Tag Archives: Popcorn Flower

Lots of Birds Nesting, 03-31-19

Around 7:00 am I headed over to the American River Bend Park for walk. It was about 44° at the river when I got there and was heading toward 70° by the time I left.

It was nice to see that the dirt road to the camping area and nature trails was cleaned up and smoothed out. No more car-swallowing potholes!  I saw some deer and a jackrabbit right when I was heading in, so I felt that was a good portend.

The Black Walnut trees are starting to leaf out and drop their catkins, and the California Buckeye trees are just beginning to squeeze out their panicles of flowers. Redbud trees are flowering, and the Santa Barbara Sedge is starting to show off. I checked out various stands of Pipevine but still don’t see any evidence of butterfly eggs yet… I was happy to see small stands of stinging nettle in the picnic area. Let’s see how long it’s allowed to remain there.  It’s a host plant for Red Admiral butterflies, and when the park eradicates the nettles, they eradicate the butterflies as well.  You’d think they’d figure that out.  It would be a lot easier and cheaper to post a sign about the nettles and have people avoid them, than to kill all of the plants.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

I spent almost 20 minutes watching a female Western Bluebird deciding whether she wanted to commit to a nesting cavity or not. She flew up to the opening several times, poked her head in and looked around, but then would back off again. I didn’t understand what her hesitation was and wondered if maybe the hole was already occupied by something. Then it occurred to me that she might not be committing to the spot because I was there watching her, so I walked off a bit, then a bit more. I still didn’t see her go all the way in, but her hubby was sitting in the tree nearby patiently waiting for her to make a decision.

I also came across a House Wren taking twigs to her nesting cavity, and a European Starling poking her head out of her nest.  She’d chased off a Tree Swallow that wanted the same spot.  Lots of cool photo ops today!

I got to see a very large Red-Tailed Hawk in a tree (but she had her face turned away from me, so I didn’t get any good shots of that).  She was so big, I thought at first that she might have been an owl.  As soon as she left, I saw a Red-Shouldered Hawk near the same tree.  As I was leaving the park, I also saw a Cooper’s Hawk chattering in a tree alongside the road.

I walked for a little over 3 ½ hours before heading back home.

Species List:

1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
2. Audubon’s Warbler, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Setophaga auduboni auduboni
3. Black Walnut Tree, Juglans nigra
4. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus
5. Blue Dicks, Dichelostemma capitatum
6. Burr Chervil, Anthriscus caucalis
7. California Buckeye, Aesculus californica
8. California Manroot, Bigroot, Marah fabaceus
9. California Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta
10. California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica
11. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
12. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
13. Common Goldeneye, Bucephala clangula
14. Common Ink Cap Mushroom, Coprinopsis atramentaria
15. Cooper’s Hawk, Accipiter cooperii
16. Cranefly, Mosquito Hawk, Tipula dietziana
17. Destroying Angel Mushroom, Amanita ocreata
18. Dog Vomit Slime Mold, Fuligo septica
19. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
20. Giraffe’s Head Henbit, Henbit Deathnettle,
21. Golden Shield Lichen, Xanthoria parietina
22. Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata
23. Haymaker Mushroom, Panaeolus foenisecii
24. Hoary Lichen, Hoary Rosette, Physcia aipolia
25. Hop Tree, Ptelea trifoliata
26. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon
27. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
28. Longstalk Cranesbill, Geranium columbinum
29. Miner’s Lettuce, Claytonia perfoliata
30. Nutthall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii
31. Oakmoss Lichen, Evernia prunastri
32. Popcorn Flower, Plagiobothrys sp.
33. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
34. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
35. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
36. Santa Barbara Sedge, Valley Sedge, Carex barbarae
37. Shepherd’s Purse, Capsella bursa-pastoris
38. Speedwell, Bird’s Eye Speedwell, Veronica persica
39. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
40. Stinging Nettle, Annual Stinging Nettle, Urtica urens
41. Stork’s Bill, Big Heron Bill, Erodium botrys
42. Sunburst Lichen, Xanthoria sp.
43. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
44. Western Bluebird, Sialia mexicana
45. Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis
46. White Alder, Alnus rhombifolia
47. Winter Vetch, Smooth Vetch, Vicia villosa

My First Trip to the Mather Field Vernal Pools, 03-27-19

Around 8:00 am, my naturalist class graduate Roxanne M. and I went to the vernal pools at the end of Zinfandel Blvd. in Mather Field.  Rain was threatening, and it was about 51° outside, but the rain held off until after we’d left – about 2 hours later.

I’d never been there before, but Roxanne had so she showed me some of the highlights out there – like the white pipes used for hydrology studies, and the somewhat lumpy landscape dotted with “mima mounds” around the pools.

“…One theory on the origin of Mima mounds is that they were created by small burrowing rodents such as pocket gophers (Thomomys talpoides) of the endemic North American family Geomyidae. Researchers in the 1940s found that Mima mounds tend to form in areas with poorly draining soils, so the “Fossorial Rodent Hypothesis” proposed that gophers build mounds as an evolutionary response to low water tables… It could be argued that gophers live in the mounds opportunistically but did not build them.  Consequently, gophers in mima mound fields seem to be aware of randomly distributed topographic highs and orient their burrowing accordingly in early mound creation stages. However, the mounds were already fully formed and the gophers may have just been maintaining them. Nevertheless, the fact that the surface area of a typical Mima mound is similar to the size of an individual gopher’s home range is consistent with the theory they were constructed by the rodents…”

Roxanne and I were hoping the wildflowers would be out, but there were only a few species showing. In another week or so, if we get some sunshine, the place should be covered in flowers.  We could see large swaths of Frying Pan poppies around some of the pools, but they were all closed up because it was overcast outside. Along with the poppies, among the flowers we did see were things like Butter ‘n’ Eggs, Blue Dicks, Showy Fringe Pod, Popcorn Flowers, and Jointed Charlock.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

We also saw some Canada Geese, Western Meadowlarks, and some Western Kingbirds. One of the Kingbirds was eating a large sphinx moth, but it was too far away for me to get a clear photo of it.  Along the road we saw a Mourning Dove, a pair of dark morph Swainson’s Hawks, and some wild turkeys.

Both Roxanne and I had brought little bowls to collect some of the pond water in so we could look for little critters in it.  We lucked out and were able to find a lot of tiny swimmers in the water including the larvae of Predaceous Diving Beetles, called “Water Tigers”, Damselfly larvae, and California Clam Shrimp.  So cool!  I need a portable microscope to take with on trips like this – and I need a book on vernal pool creatures. I don’t know very much about this kind of habitat; it’s all kind of new to me.

We both enjoyed the walk and vowed to go back to the pools in another week or so.

Species List:

1. Blue Dicks, Dichelostemma capitatum
2. Butter ‘n’ Eggs, Triphysaria eriantha
3. California Clam Shrimp, Cyzicus californicus
4. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
5. Copepods, Copepoda
6. Damselfly Larvae, Class: Odonata, Order: Zygoptera
7. Dock, Curly Dock, Rumex crispus
8. Filaree, Stork’s Bill, Big Heron Bill, Erodium botrys
9. Flatworm, Dugesia gonocephala
10. Frying Pan Poppy, Eschscholzia lobbii
11. Jointed Charlock, Raphanus raphanistrum
12. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
13. Painted Lady Butterfly, Vanessa cardui
14. Popcorn Flower, Slender Popcorn Flower, Plagiobothrys tenellus
15. Predaceous Diving Beetles, Water Tiger, Cybister fimbriolatus
16. Rio Grand Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
17. Showy Fringe Pod, Spokewheel, Thysanocarpus radians
18. Slug, Reticulate Taildropper, Prophysaon andersoni
19. Swainson’s Hawk, Buteo swainsoni
20. Tadpole, Western Tree Frog, Chorus Frog, Polypedates occidentalis
21. Western Kingbird, Tyrannus verticalis
22. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
23. White-Lined Sphinx Moth, Hyles lineata

American Bitterns Pumper-Lunking on Sunday

I was up at 6:00 am and out the door before 6:30.  It was my original intention to do some more wildflower hunting, but on the way to Highway 20 I got lost in my thoughts and missed the turn off (D’oh!), so I continued up the highway to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge and spent the morning there instead.  The weather was lovely (mostly sunny; 51º when I got there, 70º by the time I left).

CLICK HERE to see the whole album of photos and videos.

We’re right at the beginning of the breeding season, so lots of bird are starting to pair up, build nests, and claim territory.  I saw a lot of Great-Tailed Grackles flying overhead (and some American White Pelicans, too), and although I could hear the grackles occasionally singing their broad range of odd songs, I didn’t see any of them on or near the ground so I didn’t get any photos of them. I also saw a young garter snake and a green-tinted Western Racer snake, but they moved too fast for me. By the time I got my camera focus on them, they were gone into the brush.  I’d never seen a Western Racer before, so that was neat to see one for the first time.  When I initially saw it, I thought it was a tule on the auto-tour route… but then it moved.

A lot of the wildflowers and vernal pool flowers at the refuge were in bloom, so in area the ground was a patchwork of yellow Goldfields, orange Fiddleneck, white Popcorn Flowers and purple Dowingia… so pretty. There’s also wild mustard and Poison Hemlock, Blessed Milk Thistle, Italian Thistle, and Teasel blooming everywhere – just in time for the pollinators to wake up.

I saw only a few dragonflies, but it’s still early in the season for them. The Painted Lady and West Coast Lady butterflies on the other hand were everywhere. I bet I saw 20 of them just around the permanent wetland area.

There were jackrabbits and Cottontails bounding all over the place, and I got a few good shots of some California Ground Squirrels.

I didn’t see many babies today, just a pair of Canada Geese with their little troop of goslings, but it’s still early in the season.

The highlight of the day was seeing an American Bittern in the tall grass “booming”.  I don’t know why it’s called “booming” because the call has its own name but… whatever.  To stake out their territory, the Bitterns give out a loud complex call called the “pumper-lunk” call.  The bird claps its bill several time, sucking air into its esophagus, and then expels the air by compressing its neck – making a loud burbling sound, sort of like a melodious burp.  The one I was watching did his call five times, and I was able to get video of two of the calls.  Made. My. Day.  Here’s one of the videos of it: https://youtu.be/cg0HDZ2lhbw.

The odd moment of the day came when I saw something with long brown, black and white fur moving through the long grass.  I could see that it was moving nose-down along the ground, but because the critter never lifted its head, I couldn’t tell what it was.  I was thinking it was probably a Striped Skunk, but the brown shades were throwing me off… then I was thinking badger (but the fur was too long)… or maybe even porcupine (but they’re usually much larger, and the video proved that I was seeing fur and not quills)… So I’m settling on skunk, but I’m still not certain.

In another “what is that?” moment, I saw the dorsal fin and tail fin of a Northern Pike in one of the slews.  I know I’ve said it before, but those guys are brutal; they’ll eat anything.  They come up into the sloughs when the area gets flooded, then when the water recedes again, they get trapped.  They’re fast and powerful, though… and can move even in shallow water, so once they’re in the sloughs they prey on everything, including birds…

On the viewing platform, I came across a pair of Western Fence Lizards, that were challenging each other: doing pushups, body slamming one another, staring each other down.  I got some of the interaction on video.  The two males were very mature – showing off why they’re also called “Blue Bellies” – and had lots and lots of blue on their bodies, even along the back and on the head.  I’ve never ones that were this colorful before.  When the winner of the contest was done with his rival (who ran off) he decided that my blue-green walking shoes were an enemy, too, so he ran up as close to me as he dared and started doing pushups again.  Hah!  I let him win and walked away – after I got some video and photos of him.  In the same area, I found a melanistic Western Fence Lizard, a dark pitchy-gray one sitting on a branch sunning himself.  He was such a contrast to the brightly colored one, I had to get his photo, too.

I’m usually not too thrilled about seeing Black Phoebes, mostly because they’re so ubiquitous around here, but I caught sight of one carrying grass for its nest.  It perched on a limb of a tree and sat there for a while, letting me get some pretty good photos of it.  And the Kingbirds were out in force. I got some good shots of them, too.

Another good bird-moment was when I saw some American Coots playing “keep-away” with a crawfish.  One has caught it and was trying to eat it when a second Coot rushed up and grabbed it.  Coot #2 swam off with its prize, but as soon as it stopped to eat, Coot #3 rushed up and took it… When it comes to lunch, these guys aren’t polite.  Hah!

I stayed at the refuge for about 4 hours and then headed back home to crash with the dogs… So I didn’t see much in the way of wildflowers, today, but it was still a nice day out in nature…