Tag Archives: Common Mergansers

The Bugs Were More Interesting Today, 10-15-18

DAY 10 OF MY VACATION.  I got up around 6:30 this morning, expecting to meet with an on-line friend, Dee, at the Nimbus Fish Hatchery. Dee had to cancel at the last minute because her dog got skunked, but I decided to go to the hatchery for a walk anyway.

There wasn’t much of anything at all to see there.  The migrating waterfowl haven’t arrived yet, and the salmon ladder wasn’t operating.  But I did get to see some of the salmon in the river; their humped backs appearing through the surface of the water here and there. I also got to see a few birds: California Gulls, Herring Gulls, Common Mergansers, and a female Belted Kingfisher rushing back and forth along the riverbank. There was a Great Egret walking along the netting on the top of the fish raceways, trying to find a way in, and it actually made it in somehow for a little while. As soon as the employees realized it was in the raceway, they opened gates and shooed it out again.  I’ve seen Green Herons (who are much smaller and can hide more easily) inside the raceways just gorging on fish.  That Great Egret could’ve taken a lot of the larger fish if it hadn’t been seen as early as it was.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

The fish in the raceways “know” that when a shadow moves along the side of their enclosure, food is probably coming, so they go crazy – jumping and splashing, opening their mouths for fish-food to fall into. There are buckets along the raceways filled with food you can take to the fish, and every now and then, a truck goes by spewing food out of the side of it like a leaf-blower.

In a sort of gully/barrow pit next to the raceway area there were several Mallards, a Great Blue Heron and a Snowy Egret wading through the rocks and water looking for tidbits. I was able to get quite a few photos of the heron, but actually, some of the insects in the area were more interesting. I found a Mayfly, several ladybeetle nymphs and pupa cases, a large gravid praying mantis, and Green Stinkbugs, some of their eggs and several nymphs in different stages of development.

As I was leaving, I got a glimpse of a beaver swimming on the edge of the bank but lost it when it ducked underwater.

Vacation Day #1: American River Bend Park

DAY ONE OF MY FALL VACATION. I got up around 6:15 this morning and headed out to the American River Bend Park for a walk.

I hadn’t been over there for a while, and was kind of surprised to see that much of the tall dry grass in the park had been mowed down, and trees trimmed everywhere.  In all the years I’ve been going there, I’d never seen the place look so “manicured”.  The wildlife didn’t seem to mind…

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

I missed a couple of opportunities for photos when I first drove in. There was a trio of mule deer does by the side of the main trail but they startled and ran off before I could get my camera out of it bag. And then I came across a coyote, who loped away from me, I front of the car before ducking off the trail into the underbrush, where I lost sight of it…. Oddly enough, I came across it again as I was leaving the park but again, it was ahead of me on the trail, so all I got were photos of it from the rear.  It was a young female, I think; lean but healthy-looking. There was a lot of fresh scat on different parts of the trail, too, so I know there’s more than just the female out there…

We’re sort of “between seasons” right now at the park, so there was only a smattering of wildlife to see… and no fungi out yet, except for the Sulphur Shelf.  I found two nice specimens of that.

The Western Bluebirds were in the park, pairing up for the winter, as well.  I saw a lot of little males vying for perching spots, and a couple of females.  The males’ blue coloring is always so, kind of, “shocking” against the yellow-tan of the dead grass and the dark green of the evergreen oaks… I also got a few nice shots of Oak Titmice and a Mourning Dove, a couple of crummy shots of a Yellow-Rumped Warbler, and some photos and a video snippet of a female Northern Flicker eating blue elderberries from the trees.  On rocks in the river, I saw some Killdeer, a young Herring Gull, several sleepy female Common Mergansers, and a Spotted Sandpiper (without its breeding spots). And on the shore, I got a few photos of White-Crowned Sparrows, some Black Phoebes, and a House Finch.

The ash trees were covered in seeds… and some of those odd crumpled-ball-like galls that the mites roust up.  There wasn’t a lot of fall color out there, yet. It hasn’t been cold enough.  What was colorful, though, was a handsome Western Fence Lizard I came across. He must have just shed, because his skin was really bright and shiny. He was standing up on top of a fence post, so I could see his yellow sides and bright blue belly…

I walked for about 3½  hours and then headed back home.

 

National Public Lands Day, 09-30-17

It’s National Public Lands Day! And by coincidence, I got my lifetime “Senior Pass” to all of the national monuments and public lands in the mail today.  The passes are going up in cost to about $80… but I ordered mine before the price hike so it only cost me $10.  Such a deal!

I slept in a tiny bit and got up around 6:30 am, then headed out the door to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

The first thing I saw when I went into the preserve was a small flock of female wild Turkeys chowing down in the grass… and then I could hear a Red-Shouldered Hawk screeling in a tree nearby, so I went to see if I could find it.  It was up pretty high in the branches of a tree, but I got a few photos of it.  I was so focused on keeping an eye on the hawk as I was walking that I went right past a mother Mule Deer and her fawn, and didn’t notice them until I turned around on the trail and started walking back up it again. D’oh!

Further along the trail, I could hear a California Ground Squirrel giving out one of its loud “Chip! Chip! Chip!” alarm calls, and although I couldn’t see the one shouting the alarm, I did see other ground squirrels around stop moving or stand up to try to figure out what was going on.  One of them stopped right on a length of an old, dried up, felled tree and sort of posed for me…

Along the river side, I could hear Spotted Towhees, California Quail, Killdeer, and a Belted Kingfisher, but never caught sight of them. Dang it!  What I did catch sight of, though,  was something I’d never expected to see there: a male Phainopepla (pronounced fain-oh-PEP-la.) They’re about the length of a jaw, but super thin and svelte-looking. The males are shiny blue-black with deep red eyes and they have a crest on the top of their head.  (Females look almost the same except that they’re a shiny ash-brown in color.)  It was sitting up on the top of an Interior Live Oak tree and was pretty far away, but with the “birding” setting on my camera I was able to get some fairly good shots of him.

The oak woodland/riparian habitat at the preserve is actually kind of perfect for it, but I’ve never seen one of them at the river before, so it was a nice surprise. Phainopeplas are kind of unique in that they breed twice a year in two different places: scrubby deserts/chaparral and woodlands. When they’re breeding in desert areas where food can be scarce they’re very territorial, but when the birds breed in woodland areas they’re “colonial” and often share nesting trees with others of their species.  They eat mostly berries, and love mistletoe berries…

I also saw some of the Turkey Vultures around: one adult standing in its “heraldic pose” in a tree, warming itself in the sun; and the juvenile I’d seen last week.  He was sitting in a different tree and pretty far away, but I recognized him by his gray head. I wonder if he’s flying better now that he was a week ago… The adult vulture kept its eye on me as I walked past it, and eventually folded its wings shut and turned around to face me as I got nearer to it.  Despite their size, Turkey Vultures are pretty much “harmless” birds, and don’t have the talons other raptors have that can rip your eyes out. Still, I gave this one a wide berth so I wouldn’t freak it out too much.

Along another loop of the trail I found a queen Yellow Jacket looking for a spot to overwinter… and I found the hive of bees again that’s I’d seen about a month or so. Apparently, they’re going to stay there, at least over the winter months. I could see that the grass from the trail to the tree was tamped down, which I assume was done by the rangers and docents at the preserve (walking back and forth as they kept an eye on the developing hive). I hope they leave it alone; it’s be a great teaching tool – and they’ll get some honey out of it.  I usually keep firmly to the trails in this preserve (because it’s kind of small and going off-trail can really impact the wildlife here), but because the ground was already tamped down near the bee-tree, I stepped in a little closer to it.  I’m assuming these are European Honey Bees and not Africanized Bees. As long as I kept my distance, they didn’t seem to mind my being there and just went on with their “terraforming” duties.  It would be neat to get an x-ray or sonograph of the inside of the tree: I wonder if there’s a long tunnel through it that leads to an underground chamber, or if the bees are actually filling up the entire tree with their hive… Where is my money from Publishers Clearing House?! I have scientific studies I want to do! Hah!

Near where the Yellow Jacket was I found the first outcropping of Sulphur Shelf fungus this season. This is a kind of fungi that doesn’t like real wet weather, so it shows up before the winter rains start.

I saw a lot of turkey and raccoon tracks along the trails…and lots of fresh coyote scat. Those guys were pooping everywhere!

As I was heading out of the preserve, I came across two young bucks play-sparring with one another. By their antlers, I’d guess they were both about 2½ or 3 years old. They’d graze for a while, then joust a little bit, then go back to eating, then joust a little bit. They were behind a thick tangle of vines and shrubs so I couldn’t get any really decent photos of them, but they were fun to watch. This is the start of the rutting season for these guys, so I should be seeing a lot more of the larger males out here soon.  As I was watching the boys joust, several female Wild Turkeys tip-toed by and then hurried down the trail in front of me. They’re such funny things… big as trucks, but so shy.

I also stopped at the pond on my way to the parking lot, and found a bunch of bullfrogs. One of them was actually sitting on top of a big leaf in the water, posing for everyone. Others were more difficult to spot: hiding under umbrellas of grass or blending in with the green of the water foliage… I walked for about 3 hours at the preserve.

Wildflower Hunting, 04-15-17

On saturday I was up at 6:15 am and out the door by 6:30.  The weather was gorgeous today; sunny and cool (49º when I headed out for my hillside trek and 68º when I got back home.)  I headed out looking for wildflower displays today, taking I5 to the spot where Highways 20 and 16 meet.  There are a lot of ranches around there, as well as some protected areas, and there are usually pretty displays.

Tuleyome had led a wildflower tour last weekend, but pickings were slim, and they couldn’t get down Bear Valley Road to Wilbur Springs because that road is all dirt – and with the recent rains it was basically a 15-mile mud hole.  I didn’t go down there today, and instead stuck to the highways and the turnouts along them.  As I went along, it occurred to me that I actually think we’re still too early for the full wildflower bloom. I think the rain and cooler temperatures have kept the wildflowers from showing off.  The poppies and most of the lupine aren’t awake yet, the onions aren’t opened up yet, and the Blow Wives are just now starting to “blow”.

CLICK HERE to see the entire album of photos.

CLICK HERE if you’d like directions to a self-guided wildflower tour along Bear Valley Road. Before you head out, though, check to make sure the road isn’t really muddy.

Still, I did get to see quite a few different species – about 3o or so – including Tidy Tips, Pepperweed, different kinds of lupine, tiny Owl’s Clover, that super-interesting looking Sack Clover, Big-Headed Clover, Navarretia, Soft Blow Wives, Silverpuffs, Blue Dicks, Bush Mallow, Death Camas, Ithuriel’s Spears, some tiny Blue-Eyed Mary, California Poppies, Goldfields, Fiddleneck, Buck Brush, Larkspur, Bush Monkey Flowers, Indian Paintbrush, Tule Peas, Chinese Houses, and Old Men’s Bear (a kind of clematis).

Driving along Highway 16 was a little bit scary. There had been huge mud and rock slides there, and the road was opened again just recently. As you drive along, you can see massive bald spots where the faces of the hillsides became too saturated during the heavy rains and just slide off.  There  were three places where I could see that the highway had been recently patched and in other places there were huge piles of boulders and mud that had been bulldozed off the road.  But my drive was unimpeded, and nothing fell on my car in the “falling rocks” areas.

Because it was so sunny, I had to contend with stark shadows and sun-glare when I was taking pictures.  If I was able to, I blocked the flowers with my body and took the pictures, but that wasn’t always an option. It’s easier to take photos when it’s a little overcast…

The Tamarisk trees were in bloom all along the waterways.  They’re gorgeous, but they’re totally invasive. Also called “salt cedars” they dump tons of salt into the rivers and streams and kill off a lot of native plant and animals species that can’t tolerate the high salt content. Red-Winged Blackbirds were using some of them as display stages, sitting in the top branches, singing away.

At one spot along Highway 20 and Bear Valley Road, there’s a bridge that goes over Bear Creek, and under the bride were swarms of Cliff Swallows building and tending to their mud nests.  I was surprised to see birds sitting in the unfinished nests – seemingly saving their spot — as their mates flew back and forth with daubs of mud to complete them.  I got some photos and video snippets of that process.

I also saw quite a few Western Fence Lizards, a male Lesser Goldfinch hunkered down in the flowers eating seeds, some katydid nymphs, Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies, Boxelder Beetles, and… eew… ticks.  There were ticks everywhere.  As I was heading back home, I found three of them crawling around the car, and one tiny one on my neck.  Eew, eew, eew!

Because the weather was so lovely, I actually drove around with the car windows open.  It made for a nice weekend drive. I was back home around 2:00 pm.

Gall City at the American River, 08-07-16

I got up around 6 o’clock this morning and went over to the American River Bend Park for my walk.  I was looking for summer galls and found ‘em, so my trip was fruitful. I found Red and White Cone galls, Spiny Turbans, Yellow Wig galls, Spangle galls, ash tree galls, willow galls, Woolybear galls, Live Oak Round galls, Flat-Top Honeydew galls… and this is just the start of the season.  Sometimes there were several different galls on the same leaf or stem.

CLICK HERE to see the whole album.

The wasp larvae inside the Flat-Top Honeydew galls produce honeydew that exudes through the surface of the galls. The tree gets no benefit from it, but the honeydew attracts ants and wasps that in turn protect the larvae from parasites that might otherwise prey on them.  I also found some Yellow Jackets feasting on some dead thing, and a lovely Green Lacewing sitting on a leaf… As for other critters, I got to see a Great Blue Heron, some female Common Mergansers resting on stones in the water, and a young male coyote.  He kept moving from bright sunlight to shade among the trees, but I did get a little video of it.

Vacation Day 4: American River Bend Park

Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillars. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillars. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

Vacation Day Four.  I got up around 6:30 this morning and headed over to the American River Bend Park for a walk..  It was in the 60’s (around 63° by the afternoon) and partly cloudy all day.

I wasn’t looking for anything in particular at the park; just wanted a long nature walk.  But I still ended up taking several hundred photographs.  I found a couple of birds’ nesting cavities including that of a White-Breasted Nuthatch and a House Wren who were both nesting in the same tree, but in different holes in the tree. That was kind of neat.  Along the river I also saw some Common Mergansers, Great Egrets, Canada Geese, Acorn Woodpeckers, and a Great Blue Heron.

I also came across a group of six jackrabbits.  They were cavorting around the picnic tables in the park… so cute.  One of them, though, had a deformity on its cheeks that looked like some big canker busted and then turned all black and leathery.  Eeew.  I did a little research to see if I could find some information about the condition, but I couldn’t find anything… The search will continue.

On the insect front: The Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillars are hatching out all over the park, and some of them are fattening up quickly.  I came across one of the caterpillars with something that really surprised me.  I knew that when they’re large enough to pupate, the caterpillars spin a line of silk, attach it to a substrate (like a branch) and wrap it around their shoulders… but this one had spun a mat of silk underneath it. I’d never seen that before, and couldn’t find anything written about it.  It was so odd, I tried getting photos of it, but the caterpillar REALLY didn’t like my putting it on its back to get the photos… At first I thought maybe it was dragging someone else’s silk after it, but when I rolled the caterpillar onto its back, I could see the silk attached to its belly.  The belly area, though, is not where their spinners are so… I’m still very confused about it.  Maybe it blundered onto a super-sticky spider’s web that stuck firmly to it or something.  I don’t know. I’ll have to keep researching.  Speaking of these caterpillars, I found a really neat video of the on YouTube so you can see how they grow and how they spin the silk shoulder-wrap before they form their chrysalis.  I’ve seen them in the torpid state, just after they’ve spun the silk but before the chrysalis is formed.  I would LOVE to watch and film the whole process in the wild sometime.

Anyway, here’s the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u2cE86AA1q0.

There were also lots of Ladybug (ladybeetles) and their larvae showing up now, Snakeflies, Crane Flies, all sorts of beetles, and other critters.  I also came across some Scarab-Hunter Wasps.  They’re rather large wasps that are kind of “hairy” all over.  The adults eat pollen and nectar, but they lay their eggs in the beetle larvae and the kids grow up eating the larvae… You find them hovering low over the ground where they “listen” for the sound of the grubs under the surface.  Then they uproot the grubs to lay their eggs in them… So they’re carnivores that grow into vegans as they mature.  Hah! Nature is so weird sometimes. I also found a few spider egg sacs.  I’m not adept enough, though, to tell what species of spider left what sac…

The wildflowers are also blooming along the river, mostly Miniature Lupine, Monkey Flowers, Poppies, Vetch, Pink Grass, and Stork’s Bill.  So, there was something interesting or pretty to see no matter you looked.

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I walked for about 3½ hours and then headed back to the house. I picked up a few groceries at the store on the way, unpacked stuff when I got home, and put in load of laundry before crashing with the dogs.