Tag Archives: butterflies

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.,

Many, Many, Many Deer… and a Swarm of Bees, 03-26-19

I headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk.  It was about 51° and drizzly when I left the house around 7:30. Although I carried my umbrella throughout my walk, I didn’t need it. As soon as I got to the preserve, the rain stopped. And by the time I left there, around 11:30 am, the sun had come out and it was about 63° outside. A very nice morning for a walk.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

Lots and lots and lots of deer were out today, including some boys who have antler-bumps, and some exceeding pregnant females.  I also came across one doe with a yearling, and the yearling had a bad cough.  I always worry about these little guys. I could see this one’s rib cage starting to show; he might not make it.

I got glimpses of some otters in the river. They were rolling over one another as they went upstream, barking and chirping at one another.  Uhhh… I think they were mating.  “Mating may take place on land but is more likely to occur in the water.” I was worried they were going to drown one another! Hah!

And speaking of drowning: on the Pond Trail, I came across a male Mallard trying to kick the snot out of another male who go to close to “his” female. Mallards aren’t particularly monogamous, but occasionally I’ll see a male who’s very protective of his mate and won’t let anyone else near her. The fight today took place almost a few years to the date of the last time I saw this behavior at the same pond. I wonder if it was the same pair pf ducks.  Rival-guy hightailed it out of the pond after macho-guy tried to drown him and bit him repeatedly on the back and butt. Wow!

The coolest thing I saw on my walk, though, was something I didn’t recognize at first. I saw it from a distance on the Meadow Trail and thought it might have been a nest (like a magpie’s nest), but it was on a weird part of the branches and too odd a shape for it to be a bird’s nest. I zoomed my camera in on it, and realized the whole thing was “moving”, sort of undulating all over its surface. Zooming in further, I realized I was looking at a swarm of bees! It didn’t look like they were building anything’ more like the swarm was gathered around their queen to protect her and keep her warm until she was ready to move on again.

I walked for about 3 ½ hours.

Species List:

1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
2. Audubon’s Warbler, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata
3. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
4. Brown Jelly Fungus, Jelly Leaf, Tremella foliacea
5. Buckbrush, Ceanothus cuneatus
6. Bullfrog, American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus
7. Bush Lupine, Lupinus albifrons
8. Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus
9. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
10. California Manroot, Bigroot, Marah fabaceus
11. California Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly, battus philenor hirsuta
12. California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica
13. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
14. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis
15. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
16. Chanterelle, Cantharellus californicus
17. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Mule deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
18. Common Merganser, Mergus merganser
19. Desert Cottontail, Sylvilagus audubonii
20. Dog Vomit Slime Mold, Fuligo septica
21. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
22. European Honey Bee, Apis mellifera
23. False Turkey Tail Fungus, Stereum hirsutum
24. Giraffe’s Head Henbit, Henbit Deathnettle, Lamium amplexicaule
25. Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata
26. Hermit Thrush, Catharus guttatus
27. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon
28. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
29. Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos
30. Miniature Lupine, Lupinus bicolor
31. North American River Otter, Lontra canadensis
32. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
33. Nutthall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii
34. Painted Lady Butterfly, Vanessa cardui
35. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
36. Rio Grande Turkey, Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
37. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
38. Western Bluebird, Sialia mexicana
39. Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis
40. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis

Second Photo-Walk with the CalNat Graduates, 05-05-18

I left the house about 7 o’clock to go to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a second photo-outings with my naturalist class graduates .

We had lots of time to practice with lighting and focus settings. There was an overcast that sort of “diffused” the light so we weren’t dealing with harsh shadows or glare most of the time we were out. The insects are all out doing their thing, and we got to see some katydid nymphs, lots of Pipevine Swallowtail, Tussock Moth and Monarch butterfly caterpillars. I was surprised the Monarch babies were out so early. Last year, they didn’t show up until almost October!

The Lady Beetle larvae and pupa were out in force, too, and all of them gave us lots of practice with macro settings and close-up shots.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

The Tree Swallows were very cooperative and posed for lots of photos. We also saw a couple of Red-Shouldered Hawks that sat still for quite a while, letting us shoot them from different angles. Mama R-S H was up in her nest, but we only caught glimpses of her head and tail. I also spotted a Cooper’s Hawk dashing through the trees, but only got a handful of bad photos of it before it took off again.

We saw a small herd of mule deer, but not as many as we normally might at the preserve. I figured maybe the pregnant moms were off having their babies and so were making themselves scarce.

On our way back to the nature center we saw a firetruck, ambulance and police car pull up next to the building. By the time we got to the center, the emergency personnel were gone, but there were two docents with snake hooks and a bucket poking and prodding along the stone in the nature flower garden by the Maidu Village. A young girl had been bitten by a rattlesnake (thus the ambulance) and the docents were trying to locate it. They found it rather quickly and deposited it in the bucket – and let us take photos of it before carrying it off to show it to a Ranger. The snake will be relocated but will not be killed. It was a young one, almost “cute”.

The docents were quick to reiterate that the notion that young rattlers are more dangerous than adult ones is a complete myth. Young rattlesnakes’ venom sacs are so small that even if they gave you everything they had in a single bite, it wouldn’t amount to much. It also takes a long time for a rattler to produce venom between bites, and without it they’re pretty vulnerable, so they don’t discharge venom unless they have to and control what they do discharge – even the baby rattlers.

When we’d started on the walk it was about 53º at the preserve, but by the time we left, around 1:00 pm, it was 80º and we were ready to quit for the day. Too hot for walking! We sat around the picnic area for a little while, sharing looks at the photos we all got on our cameras… and finding several more Tussock Moth caterpillars. #CalNat

Lots to See at the Effie Yeaw Preserve

Nature heals.  I went over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve, and it was fortuitous that I did the walk there today.  Tomorrow the place is going to be closed up for an equestrian event of some sort. It was a fortuitous walk, too, in that I was able to see a whole lot of different things…

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

The big news was the number of Monarch Butterfly caterpillars there were in the milkweed garden outside the nature center.  So of the plants were covered with the buggers, the plants chewed down to just sticks… and I found one of the Monarch chrysalises!  They’re such pretty little things, all pale jade green and studded with bright gold dots. I even found of the caterpillars mid-poop.  Their frass (butterfly poop) is tans and rolled up like miniature bales of hay.  Hah!  It’s unusual for the caterpillars to be out en masse so late in the season, but the summer heat must’ve confused them, too… I also saw a late season Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly. They’re supposed to be finished and out of here by May… so that guy was REALLY late.

Saw quite a few birds including the ubiquitous Acorn Woodpeckers, Mourning Doves, California Towhees, House Finches, a Wood Duck, and a Flicker.  I’d stopped at one point so get some photos of a young California Scrub Jay, and while I was doing that, a male California Quail popped up and climbed onto the same fallen branch the jay was sitting on… I also saw some European Starlings and Cedar Waxwings. Near the river bank, I saw quite a few Killdeer scurrying over the rocks.  And in one of the old dead trees on the property, the Turkey Vultures were preening and sunning themselves in the early morning light.

One intense irritation for me was when I came across a whole covey of female Quails on the trail.  I stopped to take some photos of them, and while I was focusing the camera to get a closer shot, these two women walked up behind me, pushed me to one side with a muttered “excuse me” and walked past me right front of my camera. I couldn’t believe it. These women were older than I am; way too old to be playing “mean girls”.

“You totally messed up my shot. Thanks,” I said. And one of the woman turned around and gave me a dirty look, while the other one grinned a stupid grin and said, “Well, it’s the only trail around.” Not true… and even if it WAS true, that didn’t excuse their behavior.

The tree squirrels and California Ground Squirrels were munching on black walnuts all over the preserve.  I was able to get a few photos and a video snippet of one of them.

And, of course, I was able to see quite a few mule deer – including an older fawn who seemed fascinated by my camera. I could tell he REALLY wanted to walk over to see what it was, but he was smart and kept his distance.

At one other point along the trail I was astonished to see what I first thought were wasps flying in and around a hole in the side of a tree.  I didn’t want to approach the tree to get a closer look, for fear of getting stung, so I used the super-zoom function on my camera and realized the swarm wasn’t wasps, it was Honey Bees.  It couldn’t tell if the swarm was just starting to set up house in the tree, or if they were moving out their queen and relocating… but it was a mass of bees! A hundred or more that I could see… Considering the time of year and the activity at the tree, I’m guessing this swarm was gathered around a new emergent queen and were in the process of establishing a new hive, but I didn’t see the queen.  It seemed obvious, especially in the video snippets I took, that the workers were chewing at the tree back and transforming the resins in it. You can see a distinct color difference between the unworked bark, and the bark on which the bees were focused.

You can see the ring of propolis on the bark that is being worked up by the bees.

I looked up some information on this and learned that “…the tree resin is not used in the hive in its original form when collected by the bees. The bees process the tree resin in their mouths and then, almost magically the tree resin is concentrated into an array of least 180 different compounds which have been identified so far…”

One of those compounds is propolis.

“… Propolis or bee glue is a resinous mixture that honey bees produce by mixing saliva and beeswax with exudate gathered from tree buds, sap flows, or other botanical sources. It is used as a sealant for unwanted open spaces in the hive. Propolis is used for small gaps…”  The propolis makes the hive more structurally sound, protects the hive from the weather, and affords the hive protection from invading insects, molds and bacteria.

Should be interesting to see how this hive does… if the rangers allow it to continue where it is.

On my way out of the preserve, I stopped by their little pond, and got to see quite a few little Bullfrogs in the water, including one that still had some of its tadpole tail.

Lots to see…

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…