Tag Archives: Centaurea solstitialis

Two-Horned Galls and a Beetle with a Hairy Chest, 07-11-19

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.

June Bug, May Beetle, Phyllophaga sp.,

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.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

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.

Lots of Fledglings and Other Critters Today, 06-30-19

I got up around 5:30 this morning and immediately headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for my weekly volunteer trail walking thing.  It was cool, around 55°, when I got there, but as soon as the sun got up a little higher in the sky it started to heat up.  It ended up around 75° by the time I left the preserve.  There were some latent clouds overhead which meant it was humid, too. Not my favorite.

Along with the usual suspects – deer, Acorn Woodpeckers and Wild Turkeys – I got to see quite a few fledgling birds out today.  The fledglings are fully feathered and the same size as the adults, but not quite adept at flying yet, so they spend a lot of time around ground level begging their parents to feed them.  They’re so bossy!  I watched one little House Wren fledgling sitting on top of a pile of old tree limbs.  For a while, he tried posturing like the adults do with his little tail standing straight up behind him, but then he got tired and just sat and dozed… until he saw or heard one of his parents flying by. Then he’d perk up and open his mouth wide expecting food to be dropped into it. Hah!  Although I could see the parents flitting around where he was, they also had other fledglings in the nearby shrubbery (which I could hear buzzing away), and because I was standing between the shrubs and the baby on the woodpile, they wouldn’t go near him. After getting quite a few photos of the little guy, I decided I’d better move on or he wouldn’t get fed at all.

I also came across two fledgling California Towhees.  Now, the California Towhees usually look kind of obese and drab to me, but the babies… they were soooo scrabbly looking; total bed-heads!  They were sitting close to one another with their feathers all fluffed out, so they looked extra fat and messy. Made me chuckle.  One was content to sit and wait for their parents to bring breakfast, but the other one was extra hungry, I guess, and kept tugging at the dead grass near them trying to get something out of it. Can’t get milk out of a stick, son. Sorry.

California Towhee, Melozone crissalis

Further on along the trail I could hear a parent and fledgling Red-Shouldered Hawk calling to one another.  The fledgling was very loud and persistent, demanding to be fed, and the parent would call back him as if to say, “Shut up! I’m working on it!”  I eventually came across the fledgling sitting up in the bare branches of a tree. (He was so loud he was announcing to everyone exactly where he was.)  He saw me and tried to scramble away to other branches but was still unsure of how to make his wings work, so he looked pretty clumsy.  He stuck to the shadows as much as he could then, but I was still able to get a few photos of him.  (And I’m assuming he was a male based on his coloring; females are usually larger and have less vivid colors.) 

I also found one of the parents, sitting quietly now in the low branches of another tree right along the side of the trail, just above eye-level, ignoring the fledgling. Totally habituated to people, it didn’t move from its perch, but kept its eye on me as a passed by and stopped to take some photos. I think they’re such handsome birds.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

Among the other things I found today were a few Pumpkin Galls on the leaves of a Live Oak tree. It’s kind of early in the season for those, so I was surprised to see them.  They’re super-tiny galls, and if you don’t know where or how they develop you’d completely miss them. Right now, they’re pale green, but come fall they’ll turn dark orange and fall off the leaves onto the ground were the little larvae will pupate through the winter.

I found a few Eastern Fox Squirrels and some California Ground Squirrels.  I was surprised to see one of the Fox Squirrels climbing through poison oak and eating the berries! Yikes!  I mean, I knew that the toxin in poison oak don’t generally harm wildlife, but I’d never actually seen any of the animals eating the stuff before.  I also saw a Fox Squirrel eating the husk off of a black walnut and watched a Ground Squirrel eating the tops off of some other plants.  (I think that gal was blind on one side, but once she saw me she moved too fact for me to get photos of her blind side.)

The other cool thing I spotted along the trail was that feral honeybees have found the tree along the Pond Trail again and seem to be setting up house there.  I saw them last year (I think it was) checking out the big opening in the side of the tree, but they left the site after a few weeks.  I guess the queen didn’t like it.  Now the opening is more covered with plants, so maybe it will feel more “protected” to them and they’ll stay there this time.  I let the gals in the nature center know they were there, so hopefully they can discourage hikers from walking off the trail to see the bees. We’ll see.

A feral hive of European Honeybees, Apis mellifera

I walked for about 4 hours and then headed home.

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus,
  2. American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus,
  3. American Goldfinch, Spinus tristis,
  4. American Robin, Turdus migratorius,
  5. Ash-Throated Flycatcher, Myiarchus cinerascens,
  6. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
  7. Black Walnut, Juglans nigra,
  8. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus,
  9. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra ssp. cerulea,
  10. Blue Oak, Quercus douglasii,
  11. Bordered Plant Bug, Largus californicus,
  12. Bur Chervil, Anthriscus Sylvestris,
  13. Bushtit, American Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus,
  14. California Black Walnut, Juglans californica,
  15. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi,
  16. California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana,
  17. California Penstamon, Penstemon californicus,
  18. California Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta,
  19. California Pipevine, Aristolochia californica,
  20. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica,
  21. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis,
  22. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica,
  23. California Wild Plum, Prunus subcordata,
  24. Chinese Privet, Ligustrum sinense,
  25. Cloudless Sulphur Butterfly, Phoebis sennae,
  26. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus,
  27. Common Green Lacewing, Chrysoperla carnea,
  28. Coyote Mint, Monardella villosa,
  29. Desert Cottontail, Sylvilagus audubonii,
  30. Doveweed, Turkey Mullein, Croton setigerus,
  31. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger,
  32. Elegant Clarkia, Clarkia unguiculata,
  33. European Honeybee, Apis mellifera,
  34. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris,
  35. Fig, Common Fig, Ficus carica,
  36. Flax-leaved Horseweed, Erigeron bonariensis,
  37. Giant Sunflower, Helianthus giganteus,
  38. Goldwire, Hypericum concinnum,
  39. Himalayan Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus,
  40. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon,
  41. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni,
  42. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria,
  43. Live Oak Wasp Gall, 1st Generation, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis,
  44. Lords-And-Ladies, Arum maculatum,
  45. Mayfly, Order: Ephemeroptera,
  46. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus,
  47. Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum,
  48. Pumpkin Gall Wasp, Dryocosmus minusculus,
  49. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus,
  50. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia,
  51. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa,
  52. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  53. Sweet Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare,
  54. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura,
  55. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata,
  56. Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
  57. White Horehound, Marrubium vulgare,
  58. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis,
  59. Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa,
  60. Yarrow, Achillea millefolium,
  61. Yellow Salsify, Tragopogon dubius,
  62. Yellow Starthistle, Centaurea solstitialis,

Lots of Critters… and a Beaver, 06-20-19

Up at 5:00 am again. I let the dog out to go potty and fed him his breakfast then headed over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for my weekly volunteer Trail-Walking gig.  It was a gorgeous 58° when I got to the preserve and was overcast, so it never got over about 68° while I was there.  Perfect walking weather.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

One of the first things I saw was a Red-Shouldered Hawk carrying nesting materials. First she flew over my head, then she landed on a tree to get a better grip on the grasses she was holding before taking off again. These hawks only have one brood a year, but often work on the nest throughout the year to keep it clean.  It’s no uncommon for them to use the same nest over several season if the first nest is successful.  Later in my walk, I went by where I knew one of the hawks’ nest was and found a juvenile (fledgling) sitting out beside it squawking for its parents to come feed it. It was capable of feeding itself, but some of these young’uns milk the I’m-just-a-baby thing for quite a while. While it was near the nest, it was hard to get photos of it because it was backlit, but later it flew out and I was able to get a few better photos of it when it landed in a nearby tree.

There were a lot of deer out today, but I didn’t see any fawns. I DID see a couple of bucks, though, both of them still in their velvet, a 2-pointer and one with wonky antlers (one super-long one and one stumpy one). The 2-pointer was walking with a doe, and when I stood on the trail to take photos of them, he decided he didn’t like that.  He stepped right out toward me with a very determined look on his face. (Bucks can get real possessive of “their” does.) I knew he wouldn’t rush me and try to gore me because he was still in his velvet.  In that state, the antlers are super-sensitive to touch, and if he rammed me, he’d actually hurt himself.  But, he could still outrun me mash me with his hooves if he had a mind to, so I put my head down and back away.  That seemed to be enough of a submissive posture to him, and he returned to his doe.  As beautiful as the deer are, I have to remind myself that they’re still wild animals and will do whatever their instincts tell them to do – even in a nature park.

I heard and caught glimpses of several Nuttall’s Woodpeckers on my walk, but never got enough of a look at one to take its picture. Those birds enjoy teasing people, I swear. They’re really loud about announcing themselves in flight, but then hide from you once they land.

The wild plum and elderberry bushes are all getting their ripened fruit now. I saw birds eating some of the berries and came across an Eastern Fox Squirrel breakfasting on the plums.

Along the river, there was a small flock of Canada Geese feeding (bottoms-up in the shallow water) with a female Common Merganser fishing among them. They eat different things, so the geese were stirring up the water plants and the Merganser would grab any small fish that appeared. Unintentional mutualism.  While I was watching them, I saw something else in the water, swimming against the current and realized it was a beaver! 

I went down as close to the shore as I could – (It’s hard for me to clamber over the rocks.) – and tried to get some photos of it. Photo-taking was difficult because the beaver stayed close to shore and was obscured by the tules and other riverside plants and scrubby trees. When it got into less cluttered spots, in was in the shade, and my camera had trouble focusing between the dark and the reflections on the water.  So, I walked ahead of where I thought the beaver was heading to a sunnier spot and waited for it… and waited for it… and then I heard a splash and realized it had swum under the water right past me and came up in the river behind me.  Hah!  Sneaky Pete!  

I walked for about 4 hours and then headed back home.

Species List:

  1. American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus,
  2. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii,
  3. Black Harvester Ant, Messor pergandei,
  4. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
  5. Blue Oak, Quercus douglasii,
  6. Bush Katydid nymph, Scudderia pistillata,
  7. California Black Walnut, Juglans californica,
  8. California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana,
  9. California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica,
  10. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica,
  11. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis,
  12. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica,
  13. California Wild Plum, Prunus subcordata,
  14. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis,
  15. Chinese Privet, Ligustrum sinense,
  16. Coffeeberry, California Buckthorn, Frangula californica,
  17. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus,
  18. Coyote Mint, Monardella villosa,
  19. Coyote, Canis latrans,
  20. Desert Cottontail, Sylvilagus audubonii,
  21. Doveweed, Turkey Mullein, Croton setigerus,
  22. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger,
  23. Elegant Clarkia, Clarkia unguiculata,
  24. English Plantain, Ribwort, Plantago lanceolata,
  25. European Praying Mantis, Mantis religiosa,
  26. Evening Primrose, Oenothera biennis,
  27. Goldwire, Hypericum concinnum,
  28. Greater Periwinkle, Vinca major,
  29. Green Lacewing, Chrysoperla carnea,
  30. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon,
  31. Italian Thistle, Carduus pycnocephalus,
  32. Leafhopper Assassin Bug, Zelus renardii,
  33. Moth Mullein, Verbascum blattaria,
  34. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura,
  35. North American Beaver, Castor canadensis,
  36. Northern Yellow Sac Spider, Cheiracanthium mildei,
  37. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii,
  38. Pink Grass, Windmill Pink, Petrorhagia dubia,
  39. Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum,
  40. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus,
  41. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia,
  42. Rock Shield Lichen, Xanthoparmelia sp.,
  43. Rusty Tussock Moth, Orgyia antiqua,
  44. Saw-whet Owl, Sophia, Aegolius acadicus,
  45. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa,
  46. Spanish Clover, Acmispon americanus,
  47. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus,
  48. Sudden Oak Death pathogen, Phytophthora ramorum,
  49. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura,
  50. Western Drywood Termite, Incisitermes minor,
  51. Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa,
  52. Wood Duck, Aix sponsa,
  53. Wooly Mullein, Great Mullein, Verbascum thapsus,
  54. Yarrow, Achillea millefolium,
  55. Yellow Starthistle, Centaurea solstitialis

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

Looking for Willow Galls, 06-09-19

I got up around 5:30 this morning, and after giving the dog his breakfast, I headed over to the American River Bend Park.  I was in search of willow galls and found oh-so-much more.  The weather behaved itself in the morning hours.  There was a breeze by the river, so it didn’t get too warm for me to walk until around 10:30.  So it was a nice morning. 

First I tried walking along the river at the first pullout, but the water was too high there, so I took a trail that brought me out onto the sandy area close to the bridge.  Lots of willows there, and I found the pinecone-like galls of the midge Rabdophaga strobiloide. They start out looking like little round balls of tightly packed leaves. Then they develop a “beak” that makes them look like pinecones. Each gall contains one midge larva. When the larva matures into an adult midge, the midge escapes the gall through the tip of the beak.

While I was walking through that area, I could hear the nattering of quail in the underbrush, but they kept themselves well-hidden, so I never did see them or was able to get a photo of them. I did get shots of a Spotted Towhee and a House Wren, though. I walked along that part of the river for a little while and then headed back to where I’d parked the car at the pullout.  At one point, the trail was blocked by a fallen tree. My trying to navigate over that obstacle was mildly humorous. Sit on one part of the trunk, lift my leg up, throw it over the other part of the trunk, try to get that foot to touch the ground, then shift my weight, and try to drag my other leg up over the trunk… Phew!

Once I got back to the car, I drove further int the park, got out, and continued my walk along the trail that runs along the riverside, but about 10 feet above the level of the water. I found a few Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillars and saw some of the butterflies flitting near the top of the trees. When the caterpillars ready to build their chrysalis, they attach their back feet to a tree (or other substrate) with silk, and then build a silk sling-shot-like thing that holds them upright but at a slight angle from the tree. (The silk is pulled from spinnerets on the sides of the body.) Then the caterpillar leans back and just hangs there in a kind of torpor as the chrysalis forms UNDER its skin. Once the chrysalis is formed, the caterpillar sheds its skin — including its face — and waits for metamorphosis to begin.

I also found some of their chrysalises. One was so new; it was still bright green. There stills seems to be a LOT fewer than I’m used to seeing out there, though.

CLICK HERE to see the full album of photos.

At one spot, I stopped to watch a pair of House Wrens flying all over the place, the male singing brightly while he flew. They stopped off a few times at a cavity in an oak tree, only to be run off by some Tree Swallows.  Apparently, the Swallows had already claimed the cavity and were trying to keep the Wrens from setting up house there.  I got quite a few good shots of the Swallows.  The Wrens, not so much…

 

A nice surprise was seeing a female Common Merganser swimming near the shore with her three red-headed little ducklings. The mom was swimming up-stream which can be hard on the babies when the current is strong, so they sometimes swim in her wake… or just hop onto her back!  In one photo you can see the mom swimming with her face in the water. This is a typical fishing technique used by these birds; she’s seeing if there’s anything tasty underneath her.  These ducks are sometimes referred to as “saw-bills” for the serrated edges along the rim of their bill. Unlike Mallards, Mergansers are “diving” ducks, not “dabbling” ducks.

I walked for about four hours and then headed back home.  But another surprise happened when I was driving out of the park. I saw something moving near the edge of the road and stopped to get a better look. I realized it was a female Wild Turkey, that was sitting down in the dirt and dried gas.  She was giving herself a dust bath (to rid her feathers of mites). The surprise was when, right behind her, her baby (a little fledgling called a poult) stood up!  Mama turkeys are very protective of their babies, and when the mom realized I’d seen her kid, she got up and hurried him away from the road.

 Species List:
Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus,
Asian Ladybeetle, Harmonia axyridis,
Black Locust, Robinia pseudoacacia,
Blue Elderberry, Sambucus cerulea,
Bur Chervil, Anthriscus caucalis,
Bush Katydid nymph, Scudderia texensis,
California Pipevine Swallowtail, Battus philenor hirsuta,
California Pipevine, Aristolochia californica,
California Quail, Callipepla californica,
California Scrub Oak, Quercus berberidifolia,
California Sycamore, Platanus racemose,
California Wild Grape, Vitis californica,
Common Merganser, Mergus merganser,
Coyote Brush Bud Gall midge, Rhopalomyia californica
Coyote Brush Stem Gall moth, Gnorimoschema baccharisella,
Darkling Beetle, Pinacate Beetle, Eleodes obscurus,
Deerweed, Acmispon glaber,
Elegant Clarkia, Clarkia unguiculata,
English Plantain, Ribwort, Plantago lanceolata,
European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris,
Fremont Cottonwood, Populus fremontii,
Goldenrod Bunch Gall, Goldenrod Floret Gall Midge, Solidago canadensis,
Goldwire, Hypericum concinnum,
Hoptree, Skunk Bush, Ptelea trifoliata,
House Wren, Troglodytes aedon,
Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni,
Interior Sandbar Willow, Salix interior,
Long-Jawed Orb Weaver, Tetragnatha sp.,
Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos,
Miniature Lupine, Lupinus bicolor,
Moth Mullein, Verbascum blattaria,
Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura,
Narrowleaf Willow, Salix exigua,
Northern California Black Walnut, Juglans hindsii,
Old Live Oak Gall Wasp Gall, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis,
Oregon Ash, Fraxinus latifolia,
Oystershell Scale Insect, Ceroplastes sp,
Rattlesnake Grass, Big Quaking Grass, Briza maxima,
Red Mulberry, Morus rubra,
Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia,
Rusty Tussock Moth caterpillar, Orgyia antiqua,
Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus,
Sweet Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare,
Telegraph Weed, Heterotheca grandiflora,
Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
Variable Flatsedge, Cyperus difformis,
Wand Mullein, Verbascum virgatum,
Western Bluebird, Sialia mexicana,
Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
Western Goldenrod, Euthamia occidentalis,
Western Leaf-Footed Bug eggs, Leptoglossus zonatus
White Alder, Alnus rhombifolia,
White Horehound, Marrubium vulgare,
Willow Pinecone Gall midge, Rabdophaga strobiloides,
Willow Stem Gall midge, Rabdophaga rigidae,
Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa,
Wooly Mullein, Verbascum thapsusm
Yellow Starthistle, Centaurea solstitialis,
Yellow Water Iris, Yellow Flag, Iris pseudacorus,

Naturalists at the Conaway Ranch, 03-10-19

I headed out to Woodland around 8:30 am to help my co-worker Bill with his recon outing at Conaway Ranch.  He has about twenty outings slated for that venue over the next months or two; he takes school children out there to tell them about food chains, rice growing and harvesting, wildlife, etc. There’s a slough that runs through one part of the property and it acts like a mini-riparian habitat that attracts otters, opossums, birds, snakes and small critters.  Today, he just really wanted to look at the state of the property after all of the rains and see what there was around to tell the kids about.

I was expecting some of our current naturalist students to join Bill out there, but instead, we had four of our former students (now certified naturalists themselves) come out –Susan Sallocks, Barbara Meierhenry, Bob Ream and Donna Moyer – all offering to help Bill with his future outings. All of them greeted me, some hugged me or wished me well in my ongoing fight against The Children of Wilson, and a couple of them said how much they had enjoyed the naturalist class and how I’d changed their lives for the better… It was all so unexpected and lovely, it almost made me cry. What a sweet way to begin our day.

We spent about three hours walking along the slough, checking out tracks, trying to identify the birds around and in the air overhead, looking at the different plant species starting to emerge everywhere.

The first thing I saw when I got to the spot was a medium sized garter snake curled up along the side of the road. It was limp and cold, and it wasn’t moving. But I couldn’t tell if it was truly dead or just in a deep torpor because it was so cold outside (in the high 40’s).  Its eyes were still clear, it didn’t look like any part of it had been run over by a car, and it was limp, not stiff with rigor mortis. I took some photos of it and then put it back down the way I’d found it. At the end of our walk, it was still there, so I guess it was dead. It’ll make a good meal for some critter.

Bill showed us some of the props he uses for the outings with the kids including one about the water cycle and how rice grows. Very cool and informative. We didn’t see any live crayfish, but we did find several skeletons and their mud chimneys in the burned rice field.

There was a team from the University out on the property checking on and upgrading the solar-powered electronic boxes on the Wood Duck boxes they have lined up along the slough. They stopped to talk with us for a little bit and then went on ahead of us.

As far as wildlife went, we didn’t see a whole lot, but did get to see crows, bullfrogs and Pacific Tree frogs, flocks of Greater White-Fronted Geese and Sandhill Cranes flying overhead, some Marsh Wrens, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Northern Mockingbirds, a Say’s Phoebe, and a Great-Horned Owl.  We heard a Belted Kingfisher but couldn’t see it. As the weather warms up, there will be a lot more to see there.

CLICK HERE to see the album of photos.

The naturalist graduates were intrigued with the property and said they were hoping to be able to come out to the ranch to help Bill with his group outings throughout the coming months.

Species List:

1. Ant, Velvety Tree Ant, Liometopum occidentale
2. Asian Clam, Freshwater Clam, Corbicula fluminea
3. Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon
4. Broadleaf Cattail, Typha latifolia
5. Broad-Leaf Lupine, Lupinus latifolius
6. Bullfrog, American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus
7. Crow, American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
8. Fava Beans, Vicia faba
9. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons
10. Great-Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus
11. Himalayan blackberry, Rubus armeniacus
12. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris
13. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
14. Pacific Tree Frog, Chorus Frog, Pseudacris regilla
15. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum
16. Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
17. Red Swamp Crayfish, Crawfish, Crawdad, Procambarus clarkii
18. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
19. Sandhill Crane, Grus canadensis
20. Say’s Phoebe, Sayornis saya
21. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
22. Tule Pea, Lathyrus jepsonii
23. Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
24. Valley Garter Snake, Thamnophis sirtalis fitchi
25. Western Pond Turtle, Pacific Pond Turtle, Actinemys marmorata
26. Wood Duck, Aix sponsa
27. Yellow Star-Thistle, Centaurea solstitialis