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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.,

Lots of Deer but No Fawns Yet on 06-13-19

I headed over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve this morning and got there around 6:00 am and it was about 63° then. I was joined by “The Other Mary”, Mary Messenger, and we walked for about 4 hours.  We saw lots of deer today, mostly does with their older yearlings. Some of the gals were very “round” with their pregnancies. When the new fawns arrive, some does chase off the older kids… but others let them hang around for a couple of years. We didn’t see any fawns, but that’s to be expected. The does keep them well-hidden when they’re new. 

Along the shore of the river, we came across the mama Common Merganser and her three red-headed ducklings again. They were hanging around a pair of female Wood Ducks who had one slightly older duckling with them. We couldn’t get too close, so we had to be satisfied with long-distance photos.

We saw several Turkey Vultures, Cathartes aura, including one bird sitting in a tree and one sitting on a stump on the bank of the American River. The one on the bank turned toward us and lifted its wings in the “heraldic pose” so we could see its white under-wing feathers.  This pose, in which the Turkey Vulture turns its back toward the sun and opens its wings, is used by the birds when they want to warm themselves up quickly. 

The legs and some of the feathers of the vulture sitting in the tree were covered in dried feces (making them look white-washed). When it’s really hot, the Turkey Vultures will defecate their mostly white, watery feces on their legs and feet and then allow evaporation to help cool them off. As gross as this may sound, keep in mind that the vulture’s digestive system is so aggressive and their immune system is so high, that their feces come out virtually bacteria free and actually acts like a kind of natural sanitizer. Cool, huh? I wrote an article about the vultures in 2015. You can read it HERE.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

We also stopped under the Red-Shouldered Hawk’s nest along the Pond Trail and saw one fledgling sitting in it. Where the nest is placed, it’s hard to get a good angle on it for photographs, so all we saw was the tippy top of the fledgling’s head.  Near the pond itself, we saw another fledgling, and near the nature center we saw an adult… So got a few photo ops on the hawks today.

This is the time of year when there are a lot of Western Fence Lizards scurrying all over the place, ad we were able to see quite a few of them, including a pair on a log. The stubby-tailed male was trying to court a female, but she just wasn’t that into him.  Hah!

We walked for about 4 hours and then headed back to our respective homes.

Species List:

1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus,
2. American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus,
3. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii,
4. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
5. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus,
6. Bull Thistle, Cirsium vulgare,
7. Bur Chervil, Anthriscus caucalis,
8. Bushtit, American Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus,
9. California Bumblebee, Bombus californicus,
10. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi,
11. California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana,
12. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica,
13. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis,
14. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus,
15. Common Merganser, Mergus merganser,
16. Coyote Mint, Monardella villosa,
17. Coyote, Canis latrans,
18. Dallisgrass, Sticky-Heads, Paspalum dilatatum,
19. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auritus,
20. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger,
21. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris,
22. Giant Sunflower, Helianthus giganteus,
23. Goldwire, Hypericum concinnum,
24. Himalayan Blackberry, Armenian Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus,
25. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon,
26. Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Lords and Ladies, Arum maculatum,
27. Monarch Butterfly, Danaus plexippus,
28. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura,
29. Northern Bluet Damselfly, Enallagma cyathigerum,
30. Northern Bush Katydid, Scudderia pistillata,
31. Northern Yellow Sac Spider, Cheiracanthium mildei,
32. Pearly Everlasting, Anaphalis margaritacea,
33. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum,
34. Prickly Sowthistle, Sonchus asper,
35. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus,
36. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia,
37. Rusty Tussock Moth, Orgyia antiqua,
38. Santa Barbara Sedge, Carex barbarae,
39. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa,
40. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus,
41. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura,
42. Wavy Leaf Soaproot, Chlorogalum pomeridianum,
43. Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
44. Western Gray Squirrel, Sciurus griseus,
45. Wild Carrot, Daucus carota,
46. Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa,
47. Wood Duck, Aix sponsa,
48. Yellow Jacket, German Wasp, Vespula germanica,
49. Yellow Starthistle, Centaurea solstitialis,
50. Yellow-Faced Bumblebee, Bombus vosnesenskii,

 

Nature Walk on a Lovely Day, 09-14-18

I went on a photo walk with my coworker, Nate, and one of Tuleyome’s donors/volunteers, Sami, to Lake Solano Park this morning.

The weather was extraordinarily lovely today. It was in the 50’s at the park and got up to about 75º by the late afternoon. There was slight breeze and the sky was filled with cirrus clouds. Gorgeous.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

Sami is an avid birder – she logged 300 species last year! – and she was able to point out birds to us that we might have otherwise missed. Many of them – including a juvenile Golden Eagle – were on the fly and moving fast so I wasn’t able to get photos of them. But it was still cool to see them.

And Nate is a total nature nerd, like me, so it’s always fun to go out into the field with him. We get excited by things like bugs and fungus and otter scat… so, we enjoyed locating and identifying galls on the trees in the park, hah! We even found a gall I had never seen before. (Or at least didn’t recognize. It turned out to be an early stage of the Round Gall.)

The stand outs for the day for me, though, besides the lovely scenery at the park (which sits right along Putah Creek), were the peahens and their babies, a sleepy Western Screech Owl, a juvenile Great Blue Heron (who startled us by “appearing” on the shore right next to the path we were walking on), and an American White Pelican who was sitting in the middle of the creek, preening, sunning, and doing a little fishing.

We walked for about 3 hours, and then headed our separate ways.

Ibis Rookery at the Water Plant, 07-03-18

The dog and I headed out right away to go into Woodland and look for the water treatment plant before going into the office. One of my naturalist course graduates, Sonjia, had told me there was an Ibis rookery there, so I had to go see it!

Luckily the main gate was open.  I overshot the pond area and had to turn around, then went down the gravel road, and took photos from my car and the adjacent field. The air quality was horrible this morning, with all of the wildfires burning around the valley, so everything was tinged an extra shade of red-orange.

At first, I only saw flocks of White-Faced Ibis, Black Necked Stilts and a few other shorebirds, but as I watched I could pick out other individual birds like Tricolored Blackbirds and Yellow-Headed Blackbirds, Killdeer, Mallards, Pied-Billed Grebes, Canada Geese and Great-Tailed Grackles.  Some of the grackles were posturing and “dancing” along the side of the road. One of them kept stepping on the tail feathers of the others to mess them up. Hah!  I also found some damselflies who weren’t warm enough to go anywhere yet, so they clung to the stems of the star thistle, sometimes several of them on the same plant. Lots of photo ops… but I felt rushed because I had to get to the office by 7:00 am.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos and video snippets.

A little further along the gravel road was the rookery area itself, with Ibis practically piled on top of one another in their twiggy nests.  Because it was so early in the morning, most of the adults on the nests weren’t quite awake yet, but in some of the nests, parents were busy feeding hungry hatchlings. If I come back again later in the week, I’ll come a little bit later in the morning when more of the birds are awake.

I was able to see some of the unhatched eggs in nests; they’re a beautiful turquoise blue color. Both parents help to keep the eggs warm. Some evidence seems to indicate that the males sit on the eggs during the day, and females sit on the eggs in the evening, but they can also switch shifts. Both parents also feed the babies (by regurgitation). While I was watching one nest, I saw mom feeding the kids. Then dad flew in, gave mom his breakfast, and flew off again… and mom fed what dad brought to the kids. Lots of barfing and re-barfing going on in that exchange. Eeew! Hah!

The pairs of adults are supposed to be monogamous, but I don’t know if that’s for life or just for the breeding season.  I saw several pairs, some of them interacting very gently with one another. “Allopreening” (mates preening one another) is supposed to reinforce the pair bond.

The baby Ibises have black and white striped beaks and bald heads. They’re so funny looking! And they grab at the parent’s beak to try to get them to open their mouths. Pushy, fussy babies.

In some spots, the female Great-Tailed Grackles were poking around the Ibis’ nests and harassing them. One of them poked its head right in under a mama Ibis who was sitting on the nest, causing her to jump up and turn on it.  It’s not unusual for the grackles to be predatory and try to steal eggs from the nests, but this one was awfully bold!  (I wonder if the Black-Crowned Night Herons come by in the evening to steal babies and eat them… They’re notorious in this area for stealing and killing local Wood Duck ducklings; sometimes killing for no reason and leaving the ducklings bodies lying around.)

I was out there for about an hour and then had to head off to the office, but that was cool way to start my day.