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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 Fledglings and Other Critters Today, 06-30-19

I got up around 5:30 this morning and immediately headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for my weekly volunteer trail walking thing.  It was cool, around 55°, when I got there, but as soon as the sun got up a little higher in the sky it started to heat up.  It ended up around 75° by the time I left the preserve.  There were some latent clouds overhead which meant it was humid, too. Not my favorite.

Along with the usual suspects – deer, Acorn Woodpeckers and Wild Turkeys – I got to see quite a few fledgling birds out today.  The fledglings are fully feathered and the same size as the adults, but not quite adept at flying yet, so they spend a lot of time around ground level begging their parents to feed them.  They’re so bossy!  I watched one little House Wren fledgling sitting on top of a pile of old tree limbs.  For a while, he tried posturing like the adults do with his little tail standing straight up behind him, but then he got tired and just sat and dozed… until he saw or heard one of his parents flying by. Then he’d perk up and open his mouth wide expecting food to be dropped into it. Hah!  Although I could see the parents flitting around where he was, they also had other fledglings in the nearby shrubbery (which I could hear buzzing away), and because I was standing between the shrubs and the baby on the woodpile, they wouldn’t go near him. After getting quite a few photos of the little guy, I decided I’d better move on or he wouldn’t get fed at all.

I also came across two fledgling California Towhees.  Now, the California Towhees usually look kind of obese and drab to me, but the babies… they were soooo scrabbly looking; total bed-heads!  They were sitting close to one another with their feathers all fluffed out, so they looked extra fat and messy. Made me chuckle.  One was content to sit and wait for their parents to bring breakfast, but the other one was extra hungry, I guess, and kept tugging at the dead grass near them trying to get something out of it. Can’t get milk out of a stick, son. Sorry.

California Towhee, Melozone crissalis

Further on along the trail I could hear a parent and fledgling Red-Shouldered Hawk calling to one another.  The fledgling was very loud and persistent, demanding to be fed, and the parent would call back him as if to say, “Shut up! I’m working on it!”  I eventually came across the fledgling sitting up in the bare branches of a tree. (He was so loud he was announcing to everyone exactly where he was.)  He saw me and tried to scramble away to other branches but was still unsure of how to make his wings work, so he looked pretty clumsy.  He stuck to the shadows as much as he could then, but I was still able to get a few photos of him.  (And I’m assuming he was a male based on his coloring; females are usually larger and have less vivid colors.) 

I also found one of the parents, sitting quietly now in the low branches of another tree right along the side of the trail, just above eye-level, ignoring the fledgling. Totally habituated to people, it didn’t move from its perch, but kept its eye on me as a passed by and stopped to take some photos. I think they’re such handsome birds.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

Among the other things I found today were a few Pumpkin Galls on the leaves of a Live Oak tree. It’s kind of early in the season for those, so I was surprised to see them.  They’re super-tiny galls, and if you don’t know where or how they develop you’d completely miss them. Right now, they’re pale green, but come fall they’ll turn dark orange and fall off the leaves onto the ground were the little larvae will pupate through the winter.

I found a few Eastern Fox Squirrels and some California Ground Squirrels.  I was surprised to see one of the Fox Squirrels climbing through poison oak and eating the berries! Yikes!  I mean, I knew that the toxin in poison oak don’t generally harm wildlife, but I’d never actually seen any of the animals eating the stuff before.  I also saw a Fox Squirrel eating the husk off of a black walnut and watched a Ground Squirrel eating the tops off of some other plants.  (I think that gal was blind on one side, but once she saw me she moved too fact for me to get photos of her blind side.)

The other cool thing I spotted along the trail was that feral honeybees have found the tree along the Pond Trail again and seem to be setting up house there.  I saw them last year (I think it was) checking out the big opening in the side of the tree, but they left the site after a few weeks.  I guess the queen didn’t like it.  Now the opening is more covered with plants, so maybe it will feel more “protected” to them and they’ll stay there this time.  I let the gals in the nature center know they were there, so hopefully they can discourage hikers from walking off the trail to see the bees. We’ll see.

A feral hive of European Honeybees, Apis mellifera

I walked for about 4 hours and then headed home.

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus,
  2. American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus,
  3. American Goldfinch, Spinus tristis,
  4. American Robin, Turdus migratorius,
  5. Ash-Throated Flycatcher, Myiarchus cinerascens,
  6. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
  7. Black Walnut, Juglans nigra,
  8. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus,
  9. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra ssp. cerulea,
  10. Blue Oak, Quercus douglasii,
  11. Bordered Plant Bug, Largus californicus,
  12. Bur Chervil, Anthriscus Sylvestris,
  13. Bushtit, American Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus,
  14. California Black Walnut, Juglans californica,
  15. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi,
  16. California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana,
  17. California Penstamon, Penstemon californicus,
  18. California Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta,
  19. California Pipevine, Aristolochia californica,
  20. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica,
  21. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis,
  22. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica,
  23. California Wild Plum, Prunus subcordata,
  24. Chinese Privet, Ligustrum sinense,
  25. Cloudless Sulphur Butterfly, Phoebis sennae,
  26. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus,
  27. Common Green Lacewing, Chrysoperla carnea,
  28. Coyote Mint, Monardella villosa,
  29. Desert Cottontail, Sylvilagus audubonii,
  30. Doveweed, Turkey Mullein, Croton setigerus,
  31. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger,
  32. Elegant Clarkia, Clarkia unguiculata,
  33. European Honeybee, Apis mellifera,
  34. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris,
  35. Fig, Common Fig, Ficus carica,
  36. Flax-leaved Horseweed, Erigeron bonariensis,
  37. Giant Sunflower, Helianthus giganteus,
  38. Goldwire, Hypericum concinnum,
  39. Himalayan Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus,
  40. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon,
  41. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni,
  42. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria,
  43. Live Oak Wasp Gall, 1st Generation, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis,
  44. Lords-And-Ladies, Arum maculatum,
  45. Mayfly, Order: Ephemeroptera,
  46. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus,
  47. Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum,
  48. Pumpkin Gall Wasp, Dryocosmus minusculus,
  49. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus,
  50. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia,
  51. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa,
  52. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  53. Sweet Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare,
  54. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura,
  55. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata,
  56. Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
  57. White Horehound, Marrubium vulgare,
  58. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis,
  59. Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa,
  60. Yarrow, Achillea millefolium,
  61. Yellow Salsify, Tragopogon dubius,
  62. Yellow Starthistle, Centaurea solstitialis,

Mostly Lots of Deer and Bucks with Wonky Antlers, 11-18-17

I wanted to sleep in a little bit today, but my dog Sergeant Margie wanted to get up to pee at 5:30 am. So, I let him out and went back to bed. Then he sat on the bed staring at me: he also wanted his breakfast. Hah! It’s a good thing he’s so cute…

I got up again and fed him.  And then since I was up anyway, I got dressed and headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk.  It was 39º at the house when I left, and 37º at the preserve when I arrived.  As the sun came up, it stirred up some ground fog and mist; I stopped several time just to watch the steam rising from the bark of trees and stumps.

CLICK HERE to see the album of photos and video snippets.

I saw a lot of deer today, including a spike buck (one-pronged antler), a buck with a broken antler (The rut was apparently pretty rough on some of the boys this year.), 2 bucks with oddly matched antlers, and a handsome 3-pointer who was nosing around a receptive doe.  I followed that pair for a while – making sure I never got between the buck and the doe – but they wandered off into the thicket and I eventually lost sight of them.

There was one spot where I came across some does sitting out in the grass in the morning sun. I was  able to get within just a few feet of them. And I noticed that one of them had stashed a fawn in the higher glass to my right. As I was taking photos of them, a third doe appeared, followed closed by one of the bucks with and odd set of antlers.  One antler was full-size but was “swooping” and spoon-shaped at the end, and the other was completely stunted. At first I thought maybe it was broken, but the terminal end of it was too smooth… This buck also walked with a distinctive limp.

Antler abnormalities are somewhat common, but because they’re all so different, it’s hard for scientists to determine the exact cause of them. Some antlers can come out misshapen if the pedicle (the point where the antler fits onto the head) is damaged or just grows in a weird shape. Others can look odd if damage is done to the antlers when they’re in the velvet stage (as they’re forming), and for some reason, misshapen antlers is also often associated with damage to the buck’s hind leg. In the same area as the limping buck, I saw another one with a mismatches pair of antlers: one had four points and the other only had two… [[As an interesting aside, I also read that hunters had come across what they thought were female deer with antlers… but genetic testing on the deer showed that although the deer had external female parts, they were actually genetically males.  Transgender deer.  Who knew?!]]

After a short while, all of the deer in that area startled. I knew they weren’t responding to me because they could all see me and had allowed me to get close, so I looked around to see what might have set them off.  And then I saw a thick-coated coyote chasing after a jackrabbit. His rushing path took him right past the deer.  The females all jumped up onto their feet and ran to where the fawn was sitting in the grass and surrounded him until the coyote was out of sight.  I wish I had been able to get that on video…

It’s interesting to me how different deer react differently to my presence. Some ignore me or let me come within touching-distance of them; others run away stotting as they go; and other try to “hide” between trees or clumps of grass while all the while keeping an eye on me.  Makes for some thought-provoking photo ops.

At another spot along the trail, I came to the tree that had held the wild bee hive for a few weeks (before the queen took off to find another spot). The opening in the tree is still surrounded by the bees’ “propolis” (hardened wax and plant resin the bees chew and then build up around the exterior of the hive to stave off bacteria) and I could see insects flying into and out of the hole… not as many as when the bees were there, but still a presence.  I walked up to the tree to check it out and found a lot of black ants crawling around the opening.  They were joined by several Yellow Jackets.  Having been stung already this year by the wasps, I kept back away from the tree, but took some photos and a little bit of video.  The wasps were obviously checking the spot out (if they hadn’t already moved in.) Nice of the honey bees to make the place inviting to them.

I also saw quite a few Wild Turkeys today, along with Acorn Woodpeckers, California Scrub Jays, a male quail, Dark-Eyed Juncos and a few other birds. The surprise for me today, was seeing some male Goldeneyes in the river, diving and fishing around one another.  They were too far away for me to get any really good photos of them, but it was nice to see them… It means all of the migrating waterfowl are moving into the region.

I walked for about 3 hours and then headed back to the house.

National Public Lands Day, 09-30-17

It’s National Public Lands Day! And by coincidence, I got my lifetime “Senior Pass” to all of the national monuments and public lands in the mail today.  The passes are going up in cost to about $80… but I ordered mine before the price hike so it only cost me $10.  Such a deal!

I slept in a tiny bit and got up around 6:30 am, then headed out the door to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

The first thing I saw when I went into the preserve was a small flock of female wild Turkeys chowing down in the grass… and then I could hear a Red-Shouldered Hawk screeling in a tree nearby, so I went to see if I could find it.  It was up pretty high in the branches of a tree, but I got a few photos of it.  I was so focused on keeping an eye on the hawk as I was walking that I went right past a mother Mule Deer and her fawn, and didn’t notice them until I turned around on the trail and started walking back up it again. D’oh!

Further along the trail, I could hear a California Ground Squirrel giving out one of its loud “Chip! Chip! Chip!” alarm calls, and although I couldn’t see the one shouting the alarm, I did see other ground squirrels around stop moving or stand up to try to figure out what was going on.  One of them stopped right on a length of an old, dried up, felled tree and sort of posed for me…

Along the river side, I could hear Spotted Towhees, California Quail, Killdeer, and a Belted Kingfisher, but never caught sight of them. Dang it!  What I did catch sight of, though,  was something I’d never expected to see there: a male Phainopepla (pronounced fain-oh-PEP-la.) They’re about the length of a jaw, but super thin and svelte-looking. The males are shiny blue-black with deep red eyes and they have a crest on the top of their head.  (Females look almost the same except that they’re a shiny ash-brown in color.)  It was sitting up on the top of an Interior Live Oak tree and was pretty far away, but with the “birding” setting on my camera I was able to get some fairly good shots of him.

The oak woodland/riparian habitat at the preserve is actually kind of perfect for it, but I’ve never seen one of them at the river before, so it was a nice surprise. Phainopeplas are kind of unique in that they breed twice a year in two different places: scrubby deserts/chaparral and woodlands. When they’re breeding in desert areas where food can be scarce they’re very territorial, but when the birds breed in woodland areas they’re “colonial” and often share nesting trees with others of their species.  They eat mostly berries, and love mistletoe berries…

I also saw some of the Turkey Vultures around: one adult standing in its “heraldic pose” in a tree, warming itself in the sun; and the juvenile I’d seen last week.  He was sitting in a different tree and pretty far away, but I recognized him by his gray head. I wonder if he’s flying better now that he was a week ago… The adult vulture kept its eye on me as I walked past it, and eventually folded its wings shut and turned around to face me as I got nearer to it.  Despite their size, Turkey Vultures are pretty much “harmless” birds, and don’t have the talons other raptors have that can rip your eyes out. Still, I gave this one a wide berth so I wouldn’t freak it out too much.

Along another loop of the trail I found a queen Yellow Jacket looking for a spot to overwinter… and I found the hive of bees again that’s I’d seen about a month or so. Apparently, they’re going to stay there, at least over the winter months. I could see that the grass from the trail to the tree was tamped down, which I assume was done by the rangers and docents at the preserve (walking back and forth as they kept an eye on the developing hive). I hope they leave it alone; it’s be a great teaching tool – and they’ll get some honey out of it.  I usually keep firmly to the trails in this preserve (because it’s kind of small and going off-trail can really impact the wildlife here), but because the ground was already tamped down near the bee-tree, I stepped in a little closer to it.  I’m assuming these are European Honey Bees and not Africanized Bees. As long as I kept my distance, they didn’t seem to mind my being there and just went on with their “terraforming” duties.  It would be neat to get an x-ray or sonograph of the inside of the tree: I wonder if there’s a long tunnel through it that leads to an underground chamber, or if the bees are actually filling up the entire tree with their hive… Where is my money from Publishers Clearing House?! I have scientific studies I want to do! Hah!

Near where the Yellow Jacket was I found the first outcropping of Sulphur Shelf fungus this season. This is a kind of fungi that doesn’t like real wet weather, so it shows up before the winter rains start.

I saw a lot of turkey and raccoon tracks along the trails…and lots of fresh coyote scat. Those guys were pooping everywhere!

As I was heading out of the preserve, I came across two young bucks play-sparring with one another. By their antlers, I’d guess they were both about 2½ or 3 years old. They’d graze for a while, then joust a little bit, then go back to eating, then joust a little bit. They were behind a thick tangle of vines and shrubs so I couldn’t get any really decent photos of them, but they were fun to watch. This is the start of the rutting season for these guys, so I should be seeing a lot more of the larger males out here soon.  As I was watching the boys joust, several female Wild Turkeys tip-toed by and then hurried down the trail in front of me. They’re such funny things… big as trucks, but so shy.

I also stopped at the pond on my way to the parking lot, and found a bunch of bullfrogs. One of them was actually sitting on top of a big leaf in the water, posing for everyone. Others were more difficult to spot: hiding under umbrellas of grass or blending in with the green of the water foliage… I walked for about 3 hours at the preserve.