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.
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.
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.
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,
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
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.
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.
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.
American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus,
American Robin, Turdus migratorius,
American Wigeon, Anas americana,
Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna,
Ash-Throated Flycatcher, Myiarchus cinerascens,
Bermuda Grass, Cynodon dactylon,
Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii,
Billbug Weevil, Sphenophorus sp.,
Birds-foot Trefoil, Lotus corniculatus,
Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
Black Saddlebags Dragonfly, Tramea lacerata,
Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicusm,
Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum,
Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus,
Bristly Oxtongue, Helminthotheca echioides,
Buckwheat, St. Catherine’s Lace, Eriogonum giganteum,
Bulbous Canary Grass, Phalaris aquatica,
Bullock’s Oriole, Icterus bullockii,
California Flannelbush, Fremontodendron californicum,
California Fuchsia, Epilobium canum,
California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi,
It’s supposed to rain all weekend, “one of the worst storms yet”, the weather-people keep telling us, but although it was overcast, it wasn’t raining when I got up around 6:30 am. So, I headed over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve again to see if they were open, and if I could walk around there a bit.
Most of the trails there were open, except for the one that lead down to the river… because it was UNDER the river. I was astonished to see how far up the water had come. There’s a bench along one of the trails that looks out onto the river trail. I’ve often sat there during my walks at the preserve because it’s a spot where there’s usually a lot of deer and wild turkeys. Normally, the bench looks out over a series of shallow plateaus and a green knoll, that step down like gigantic steps from the bench area, down and down, hundreds and hundreds of feet toward the river. Usually, all you can see from the bench are the gravelly plateaus and trees, and maybe a tiny sliver-glimpse of the river so far away… Today, the river was right up near the bench. And I could see debris along the trail left behind when the river rose up farther, dumped stuff around the trees and then receded again. Nature is so amazing – and scary.
Anyway, even though it was drizzling a tiny bit and I sometimes had to open my umbrella to keep the camera dry, I got to see quit a few things this morning. As soon as I walked into the preserve, I could hear light squeaks coming from near the tree where the Red-Shouldered Hawks’ nest was, so I went over there to investigate, thinking maybe one of the hawks had caught something… I was half right. The male hawk and caught the female and was mating with her, right out there in front of God and everybody. Hah! They were in a tree right over my head, and I wasn’t able to get any photos of “the act” but I did manage to get some pictures afterwards, when they were both sitting on different branches of the tree, doing some post-coital feather-straightening. Then mama flew off to the nest and sat there for a while.
I also saw a lot of other birds like California Towhees, a White-Breasted Nuthatch, Acorn Woodpeckers, Golden-Crowned Sparrows, Spotted Towhees, European Starlings, California Scrub Jays, and a flock of Wild Turkeys. But the big deal today was the number of Mule Deer I came across. I think the high water has crowded them all into the preserve, so they seemed to be everywhere. Lots of does and yearlings (no little babies yet), and some young bucks that were shedding their antlers (so their headsets were wonky or were missing the antlers on one side). I came across a fairly large herd of the deer – maybe 15 or so – in one area by the trail, so I stopped to take pictures of them and some video snippets. While I was doing that, I suddenly heard, “snort, snort snort!” from behind me, so I turned around and there, right on the side of the trail, was a handsome two-pointer buck. I think he didn’t know what to make of my red-and-white polka-dotted umbrella and had walked up to investigate. If I hadn’t turned around, I’m sure he would have reached out with his snout and touched it… I took some photos of him, and then moved on little bit, so he had enough room to decide which way to go from there. He walked off to my right through the woods, but kept an eye on me…
I walked through the preserve for about 2 hours, and then headed back to the house stopping at BelAir to pick up some groceries on the way. When I got home, Marty was up and had coffee brewing… and the rain clouds were just starting to darken outside.