Tag Archives: Mallard

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.

Poults and a Snake, 07-04-19

Happy 4th of July.  Up at 5:30 am, and out the door before 6:00 to go to the American River Bend Park for a walk.  It was about 59°when I got there with a slight breeze blowing, so it was nice.  I was expecting the place to be crawling with people for the holiday, but nope. I had the trails almost to myself all the while I was out there. 

The very first thing I saw when I drove in was a doe crossing the road in front of me.  She stopped and looked behind her, and then I saw her fawn come out after her and scurry across the road, too.  I tried to get photos, but I had to shoot through the windshield so… nuthin’.  Dang it!  But the park was otherwise pretty kind, giving me two other surprises with better photo ops.

CLICK HERE to see the full album of photos.

The first of those two was getting the chance to see some Rio Grande Wild Turkey poults (Meleagris gallopavo intermedia). I hardly ever get to see them because the moms are so good at keeping them hidden. This was a group of three adults and five poults. The poults were all fledged in their first feathers but still too small to fly.  Among the adults was the leucistic (black and white) female I see often in the park. She was following after the other two, so I inferred that she was “learning” from them. She mimicked a lot of what they did, and also seemed to be helping out with protecting the babies.

At one point, one of the adults jumped up into an elderberry bush and started pulling berries off and dropping them to the ground so the babies could get them. A few seconds later, one of the poults got up into the bush, as well, but couldn’t reach the berries and jumped down again. So cute.  I think that little guy was blind on one side. It kept on eye shut all the time, and the lid looked “flat” in the socket (instead of rounded out by an eyeball).

I walked with the small flock for a while, but the adults were really good about keeping the kids out of the sunlight, for the most part, and keeping themselves between the babies and me. Who says turkeys are stupid?

The second surprise came when I walked down near the shore of the American River because there was a Buttonbush down there in full bloom and I think the flowers are so cool-looking. Anyway, while I was taking pictures of the flowers, I caught a glimpse of something moving past my foot and going behind me, so I turned around and saw a spotted snaky form slipping through the rocks.  At first I thought it was a gopher snake because they’re really common in the park, but then I caught a glimpse of the head. Not a gopher snake.

It was a young RATTLESNAKE. It was about as long as my forearm, so not too-too big, but still large enough to pack a good supply of venom. What was weird was: when I first saw it, it was in diffused light so all of the light parts on it looked pale blue and all of the spots on it looked kind of orangey. Very odd.

Pacific Rattlesnake among the rocks on the shore of the American River.

I followed after it a little bit to try to get more photos — which is hard for me on the shore because it’s all rocks there and my feet don’t work well on unstable cobbly ground.  I stopped when the snake got pissed off at me and wound itself into a striking position. Uh, yikes! I took just a few more photos and then let it be.

I also came across a small family of crows: a parent and two fledglings, I think. I saw the parent hand off a rock to the kids – which they weren’t interested in — and then pick up some seeds from along the shore.  The fledglings were very loud and fussy, demanding that mom feed them (even though they were large enough to fly and forage by themselves.) Huge mouths!  They cracked me up.            

Walking through the rocks on the shore, and then having to climb back up an incline to get to the trail pretty much did me in, though. The bones in my feet are “welding together” like Mom’s did from arthritis, so my feet don’t bend and flex like they should, which is why walking on uneven ground is hard for me these days.  Still, I was able to walk for about three hours total before heading back to the house.

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus,
  2. Ash-Throated Flycatcher, Myiarchus cinerascens,
  3. Black Nightshade, Solanum nigrum,
  4. Black Walnut, Juglans nigra,
  5. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus cerulea,
  6. Buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis,
  7. California Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta,
  8. California Pipevine, Aristolochia californica,
  9. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica,
  10. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica,
  11. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus,
  12. Common Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos,
  13. Common Green Lacewing, Chrysoperla carnea,
  14. Common Merganser, Mergus merganser,
  15. Doveweed, Turkey Mullein, Croton setigerus,
  16. Fennel, Sweet Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare,
  17. Flowering Tobacco, Nicotiana alata,
  18. Giant Mullein, Verbascum thapsus,
  19. Golden Shield Lichen, Xanthoria parietina,
  20. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias,
  21. Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata,
  22. Horsetail, Rough Horsetail, Equisetum hyemale,
  23. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni,
  24. Italian Thistle, Carduus pycnocephalus,
  25. Live Oak Gall Wasp, 2nd Generation, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis,
  26. Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos,
  27. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura,
  28. Northern Pacific Rattlesnake, Crotalus oreganus oreganus,
  29. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii,
  30. Pumpkin Gall Wasp, Dryocosmus minusculus,
  31. Red Swamp Crayfish, Crawfish, Crawdad, Procambarus clarkia,
  32. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus,
  33. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia,
  34. Rusty Tussock Moth, Orgyia antiqua,
  35. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus,
  36. Tarweed, Common Madia, Madia elegans,
  37. Tree Tobacco, Nicotiana glauca,
  38. Treehopper, Oak Treehopper, Platycotis vittata,
  39. Western Bluebird, Sialia mexicana,
  40. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis,

The 1st Summer 2019 Naturalist Field Trip, 06-15-19

I got up at 4:00 this morning, got the dog fed and outside to pee, and then headed out to Woodland for our first field trip for the summer naturalist class.  I got to the Woodland Library around 5:45 am and waited for my coworker Bill and the students arrive. The weather was VERY cooperative today. I was worried that the summer heat would make our field trips unbearable in the summer, but today it was nice.  It was in the low 60’s when we headed out, and only about 78° when we came back, so that was great.  There was also a slight breeze which helped, too.

When everyone got to the library and had signed in, we all headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  I left my car in the parking lot and went with Bill in his van along with our student, Jeanette, who is a middle school teacher.

  • Locate and identify at least fifteen (15) animal species (birds, amphibians, reptiles)
  • Locate and identify at least ten (10) plant species
  • Locate and identify at least ten (10) insect species

While we were walking around the nature center, I think they all got the majority of those requirements!  The insects were probably the most difficult for everyone, but we’ll see on Friday (at class) how well everyone did. 

Near the nature center, we came across a large fat weevil sitting on the top of the flowering head of a tule.  Bill rapped on the weevil a couple of times and figured it was dead, but when I stroked it, its feet moved, so we all inferred that the weevil was in a state of torpor, waiting for the sun to get a little higher in the sky so it could warm up more and start moving around. 

Everyone took photos of it and tried to identify it using the iNaturalist app we’d told them about in class on Friday.  It came up as a Billbug Weevil from the genus Sphenophorus. If you look at the map in iNaturalist, though, you’ll see that Billbug Weevils have been sighted all over the globe. So, calling this a Billbug Weevil is somewhat accurate, but for a more precise ID, I wanted the students to try get down to the species level on the weevil when they got home. Insects can be especially hard to ID because there are literally millions of them, and you have to deal with taxon levels that include superfamilies, tribes and subtribes before you can get close to the species. It will be interesting to see how far the students are able to get.

We also found a buckwheat plant that I didn’t recognize as buckwheat at all because its shape wasn’t like any buckwheat plant I’d seen before.  The signage by the plant said it was California Buckwheat, Eriogonum fasciculatum, as did iNaturalist, but that didn’t quite look right to me. The leaves were the wrong shape.  So, I did a little more research, and I believe it was actually St. Catherine’s Lace, Eriogonum giganteum, a kind of wild buckwheat that usually only grows in Southern California. When we were studying the plant, two of the students (Jeanette and Edna) also observed that some of the flowers still had their pink pollen balls and others did not… and we inferred that those that didn’t have their pollen balls anymore had already been pollinated.

Buckwheat, St. Catherine’s Lace, Eriogonum giganteum, with pollen blass intact

When it came time to drive the auto-tour route, I drove Bill’s van so he could do more observations, and Jeanette and another student, Mica, a retired farmer, came along with us. Bill was able to open up both sides of his van, so the gals could get an unobstructed view of what was out on the preserve. Although everyone was able to go at their own pace along the route, we stopped at two of the park-and-stretch areas so we could compare notes and get a closer look at things.  At the first stop, the students Ken and Alison, who are already expert birders, were helping the students spot and identify bird species and also explained what they meant when they talked about the birds’ GISS.

GISS stands for “General Impression, Shape, and Size” (originally a military term). Birders often use the bird’s GISS as a way to do a preliminary or in-field identification of a bird when it’s backlit (only seen in silhouette) or is too far away to see any details of its coloring. So, Alison and Kent were able to distinguish a pair of Northern Harriers flying over our heads from the Red-Tailed Hawk that was flying near them by nothing but their GISS. Very cool.  I’m nowhere near being that kind of an expert. 

At the second park-and-stretch spot, students relaxed with their lunches for a little while, and I was able to find a couple of examples of a specific kind of gall to tell them about, a Cottonwood Petiole Gall and is created by the aphid, Pemphigus populitransversus. The wingless female aphid called a “stem mother” chews at the leaf petiole (the stalk that joins a leaf to a stem) until it swells and then she climbs inside the swelling and has her babies inside of it. The baby aphids are born live and can be in either a winged form (called an “alate”) or without wings.

Cottonwood Petiole Aphid Gall,
Pemphigus populitransversus

While the students were resting and checking up on their notes, one of them, Alison, let us see what she’d put into her field journal for the morning. She’s an artist, and she uses fountain pens and watercolors to write and decorate her entries. It was beautiful. I can hardly wait for Friday when all the students share their journals, so I can take photos and let you see what they’re doing…

I also overheard a couple of students talking about how much they enjoyed the class, how much they’ve learned already (in just two sessions) and how many resources we’ve introduced them to that they didn’t even know existed before now.  That is so gratifying!

One more learning moment: On the eucalyptus trees along the end auto-tour route on Saturday, I also stopped to pull a leaf off of an obliging eucalyptus tree, so I could show the students in our vehicle the white teepee-like formation on it that some folks mistake for galls.  The formations are actually called “lerps” and they’re created by a tiny insect called the Red Gum Lerp Psyllid, Glycaspis brimblecombei. These insects spin little white houses for themselves made of sugars and wax pulled from the leaves. They’re often very sticky with the honeydew produced by the insects.             

When we were done with the tour, everyone went their separate ways.

Species List:

  1. American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus,
  2. American Robin, Turdus migratorius,
  3. American Wigeon, Anas americana,
  4. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna,
  5. Ash-Throated Flycatcher, Myiarchus cinerascens,
  6. Bermuda Grass, Cynodon dactylon,
  7. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii,
  8. Billbug Weevil, Sphenophorus sp.,
  9. Birds-foot Trefoil, Lotus corniculatus,
  10. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
  11. Black Saddlebags Dragonfly, Tramea lacerata,
  12. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicusm,
  13. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum,
  14. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus,
  15. Bristly Oxtongue, Helminthotheca echioides,
  16. Buckwheat, St. Catherine’s Lace, Eriogonum giganteum,
  17. Bulbous Canary Grass, Phalaris aquatica,
  18. Bullock’s Oriole, Icterus bullockii,
  19. California Flannelbush, Fremontodendron californicum,
  20. California Fuchsia, Epilobium canum,
  21. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi,
  22. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis,
  23. Cinnamon Teal, Anas cyanoptera,
  24. Cleveland Sage, Salvia clevelandii,
  25. Common Checkered Skipper, Pyrgus communis,
  26. Common Minnow, Phoxinus phoxinus,
  27. Common Teasel, Dipsacus fullonum,
  28. Cottonwood Petiole Aphid Gall, Pemphigus populitransversus,
  29. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis,
  30. Desert Cottontail, Sylvilagus audubonii,
  31. Eurasian Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto,
  32. European Heliotrope, Heliotropium europaeum,
  33. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris,
  34. Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis,
  35. Field Mustard, Sinapis arvensis,
  36. Flax-leaved Horseweed, Erigeron bonariensis,
  37. Floating Water Primrose, Ludwigia peploides ssp. peploides,
  38. Fremont Cottonwood, Populus fremontii,
  39. Gold Dust Lichen, Chrysothrix candelaris,
  40. Goodding’s Willow, Salix gooddingii,
  41. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias,
  42. Great Egret, Ardea alba,
  43. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons,
  44. Great-Tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus,
  45. Green-Winged Teal, Anas carolinensis,
  46. Italian Thistle, Carduus pycnocephalus,
  47. Jimson Weed, Datura stramonium,
  48. Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos,
  49. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris,
  50. Monarch Butterfly, Danaus plexippus,
  51. Mosquitofish, Gambusia affinis,
  52. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura,
  53. Mute Swan, Cygnus olor,
  54. Mylitta Crescent Butterfly, Phyciodes mylitta mylitta,
  55. Narrowleaf Cattail, Cattail, Typha angustifolia,
  56. Narrowleaf Milkweed, Asclepias fascicularis,
  57. Northern Bluet Damselfly, Enallagma cyathigerum,
  58. Northern Pintail, Anas acuta,
  59. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata,
  60. Oleander Aphid, Aphis nerii,
  61. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps,
  62. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum,
  63. Raccoon, Procyon lotor,
  64. Red Gum Lerp Psyllid, Glycaspis brimblecombei,
  65. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus,
  66. Rough Cocklebur, Xanthium strumarium,
  67. Sharp-leaved Fluellen, Kickxia elatine,
  68. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa,
  69. Spotted Orb-Weaver Spider, Neoscona crucifera,
  70. Striped Horsefly, Tabanus lineola,
  71. Sunburst Lichen, Xanthoria elegans,
  72. Teasel, Wild Teasel, Dipsacus fullonum,
  73. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus,
  74. Turkey Tangle, Fogfruit, Phyla nodiflora,
  75. Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum,
  76. Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
  77. Western Kingbird, Tyrannus verticalis,
  78. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta,
  79. Yellow Starthistle, Centaurea solstitialis