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.
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.
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.
I got up at 5:00 this morning and took my time getting ready to head out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for my trail-walking thing there. It was cool for most of the day – a rainstorm is supposed to move in tomorrow – so it was perfect walking weather. I was joined by fellow volunteer Mary Messenger – the Other Mary.
We saw the usual suspects like deer, House Wrens, and suchlike. One humorous encounter was with a European Staring who had its adult feathers in but was acting like a brat. It was sitting in a tree just opposite where I had seen the fledglings poking their heads out of the nesting cavity last week. It was making a lot of very loud squawks and peeps, and flapping its wings trying to get attention. Might have also been a female looking for a mate to come feed her. Whichever. She was so loud and so animated; you couldn’t miss her.
Another funny moment was walking in on a pair of Fox Squirrels who I think were making out. Hah! Get a room, you guys!
I saw another Starling in another part of the preserve that was taking twigs OUT of her nesting cavity, which I thought was weird. And we saw a male Mourning Dove picking up bits of grass and carrying them to his mate in a tree off the trail. A House Wren was carrying food to his babies… Everyone was moving stuff around.
I also saw a pair of Wood Ducks. They flew into a tree overhead, and then the female flew to an adjacent tree and “disappeared”. She flew out to the first tree next to the male, then flew back to the other tree and disappeared again. I tried to see where she was hiding out and assumed she might have had a nest in a cavity in the tree, but I just couldn’t see her. Then she flew out one more time, and this time she had something orange and fuzzy in her bill. She flew off with it, and the male followed her. I couldn’t tell what it was, really, and wasn’t able to get any photos of it, but I think she was retrieving a duckling that was refusing to come down from the nest! I’d never seen or heard of anything like that; it was kind of amazing.
And we caught a glimpse of a young coyote. He came out onto the trail in front of us with a short growl and then ran off into the high grass where we lost sight of him. He was pretty small, probably a teenager. After we saw him, we kept an eye out for mom and dad; they usually travel in a pack when the pups are young.
We walked for about 4 hours, which is pretty much the limit for both of us, and I headed back home.
Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus,
American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus,
American Robin, Turdus migratorius,
Ash-Throated Flycatcher, Myiarchus cinerascens,
Asian Lady Beetle, Harmonia axyridis,
Black Grosbeak, Pheucticus melanocephalus,
Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum,
Blue Elderberry, Sambucus cerulea,
California Buckeye Chestnut Tree, Aesculus californica,
California Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta,
California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica,
I left the house about 7 o’clock to go to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a second photo-outings with my naturalist class graduates .
We had lots of time to practice with lighting and focus settings. There was an overcast that sort of “diffused” the light so we weren’t dealing with harsh shadows or glare most of the time we were out. The insects are all out doing their thing, and we got to see some katydid nymphs, lots of Pipevine Swallowtail, Tussock Moth and Monarch butterfly caterpillars. I was surprised the Monarch babies were out so early. Last year, they didn’t show up until almost October!
The Lady Beetle larvae and pupa were out in force, too, and all of them gave us lots of practice with macro settings and close-up shots.
The Tree Swallows were very cooperative and posed for lots of photos. We also saw a couple of Red-Shouldered Hawks that sat still for quite a while, letting us shoot them from different angles. Mama R-S H was up in her nest, but we only caught glimpses of her head and tail. I also spotted a Cooper’s Hawk dashing through the trees, but only got a handful of bad photos of it before it took off again.
We saw a small herd of mule deer, but not as many as we normally might at the preserve. I figured maybe the pregnant moms were off having their babies and so were making themselves scarce.
On our way back to the nature center we saw a firetruck, ambulance and police car pull up next to the building. By the time we got to the center, the emergency personnel were gone, but there were two docents with snake hooks and a bucket poking and prodding along the stone in the nature flower garden by the Maidu Village. A young girl had been bitten by a rattlesnake (thus the ambulance) and the docents were trying to locate it. They found it rather quickly and deposited it in the bucket – and let us take photos of it before carrying it off to show it to a Ranger. The snake will be relocated but will not be killed. It was a young one, almost “cute”.
The docents were quick to reiterate that the notion that young rattlers are more dangerous than adult ones is a complete myth. Young rattlesnakes’ venom sacs are so small that even if they gave you everything they had in a single bite, it wouldn’t amount to much. It also takes a long time for a rattler to produce venom between bites, and without it they’re pretty vulnerable, so they don’t discharge venom unless they have to and control what they do discharge – even the baby rattlers.
When we’d started on the walk it was about 53º at the preserve, but by the time we left, around 1:00 pm, it was 80º and we were ready to quit for the day. Too hot for walking! We sat around the picnic area for a little while, sharing looks at the photos we all got on our cameras… and finding several more Tussock Moth caterpillars. #CalNat
Nature heals. I went over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve, and it was fortuitous that I did the walk there today. Tomorrow the place is going to be closed up for an equestrian event of some sort. It was a fortuitous walk, too, in that I was able to see a whole lot of different things…
The big news was the number of Monarch Butterfly caterpillars there were in the milkweed garden outside the nature center. So of the plants were covered with the buggers, the plants chewed down to just sticks… and I found one of the Monarch chrysalises! They’re such pretty little things, all pale jade green and studded with bright gold dots. I even found of the caterpillars mid-poop. Their frass (butterfly poop) is tans and rolled up like miniature bales of hay. Hah! It’s unusual for the caterpillars to be out en masse so late in the season, but the summer heat must’ve confused them, too… I also saw a late season Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly. They’re supposed to be finished and out of here by May… so that guy was REALLY late.
Saw quite a few birds including the ubiquitous Acorn Woodpeckers, Mourning Doves, California Towhees, House Finches, a Wood Duck, and a Flicker. I’d stopped at one point so get some photos of a young California Scrub Jay, and while I was doing that, a male California Quail popped up and climbed onto the same fallen branch the jay was sitting on… I also saw some European Starlings and Cedar Waxwings. Near the river bank, I saw quite a few Killdeer scurrying over the rocks. And in one of the old dead trees on the property, the Turkey Vultures were preening and sunning themselves in the early morning light.
One intense irritation for me was when I came across a whole covey of female Quails on the trail. I stopped to take some photos of them, and while I was focusing the camera to get a closer shot, these two women walked up behind me, pushed me to one side with a muttered “excuse me” and walked past me right front of my camera. I couldn’t believe it. These women were older than I am; way too old to be playing “mean girls”.
“You totally messed up my shot. Thanks,” I said. And one of the woman turned around and gave me a dirty look, while the other one grinned a stupid grin and said, “Well, it’s the only trail around.” Not true… and even if it WAS true, that didn’t excuse their behavior.
The tree squirrels and California Ground Squirrels were munching on black walnuts all over the preserve. I was able to get a few photos and a video snippet of one of them.
And, of course, I was able to see quite a few mule deer – including an older fawn who seemed fascinated by my camera. I could tell he REALLY wanted to walk over to see what it was, but he was smart and kept his distance.
At one other point along the trail I was astonished to see what I first thought were wasps flying in and around a hole in the side of a tree. I didn’t want to approach the tree to get a closer look, for fear of getting stung, so I used the super-zoom function on my camera and realized the swarm wasn’t wasps, it was Honey Bees. It couldn’t tell if the swarm was just starting to set up house in the tree, or if they were moving out their queen and relocating… but it was a mass of bees! A hundred or more that I could see… Considering the time of year and the activity at the tree, I’m guessing this swarm was gathered around a new emergent queen and were in the process of establishing a new hive, but I didn’t see the queen. It seemed obvious, especially in the video snippets I took, that the workers were chewing at the tree back and transforming the resins in it. You can see a distinct color difference between the unworked bark, and the bark on which the bees were focused.
I looked up some information on this and learned that “…the tree resin is not used in the hive in its original form when collected by the bees. The bees process the tree resin in their mouths and then, almost magically the tree resin is concentrated into an array of least 180 different compounds which have been identified so far…”
One of those compounds is propolis.
“… Propolis or bee glue is a resinous mixture that honey bees produce by mixing saliva and beeswax with exudate gathered from tree buds, sap flows, or other botanical sources. It is used as a sealant for unwanted open spaces in the hive. Propolis is used for small gaps…” The propolis makes the hive more structurally sound, protects the hive from the weather, and affords the hive protection from invading insects, molds and bacteria.
Should be interesting to see how this hive does… if the rangers allow it to continue where it is.
On my way out of the preserve, I stopped by their little pond, and got to see quite a few little Bullfrogs in the water, including one that still had some of its tadpole tail.
I got up early this morning, and headed out to the American River Bend Park around 6:30 am for a walk. It was gorgeous outside today; 53º when I headed out, and high of 69º all day with a slight breeze…
At the River Bend Park, I was looking for Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars, and they were in abundance. I think they’ll start going into their chrysalises in another week or so; they’re getting so big and fat.
The wild grasses throughout the park are waist high in most places, and there were lots and lots of Dog-Tail Grass and Rattlesnake (Big Quaking) Grass everywhere; more than I had ever seen there before. (And that, I’m assuming is because of all of the rain we had earlier in the year.) I was surprised to see Miniature Lupine, Tule Peas, Elegant Clarkia and Bush Monkey Flowers still in bloom in some places, along with all of the common vetch and the Woodland Stars…
I found a pair of House Wrens tending to their babies and bringing them all sorts of bugs. Once I figured out where the nest was (in a tree cavity) I stood next to the tree for a little while – and I could actually hear the babies making their raspy “feed me” noises inside the tree. Hah!
Some interesting/weird/neat things along the walk included being able to see green bunny poop for the first time. Rabbits and hares usually poop twice. The first time they do it, the pellets are green… and then the rabbit or hare eats the pellets and puts them through their digestive system a second time to make sure they get all of the nutrients out of them. When the animal poops a second time, the pellets are brown. (I must’ve scared the rabbit off before it had a chance to re-eat it droppings) … I’d never seen the green version before, so I thought that was neat. I know, I know… it takes a “naturalist” to get excited about bunny poop. Hah-2!
The second odd thing was a female Mallard sitting in a tree. Mallards usually nest on the ground and sometimes on floating mats near the water, but this one was checking out a spot in a tree near the riverside. Flood waters early in the year, had brought grassy debris into the branches about halfway up the tree, and when the waters retreated, the grassy mass was left behind. The mama Mallard was checking it out… poking around in the mass, pushing on spots, settling down and then standing again, like she was testing to see if it would work for her. Papa Mallard was in the water below the branches, fussing and splashing around, like he did want her in the tree. Eventually, she left the site and went down to meet the male in the water. They swam off together, and then I saw mama flying off across the river. They must’ve had a fight about it. Hah-3!
The third thing was a real surprise. I was looking over a tree that had been felled by a beaver, when I saw a “thin black thing” flicking out from under the dislocated shaggy bark on the side of the tree. At first I thought it was an earwig’s butt… but it was moving too fast. So I looked closer and realized it was forked tongue! Then I could see the snake’s face but not its body, so at first I didn’t know what kind of snake it was. Good thing I didn’t reach for it! I knew the rattlers were emerging and having babies this time of year, so I got a stick and lifted the bark over the tree… and there was a baby rattlesnake! He was so young he only had one button on his tail… and he wasn’t rattling at me… Baby rattlers are usually born in groups, so I figured where there was one, there might be more, so I backed away from the tree and headed back to the car. I actually walked for about 3 ½ hours up to that point, so I’d gotten a lot of good exercise in already.