Tag Archives: California Ground Squirrel

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

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,

 

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,