topped Honeydew Gall Wasp, Dishopcaspis eldoradrnsis,
  24. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias,
  25. Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata,
  26. Hoary Rosette Lichen, Physcia aipolia,
  27. Indian Peafowl, Pavo cristatus,
  28. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni,
  29. Leaf Gall Wasp, Unidentified
  30. Painted Lady Butterfly, Vanessa cardui,
  31. Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum,
  32. Pumpkin Gall Wasp, Dryocosmus minusculus,
  33. Roll Gall Midge, Contarinia sp.,
  34. Spiny Turban Gall Wasp, Antron douglasii,
  35. Spotted Orb Weaver Spider, Neoscona crucifera,
  36. Sunburst Lichen, Xanthoria elegans,
  37. Two-Horned Gall Wasp, Dryocosmus dubiosus ,
  38. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata,
  39. Walnut Erineum Mite Gall, Aceria erinea,
  40. Western Pondhawk, Erythemis collocata,
  41. Western Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly, Papilio rutulus,
  42. Widow Skimmer Dragonfly, Libellula luctuosa,
  43. Woolly Aphid, Prociphilus sp.,

A Beaver and a Loon at Lake Solano Park, 03-16-19

The weather at Lake Solano Park was perfect for walking with my naturalist students; about 49° when we first got there, and then up to about 68° by the time we left. It was sunny, clear and bright outside. My coworker Bill and I took turns pointing things out to everyone, and one of the students, Charlie (who’s something of a plant expert) helped us identify plants.

CLICK HERE for an album of photos.

When I got to the park, Bill and some of the students were already there, and some of them had already spotted an otter in the water. What a great way to start their day! Other highlights during the outing included spotting a beaver in the lake (!) and a Common Loon (!!) which I had never seen there before. We at first thought the beaver was another otter, but it’s large size and big ears brought us to the conclusion of its true identity. It was moseying along in the water, and treaded water for a long time, so we were able to get some photos of it. ((I think I took about 500 photos of its head poking out of the water. Hah!)) Eventually, it made its way to the other side of the lake and disappeared into the shadows. We inferred it might have had a lodge over there although we couldn’t see one.

The loon was a big surprise. At first we were all looking at it, trying to wrap our heads around what we were seeing. Checking through a field guide, though, we were able to determine that it was a non-breeding Common Loon, most likely resting there during its migration through our region.

Deeper inspection of the skull and skeleton we’d found on Wednesday, seemed to indicate that they were from opossums, not dogs as we’d originally thought (based on the canine teeth). There were “too many” small teeth between the canines for the skulls to be from a dog, so opossum was the next best guess. I need to study skulls more deeply – especially the ones of the common animals around here.

I stupidly stepped into the ants’ nest near where we located the Giant Horsetail ferns again. I recognized the spot and tapped on the area with my foot to see if the ants were still there from Wednesday, but nothing emerged, so I thought it was safe to go in there… But as soon as my shadow passed over their nest, they came out in force again. I got bit a few time, but nothing bad. They weren’t Fire Ants; more like red Harvester Ants. But they were still angry about my trespass over their nest and practically “exploded” out of the ground to swarm all over me. The students helped to whack them off my clothes.

On another part of the trail, we came across a large colony of Velvety Tree Ants swarming over an old log. What alerted me to them was a White-Breasted Nuthatch that flitted down onto the log, snatched up an ant, and flew off, flitted down onto the log, snatched up an ant, and flew off several times in a row. Along the ridgeline of the log was a line of winged adults getting ready to take off to establish new colonies… and it was the big winged one the Nuthatch was after. Very cool.

On the lake were Bufflehead ducks mingling with Goldeneyes, and both Common and Hooded Mergansers (along with the egrets, some herons, and Canada Geese). On the shore were lines of turtles sunning themselves; both Red-Eared Slider Turtles and a few Pacific Pond Turtles. We also all got to watch a Belted Kingfisher on the other side of the lake, dive-bombing for fish in the water. Some of the students had never seen that before and were “wow-ing” at the speed of the little bird.

In the ponds, we found Water Boatmen, Mosquito Fish, Bullfrog tadpoles, and a Black-Fronted Forktail Damselfly that was “swimming” along the top of the water before it lighted on some algae to dry off. I’d never seen a winged damselfly swim before! So odd! I need to remember to bring my dip-net with me next time I go out there so I can scoop up some critters to photograph.

We walked for about 3 ½ hours, and all in all, I think I recorded over 60 different species (that we saw and/or heard). It was a good day.

Species List:

1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus,
2. American Kestrel, Falco sparverius,
3. American Robin, Turdus migratorius,
4. Arundo, Giant Reed, Arundo donax,
5. Audubon’s Warbler, Setophaga auduboni auduboni,
6. Beaver, American, Beaver, Castor canadensis,
7. Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon,
8. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii,
9. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
10. Black-Fronted Forktail Damselfly, Ischnura denticollis,
11. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus,
12. Bufflehead, Bucephala albeola,
13. Bullfrog, American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus,
14. Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus,
15. California Manroot, Bigroot, Wild Cucumber, Marah fabaceus,
16. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica,
17. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis,
18. Cattail, Broadleaf Cattail, Typha latifolia,
19. Chickweed, Stellaria media,
20. Cliff Swallow, Petrochelidon pyrrhonota,
21. Common Goldeneye, Bucephala clangula,
22. Common Loon, Gavia immer,
23. Common Merganser, Mergus merganser,
24. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus,
25. Fresh Water Snail, Fluminicola sp.,
26. Galium, Bredstraw, Velcro-Grass, Sticky Willy, Cleavers, Galium aparine,
27. Giant Horsetail Fern, Equisetum telmateia,
28. Giraffe’s Head Henbit, Lamium amplexicaule,
29. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias,
30. Great Egret, Ardea alba,
31. Honey Fungus, Armillaria mellea,
32. Hooded Merganser, Lophodytes cucullatus,
33. Longstalk cranesbill, Geranium columbinum,
34. Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos,
35. Mistletoe, American Mistletoe, Big Leaf Mistletoe, Phoradendron leucarpum,
36. Mosquito fish, Gambusia affinis,
37. Mugwort, California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana,
38. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos,
39. Pacific Pond Turtle, Western Pond Turtle, Actinemys marmorata,
40. Peafowl, Indian Peafowl, Pavo cristatus,
41. Phainopepla, Phainopepla nitens,
42. Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta
43. Pipevine, California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica
44. Red Harvester Ant, Pogonomyrmex barbatus,
45. Red-Eared Slider Turtle, Trachemys scripta elegans,
46. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus,
47. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis,
48. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus,
49. River Otter, North American River Otter, Lontra canadensis,
50. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula,
51. Speedwell, Veronica arvensis,
52. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus,
53. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor,
54. Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus,
55. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata,
56. Velvety Tree ant, Liometopum occidentale,
57. Water Boatmen, Corixidae (family),
58. Western Bluebird, Sialia mexicana,
59. Western Screech Owl, Megascops kennicottii,
60. White Alder, Alnus rhombifolia,
61. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis,
62. Yellow-Headed Blackbird, Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus,

Naturalists at the Conaway Ranch, 03-10-19

I headed out to Woodland around 8:30 am to help my co-worker Bill with his recon outing at Conaway Ranch.  He has about twenty outings slated for that venue over the next months or two; he takes school children out there to tell them about food chains, rice growing and harvesting, wildlife, etc. There’s a slough that runs through one part of the property and it acts like a mini-riparian habitat that attracts otters, opossums, birds, snakes and small critters.  Today, he just really wanted to look at the state of the property after all of the rains and see what there was around to tell the kids about.

I was expecting some of our current naturalist students to join Bill out there, but instead, we had four of our former students (now certified naturalists themselves) come out –Susan Sallocks, Barbara Meierhenry, Bob Ream and Donna Moyer – all offering to help Bill with his future outings. All of them greeted me, some hugged me or wished me well in my ongoing fight against The Children of Wilson, and a couple of them said how much they had enjoyed the naturalist class and how I’d changed their lives for the better… It was all so unexpected and lovely, it almost made me cry. What a sweet way to begin our day.

We spent about three hours walking along the slough, checking out tracks, trying to identify the birds around and in the air overhead, looking at the different plant species starting to emerge everywhere.

The first thing I saw when I got to the spot was a medium sized garter snake curled up along the side of the road. It was limp and cold, and it wasn’t moving. But I couldn’t tell if it was truly dead or just in a deep torpor because it was so cold outside (in the high 40’s).  Its eyes were still clear, it didn’t look like any part of it had been run over by a car, and it was limp, not stiff with rigor mortis. I took some photos of it and then put it back down the way I’d found it. At the end of our walk, it was still there, so I guess it was dead. It’ll make a good meal for some critter.

Bill showed us some of the props he uses for the outings with the kids including one about the water cycle and how rice grows. Very cool and informative. We didn’t see any live crayfish, but we did find several skeletons and their mud chimneys in the burned rice field.

There was a team from the University out on the property checking on and upgrading the solar-powered electronic boxes on the Wood Duck boxes they have lined up along the slough. They stopped to talk with us for a little bit and then went on ahead of us.

As far as wildlife went, we didn’t see a whole lot, but did get to see crows, bullfrogs and Pacific Tree frogs, flocks of Greater White-Fronted Geese and Sandhill Cranes flying overhead, some Marsh Wrens, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Northern Mockingbirds, a Say’s Phoebe, and a Great-Horned Owl.  We heard a Belted Kingfisher but couldn’t see it. As the weather warms up, there will be a lot more to see there.

CLICK HERE to see the album of photos.

The naturalist graduates were intrigued with the property and said they were hoping to be able to come out to the ranch to help Bill with his group outings throughout the coming months.

Species List:

1. Ant, Velvety Tree Ant, Liometopum occidentale
2. Asian Clam, Freshwater Clam, Corbicula fluminea
3. Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon
4. Broadleaf Cattail, Typha latifolia
5. Broad-Leaf Lupine, Lupinus latifolius
6. Bullfrog, American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus
7. Crow, American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
8. Fava Beans, Vicia faba
9. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons
10. Great-Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus
11. Himalayan blackberry, Rubus armeniacus
12. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris
13. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
14. Pacific Tree Frog, Chorus Frog, Pseudacris regilla
15. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum
16. Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
17. Red Swamp Crayfish, Crawfish, Crawdad, Procambarus clarkii
18. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
19. Sandhill Crane, Grus canadensis
20. Say’s Phoebe, Sayornis saya
21. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
22. Tule Pea, Lathyrus jepsonii
23. Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
24. Valley Garter Snake, Thamnophis sirtalis fitchi
25. Western Pond Turtle, Pacific Pond Turtle, Actinemys marmorata
26. Wood Duck, Aix sponsa
27. Yellow Star-Thistle, Centaurea solstitialis