Tag Archives: Populus fremontii

The 1st Summer 2019 Naturalist Field Trip, 06-15-19

I got up at 4:00 this morning, got the dog fed and outside to pee, and then headed out to Woodland for our first field trip for the summer naturalist class.  I got to the Woodland Library around 5:45 am and waited for my coworker Bill and the students arrive. The weather was VERY cooperative today. I was worried that the summer heat would make our field trips unbearable in the summer, but today it was nice.  It was in the low 60’s when we headed out, and only about 78° when we came back, so that was great.  There was also a slight breeze which helped, too.

When everyone got to the library and had signed in, we all headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  I left my car in the parking lot and went with Bill in his van along with our student, Jeanette, who is a middle school teacher.

  • Locate and identify at least fifteen (15) animal species (birds, amphibians, reptiles)
  • Locate and identify at least ten (10) plant species
  • Locate and identify at least ten (10) insect species

While we were walking around the nature center, I think they all got the majority of those requirements!  The insects were probably the most difficult for everyone, but we’ll see on Friday (at class) how well everyone did. 

Near the nature center, we came across a large fat weevil sitting on the top of the flowering head of a tule.  Bill rapped on the weevil a couple of times and figured it was dead, but when I stroked it, its feet moved, so we all inferred that the weevil was in a state of torpor, waiting for the sun to get a little higher in the sky so it could warm up more and start moving around. 

Everyone took photos of it and tried to identify it using the iNaturalist app we’d told them about in class on Friday.  It came up as a Billbug Weevil from the genus Sphenophorus. If you look at the map in iNaturalist, though, you’ll see that Billbug Weevils have been sighted all over the globe. So, calling this a Billbug Weevil is somewhat accurate, but for a more precise ID, I wanted the students to try get down to the species level on the weevil when they got home. Insects can be especially hard to ID because there are literally millions of them, and you have to deal with taxon levels that include superfamilies, tribes and subtribes before you can get close to the species. It will be interesting to see how far the students are able to get.

We also found a buckwheat plant that I didn’t recognize as buckwheat at all because its shape wasn’t like any buckwheat plant I’d seen before.  The signage by the plant said it was California Buckwheat, Eriogonum fasciculatum, as did iNaturalist, but that didn’t quite look right to me. The leaves were the wrong shape.  So, I did a little more research, and I believe it was actually St. Catherine’s Lace, Eriogonum giganteum, a kind of wild buckwheat that usually only grows in Southern California. When we were studying the plant, two of the students (Jeanette and Edna) also observed that some of the flowers still had their pink pollen balls and others did not… and we inferred that those that didn’t have their pollen balls anymore had already been pollinated.

Buckwheat, St. Catherine’s Lace, Eriogonum giganteum, with pollen blass intact

When it came time to drive the auto-tour route, I drove Bill’s van so he could do more observations, and Jeanette and another student, Mica, a retired farmer, came along with us. Bill was able to open up both sides of his van, so the gals could get an unobstructed view of what was out on the preserve. Although everyone was able to go at their own pace along the route, we stopped at two of the park-and-stretch areas so we could compare notes and get a closer look at things.  At the first stop, the students Ken and Alison, who are already expert birders, were helping the students spot and identify bird species and also explained what they meant when they talked about the birds’ GISS.

GISS stands for “General Impression, Shape, and Size” (originally a military term). Birders often use the bird’s GISS as a way to do a preliminary or in-field identification of a bird when it’s backlit (only seen in silhouette) or is too far away to see any details of its coloring. So, Alison and Kent were able to distinguish a pair of Northern Harriers flying over our heads from the Red-Tailed Hawk that was flying near them by nothing but their GISS. Very cool.  I’m nowhere near being that kind of an expert. 

At the second park-and-stretch spot, students relaxed with their lunches for a little while, and I was able to find a couple of examples of a specific kind of gall to tell them about, a Cottonwood Petiole Gall and is created by the aphid, Pemphigus populitransversus. The wingless female aphid called a “stem mother” chews at the leaf petiole (the stalk that joins a leaf to a stem) until it swells and then she climbs inside the swelling and has her babies inside of it. The baby aphids are born live and can be in either a winged form (called an “alate”) or without wings.

Cottonwood Petiole Aphid Gall,
Pemphigus populitransversus

While the students were resting and checking up on their notes, one of them, Alison, let us see what she’d put into her field journal for the morning. She’s an artist, and she uses fountain pens and watercolors to write and decorate her entries. It was beautiful. I can hardly wait for Friday when all the students share their journals, so I can take photos and let you see what they’re doing…

I also overheard a couple of students talking about how much they enjoyed the class, how much they’ve learned already (in just two sessions) and how many resources we’ve introduced them to that they didn’t even know existed before now.  That is so gratifying!

One more learning moment: On the eucalyptus trees along the end auto-tour route on Saturday, I also stopped to pull a leaf off of an obliging eucalyptus tree, so I could show the students in our vehicle the white teepee-like formation on it that some folks mistake for galls.  The formations are actually called “lerps” and they’re created by a tiny insect called the Red Gum Lerp Psyllid, Glycaspis brimblecombei. These insects spin little white houses for themselves made of sugars and wax pulled from the leaves. They’re often very sticky with the honeydew produced by the insects.             

When we were done with the tour, everyone went their separate ways.

Species List:

  1. American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus,
  2. American Robin, Turdus migratorius,
  3. American Wigeon, Anas americana,
  4. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna,
  5. Ash-Throated Flycatcher, Myiarchus cinerascens,
  6. Bermuda Grass, Cynodon dactylon,
  7. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii,
  8. Billbug Weevil, Sphenophorus sp.,
  9. Birds-foot Trefoil, Lotus corniculatus,
  10. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
  11. Black Saddlebags Dragonfly, Tramea lacerata,
  12. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicusm,
  13. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum,
  14. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus,
  15. Bristly Oxtongue, Helminthotheca echioides,
  16. Buckwheat, St. Catherine’s Lace, Eriogonum giganteum,
  17. Bulbous Canary Grass, Phalaris aquatica,
  18. Bullock’s Oriole, Icterus bullockii,
  19. California Flannelbush, Fremontodendron californicum,
  20. California Fuchsia, Epilobium canum,
  21. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi,
  22. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis,
  23. Cinnamon Teal, Anas cyanoptera,
  24. Cleveland Sage, Salvia clevelandii,
  25. Common Checkered Skipper, Pyrgus communis,
  26. Common Minnow, Phoxinus phoxinus,
  27. Common Teasel, Dipsacus fullonum,
  28. Cottonwood Petiole Aphid Gall, Pemphigus populitransversus,
  29. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis,
  30. Desert Cottontail, Sylvilagus audubonii,
  31. Eurasian Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto,
  32. European Heliotrope, Heliotropium europaeum,
  33. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris,
  34. Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis,
  35. Field Mustard, Sinapis arvensis,
  36. Flax-leaved Horseweed, Erigeron bonariensis,
  37. Floating Water Primrose, Ludwigia peploides ssp. peploides,
  38. Fremont Cottonwood, Populus fremontii,
  39. Gold Dust Lichen, Chrysothrix candelaris,
  40. Goodding’s Willow, Salix gooddingii,
  41. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias,
  42. Great Egret, Ardea alba,
  43. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons,
  44. Great-Tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus,
  45. Green-Winged Teal, Anas carolinensis,
  46. Italian Thistle, Carduus pycnocephalus,
  47. Jimson Weed, Datura stramonium,
  48. Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos,
  49. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris,
  50. Monarch Butterfly, Danaus plexippus,
  51. Mosquitofish, Gambusia affinis,
  52. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura,
  53. Mute Swan, Cygnus olor,
  54. Mylitta Crescent Butterfly, Phyciodes mylitta mylitta,
  55. Narrowleaf Cattail, Cattail, Typha angustifolia,
  56. Narrowleaf Milkweed, Asclepias fascicularis,
  57. Northern Bluet Damselfly, Enallagma cyathigerum,
  58. Northern Pintail, Anas acuta,
  59. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata,
  60. Oleander Aphid, Aphis nerii,
  61. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps,
  62. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum,
  63. Raccoon, Procyon lotor,
  64. Red Gum Lerp Psyllid, Glycaspis brimblecombei,
  65. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus,
  66. Rough Cocklebur, Xanthium strumarium,
  67. Sharp-leaved Fluellen, Kickxia elatine,
  68. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa,
  69. Spotted Orb-Weaver Spider, Neoscona crucifera,
  70. Striped Horsefly, Tabanus lineola,
  71. Sunburst Lichen, Xanthoria elegans,
  72. Teasel, Wild Teasel, Dipsacus fullonum,
  73. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus,
  74. Turkey Tangle, Fogfruit, Phyla nodiflora,
  75. Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum,
  76. Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
  77. Western Kingbird, Tyrannus verticalis,
  78. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta,
  79. Yellow Starthistle, Centaurea solstitialis

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,