This was a busy day, but in a fun way. I got up at 5:00 am and headed out to Woodland to go to the ibis rookery at the Woodland-Davis Clean Water Agency facility off of Road 102 and East Gibson Road. Then I headed out to the WPA Rock Garden, and later in the day, I attended a Monarch monitoring training. Phew!
Last year when I went to the rookery, the water was a lot lower in the settling ponds. This year, the water is a lot higher, so all of the scrubby trees and tules the ibises were able to nest in before are now under water, and there was no real shore for them to rest on. All of the birds were clambering to get into the high branches of the few trees that weren’t submerged, and I saw some pretty brutal fights over nesting spots. I also watched as several of the birds pulled dried grasses up from the edges of the pond and flew them over to line their nests.
Some of the ibises, though, had already settled in, and a few of them already had eggs laid in their nests. The eggs are a bright neon-turquoise color so they’re easy to spot even at a distance.
Amid the ibises there were also Great-Tailed Grackles, American Coots (and a few babies), Killdeer, Black-Necked Stilts, Western Kingbirds and Western Meadowlarks. I also saw quite a few Black-Tailed Jackrabbits and Desert Cottontails. I saw Coot courtship behavior, which I’d never seen before. (I’d read about it but never saw it “live”.) The male and female chased after one another with their wings arched up and their tiny tail fanned out to show of the white patches on it. They’re kind of dorky-looking birds to begin with, so seeing them hunched up trying to look sexy was a hoot. Hah!
CLICK HERE to see the album of photos. You can also CLICK HERE to access the feature article I wrote about the rookery in 2018 as published in the Lake County News online newspaper.
I took quite a few photos, but because the sun was coming up behind the birds, a lot of the stuff was in silhouette and I had to force the iris of the camera open to let more light in on the subjects. I might go in again before class one morning to get different light. The area where you view the ibises is relatively small, so I was able to cover it in about an hour or so.
American Coot, Fulica americana,
American Wisteria, Wisteria frutescens,
Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna,
Bear’s Breeches, Acanthus mollis,
Bird of Paradise, tree, Caesalpinia gilliesii,
Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus,
Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus,
Blue Corn-Lily, Aristea ecklonii,
Bush Katydid nymph, Scudderia pistillata,
Butterfly Bush, Buddleja davidii,
California Buckwheat, Eriogonum fasciculatum,
Caper Bush, Capparis spinosa,
Cardoon, Artichoke Thistle, Cynara cardunculus,
Cleveland Sage, Salvia clevelandii,
Common Toadflax, Linaria vulgaris,
Day Lily, Hemerocallis sp.,
Desert Cottontail, Sylvilagus audubonii,
Desert Willow, Chilopsis linearis, (pink flowers)
Dianella, Dianella ensifolia, (blue seeds)
Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis,
Fig, Common Fig, Ficus carica,
French Lavender, Lavandula stoechas,
Garden Snail, Cornu aspersum,
Gerber Daisy, Gerbera jamesonii,
Giant Fennel, Ferula communis,
Golden Feverfew, Tanacetum Parthenium aureum,
Great Mullein, Verbascum Thapsus,
Great-Tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus,
Green Bottle Fly, Lucilia sericata,
Green Lacewing, Chrysoperla carnea,
Grevellea, Grevilerulea sp.,
Jacaranda Tree, Jacaranda mimosifolia,
Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous,
Lacy Phacelia, Phacelia tanacetifolia,
Lavender, Lavandula angustifolia,
Leafcutter Bee, Megachile sp.,
Love-in-a-Mist, Nigella damascena,
Mojave Prickly Poppy, Argemone corymbose,
Money Plant, Silver Dollar Plant, Moonflower, Lunaria biennis,
Myrtle, Myrtus communis,
Northern Catalpa, Indian Bean Tree, Catalpa speciosa,
Painted Lady Butterfly, Vanessa cardui,
Pincushion Flower, Scabiosa atropurpurea,
Pinkladies, Oenothera speciosai,
Rattlesnake Master, Eryngium yuccifolium,
Red Mite, Spider Mite, Tetranychinae sp.,
Rose, Rosa sp.,
Smokebush, Smoke Tree, Cotinus obovatus,
Spice Bush, Calycanthus occidentalis,
Statice, Sea lavender, Limonium perezii,
Steely Wings, Salvia canariensis,
Tree Aeonium, Aeonium arboretum,
Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
Western Kingbird, Tyrannus verticalis,
Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta,
White Lily of the Nile, Agapanthus africanus var. albus,
I got up at 4:00 this morning, got the dog fed and outside
to pee, and then headed out to Woodland for our first field trip for the summer
naturalist class. I got to the Woodland
Library around 5:45 am and waited for my coworker Bill and the students arrive.
The weather was VERY cooperative today. I was worried that the summer heat
would make our field trips unbearable in the summer, but today it was
nice. It was in the low 60’s when we
headed out, and only about 78° when we came back, so that was great. There was also a slight breeze which helped,
When everyone got to the library and had signed in, we all headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. I left my car in the parking lot and went with Bill in his van along with our student, Jeanette, who is a middle school teacher.
Locate and identify at least fifteen (15) animal
species (birds, amphibians, reptiles)
Locate and identify at least ten (10) plant species
Locate and identify at least ten (10) insect
While we were walking around the
nature center, I think they all got the majority of those requirements! The insects were probably the most difficult
for everyone, but we’ll see on Friday (at class) how well everyone did.
Near the nature center, we came across a large fat weevil sitting on the top of the flowering head of a tule. Bill rapped on the weevil a couple of times and figured it was dead, but when I stroked it, its feet moved, so we all inferred that the weevil was in a state of torpor, waiting for the sun to get a little higher in the sky so it could warm up more and start moving around.
Everyone took photos of it and tried to identify it using the iNaturalist app we’d told them about in class on Friday. It came up as a Billbug Weevil from the genus Sphenophorus. If you look at the map in iNaturalist, though, you’ll see that Billbug Weevils have been sighted all over the globe. So, calling this a Billbug Weevil is somewhat accurate, but for a more precise ID, I wanted the students to try get down to the species level on the weevil when they got home. Insects can be especially hard to ID because there are literally millions of them, and you have to deal with taxon levels that include superfamilies, tribes and subtribes before you can get close to the species. It will be interesting to see how far the students are able to get.
We also found a buckwheat plant that I didn’t recognize as buckwheat at all because its shape wasn’t like any buckwheat plant I’d seen before. The signage by the plant said it was California Buckwheat, Eriogonum fasciculatum, as did iNaturalist, but that didn’t quite look right to me. The leaves were the wrong shape. So, I did a little more research, and I believe it was actually St. Catherine’s Lace, Eriogonum giganteum, a kind of wild buckwheat that usually only grows in Southern California. When we were studying the plant, two of the students (Jeanette and Edna) also observed that some of the flowers still had their pink pollen balls and others did not… and we inferred that those that didn’t have their pollen balls anymore had already been pollinated.
When it came time to drive the auto-tour route, I drove Bill’s van so he could do more observations, and Jeanette and another student, Mica, a retired farmer, came along with us. Bill was able to open up both sides of his van, so the gals could get an unobstructed view of what was out on the preserve. Although everyone was able to go at their own pace along the route, we stopped at two of the park-and-stretch areas so we could compare notes and get a closer look at things. At the first stop, the students Ken and Alison, who are already expert birders, were helping the students spot and identify bird species and also explained what they meant when they talked about the birds’ GISS.
GISS stands for “General Impression, Shape, and Size”(originally a military term). Birders often use the bird’s GISS as a way to do a preliminary or in-field identification of a bird when it’s backlit (only seen in silhouette) or is too far away to see any details of its coloring. So, Alison and Kent were able to distinguish a pair of Northern Harriers flying over our heads from the Red-Tailed Hawk that was flying near them by nothing but their GISS. Very cool. I’m nowhere near being that kind of an expert.
At the second park-and-stretch spot, students relaxed with their lunches for a little while, and I was able to find a couple of examples of a specific kind of gall to tell them about, a Cottonwood Petiole Gall and is created by the aphid, Pemphigus populitransversus. The wingless female aphid called a “stem mother” chews at the leaf petiole (the stalk that joins a leaf to a stem) until it swells and then she climbs inside the swelling and has her babies inside of it. The baby aphids are born live and can be in either a winged form (called an “alate”) or without wings.
While the students were resting and
checking up on their notes, one of them, Alison, let us see what she’d put into
her field journal for the morning. She’s an artist, and she uses fountain pens
and watercolors to write and decorate her entries. It was beautiful. I can
hardly wait for Friday when all the students share their journals, so I can
take photos and let you see what they’re doing…
I also overheard a couple of students talking about how much they enjoyed the class, how much they’ve learned already (in just two sessions) and how many resources we’ve introduced them to that they didn’t even know existed before now. That is so gratifying!
One more learning moment: On the eucalyptus trees along the end auto-tour route on Saturday, I also stopped to pull a leaf off of an obliging eucalyptus tree, so I could show the students in our vehicle the white teepee-like formation on it that some folks mistake for galls. The formations are actually called “lerps” and they’re created by a tiny insect called the Red Gum Lerp Psyllid, Glycaspis brimblecombei. These insects spin little white houses for themselves made of sugars and wax pulled from the leaves. They’re often very sticky with the honeydew produced by the insects.
When we were done with the tour, everyone went their separate ways.
American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus,
American Robin, Turdus migratorius,
American Wigeon, Anas americana,
Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna,
Ash-Throated Flycatcher, Myiarchus cinerascens,
Bermuda Grass, Cynodon dactylon,
Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii,
Billbug Weevil, Sphenophorus sp.,
Birds-foot Trefoil, Lotus corniculatus,
Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
Black Saddlebags Dragonfly, Tramea lacerata,
Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicusm,
Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum,
Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus,
Bristly Oxtongue, Helminthotheca echioides,
Buckwheat, St. Catherine’s Lace, Eriogonum giganteum,
Bulbous Canary Grass, Phalaris aquatica,
Bullock’s Oriole, Icterus bullockii,
California Flannelbush, Fremontodendron californicum,
California Fuchsia, Epilobium canum,
California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi,
I wanted to get up a little early today so I could head out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge… The drive to the refuge is a long one: 2 hours there, 2 hours back, and about 4 hours of driving around the auto tour route. That’s a LOT of car time, sitting in a folded-up position. I haven’t done it since just before my surgery and didn’t know if my core could handle that yet. Well, I found out. It can’t right now.
I was okay on the drive there, but halfway through the auto tour route, I started to ache, and by the time I got back to the house I was in pain. Dang it! I thought I was doing so well. Gotta work more on the exercise and core stuff I guess.
Anyway, after putting gas in the car and stopping to pick up something for my own breakfast, the dog and I got to the refuge around 7:00 am. The sun was just coming up, so I got some red-sky photos. Because the light was so “low” and there was some cloud cover, the camera gave me fits all day. The cloud-glare bounced off the water and played havoc with the light meter/auto focus dealie, and I struggled to get the photos I wanted, sometimes failing miserably which was very frustrating. So, rather than relaxing me, I was kind of stressed out periodically throughout the drive.
Still, I did manage to get SOME halfway decent images. CLICK HERE to see the full album.
The standouts for the day were the Bald Eagles and Ravens. I saw about 5 eagles, including a bonded pair and a juvenile (maybe 2 or 2 ½ years old). One of the eagles was sitting what I generally call “the eagle tree” because you can often find one sitting in it.
It’s sometimes hard to get photos of the birds in that tree because it’s a tall one that sits on the right-hand side of the road. You either have to lay down in the front seat and shoot out the passenger-side window or turn the car at an angle that puts your driver’s-side window to the tree (and blocks the whole road). There were no other cars on the road at the time, so I chose to block it. (Didn’t think my core could handle my lying down in the seat and twisting to shoot out and up into the tree.) I was surprised to find that in that tree, on a few branches below the eagle, there was also a Cooper’s Hawk. You don’t really realize just how truly big the eagles are until you see one beside a hawk. Wow!
The rest of the eagles were near the end of the auto-tour route. The bonded pair were in a distant tree, sitting near the top of it, near the last park-and-stretch area. Because they were so far away it was hard to get any good close-ups of them with my camera. And because of the cloud-glare, their white heads tended to vanish against the white sky, so finessing the camera’s iris was tricky. I liked watching the pair, though. They sat side by side, surveying the surrounding wetlands, periodically touched beaks like they were kissing and groomed one another.
The last two eagles, an adult and the juvenile, were sitting up in the eucalyptus trees along the exit route. The juvenile, which was much more visible than the adult because it was sitting out near the end of some branches, at first looked like a mottled shadow against the twiggy branches, but then seemed to reveal itself as I got closer to it. So cool!
I also got to see three ravens. Two were of a pair that landed together in a tree near the end of the auto tour route. One was kind of bedraggled-looking; some of its feathers were on inside out. And the other flew up with it, offering it a treat I couldn’t quite make out. The treat-bearing one flew off again, and the bedraggled-looking one stayed behind, cawing loudly in the direction in which the other had left.
Even though I wrestled with the camera all day, I was still able to see over 30 different species of birds and animals while I was out there, so I still chalk it up as a “good” viewing day.
DAY 6 OF MY VACATION. I got up around 6:00 am and headed out with Sergeant Margie to theSacramento National Wildlife Refuge. I stopped first to put gas in the car and grab something from Jack’s to eat for the day (I usually get a breakfast sammich, and that lasts me for the whole day – until I get home again.) It was 49º when I left the house and 70º by the late afternoon, so the weather was beautiful. I got through the Sacramento refuge relatively quickly, so I also stopped at the Colusa National Wildlife Refugeafterward.
Neither of the refuges have a lot of water in them yet, so there weren’t as many birds in either one as there might be when the wetland areas are actually wet. I did see a lot of Greater White-Fronted Geese, but no big flocks of the other waterfowl.
There were a lot of Red-Tailed Hawks on the Sacramento refuge, and I also saw a Northern Harrier on the wing, and a Great Horned Owl. The owl was hidden among the branches of the same tree on top of which a hawk was sitting, but the branches were too dense to get a decent photo of the owl.
At one point, I came upon a flat area where a lot of egrets were gathered, eating bugs and crayfish in the very shallow water. There were Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets and Cattle Egrets all in the same field, and along with them were lots of other birds including White-Faced Ibis, Killdeer, Greater Yellowlegs, and even some Long-Billed Curlews. The curlews were a cool surprise; you hardly ever get to see them on the preserve.
I was stalking a Blue-Eyed Darner dragonfly along the tules on the side of the auto-tour route hoping it would land so I could get a photo of it. It finally came to a rest, and just as I drove up close enough to get a photo, a pheasant flushed out of the tules, almost hit the car, and flew away… scaring the dragonfly at the same time. Dang it! Hah! I was rewarded later, though, when I found a pair of Green Darners sitting on some floating tules in the water. The female was laying her eggs in the water and along the sides of the tule, and I was able to get photos and a little video of that.
On the Colusa refuge, the standout critter was a male Great-Tailed Grackle. He was standing on top of a large pile of tules, singing a variety of songs. I got photos and video of him. There were also quite a few Great Blue Herons at that refuge. I also saw a crayfish that I think was carrying eggs. I could see clumps of “stuff” hanging off the swimmerets on the underside of her tail. (The substance that glues the eggs to the swimmerets is called “glair”.) And there was a wooly caterpillar running across the road, and I got some photos of it, too.
I felt the day was a successful one, even though the wetlands are anywhere near their prime condition yet. Sergeant Margie did great for the whole trip. He sleeps most of the time but gets out to pee and poo along the way. The Sacramento and Colusa refuges allow dogs as long as they’re on a leash. Most other wildlife areas don’t let dogs in under any circumstance, so it’s neat when I can bring him along with me.
Up at 5:00 am with the dog, and we headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. I wanted to beat the heat, but I also wanted to test out the car on a long drive before heading back to work on Monday.
At the refuge, I was hoping to see a lot of dragonflies… but without the large pond, they just weren’t around. It was kind of disappointing. The whole place is dry, with just small “mud holes” here and there. The big surprise was a Bald Eagle that took off just as I stopped to try to get photos of it. And I got a few cute photos of a mama California Ground Squirrel sitting up on a stump and eating a thistle head. I just love those little critters.
Because there wasn’t a lot to see, I got through the whole auto tour route very quickly and headed back to Sacramento. I got back home around noon. I think that’s the fastest turn-around I’ve ever done there.