Around 11 o’clock, my co-instructor Bill Grabert and I took all of our stuff over to the library to set up for the Certified California Naturalist class, and our guest speaker arrived around the same time: Jenny Papka of Native Bird Connections. She’d done a lecture for our winter class earlier this year so she kind of knew the drill. She set up her bird stuff while we finished setting up the classroom.
Jenny brought a Peregrine Falcon, a Swainson’s Hawk and her Eurasian Eagle Owl with her this time. Since she was ready to go when the students arrived, we just let her go first and did our announcements when she was finished. We also to a break when she was done, so the students could get photos of the owl and the props Jenny had brought with her.
About halfway through Jenny’s presentation, our volunteer Roxanne Moger arrived with a box of bird’s nests she’d gotten from a retired teacher, and a HUGE live sphinx moth caterpillar in a jar. She’d been cutting down some grape vines for her neighbor and found the caterpillar on them. Super cool.
It kind of looked like a tomato hornworm, but was gray instead of green and had a eye-spot on its rump. I’m not sure but I think it’s the caterpillar of an Achemon Sphinx Moth (Eumorpha achemon). They’re the kind of caterpillar that pupates underground, though, so Roxanne will have to put a couple of inches of dirt in the bottom of the jar, so the caterpillar can bury itself when it’s ready. It might overwinter under the dirt, so we may not be able to see it until next year…
After the break, Bill did the chapter on forest management, and I did a module on bird species identification.
Around 5:30 this morning, I headed out to the American River Bend Park for a walk. It was in the high 60’s when I got there and heated up quickly; around 71° when I left.
I didn’t have an agenda in mind and was just watching for whatever Nature wanted to show me. I ended up finding a few galls on the oak trees, including one I’d never seen before. I’d seen photos of them but had never seen one “live”. It was a Two-Horned Gall of the wasp Dryocosmus dubiosus. Coolness. They’re found on the underside of the leaves of Live Oak trees, usually along the median vein. Also found the big Oak Apple galls, tiny Pumpkin Galls, and some Goldenrod galls.
In the water fountain near the restroom, I found a large beetle lying on its back. It was about an inch long and really kind of “hairy”. It had lost one of its antennae and was dying, but I still took some photos of it. I wasn’t exactly sure what it was, so when I got home, I Googled “beetle with hairy chest” – Hah! – and the correct identification actually came right up. It was, of course, a “June Bug” or more correctly a May Beetle, Phyllophaga sp. Around that same area, I found the shed skin of a snake, including its face.
I could hear Red-Shouldered Hawks yelling at each other across the forest while I was out there, and at one point a fledgling flew down out of a tree onto the ground beside the trail. I couldn’t tell if he actually caught anything or if he was just practicing, but he sat for a moment and looked over his shoulder at me so I could snap a photo before he flew off again.
Just as I was leaving, I came across the nesting cavity of some Tree Swallows. I watched them take turn flying in and out of the cavity a few times and got some photos before heading back to the house.
I headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve. It was about 56° when I got there, but it was up to around 75° when I left. When I got there, I was happy to see my friend and fellow-naturalist Roxanne there, too. She’s helping me out with the Monarch monitoring facet of my volunteer work at the preserve. I really appreciate her help, too, because it makes the somewhat tedious process of looking over each milkweed plant go more quickly.
Still no sign of Monarch eggs or caterpillars, and what was odd was we didn’t see much in the way of other insects either. We did find some spiders (including a White Crab Spider and a little Jumping Spider), some aphids, a single praying mantis, and a couple of beetles but that was it. The lack of critters was rather surprising and made me wonder if the area had been sprayed or something. We worked on the plants for about 90 minutes and then went for a short walk through the preserve.
Although we heard a lot of different birds, we didn’t see any Wild Turkeys today, which was very unusual. They’re normally all over the place. We came across two bucks but no does and no fawns. Both bucks were in their velvet. One was a nervous youngster who was just getting his first antlers (a “spike buck”), and the other was a laid-back 3-pointer who was just lying in the grass on the side of the trail. He kept an eye on us but didn’t move from his spot. I guess he figured we were no match for him, so we weren’t much of a threat. He was gorgeous. And because he was so still, we were able to get quite a few good photos of him.
The most exciting thing to me that we came across on our walk was sighting a few different species on a Blue Oak tree (Quercus douglasii) along the River Trail. It had both Saucer Galls (Andricus gigas) and newly budding Crystalline Galls (Andricus crystallinus). The saucers start out flat and then form cups (some with smooth edges and some with serrated edges). The Crystalline Galls start out like tiny dark-pink urns and then swell up and get their sparkly spines. We hadn’t seen any galls at all on the “Frankenstein” hybrid tree further up the trail, so finding the galls on the Blue Oak by the river was rewarding.
It was nice to see that this particular
Blue Oak was also getting acorns on it. These oaks don’t produce acorns in drought
years, and when they do produce acorns, they’ll produce a lot one year (a “mast”
year) and then produce far fewer for the next two or three years. So, as I said, it was nice to see this one
with acorns all over it. (The acorns
usually take a year to develop.) Blue Oaks are also endemic to California,
which means they’re found here and nowhere else on the planet. It’s also one of the oak trees that is immune
to the fungus that causes Sudden Oak Death.
Very cool trees.
Oh, and we found a Treehopper – but it jumped away before I could get a photo of it. Those things are sooooooo weird-looking with their hunched backs. The one we saw was a Buffalo Treehopper (Stictocephala bisonia): mostly green with some burnished gold edges on it.
We walked the trails for about 2 hours.
Blue Oak, Quercus douglasii,
Brass Buttons, Cotula coronopifolia,
Buffalo Treehopper, Stictocephala bisonia,
California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana,
California Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta,
California Praying Mantis, Stagmomantis californica,
While my coworker Nate Lillge was out getting coffee before the naturalist class, he caught sight of a raptor sitting in the middle of the road. He was worried about it getting hit by a car, but when a jogger went stomping by, the bird flew up into a nearby tree.
Nate called the office to let us know the bird was out there, and just before class started, he drove me over to the spot where he’d seen it. We both think it was a fledgling Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii), and it was complaining softly all the while it was sitting up there, no doubt waiting for its parents to bring it lunch. It was a neat pre-class sighting.
Happy 4th of July. Up at 5:30 am, and out the door before 6:00 to go to the American River Bend Park for a walk. It was about 59°when I got there with a slight breeze blowing, so it was nice. I was expecting the place to be crawling with people for the holiday, but nope. I had the trails almost to myself all the while I was out there.
The very first thing I saw when I drove in was a doe crossing the road in front of me. She stopped and looked behind her, and then I saw her fawn come out after her and scurry across the road, too. I tried to get photos, but I had to shoot through the windshield so… nuthin’. Dang it! But the park was otherwise pretty kind, giving me two other surprises with better photo ops.
The first of those two was getting the chance to see some Rio Grande Wild Turkey poults (Meleagris gallopavo intermedia). I hardly ever get to see them because the moms are so good at keeping them hidden. This was a group of three adults and five poults. The poults were all fledged in their first feathers but still too small to fly. Among the adults was the leucistic (black and white) female I see often in the park. She was following after the other two, so I inferred that she was “learning” from them. She mimicked a lot of what they did, and also seemed to be helping out with protecting the babies.
At one point, one of the adults jumped up into an elderberry bush and started pulling berries off and dropping them to the ground so the babies could get them. A few seconds later, one of the poults got up into the bush, as well, but couldn’t reach the berries and jumped down again. So cute. I think that little guy was blind on one side. It kept on eye shut all the time, and the lid looked “flat” in the socket (instead of rounded out by an eyeball).
I walked with the small flock for a while, but the adults were really good about keeping the kids out of the sunlight, for the most part, and keeping themselves between the babies and me. Who says turkeys are stupid?
The second surprise came when I walked down near the shore of the American River because there was a Buttonbush down there in full bloom and I think the flowers are so cool-looking. Anyway, while I was taking pictures of the flowers, I caught a glimpse of something moving past my foot and going behind me, so I turned around and saw a spotted snaky form slipping through the rocks. At first I thought it was a gopher snake because they’re really common in the park, but then I caught a glimpse of the head. Not a gopher snake.
It was a young RATTLESNAKE. It was
about as long as my forearm, so not too-too big, but still large enough to pack
a good supply of venom. What was weird was: when I first saw it, it was in
diffused light so all of the light parts on it looked pale blue and all of the
spots on it looked kind of orangey. Very odd.
I followed after it a little bit to try to get more photos — which is hard for me on the shore because it’s all rocks there and my feet don’t work well on unstable cobbly ground. I stopped when the snake got pissed off at me and wound itself into a striking position. Uh, yikes! I took just a few more photos and then let it be.
I also came across a small family of crows: a parent and two fledglings, I think. I saw the parent hand off a rock to the kids – which they weren’t interested in — and then pick up some seeds from along the shore. The fledglings were very loud and fussy, demanding that mom feed them (even though they were large enough to fly and forage by themselves.) Huge mouths! They cracked me up.
Walking through the rocks on the shore, and then having to climb back up an incline to get to the trail pretty much did me in, though. The bones in my feet are “welding together” like Mom’s did from arthritis, so my feet don’t bend and flex like they should, which is why walking on uneven ground is hard for me these days. Still, I was able to walk for about three hours total before heading back to the house.
Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus,
Ash-Throated Flycatcher, Myiarchus cinerascens,
Black Nightshade, Solanum nigrum,
Black Walnut, Juglans nigra,
Blue Elderberry, Sambucus cerulea,
Buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis,
California Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta,
I got up around 5:30 this morning so I could get over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve and begin my monitoring of my milkweed plot there for evidence of Monarch Butterflies. I finished that (with the help of my friend and co-naturalist Roxanne Moger) around 8:30.
It was still relatively cool outside, so Roxanne and I
decided to put our tools back into our car and walk for a little while. We came across some cooperative squirrels and
a Desert Cottontail rabbit, and also checked out the tree where I’d seen the
feral beehive earlier. There were about
three times as many bees at the spot, so I’m assuming the queen has decided to
set up shop there.
The surprise sighting was coming across another doe – with twin fawns! She was keeping them well-hidden in the shade and tall grass, but we were able to catch glimpses of them. And we couldn’t help but chuckle when the babies went stotting through the grass with mom chasing after them. They’re so tiny but soooo active! They’re the first fawns I’ve seen this year and that’s always exciting.
As we were leaving the preserve, I could hear a Ground Squirrel’s alarm call and looked around to see if I could spot what the trouble might be. I saw movement overhead and spotted an adult Red-Shouldered Hawk fly overhead. It landed in a nearby tree and then sat there for quite a while, so we were able to get quite a few photos of it. So, even though our walk was only a single loop, we got to see quite a bit… which is always fun.