Tag Archives: Lake Solano Park

CalNat Field Trip #2, Lake solano Park, 07-13-19

On the way to Lake Solano Park for our second Certified California Naturalist field trip of the summer, I stopped to put some gas in my car, and I was treated with the sight of some hot air balloons floating over the city of Winters and its surrounding fields. One of the balloons was either dragging or coming in for landing because it got REALLY low over downtown. I could see the people in the basket.  I was kind of surprised to see the balloons at all considering that it was already about 62° when I got to Winters.  Hot air balloons only work if the air around them is cooler than the air in the balloon (so they fly more successfully in the fall-to-spring time period than they do in the summer.)

I was the first one in our group to get to the park and pulled up into one of the upper parking lots because the lot nearest the park itself was still closed.  Technically, the park doesn’t open until 8:00 am, so I was there before the all-gates-open time. The rangers weren’t too pleased that I was in the upper lot before 7:30 am, but they didn’t say anything – until AFTER 8:00 am and my students had arrived, and we were in the park area itself.  I’ll know better next time not to get there early.

The reason for trying to get my group there earlier in the day, though, was to try to beat the heat. It got up to 79° by 10:30 am. So, we cut the trip a little short to get everyone back in their air-conditioned cars before we all overheated. Along with my co-worker Bill and most of the students in the class, Greg Ira (the Director of the Certified California Naturalist program at the University of California) joined us for our walk.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

One of the first things we pointed out to the group was the difference between the native Black Walnut trees and the English Walnut trees. English Walnut trees don’t generally do good in California, so they’re grafted onto the native Black Walnut root stock. We were able to show the students the graft mark in one of the trees (with the Black Walnut on the bottom and the English Walnut on top) and showed them that even through the tree itself was now primarily English Walnut, they could still see some shoots of Black Walnut stems and leaves growing up out of the root stock.

English Walnut grafted onto Black Walnut rootstock.

We seemed to hear more birds than we put eyes on, and my student Alison K., who like our student Ken E., is a birding expert, helped us with the sound IDs.  Alison also told the group about the sap wells we were seeing in the bark of some of the trees, created by Sapsucker birds who drill the wells not so much to suck the sap, but to attract insects they can eat.  On one tree we found several clear samples of the wells, along with some hefty outpourings of the sweet sap.

Tree sap oozing from wells drilled by Sapsuckers.

We also came across a large juvenile Great Blue Heron that was sitting in a tree adjacent to the trail.  It posed for some photos, pooped into the river and then flew off with a deep-throated croaky squawk. I guess he told us what he thought about us. We also came across a small creche of Peahens with their fledgling poults. A group of three moms were taking the babies to the edge of the river to get a drink.

 I myself was focused more on finding galls than seeing birds on this trip, however, and was able to point out newly budding examples of Pumpkin galls, Roll Gall Midge galls, Erineum Mite galls, Cluster Galls, Spiny Turbans, Two-Horned galls and Flat-Topped Honeydew galls. Most of the galls were just starting to emerge and weren’t their full size yet.  Give them another week or two and they should be spectacular.

 Our group also found quite a few different orb-weaver spiders included Spotted Orb Weavers and Long-Jawed Orb Weavers. And we spotted a variety of butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies including: California Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies, a sleepy Buckeye butterfly, a Painted Lady butterfly, and a Tiger Swallowtail butterfly on the wing; Widow Skimmer dragonflies, Flame Skimmers, Four-Spotted Skimmers, Pond Skimmers and Blue Dasher dragonflies, plus several damselflies that looked like they’d just emerged and weren’t colored-up yet.

Along with imparting some of what I know to the class, I always learn something new on these field trips or add to knowledge I already have, so it’s always fun and exciting to me. I found two galls I hadn’t seen before and found out that even the experts were having trouble properly identifying them. One was a gall made by the Roll Gall Midge (whose species is known but not its genus) and it took the form of rolled edges along the leaves of Live Oak trees.  The other was an odd tubular “prick” on the leaf of a Valley Oak tree. At first, I thought I was just looking at a weird anomaly on the leaf, but then I saw the exact same structure repeated on leaves of different Valley Oaks, so I took some photos and looked it up when I got home.  Experts recognize it as a wasp-induced gall but they don’t know what species it’s associated with yet, and think it might be a second-generation gall for an already identified gall wasp.  Everything I found on it called it a “Leaf Gall Wasp” gall but with the species listed as “Unidentified”. How neat!

Gall of the UNIDENTIFIED Leaf Gall Wasp.

 As we were looking at some California Wild Grape vines, Greg asked for the term for the process by which tendrils wrap around things. None of us could remember it at the time. Of course, when I got home, it came to me: “THIGMOTROPSIM”! Cool word, huh?  You can read more about it here: http://biology.kenyon.edu/edwards/project/steffan/b45sv.htm

Another word that wouldn’t come to mind yesterday when we were out on the field trip… We saw a lot of damselflies that had apparently just emerged and weren’t “colored up” yet, and I couldn’t remember the term for that state.  It’s “TENERAL“: the state of an insect immediately after molting. At this time the insect’s exoskeleton has not hardened and it may be pale in color.

A “teneral” damselfly

A little further along our walk, some of the students noticed frothy ooze coming out of the base of a Valley Oak tree. It looked something like Sudden Oak Death (SOD) to me, but it was a lot more frothy, and I’d never seen SOD near the bottom of a tree before. So, I looked it up when I got home.

 The foam is from a bacterial infection in the tree called “Alcoholic Flux” or Foamy Canker. It usually affects trees in the summer that have been stressed in some way. Bacteria infects the tree and ferments some of the sap. The fermentation is expelled by the tree in a frothy slime that kind of smells like sour beer. Unlike SOD, alcoholic flux isn’t usually a permanent or fatal kind of infection. It’s usually gone by the end of the summer.

“Alcoholic Flux” or Foamy Canker on the base of a Valley Oak tree.

We’d also seen a lot of small gnats around the ooze, and I’m not sure, but I’m going to infer that they were getting buzzed on the fermented juice. Hah!

By 10:30 it was already too hot to keep people out in the sun, so the group broke up and we all headed back to our cars by different routes.

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus,
  2. Alcoholic Flux bacteria, Foamy Canker, Slime Flux,
  3. American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus,
  4. Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon,
  5. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
  6. Black Walnut, Juglans nigra,
  7. Blue Dasher, Pachydiplax longipennis,
  8. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus cerulea,
  9. Box Elder Tree, Acer negundo,
  10. Bull Thistle, Cirsium vulgare,
  11. California Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta,
  12. California Pipevine, Aristolochia californica,
  13. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica,
  14. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica,
  15. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis,
  16. Common Buckeye Butterfly, Junonia coenia,
  17. Common Merganser, Mergus merganser,
  18. Convoluted Gall Wasp, Andricus confertus,
  19. Eight-Spotted Skimmer, Libellula forensic,
  20. English Plantain, Ribwort, Plantago lanceolata,
  21. English Walnut, Juglans regia,
  22. Flame Skimmer, Libellula saturate,
  23. Flat-Topped Honeydew Gall Wasp, Dishopcaspis eldoradrnsis,
  24. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias,
  25. Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata,
  26. Hoary Rosette Lichen, Physcia aipolia,
  27. Indian Peafowl, Pavo cristatus,
  28. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni,
  29. Leaf Gall Wasp, Unidentified
  30. Painted Lady Butterfly, Vanessa cardui,
  31. Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum,
  32. Pumpkin Gall Wasp, Dryocosmus minusculus,
  33. Roll Gall Midge, Contarinia sp.,
  34. Spiny Turban Gall Wasp, Antron douglasii,
  35. Spotted Orb Weaver Spider, Neoscona crucifera,
  36. Sunburst Lichen, Xanthoria elegans,
  37. Two-Horned Gall Wasp, Dryocosmus dubiosus ,
  38. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata,
  39. Walnut Erineum Mite Gall, Aceria erinea,
  40. Western Pondhawk, Erythemis collocata,
  41. Western Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly, Papilio rutulus,
  42. Widow Skimmer Dragonfly, Libellula luctuosa,
  43. Woolly Aphid, Prociphilus sp.,

Pre-Field Trip Field Trip at Lake Solano, 03-13-19

I got up around 6:00 this morning so I could head out to Lake Solano Park in Winters, CA. This was a recon for the trip we’ll be doing with the whole class on Saturday, and I wanted to check out where plants were growing, if the ferns were out yet, what birds were out there, etc. It was very windy and chilly around 44° when I got there and about 53° when I left.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

At the park, I was joined by my coworker Nate L., some of my naturalist class students, Sharyn L. and Mary S., and two of my naturalist class graduates Elaine and Roxanne.  Sharyn had forgotten her cell phone and was double bummed when she realized the battery in her camera was dead, so she had no way of taking photos. Not having the technology in her hands, though, she said helped her to focus more on what she was hearing rather than what she was seeing, so the experience was a lot different than she thought it might be.

I was hoping to see some pipevine, manroot and Giant Horsetail, and thankfully they were all present. Those are always great things to show to the students. We also saw over 30 different plant and animal species, including the resident Western Screech Owl, and found a couple of animal skulls. We think one was a coyote skull, and the other (with a fully disarticulated skeleton) was some kind of domesticate dog, based on their teeth.  It’s always great to go out with a group on excursions like this because everyone sees something different, and as a group we’re alerted to more things.

We walked for about 3 ½ hours, and then each went on our way.

Species List:

1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
2. American Mistletoe, Broadleaf Mistletoe, Phoradendron leucarpum
3. Audubon’s Warbler, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronate ssp. auduboni
4. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii
5. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
6. Broadleaf Cattail, Typha latifolia
7. Bufflehead Duck, Bucephala albeola
8. California Manroot Vine, Bigroot, Wild Cucumber, Marah fabaceus
9. California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica
10. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
11. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
12. Cliff Swallow, Petrochelidon pyrrhonota
13. Common Goldeneye, Bucephala clangula
14. Common Merganser, Mergus merganser
15. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auritus
16. Echo Azure Butterfly, Celastrina echo
17. Galium, Velcro Grass, Sticky Willy, California Bedstraw, Galium californicum
18. Giant Horsetail, Great Horsetail, Equisetum telmateia
19. Giraffe’s Head Henbit, Lamium amplexicaule
20. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
21. Great Egret, Ardea alba
22. Hooded Merganser, Lophodytes cucullatus
23. Lodgepole Pine, Pinus contorta
24. Mottled Willowfly, Mottled Stonefly, Strophopteryx fasciata
25. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
26. Oyster Mushroom, Pleurotus ostreatus
27. Pacific Pond Turtle, Western Pond Turtle, Actinemys marmorata
28. Peacock, Indian Peafowl, Pavo cristatus
29. Phainopepla, Phainopepla nitens
30. Praying Mantis, California Mantis, Stagmomantis californica
31. Racoon, North American Racoon, Procyon lotor
32. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
33. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
34. Turkey Tail Fungus, Trametes versicolor
35. Western Screech Owl, Megascops kennicottii
36. White Alder, Alnus rhombifolia
37. Willow, Pacific Willow, Salix lasiandra

A Wednesday Walk at Lake Solano Park, 11-07-18

I got up around 6:00 this morning and headed out to Lake Solano Park for Tuleyome’s scheduled “Wednesday Walk” there. I stopped in Woodland to pick up some stuff for lunch, and then continued on to the park, arriving there just a little bit before 8:00 am.

When I drove into the main gate, I was astonished to see the gates closed and PARK CLOSED signs up. My coworker Nate was across the street in the camping area and came over to my car to let me know that, unbeknownst to him, the park was shut down because they were doing spraying for invasive species. The camping ground side of the park was open though.

I tracked down a ranger and asked him if it was okay for us to park in their overflow lot (which is usually only for 30-minute-parking) because our group couldn’t access the park for our schedule d event. He said that would be okay as long as we still paid the day use fee ($6 per car) and put the day use ticket on our dashboards with “Ranger OKed” written on them. So, we did that, and ended up with about 9 people on the walk.

The trail along Putah Creek on the campground side of Lake Solano isn’t as “manicured” as the one on the park side, and it gets a little gnarly toward the end of it where it abuts private land. We had two older ladies with us who weren’t able to walk long distances, so I stayed pretty much at the back of the group with them, identifying birds for them and showing them things like galls, midges, and other stuff along the way.

About halfway down the trail, the ladies decided they’d better turn back before they got too tired, so once they were gone, I caught up with Nate and the rest of the group. I thought it was funny that throughout the walk, some of the participants kept coming back to me to ask questions rather than deferring to Nate (who knows just about as much as I do about nature areas); I guess I looked “knowledgeable” or something.

One of the folks asked more about our naturalist course, and a couple of other people asked about our trail camera project… so the publicity I’m doing for those in local newspapers is having some effect, and that’s always good to know.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

We walked for about two hours before getting back to our cars. I was kind of disappointed in the wildlife showing there: not a lot was going on. But we did see Acorn Woodpeckers, Northern Flickers, Scrub Jays, a Eurasian Collared Dove, lots of Mallards, Buffleheads and Canada Geese, several Great Blue Herons, some Double-Crested Cormorants, Spotted Towhees, and a few Pied-Billed Grebes. We had wanted to take the group to the park side of the lake, so they’d have a chance to see the Western Screech Owl that often sleeps there, but, no… the spraying was going on.

One odd thing we saw was a small group of Bushtits clinging to the side of the nature center, picking at what I first thought was splotches of dark mold. I couldn’t understand why the little birds were so interested in that. As we got closer, though, we realized that the splotches were not mold but rather clumps of small dark midges (bugs) that had gotten caught in the cobwebs on the building. Smart birds! They had whole buffet of midges to eat!

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.

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.