Tag Archives: Bullock’s Oriole

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

Trying to Beat the Heat on 06-05-19

I got up around 5:00 am this morning so I could get out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve before it got too hot outside. The predicted high for today was 100°. When I got to the preserve, it was already about 67° outside.

Just seconds after I arrived, my CalNat graduate/friend, Roxanne M., showed up to join me and so did “The Other Mary”, Mary M., another volunteer trail walker at Effie Yeaw.  She brought a small bag for me filled with blackberries from her yard. I thought that was so nice of her.

The three of us walked for about 3 hours, but we cut out walk short because it was humid and hot at the river. When we left, it was already about 80°– and it was only a little after 9 o’clock. Pleh!

We weren’t expecting to see a lot, because nature is kind of in a transition period right now. We’re waiting for mammal babies to be born and insects to start showing themselves.  And, we didn’t see a whole lot, but Roxanne and I can always find something to look at and focus on.

Roxanne is doing a seed-collecting thing right now for the naturalist class, and so she stops at different plants to see what kind of seeds they have on them and how the seeds might be disbursed.  She took on this project on all by herself and is volunteering all the time it’s taking her to collect specimens and ID the plants.  I’m so proud of her!

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

On our walk we saw a group of about four deer including a young buck in his velvet and a very pregnant doe. And later on, we also saw a bunch of baby rusty-headed Common Mergansers zooming down the riverside with their mom. It was so cute to see some of the babies swimming with their face down in the water, like the adults do, looking for things to eat.  Roxanne, The Other Mary and I all tried to get photos of them, but they moved so-so fast, it was really hard!

I also stopped to get some video of a hive of Common Black Ants (yeah, they’re really called that) carrying their larvae from one nest to another — most likely because the old nest was compromised in some way (infested with fungus, collapsing, etc.).

Moving the eggs and babies around can be really risky because they make for tasty treats for other insects and some birds, so the workers who carry them (very gently in their jaws) have to move really fast and know right where they’re going.

Queen ants are pretty awesome. They control the sex of all of their offspring (only creating males when it’s time for nuptial flights; ost ants you see are females); they can live for up to 15 (some say 30) years, and only mate during their nuptial flights… which means they can mate with several males during that short-term flight period, and then hang onto the sperm for the rest of their entire lives.

On our way out of the preserve we noticed leaves with circular cutouts on them. They’re made by Leafcutting Bees (Megachile sp.), a kind of native bee that lives in cavities. They use the bits they cut out of the leaves to line their tube-like nests and build a neat row of individual compartments, in each of which they’ll form a small doughy mound of pollen and nectar. On top of each of these mounds, the bee will lay a single egg.

Mother leafcutters can control the gender of their offspring, and often lay the eggs of their female offspring in the back of the tube-nest and the males in the front. This way, if the nest is invaded by a bird or other insects, it’s the males that will die first, leaving the females protected.

Although they’re solitary bees and don’t produce a lot of offspring, leafcutters are great pollinators. You can encourage them to pollinate your garden by building nesting boxes, called “bee condos”, for them in your yard. Here is a guide from the Xerces Society on how to do that: http://ow.ly/MhVf50uygX1.

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus,
  2. Asian Ladybeetle, Harmonia axyridis,
  3. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
  4. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum,
  5. Bullock’s Oriole, Icterus bullockii,
  6. California Brodiaea, Brodiaea californica,
  7. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi,
  8. California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica,
  9. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica,
  10. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis,
  11. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus,
  12. Common Black Ant, Lasius niger,
  13. Common Merganser, Mergus merganser,
  14. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  15. Coyote Mint, Monardella villosa,
  16. Dogtail Grass, Cynosurus echinatus,
  17. Elegant Clarkia, Clarkia unguiculata,
  18. English Plantain, Ribwort, Plantago lanceolata,
  19. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris,
  20. Goldwire, Hypericum concinnum,
  21. Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata,
  22. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon,
  23. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni,
  24. Italian Thistle, Carduus pycnocephalus,
  25. Leaf-Cutter Bee, Megachile,
  26. Long-Jawed Orb-Weaver Spider, Tetragnatha elongate,
  27. Mock Orange, Lewis’s Mockorange, Philadelphus lewisii,
  28. Moss, Bryum Moss, Bryum capillare,
  29. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii,
  30. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus,
  31. Oregon Ash, Fraxinus latifolia,
  32. Pacific Bent Grass, Agrostis avenacea,
  33. Praying Mantis, European Mantis, Mantis religiosa,
  34. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia,
  35. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa,
  36. Spicebush, Calycanthus occidentalis,
  37. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura,
  38. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata,
  39. Valley x Blue Oak, Quercus lobata x douglasii,
  40. Variable Flatsedge, Cyperus difformis,
  41. Wavy-Leaf Soap Plant, California Soaproot, Chlorogalum pomeridianum,
  42. Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
  43. White Alder, Alnus rhombifolia,
  44. White Horehound, Marrubium vulgare,
  45. Winter Vetch, Hairy Vetch, Vicia villosa,
  46. Yellow Water Iris, Yellow Flag, Iris pseudacorus,

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

A Little Bit of Everything, 04-24-19

I got up around 5:30 this morning because the dog needed to get outside. Since I was up, I decided to stay up, and after giving the dog his breakfast, I got dressed and went out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for my walk. I was sunny and already about 53° when I left the house. When I got back home around 11:00 am it was 78°.

During my walk I saw but couldn’t get photos of a couple of Bullock’s Orioles, a male Rubyspot damselfly, and several White-Lined Sphinx Moths. The Rubyspot was a bright red male, and I was so bummed that I wasn’t able to get a photo of it. The Orioles and Sphinx moths were whizzing around, so I couldn’t get my camera to focus on them. Gotta be fast when you’re photographing nature!

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

I was able to get photos of other critters including an Oak Titmouse with a small caterpillar in its beak, a Turkey Vulture sunning himself on the top of a tree, and several Western Fence Lizards including a male courting a female, and another female who looked really gravid (pregnant, full of eggs).

A one point along the trail I found a nesting cavity in the side of a tree and saw Tree Swallows, an Acorn Woodpecker, and a House Wren all seemingly fighting for it. The Tree Swallows out-numbered the other two species at the tree, so I’m assuming they’re taking that spot.

I also found a couple of squirrel dreys (nests), including one near the Maidu Village near the nature center. The squirrels there had pulled tules out of the tule hut on display and used them in their nest. Hah! And I found a Bushtit nest in a spot where it was surrounded by Pipevine.

The Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies were flittering all over the place. At on spot, I came across a vine where the caterpillars hat just hatched from their eggs and were busy eating the shells. Another cool sighting was a Snakefly. I found a female (obviously by her long dagger-like ovipositor) sitting on a leaf and got a photo and video snippet of her before she rushed away.

So, it was a good walk.

Species List:

1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus,
2. American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus,
3. American Robin, Turdus migratorius,
4. American Rubyspot Damselfly, Hetaerina americana,
5. Ant, Little Black Ant, Monomorium minimum
6. Aphids, superfamily Aphidoidea,
7. Ash-Throated Flycatcher, Myiarchus cinerascens,
8. Bedstraw, Cleavers, Galium aparine,
9. Black Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus,
10. Black Walnut Erineum Mite galls, Eriophyes erinea,
11. Black Walnut, Juglans nigra,
12. Blue Oak, Quercus douglasii,
13. Blue Penstemon, Penstemon azureus,
14. Bullock’s Oriole, Icterus bullockii,
15. Bush Sunflower, Encelia californica,
16. Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus,
17. California Buckeye, Aesculus californica,
18. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi,
19. Groundsel, Senecio sp.,
20. California Manroot, Bigroot, Marah fabaceus,
21. California Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta,
22. California Pipevine, Aristolochia californica,
23. California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica,
24. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica,
25. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis,
26. Clover, Strawberry Clover, Trifolium fragiferum,
27. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus,
28. Common Catchfly, Silene gallica,
29. Common Fringepod, Thysanocarpus curvipes,
30. Desert Cottontail, Sylvilagus audubonii,
31. Dogtail Grass, Cynosurus echinatus,
32. Douglas Iris, Iris douglasiana,
33. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger,
34. Golden-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla,
35. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus,
36. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon,
37. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni,
38. Italian Thistle, Carduus pycnocephalus,
39. Leaf Miner, Cameraria sp.,
40. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
41. Live Oak Gall Wasp gall, 1st Generation, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis
42. Live Oak Gall Wasp gall, 2nd Generation, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis
43. Long-Jawed Orb Weaver Spider, Tetragnatha sp.,
44. Lupine, Lupinus sp.,
45. Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos,
46. Mayfly, possibly Hexagenia limbate,
47. Miniature Lupine, Lupinus bicolor,
48. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura,
49. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii,
50. Oak Apple Gall Wasp gall, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
51. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus,
52. Pacific Rattlesnake, Crotalus oreganus,
53. Pink Grass, Windmill Pink, Petrorhagia dubia,
54. Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum,
55. Q-Tips, Slender Cottonweed, Micropus californicus var. californicus,
56. Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Regulus calendula,
57. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciose,
58. Snakefly, Agulla sp.,
59. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus,
60. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor,
61. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura,
62. Valley Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa varipuncta,
63. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata,
64. Valley Tassels, Castilleja attenuate,
65. Vetch, Vicia sp.,
66. Wavy-Leaf Soap Plant, Chlorogalum pomeridianum,
67. Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
68. Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis,
69. White Horehound, Marrubium vulgare,
70. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis,
71. White-Lined Sphynx Moth, Hyles lineata,
72. Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa,
73. Yellow-Faced Bumblebee, Bombus vosnesenskii,

It was Hit and Miss at the Refuges on Saturday

I was going to sleep in today, but the dogs got me up a little before 5:00 am, and then I couldn’t get back to sleep. So, I just got up and headed over to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge for the day.

When I drove into the refuge I saw a Turkey Vulture sitting on the edge of the sign at the mouth of the auto-tour. It let me walk up pretty close to get photos of it before it flew away. I think those are the coolest birds… I heard some Bitterns “pumper-lunking” but only saw a few in flight, and didn’t get any photos. The bullfrogs were doing their ninja thing, too: I could hear their deep cello-calls, but couldn’t see or photograph any of them…

Click here for the full album of photos and videos.

I did get some good photos of Clark’s Grebes and a few other birds, though.

There was a male Great Tailed Grackle in the tules around the permanent wetlands that was performing for the females. He went through a variety of different calls including its high-pitched “peep”, deep-throated “clap!” and loud echoing “yeeeeeeeeeeeeeep!” I got some video of him, but was interrupted a few times by other drivers along the trail who crept or rushed past my car. One lady parked right next to my car and yelled through the open window, “Did you see the owl?!” Uh, yes… but I’m trying to film a grackle right now… Guh!

I also came across a family group of otters, a mom and dad and two babies. They were one of the permanent ponds but moved so quickly, it was really difficult to get any clear shots of them. I did manage to get a little bit of video, though… until dad saw me, snorted loudly and turned his family around.

When I was done at the Sacramento refuge, I headed over to the Colusa one. I hadn’t been there in quite a while because they took the brunt of the flooding earlier in the year, and were closed to the public for months. It was kind of a waste to go there today, though, because now they’ve drained off a lot of the water (so the surrounding rice fields can have it), and most of it is just a big dirt hole with flowers growing here and there.

One pond was filled with dead carp – stinking bodies everywhere – and others that were slowly dying as the pond evaporates. The carp come up with the flood waters, and when the flood recedes, they get caught in-land and can’t get out. I was surprised that the refuge allows them to suffer slow deaths like that; surely there must be some way to collect them and relocate them.

Where there were spots in the refuge that still had water in them, the water was shallow, and the banks were overrun with water primrose… One interesting thing, though, was that in some of the waterless ponds there were crayfish chimneys, structures the crayfish make by piling up little balls of mud. The bottom of the chimney opens into water (when there is water), and the top opens to the air. They use them to hide in when they’re breeding and getting ready to lay their eggs…

My visit to the Colusa refuge was also kind of ruined because there was a biplane from one of the neighboring rice fields flying around. He’d circle over the refuge, fly down really low, and dump seeds and pesticides on the fields next door. The noise was horrible… You can’t “relax and enjoy nature” when there’s some guy buzz-bombing the place every few minutes. It was ugly… I won’t need to go back there at all for the rest of the year…

More than 140 Egrets in One Pond!

DAY 9 OF MY VACATION.  I got up around 5:45 this morning and headed out to the Cosumnes River Preserve.  I hadn’t been there in quite a while and wanted to see how things were going there (after all of the recent floods and whatnot).  It was another perfect weather day: 43º when I headed out; 64º when I headed back…

Because I was there so early, I knew the gate to the boardwalk parking area would still be closed, so I found a safe place on the side of the road, as near to the gate as I could get without blocking it, and parked there.  Then I walked into the preserve.  The majority of the water was gone from there, too.  But there were still a few large ponds sitting around… and one of them was brimming with Egrets (most Great Egrets, but several Snowy Egrets as well), all of them glistening white in the early morning sunlight.  I took my time walking up to the pond because I didn’t want to scare the birds off, but they were so busy eating and playing “¿Quién es más macho?” with one another that they didn’t even notice me, and I was able to get pretty close to them. I counted up to 140 egrets before I quit… That is a LOT of birds!

CLICK HERE to see the full album of photos and videos.

After the flood waters from the river recede, the standing ponds are filled with fish, crawdads, frogs, tadpoles and other tasties, and the birds just chow down.  I saw some of the egrets catching fish as big or bigger than my hand… so large I didn’t think the birds would be able to swallow them.  But each one managed to down its catch without totally gagging on it.  I was watching one egret trying to get a carp in the right position to swallow, and the big fish kept smacking the bird in the side of the head with its tail.  Bonk, bonk, bonk…! It wasn’t going down without a fight. Hahaha!

Some of the Great Egrets were still in their long breeding plumage and green faces, and those were the ones who were just walking around trying to be butch; sometimes chasing off other birds, or jumping into the air for three-second foot-to-foot combat.  And all of the birds were making their loud croaking noises; sounded like a herd of hogs…

Also around the egrets were some American Avocets, Common Terns, White-Faced Ibis, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Great Blue Herons, and even a Black-Crowned Night Heron who apparently wanted some breakfast before heading off to its day roost.  There were some Common Terns doing their death-drop into the water to catch fish – I worried about them because the water was shallow; I was afraid they’d break their necks! – and I saw an American White Pelican flying leisurely overhead… I got lots of photos and videos there, and was actually completely by myself for the majority of the time I was on the preserve.  I saw two or three other cars, but no people until just before I was ready to leave, so that was nice, too.

I was reluctant to leave the egrets to walk around the rest of the boardwalk area, but I did. There wasn’t much water around the boardwalk itself but the plants were crazy-prolific: several different kinds of grass, including Canary grass and Rabbit’s Foot Grass, Water Primrose, tules, of course, and small rushes, several different kinds of Smartweed, Jointed Charlock, a couple of different kinds of Flat Sedge, Soap Root, Scarlet Pimpernel, Flat-Faced Downgia… tons of stuff.  Too bad I pretty much suck at botany.

At the end of the boardwalk, the viewing platform was surrounded by a shallow pool, but the rest of the area was pretty much dry.  When I stepped out onto the platform I could hear a raspy squawking coming from the tules and vegetation around the shore of the pond, and I thought it might be a Sora or a Rail but I couldn’t see it. Whatever it was ducked into the vegetation; I could see the plants move as the critter worked its way through them.  So, I decided to leave it for a while and focused my attention instead on the few other birds around the pond.  There was a pair of Canada Geese with their goslings, some more Avocets, Black-Necked Stilts, a pair of Northern Shovelers, and a couple of Long-Billed Dowitchers.  A cute moment with the geese: as soon as the babies realized mom and dad were ambling toward the water, they all rushed out in front of their parents like little kids running toward a beach.

As I was taking photos and video of them, the squawking started again, so I turned slowly to look behind me along the shore of the pond… and there was a mama Virginia Rail!  She moved pretty quickly at first because she was trying to shoo her babies into the tules – two tiny black fuzz-balls.  She might have had more, but I only saw two them. They’re so teeny; they looked like drier lint on a stick. Hah! After that initial showing, I kept an eye and an ear out for her and was able to see her three more times as she dashed out onto the muddy edge of the pond to catch bugs and dig up worms for her kids and then dashed back into the tules to feed them.  While I was watching her, another “old lady” came up onto the platform with her binoculars.  I was going to tell her about the Rail – which is a rare sight at the preserve – but I didn’t want to make any noise for fear I’d scare the Rail away.  [Later, I told two other people I saw as I was heading back to my car about the Rail, so I wasn’t being a total noodge about it.]

I also walked along the sidewalk that acts as a boat ramp and leads you to the river.  I could see all the damage the flooding had done to the ground there, and there was still standing water in many places.  I couldn’t actually get to the boat dock itself because the last fifteen or twenty feet of the ramp to the dock was under water.  And that’s VERY unusual for this time of year.

I saw some American Goldfinches and Bullock’s Orioles as I was heading back to my car.  The Goldfinches were pretty far away, so the photos aren’t the best… and the Orioles refused to pose for me, so I didn’t get any shots of them at all. Still, for the day, I burned through four camera batteries and took almost 2000 photos!  It was a good day.

All in all, I walked for about 4 ½ hours; waaaaay past my body’s limit, so I knew I was going to pay for that with sore feet and ankles for the rest of the day, but I think it was worth to get the shots that I did.