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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

The Birds and Flowers are Starting to Spring, 03-19-19

It was cloudy in the morning, and very overcast by the afternoon, but mild temperature-wise: 47° when I first headed out, and up to about 51° by noon.

I headed over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve to do my volunteer trail walking there. I had invited others to come along on the walk if they wanted to, but no one else showed up, so I was on my own (which is fine with me).

The air was full of bird song: wrens, nuthatches, woodpeckers, hawks, towhees, turkeys, everyone was talking.  I heard Nutthall’s Woodpeckers and Spotted Towhees but couldn’t see them amid the branches and brush.  I did get to see a lot of House Wrens and a few Bewick’s Wrens, California Scrub Jays and Western Bluebirds, Oak Titmice and White-Breasted Nuthatches.

In one area, I came across a juvenile Red-Tailed Hawk that flew from tree to tree along the trail.  And in another area, I saw a pair of Red-Shouldered Hawks calling to each other and mating (twice). I think they might be using the nest on the Pond Trail near the fire suppression stanchion 4B. Their mating took place very near there, and I saw the female fly into the tree where the nest was.

During the second mating, there was a group of children on the trail, so they kind of got an eyeful. Hah!  On another part of the trail, I came across another small group of kids (each of whom was allowed to go on a solo walk before rejoining their group). When the kids were grouped together, they were right near where I was, so I told them that if they looked up into the tree across from them on the trail, they’d be able to see a Bushtit nest that the little birds were actually in the process of building. They couldn’t make it out at first, so I used the laser-pointer I had (I always take one on my walks) to point out the nest.  They oooed and awwwed, and at the same time a mature couple walked up, asked what we were seeing, and stopped to take photos.

A little further up the same trail, there was a large tree in a shallow meadow, and it was being visited by Western Bluebirds, Tree Swallows, an Anna’s Hummingbird, and Audubon’s Warblers. I swear, I should have just set a chair up there and spent the day watching that tree. Lots of photo ops.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

I saw some deer today, mostly small groups of does and a handful of buck (most of them having lost their antlers by now). In one spot, I came from behind a tree on the trail where there’s an open field – and a coyote was standing out there, right in the open. For some reason, my brain freezes when I first see the coyotes, so it takes me a couple of seconds to realize what I’m looking at… and the coyotes usually use those seconds to turn their back on me and lope away as did this one. Dang it!

One of the does was sitting down almost obliterated from view by grasses and shrubbery. She was in an area where, last year, one of the does had her fawn.  I wonder if this was the same doe…

There were a few flowers starting to come up in the grass, and the Interior Live Oak trees are dripping in catkins right now, so spring is springing.  Another few weeks, warm weather permitting, it should be super gorgeous out there.

I walked for 3 ½ hours and then headed back home.

Species List:

1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
2. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
3. Audubon’s Warbler, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronate auduboni
4. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii
5. Blue Dicks, Dichelostemma capitatum
6. Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus
7. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
8. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis
9. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
10. Coyote, Canis latrans
11. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
12. Elfin Saddle, Helvella lacunosa
13. Giraffe’s Head Henbit, Henbit Deadnettle, Lamium amplexicaule
14. Golden-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
15. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon
16. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
17. Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos
18. Manroot, California Manroot, Bigroot, Wild Cucumber, Marah fabaceus
19. Miner’s Lettuce, Claytonia perfoliata
20. Mole, Broad-Footed Mole, Scapanus latimanus
21. Mugwort, California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana
22. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
23. Nutthall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii
24. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus
25. Oxalis, California Wood Sorrel, Oxalis californica
26. Periwinkle, Vinca major
27. Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
28. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
29. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
30. Rio Grande Turkey, Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
31. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
32. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
33. Western Bluebird, Sialia mexicana
34. Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis
35. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis

Deer Jousting and Turkeys Mating Today, 03-12-19

I went out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve and got there around 8:00 am. I was joined there by fellow volunteer trail-walker, Mary M. (The-Other-Mary), and we walked for a little over 3 hours. It was a very interesting walk!

Very early into the walk, we came across a Red-Shouldered Hawk who then joined another one… flew into a nearby tree and did their mating thing right in front of us. Around that same area, I could see a European Starling flitting and hopping through the branches of another tree with a large feather in its beak. It was a gift intended for a female Starling, but the male fumbled with the feather, it fell out of his beak and floated to the ground. D’oh! I kind of felt sorry for the little guy. He was trying so hard to make a big impression and failed epically.

The Wild Turkeys gave us a lot of photos ops today, too. We saw two leucistic turkeys, one a male and the other a female. I’d seen a couple of the females around before, but I had never seen the male until today.  Leucistic animals have a depletion of melanin that washes out most of their coloring, but they’re not pure white like albinos.  On the female turkey, her leucism made her look black and white; but on the male it made him look blond, light brown and white. I thought they were both soooo interesting looking. I took a lot of photos of them.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

While The-Other-Mary and I were watching one small flock of turkeys, we saw another group running across the lawns straight toward them… and then we saw the coyote running right on their heals! He jumped at a few of them but couldn’t catch any of them. and while this is all going on The-Other-Mary and I are trying to get our cameras to focus on the coyote and follow the action. It was my turn for an epic fail; I didn’t get a single image of the coyote. Dang it!

In another area, we’d stopped to watch some of the male turkeys strutting for a handful of females… and then one of the females approached a male, did a circle dance with him, and eventually let him mount her. The-Other-Mary and I are snapping photos as some other people walked up to see what was going on.  So, I got the chance to do my naturalist thing… I identified the males and females for them, told them about how the males strut, about their snoods, and about what attracts a female to the male. When the female turkey bowed down to the ground, I told them about her posture, how the male will “tread” on her, and how, if she’s aroused, she’ll raise her tail for the male… And while I’m talking, the birds are performing as though on queue.  We actually got to see two matings while we were there. During the second one, an Asian lady came up (who didn’t speak much English) and asked if we could take her photo with the birds in the background.  The-Other-Mary obliged her, but it was right when the male mounted the female, so this poor lady now has a photo of herself with turkeys doing the nasty behind her… It will probably turn into internet gold. Hah!

Further along the trail, we came across a pair of Canada Geese in the tree tops.  I’m not certain, but I think with was the same mama and offspring I’d seen a couple of weeks ago. It looks like the younger one can’t fly very well; only in short bursts.  So, they travel from tree-to-tree, then go down to the river, then go back tree-to-tree into the preserve or onto the lawns.

The other cool thing we got to see was a herd of about 15 or 20 Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, including some bucks that still have their antlers. The big 5-pointer was out there, and he started jousting with another older buck. At one point, when they “locked horns” the younger one pushed hard enough to force the older down to the ground. The older one recovered quickly, but he really had to push back HARD to get himself onto all four feet again.

When we were done with the walk, we went into the nature center to record our hours (we get volunteer hour credit for each hour we’re on the trail), and I got to meet Tova, the gal who oversees The Acorn publication. She thanked me for the article I’d written and sent to her on Red-Shouldered Hawks and appreciated that I was able to include photos I’d taken right there at Effie Yeaw. It’s always nice to put a face to a name…

As The-Other-Mary and I left the building, I had to stop to watch one of their snakes (on display) devouring a mouse. The-Other-Mary didn’t want to see that; and I thought that was funny because she’s ex-military and an avid hunter. Hah! So, we left before the snake finished its meal.

The-Other-Mary was very excited about the walk and said it was “one for the books”. We’re hoping to be able to meet up again soon.

Species List:

1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
2. Almond Tree, Prunus dulcis
3. Audubon’s Warbler, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronate ssp. auduboni
4. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
5. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
6. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
7. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
8. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
9. Golden-Crowned Sparrow,Zonotrichia atricapilla
10. Gopher Snake, Pacific Gopher snake, Pituophis catenifer catenifer
11. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon
12. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
13. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
14. Red Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
15. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
16. Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Regulus calendula
17. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
18. Swainson’s Hawk, Buteo swainsoni
19. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis

An Overcast Day at the Preserve, 02-28-19

Date: Thursday, 02-28-19
Time: 7:30 am to 10:30 am
Location: Effie Yeaw Nature Center, 2850 San Lorenzo Way, Carmichael, CA 95608
Habitat: Oak Woodland and riparian boundary
Weather: Overcast, 43° to 46°

Narrative: I headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for my trail walking right after I fed the dog his breakfast. I arrived about 7:30 am and it was 43° at the river. The first thing I saw when I got into the preserve was a Red-Shouldered Hawk just sitting on the lawn. It hadn’t caught anything (that I could see) and stood there, looking around for a short while, so I was able to get some photos and a video snippet of it before it flew off into the trees.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

After going down the wooden steps onto the Bluff Trail, I caught sight of a Western Gray Squirrel running along the trail with a mouth full of grass and twigs, so I followed it… and found where it was constructing its “drey” (squirrel nest). Dreys are different from other squirrel nests because they’re formed on the outside of a tree or cavity and built where several branches come together. ((If the squirrel’s nest is inside a tree or cavity, it’s called a “den”.)) If it continues to build there, walkers should be able to get some good views of the squirrel and its babies.

Lots of deer were out, including several small herds of does and their yearling fawns. I hung around one group for a while just watching a doe grooming her fawn. They’re so tender with their babies; it’s so relaxing to watch them. I also came across a couple of bucks, into two younger ones who were sparring for a little while. One or two of the does seem to be showing their pregnancies already. ((The gestation period is 7 months long so around 203 days.))

At one point along the trail, I saw two odd shapes in the top of a bare-branched tree. Because the sky was overcast, looking up into the branches everything was backlit, so it took a while for me to figure out what I was looking at: a pair of Wood Ducks (a male and female) looking for a place to nest.

I also came across more fungi today than I did on my walk with my naturalist student the other day. Puffball fungus, mushrooms, Elfin Saddles, and three different kinds of jelly fungus, including the nicest specimen of Witches Butter I’ve ever seen. I found a nice specimen of Trametes betulina, a kind of fungus that looks like Turkey Tail fungus (Trametes versicolor), but it has gills! It’s sometimes called the Multicolored Gilled Polypore or Mazegill. This is the first time I’ve seen it live and in such wonderful color. (I usually see it in its later stages when it’s just a bunch of hard weird gills.) Very cool.

Because it was early and overcast and a weekday, I didn’t see a lot of people, but had short interactions with those I did see: got to talk to one lady about Black-Tailed Jackrabbits and another about jelly fungi.

I walked for about 3 hours and headed back home.

Species List:

1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
2. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii
3. Black Jelly Roll fungus, Exidia glandulosa
4. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
5. Brown Jelly Fungus, Tremella foliacea
6. California Buckeye, Aesculus californica
7. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
8. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
9. California Sycamore, Platanus racemosa
10. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis
11. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
12. Deer Shield Mushroom, Pluteus cervinus
13. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
14. Elfin Saddle, Helvella lacunosa
15. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
16. False Turkey Tail, Stereum ostrea
17. Gilled Polypore, Mazegill, Trametes betulina
18. Golden-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
19. Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata
20. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon
21. Lords and Ladies, Naked Boys, Arum italicum
22. Nutthall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii (heard only)
23. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus
24. Puffball fungus, Paltry Puffball, Bovista plumbea
25. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
26. Rio Grande Turkey, Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
27. Rock-Shield Lichen, Xanthoparmelia lavicola
28. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus, (heard only)
29. Turkey Tail fungus, Trametes versicolor
30. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
31. Wavy Leaf Soap Plant, Chlorogalum pomeridianum
32. Western Gray Squirrel, Sciurus griseus
33. White Alder, Alnus rhombifolia
34. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis
35. Witches Butter, Golden Jelly Fungus, Tremella mesenterica
36. Wood Duck, Aix sponsa
37. Yellow Field Mushroom, Egg Yolk Fungus, Bolbitius vitellinus
38.
Russet Toughshank mushroom, Oak Lover mushroom, Gymnopus dryophilus

Found a Robin’s Nest at William Land Park, 06-23-18

I headed out with the dog to the William Land Park for a short walk. And I mean short. We were only out there for about 90-minutes. It was 73º already when we left the house at 5:30 am! and 80º when we got back home.

On our way to the park, I came across a mother Wild Turkey and her NINE poults. They were by an open field right near a bus stop. Mom was on one side of a rickety chain link fence, and the babies, who were on the sidewalk, couldn’t figure out how to get through the fence to meet up with her.  So, they were running back and forth, peeping loudly. Mom finally walked up to where there was a gap in the fence and stayed there until the kids could join her.

In the WPA Rock Garden, there were different species of Mullein in bloom all over garden, yellow and white. Just some fun facts about mullein: it’s a biennial plant; the word mullein, comes from the German language, meaning “king’s candle” because of its scepter-like, candle-straight growth in its second year; the leaves and flowers are edible and make a nice tea. Most of the mullein we see are non-natives and the Woolly species is considered an invasive in California even though it’s not really that aggressive.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos and video snippets.

I also saw signs that the Leaf-Cutter Bees had been busy at work in the garden. They cut out perfect little half-circles in the soft leaves of the Redbud trees to line their nests. I also saw a lot of the ubiquitous European Honey Bees, some Yellow-Faced Bumblebees, some Long-Horned Bees just waking up from their overnight torpor, and a small group of bright red Assassin Bug nymphs on the stems of some Red Poppies of Flanders.

I also found what I thought was a collection of tiny, black shiny insect eggs. I took photos of them and when I blew the images up I realized that the little black things were actually bug nymphs (Pittosporum shield bug, Monteithiella humeralis, I think) just hatching out of their white eggs. Cool!

At the pond, there was a Mallard mama out with her seven ducklings, and also a mama Swedish Blue/Mallard hybrid with her three ducklings. One of her ducklings looked like a Mallard baby, but the other two were black and yellow with light colored bibs like the Swedish Blues. One of those babies also had black feet with yellow toes. So cute!

There was also a lone Wood Duck (a little female who didn’t take any guff from the larger Mallards), a Crested Duck, a pair of Peking Ducks, and some Indian Runner Ducks. No geese, though, which I thought was kind of odd.

High in a tree on one side of the pond, I could see a nest and something moving around in it. The nest was made of twigs and grass, and also had some white ribbon hanging from the bottom of it (which made it easy to spot). For I while I couldn’t tell what kind of bird was moving around it, so I tried looking at it from different angles and different distances from the tree. I then I realized it was Robin’s nest. Mama Robin came by to check on the kids – there were actually three of them in there. I think she’d brought them something to eat, but I couldn’t tell what it was. Papa Robin showed up a few seconds later, and then both parents flew off again to find more breakfast.

Oh, one thing I noticed that I’d never seen before: a mosquito drinking nectar from a flower. I knew the females drank blood, but for some reason it never occurred to me that they (and the males) drink nectar, too.

As I said, we only walked for about 90 minutes and then headed back home because it was already getting too warm outside. It got up to 102 today.

Decompression Time at the Wildlife Refuges

The dog and I headed to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge one day this week to decompress. Sometimes you just need to listen to your body and do what it wants…

We stopped at the Colusa refuge first (which is right on the way), and drove the auto tour there. Not a lot to see, really, but their ponds are starting to fill in nicely. Finally. I did see some female pheasants, several egrets, and lots of White-Faced Ibis among the usual suspects. The best find there was seeing a Red-Tailed Hawk and a Turkey Vulture sitting in the same tree.  The hawk had a dead Coot it was having for breakfast, and the vulture was sitting nearby hoping the hawk would drop something.

Oh, and I also saw a Great Egret with a vole it had just caught. The vole was still kicking when the egret swallowed it down.

Then we went on to the Sacramento refuge. There were lots of Black-Tailed Jackrabbits around, scurrying from one place to another, but the California Ground Squirrels aren’t out yet. (This is the time of the year when they have their babies, so most of the squirrels are still underground.) We saw most of the usual ducks and geese, both Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets, lots of Coots and Killdeer, some little Warblers, Pacific Pond Turtles, the last remnants of the Snow Geese flocks, and Ruddy Ducks. We came upon a Red-Tailed Hawk that was preening itself and didn’t mind if we watched, so I got some video and lots of photos of him (including one where he’s looking down between his legs at us. (Hilarious.)

CLICK HERE to see the album of photos.

The Marsh Wrens were out singing, and the Pied-Billed Grebes were hooting.  I came across one Marsh Wren that looked kind of odd to me; it’s coloring was different than I’m used to seeing. There were speckles all over its back.

When I got home, I posted a photo of it to a bird-identification group on Facebook, and they confirmed it was a Marsh Wren. Unbeknownst to me, the wrens actually have a few color variations, and this was one of the variations I hadn’t really seen or noticed before. So that was a first and a learning moment. I saw a few more female pheasants here, along with way too many Black Phoebes and a Great Blue Heron.  But here, the best find of the day was a Bald Eagle. I didn’t get many photos of it because it was high overhead in a tree, and I couldn’t get a good angle on it, but those guys are always great to see.