Tag Archives: pipevine

Cool Tracks and a Coyote, 09-22-18

Happy Autumnal Equinox and Happy National Public Lands Day.

I got up around 6:30 and headed over to the American River Bend Park for a walk. I wasn’t expecting to see a lot there because we’re kind of in between seasons right now – and I didn’t see much. But the exercise was good for me. It would have been a perfectly lovely morning walk had it not been for a large family group who’d been camping there overnight. When they got up, just as I arrived at the park, one of the kids started scream-“singing” at the top of its lungs and wouldn’t stop. No respect for the space or other visitors. The noise didn’t abate until its parents fed it breakfast.

Most of the photos I took on my walk were of scenery – everything kind of rusty looking as we head into fall and winter. In the dusty dirt along the side of the trails, I was able to make out some animal tracks, including those made by deer, raccoon, Wild Turkeys… and Western Fence Lizards: tiny footprints on either side of the long center drag-mark left by their tails.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

At several spots along the trail, I saw a big coyote. It kept itself just out of clear view – so taking photos of it was difficult – but I got it a few times staring right me through the scrub. I also found a couple of places where it had stopped to relieve itself and was kind of surprised to see its poop filled with acorns and wild grapes. Based on its size and how healthy it looked, I thought there would be more animal traces in its scat. Maybe it was a vegan coyote. Hah!

Along the river I saw Canada Geese, a tiny Spotted Sandpiper (without its spots), a Western Gull and a Great Egret. I also saw some House Wrens checking out a possible nesting cavity in the side of a Valley Oak tree.

Oh, and I saw a small flock of Sandhills Cranes flying overhead, clattering to one another. In another month, lots of migrating birds should be flooding into the region.

I headed home after about 2 hours.

Many Babies at the River Bend Park, 05-28-18

Memorial Day. I knew it was going to be hot today – a high of 97º — but I was surprised by how fast the morning heated up. I barely got in 2 ½ hours of walking before I had to call it quits. The shorter walk meant fewer photos, too; only about 300+ instead of my usual 1000+. Most of those are “burst” photos, of course, when the camera takes a burst of 5 shots at time, but still…

I went to the American River Bend Park, and the first thing I encountered there was a mama Wild Turkey and her brood of about 6 poults. She kept the babies in the tall grass (which is golden now) so they were pretty obscured, but it was still neat to be able to see them. You don’t get to see turkey babies very often.

CLICK HERE to see the album of photos.

Then I saw the trio of Great Horned Owl owlets. They’re almost fully fledged now, and only have a little bit of their baby fluff poking out here and there. Their mom wasn’t with them, although I’m sure she was nearby hunting. She might continue feeding the owlets until September or October when they’ll be old enough to go out on their own. The owlets were up in a tree alongside an offshoot trail, but you could see them from the road that takes you into the camping part of the park. They let me get pretty close to take photos of them before flying off on strong, totally silent wings. They’re so cool.

Other babies I saw today were Canada Geese goslings, floating in the river between their parents and guardians and hopping up on the shore to peck at the greenery there. I also saw a pair of Mallards and their ducklings.

I was watching them on the river, and when they came close to shore, something large charged at them from under the low-hanging bows of a tree growing on the river bank. Mama Mallard charged back, flapping her wings and quacking ferociously, and it wasn’t until the attacker retreated that I was able to see clearly what it was: a young coyote. Pretty smart of her to stay hidden in the greenery. But she wasn’t fast enough or adept enough to get past mama Mallard and snatch one of her kids. The coyote needs to work on that technique.

The Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars are just starting to get fat enough and big enough to form their chrysalises. I saw a couple of them attached to trees but not out of their skin yet. And in another location, I found two chrysalises near to one another. They looked like they’d recently formed and were still a little “gooey”. One of them still had the sloughed off skin of the caterpillar attached to the bottom of it. You could see the caterpillar’s shed face among the leavings..

Lots of Cavity Nesting Birds, 05-19-18

I got up around 6:00 am and was out the door by 6:30 to go over to the American River Bend Park. I was sure the Great Horned Owl owlets were fully fledged by now and off hunting, so I didn’t expect to see them. I wanted to go out there, though, to see if the Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly caterpillars were mature enough yet to start making their chrysalises. It’s apparently still too early for that around here, but I still got to see a lot birds and bugs and other things.

A lot of the usual suspects were out – Wild Turkeys, Starlings, Tree Swallows, Mourning Doves, House Wrens – and I was able to get photos of some of the cavity nesting birds in and around their nests. One pair of wrens was just starting to work on their nest, bringing sticks and soft stuff to line it with; another pair of wrens had babies and were flying food to them every few minutes. Standing nest tot heir tree, I was able to hear the bay birds inside cheeping away. I need to get a camera with a stretchy arm that can reach up and look down into the cavities…

The neat find of the day – even though I didn’t get many good photos because of the lighting and where the birds were – was a Western Bluebird nesting cavity. Both the male and female were feeding their nestlings (which, like the wren babies, I could hear from inside of the tree). Western Bluebirds are shy, though, and move really quickly, especially if they think you’re looking at them. (As brightly colored as the males are, it always surprises me how easily they can disappear into the shadows.) Still, I managed to get some photos of both the mom and the dad and they flew back and forth and brought bugs for their babies. At one point, the papa Bluebird figured I was getting too close to the nesting cavity, and he flew right at me, beak open. I got a few shaky photos of that before I backed off from the tree. I’m there to observe, not interfere…

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

I also found a male hummingbird high up in a tree, and tried to get photos of him, but I couldn’t tell if he was an Anna’s or a Black-Chinned.

I saw some Scarab Hunter Wasps hovering close to the ground, looking for grubs to infest, and some other wasp-like insects that I haven’t been able to identify yet. There are sooooooo many insects with superfamilies, families, and tribes to go through before you ever get down to the genus and species level… They’re really difficult for me to identify properly. I really admire entomologists and their bug and insect proficiency.

One of the odd-ball insects I found was a small wasp-like thing with an iridescent blue thorax, red-orange abdomen, and somewhat clear wings. I was thinking maybe it was a kind of “Digger Wasp”, but I couldn’t find one on Bugguide.net with the right color legs. Maybe a “sawfly”?  I also found a golden fly-like thing with red eyes and an iridescent green thing I think is some kind of cuckoo wasp. I’m not sure. I’ll have to continue the search for the IDs.

I also came across quite a few Tussock Moth caterpillar cocoons. Most of them were already spent (with an opening at one end through which the mature moth emerged), but one was completely intact and had a layer of hard white “fluff” over the top of it. I’d never seen one like that, so I took photos and then did some more research when I got home.

I knew that the female moths (which are wingless) laid their eggs on their old cocoons and then covered the eggs with a layer of hair and foamy secretions from their bodies (which hardens to protect the eggs as they overwinter), and that could have been the case with the cocoon I found, but it seemed at first glance that the pupal casing was still inside the cocoon, which meant the moth hadn’t emerged yet.  A puzzle.

My research indicated that sometimes parasitic wasps will lay their eggs on top of the cocoons and as the larvae emerge they build a tight white webbing around them to protect themselves while they feast on the moth pupa inside the cocoon. I wasn’t sure which scenario I was looking at, so, I opened up the cocoon to see if there was anything inside of it.  Although the cocoon itself was intact (no emergence hole in the end of it), the pupal casing inside of it was empty.  I’m still not absolutely positive about what I was seeing, but I’m assuming the white fluff was made by a wasp, not by the female moth, and the pupa was devoured before the moth had a chance to develop. Nature is so fascinating.

The buckeye trees are all in bloom right now; so pretty. And some of the black walnut trees are already sporting new walnuts. I was surprised to see that many of the Hop Trees around had already lost most of their seeds. Lots of hungry birds out there, I guess.  Along the river, I found a lot of Elegant Clarkia in bloom as well as Bush Monkey Flowers. I would have gone further along that part of the trail but by that time I had already been on m feet for over three hours, and I needed to get back to the car.

All in all, I ended up walking for about 4 hours.

Needing Some “Get Outside” Time, 05-02-18

I needed to “get outside” of myself, so I took the dog over to the American River Bend Park.

Sergeant Margie can’t do long walks anymore, so he spent the majority of the time in the backseat of the car. I parked in the shade and left the windows about 1/3 of the way down, then walked in wide circles, keeping the car in sight all of the time. That meant I couldn’t do much investigating and I couldn’t spend a lot of time at the park, but the fresh air was good for me… and I got to see some birds, a pair of coyotes, and some other critters while I was there.

Nature heals.  CLICK HERE to see the photo album.

Oh, and mama Great Horned Owl and her three owlets weren’t in their nest, but I found them in a tree across a field from the nest. All of the owlets are still sporting a lot of baby fluff, but their primary feathers are in, so they can fly for short distances. Mom remains nearby to make sure they’re safe, but they’re getting more and more independent.

I was only out for about 2 ½ hours, but it was just what I needed.

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

Lots of Nesting Birds, 04-15-18

I was up around 6:00 this morning.  It was supposed to rain here today, so I thought I’d better get out early if I wanted to get a nature walk in before the clouds got organized. I went over to the American River Bend Park because it’s close by (no long-distance driving) and I wanted to check on mama Great Horned Owl again.

Mama Great Horned Owl was still in her nest with her three owlets. The owlets are now starting to get their primary wing feathers in and they’re very itchy.  I saw mom helping her oldest owlet preen a bit and give him bite-kisses all over his head and neck. So cute!  I notice that when mom is around her babies, she often holds her plumicorns back against her head.  I wonder if that’s a communication thing…

After I walked around for a while, I went back to check on the nest and mom was gone. She must’ve been out hunting…

CLICK HERE for an album of today’s photos.

In a green area across the trail from the owls’ nest, I watched a House Wren singing from on top of an old snag… and then followed him as he flew over to where the nest was.  I got some photos of the wrens poking their heads out of the nesting cavity, and while I was doing that, I noticed that to my right, there were some Tree Swallows in an adjacent tree where they, too, were setting up house in a tree cavity. They were trying to line the cavity with twigs and stuff, but kept getting interrupted by a pair of Nutthall’s Woodpeckers who, apparently, wanted the same cavity the Tree Swallows had. So, just in that small area, I got to see three different species of birds AND their nests.  In the same area, a few yards away, was a second Tree Swallow nest… and I got some photos of that one, too.

While I was doing that, I was near enough to my car to lean on it and rest a little bit… and saw something flash to the ground to my right. I looked over there and saw that there was some hair fluff – like someone had brushed out their dog and left all of the undercoat hair there. There was a tiny White-Breasted Nuthatch grabbing up mouthfuls of the hair and flying off with it to feather its nest. I tried to see where it flew off to, but lost it in the tangle of branches. It came back several more times for the fluff, so I was able to get photos and a little video snippet of it in action.

A few minutes later, when I moved to step away from my car, I could hear a hummingbird nattering away, and saw it collecting bugs from the side of a tree. I followed after it, and was just barely able to make out its tiny nest in a scraggly tree on the other side of the trail. The nest was covered in lichen and blended right into the lichen-covered bark of the tree, but I still managed to get a few shots.

In one area, there were quite a few Scarab-Hunter wasps flying low to the ground. They have special heat-sensors in their abdomens that allow them to detect the body-heat of grubs under the surface of the dirt. When they find a grub, they land, and stick their ovipositor down through the dirt into the grub and lay their eggs in it. Cool, huh?

There were also quite a few Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies around (mostly males today), and one of them landed on the front of my jacket. I was worried he’d get squished by the shoulder strap of my carry bag, so I set him on my shoulder (on the side opposite the strap) and he stayed there for quite a while, hitching a ride while I walked. He even climbed up onto my head for a bit before taking off to sun himself in the grass. I also found more butterfly eggs today, but no caterpillars yet…

I got a pretty good shot of an orb-weaver spider’s web, and also noted that the Oak Apple gall wasps are starting to lay their eggs on the Valley Oaks. New fat, round, green galls are appearing on the trees…

At another point during my walk, I could hear a California Quail shouting out his “Chi-ca-go!” call, and looked all over for him. I finally caught sight of him off the side of the trail and down on the sandy shore of the river. He was pretty far away, but I still managed to get a photos of him before he scurried off into a tangled bit of shrub.

There were a lot of Fox Squirrels around today, “barking” at me from trees almost everywhere I walked. They’re so funny. They’re teeny, but they bark at something as big as me expecting me to be intimidated by their sound. They’re like the Chihuahuas of the Forest.

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