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Blue Oak Galls and Other Stuff, 07-09-19

I headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve.  It was about 56° when I got there, but it was up to around 75° when I left.  When I got there, I was happy to see my friend and fellow-naturalist Roxanne there, too. She’s helping me out with the Monarch monitoring facet of my volunteer work at the preserve. I really appreciate her help, too, because it makes the somewhat tedious process of looking over each milkweed plant go more quickly. 

Still no sign of Monarch eggs or caterpillars, and what was odd was we didn’t see much in the way of other insects either.  We did find some spiders (including a White Crab Spider and a little Jumping Spider), some aphids, a single praying mantis, and a couple of beetles but that was it.  The lack of critters was rather surprising and made me wonder if the area had been sprayed or something.  We worked on the plants for about 90 minutes and then went for a short walk through the preserve.

 Although we heard a lot of different birds, we didn’t see any Wild Turkeys today, which was very unusual. They’re normally all over the place. We came across two bucks but no does and no fawns. Both bucks were in their velvet.  One was a nervous youngster who was just getting his first antlers (a “spike buck”), and the other was a laid-back 3-pointer who was just lying in the grass on the side of the trail.  He kept an eye on us but didn’t move from his spot. I guess he figured we were no match for him, so we weren’t much of a threat.  He was gorgeous. And because he was so still, we were able to get quite a few good photos of him.

CLICK HERE to see the album of photos.

The most exciting thing to me that we came across on our walk was sighting a few different species on a Blue Oak tree (Quercus douglasii) along the River Trail.  It had both Saucer Galls (Andricus gigas) and newly budding Crystalline Galls (Andricus crystallinus). The saucers start out flat and then form cups (some with smooth edges and some with serrated edges). The Crystalline Galls start out like tiny dark-pink urns and then swell up and get their sparkly spines. We hadn’t seen any galls at all on the “Frankenstein” hybrid tree further up the trail, so finding the galls on the Blue Oak by the river was rewarding. 

It was nice to see that this particular Blue Oak was also getting acorns on it. These oaks don’t produce acorns in drought years, and when they do produce acorns, they’ll produce a lot one year (a “mast” year) and then produce far fewer for the next two or three years.  So, as I said, it was nice to see this one with acorns all over it.  (The acorns usually take a year to develop.) Blue Oaks are also endemic to California, which means they’re found here and nowhere else on the planet.  It’s also one of the oak trees that is immune to the fungus that causes Sudden Oak Death.  Very cool trees.

Oh, and we found a Treehopper – but it jumped away before I could get a photo of it.  Those things are sooooooo weird-looking with their hunched backs. The one we saw was a Buffalo Treehopper (Stictocephala bisonia): mostly green with some burnished gold edges on it.

We walked the trails for about 2 hours.

Species List:

  1. Blue Oak, Quercus douglasii,
  2. Brass Buttons, Cotula coronopifolia,
  3. Buffalo Treehopper, Stictocephala bisonia,
  4. California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana,
  5. California Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta,
  6. California Praying Mantis, Stagmomantis californica,
  7. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica,
  8. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis,
  9. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus,
  10. Common Buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis,
  11. Common Merganser, Mergus merganser,
  12. Common Snowberry, Symphoricarpos albus,
  13. Convergent Ladybeetle, Hippodamia convergens.
  14. Crystalline Gall Wasp, Andricus crystallinus,
  15. Desert Cottontail, Sylvilagus audubonii,
  16. European Honeybee, Apis mellifera,
  17. Flax-Leaf Horseweed, Erigeron canadensis,
  18. Green Lacewing, Chrysoperla carnea,
  19. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon,
  20. Italian Thistle, Carduus pycnocephalus,
  21. Jumping Spider, Phidippus sp.,
  22. Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos,
  23. Moth Mullein, Verbascum blattaria,
  24. Mushroom Headed Mayfly, Small Minnow Mayfly, Callibaetis ferrugineus ferrugineus,
  25. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus,
  26. Occidental Grasshopper, Trimerotropis occidentalis,
  27. Oleander Aphid, Aphis nerii,
  28. Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum,
  29. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus,
  30. Saucer Gall Wasp, Andricus gigas,
  31. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa,
  32. Sweet Pea, Lathyrus odoratus,
  33. Tarweed, Common Madia, Madia elegans,
  34. Wavy-Leaf Soap Plant, Soap Root, Chlorogalum pomeridianum,
  35. Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
  36. White Alder, Alnus rhombifolia,
  37. White Crab Spider, Misumessus sp.

Lots of Critters… and a Beaver, 06-20-19

Up at 5:00 am again. I let the dog out to go potty and fed him his breakfast then headed over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for my weekly volunteer Trail-Walking gig.  It was a gorgeous 58° when I got to the preserve and was overcast, so it never got over about 68° while I was there.  Perfect walking weather.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

One of the first things I saw was a Red-Shouldered Hawk carrying nesting materials. First she flew over my head, then she landed on a tree to get a better grip on the grasses she was holding before taking off again. These hawks only have one brood a year, but often work on the nest throughout the year to keep it clean.  It’s no uncommon for them to use the same nest over several season if the first nest is successful.  Later in my walk, I went by where I knew one of the hawks’ nest was and found a juvenile (fledgling) sitting out beside it squawking for its parents to come feed it. It was capable of feeding itself, but some of these young’uns milk the I’m-just-a-baby thing for quite a while. While it was near the nest, it was hard to get photos of it because it was backlit, but later it flew out and I was able to get a few better photos of it when it landed in a nearby tree.

There were a lot of deer out today, but I didn’t see any fawns. I DID see a couple of bucks, though, both of them still in their velvet, a 2-pointer and one with wonky antlers (one super-long one and one stumpy one). The 2-pointer was walking with a doe, and when I stood on the trail to take photos of them, he decided he didn’t like that.  He stepped right out toward me with a very determined look on his face. (Bucks can get real possessive of “their” does.) I knew he wouldn’t rush me and try to gore me because he was still in his velvet.  In that state, the antlers are super-sensitive to touch, and if he rammed me, he’d actually hurt himself.  But, he could still outrun me mash me with his hooves if he had a mind to, so I put my head down and back away.  That seemed to be enough of a submissive posture to him, and he returned to his doe.  As beautiful as the deer are, I have to remind myself that they’re still wild animals and will do whatever their instincts tell them to do – even in a nature park.

I heard and caught glimpses of several Nuttall’s Woodpeckers on my walk, but never got enough of a look at one to take its picture. Those birds enjoy teasing people, I swear. They’re really loud about announcing themselves in flight, but then hide from you once they land.

The wild plum and elderberry bushes are all getting their ripened fruit now. I saw birds eating some of the berries and came across an Eastern Fox Squirrel breakfasting on the plums.

Along the river, there was a small flock of Canada Geese feeding (bottoms-up in the shallow water) with a female Common Merganser fishing among them. They eat different things, so the geese were stirring up the water plants and the Merganser would grab any small fish that appeared. Unintentional mutualism.  While I was watching them, I saw something else in the water, swimming against the current and realized it was a beaver! 

I went down as close to the shore as I could – (It’s hard for me to clamber over the rocks.) – and tried to get some photos of it. Photo-taking was difficult because the beaver stayed close to shore and was obscured by the tules and other riverside plants and scrubby trees. When it got into less cluttered spots, in was in the shade, and my camera had trouble focusing between the dark and the reflections on the water.  So, I walked ahead of where I thought the beaver was heading to a sunnier spot and waited for it… and waited for it… and then I heard a splash and realized it had swum under the water right past me and came up in the river behind me.  Hah!  Sneaky Pete!  

I walked for about 4 hours and then headed back home.

Species List:

  1. American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus,
  2. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii,
  3. Black Harvester Ant, Messor pergandei,
  4. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
  5. Blue Oak, Quercus douglasii,
  6. Bush Katydid nymph, Scudderia pistillata,
  7. California Black Walnut, Juglans californica,
  8. California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana,
  9. California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica,
  10. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica,
  11. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis,
  12. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica,
  13. California Wild Plum, Prunus subcordata,
  14. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis,
  15. Chinese Privet, Ligustrum sinense,
  16. Coffeeberry, California Buckthorn, Frangula californica,
  17. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus,
  18. Coyote Mint, Monardella villosa,
  19. Coyote, Canis latrans,
  20. Desert Cottontail, Sylvilagus audubonii,
  21. Doveweed, Turkey Mullein, Croton setigerus,
  22. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger,
  23. Elegant Clarkia, Clarkia unguiculata,
  24. English Plantain, Ribwort, Plantago lanceolata,
  25. European Praying Mantis, Mantis religiosa,
  26. Evening Primrose, Oenothera biennis,
  27. Goldwire, Hypericum concinnum,
  28. Greater Periwinkle, Vinca major,
  29. Green Lacewing, Chrysoperla carnea,
  30. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon,
  31. Italian Thistle, Carduus pycnocephalus,
  32. Leafhopper Assassin Bug, Zelus renardii,
  33. Moth Mullein, Verbascum blattaria,
  34. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura,
  35. North American Beaver, Castor canadensis,
  36. Northern Yellow Sac Spider, Cheiracanthium mildei,
  37. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii,
  38. Pink Grass, Windmill Pink, Petrorhagia dubia,
  39. Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum,
  40. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus,
  41. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia,
  42. Rock Shield Lichen, Xanthoparmelia sp.,
  43. Rusty Tussock Moth, Orgyia antiqua,
  44. Saw-whet Owl, Sophia, Aegolius acadicus,
  45. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa,
  46. Spanish Clover, Acmispon americanus,
  47. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus,
  48. Sudden Oak Death pathogen, Phytophthora ramorum,
  49. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura,
  50. Western Drywood Termite, Incisitermes minor,
  51. Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa,
  52. Wood Duck, Aix sponsa,
  53. Wooly Mullein, Great Mullein, Verbascum thapsus,
  54. Yarrow, Achillea millefolium,
  55. Yellow Starthistle, Centaurea solstitialis

Looking for Willow Galls, 06-09-19

I got up around 5:30 this morning, and after giving the dog his breakfast, I headed over to the American River Bend Park.  I was in search of willow galls and found oh-so-much more.  The weather behaved itself in the morning hours.  There was a breeze by the river, so it didn’t get too warm for me to walk until around 10:30.  So it was a nice morning. 

First I tried walking along the river at the first pullout, but the water was too high there, so I took a trail that brought me out onto the sandy area close to the bridge.  Lots of willows there, and I found the pinecone-like galls of the midge Rabdophaga strobiloide. They start out looking like little round balls of tightly packed leaves. Then they develop a “beak” that makes them look like pinecones. Each gall contains one midge larva. When the larva matures into an adult midge, the midge escapes the gall through the tip of the beak.

While I was walking through that area, I could hear the nattering of quail in the underbrush, but they kept themselves well-hidden, so I never did see them or was able to get a photo of them. I did get shots of a Spotted Towhee and a House Wren, though. I walked along that part of the river for a little while and then headed back to where I’d parked the car at the pullout.  At one point, the trail was blocked by a fallen tree. My trying to navigate over that obstacle was mildly humorous. Sit on one part of the trunk, lift my leg up, throw it over the other part of the trunk, try to get that foot to touch the ground, then shift my weight, and try to drag my other leg up over the trunk… Phew!

Once I got back to the car, I drove further int the park, got out, and continued my walk along the trail that runs along the riverside, but about 10 feet above the level of the water. I found a few Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillars and saw some of the butterflies flitting near the top of the trees. When the caterpillars ready to build their chrysalis, they attach their back feet to a tree (or other substrate) with silk, and then build a silk sling-shot-like thing that holds them upright but at a slight angle from the tree. (The silk is pulled from spinnerets on the sides of the body.) Then the caterpillar leans back and just hangs there in a kind of torpor as the chrysalis forms UNDER its skin. Once the chrysalis is formed, the caterpillar sheds its skin — including its face — and waits for metamorphosis to begin.

I also found some of their chrysalises. One was so new; it was still bright green. There stills seems to be a LOT fewer than I’m used to seeing out there, though.

CLICK HERE to see the full album of photos.

At one spot, I stopped to watch a pair of House Wrens flying all over the place, the male singing brightly while he flew. They stopped off a few times at a cavity in an oak tree, only to be run off by some Tree Swallows.  Apparently, the Swallows had already claimed the cavity and were trying to keep the Wrens from setting up house there.  I got quite a few good shots of the Swallows.  The Wrens, not so much…

 

A nice surprise was seeing a female Common Merganser swimming near the shore with her three red-headed little ducklings. The mom was swimming up-stream which can be hard on the babies when the current is strong, so they sometimes swim in her wake… or just hop onto her back!  In one photo you can see the mom swimming with her face in the water. This is a typical fishing technique used by these birds; she’s seeing if there’s anything tasty underneath her.  These ducks are sometimes referred to as “saw-bills” for the serrated edges along the rim of their bill. Unlike Mallards, Mergansers are “diving” ducks, not “dabbling” ducks.

I walked for about four hours and then headed back home.  But another surprise happened when I was driving out of the park. I saw something moving near the edge of the road and stopped to get a better look. I realized it was a female Wild Turkey, that was sitting down in the dirt and dried gas.  She was giving herself a dust bath (to rid her feathers of mites). The surprise was when, right behind her, her baby (a little fledgling called a poult) stood up!  Mama turkeys are very protective of their babies, and when the mom realized I’d seen her kid, she got up and hurried him away from the road.

 Species List:
Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus,
Asian Ladybeetle, Harmonia axyridis,
Black Locust, Robinia pseudoacacia,
Blue Elderberry, Sambucus cerulea,
Bur Chervil, Anthriscus caucalis,
Bush Katydid nymph, Scudderia texensis,
California Pipevine Swallowtail, Battus philenor hirsuta,
California Pipevine, Aristolochia californica,
California Quail, Callipepla californica,
California Scrub Oak, Quercus berberidifolia,
California Sycamore, Platanus racemose,
California Wild Grape, Vitis californica,
Common Merganser, Mergus merganser,
Coyote Brush Bud Gall midge, Rhopalomyia californica
Coyote Brush Stem Gall moth, Gnorimoschema baccharisella,
Darkling Beetle, Pinacate Beetle, Eleodes obscurus,
Deerweed, Acmispon glaber,
Elegant Clarkia, Clarkia unguiculata,
English Plantain, Ribwort, Plantago lanceolata,
European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris,
Fremont Cottonwood, Populus fremontii,
Goldenrod Bunch Gall, Goldenrod Floret Gall Midge, Solidago canadensis,
Goldwire, Hypericum concinnum,
Hoptree, Skunk Bush, Ptelea trifoliata,
House Wren, Troglodytes aedon,
Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni,
Interior Sandbar Willow, Salix interior,
Long-Jawed Orb Weaver, Tetragnatha sp.,
Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos,
Miniature Lupine, Lupinus bicolor,
Moth Mullein, Verbascum blattaria,
Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura,
Narrowleaf Willow, Salix exigua,
Northern California Black Walnut, Juglans hindsii,
Old Live Oak Gall Wasp Gall, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis,
Oregon Ash, Fraxinus latifolia,
Oystershell Scale Insect, Ceroplastes sp,
Rattlesnake Grass, Big Quaking Grass, Briza maxima,
Red Mulberry, Morus rubra,
Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia,
Rusty Tussock Moth caterpillar, Orgyia antiqua,
Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus,
Sweet Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare,
Telegraph Weed, Heterotheca grandiflora,
Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
Variable Flatsedge, Cyperus difformis,
Wand Mullein, Verbascum virgatum,
Western Bluebird, Sialia mexicana,
Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
Western Goldenrod, Euthamia occidentalis,
Western Leaf-Footed Bug eggs, Leptoglossus zonatus
White Alder, Alnus rhombifolia,
White Horehound, Marrubium vulgare,
Willow Pinecone Gall midge, Rabdophaga strobiloides,
Willow Stem Gall midge, Rabdophaga rigidae,
Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa,
Wooly Mullein, Verbascum thapsusm
Yellow Starthistle, Centaurea solstitialis,
Yellow Water Iris, Yellow Flag, Iris pseudacorus,