Tag Archives: Flehmen Sniff

A Very Hairy Butterfly Encounter, 04-06-19

I led some of my Certified California Naturalist students on a walk around the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve.

My coworker Bill Grabert and our volunteer Roxanne Moger joined me. There were about 10 of us altogether. Because the nature center was hosting a donor event today, we stayed out of the parking lot and parked along the road that leads out of the preserve. It was about 52° when we got there, and it made it up to a mostly cloudy and overcast 68° by the afternoon.

A female coyote surprised us by stepping out into the parking lot and trotting down the road – too fast to get any photos of her. But otherwise, we saw mostly the usual suspects during the walk, but there were some deer that were being very cooperative, some of the wildflowers were showing up, and we saw quite a few nests and nesting cavities, including the Mourning Doves’ nest, a Red-Shouldered Hawk nest and several Bushtit nests.

Students also learned how to identify some of the local birds by their calls and saw their first pair of Common Mergansers – which was kind of a big deal to them because the males and females look so totally different from one another. Most of them recognized the female (with her reddish head and topknot), but the male (with his bright white breast, iridescent blue-green head and orange bill) was a big surprise to them.

The leucistic male turkey was also a first for many of the students, so that was fun to see.

The funniest thing that happened on the walk was when a female Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly flew into the hair of one of the students, Sue. Then Roxanne found a cooperative male butterfly and put him into Sue’s hair so everyone could see how to distinguish the males from the females (by the amount of blue on their hind wings). Sue was very patient and stayed still as everyone talked about the butterflies and took photos. Hah!

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

The subspecies of Pipevine Swallowtail, Battus philenor hirsuta, we see around here is endemic to the Central Valley of California and is found nowhere else on Earth.  And the word “hirsuta” refers to the “hairy” body this subspecies… so it was a very Hairy Butterfly Encounter.  Coolness.

We walked for almost 4 hours before heading out and going back to our respective homes. I’ll be doing another walk on Tuesday next week for any students who still need to add a field trip to their course requirements.

Species List:

1. Bedstraw, Cleavers, Galium aparine
2. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
3. Blue Dicks, Dichelostemma capitatum
4. Buckbrush, Ceanothus cuneatus
5. Bush Lupine, Lupinus albifrons
6. Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus
7. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
8. California Manroot, Marah fabaceus
9. California Pipevine, Aristolochia californica
10. California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica
11. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
12. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
13. Common Merganser, Mergus merganser
14. Destroying Angel Mushroom, Amanita verna
15. Dog Vomit Slime Mold, Fuligo septica
16. Douglas Iris, Iris douglasiana
17. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
18. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
19. False Turkey Tail Fungus, Stereum hirsutum
20. Fringepod, Thysanocarpus curvipes ssp. curvipes
21. Gold Dust Lichen, Chrysothrix candelaris
22. Golden-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
23. Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata
24. Hoary Lichen, Rosette Lichen, Physcia aipolia
25. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon
26. Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos
27. Mazegill Fungus, Daedalea quercina
28. Meadow Mushroom, Agaricus campestris
29. Miniature Lupine, Lupinus bicolor
30. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
31. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus
32. Oakmoss Lichen, Evernia prunastri
33. Painted Lady butterfly, Vanessa cardui
34. Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta
35. Pleated Ink Cap, Parasol Ink Cap, Parasola plicatilis
36. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
37. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
38. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
39. Rock Shield Lichen, Xanthoparmelia conspersa
40. Santa Barbara Sedge, Carex barbarae
41. Saw-Whet Owl, Sophia, Aegolius acadicus
42. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula
43. Storksbill, Longstalk Crane Bill, Geranium columbinum
44. Sunburst Lichen, Xanthoria elegans
45. Swainson’s Hawk, Orion, Buteo swainsoni
46. Tan Stink Bug, Euschistus tristigmus
47. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
48. Turkey Tail Fungus, Trametes versicolor
49. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
50. Valley Tassels, Narrow-leaved Owl’s Clover, Castilleja attenuate
51. Wavy-Leaf Soap Plant, Soaproot, Chlorogalum pomeridianum
52. Western Bluebird, Sialia mexicana
53. Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis
54. Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis
55. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis
56. Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa

Watching a Hawk Eat His Breakfast, 03-04-19

I headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk today.  It was about 46° at the river, and while I was walking the clouds parted, leaving things partly sunny and quite lovely outside. I walked for a little over 3 hours and covered about 2½ miles.

One of the first things I saw was a small group of male Western Bluebirds. They’re small birds, but so brilliantly colored it’s hard to miss them even at a distance.  Around that same area, I watched as an Eastern Fox Squirrel added foliage to a drey she was building inside and around a mound of mistletoe. Smart squirrel. It’s really hard for predators to see the drey from above or below. Now I know where two dreys are in the preserve; I’ll have to keep an eye on them to see if I can spot any babies (once they’re old enough to emerge).

All of the plants and critters are getting ready for spring. The poison oak is starting to leaf out everywhere, their new reddish leaves vibrant in the morning light. And manroot and pipevine are showing up all over the landscape.  In one spot, I found the native manroot intertwining with invasive Periwinkle vines.  Elsewhere, the invasive European Starlings are in a battle with native Acorn Woodpeckers for nesting sites. The Starlings can’t drill their own nesting cavities, so they steal from the woodpeckers whenever they can.

I also spotted a tiny female Anna’s Hummingbird plucking the fluff off of the top of dead Yellow Star Thistle blossoms and flying off with it. They use it to line their nests.

I saw a few Red-Shouldered Hawks today, including one that flew over my head with something in its talons. I tried following it, even though it was moving really quickly, and my legs are really short. Then I could hear it calling from somewhere close, and I jokingly said to myself, “Y’know, it would be really nice if you landed on the bat box over there so I could actually get some picture of you.”

And when I finally found it, it had landed on the bat box! Yay!

It stayed there, letting me take photos of it until it had finished it breakfast and flew off again. Awesome. And in many of the photos, you can see that it had a little dark vole. In some of the photos, you can clearly see the vole’s eyes and face.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

The biggest surprise of the day was hearing the gravelly call of Sandhill Cranes from overhead. The sound can travel for over a mile, so sometimes they’re REALLY hard to spot, but I managed to see the flock, flying waaaaaaaaay overhead among the clouds. ((Later, when I got home, my sister Melissa and I were able to spot another flock flying overhead.))

I love this time of year.

Species List: 

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. American Kestrel, Falco sparverius
  3. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  4. Audubon’s Warbler, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata
  5. Black Jelly Roll Fungus, Exidia glandulosa
  6. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus
  7. Blessed Milkthistle, Silybum marianum
  8. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus cerulea
  9. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  10. California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica
  11. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  12. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis
  13. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
  14. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
  15. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  16. False Turkey Tail fungus, Stereum hirsutum
  17. Giraffe’s Head Henbit, Henbit Deadnettle, Lamium amplexicaule
  18. Golden Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
  19. Haymaker Mushroom, Panaeolus foenisecii
  20. Manroot, California Manroot, Bigroot Vine, Wild Cucumber, Marah fabaceus
  21. Miner’s Lettuce, Claytonia perfoliata
  22. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
  23. Nutthall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii
  24. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus
  25. Periwinkle, Vinca major
  26. Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Western Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
  27. Raccoon, Procyon lotor
  28. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  29. Sandhill Crane, Grus canadensis
  30. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  31. Western Bluebird, Sialia mexicana
  32. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis
  33. Wild Turkey, Rio Grande Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  34. Yellow Field Mushrooms, Agaricus campestris
  35. Yellow Star-Thistle, Centaurea solstitialis

The Bucks are in Rut at the Effie Yeaw Preserve, 11-10-18

I slept in a tiny bit this morning and got up around 7:00. After giving the dog his breakfast, I headed over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk.  It was a chilly 34° at the river!  Got up to about 70° by the afternoon.  The air quality was bad enough today to spark a “Very Unhealthy” purple warning.

At the preserve, the first thing I saw was a small harem of female deer and a couple of fawns, along with a young spike buck.  I got quite a few photos of him doing his “Flehmen Sniff” thing. He closes his nostrils and pulls air in and over the “vomeronasal organ” in the roof of his mouth to pick up on the pheromones of the females around him to learn if they’re in estrus or not. He lifts his top lip because the intake part of the organ is just behind his upper front teeth.

I also saw other deer dotting the preserve here and there including the big 4-pointer (who I think is now a 5-pointer, but I can’t tell for sure from the photos I got of him). He was tucked away on the other side of a field in the shade, so at first, I didn’t see him. When I stepped into the field, though, to get some shots of a Red-Shouldered Hawk (I saw two of them today) he moved, and only then did I realize he was there. It looked like one of the prongs on his rack had been snapped off, but he was still very impressive looking.

I found another older buck in a different part of the preserve, but his rack was really wonky.  On one side, he only had on long prong, and on the other side, he had a 3-point antler with a gnarly-looking eye guard. The doe he was pursuing, though, didn’t seem to mind too much that he was “uneven”…  Several different things can make the antlers messed up like that: the pedicle on the head from which the antlers grow may have been damaged somehow; or the antlers themselves might have been damaged while they were still in their velvet stage and growing; or the buck may have nerve damage in the hind leg opposite from the malformed antler.

CLICK HERE to see the album of photos.

You may also notice in the photos that the mature bucks’ necks swell during the rut. Although I couldn’t find any scientific studies about this phenomenon, the consensus seems to be that the swelling is caused by a dramatic increase in testosterone during the rut which affects the blood vessels and muscles in the neck (along with other parts of the body; hah!). The thick neck is apparently attractive to the females, and also helps to cushion the head and body when the bucks joust, absorbing some of the shock when the bucks butt heads. Interesting!

As I mentioned, I saw two Red-Shouldered Hawks in different parts of the preserve today, and I also saw a Red-Tailed Hawk, but that one flew off before I could get any good shots of it.  Inside the nature center at the preserve, I also got to see Orion, the preserve’s Swainson’s Hawk. He’s still a youngster, so doesn’t have his adult coloring yet, but he’s a handsome bird.

Along the usual suspects like Wild Turkeys, California Scrub Jays, Northern Flickers, Spotted Towhees and Acorn Woodpeckers, I got to see a tiny Hermit Thrush in the scrubby brush on the side of the trail. I hardly ever get to see those little guys, so it’s always kind of a treat when I can get pictures of one of them.

There were lots of California Ground Squirrels and Eastern Fox Squirrels around.  The squirrels can have a second breeding season in the fall, and I saw one of them carrying a big mouthful of grass to its nest.  The cool thing was being able to spot the melanistic squirrel (all black) again.  I hadn’t seen that guy for a year.  The last time I saw him was actually on November 22nd last year.  Maybe he only comes out once a year. Hah! (You can see last year’s photos HERE.)

I walked for about 3 hours and then headed back o the car. On my way out of the preserve, I stopped in at the nature center (which is when I saw Orion) and picked up several copies of “The Acorn” magazine published by the American River Natural History Association. My lichen photo is featured on the cover.  Super cool!