Tag Archives: dock

My First Trip to the Mather Field Vernal Pools, 03-27-19

Around 8:00 am, my naturalist class graduate Roxanne M. and I went to the vernal pools at the end of Zinfandel Blvd. in Mather Field.  Rain was threatening, and it was about 51° outside, but the rain held off until after we’d left – about 2 hours later.

I’d never been there before, but Roxanne had so she showed me some of the highlights out there – like the white pipes used for hydrology studies, and the somewhat lumpy landscape dotted with “mima mounds” around the pools.

“…One theory on the origin of Mima mounds is that they were created by small burrowing rodents such as pocket gophers (Thomomys talpoides) of the endemic North American family Geomyidae. Researchers in the 1940s found that Mima mounds tend to form in areas with poorly draining soils, so the “Fossorial Rodent Hypothesis” proposed that gophers build mounds as an evolutionary response to low water tables… It could be argued that gophers live in the mounds opportunistically but did not build them.  Consequently, gophers in mima mound fields seem to be aware of randomly distributed topographic highs and orient their burrowing accordingly in early mound creation stages. However, the mounds were already fully formed and the gophers may have just been maintaining them. Nevertheless, the fact that the surface area of a typical Mima mound is similar to the size of an individual gopher’s home range is consistent with the theory they were constructed by the rodents…”

Roxanne and I were hoping the wildflowers would be out, but there were only a few species showing. In another week or so, if we get some sunshine, the place should be covered in flowers.  We could see large swaths of Frying Pan poppies around some of the pools, but they were all closed up because it was overcast outside. Along with the poppies, among the flowers we did see were things like Butter ‘n’ Eggs, Blue Dicks, Showy Fringe Pod, Popcorn Flowers, and Jointed Charlock.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

We also saw some Canada Geese, Western Meadowlarks, and some Western Kingbirds. One of the Kingbirds was eating a large sphinx moth, but it was too far away for me to get a clear photo of it.  Along the road we saw a Mourning Dove, a pair of dark morph Swainson’s Hawks, and some wild turkeys.

Both Roxanne and I had brought little bowls to collect some of the pond water in so we could look for little critters in it.  We lucked out and were able to find a lot of tiny swimmers in the water including the larvae of Predaceous Diving Beetles, called “Water Tigers”, Damselfly larvae, and California Clam Shrimp.  So cool!  I need a portable microscope to take with on trips like this – and I need a book on vernal pool creatures. I don’t know very much about this kind of habitat; it’s all kind of new to me.

We both enjoyed the walk and vowed to go back to the pools in another week or so.

Species List:

1. Blue Dicks, Dichelostemma capitatum
2. Butter ‘n’ Eggs, Triphysaria eriantha
3. California Clam Shrimp, Cyzicus californicus
4. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
5. Copepods, Copepoda
6. Damselfly Larvae, Class: Odonata, Order: Zygoptera
7. Dock, Curly Dock, Rumex crispus
8. Filaree, Stork’s Bill, Big Heron Bill, Erodium botrys
9. Flatworm, Dugesia gonocephala
10. Frying Pan Poppy, Eschscholzia lobbii
11. Jointed Charlock, Raphanus raphanistrum
12. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
13. Painted Lady Butterfly, Vanessa cardui
14. Popcorn Flower, Slender Popcorn Flower, Plagiobothrys tenellus
15. Predaceous Diving Beetles, Water Tiger, Cybister fimbriolatus
16. Rio Grand Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
17. Showy Fringe Pod, Spokewheel, Thysanocarpus radians
18. Slug, Reticulate Taildropper, Prophysaon andersoni
19. Swainson’s Hawk, Buteo swainsoni
20. Tadpole, Western Tree Frog, Chorus Frog, Polypedates occidentalis
21. Western Kingbird, Tyrannus verticalis
22. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
23. White-Lined Sphinx Moth, Hyles lineata

A Few Birds at the Cosumnes Preserve, 03-24-19

I got up around 6:30 and headed over to the Cosumnes River Preserve to see how things are shakin’ there.  It was about 44° when I headed out.

I was actually kind of disappointed. Even through a 4-hour walk which really taxed my body, I didn’t see as much stuff as I was hoping to. The ponds near the boardwalk parking lot were virtually empty. Handfuls of birds here and there; most of them out of range of my camera. Along the river trail I startled a Cottontail who, if he had been still, I would have passed by completely. But he decided to make a dash for it, then stopped out in the open. Must’ve been a young one; the adults know better than that.

I also got to see a Black Phoebe mining mud, I guess, from UNDER the boardwalk (I guess all of the other mud in the place wasn’t good enough for her). When she flew in under the boards, her wings and tail dipped in the water, and Phoebe feathers aren’t waterproof so she was kind of endangering herself with every dip.

Now, I assumed she was pulling mud OUT of there, but she may also have been creating a nest under the boards – although that seems really weird to me. If she was constructing her nest under the boards, it could be ruined if the water level in the ponds rises again (or the place gets flooded again). Phoebe nests are made primarily of mud, so if one got wet it would disintegrate, and the eggs or nestlings would drown.

I wished I could’ve gotten a camera under there to see what was really going on.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

There also seemed to be an inordinate number of Audubon’s Warblers all over the property… and the Tree Swallows were vying for nesting spots in the bird boxes and the trees. But otherwise, I felt the trip was kind of a bust.

Species List:

1. American Coot, Fulica americana
2. American Pipit, Anthus rubescens
3. American Robin, Turdus migratorius
4. American Wigeon, Anas americana
5. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
6. Ash Tree, Oregon Ash, Fraxinus latifolia
7. Audubon’s Warbler, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata auduboni
8. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
9. Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
10. Boxelder Tree, Acer negundo californicum
11. Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus
12. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
13. Cinnamon Teal, Anas cyanoptera
14. Cottontail, Desert Cottontail, Sylvilagus audubonii
15. Dock, Curly Dock, Rumex crispus
16. Fennel, Sweet Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare
17. Freshwater Snail, Bithynia tentaculata
18. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
19. Great Egret, Ardea alba
20. Greater Yellowlegs, Tringa melanoleuca
21. House Finch, Passer domesticus
22. Jointed Charlock, Wild Radish, Raphanus raphanistrum
23. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferus
24. Long-Billed Dowitcher, Limnodromus scolopaceus
25. Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos
26. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris
27. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
28. Northern Pintail, Anas acuta
29. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata
30. Oak Apple Gall Wasp gall, Biorhiza pallida
31. Oakmoss Lichen, Evernia prunastri
32. Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
33. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
34. Ring-Necked Duck, Aythya collaris
35. Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Regulus calendula
36. Hummingbird Sage, Salvia spathacea
37. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula
38. Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia
39. Spider’s Web, Spotted orb weaver, Neoscona crucifera
40. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
41. Tadpoles, California Tree Frog, Pseudacris cadaverina
42. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
43. Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus var. occidentalis
44. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
45. White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys
46. White-Faced Ibis, Plegadis chihi

Along the Slough at the Cosumnes Preserve, 06-15-18

I spent time at the Cosumnes River Preserve checking out how it’s looking this time of year with little to no water in the wetland areas.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

In the slough along the side of the road there were lots of crayfish walking through the mud… and lots of Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets looking for breakfast. They always seemed to be looking where the crayfish weren’t. There was one spot where I saw about a half dozen big, fat crayfish tromping around in the muck and shallow water… and the birds were all looking in the other direction. D’oh!

I also got to see a handful of Brewer’s Blackbirds harassing a Great-Tailed Grackle who had come to the slough in search of bugs. There were lots of Red-Winged Blackbirds out there, too. In that same area, I spotted a male Bullock’s Oriole, an American Goldfinch and some male House Finches with unusual coloring: one orange and one yellow. (The males are usually red.)

I got to see a Salt Marsh moth caterpillar sunning its fuzzy self on some dock, and also got to see my first Dorcas Copper butterfly… And I caught a glimpse of a muskrat swimming back to its den.

So, even though there wasn’t a great deal to see today, I did see some cool stuff.

Mostly Wrens and Squirrels, 05-16-18

I was up around 6:00 am and took the dog with me over to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. I encountered clouds along the way, but none of them amounted to anything where I was traveling. Back in Sacramento, however, they apparently got really organized and the city had rain, thunder and over 100 lightning strikes in the morning (just after I left). Wow!

At the refuge: because the big pond in the permanent wetland area is drained, there isn’t really a lot of anything to see there right now. Usually, there are frogs and snakes and all manner of birds around the pond, dragonflies and damselflies, a multitude of spiders, otters and muskrats…

Right now, the pond is like a PRAIRIE. Dried up with short vegetation sprouting throughout it and little mud holes here and there. It’s hard to get wetland wildlife photos when there’s no water! The geese were actually GRAZING where the pond should have been. *Sigh*

Still, I managed to get photos of some cottontails and California Ground Squirrels, and Marsh Wrens at their nests. I sat parked along the auto tour at one point for about 30 minutes, just watching a pair of the wrens. The male was out singing away, while the female flew beak-fulls of dried grass to the nest she’d chosen and arranged it inside. Once, while I watched, the male went up to the next and stuck his head, checking out the female’s work. When she came back with a mouth full of twiglets, he flew off singing again. The opening to the nest was turned away from the car, so I couldn’t see in to see what she was doing. Danged smart little birds.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

The California Ground Squirrels seemed to be everywhere. They should have lots of babies to feed this time of year. As an aside, did you know that in 1918 California launched a campaign to eradicate these native squirrels and even had posters and pamphlets printed encouraging children to join the “army against the squirrels”? “Children, we must kill the squirrels to save food,” a woman on the pamphlet says as she’s smiling. “But use poisons carefully.” The pamphlet included a recipe for strychnine-laced grain as well as suggestions for other extermination methods, such as shooting, drowning, and poison gas. Horrifying (and stupid). The campaign, sanctioned by the state government, actually came from the beef industry which claimed the squirrels were eating all of the grain on which the cattle fed.

I also came across a large creche of Canada Geese (parents, fuzzy goslings and fledglings); about 30 babies altogether(!). This is typical for Canada Geese. One set of adults watches over the group while the other parents feed, and the babies are kept in a group with the youngest in the center and the older ones on the outside. The behavior provides safety in numbers, and also teaches the young ones the concepts of following the leaders and working together – which they’ll need during migration.

In different spots along the route, I was able get good photos of a Red-Eared Slider Turtle and a large Pacific Pond Turtle, so that was nice. For all of my “bitching” about the lack of the big ponds, I did manage to see and count about 43 different species (plants and animals), so the trip wasn’t a waste… And it got me outside, into the fresh air, and focused on something other than my grief over the death of my brother Michael and his wife Sharyi…

On my way out of the refuge, I found a pair of Mourning Doves sitting in a tree, a male and female cooing at each other. They immediately brought Mike and Sharyi to mind, and even as lovely as they were, they brought a tear to my eye…

When I got back to the house it was around 2:00 pm. After a late lunch, I walked around the yard with the dogs and took photos of stuff like the Yellow-Billed Magpies in distant trees, a very fat American Robin (it made me chuckle, it was soooo chubby), and the Genista Broom Moth caterpillars that are currently multitudinous on the broom plant in the corner of the yard. They’re generally yellow-orange caterpillars with clusters of black and white spots on them and long sparse white hairs poking out all over. When the light hits them just right, they look like tubes of orange glass…

When mama moth lays her eggs on the plant, she lays them in clusters, one row overlapping the other, like fish scales. The caterpillars only eat broom, so they’re not a danger to the other plants in the yard. They’re also able to “jump” from one branch to another to escape predators.

Galls, Galls and More Galls 08-20-17

I was out the door by 6:30 to go to the Cosumnes River Preserve.  I was hoping to be able to get photos of dragonflies on their wetland areas… but the whole wetland area was completely dry. There was only a little bit of water in the slough along the road.  That was disappointing.

But I still wanted to walk, so I walked along the boardwalk and behind the slough, taking photos of the different galls I was able to find.  Among the galls, I found on the oak trees examples of Red Cone galls, Spiny Turbans, Spangles. Saucers, Yellow Wigs, Gouty Twig galls, Oak Apples, Rosette galls, and Clubs.  There were also lots of Flat-Topped Honeydew galls, and some of them were exuding so much honeydew that the branches and leaves of the tree were dripping with the stuff.  It made handling things really sticky… I also found some galls on the Ash and Willow trees.

I only saw about 4 birds while I was out there, which is also unusual, and got photos of a Great Egret, a Killdeer and a Black Phoebe.  So, it wasn’t the best day for a variety of photos, but the morning weather was nice, and I was able to walk for about 3 hours so I got some exercise.

More Photos from the Sacramento Refuge

Here are some more photos from the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  CLICK HERE to see the album.

I got a video snippet of a muskrat.  It waddled up onto the auto-tour road, grabbed some green vegetation and went back into the tules.  I wonder if it’s setting up a “nest” there.  Where they’re able to, muskrats will burrow into the bank and set up a nesting hole in the ground (with an entrance to the water). If they can’t do that, then they’ll create a structure called a “push-up” made of reeds, vegetation and mud… There are heaps of dead tules in places along the edges of the wetland areas at the refuge, including several of them along the auto-tour route, which I think might make building a push-up really easy for the muskrats…

I saw some Great Horned Owls dozing in a tree, but they were so obscured by branches and twiglets that the camera couldn’t figure out what to focus on, so I couldn’t get any decent photos of them.  And I saw a Killdeer running and squawking along the edges of a slough.  At first I didn’t know what it was excited about, but then I could see it had some babies with it. One of the youngsters was loitering along the water’s edge, and mom was having a fit because it wouldn’t follow her.  Hah!

I also came across a pair of Double-Crested Cormorants (on the little island they often share with the pelicans and ducks), and watched while one of them did a jumping and barking kind of dance around the other before it took off and landed in the water behind the island. I’d never seen that behavior before, so I looked it up.

“…Ritualized agonistic displays are associated with takeoff and landing in both sexes. Before takeoff, individual stretches neck in direction it wishes to go, inflates head and neck and gives t-t-t-t-t call through almost-closed bill. Before landing, often calls urgurgurg and gives Kink-Throat Display, which is given also during working of nest material; lowers hyoid apparatus, making orange pouch conspicuous. Immediately after landing, gives characteristic post-landing display in which it holds head horizontally and slightly below arched and inflated neck. These displays also precede and follow a hop, which functions as symbolic or reduced flight, and occurs in various social contexts…” (https://birdsna.org/Species-Account/bna/species/doccor/behavior) Hah!  How interesting!

The one thing I saw a lot of out there today was insects: lots of butterflies, dragonflies and spiders.  I was happy to see one beautiful Anise Swallowtail, and I also saw some Monarchs, but none of them sat still long enough for me to get photos of them. Among the other insects spotted today were: Variegated Meadowhawks, Garden Orb Weavers, Widow Skimmers, Common Buckeyes, West Coast Ladies, Cabbage Whites and Sulphurs, a Meadow Katydid nymph, Crescent butterflies, Painted Ladies, Pipevine Swallowtails and Yellow-Faced Bumble Bees.  I also found a dead Green Darner dragonfly that was pretty well desiccated by the heat. It’s always sad to find them dead, but the find gave me the opportunity to get some close-ups of the dragonfly’s head and eyes…