Tag Archives: Craneflies

First Flame Skimmer of the Season, 05-12-18

I was out the door and off to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve once more to check on the development of the Monarch Butterfly caterpillars – and get some fresh air and exercise in, of course.

Before I left the house, I noticed there were a few Yellow-Billed Magpies out foraging in the neighbor’s yard, so I took some photos of them before they flew off.   When I got to the nature preserve, the first thing I saw was a small flock of male Wild Turkeys. They were parading and strutting around a single female who was more interested in finding breakfast than dealing with the boys. Hah!

I put on insect repellent, but there are these tiny, black, winged no-see-ums that forge through the repellant anyway and bite HARD. I don’t know what the species is, but I really dislike those things. They get all over you… creep me out worse than the ticks.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

In the small pond by the nature center, the Bullfrog tadpoles are starting to change from water-breathers to air-breathers, and they popped up to the surface periodically to gulp in some air before retreating back down into the water. All you can see through the murky water when they come up is their pale belly and their big mouths. So funny.

The Monarch caterpillars grew a lot over the week, so many of them where about as long as my index finger. There were still a lot of babies, though, so the preserve should have a good crop of new butterflies in a couple of weeks.  This is the time of year when birds are making and feeding babies, but they leave the Monarch and Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillars alone – because the caterpillars are packed with noxious poisons from the plants they eat. I found one new Pipevine Swallowtail chrysalis on the side of an oak tree already. No sign of the gold-bejeweled Monarch chrysalises yet.

I also got photos of the first Flame Skimmer dragonfly I’d seen this year. They’re such neat looking things. The dragonfly sat long enough and still enough that I was able to get some close-ups of its wing-structure.

I later watched some Harvester Ants bring in new seeds and stuff, and remove old seeds and whatnot from their in-ground bivouac. It seems like they were transferring the old stuff to a different part of the nest through an extra hole in the ground.  Looking more closely I could see that they also removed the dead bodies of some rival ants… And some members of the colony apparently didn’t read their emails because they were bringing the new seeds in through a hole that was “exit only”. It was a crack-up watching them.

There weren’t too many deer out today, but I did see a lone doe, and a young buck who looked like he’d been attacked by wasps. His chin and bottom lip were swollen which made him look kind of goofy. There are ground-dwelling Yellow-Jackets that have hives all over the preserve; maybe this guy was browsing too close to one of those.

Come to think of it, one of the Red-Shouldered Hawks I came across today had a swollen eye – like can be rough out in Nature. The swelling didn’t seem to interfere with the bird’s eyesight or it’s ability to navigate; and it didn’t look like the bird was blind on that side, so maybe it was a temporary impairment.

As I was on my way out of the preserve, I saw some of the docents doing a presentation for a small group of Scouts with their animal ambassador, “Orion” a young Swainson’s Hawk. According to the Effie Yeaw website: “…Orion was dropped off at the UC Davis Raptor Center with a broken wing in 2017. Although his injuries healed partially, there were some lingering issues that would prevent him from completing the long migration down to Argentina. It was also discovered that Orion was an imprint, or lacking a natural fear of humans, and therefore dependent on people for his survival. However, this resulted in an easier transition for Orion to become one of our amazing animal ambassadors…”

I’d walked for about 3 hours, and then headed home for the day.

Photo Tour #1 with the Naturalist Class Graduates

I got up around 6:00 am and was out the door a little after 7:00 to go to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve.  I’m leading a photography walk with some of my naturalist class graduates today. From the Nona Way house, it takes about 45 minutes to get there. From the Hollygrove house today, it still took 45 minutes because Friday morning traffic on Watt was horrible.  It took me 10 minutes just to get through one intersection. Yikes!

The weather was beyond gorgeous today: sunny, breezy and in the low 70’s. Lissa remarked that it could stay like this for the rest of the year if it wanted too. That wouldn’t make for much plant and animal diversity, but sure would be nice for us humans. Hah!

When I got to the preserve, three of the graduates were there and two more joined us later so that was nice.  There was a lot to see out there today, but we needed to finish by noon, so we didn’t get very far through the preserve.  Even with the abbreviated route, we saw lots of wildflowers, deer, insects, birds and even some raccoon tracks in the mud around a small pond.

While we walked, I showed the group how change the lighting to get better shots, how to use a macro lens to focus on the small stuff – and how to get the automatic cameras to focus on what YOU want it to focus on, and how to frame the subject(s) in a photo BEFORE you take it so you don’t have to crop it so much afterwards.  The stars of the day, as far as subject matter goes, were the insects. We found some really unusual-looking guys including a species of long-horned beetle, a pink and white moth, and a semi-iridescent beetle we couldn’t readily identify. Because there are literally millions of insects, getting a proper ID is a daunting task even for the experts.

We also got to watch a pair of Black Phoebes bring insects to their nest full of fledglings. Mom and dad took turns flying back and forth to feed the kids. I saw one of the parents m with a large hoverfly, and another one with a large bright green worm. Those kids get fed well!  Because we were standing near the where the next was, the parents would stop and sit for a little while before transporting the food directly to the kids. This gave us the opportunity to gets some good close-ups and still shots of them.  We could also see the babies in the nest – almost fully fledged already, they looked too big to still be hand-fed by their folks. This particular pair of Phoebes have been nesting under the eaves of the nature center at the preserve for years. They come back season after season.  Their nests are mud cups filled with grasses and other soft plant fibers.

We found the Red-Shouldered Hawk’s nest on the Pond Trail. We could hear mama calling from the nest but couldn’t get an angle on the structure that allowed us to see her. she must be sitting eggs at the moment.  And we found several tree cavity nests of wrens, Starlings, and Acorn Woodpeckers (some of them in or near the same tree).

We also got to see some Ash-throated Flycatchers. Besides being pretty birds, these guys are kind of special because they don’t drink water. They get what fluid they need from the stuff they eat.

Among the deer we saw, I believe one of them was very pregnant and may have been experiencing some early contractions. She’d walk along and life her tail like she wanted to defecate, but nothing came out.  Might be seeing some fawns in the next month or so!

On our way out of the preserve, one of the graduates and I loitered around the small pond again and tried to get photos of the Bullfrog tadpoles and crawfish under the water.  Getting the camera to focus past the surface of the water is always an interesting trial… and I can never really tell if I got the shots I want until after I get the photos home and download them, so I can see them better.

We finished up our walk around noon. #CalNat

Lots of Nesting Birds, 04-15-18

I was up around 6:00 this morning.  It was supposed to rain here today, so I thought I’d better get out early if I wanted to get a nature walk in before the clouds got organized. I went over to the American River Bend Park because it’s close by (no long-distance driving) and I wanted to check on mama Great Horned Owl again.

Mama Great Horned Owl was still in her nest with her three owlets. The owlets are now starting to get their primary wing feathers in and they’re very itchy.  I saw mom helping her oldest owlet preen a bit and give him bite-kisses all over his head and neck. So cute!  I notice that when mom is around her babies, she often holds her plumicorns back against her head.  I wonder if that’s a communication thing…

After I walked around for a while, I went back to check on the nest and mom was gone. She must’ve been out hunting…

CLICK HERE for an album of today’s photos.

In a green area across the trail from the owls’ nest, I watched a House Wren singing from on top of an old snag… and then followed him as he flew over to where the nest was.  I got some photos of the wrens poking their heads out of the nesting cavity, and while I was doing that, I noticed that to my right, there were some Tree Swallows in an adjacent tree where they, too, were setting up house in a tree cavity. They were trying to line the cavity with twigs and stuff, but kept getting interrupted by a pair of Nutthall’s Woodpeckers who, apparently, wanted the same cavity the Tree Swallows had. So, just in that small area, I got to see three different species of birds AND their nests.  In the same area, a few yards away, was a second Tree Swallow nest… and I got some photos of that one, too.

While I was doing that, I was near enough to my car to lean on it and rest a little bit… and saw something flash to the ground to my right. I looked over there and saw that there was some hair fluff – like someone had brushed out their dog and left all of the undercoat hair there. There was a tiny White-Breasted Nuthatch grabbing up mouthfuls of the hair and flying off with it to feather its nest. I tried to see where it flew off to, but lost it in the tangle of branches. It came back several more times for the fluff, so I was able to get photos and a little video snippet of it in action.

A few minutes later, when I moved to step away from my car, I could hear a hummingbird nattering away, and saw it collecting bugs from the side of a tree. I followed after it, and was just barely able to make out its tiny nest in a scraggly tree on the other side of the trail. The nest was covered in lichen and blended right into the lichen-covered bark of the tree, but I still managed to get a few shots.

In one area, there were quite a few Scarab-Hunter wasps flying low to the ground. They have special heat-sensors in their abdomens that allow them to detect the body-heat of grubs under the surface of the dirt. When they find a grub, they land, and stick their ovipositor down through the dirt into the grub and lay their eggs in it. Cool, huh?

There were also quite a few Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies around (mostly males today), and one of them landed on the front of my jacket. I was worried he’d get squished by the shoulder strap of my carry bag, so I set him on my shoulder (on the side opposite the strap) and he stayed there for quite a while, hitching a ride while I walked. He even climbed up onto my head for a bit before taking off to sun himself in the grass. I also found more butterfly eggs today, but no caterpillars yet…

I got a pretty good shot of an orb-weaver spider’s web, and also noted that the Oak Apple gall wasps are starting to lay their eggs on the Valley Oaks. New fat, round, green galls are appearing on the trees…

At another point during my walk, I could hear a California Quail shouting out his “Chi-ca-go!” call, and looked all over for him. I finally caught sight of him off the side of the trail and down on the sandy shore of the river. He was pretty far away, but I still managed to get a photos of him before he scurried off into a tangled bit of shrub.

There were a lot of Fox Squirrels around today, “barking” at me from trees almost everywhere I walked. They’re so funny. They’re teeny, but they bark at something as big as me expecting me to be intimidated by their sound. They’re like the Chihuahuas of the Forest.

I walked for about 3 hours and then headed back home.

No Foolin’ on April Fool’s Day

Starling emerging from tree cavity nest. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Starling emerging from tree cavity nest. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

Even though I have today off, I got up around 6:00 and was out the door to the American River Bend Park by about 6:30 am.

The vetch and Tule Peas are starting to bloom at the park, along with Sticky Monkey Flowers and Miniature Lupine.  The fennel is just starting to sprout, but already parts of the trail smell of licorice.  And there’s Pipevine everywhere.  I’m both pleases and surprised by how many of the vines are sporting butterfly eggs.  Should be a banner year for the caterpillars here.  I already found a few first and third instars (different sizes of the caterpillars as they go through several successive molts and start to mature). Right now, they’re still reddish-brown.  They’ll turn black as they get older and bigger…

The birds are starting to pair off and get their nests in order.  I found nesting spots of some Starlings, a White-Breasted Nuthatch, and a hummingbird so far!  I also found a peacock (!) in the park chasing after the female turkeys.  Hah!  I wonder what they thought of him!

Here’s a little videohttps://youtu.be/E2krSO9NgOo 

Also saw a lot of Tree Swallows and House Wrens, some Scrub Jays, and a Nutthall’s Woodpecker.  The Red-Shouldered Hawks were taking turns at the nest they built over the trail, but they’re careful to keep themselves camouflaged well.  I only got a shot of one of their backs today.  Dang!  Lots of bugs, of course… including loads of Crane Flies (Mosquito Hawks), and I came across some Spittle Bug spit.  With the bugs come the first onset of galls on the plants, too.  I found some on a Coyote Brush bush and on some Goldenrod.

Since I wasn’t looking for anything in particular and just walked until I finished a figure-8 of the part of the park I was in – almost four hours walking – it was very relaxing.

 

 

Mostly Butterflies as Things Grow and Bloom, 03-26-16

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

Up at 6:30 am.  I headed over to the American River Bend Park for my walk this morning.  It was chilly, about 48°, but clear.

I wasn’t looking for anything in particular and just wanted the fresh air and exercise.  Still, I came across mule deer, wild turkeys, and jackrabbits.  I found some Red Admiral Butterfly caterpillars among the stinging nettles, and there were a lot of Pipevine Swallowtail Butterflies flitting around.  I also found a lot of their eggs on the pipevine plants along the trails.

The grasses are all getting lush and long; the black walnut trees are starting to develop their catkins; the elderberry bushes are starting to bud and the valley sedges are… “sedging”.  Hah!  There’s also poison oak emerging and growing everywhere.  The vines are flowering now and look really pretty… attracting people who don’t know what they are to touch them…

I found a Red-Shouldered Hawk in a tree above part of the trail and came across a House Wren singing to attract a female.  So there were little things to see here and there all along my walk.  Heading back to the car, I saw an osprey “kiting” over the river.  I was pretty far away, so I managed to snap a few photos of it.  They’re such gorgeous birds – and always an exciting sight to see.

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

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Vacation Day 10: At the River Bend Park

Day Ten of my Vacation.  I got up about 6:30 am and was out the door around 7:00 to head out to the American River Bend Park for a walk.  It was chilly (about 38°) when I got there, and was up about 61° by the time I headed home.  Surprisingly, I was able to walk for about FIVE HOURS today.  That’s the longest I’ve ever gone in one trip.  My feet and ankles were complaining, but I made it.  I figure I walked about 10 miles all together.  Phew!

When I first got to the park, I pulled over into a turnout on the road where I saw about a half dozen jackrabbits gathered in the grass.  I got out of the car to take a photo of them, but before I could get the camera on and focused, they suddenly scattered.  I didn’t think they could see me, so I wondered what had spooked them… and then I saw the coyote come loping up.  That’ll do it.

I saw lots of dragonflies and damselflies, but could get photos of all of them.  Among the larger dragonflies, I saw a female Neon Skimmer, a Widow Skimmer, and a Bison Snaketail.  I also saw some Red-Shouldered Hawks, jackrabbits, Acorn Woodpeckers, Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies and caterpillars, Ladybeetles and their larvae, Tree Swallows, wrens, Spotted Towhees (including one eating a caterpillar), craneflies, snakeflies, Spotted Sandpipers, a Great Egret, Snowy Egret, Cormorants, Mallard Ducks, Common Mergansers, Coots, a Hover Fly, a Tussock Moth caterpillar, and Starlings.

I was watching some of the ducks and geese on the river bank, and saw a female Common Merganser dive under the water.  The water was so clear and so shallow, that I could see her swimming under the surface.  I tried to get some video of it, but the camera couldn’t figure out what to focus on, and so focused on the reflections on top of the water instead of the bird under the surface.  Dang it!  I need to find a camera on which I can turn OFF the autofocus…  It was so neat to see her moving under the water; she was as sleek and as fast as a fish…

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As I was heading out of the park a man with binoculars passed me and asked if I’d seen the owls.  I told him, no; I wasn’t sure where they were nesting this year.  He said there was a nest in the eucalyptus trees near the path where the road and bike trail intersect, so I went over there… but I couldn’t find a nest or any owls.  They’re pretty good at camouflaging themselves, though, so I’ll keep an eye out for them again next time I go out to the park…