Tag Archives: Mergus merganser

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.,

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,

Lots of Deer but No Fawns Yet on 06-13-19

I headed over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve this morning and got there around 6:00 am and it was about 63° then. I was joined by “The Other Mary”, Mary Messenger, and we walked for about 4 hours.  We saw lots of deer today, mostly does with their older yearlings. Some of the gals were very “round” with their pregnancies. When the new fawns arrive, some does chase off the older kids… but others let them hang around for a couple of years. We didn’t see any fawns, but that’s to be expected. The does keep them well-hidden when they’re new. 

Along the shore of the river, we came across the mama Common Merganser and her three red-headed ducklings again. They were hanging around a pair of female Wood Ducks who had one slightly older duckling with them. We couldn’t get too close, so we had to be satisfied with long-distance photos.

We saw several Turkey Vultures, Cathartes aura, including one bird sitting in a tree and one sitting on a stump on the bank of the American River. The one on the bank turned toward us and lifted its wings in the “heraldic pose” so we could see its white under-wing feathers.  This pose, in which the Turkey Vulture turns its back toward the sun and opens its wings, is used by the birds when they want to warm themselves up quickly. 

The legs and some of the feathers of the vulture sitting in the tree were covered in dried feces (making them look white-washed). When it’s really hot, the Turkey Vultures will defecate their mostly white, watery feces on their legs and feet and then allow evaporation to help cool them off. As gross as this may sound, keep in mind that the vulture’s digestive system is so aggressive and their immune system is so high, that their feces come out virtually bacteria free and actually acts like a kind of natural sanitizer. Cool, huh? I wrote an article about the vultures in 2015. You can read it HERE.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

We also stopped under the Red-Shouldered Hawk’s nest along the Pond Trail and saw one fledgling sitting in it. Where the nest is placed, it’s hard to get a good angle on it for photographs, so all we saw was the tippy top of the fledgling’s head.  Near the pond itself, we saw another fledgling, and near the nature center we saw an adult… So got a few photo ops on the hawks today.

This is the time of year when there are a lot of Western Fence Lizards scurrying all over the place, ad we were able to see quite a few of them, including a pair on a log. The stubby-tailed male was trying to court a female, but she just wasn’t that into him.  Hah!

We walked for about 4 hours and then headed back to our respective homes.

Species List:

1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus,
2. American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus,
3. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii,
4. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
5. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus,
6. Bull Thistle, Cirsium vulgare,
7. Bur Chervil, Anthriscus caucalis,
8. Bushtit, American Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus,
9. California Bumblebee, Bombus californicus,
10. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi,
11. California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana,
12. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica,
13. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis,
14. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus,
15. Common Merganser, Mergus merganser,
16. Coyote Mint, Monardella villosa,
17. Coyote, Canis latrans,
18. Dallisgrass, Sticky-Heads, Paspalum dilatatum,
19. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auritus,
20. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger,
21. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris,
22. Giant Sunflower, Helianthus giganteus,
23. Goldwire, Hypericum concinnum,
24. Himalayan Blackberry, Armenian Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus,
25. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon,
26. Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Lords and Ladies, Arum maculatum,
27. Monarch Butterfly, Danaus plexippus,
28. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura,
29. Northern Bluet Damselfly, Enallagma cyathigerum,
30. Northern Bush Katydid, Scudderia pistillata,
31. Northern Yellow Sac Spider, Cheiracanthium mildei,
32. Pearly Everlasting, Anaphalis margaritacea,
33. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum,
34. Prickly Sowthistle, Sonchus asper,
35. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus,
36. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia,
37. Rusty Tussock Moth, Orgyia antiqua,
38. Santa Barbara Sedge, Carex barbarae,
39. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa,
40. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus,
41. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura,
42. Wavy Leaf Soaproot, Chlorogalum pomeridianum,
43. Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
44. Western Gray Squirrel, Sciurus griseus,
45. Wild Carrot, Daucus carota,
46. Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa,
47. Wood Duck, Aix sponsa,
48. Yellow Jacket, German Wasp, Vespula germanica,
49. Yellow Starthistle, Centaurea solstitialis,
50. Yellow-Faced Bumblebee, Bombus vosnesenskii,

 

Looking for Willow Galls, 06-09-19

I got up around 5:30 this morning, and after giving the dog his breakfast, I headed over to the American River Bend Park.  I was in search of willow galls and found oh-so-much more.  The weather behaved itself in the morning hours.  There was a breeze by the river, so it didn’t get too warm for me to walk until around 10:30.  So it was a nice morning. 

First I tried walking along the river at the first pullout, but the water was too high there, so I took a trail that brought me out onto the sandy area close to the bridge.  Lots of willows there, and I found the pinecone-like galls of the midge Rabdophaga strobiloide. They start out looking like little round balls of tightly packed leaves. Then they develop a “beak” that makes them look like pinecones. Each gall contains one midge larva. When the larva matures into an adult midge, the midge escapes the gall through the tip of the beak.

While I was walking through that area, I could hear the nattering of quail in the underbrush, but they kept themselves well-hidden, so I never did see them or was able to get a photo of them. I did get shots of a Spotted Towhee and a House Wren, though. I walked along that part of the river for a little while and then headed back to where I’d parked the car at the pullout.  At one point, the trail was blocked by a fallen tree. My trying to navigate over that obstacle was mildly humorous. Sit on one part of the trunk, lift my leg up, throw it over the other part of the trunk, try to get that foot to touch the ground, then shift my weight, and try to drag my other leg up over the trunk… Phew!

Once I got back to the car, I drove further int the park, got out, and continued my walk along the trail that runs along the riverside, but about 10 feet above the level of the water. I found a few Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillars and saw some of the butterflies flitting near the top of the trees. When the caterpillars ready to build their chrysalis, they attach their back feet to a tree (or other substrate) with silk, and then build a silk sling-shot-like thing that holds them upright but at a slight angle from the tree. (The silk is pulled from spinnerets on the sides of the body.) Then the caterpillar leans back and just hangs there in a kind of torpor as the chrysalis forms UNDER its skin. Once the chrysalis is formed, the caterpillar sheds its skin — including its face — and waits for metamorphosis to begin.

I also found some of their chrysalises. One was so new; it was still bright green. There stills seems to be a LOT fewer than I’m used to seeing out there, though.

CLICK HERE to see the full album of photos.

At one spot, I stopped to watch a pair of House Wrens flying all over the place, the male singing brightly while he flew. They stopped off a few times at a cavity in an oak tree, only to be run off by some Tree Swallows.  Apparently, the Swallows had already claimed the cavity and were trying to keep the Wrens from setting up house there.  I got quite a few good shots of the Swallows.  The Wrens, not so much…

 

A nice surprise was seeing a female Common Merganser swimming near the shore with her three red-headed little ducklings. The mom was swimming up-stream which can be hard on the babies when the current is strong, so they sometimes swim in her wake… or just hop onto her back!  In one photo you can see the mom swimming with her face in the water. This is a typical fishing technique used by these birds; she’s seeing if there’s anything tasty underneath her.  These ducks are sometimes referred to as “saw-bills” for the serrated edges along the rim of their bill. Unlike Mallards, Mergansers are “diving” ducks, not “dabbling” ducks.

I walked for about four hours and then headed back home.  But another surprise happened when I was driving out of the park. I saw something moving near the edge of the road and stopped to get a better look. I realized it was a female Wild Turkey, that was sitting down in the dirt and dried gas.  She was giving herself a dust bath (to rid her feathers of mites). The surprise was when, right behind her, her baby (a little fledgling called a poult) stood up!  Mama turkeys are very protective of their babies, and when the mom realized I’d seen her kid, she got up and hurried him away from the road.

 Species List:
Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus,
Asian Ladybeetle, Harmonia axyridis,
Black Locust, Robinia pseudoacacia,
Blue Elderberry, Sambucus cerulea,
Bur Chervil, Anthriscus caucalis,
Bush Katydid nymph, Scudderia texensis,
California Pipevine Swallowtail, Battus philenor hirsuta,
California Pipevine, Aristolochia californica,
California Quail, Callipepla californica,
California Scrub Oak, Quercus berberidifolia,
California Sycamore, Platanus racemose,
California Wild Grape, Vitis californica,
Common Merganser, Mergus merganser,
Coyote Brush Bud Gall midge, Rhopalomyia californica
Coyote Brush Stem Gall moth, Gnorimoschema baccharisella,
Darkling Beetle, Pinacate Beetle, Eleodes obscurus,
Deerweed, Acmispon glaber,
Elegant Clarkia, Clarkia unguiculata,
English Plantain, Ribwort, Plantago lanceolata,
European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris,
Fremont Cottonwood, Populus fremontii,
Goldenrod Bunch Gall, Goldenrod Floret Gall Midge, Solidago canadensis,
Goldwire, Hypericum concinnum,
Hoptree, Skunk Bush, Ptelea trifoliata,
House Wren, Troglodytes aedon,
Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni,
Interior Sandbar Willow, Salix interior,
Long-Jawed Orb Weaver, Tetragnatha sp.,
Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos,
Miniature Lupine, Lupinus bicolor,
Moth Mullein, Verbascum blattaria,
Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura,
Narrowleaf Willow, Salix exigua,
Northern California Black Walnut, Juglans hindsii,
Old Live Oak Gall Wasp Gall, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis,
Oregon Ash, Fraxinus latifolia,
Oystershell Scale Insect, Ceroplastes sp,
Rattlesnake Grass, Big Quaking Grass, Briza maxima,
Red Mulberry, Morus rubra,
Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia,
Rusty Tussock Moth caterpillar, Orgyia antiqua,
Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus,
Sweet Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare,
Telegraph Weed, Heterotheca grandiflora,
Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
Variable Flatsedge, Cyperus difformis,
Wand Mullein, Verbascum virgatum,
Western Bluebird, Sialia mexicana,
Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
Western Goldenrod, Euthamia occidentalis,
Western Leaf-Footed Bug eggs, Leptoglossus zonatus
White Alder, Alnus rhombifolia,
White Horehound, Marrubium vulgare,
Willow Pinecone Gall midge, Rabdophaga strobiloides,
Willow Stem Gall midge, Rabdophaga rigidae,
Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa,
Wooly Mullein, Verbascum thapsusm
Yellow Starthistle, Centaurea solstitialis,
Yellow Water Iris, Yellow Flag, Iris pseudacorus,

Trying to Beat the Heat on 06-05-19

I got up around 5:00 am this morning so I could get out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve before it got too hot outside. The predicted high for today was 100°. When I got to the preserve, it was already about 67° outside.

Just seconds after I arrived, my CalNat graduate/friend, Roxanne M., showed up to join me and so did “The Other Mary”, Mary M., another volunteer trail walker at Effie Yeaw.  She brought a small bag for me filled with blackberries from her yard. I thought that was so nice of her.

The three of us walked for about 3 hours, but we cut out walk short because it was humid and hot at the river. When we left, it was already about 80°– and it was only a little after 9 o’clock. Pleh!

We weren’t expecting to see a lot, because nature is kind of in a transition period right now. We’re waiting for mammal babies to be born and insects to start showing themselves.  And, we didn’t see a whole lot, but Roxanne and I can always find something to look at and focus on.

Roxanne is doing a seed-collecting thing right now for the naturalist class, and so she stops at different plants to see what kind of seeds they have on them and how the seeds might be disbursed.  She took on this project on all by herself and is volunteering all the time it’s taking her to collect specimens and ID the plants.  I’m so proud of her!

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

On our walk we saw a group of about four deer including a young buck in his velvet and a very pregnant doe. And later on, we also saw a bunch of baby rusty-headed Common Mergansers zooming down the riverside with their mom. It was so cute to see some of the babies swimming with their face down in the water, like the adults do, looking for things to eat.  Roxanne, The Other Mary and I all tried to get photos of them, but they moved so-so fast, it was really hard!

I also stopped to get some video of a hive of Common Black Ants (yeah, they’re really called that) carrying their larvae from one nest to another — most likely because the old nest was compromised in some way (infested with fungus, collapsing, etc.).

Moving the eggs and babies around can be really risky because they make for tasty treats for other insects and some birds, so the workers who carry them (very gently in their jaws) have to move really fast and know right where they’re going.

Queen ants are pretty awesome. They control the sex of all of their offspring (only creating males when it’s time for nuptial flights; ost ants you see are females); they can live for up to 15 (some say 30) years, and only mate during their nuptial flights… which means they can mate with several males during that short-term flight period, and then hang onto the sperm for the rest of their entire lives.

On our way out of the preserve we noticed leaves with circular cutouts on them. They’re made by Leafcutting Bees (Megachile sp.), a kind of native bee that lives in cavities. They use the bits they cut out of the leaves to line their tube-like nests and build a neat row of individual compartments, in each of which they’ll form a small doughy mound of pollen and nectar. On top of each of these mounds, the bee will lay a single egg.

Mother leafcutters can control the gender of their offspring, and often lay the eggs of their female offspring in the back of the tube-nest and the males in the front. This way, if the nest is invaded by a bird or other insects, it’s the males that will die first, leaving the females protected.

Although they’re solitary bees and don’t produce a lot of offspring, leafcutters are great pollinators. You can encourage them to pollinate your garden by building nesting boxes, called “bee condos”, for them in your yard. Here is a guide from the Xerces Society on how to do that: http://ow.ly/MhVf50uygX1.

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus,
  2. Asian Ladybeetle, Harmonia axyridis,
  3. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
  4. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum,
  5. Bullock’s Oriole, Icterus bullockii,
  6. California Brodiaea, Brodiaea californica,
  7. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi,
  8. California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica,
  9. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica,
  10. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis,
  11. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus,
  12. Common Black Ant, Lasius niger,
  13. Common Merganser, Mergus merganser,
  14. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis
  15. Coyote Mint, Monardella villosa,
  16. Dogtail Grass, Cynosurus echinatus,
  17. Elegant Clarkia, Clarkia unguiculata,
  18. English Plantain, Ribwort, Plantago lanceolata,
  19. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris,
  20. Goldwire, Hypericum concinnum,
  21. Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata,
  22. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon,
  23. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni,
  24. Italian Thistle, Carduus pycnocephalus,
  25. Leaf-Cutter Bee, Megachile,
  26. Long-Jawed Orb-Weaver Spider, Tetragnatha elongate,
  27. Mock Orange, Lewis’s Mockorange, Philadelphus lewisii,
  28. Moss, Bryum Moss, Bryum capillare,
  29. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii,
  30. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus,
  31. Oregon Ash, Fraxinus latifolia,
  32. Pacific Bent Grass, Agrostis avenacea,
  33. Praying Mantis, European Mantis, Mantis religiosa,
  34. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia,
  35. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa,
  36. Spicebush, Calycanthus occidentalis,
  37. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura,
  38. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata,
  39. Valley x Blue Oak, Quercus lobata x douglasii,
  40. Variable Flatsedge, Cyperus difformis,
  41. Wavy-Leaf Soap Plant, California Soaproot, Chlorogalum pomeridianum,
  42. Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
  43. White Alder, Alnus rhombifolia,
  44. White Horehound, Marrubium vulgare,
  45. Winter Vetch, Hairy Vetch, Vicia villosa,
  46. Yellow Water Iris, Yellow Flag, Iris pseudacorus,