Tag Archives: mistletoe

A Beaver and a Loon at Lake Solano Park, 03-16-19

The weather at Lake Solano Park was perfect for walking with my naturalist students; about 49° when we first got there, and then up to about 68° by the time we left. It was sunny, clear and bright outside. My coworker Bill and I took turns pointing things out to everyone, and one of the students, Charlie (who’s something of a plant expert) helped us identify plants.

CLICK HERE for an album of photos.

When I got to the park, Bill and some of the students were already there, and some of them had already spotted an otter in the water. What a great way to start their day! Other highlights during the outing included spotting a beaver in the lake (!) and a Common Loon (!!) which I had never seen there before. We at first thought the beaver was another otter, but it’s large size and big ears brought us to the conclusion of its true identity. It was moseying along in the water, and treaded water for a long time, so we were able to get some photos of it. ((I think I took about 500 photos of its head poking out of the water. Hah!)) Eventually, it made its way to the other side of the lake and disappeared into the shadows. We inferred it might have had a lodge over there although we couldn’t see one.

The loon was a big surprise. At first we were all looking at it, trying to wrap our heads around what we were seeing. Checking through a field guide, though, we were able to determine that it was a non-breeding Common Loon, most likely resting there during its migration through our region.

Deeper inspection of the skull and skeleton we’d found on Wednesday, seemed to indicate that they were from opossums, not dogs as we’d originally thought (based on the canine teeth). There were “too many” small teeth between the canines for the skulls to be from a dog, so opossum was the next best guess. I need to study skulls more deeply – especially the ones of the common animals around here.

I stupidly stepped into the ants’ nest near where we located the Giant Horsetail ferns again. I recognized the spot and tapped on the area with my foot to see if the ants were still there from Wednesday, but nothing emerged, so I thought it was safe to go in there… But as soon as my shadow passed over their nest, they came out in force again. I got bit a few time, but nothing bad. They weren’t Fire Ants; more like red Harvester Ants. But they were still angry about my trespass over their nest and practically “exploded” out of the ground to swarm all over me. The students helped to whack them off my clothes.

On another part of the trail, we came across a large colony of Velvety Tree Ants swarming over an old log. What alerted me to them was a White-Breasted Nuthatch that flitted down onto the log, snatched up an ant, and flew off, flitted down onto the log, snatched up an ant, and flew off several times in a row. Along the ridgeline of the log was a line of winged adults getting ready to take off to establish new colonies… and it was the big winged one the Nuthatch was after. Very cool.

On the lake were Bufflehead ducks mingling with Goldeneyes, and both Common and Hooded Mergansers (along with the egrets, some herons, and Canada Geese). On the shore were lines of turtles sunning themselves; both Red-Eared Slider Turtles and a few Pacific Pond Turtles. We also all got to watch a Belted Kingfisher on the other side of the lake, dive-bombing for fish in the water. Some of the students had never seen that before and were “wow-ing” at the speed of the little bird.

In the ponds, we found Water Boatmen, Mosquito Fish, Bullfrog tadpoles, and a Black-Fronted Forktail Damselfly that was “swimming” along the top of the water before it lighted on some algae to dry off. I’d never seen a winged damselfly swim before! So odd! I need to remember to bring my dip-net with me next time I go out there so I can scoop up some critters to photograph.

We walked for about 3 ½ hours, and all in all, I think I recorded over 60 different species (that we saw and/or heard). It was a good day.

Species List:

1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus,
2. American Kestrel, Falco sparverius,
3. American Robin, Turdus migratorius,
4. Arundo, Giant Reed, Arundo donax,
5. Audubon’s Warbler, Setophaga auduboni auduboni,
6. Beaver, American, Beaver, Castor canadensis,
7. Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon,
8. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii,
9. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
10. Black-Fronted Forktail Damselfly, Ischnura denticollis,
11. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus,
12. Bufflehead, Bucephala albeola,
13. Bullfrog, American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus,
14. Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus,
15. California Manroot, Bigroot, Wild Cucumber, Marah fabaceus,
16. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica,
17. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis,
18. Cattail, Broadleaf Cattail, Typha latifolia,
19. Chickweed, Stellaria media,
20. Cliff Swallow, Petrochelidon pyrrhonota,
21. Common Goldeneye, Bucephala clangula,
22. Common Loon, Gavia immer,
23. Common Merganser, Mergus merganser,
24. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus,
25. Fresh Water Snail, Fluminicola sp.,
26. Galium, Bredstraw, Velcro-Grass, Sticky Willy, Cleavers, Galium aparine,
27. Giant Horsetail Fern, Equisetum telmateia,
28. Giraffe’s Head Henbit, Lamium amplexicaule,
29. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias,
30. Great Egret, Ardea alba,
31. Honey Fungus, Armillaria mellea,
32. Hooded Merganser, Lophodytes cucullatus,
33. Longstalk cranesbill, Geranium columbinum,
34. Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos,
35. Mistletoe, American Mistletoe, Big Leaf Mistletoe, Phoradendron leucarpum,
36. Mosquito fish, Gambusia affinis,
37. Mugwort, California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana,
38. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos,
39. Pacific Pond Turtle, Western Pond Turtle, Actinemys marmorata,
40. Peafowl, Indian Peafowl, Pavo cristatus,
41. Phainopepla, Phainopepla nitens,
42. Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta
43. Pipevine, California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica
44. Red Harvester Ant, Pogonomyrmex barbatus,
45. Red-Eared Slider Turtle, Trachemys scripta elegans,
46. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus,
47. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis,
48. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus,
49. River Otter, North American River Otter, Lontra canadensis,
50. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula,
51. Speedwell, Veronica arvensis,
52. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus,
53. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor,
54. Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus,
55. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata,
56. Velvety Tree ant, Liometopum occidentale,
57. Water Boatmen, Corixidae (family),
58. Western Bluebird, Sialia mexicana,
59. Western Screech Owl, Megascops kennicottii,
60. White Alder, Alnus rhombifolia,
61. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis,
62. Yellow-Headed Blackbird, Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus,

Mostly Galls and Plants, 09-01-18

Up at 6:00 am to go over to the William Pond Park on the American River. I went looking for wasp galls and found them, but it seems to me there isn’t the variety there that there normally is. Not a lot of other stuff to see, although I did hear a pack of coyotes, and I saw a covey of quail – but I couldn’t get photos of them. I walked for about 2 ½ hours and then went home.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

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.

Guh! I Broke My Camera!! ( — and a Bit of Myself)

I got to the office around 7:00 am, printed up a grant request letter and got it ready for mailing, and then I headed out for Lake Solano Park. to do a preliminary walk of the trails before our naturalist field trip on March 3rd.  The park is in Winters, about 35-45 minutes from the office in Woodland.  It was chilly, in the low 40’s and a little overcast, but it was still nice “walking weather”. My coworker, Bill got there a little after I did. I was trying to fend off one of the resident peacocks who walked right up to the door of my car looking for handouts when he drove up. Hah!

While I was fending of the peacock, I missed being able to get a photo of a squirrel who went hurrying across the parking lot at the same time with a mouth full of feathers and grass for its nest. Dang it!

Anyway, Bill and I walked down the short driveway from the parking lot to the front gate where the pay-here kiosk was standing.  In the first couple of minutes I managed to get some photos of the peacocks, a tiny White-Breasted Nuthatch, and a Turkey Vulture.  But just as we were about to cross the street from the kiosk to the camping ground to look for the riverside trail, I tripped on the very uneven pavement around the kiosk and fell forward.  I landed HARD on the pavement and dirt, primarily on my knees, and also hit the ground with my right forearm.  I did not hit my head, but I could feel a kind of “whiplash effect” at the back of head and neck (as though my spine shoved forward into the base of my skull).  The impact with the ground was very hard, but I never lost consciousness.

[This is why you should try to have someone with you when you go out into the wild. Accidents happens even in the most benign places.]

When I managed to crawl to a fence and get myself back onto my feet, I noted that I was seeing double and my vision was blurry, so I asked Bill to check my pupils for any sign of concussion. He said my pupils seemed to be of equal size, but he wasn’t able to determine if they reacted normally to changes in light.

I leaned over the fence for a few minutes to let my body process the shock of the fall — maybe 5 minutes — and by the time I stood upright again my vision had gone back to normal, and remained normal for the rest of the day.

I sustained deep bruising, abrasions and some small hematomas on both knees, and it felt like the cartilage or bursa or whatever you call it behind both knee caps was “burning”.  I also sustained abrasions to my right forearm — even through the heavy coat I was wearing — and slight abrasions to the heel of my hands.  I felt pain in the triceps of both of my arms (more so on the right side than the left), like the muscles had been strained in the fall.

Still, I was able to walk (with some but not a lot discomfort; maybe a 6 on a scale of 10), and Bill and I scoped out part of the trail.  While I walked, Bill kept an eye on me to make sure I was okay and didn’t have any other issues with my vision. We were able to come up with a plan of action for the field trip, and also generate some extra questions/fun facts for the naturalist students. So, mission accomplished despite the fall.

My main concern, though, was my camera.  It was smashed in the fall.  The lens was in the elongated telephoto position when I fell, and the entire lens housing was smashed into the body of the camera. I need my camera for the naturalist course, for Tuleyome social media postings and albums, and for my own personal stuff (and being very attached to my camera I feel “blind” without it).  I can take the damaged camera to a shop to see if it can be repaired, but it looks pretty thrashed.  I wasn’t able to take photos with the camera – obviously – for the rest of this trip and had to use my cellphone for photos. It does okay on the close-up stuff, but it sucks for anything else. I couldn’t get descent shots of the other birds we saw along the way.

[[As an aside, Tuleyome agreed to reimburse me for the broken camera, so… yay!]]

I was surprised to see, during our walk, that the Pipevine at the park is already in bloom. That usually doesn’t show its face until March.  We also saw Acorn Woodpeckers, an American Robin, Buckeye trees just starting to get their leaves, lots of Bufflehead ducks in the river, a couple of Bushtits, California Mugwort, Canada Geese, Common Goldeneye ducks, Elderberry bushes, Giraffe’s Head Henbit, some Golden-Crowned Sparrows, several Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets, a Green Heron, Long Stalks Cranesbill, Mallards, Manroot vines in blooms (so you could see the boy flowers and the girl flowers), Miner’s Lettuce, Mistletoe, a Nutthall’s Woodpecker, some Oyster Mushrooms, lots of Poison Oak, a couple of Snowy Egrets, and all sorts of other stuff.  I hope it’s this nice and varied when we take the students there.  I think they’ll really enjoy it.

I was able to drive myself home, but noted that bending my knees to get into and out of the car was very painful.  I opted not to seek immediate medical attention because I didn’t feel “concussed” or that anything was “broken”, and I didn’t want to go to the emergency room if I was just bruised.  When I got home, I took some Aleve, and went directly to bed.

Even though I “hate” the quality of most of the photos I took today, I’m putting them into an album to share with my naturalist students anyway.  You can see the album here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mkhnaturalist/albums/72157691735739781

Foggy and Cold on MLK Day, 01-15-18

It’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  I’m feeling better; just really fatigued. I slept soundly last night and got up with the dog a little before 6:00 am.  By about 7:00 am I headed over to the Cosumnes River Preserve for a walk.

It was chilly and super foggy in the morning hours, and only got up to about 50º by the afternoon (under a thick overcast). When I got to the preserve, I could see cars in the parking lots, but all of the gates were closed. I assumed it must have been staff members in the lots, none of whom thought to open the gates for the public. So, at first I had to park on the road.  I walked around for a little while, and I think the people in the parking lot saw me or my car and they eventually got around to opening the gates. One of the people waved at me as he drove off.  I walked back to my car, and pulled into the parking lot. Because of the chill and dense fog there weren’t a lot of birds out and about but I did get a few photos.

The photos aren’t all that great because of the dense fog, but you’ll get the idea… CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

Then I drove over to where the nature center is and walked the river trail there.  Again, because of the for and chill there weren’t many critters around. But the damp air had awakened a lot of the different lichen and some of the willow trees were starting to get their fuzzy “pussy willow” catkins on them.  I kept my walk a bit short so I wouldn’t wear myself out again, and then headed back home.

Mostly Snipes on Christmas Eve

I did some journaling and checked my email before heading over to the Cosumnes River Preserve

The temperature gauge said it was 38º at the preserve, but it felt much colder than that. My fingers were “freezing” every time I took some photos, and I had to stop now and then to plunge my hands into my pockets until they thawed out again. Brrr!  It remained overcast for the whole day and never got above 50º (lingering around 45º for quite a while).

I walked around the main wetland area near the boardwalk, then crossed the street, and took the wetland path down to the nature center, then back up to the boardwalk area again.  There didn’t seem to be very many birds out, but considering the chill, I wasn’t really surprised.

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

I did get to see a LOT of Wilson’s Snipes; they seemed to be everywhere. And I also got to see some Ring-Necked Ducks which I think are so handsome. The males have an iridescent brown ring around their neck, but you can’t see it unless the duck lifts up its head and stretched its neck (usually to show off to the females). They’re always a treat to see because they’re only in this area for a short time each winter.

There  were also a couple of Turkey Vultures who had found dead stuff to snack on. One looked like it was working on the carcass of a Coot, but the other one looked like it had a goose. The thing was too big for the vulture to lift or move…

On the wetland trail I found some earthball fungus commonly called “Dead Man’s Foot” because it looks kind of like a rotting toe-less foot sticking up out of the ground. The things are gross, but they’re interesting at the same time. As they mature and ripen, the whole thing turns into a huge lump of brown spores…  I also found some mistletoe (how appropriate) that was full of berries, so I pulled down a sprig to get some photos of it… and then left it for the birds and squirrels who love those things.

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