Tag Archives: brewer’s blackbird

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

Wildflowers on Bear Valley Road, 04-13-19

I got up around 6:00 this morning, planning on going out on a wildflower tour with my coworker Nate and volunteer Roxanne.

Nate sent me an email, however, saying that his folks were in town and when they heard what he was doing today, they wanted to go with him – so there went Roxanne’s and my seat in his car.

I texted Roxanne and asked if she’d like to go with me, and she offered to drive. So, around 8:00 am we headed out to Highways 16 and 20 and Bear Valley Road (in Colusa County) – about an hour ahead of Nate and his group.  Because we were following almost the same route as Nate, though, our paths crossed a few times. He caught up with us at two spots where we had stopped to look at and photograph the wildflowers, and we passed him a couple of times.

Unlike the last time I went out looking for the wildflowers, today’s excursion was incredible, and Roxanne and I ended up spending the whole day outdoors.  I saw some insects and plants I’d never seen before, and the fresh air, exercise and views of flower-painted landscapes was exhilarating. It’s so nice to go on an excursion like this with someone who moves at a browsing pace like I do, and who gets excited by bugs and flowers and the sight of ducks in the river. Hah!

There were soooooo many photos, I broke them down into two albums.

CLICK HERE for album #1.

CLICK HERE for album #2.

Roxanne and I didn’t get home until around 6:00 pm. It was a long but fun and nature-filled day. I took over 1200 photos, so it’s going to take me a while to get through all of them.

Species Identification List:

1. “Apples” on Manzanita, Arctostaphylos sp,
2. Annual Yellow Sweetclover, Castilleja exserta ssp. exserta,
3. Big Heron’s Bill, Erodium botrys,
4. Bird’s Eye Gilia, Gilia tricolor,
5. Black Angus Cattle, Bos Taurus,
6. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum,
7. Blue Blossom Ceanothus, Ceanothus thyrsiflorus ssp.,
8. Blue Dicks, Dichelostemma capitatum,
9. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus,
10. Broad-Leaf Lupine, Lupinus latifolius,
11. Buckbrush, Ceanothus cuneatus,
12. Bulbous Blue Grass, Poa bulbosa
13. Bush Lupine, Silver Bush Lupine, Lupinus albifrons,
14. Bush Monkeyflower, Sticky Monkeyflower, Diplacus aurantiacus,
15. Butter ‘n’ Eggs, Johnny Tuck, Triphysaria eriantha,
16. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi,
17. California Maidenhair Fern, Adiantum jordanii,
18. California Manroot, Bigroot, Marah fabaceus,
19. California Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta,
20. California Pipevine, Aristolochia californica,
21. California Plantain, Plantago erecta
22. California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica,
23. Canyon Live-Forever, Dudleya cymose,
24. Caterpillar Flower, Lacy Phacelia, Phacelia tanacetifolia,
25. Chia Sage, Salvia columbariae,
26. Chinese Houses, Collinsia heterophylla,
27. Coast Range Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis bocourtii,
28. Common Fiddleneck, Amsinckia intermedia,
29. Common Fringepod, Thysanocarpus curvipes,
30. Common Merganser, Mergus merganser,
31. Common Mustard, Brassica rapa,
32. Common Woodland Star, Lithophragma affine,
33. Common Yarrow, Achillea millefolium,
34. Cottonwood, Fremont Cottonwood, Populus fremontii,
35. Cream Cups, Platystemon californicus.
36. Cucumber Beetle, Spotted Cucumber Beetle, Diabrotica undecimpunctata,
37. Digger Bee, Diadasia sp.,
38. Dwarf Sack Clover, Castilleja exserta ssp. exserta,
39. European Honeybee, Apis mellifera,
40. Fairy Longhorn Moth, Adela eldorada,
41. Field Poppy, Eschscholzia sp.,
42. Fireless Firefly, Pyropyga nigricans,
43. Giant Death Camas, Zigadenus exaltatus,
44. Giraffe’s Head Henbit, Henbit Deathnettle, Lamium amplexicaule
45. Goldback Fern, Pentagramma triangularis,
46. Golden Fairy Lantern, Diogenes’ Lantern, Calochortus amabilis,
47. Goldfields, Lasthenia californica,
48. Gray Pine, California Foothill Pine, Pinus sabiniana,
49. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons,
50. Hawkweed, Hieracium argutum
51. Hereford Cattle, Bos taurus,
52. Hog Fennel, Lomatium utriculatum,
53. Holstein Cattle, Bos taurus,
54. Indian Paintbrush, Castilleja affinis,
55. Ithuriel’s Spears, Triteleia laxa,
56. Larkspur, Delphinium decorum,
57. Lichen, Porpidia contraponenda
58. Lupine, Lupinus sp.,
59. Maidenhair Fern, Adiantum jordanii
60. Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos,
61. Milk Vetch, unidentified
62. Miniature Lupine, Lupinus bicolor,
63. Mouse Ear Chickweed, Cerastium fontanum,
64. Mule’s Ears, Smooth Mules Ears, Wyethia glabra,
65. Owl’s Clover, Dense Flower Owl’s clover, Castilleja densiflora,
66. Pacific Peavine, Canyon Sweet Pea, Lathyrus vestitus,
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. Popcorn Flower, Plagiobothrys chorisianus
72. Purple Sanicle, Sanicula bipinnatifida,
73. Q Tips, Slender Cottonweed, Micropus californicus var. californicus,
74. Red Maids, Calandrinia ciliate,
75. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus,
76. Rock Shield Lichen, Xanthoparmelia tinctina,
77. Shepherd’s Purse, Capsella bursa-pastoris
78. Sidewalk Fire Dot Lichen, Caloplaca feracissima,
79. Silver Lupine, Lupinus albifrons,
80. Slender Popcorn Flower, Plagiobothrys tenellus
81. Smoky Eye Boulder Lichen, Porpidia crustulata,
82. Sunburst Lichen, Xanthoria elegans,
83. Swift Crab Spider, Mecaphesa celer, (super-long front legs)
84. Tamarisk, Salt Cedar, Tamarix parviflora,
85. Texas Longhorn, Bos taurus,
86. Tidy Tips, Fremont’s Tidy Tips, Layia fremontii,
87. Tidy Tips, Smooth Tidy Tips, Layia chrysanthemoides,
88. Toyon, Heteromeles arbutifolia,
89. True Babystars, Leptosiphon bicolor,
90. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata,
91. Valley Tassels, Castilleja attenuate,
92. Variable-leaf Nemophila, Canyon Nemophila, Nemophila heterophylla,
93. Virgin’s Bower, Old Man’s Beard, Clematis pauciflora,
94. Wallflower, Erysimum capitatum,
95. Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
96. Western Hawksbeard, Crepis occidentalis,
97. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta,
98. Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis,
99. Whiskerbrush, Leptosiphon ciliates,
100. Wild Carrot, Bird’s Nest, Daucus carota,
101. Wild Onion, unidentified
102. Wildoats, Oat, Avena fatua,
103. Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa ssp. varia,
104. Yellow-Faced Bumblebee, Bombus vosnesenskii

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,

Standouts: a Lorquin’s Admiral and a Wilson’s Snipe, 11-03-18

I left the house with the dog around 5:30 am to head out to the Sacramento and Colusa National Wildlife Refuges. It was already 62º there and was windy; not a strong blow-you-over wind, but strong enough so that it kept a lot of the birds hunkered down to keep warm. Neither refuge is at full water capacity yet, so there were long areas of nothing but dried grass and tules. In another month or so, viewing should better.

At the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, the first thing I saw was a Black-Tailed Jackrabbit using a stand of tules as a windbreak. I saw several Red-Tailed Hawks in the trees, saw some American Kestrels on the wing, saw a Northern Harrier on the ground, and lots of Turkey Vultures surfing the wind currents. One of the Red-Tails was so huge, I thought at first that it might be an eagle; the female Red-Tails can get REALLY large. I also heard but didn’t see a Red-Shouldered Hawk.

Lots of Song, Savannah and White-Crowned Sparrows were out along with huge flocks of Snow Geese, Greater White-Fronted Geese, and Northern Pintail ducks. I also saw several Ross’s Geese – which look like Snow Geese, but they’re smaller and don’t have the black “grin patch” on the beak. Among the other ducks were Northern Shovelers (some still in their eclipse plumage), American Wigeons and Gadwalls. The Pintails always out-number the other ducks this early in the season as they’re the first to arrive.

Some areas along the auto-tour route were laden with the thick sticky webbing spiderlings use to “balloon” along the landscape. Long strands and bunches of “spider snot” seemed to be everywhere.

Two standouts at the Sacramento refuge were a Loggerhead Shrike and a Lorquin’s Admiral butterfly. The Shrike had posted itself on some dead cattail stems and as I watched it impaled a large insect on a shard along the side of the stem. Then it manipulated the insect a little bit with its beaks and feet before eating it. I think the insect was a big grasshopper, but I couldn’t get a really good look at it. Shrikes are referred to as “butcher birds” and “songbirds with the heart of a raptor” for their hunting and butchering behaviors.

The Lorquin’s Admiral was a huge surprise. It’s very late in the season for them to be out. This is a kind of butterfly that has several “flights” throughout the year, and they feed on nectar from California Buckeye trees, but they also like bird feces. Ugh. No accounting for taste! What’s cool about these guys is that even though they’re basically made out of “fuzzy air”, they’re super-aggressive and will fight protect their territory. Sort of like getting sucker-punches by a paper doll. Hah! The caterpillars roll themselves up in the leaves of willow trees (among others) and overwinter in them.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

At the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge, I saw a lot of the same birds that I did at the Sacramento refuge, but the standout was a Wilson’s snipe and flew up right next to the car and walked around the muddy ground there. Every once in a while, the bird would tilt its head to look up at me as I frantically snapped photos of it through the driver’s side window of my car.

On our way out of the auto-tour route at this refuge, I saw a pair of young Columbian Black-Tailed Deer grazing on the berm that was covered with geese and ducks. The deer didn’t seem to mind it when I stopped my car next to the end of the berm to take some photos and video of them, but when another car came up behind mine, they startled. I was surprised when, instead of running away up the berm through the flock of birds, both deer came charging down the berm right toward my car. I was afraid they were going to hit it. But they both veered off, one after the other, and crossed the auto-tour route road in front of my car – kind of using my car as a shield – before they jumped into the trees and overgrowth on the opposite side of the road. Wow. Got my heart going for a little bit. I don’t know what it was about the other car that made them so afraid.

When I was done with the auto-tour route, I parked near the restroom facility and then took Sergeant Margie out on his leash to stretch his legs. ((Dogs are allowed on the preserve, as long as they’re in your car or on a leash.)) I started down the trail that runs along between a large wetland area and a slough (so you have water on both sides) and was happily surprised to see that Sergeant Margie was able to handle walking a half mile in and a half mile back to the car (one mile round trip). He hasn’t been able or willing to do any kind of “long” walk for almost a year.

I think it helped that the temperature outside was comfortable and the trail was flat and covered with soft leaves. His tongue was hanging out when we got back to the car, but he wasn’t coughing or complaining. I gave him some lunch and a big drink of water before we headed back home.

The Cows Were More Obvious Today, 10-20-18

I had decided to just rest up over this weekend, but I couldn’t resist heading out to the Cosumnes River Preserve in the early morning. The preserve had posted that 90% of their wetland areas had water in them, so I wanted to see what it was like out there.

Uh. If what I saw out there was indeed 90%, then there are huge areas that the public can never see. The slough and some of the rice fields adjacent to the preserve were full of water, but there was no water in the wetland areas around the boardwalk or Desmond Road (which is where the public is allowed to do viewing). So, I was super disappointed as I felt the public had been lied to by the preserve.  Apparently, quite a few other people had also been duped by the announcement; there were cars cruising up and down Desmond and Bruceville Roads looking for birds.

The lack of water also meant a distinct lack of wildlife viewing. I did get to see COWS in some of the fields, and some Sandhill Cranes in other fields (but too far away for my camera to get any good shots of them). *Sigh* There was one Red-Tailed Hawk that was hunting near the boardwalk area and sat on the top of a short tree, so she could see what was around her. I saw her go to ground at one point, but don’t think she caught anything. The only other birds I saw were the common Canada Geese, Greater White-fronted Geese, Mallards, Brewer’s and Red-Winged Blackbirds, and some Bushtits and White-Crowned Sparrows. Nothing special.

I saw a few tiny damselflies that I think were Paiute Dancers, and also came across two large praying mantises, gravid females looking like they were ready to lay their eggs.

But overall, I felt the trip was a bust.

Insects at the Wetlands, 09-09-18

I headed out to the Cosumnes River Preserve to see how things looked there.

On the way to the preserve, I counted 15 hawks along the highway (not including two that had been hit by cars), and that seemed to bode well, but at the preserve itself it’s still pretty bleak. They’re just now starting to pump water into the wetland areas, but today there was only a puddle at the far end of the boardwalk. Not enough to support many birds; and what birds were there flew off as soon as they saw me.

There is also no water along Desmond Road, so nothing to see there either. I DID get to see a handsome juvenile Red-Tailed Hawk along the also-empty slew. It had landed on the cracked and dried bed of the slough… but was then chased off by a very brave ground squirrel. The hawk flew up into the naked branches of a nearby tree, and I was able to get quite a few photos of it before it took off again.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

Since there wasn’t much else to see, I pulled by focus in tighter and started combing the few surrounding trees and shrubs with my eyes for any sight of galls, insects and other stuff like that. It took a little time, but I was rewarded for my patience.

I found single specimens of three different species of dragonfly: Easter Forktail, Green Darner and Blue Dasher. All of them were in the trees, not moving, trying to warm themselves up in the morning sun. I also found several Praying Mantises (mostly boys and one girl), and a fat adult Katydid. I got some of them, including the Katydid, to walk on my hands. I also spotted some Trashline Spider webs but couldn’t see the spiders themselves.

Along the road I found a large bird’s nest that had fallen out of a tree, and, sadly, some road kill including an opossum and *waah! a Black-Tailed deer fawn. The fawn was smashed flat, so it must’ve been hit by a semi or something. I can’t imagine how traumatic that must have been to its mother. The fawn was a newborn, still in its spots…

As for the galls, I also found several different kinds: Spiny Turbans, Club Galls, Round Galls, Oak Apple galls, and every some “Woolybear” galls (Sphaeroteras trimaculosum). There were also the galls of the Ash Flower mite on an ash tree.

My sister Monica had asked what “galls” were specifically… Galls are malformations caused by the interaction between a plant and an insect (like a wasp or midge or mite), a plant and a fungus (like rust fungus), or a plant and another plant (like mistletoe). To protect itself from the insect, fungus or other plant, the host plant (or tree) forms a protective layer of material over the intruder, and that protective layer is the gall. Galls can be in the leaves, in the bark, on the branches, or on the flowers, seeds, catkins or acorns.

The Woolybear galls I saw today, for example, are formed on the backside of oak leaves when a cynipid wasp lays its egg on the leaf. A chemical in the egg tells the tree “grow something here”, and also gives it a blueprint of what to grow. So, what you’re seeing in the photos is actually fuzzy plant material that the oak tree grew to protect itself from the developing critter inside the egg. The wasp larva grows inside the gall and then exits when its mature. Each wasp species has its own unique gall (and some have two different ones in the same year).

Anyway… I walked for about 2 hours and then headed back home.