Around 11 o’clock, my co-instructor Bill Grabert and I took all of our stuff over to the library to set up for the Certified California Naturalist class, and our guest speaker arrived around the same time: Jenny Papka of Native Bird Connections. She’d done a lecture for our winter class earlier this year so she kind of knew the drill. She set up her bird stuff while we finished setting up the classroom.
Jenny brought a Peregrine Falcon, a Swainson’s Hawk and her Eurasian Eagle Owl with her this time. Since she was ready to go when the students arrived, we just let her go first and did our announcements when she was finished. We also to a break when she was done, so the students could get photos of the owl and the props Jenny had brought with her.
About halfway through Jenny’s presentation, our volunteer Roxanne Moger arrived with a box of bird’s nests she’d gotten from a retired teacher, and a HUGE live sphinx moth caterpillar in a jar. She’d been cutting down some grape vines for her neighbor and found the caterpillar on them. Super cool.
It kind of looked like a tomato hornworm, but was gray instead of green and had a eye-spot on its rump. I’m not sure but I think it’s the caterpillar of an Achemon Sphinx Moth (Eumorpha achemon). They’re the kind of caterpillar that pupates underground, though, so Roxanne will have to put a couple of inches of dirt in the bottom of the jar, so the caterpillar can bury itself when it’s ready. It might overwinter under the dirt, so we may not be able to see it until next year…
After the break, Bill did the chapter on forest management, and I did a module on bird species identification.
Around 5:30 this morning, I headed out to the American River Bend Park for a walk. It was in the high 60’s when I got there and heated up quickly; around 71° when I left.
I didn’t have an agenda in mind and was just watching for whatever Nature wanted to show me. I ended up finding a few galls on the oak trees, including one I’d never seen before. I’d seen photos of them but had never seen one “live”. It was a Two-Horned Gall of the wasp Dryocosmus dubiosus. Coolness. They’re found on the underside of the leaves of Live Oak trees, usually along the median vein. Also found the big Oak Apple galls, tiny Pumpkin Galls, and some Goldenrod galls.
In the water fountain near the restroom, I found a large beetle lying on its back. It was about an inch long and really kind of “hairy”. It had lost one of its antennae and was dying, but I still took some photos of it. I wasn’t exactly sure what it was, so when I got home, I Googled “beetle with hairy chest” – Hah! – and the correct identification actually came right up. It was, of course, a “June Bug” or more correctly a May Beetle, Phyllophaga sp. Around that same area, I found the shed skin of a snake, including its face.
I could hear Red-Shouldered Hawks yelling at each other across the forest while I was out there, and at one point a fledgling flew down out of a tree onto the ground beside the trail. I couldn’t tell if he actually caught anything or if he was just practicing, but he sat for a moment and looked over his shoulder at me so I could snap a photo before he flew off again.
Just as I was leaving, I came across the nesting cavity of some Tree Swallows. I watched them take turn flying in and out of the cavity a few times and got some photos before heading back to the house.
Happy 4th of July. Up at 5:30 am, and out the door before 6:00 to go to the American River Bend Park for a walk. It was about 59°when I got there with a slight breeze blowing, so it was nice. I was expecting the place to be crawling with people for the holiday, but nope. I had the trails almost to myself all the while I was out there.
The very first thing I saw when I drove in was a doe crossing the road in front of me. She stopped and looked behind her, and then I saw her fawn come out after her and scurry across the road, too. I tried to get photos, but I had to shoot through the windshield so… nuthin’. Dang it! But the park was otherwise pretty kind, giving me two other surprises with better photo ops.
The first of those two was getting the chance to see some Rio Grande Wild Turkey poults (Meleagris gallopavo intermedia). I hardly ever get to see them because the moms are so good at keeping them hidden. This was a group of three adults and five poults. The poults were all fledged in their first feathers but still too small to fly. Among the adults was the leucistic (black and white) female I see often in the park. She was following after the other two, so I inferred that she was “learning” from them. She mimicked a lot of what they did, and also seemed to be helping out with protecting the babies.
At one point, one of the adults jumped up into an elderberry bush and started pulling berries off and dropping them to the ground so the babies could get them. A few seconds later, one of the poults got up into the bush, as well, but couldn’t reach the berries and jumped down again. So cute. I think that little guy was blind on one side. It kept on eye shut all the time, and the lid looked “flat” in the socket (instead of rounded out by an eyeball).
I walked with the small flock for a while, but the adults were really good about keeping the kids out of the sunlight, for the most part, and keeping themselves between the babies and me. Who says turkeys are stupid?
The second surprise came when I walked down near the shore of the American River because there was a Buttonbush down there in full bloom and I think the flowers are so cool-looking. Anyway, while I was taking pictures of the flowers, I caught a glimpse of something moving past my foot and going behind me, so I turned around and saw a spotted snaky form slipping through the rocks. At first I thought it was a gopher snake because they’re really common in the park, but then I caught a glimpse of the head. Not a gopher snake.
It was a young RATTLESNAKE. It was
about as long as my forearm, so not too-too big, but still large enough to pack
a good supply of venom. What was weird was: when I first saw it, it was in
diffused light so all of the light parts on it looked pale blue and all of the
spots on it looked kind of orangey. Very odd.
I followed after it a little bit to try to get more photos — which is hard for me on the shore because it’s all rocks there and my feet don’t work well on unstable cobbly ground. I stopped when the snake got pissed off at me and wound itself into a striking position. Uh, yikes! I took just a few more photos and then let it be.
I also came across a small family of crows: a parent and two fledglings, I think. I saw the parent hand off a rock to the kids – which they weren’t interested in — and then pick up some seeds from along the shore. The fledglings were very loud and fussy, demanding that mom feed them (even though they were large enough to fly and forage by themselves.) Huge mouths! They cracked me up.
Walking through the rocks on the shore, and then having to climb back up an incline to get to the trail pretty much did me in, though. The bones in my feet are “welding together” like Mom’s did from arthritis, so my feet don’t bend and flex like they should, which is why walking on uneven ground is hard for me these days. Still, I was able to walk for about three hours total before heading back to the house.
Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus,
Ash-Throated Flycatcher, Myiarchus cinerascens,
Black Nightshade, Solanum nigrum,
Black Walnut, Juglans nigra,
Blue Elderberry, Sambucus cerulea,
Buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis,
California Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta,
This was a busy day, but in a fun way. I got up at 5:00 am and headed out to Woodland to go to the ibis rookery at the Woodland-Davis Clean Water Agency facility off of Road 102 and East Gibson Road. Then I headed out to the WPA Rock Garden, and later in the day, I attended a Monarch monitoring training. Phew!
Last year when I went to the rookery, the water was a lot lower in the settling ponds. This year, the water is a lot higher, so all of the scrubby trees and tules the ibises were able to nest in before are now under water, and there was no real shore for them to rest on. All of the birds were clambering to get into the high branches of the few trees that weren’t submerged, and I saw some pretty brutal fights over nesting spots. I also watched as several of the birds pulled dried grasses up from the edges of the pond and flew them over to line their nests.
Some of the ibises, though, had already settled in, and a few of them already had eggs laid in their nests. The eggs are a bright neon-turquoise color so they’re easy to spot even at a distance.
Amid the ibises there were also Great-Tailed Grackles, American Coots (and a few babies), Killdeer, Black-Necked Stilts, Western Kingbirds and Western Meadowlarks. I also saw quite a few Black-Tailed Jackrabbits and Desert Cottontails. I saw Coot courtship behavior, which I’d never seen before. (I’d read about it but never saw it “live”.) The male and female chased after one another with their wings arched up and their tiny tail fanned out to show of the white patches on it. They’re kind of dorky-looking birds to begin with, so seeing them hunched up trying to look sexy was a hoot. Hah!
CLICK HERE to see the album of photos. You can also CLICK HERE to access the feature article I wrote about the rookery in 2018 as published in the Lake County News online newspaper.
I took quite a few photos, but because the sun was coming up behind the birds, a lot of the stuff was in silhouette and I had to force the iris of the camera open to let more light in on the subjects. I might go in again before class one morning to get different light. The area where you view the ibises is relatively small, so I was able to cover it in about an hour or so.
American Coot, Fulica americana,
American Wisteria, Wisteria frutescens,
Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna,
Bear’s Breeches, Acanthus mollis,
Bird of Paradise, tree, Caesalpinia gilliesii,
Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus,
Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus,
Blue Corn-Lily, Aristea ecklonii,
Bush Katydid nymph, Scudderia pistillata,
Butterfly Bush, Buddleja davidii,
California Buckwheat, Eriogonum fasciculatum,
Caper Bush, Capparis spinosa,
Cardoon, Artichoke Thistle, Cynara cardunculus,
Cleveland Sage, Salvia clevelandii,
Common Toadflax, Linaria vulgaris,
Day Lily, Hemerocallis sp.,
Desert Cottontail, Sylvilagus audubonii,
Desert Willow, Chilopsis linearis, (pink flowers)
Dianella, Dianella ensifolia, (blue seeds)
Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis,
Fig, Common Fig, Ficus carica,
French Lavender, Lavandula stoechas,
Garden Snail, Cornu aspersum,
Gerber Daisy, Gerbera jamesonii,
Giant Fennel, Ferula communis,
Golden Feverfew, Tanacetum Parthenium aureum,
Great Mullein, Verbascum Thapsus,
Great-Tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus,
Green Bottle Fly, Lucilia sericata,
Green Lacewing, Chrysoperla carnea,
Grevellea, Grevilerulea sp.,
Jacaranda Tree, Jacaranda mimosifolia,
Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous,
Lacy Phacelia, Phacelia tanacetifolia,
Lavender, Lavandula angustifolia,
Leafcutter Bee, Megachile sp.,
Love-in-a-Mist, Nigella damascena,
Mojave Prickly Poppy, Argemone corymbose,
Money Plant, Silver Dollar Plant, Moonflower, Lunaria biennis,
Myrtle, Myrtus communis,
Northern Catalpa, Indian Bean Tree, Catalpa speciosa,
Painted Lady Butterfly, Vanessa cardui,
Pincushion Flower, Scabiosa atropurpurea,
Pinkladies, Oenothera speciosai,
Rattlesnake Master, Eryngium yuccifolium,
Red Mite, Spider Mite, Tetranychinae sp.,
Rose, Rosa sp.,
Smokebush, Smoke Tree, Cotinus obovatus,
Spice Bush, Calycanthus occidentalis,
Statice, Sea lavender, Limonium perezii,
Steely Wings, Salvia canariensis,
Tree Aeonium, Aeonium arboretum,
Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
Western Kingbird, Tyrannus verticalis,
Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta,
White Lily of the Nile, Agapanthus africanus var. albus,
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.
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.