Tag Archives: hybrid

Nature Walk on a Lovely Day, 09-14-18

I went on a photo walk with my coworker, Nate, and one of Tuleyome’s donors/volunteers, Sami, to Lake Solano Park this morning.

The weather was extraordinarily lovely today. It was in the 50’s at the park and got up to about 75º by the late afternoon. There was slight breeze and the sky was filled with cirrus clouds. Gorgeous.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

Sami is an avid birder – she logged 300 species last year! – and she was able to point out birds to us that we might have otherwise missed. Many of them – including a juvenile Golden Eagle – were on the fly and moving fast so I wasn’t able to get photos of them. But it was still cool to see them.

And Nate is a total nature nerd, like me, so it’s always fun to go out into the field with him. We get excited by things like bugs and fungus and otter scat… so, we enjoyed locating and identifying galls on the trees in the park, hah! We even found a gall I had never seen before. (Or at least didn’t recognize. It turned out to be an early stage of the Round Gall.)

The stand outs for the day for me, though, besides the lovely scenery at the park (which sits right along Putah Creek), were the peahens and their babies, a sleepy Western Screech Owl, a juvenile Great Blue Heron (who startled us by “appearing” on the shore right next to the path we were walking on), and an American White Pelican who was sitting in the middle of the creek, preening, sunning, and doing a little fishing.

We walked for about 3 hours, and then headed our separate ways.

Sooooo Many Lotus Plants, 08-12-18

Up at 6:00 o’clock and off to William Land Park by about 6:20 am. The park was hosting the Banana Festival there today so parts of it were closed off and parking was a bit more difficult, but I stayed away from all of the festival stuff and just walked around the ponds and the WPA Rock Garden.

The garden has been pretty burnt by the summer heat, but there were still a few things to photograph.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

The middle pond at William Land Park is grossly overwhelmed by Sacred Lotus ((Nelumbo nucifera) plants. So many that only a fraction of the water was clear enough for the ducks to swim in. The rest of the pond was inundated with plants which are all very lovely at this stage, when they’re blooming, but, although they’re native to the US (specifically Florida), they are considered “invasive” here in California. When they proliferate, they can completely take over a waterscape; and because their huge leaves cover the surface of the water.

At the large pond, which was clear except for a little alga, I got to see a few more birds, including a couple of mama Mallards with their ducklings.

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

A Few Surprises at William Land Park, 03-25-18

At the William Land Park, I walked the dog through the WPA Rock Garden and around the middle pond. At the pond, I saw a woman walking with a stroller, and I was astonished to discover that she wasn’t walking with a baby in the stroller. She was walking with a large, brown Flop-Eared Rabbit!  It was soooo adorable!

Other surprises around the pond were Cackling Geese in among the Canada Geese, and a Crested Duck. Cackling Geese are nearly identical to Canada Geese but they’re much smaller in size. The joke is that they look like Canada Geese who were “left in the dryer too long” and shrunk. Hah! I’d never seen them at the park before.  The Crested Duck, which looks like a duck with a powder-puff glued to the top of its head, was a first for me, too. I’d seen photos of them, but never saw a live one before.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

The poofy top-knot is specially bred into this species. As cute as it may appear, it’s actually a genetic defect (and covers a soft spot on the skull). Most Crested ducklings die before they hatch because their brains form outside of their skulls. In this instance, “beauty” can literally be lethal.

I saw several Mallard ducks in the midst of mating stuff. Two of the males that I saw were being mounted by other males (one by a Mallard/Swedish Blue hybrid and one by a larger Peking Duck) – to each their own. I worry about the duck at the bottom of the process because they’re often shoved under the surface of the water while the other duck treads on them.  It was horrific to see, then, a female Mallard shoved under the surface by a frantic male, and held down there until she drown. Even after she was dead, the male kept trying to mount her and pull at her.  It wasn’t until she rolled over onto her back and floated there unmoving that he backed off.  When he tried to get near her again, another male Mallard chased him off.  It was too little, too late, of course.  So sad.

I spent about 2 hours at the park, and then headed home.

CalNat Field Trip #2, Lake Solano Park. 03-03-18

I led a California Naturalists field trip to Lake Solano Park today. The first thing we saw when we entered the park were two peacocks roosting high in a tree over our heads… and a male Phainopepla that was looking for mistletoe berries to eat.

It was originally the idea that half of the group would go in one direction and the other half of the group would go in another – so we could cover the whole park — but all of the students wanted to come with me, so we moved in one big group.

The walk was a productive one, however: we got to show students different kinds of plants including flowering Pipevine, Manroot vines with seed-pods forming on them already, and Northern Giant Horsetail (Equisetum telmateia braunii ), a subspecies of horsetail that grows in western North America. Although commonly referred to as “Horsetail Grass” it’s actually a kind of fern that grown simultaneously in fertile and non-fertile forms. We saw both the non-fertile green stems (that are photosynthetic), and the yellowish fertile spore-bearing stems in the same area. The spore-bearing stems die as soon as their spores are released, so there were a lot of them around looking like they’d “fainted”. Although the normal mature size of these ferns is about 4-5 feet tall, they can get as tall as 7 feet high. (So the ones we saw were just “babies”.) In another month or so, they’ll come up to my chest. (Both the infertile forms and the fertile forms grown from the same rhizomes of the same plant – so one feeds the overall fern while the other tends to reproduction.)

There were also plenty of waterfowl to see including Canada Geese, Double-Crested Cormorants, Common Goldeneyes, Mallards, American Wigeons, Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons (which seemed to be almost everywhere we looked), and a Green Heron.

When one student took a close-up photo of a sprout of mistletoe, she realized there was a bug on it and asked me if I could identify it for her. I’d never seen anything like it before. It looked like a scale bug, but I wasn’t positive, so I took a bunch of close-ups of it and then researched it after I got home. It was Icerya purchasi — (my brain first saw that as “Ikea Purchases”; hah!) — and it’s common name is Cottony Cushion Scale. It’s considered a pest species and usually attacks citrus trees, but it’s known to parasitize mistletoe. So the parasitic mistletoe has a parasite of its own. The one we saw was in the medium stage of its development, before it gets its big white cushiony behind.

We also saw a family of about 5 river otters in Putah Creek, but they were too far away (along the distant shore) for me to get any good photos of video of them. Another hard-to-photograph find was a male Belted Kingfisher that kept flying back and forth on the opposite side of the river. “See that white dot on the tree over there? That’s his breast.” Hah!

The find that all of the students really enjoyed was being able to spot the tiny Western Screech Owl, who was sleeping in the same tree I’d seen him in before. His tree is behind one of the most remote restrooms in the park, so I had the students follow me around the building, then file in behind me at the adjacent picnic tables, before I showed them where the owl was. I used a laser pointer to help them pinpoint his location. It was gratifying to hear all of the ooo’s and ahhhs, and the clicking of camera shutters once they spotted him. If nothing else, I’d been able to give them the treat of seeing something they’d never seen in the wild before. And some of the students didn’t even know the park was there, so it was nice surprise to them, too.

Along the walk (and we only covered half of the park in 4 hours!), I also pointed out stuff like Turkey Tail fungus, Black Jelly Roll fungus, different kinds of lichen, and some Barometer Earthstars. They’d never seen anything like that before, so I demonstrated for them how the spores are released from the puffer-belly in the center of the fungus – and one of the students took a video of that.

It’s hard for me to lead a walk, point out and hold specimens, AND take photos of my own, so I didn’t get as many pictures as the students themselves did. I told them they have to share them with me!!

On the way back to the parking lot, where folks gathered to share to lunches and decompress, my coworker Bill spotted some scat along the shore. So I put on a nitrile glove and picked some of it up. We concluded it was probably otter scat, considering all of the crayfish parts we found in it – including an intact, undigested antenna. I told the students Bill was “great at finding all sorts of crap”, and everyone laughed, including Bill.

While we were having our lunches, too, someone noticed an aggregate of Western Boxelder Bugs so I was able to give them a mini lesson on those. Some of the bugs were having sex, so the mass kind of looked like an orgy, but most of the bugs were just huddled together to keep themselves warm. (By that time of the day it was about 46º and the rain was just starting.) The species we see here in California is Boisea rubrolineata. Their host trees are ash, maple, Goldenrain trees, and soapberry; and they usually eat nothing but the seeds.

We all left the park around 12:30 pm, and headed back home. I took the long way around, going back to Woodland and then on to Sacramento, so the drive took me over an hour… but it was neat to see all of the sofa clouds and the storm squall starting to move in and cover the valley.

A Western Screech Owl and Other Critters, 02-24-18

Brrr.  It was 32º this morning when I headed over to Lake Solano Park for a walk and a pre-field trip photo session.  This is the park where I had fallen earlier this month, so I was very much on my guard while I was there.  I got to the park without any ado, and had the parking lot all to myself when I arrive (around 8:00 am), so I was able to park in an easily accessible place. Score!  The rest of my morning went along well, too… and I didn’t fall down once. Hah!

At the park, I was accosted by a peacock looking for handouts when I first got out of my car, but then I didn’t any of the peafowl again throughout my walk (although I could hear them calling to one another across the park).  It was cold enough there in the early morning that some of shallower water was frozen solid.

Bufflehead ducks seemed to be everywhere I looked in the river, females with males around them doing their head-bobbing thing and bullying each other. I also saw Mallards, American Wigeons, some Wood Ducks and lots of Common Goldeneyes. I saw quite a few Great Blue Herons, including one that was very cooperative and let me walk to within about 10 fee of it while it waded in the water.

There are always Canada Geese at the park, but I was surprised to find a pair that were actually hybrids, crossed with Greater White-Fronted geese, so their coloring was way off. As Billy Crystal would say, “This is what happens when cousins marry.”

Along with the ubiquitous Acorn Woodpeckers, I also saw several Northern Flickers (although I had a lot of trouble getting photos of them because they were up so high in the trees and kept moving around), and some Nutthall’s Woodpeckers (a male in one tree and a female in another). And there were California Scrub Jays all over the place; some stashing food in the ground, some picking up twiglets for their nests.

I also saw a Cedar Waxwing (that wouldn’t turn around, so all I got was the back of its head), several Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets, Spotted Towhees, Golden-Crowned Sparrows (eating the flowers off what I think was a fruitless pear tree), Song Sparrows, Pied-Billed Grebes, a few Hooded Mergansers, several Crows, Black Phoebes, a couple of Myrtle Warblers and a Eurasian Collared Dove.  I was teased by Belted Kingfishers all morning, flying back and forth along the shore of the river, but never on the side on which I walking… and they’re so freakin’ fast! I just barely got some a really bad photos of a female in a tree.

I was surprised and happy to see several Phainopepla in the park, both males and females. But the best sighting of the day was of a tiny Western Screech Owl.  I would have completely missed him if a birder-lady hadn’t pointed him out to me… “See the tree with the blue mark on it?” She said. “Now look up where the knots are on it.” Wow!  Amazeballs. He was sitting with his butt in a hole in the side of the tree, dozing, and opened his eyes just a slit to look at me when I took some photos of him. Think of an owl the size of your palm – that’s how little he was.

Find the owl.

Among the plants I could easily identify were Pipevine, Manroot Vine, Miner’s Lettuce and Burr Chervil, tules, cattails… y’know, the usual suspects.

I also saw my first Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly of the season, and got it to sit on my sleeve for a little while so I could take some photos of it.  I think it like that the coat was WARM on such a chilly morning. I could tell by the amount of blue on her hind wings that it was a female.

Here is an album of photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mkhnaturalist/albums/72157690848390452

I walked for about 4½ hours, which is way past my limit, so I was exhausted and achy by the time I got back home.

After Work at the WPA Rock Garden, 09-14-17

After work, it was still relatively nice outside, so I went over to the WPA Rock Garden and duck pond for a short walk.

I came across the caterpillar of a Redhumped Caterpillar Moth on one of the Redbud Trees there.  They’re considered a pest species because they can have three generations in a single year and skeletonize the leaves of a lot of different kinds of trees.  There was only one that I saw, and it was big enough to start working on its chrysalis, so I don’t think it was much of a threat to the tree at this point.  The caterpillars burrow underground to form their chrysalis and overwinter in it.  Lots of little Skippers and some Hairstreak Butterflies around.  Among the common Fiery Skippers were some darker Woodland Skippers to break up the monotony… I also got some photos of a Flame Skimmer dragonfly and a Variegated Meadowhawk . Their regular mating season is almost over now…

CLICK HERE to see the whole album of photos and videos.

While I was taking photos of the insects, there was a professional photographer taking photos of a little boy, a toddler with thick black curly hair.  His mother made loud squeaking noises at him to make him laugh… and every time she did that, a homeless guy who was squatting in the park shouted at the top of his lungs, “Goddamn it! It is so noisy here!  Shut Up!  I’m trying to sleep!  This is the noisiest place I have ever lived in!”

Someone yelled back at him, “You don’t live here, man. This is a public park. If you don’t like the noise, get out!”

Then the homeless guy started screaming like a chimpanzee – “Oooh! Ooh!  Eee!  Eee!” — as he gathered up all of his stuff.  As he was leaving the garden area, he started yell-singing at the top of his lungs, “What do you get when you fall in love?!  You get enough germs to catch pneumonia!  After you do, he’ll never phone ya! I’ll never fall in love again!”  He kind of mixed up the lyrics and apparently these were the only lines he knew he knew, because he repeated them over and over and over again… I could hear him even when he was halfway out to the golf course. *Sigh*

I watched some hummingbirds chase each other around the garden and I think one pair of them were Rufous Hummingbirds, the ones with the rusty coloring on them. The male never sat still long enough for me to get any decent photos of him, but I got quite a lot of the female.  It seems awfully late in the year for them to be so “horny” but maybe the hurricanes and Climate Change have confused them…

There was a Green Heron running back and forth along the edges of the pond, picking off little minnows when they came up to munch on algae. I followed him around for a little while and got quite a few photos of him. I saw him catch several fish, but he always had his back to me when he did it, and I couldn’t get any good “capture” shots.

I finished off the walk taking photos of the ducks before heading back the car. On my way out of the garden I came across a male Praying Mantis, and snapped a few shots of him before I left.