Tag Archives: Brown-Headed Cowbird

Lots of Snowy Egrets, 05-31-19

I got up about 5:30 this morning, fed the dog his breakfast and then headed out to the Cosumnes River Preserve for a walk.

There was little to no water in the “wetland” areas, so not a lot of birds or dragonflies. I walked along the slough on the side of the road, and then walked through the oak woodland to the nature center, and then back to the car.  Along the slough, I saw Tree Swallows, a pair of Western Kingbirds, and a trio of Brown-Headed Cowbirds doing their bowing thing. They were on the top of a tree, so bowing was difficult, and they kept rolling off their twiggy branches. Eventually, they gave up and flew off.

Further along, I came across a small flock of Snowy Egrets who were feeling for things in the water with their feet.  As I was watching them and taking pictures, a Great Egret flew in and joined them. Seeing the great Egret and the Snowy Egrets side-by-side really exemplifies their size difference. It looked like a mama bird with lots of babies around her.  Some of the Snowy Egrets were flashing their top knots at one another. I got the sense that it was a more an aggressive, territorial thing than a romance thing. None of the birds had their long, trailing feathers in; and none of them were sporting the pink blush in the face the Snowies get when their breeding.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

Beyond the regular Oak Apple galls, there weren’t a lot of other ones out yet. I saw some Red Cones just starting to grow – looking like tiny red pimples on the leaves of some of the Valley Oaks.  I did see the curling leaf galls and “flower” galls on the ash trees, but not as much as I’m used to seeing.

As I was walking through the oak woodland, I was surprised to see a large flock of American White Pelicans fly overhead. By the time I got my camera up and focused, though, they were gone. It’s always so neat to see those big birds flying.  They don’t look like they should be able to stay aloft, but they’re so graceful in the sky.

I also got a glimpse of a Green Heron when he flew out from the rushes around the bridge area, and up into a willow tree.  There were so many twiggy branches around him, though, it was hard to get any decent shots of him.

Near the nature center, I saw some House Finches, Anna’s Hummingbirds, and a baby cottontail rabbit. The baby was a surprise; my brain couldn’t get itself around how small it was at first, and I just stared at it. I did come to enough to get a few shots of the bunny before it scrambled away, though.

Even going down to the boat launch area, I was surprised by the lack of insects. I was hoping to see dragonflies, damselflies and spiders there, but… nothing.

I walked for about three hours and then started to head home.  My insides were starting to complain, and I hurried to the restroom near the boardwalk area where my car was parked – only to find that the thing was locked shut. Seriously?! Guh! I hate it when that happens.

Species List:

  1. American White Pelican, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos,
  2. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna,
  3. Ash Flower Gall Mite, Eriophyes fraxinivorus,
  4. Ash Leaf Curl Aphid, Prociphilus fraxinifolii,
  5. Asian Ladybeetle, Harmonia axyridis,
  6. Bermuda Grass, Cynodon dactylon,
  7. Bindweed, Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis,
  8. Birds-Foot Trefoil, Lotus corniculatus,
  9. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
  10. Blue-Eyed Grass, Sisyrinchium angustifolium,
  11. Broadleaf Cattail, Bullrush, Typha latifolia,
  12. Broadleaf Mistletoe, Phoradendron macrophyllum,
  13. Brown-Headed Cowbird, Molothrus ater,
  14. Buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis,
  15. California Brodiaea, Brodiaea californica,
  16. California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica,
  17. California Wild Rose, Rosa californica,
  18. Cleveland Sage, Salvia clevelandii,
  19. Common Knotweed, Persicaria lapathifolia,
  20. Common Yarrow, Achillea millefolium,
  21. Convergent Ladybeetle, Hippodamia convergens,
  22. Coyote Brush Bud Gall Midge, Rhopalomyia californica,
  23. Curly Leaved Dock, Rumex crispus,
  24. Desert Cottontail Rabbit, Sylvilagus audubonii,
  25. Doveweed, Turkey Mullein, Croton setigerus,
  26. English Field Daisy, Bellis perennis,
  27. Fennel, Sweet Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare,
  28. Floating Water Primrose, Ludwigia peploides,
  29. Goodding’s Willow, Salix gooddingii,
  30. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias,
  31. Great Egret, Ardea alba,
  32. Green Heron, Butorides virescens,
  33. Green Pea Aphid, Acyrthosiphon pisum,
  34. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus,
  35. Hoverfly, Syrphidae,
  36. Hummingbird Sage, Salvia spathacea,
  37. Jointed Charlock, Raphanus raphanistrum,
  38. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferus
  39. Lippia, Turkey Tangle, Fogfruit, Phyla nodiflora,
  40. Long-Jawed Orb Weaver, Tetragnatha extensa,
  41. Oak Apple Gall Wasp, Andricus quercuscalifornicus,
  42. Oregon Ash, Fraxinus latifolia,
  43. Pearly Everlasting, Anaphalis margaritacea,
  44. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum,
  45. Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum,
  46. Purple Finch, Haemorhous purpureus,
  47. Purpletop Vervain, Verbena bonariensis,
  48. Rabbitsfoot Grass, Polypogon monspeliensis,
  49. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus,
  50. Seven-Spotted Ladybeetle, Coccinella septempunctata,
  51. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula,
  52. Swift Crab Spider, Mecaphesa celer
  53. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor,
  54. Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus,
  55. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata,
  56. Variable Flatsedge, Cyperus difformis,
  57. Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
  58. Western Kingbird, Tyrannus verticalis,
  59. Wild Onion (white), Allium sp.,
  60. Willow Apple Gall Wasp, Pontania californica,
  61. Willow Bead Gall Mite, Aculops tentanothrix,
  62. Willow Bud Gall Mite, Aculops aenigma,
  63. Willow Stem Gall Wasp, Euura exiguae,

At the Sacramento and Colusa Wildlife Refuges, 05-06-19

Certified California Naturalist, Roxanne Moger and I went out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge around 6:00 am this morning. The weather was beautiful today, but there wasn’t a lot to see at the preserve. We’re kind of in between seasons, so the large flocks of birds have all left, but the insects (like dragonflies, damselflies, and orb-weaver spiders) haven’t arrived yet. We did see swarms of Painted Lady butterflies and some Cabbage White, but none of the other species normally seen there in the late spring/early summer.

Roxanne did all the driving, but we stopped a couple of time to get out of the car and walk parts of the trail or explore the boundaries of the park-and-stretch areas. Some of the vernal pools on the site were in bloom: all golden yellow and purple with Goldfields and Downingia. Just beautiful.

Although the species list at the end of the day wasn’t as long or as varied as I’d like, I did like the fact that I saw a few things I’d never seen before and learned more about some species than I’d known before. That’s what really makes these outings fun.

A large fly landed on the passenger side mirror of the car partway through the auto-tour and at first I thought it was a Robber Fly (those guys are pretty big). We were both intrigued by the fly’s huge goggle-like eyes and his tenaciousness.  He held onto that mirror for quite a long time.

When I got home, I looked up the fly to see if I could find its scientific name and found that it was actually a male Striped (or Lined) Horsefly, Tabanus lineola. I’d never seen one before. And, of course, once I find something new to me, I have to research it more.  Never having encountered a Horsefly before, I was surprised to learn that although the males drink nectar, the females drink blood (usually from large mammals like livestock). She had scissor-like mouth parts that slice into the skin so she can get to the blood. This species is usually found along the east coast and Gulf of Mexico, so it was something of a surprise to find it here… assuming I got the ID correct.

We also got to see a male Red-Winged Blackbird flaring his epaulets at a female, and a pair of Brown-Headed Cowbirds performing what we thought was courtship behavior.  The two birds sat across from one another, then one ruffled its feathers, opened its wings a bit and bowed down at the other, and the other responded in kind.

Roxanne and I inferred the behavior was “courtship” but, from what I read, after I got home, what we were seeing was actually two males trying to outdo one another in a machismo contest.  Apparently, the females don’t respond well to the males’ bows, which they see as aggressive, so the males only bow to one another. (You can read more here.)  The males open their wings to one another, and to females, to show how mature they are. Juveniles have pale markings on the inside of the wings.

You can see the video snippet I took of the birds HERE.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

And we found a couple of Black Phoebe nests, one stuffed full of babies who were almost fully fledged. They were stacked up, one on top of the other, with their tails sticking out over the edge of the nest. And toward the end of the auto tour route we came across a dead tree where there was a Western Meadowlark, a Red-Winged Blackbird and a tiny Song Sparrow all singing their respective songs.

We caught glimpses of American Goldfinches and Bullock’s Orioles, and hear Bitterns, but didn’t see any. One oddity was sighting a Mute Swan in the permanent wetlands area. That was odd because swans hardly ever go into the refuge, and Mute Swans are actually an invasive species. Unlike the Tundra Swans, the Mute Swans are super-aggressive and destroy the habitat they live in by ripping up water-plants from the roots.

When we were done at the Sacramento refuge, we decided to go over to the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge to show Roxanne the day-roost of the Black-Crowned Night Herons at the end of the auto-tour there. We were astonished to discover that the auto-tour there was roped off so no one could get to it… but the rope and signage was only visible AFTER you entered the refuge and started driving down the route. Stupid. They should have put the signs on the front gate or in the parking area.  A “manager” who showed up a little while after did, said that the auto-route was shut down because they were short handed and couldn’t patrol it well enough. Sad.

So, we didn’t do that tour and instead walked around a little bit in the native flower garden they have near the restroom facility.  Along part of a path near the garden, Roxanne found some galls we’d never seen before: the gall of the Elm Balloon-Gall Aphid, Eriosoma lanuginosum.

According to what I’ve read, the galls are initiated by a “fundatrix”, a parthenogenetic female aphid whose presence causes an extreme enlargement of the soft cell tissue on one side of the leaf. The galls are hollow and feel rubbery. They start out green and are covered with fine white hairs (which we saw) and turn brown as they age.

Inside the gall the fundatrix has her babies which are wingless and yellow until they mature. There can also be second generation aphids, called “alates” (usually winged individuals) which are dark green to black and wax powdered. Not all of the adults grow wings, however, and wing-growth seemed to be associated to crowding inside the galls, a short supply of food, and/or changes in the environment. Nature is so cool!

After walking around a bit, we headed back home to Sacramento and got there around 3:00 pm.

Species List:

1. American Avocet, Recurvirostra americana,
2. American Bittern, Botaurus lentiginosus,
3. American Coot, Fulica americana.
4. American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos,
5. American Goldfinch, Spinus tristis,
6. American Robin, Turdus migratorius,
7. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna,
8. Annual Yellow Sweet Clover, Melilotus indicus,
9. Arches Moth, Habrosyne sp.
10. Bird’s Foot Trefoil, Lotus corniculatus,
11. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
12. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus,
13. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum,
14. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus cerulea,
15. Bristly Oxtongue, Helminthotheca echioides,
16. Brown-Headed Cowbird, Molothrus ater,
17. Bullock’s Oriole, Icterus bullockii,
18. Bur Clover, Burr Medic, Medicago polymorpha,
19. California Flannelbush, Fremontodendron californicum,
20. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi,
21. California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica,
22. California Wild Rose, Rosa californica,
23. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis,
24. Cinnamon Teal, Anas cyanoptera,
25. Clark’s Grebe, Aechmophorus clarkia,
26. Cleveland Sage, Salvia clevelandii,
27. Common Mustard, Brassica rapa,
28. Convergent Lady Beetle, Hippodamia convergens,
29. Curly Dock, Rumex crispus,
30. Damselfly, Pacific Forktail, Ischnura cervula, (dots on thorax)
31. Damselfly, Sooty Dancer, Argia lugens, (no blue tip; rings around segments)
32. Desert Cottontail, Sylvilagus audubonii,
33. Dogtail Grass, Cynosurus echinatus,
34. Elm Balloon-Gall Aphid, Eriosoma lanuginosum,
35. Eurasian Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto,
36. Field Elm Tree, Smooth-Leaf Elm, Ulmus Minor,
37. Foothills Penstamon, Penstemon heterophyllus,
38. Foxtail Barley, Hordeum murinum ssp. glaucum,
39. Fremont Cottonwood Tree, Populus fremontii,
40. Fuller’s Teasel, Wild Teasel, Dipsacus fullonum,
41. Goldfields, Contra Costa Goldfields, Lasthenia conjugens,
42. Great Egret, Ardea alba,
43. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons,
44. Greenbottle Fly, Lucilia sericata,
45. Himalayan Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus,
46. Hood Canarygrass, Phalaris paradoxa,
47. Hoover’s Downingia, Hoover’s Calicoflower, Downingia bella,
48. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus,
49. House Sparrow, Passer domesticus,
50. Jimson Weed, Datura stramonium,
51. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous,
52. Large Oxtongue Aphid, Uroleucon picridis,
53. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris,
54. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura,
55. Mute Swan, Cygnus olor,
56. Narrowleaf Milkweed, Asclepias fascicularis,
57. Northern Paper Wasp, Polistes fuscatus,
58. Northern Pintail, Anas acuta,
59. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata,
60. Oleander Aphid, Aphis nerii,
61. Pacific Pond Turtle, Western Pond Turtle, Actinemys marmorata,
62. Pacific Tree Frog, Chorus Frog, Pseudacris regilla,
63. Painted Lady Butterfly, Vanessa cardui,
64. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps,
65. Plantain, Ribwort, Plantago lanceolata,
66. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum,
67. Purple Finch, Haemorhous purpureus,
68. Purple Needle Grass, Stipa pulchra,
69. Rabbit Tail Grass,Hare’s Tail Grass, Lagurus ovatus,
70. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis,
71. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus,
72. Rush, California Bulrush, Schoenoplectus californicus,
73. Sedge, Pennsylvania Sedge, Carex pensylvanica
74. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciose,
75. Silverpuff, Microseris acuminata,
76. Snow Goose, Chen caerulescens,
77. Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia,
78. Striped Horsefly, Tabanus lineola,
79. Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus,
80. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura,
81. Valley Popcorn Flower, Plagiobothrys canescens,
82. Varied Carpet Beetle, Anthrenus verbasci,
83. Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum,
84. Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
85. Western Kingbird, Tyrannus verticalis,
86. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta,
87. Willow, Gooding’s Willow, Salix gooddingii