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At the Sacramento and Colusa Wildlife Refuges, 05-06-19

Certified California Naturalist, Roxanne Moger and I went out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge around 6:00 am this morning. The weather was beautiful today, but there wasn’t a lot to see at the preserve. We’re kind of in between seasons, so the large flocks of birds have all left, but the insects (like dragonflies, damselflies, and orb-weaver spiders) haven’t arrived yet. We did see swarms of Painted Lady butterflies and some Cabbage White, but none of the other species normally seen there in the late spring/early summer.

Roxanne did all the driving, but we stopped a couple of time to get out of the car and walk parts of the trail or explore the boundaries of the park-and-stretch areas. Some of the vernal pools on the site were in bloom: all golden yellow and purple with Goldfields and Downingia. Just beautiful.

Although the species list at the end of the day wasn’t as long or as varied as I’d like, I did like the fact that I saw a few things I’d never seen before and learned more about some species than I’d known before. That’s what really makes these outings fun.

A large fly landed on the passenger side mirror of the car partway through the auto-tour and at first I thought it was a Robber Fly (those guys are pretty big). We were both intrigued by the fly’s huge goggle-like eyes and his tenaciousness.  He held onto that mirror for quite a long time.

When I got home, I looked up the fly to see if I could find its scientific name and found that it was actually a male Striped (or Lined) Horsefly, Tabanus lineola. I’d never seen one before. And, of course, once I find something new to me, I have to research it more.  Never having encountered a Horsefly before, I was surprised to learn that although the males drink nectar, the females drink blood (usually from large mammals like livestock). She had scissor-like mouth parts that slice into the skin so she can get to the blood. This species is usually found along the east coast and Gulf of Mexico, so it was something of a surprise to find it here… assuming I got the ID correct.

We also got to see a male Red-Winged Blackbird flaring his epaulets at a female, and a pair of Brown-Headed Cowbirds performing what we thought was courtship behavior.  The two birds sat across from one another, then one ruffled its feathers, opened its wings a bit and bowed down at the other, and the other responded in kind.

Roxanne and I inferred the behavior was “courtship” but, from what I read, after I got home, what we were seeing was actually two males trying to outdo one another in a machismo contest.  Apparently, the females don’t respond well to the males’ bows, which they see as aggressive, so the males only bow to one another. (You can read more here.)  The males open their wings to one another, and to females, to show how mature they are. Juveniles have pale markings on the inside of the wings.

You can see the video snippet I took of the birds HERE.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

And we found a couple of Black Phoebe nests, one stuffed full of babies who were almost fully fledged. They were stacked up, one on top of the other, with their tails sticking out over the edge of the nest. And toward the end of the auto tour route we came across a dead tree where there was a Western Meadowlark, a Red-Winged Blackbird and a tiny Song Sparrow all singing their respective songs.

We caught glimpses of American Goldfinches and Bullock’s Orioles, and hear Bitterns, but didn’t see any. One oddity was sighting a Mute Swan in the permanent wetlands area. That was odd because swans hardly ever go into the refuge, and Mute Swans are actually an invasive species. Unlike the Tundra Swans, the Mute Swans are super-aggressive and destroy the habitat they live in by ripping up water-plants from the roots.

When we were done at the Sacramento refuge, we decided to go over to the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge to show Roxanne the day-roost of the Black-Crowned Night Herons at the end of the auto-tour there. We were astonished to discover that the auto-tour there was roped off so no one could get to it… but the rope and signage was only visible AFTER you entered the refuge and started driving down the route. Stupid. They should have put the signs on the front gate or in the parking area.  A “manager” who showed up a little while after did, said that the auto-route was shut down because they were short handed and couldn’t patrol it well enough. Sad.

So, we didn’t do that tour and instead walked around a little bit in the native flower garden they have near the restroom facility.  Along part of a path near the garden, Roxanne found some galls we’d never seen before: the gall of the Elm Balloon-Gall Aphid, Eriosoma lanuginosum.

According to what I’ve read, the galls are initiated by a “fundatrix”, a parthenogenetic female aphid whose presence causes an extreme enlargement of the soft cell tissue on one side of the leaf. The galls are hollow and feel rubbery. They start out green and are covered with fine white hairs (which we saw) and turn brown as they age.

Inside the gall the fundatrix has her babies which are wingless and yellow until they mature. There can also be second generation aphids, called “alates” (usually winged individuals) which are dark green to black and wax powdered. Not all of the adults grow wings, however, and wing-growth seemed to be associated to crowding inside the galls, a short supply of food, and/or changes in the environment. Nature is so cool!

After walking around a bit, we headed back home to Sacramento and got there around 3:00 pm.

Species List:

1. American Avocet, Recurvirostra americana,
2. American Bittern, Botaurus lentiginosus,
3. American Coot, Fulica americana.
4. American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos,
5. American Goldfinch, Spinus tristis,
6. American Robin, Turdus migratorius,
7. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna,
8. Annual Yellow Sweet Clover, Melilotus indicus,
9. Arches Moth, Habrosyne sp.
10. Bird’s Foot Trefoil, Lotus corniculatus,
11. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
12. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus,
13. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum,
14. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus cerulea,
15. Bristly Oxtongue, Helminthotheca echioides,
16. Brown-Headed Cowbird, Molothrus ater,
17. Bullock’s Oriole, Icterus bullockii,
18. Bur Clover, Burr Medic, Medicago polymorpha,
19. California Flannelbush, Fremontodendron californicum,
20. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi,
21. California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica,
22. California Wild Rose, Rosa californica,
23. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis,
24. Cinnamon Teal, Anas cyanoptera,
25. Clark’s Grebe, Aechmophorus clarkia,
26. Cleveland Sage, Salvia clevelandii,
27. Common Mustard, Brassica rapa,
28. Convergent Lady Beetle, Hippodamia convergens,
29. Curly Dock, Rumex crispus,
30. Damselfly, Pacific Forktail, Ischnura cervula, (dots on thorax)
31. Damselfly, Sooty Dancer, Argia lugens, (no blue tip; rings around segments)
32. Desert Cottontail, Sylvilagus audubonii,
33. Dogtail Grass, Cynosurus echinatus,
34. Elm Balloon-Gall Aphid, Eriosoma lanuginosum,
35. Eurasian Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto,
36. Field Elm Tree, Smooth-Leaf Elm, Ulmus Minor,
37. Foothills Penstamon, Penstemon heterophyllus,
38. Foxtail Barley, Hordeum murinum ssp. glaucum,
39. Fremont Cottonwood Tree, Populus fremontii,
40. Fuller’s Teasel, Wild Teasel, Dipsacus fullonum,
41. Goldfields, Contra Costa Goldfields, Lasthenia conjugens,
42. Great Egret, Ardea alba,
43. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons,
44. Greenbottle Fly, Lucilia sericata,
45. Himalayan Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus,
46. Hood Canarygrass, Phalaris paradoxa,
47. Hoover’s Downingia, Hoover’s Calicoflower, Downingia bella,
48. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus,
49. House Sparrow, Passer domesticus,
50. Jimson Weed, Datura stramonium,
51. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous,
52. Large Oxtongue Aphid, Uroleucon picridis,
53. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris,
54. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura,
55. Mute Swan, Cygnus olor,
56. Narrowleaf Milkweed, Asclepias fascicularis,
57. Northern Paper Wasp, Polistes fuscatus,
58. Northern Pintail, Anas acuta,
59. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata,
60. Oleander Aphid, Aphis nerii,
61. Pacific Pond Turtle, Western Pond Turtle, Actinemys marmorata,
62. Pacific Tree Frog, Chorus Frog, Pseudacris regilla,
63. Painted Lady Butterfly, Vanessa cardui,
64. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps,
65. Plantain, Ribwort, Plantago lanceolata,
66. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum,
67. Purple Finch, Haemorhous purpureus,
68. Purple Needle Grass, Stipa pulchra,
69. Rabbit Tail Grass,Hare’s Tail Grass, Lagurus ovatus,
70. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis,
71. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus,
72. Rush, California Bulrush, Schoenoplectus californicus,
73. Sedge, Pennsylvania Sedge, Carex pensylvanica
74. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciose,
75. Silverpuff, Microseris acuminata,
76. Snow Goose, Chen caerulescens,
77. Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia,
78. Striped Horsefly, Tabanus lineola,
79. Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus,
80. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura,
81. Valley Popcorn Flower, Plagiobothrys canescens,
82. Varied Carpet Beetle, Anthrenus verbasci,
83. Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum,
84. Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
85. Western Kingbird, Tyrannus verticalis,
86. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta,
87. Willow, Gooding’s Willow, Salix gooddingii

It was “Buggy” Out There Today, 04-27-19

I got up a little before 6:00 am and headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk.  I wanted to get there by 6:30 so I could beat the heat for today.  Actually, the weather was rather pleasant all day, but anything over 70° is uncomfortable for me when I’m outside.

When I got there, The-Other-Mary, Mary Messenger, another volunteer trail-walker at Effie Yeaw, was there wanting to join me, and my friend/naturalist/volunteer Roxanne Moger also showed up. So, we had a nice time looking at all the little stuff that was around us.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

Roxanne and I were more focused on bugs and galls this time around than the larger animals, so we were moving really slowly, investigating the leaves of plants and using the macro-settings on our cameras.  I actually like the quality of the macro-photos better on my cell phone than on my camera (it can get in tighter and more clearly), so I was using that a lot.  The best finds of the day were made by Roxanne who discovered a Tiger Swallowtail butterfly in a tree and a California Alligator Lizard hiding in some clover.  The alligator lizards are super-common in Southern California, but we don’t see them much here, so finding one is always fun.

We located a Black Phoebe nest, found out where an Oak titmouse was hiding out in a tree (that was guarded at the moment we saw it by a Western Fence Lizard), and also saw a Starling leave her nesting cavity with a white glob in her beak. She threw the glob down in a field and kept on flying.  I’m assuming she was doing housekeeping and tossed the babies’ fecal sacs.

We saw a few deer, including a pair of bucks in their velvet. One of the bucks decided to do a head-scratching maneuver that, at the same time, flashed his junk at us.  Hah!  How rude!  I also came across a doe who was having a sneezing fit.  I don’t know if she snuffled up something while she was browsing or what, but she was loud!

The elderberry bushes are just starting to flower-out, as are the Buckeye chestnut trees. The few plum trees in the preserve already have plums on them, and some were starting to turn purple.

On the walk, we came across both Oak Apple wasp galls and Live Oak wasp galls.  And, as for the insects, I saw Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillars and butterflies, Painted Lady caterpillars and butterflies, some Tussock Moth caterpillars, Craneflies, some bumble bees, hover flies, damselflies (including a male and female Pacific Forktail), Soldier Beetles, ladybugs, aphids and some Spittle Bug spit and other critters. There are so many teeny-tinies around.

By this time of the spring, some of the butterflies are already looking pretty ragged. I saw several of them with tears in their wings and frayed edges.  I think some of the damage is done by the grasses that grow up around the flowers and plants the butterflies utilize. The razor-edges of the grass can cut human skin, so I can only imagine how quickly they can damage the fragile wings of the butterflies.

I walked for about 4 hours and then headed home.

Species List:

1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus,
2. American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus,
3. Aphids, superfamily Aphidoidea,
4. Asian Lady Beetle, Harmonia axyridis,
5. Bedstraw, Cleavers, Galium aparine,
6. Billbug, Weevil, Sphenophorus sp.,
7. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
8. Black Walnut Erineum Mite galls, Eriophyes erinea,
9. Black Walnut, Juglans nigra,
10. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus cerulea,
11. Blue Oak, Quercus douglasii,
12. Blue Penstemon, Penstemon azureus,
13. Bush Monkey Flower, Mimulus aurantiacus,
14. Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus,
15. California Buckeye Tree, Aesculus californica,
16. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
17. California Manroot, Bigroot, Marah fabaceus,
18. California Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta,
19. California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica,
20. California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica,
21. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica,
22. Camel Cricket, Gammarotettix bilobatus,
23. Catface Spider, Araneus gemmoides,
24. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus,
25. Common Catchfly, Silene gallica,
26. Common Fringepod, Thysanocarpus curvipes,
27. Common Popcorn Flower, Plagiobothrys stipitatus,
28. Common Yarrow, Achillea millefolium,
29. Convergent Lady Beetle nymph, Hippodamia convergens,
30. Cranefly, family Tipulidae,
31. Deer Grass, Muhlenbergia rigens,
32. Desert Cottontail, Sylvilagus audubonii,
33. Dog Vomit Slime Mold, Fuligo septica,
34. Dogtail Grass, Cynosurus echinatus,
35. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris,
36. Fiery Skipper, Hylephila phyleus,
37. Foxtail Barley, Hordeum murinum,
38. Gold Dust Lichen, Chrysothrix candelaris,
39. Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata,
40. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon,
41. Indian Paintbrush, Castilleja affinis,
42. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni,
43. Italian Thistle, Carduus pycnocephalus,
44. Ithuriel’s Spears, Triteleia laxa,
45. Leafhopper, Chlorotettix sp.,
46. Miniature Lupine, Lupinus bicolor,
47. Moth caterpillar, possibly Amphipyra brunneoatra
48. Oak Apple Wasp Gall, Andricus quercuscalifornicus
49. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus,
50. Oakmoss Lichen, Evernia prunastri,
51. Olive Tree, Olea europaea,
52. Pacific Forktail damselfly, Ischnura cervula,
53. Painted Lady butterfly, Vanessa cardui,
54. Periwinkle, Vinca major,
55. Pink Grass, Windmill Pink, Petrorhagia dubia,
56. Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta,
57. Plum, Prunus cerasifera,
58. Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum,
59. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus,
60. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia,
61. Rock Shield Lichen, Xanthoparmelia conspersa,
62. Rose Clover, Trifolium hirtum,
63. Rusty Tussock Moth caterpillar, Orgyia antiqua,
64. Sedge, Tall Cyperus, Cyperus eragrostis,
65. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciose,
66. Soldier Beetle, Brown Leatherwing Beetle, Pacificanthia consors,
67. Spittlebug, Meadow Spittlebug, Philaenus spumarius,
68. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus,
69. Spring Vetch, Vicia sativa,
70. Strawberry Clover, Trifolium fragiferum,
71. Sunburst Lichen, Xanthoria elegans,
72. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata,
73. Valley Tassels, Castilleja attenuate,
74. Western Bluebird, Sialia mexicana,
75. Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
76. Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis,
77. Western Tiger Swallowtail butterfly, Papilio rutulus,
78. White Horehound, Marrubium vulgare,
79. Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa,
80. Yerba Santa, Eriodictyon californicum,

Some Quail on Sunday

California Quail. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.
California Quail. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.

I headed out to the American River Bend Park for my walk around 5:00 am.

I went down by the river side where I’d seen the beaver a week ago.  No beavers today, but I did get to see a covey of California Quail feeding and running through the short grass. Those are always fun to watch; especially the males with their little “dingle balls” bouncing on their head as they move.  This group seemed to be all bachelors; males with no apparent harem of females around them. I crept up on them as quietly as I could, but there’s a lot of stones and gravel around there, so I didn’t get any really good shots of them before they flushed.

I could then hear ducklings peeping from the river, so I walked closer to the shore.  There was a  mama Common Merganser there with a bevy of babies.  I think it might have been the same mama I saw before (the one with 20 babies), but she only had 12 now… and one of the babies had gotten carried off by the current.  He was bobbing on the little waves in the river, peeping loudly in distress.  Mama rushed across the surface of the water – with the other little ones in tow — and positioned herself downstream from the one that was peeping.  While she did that, I saw two other female Mergansers fly across the water in front of the baby as though they were trying to “herd” him in the right direction.  The current finally took him to where his mom and siblings were and she went back across the water with all of her kids again.  I got some video of her and the kids on the bank opposite from me, and as I was filming, I could a baby peeping again, and saw two others adult females skidding on the water to try to corral it…  I don’t know if the was the same baby as before, but there again was a little one who’d gotten separated from its group and was whining for help as the current took it downstream.  That poor mama must be so tired by the end of the day!

Later on my walk, I saw another female Merganser, this one with only two babies that she was carrying down the river on her back.  That’s a little more manageable, I’m sure.

I also came across a couple of Spotted Sandpipers in their breeding spots bobbing along the bank, eating stuff from between and on tops of the rocks – looked like worms or larvae of some kind — and I got a few photos of them. Along my walk I also saw some California Towhees and Spotted Towhees, Scrub Jays, Tree Swallows, Mallards, a jackrabbit and a Red-Shouldered Hawk.

The wild blackberries are covered in blossoms and berries right now, and the wild grapes have tiny clusters of grapes on them, but nothing’s ripe yet.  It’ll be another 2 or 3 weeks. The rushes and flat sedge along the river are all getting their seed-heads now along with the smartweed and dock.

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I then drove further into the park and was going to do some walking along the river there but the place was swamped with kids from a youth group that were camping there.  *Sigh*  I turned the car around and headed home.