Tag Archives: Oak Apple wasp gall

Two-Horned Galls and a Beetle with a Hairy Chest, 07-11-19

Around 5:30 this morning, I headed out to the American River Bend Park for a walk. It was in the high 60’s when I got there and heated up quickly; around 71° when I left.

 I didn’t have an agenda in mind and was just watching for whatever Nature wanted to show me. I ended up finding a few galls on the oak trees, including one I’d never seen before. I’d seen photos of them but had never seen one “live”. It was a Two-Horned Gall of the wasp Dryocosmus dubiosus. Coolness. They’re found on the underside of the leaves of Live Oak trees, usually along the median vein. Also found the big Oak Apple galls, tiny Pumpkin Galls, and some Goldenrod galls.

In the water fountain near the restroom, I found a large beetle lying on its back.  It was about an inch long and really kind of “hairy”. It had lost one of its antennae and was dying, but I still took some photos of it.  I wasn’t exactly sure what it was, so when I got home, I Googled “beetle with hairy chest” – Hah! – and the correct identification actually came right up.  It was, of course, a “June Bug” or more correctly a May Beetle, Phyllophaga sp.  Around that same area, I found the shed skin of a snake, including its face.

June Bug, May Beetle, Phyllophaga sp.,

I could hear Red-Shouldered Hawks yelling at each other across the forest while I was out there, and at one point a fledgling flew down out of a tree onto the ground beside the trail.  I couldn’t tell if he actually caught anything or if he was just practicing, but he sat for a moment and looked over his shoulder at me so I could snap a photo before he flew off again.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

Just as I was leaving, I came across the nesting cavity of some Tree Swallows. I watched them take turn flying in and out of the cavity a few times and got some photos before heading back to the house.

Mostly Bugs and Birds, 05-08-19

I got up around 6:00 and headed over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for my weekly volunteer trail-walker thingy.  It was totally overcast and about 53° when I arrived at the preserve, but it was sunny and about 65° when I left. Such a huge change in just a few hours.

I saw a lot of different things on my walk today, but the standouts were the European Starlings and Black Harvester Ants.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

The Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) had a nesting cavity that was perfectly viewable from the trail.  The cranky babies inside (I saw two but there might have been more) were almost fully fledged but still demanding room service from their folks, who diligently brought them beakfuls of insects. At one point, one of the parents apparently got tired of me watching them and taking photos, and it spat the insects onto the ground before glaring at me from the side of the tree. Hah!

And the Black Harvester Ants (Messor pergandei) always fascinate me. They’re always so busy, hard-working and determined. I saw some heaving large seeds around and carrying dead bees and some kind of grubs to their nest. ((The photos and video snippets I got of the ants were taken with my cell phone.))

I walked for about 4 ½ hours. Phew!

Species List:

1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus,
2. American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus,
3. Asian Lady Beetle, Harmonia axyridis,
4. Bedstraw, Velcro Grass, Galium aparine,
5. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii,
6. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
7. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum,
8. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus cerulea,
9. Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus,
10. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi,
11. California Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillar, Battus philenor hirsuta,
12. California Pipevine, Aristolochia californica,
13. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica,
14. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis,
15. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica,
16. California Wild Rose, Rosa californica,
17. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus,
18. Common Yarrow, Achillea millefolium,
19. Coyote Brush Bud Midge Gall, Rhopalomyia californica,
20. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis,
21. Cranefly, family Tipulidae,
22. Cricket, Arboreal Camel Cricket, Gammarotettix bilabatus,
23. Dogtail Grass, Cynosurus echinatus,
24. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger,
25. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris,
26. Fruit-tree Leafroller Moth, Archips argyrospila
27. Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus,
28. Green Lacewing, Chrysoperla carnea,
29. Green Leafhopper, Nephotettix virescens,
30. Green Plant Bug, Chinavia hilaris,
31. Harvester Ant (black), Messor pergandei,
32. Himalayan Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus,
33. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon,
34. Housefly, Musca domestica,
35. Italian Thistle, Carduus pycnocephalus,
36. Katydid, Bush Katydid nymph, Scudderia sp.,
37. Leaf Beetle, Chrysolina sp.,
38. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria,
39. Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos,
40. Miniature Lupine, Lupinus bicolor,
41. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura,
42. Mugwort, California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana,
43. Oak Apple Wasp Gall, Biorhiza pallida,
44. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus,
45. Obliquebanded Leafroller, Blackberry Leafroller caterpillar, Choristoneura rosaceana,
46. Pacific Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum,
47. Painted Lady caterpillars, Vanessa cardui,
48. Pineapple Weed, Matricaria discoidea,
49. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum,
50. Pyracantha, Pyracantha coccinea,
51. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus,
52. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia,
53. Robber Fly, Promachus princeps,
54. Rose Clover, Trifolium hirtum,
55. Rusty Tussock Moth caterpillar, Orgyia antiqua,
56. Seep Monkey Flower, Mimulus guttatus,
57. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciose,
58. Spittle Bug, Meadow Spittlebug, Philaenus spumarius,
59. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus,
60. Sudden Oak Death pathogen, Phytophthora ramorum,
61. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor,
62. Wavy-Leaf Soap Plant, Soap Root, Chlorogalum pomeridianum,
63. Western Bluebird, Sialia mexicana,
64. Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
65. White Horehound, Marrubium vulgare,
66. Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa,

One-, Two, and Three-Point Bucks, 09-03-18

I have the day off and got up around 6:00 am to head over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve.

There were a lot of deer out at the preserve today. The bachelor groups of bucks are starting to move back in, and I saw spike bucks, two-pointers and three-pointers; some in their velvet, some not. No fawns today, though.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

I saw a Red-Shouldered Hawk stalking what I think was a snake along the ground. The snake must’ve found a hole to duck into, though, because after a few minutes, the hawk gave up and flew away.

At another point along the trail, I saw two juvenile California Ground Squirrels in the grass to my right. You can tell the juveniles from the adults not only by their smaller size, but also by the nearly white collar around their neck and shoulders. The two kids rushed across the trail in front of me, and one of them ducked into the cover of a twiggy, low-lying Blue Elderberry tree. I got a couple of photos of it before it got itself into an area where there were so many twigs I could barely see it anymore.

The second juvenile remained in the middle of the trail, and I was able to get a lot of photos of it while it foraged for little seeds and stuff on the ground. Then suddenly it was like it realized it needed to be under better cover, and it rushed up the side of a tree. It peeked around the trunk to look at me, and then jumped down and buried itself in the long grass. Hah! So cute!

At the little pond, I saw a handful of Bullfrog tadpoles, including one that already had its legs but hadn’t lost its tail yet.

I’m a bit concerned that one of the trees on the property – the Half-Blood, part Valley Oak, part Blue Oak – still doesn’t have more than a handful of galls on it. It’s usually covered in them, especially the Crystalline Galls, but this year there’s nothing. I wonder if the preserve crew sprayed Round-Up or some other killer around the base of it, and the tree is still suffering so it can’t support its normal load of wasp galls…

I walked for about 3 ½ hours and then headed back home.

Yellow-Billed Magpies and Other Critters, 06-24-18

I headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve. It was 68º when I left the house, and 75º when I got back home a little after 9:00 am.

The first thing I saw when I got to the preserve was a huge flock of Yellow-Billed Magpies foraging for bugs and seeds on the lawns near the payment kiosk. I parked in the little parking lot there and took a lot of photos. The magpies hardly ever sit still, so it’s always neat when I can get some decent shots of them. Most of them seemed to have yellow patches around their eyes. That’s not uncommon, especially if they’re molting.

CLICK HERE to see the full album of photos.

There were more deer out this time than there were the past several times I’d gone to the preserve. Mamas are now showing up with their babies. I saw one doe with a fawn that was maybe four to six months old; out of its spots but still snack-sized.

And in another spot, I saw a mom with a newborn, but she was hiding him really well and I couldn’t get any good photos of him. She was down in a shallow gully between two hills and in the shade. Smart mama.

There were lots of California Ground Squirrels out and about. I saw one, though, who looked like it had a broken left rear leg… and whatever injury there was, was being harassed by flies. I couldn’t tell for sure, but it looked like part of the bone was poking through the skin, and the leg and foot were badly swollen. There were other wounds on its body; spots where the fur had been rubbed off or torn out. I wonder if it had been grabbed by hawk or Coyote and then freed itself – at the cost of its leg. I could tell it was in pain by the way it moved, but it was very stoic – no squeaking or crying. Poor squirrel; I wish I could have caught it and taken it to a vet or something.

I could hear the Red-Shouldered Hawks in the preserve screaming at each other, but only caught glimpses of them in flight. No photos of those guys today.

I came across a very small Velvet Ant, all fuzzy and golden. There are hundreds of species of Velvet Ants, so identifying them can be hard. Although they’re called “ants”, they’re actually a kind of wingless wasp – and they carry a very painful sting. According to one article: “In some areas, velvet ants are known colloquially as ‘cow killers’ because their venom packs a painful punch. In addition, their ‘sting’ – the scientific term for what many of us refer to as a ‘stinger’ – is agile and half as long as the wasp itself. This enables the insect to inject venom into a predator from varied angles and free itself.” So, look but don’t touch.

There were also signs along the trails warning hikers about the high-danger of rattlesnakes this time of year, and also a spot where some Yellow-Jacket Wasps had built a nest in the ground. Nature can be tough in the summer!

As I was leaving the preserve, I saw an Acorn Woodpecker drinking out of the water fountain by the nature center. Hah! Smart bird!

As an aside: I read a blog by Ron Dudley every day. He’s a fantastic nature photographer. His most recent post included information about a long-term Citizen Science project headed by Doug Tallamy, PhD, of the University of Delaware that’s been going on since about 2013. He’s trying to determine what birds eat, most specifically what invertebrates they eat, so he’s asking for people to send him photos of birds with insects and other such critters in their beaks. I’d recently taken quite a few of those — including one today of a Spotted Towhee — so I sent them off to him and also gave him a link to my Flickr account, saying he could use any of the photos there in his study if he wanted to. Citizen collect the data (in this case, the photos and forward it on to the scientist for study… that’s what Citizen Science is all about. (http://www.whatdobirdseat.com/)

Photo Tour #1 with the Naturalist Class Graduates

I got up around 6:00 am and was out the door a little after 7:00 to go to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve.  I’m leading a photography walk with some of my naturalist class graduates today. From the Nona Way house, it takes about 45 minutes to get there. From the Hollygrove house today, it still took 45 minutes because Friday morning traffic on Watt was horrible.  It took me 10 minutes just to get through one intersection. Yikes!

The weather was beyond gorgeous today: sunny, breezy and in the low 70’s. Lissa remarked that it could stay like this for the rest of the year if it wanted too. That wouldn’t make for much plant and animal diversity, but sure would be nice for us humans. Hah!

When I got to the preserve, three of the graduates were there and two more joined us later so that was nice.  There was a lot to see out there today, but we needed to finish by noon, so we didn’t get very far through the preserve.  Even with the abbreviated route, we saw lots of wildflowers, deer, insects, birds and even some raccoon tracks in the mud around a small pond.

While we walked, I showed the group how change the lighting to get better shots, how to use a macro lens to focus on the small stuff – and how to get the automatic cameras to focus on what YOU want it to focus on, and how to frame the subject(s) in a photo BEFORE you take it so you don’t have to crop it so much afterwards.  The stars of the day, as far as subject matter goes, were the insects. We found some really unusual-looking guys including a species of long-horned beetle, a pink and white moth, and a semi-iridescent beetle we couldn’t readily identify. Because there are literally millions of insects, getting a proper ID is a daunting task even for the experts.

We also got to watch a pair of Black Phoebes bring insects to their nest full of fledglings. Mom and dad took turns flying back and forth to feed the kids. I saw one of the parents m with a large hoverfly, and another one with a large bright green worm. Those kids get fed well!  Because we were standing near the where the next was, the parents would stop and sit for a little while before transporting the food directly to the kids. This gave us the opportunity to gets some good close-ups and still shots of them.  We could also see the babies in the nest – almost fully fledged already, they looked too big to still be hand-fed by their folks. This particular pair of Phoebes have been nesting under the eaves of the nature center at the preserve for years. They come back season after season.  Their nests are mud cups filled with grasses and other soft plant fibers.

We found the Red-Shouldered Hawk’s nest on the Pond Trail. We could hear mama calling from the nest but couldn’t get an angle on the structure that allowed us to see her. she must be sitting eggs at the moment.  And we found several tree cavity nests of wrens, Starlings, and Acorn Woodpeckers (some of them in or near the same tree).

We also got to see some Ash-throated Flycatchers. Besides being pretty birds, these guys are kind of special because they don’t drink water. They get what fluid they need from the stuff they eat.

Among the deer we saw, I believe one of them was very pregnant and may have been experiencing some early contractions. She’d walk along and life her tail like she wanted to defecate, but nothing came out.  Might be seeing some fawns in the next month or so!

On our way out of the preserve, one of the graduates and I loitered around the small pond again and tried to get photos of the Bullfrog tadpoles and crawfish under the water.  Getting the camera to focus past the surface of the water is always an interesting trial… and I can never really tell if I got the shots I want until after I get the photos home and download them, so I can see them better.

We finished up our walk around noon. #CalNat