Tag Archives: shield lichen

The Bugs Were More Interesting Today, 10-15-18

DAY 10 OF MY VACATION.  I got up around 6:30 this morning, expecting to meet with an on-line friend, Dee, at the Nimbus Fish Hatchery. Dee had to cancel at the last minute because her dog got skunked, but I decided to go to the hatchery for a walk anyway.

There wasn’t much of anything at all to see there.  The migrating waterfowl haven’t arrived yet, and the salmon ladder wasn’t operating.  But I did get to see some of the salmon in the river; their humped backs appearing through the surface of the water here and there. I also got to see a few birds: California Gulls, Herring Gulls, Common Mergansers, and a female Belted Kingfisher rushing back and forth along the riverbank. There was a Great Egret walking along the netting on the top of the fish raceways, trying to find a way in, and it actually made it in somehow for a little while. As soon as the employees realized it was in the raceway, they opened gates and shooed it out again.  I’ve seen Green Herons (who are much smaller and can hide more easily) inside the raceways just gorging on fish.  That Great Egret could’ve taken a lot of the larger fish if it hadn’t been seen as early as it was.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

The fish in the raceways “know” that when a shadow moves along the side of their enclosure, food is probably coming, so they go crazy – jumping and splashing, opening their mouths for fish-food to fall into. There are buckets along the raceways filled with food you can take to the fish, and every now and then, a truck goes by spewing food out of the side of it like a leaf-blower.

In a sort of gully/barrow pit next to the raceway area there were several Mallards, a Great Blue Heron and a Snowy Egret wading through the rocks and water looking for tidbits. I was able to get quite a few photos of the heron, but actually, some of the insects in the area were more interesting. I found a Mayfly, several ladybeetle nymphs and pupa cases, a large gravid praying mantis, and Green Stinkbugs, some of their eggs and several nymphs in different stages of development.

As I was leaving, I got a glimpse of a beaver swimming on the edge of the bank but lost it when it ducked underwater.

At the West Pond in Davis, 03-07-18

Gene Trapp and his wife Jo Ellen headed up one of their monthly walks at the West Davis Pond site this morning. He thought it might be good spot to bring the naturalist class, but I wanted to check it out first. (I also thought that after a few visits, I can add this to my own walk list here on this site.) It can be found in the city of Davis, California, off of Covell and Denali, where Isle Royale Land and Bryce Lane merge together. Look for the large white gazebo-like structure and park on the street.  (There are no restrooms along the path, but you can find a public restroom in the medical facility across the street from the short end of the trail.) You can see more information at Friends of West Pond on Facebook.

I had never been to the pond before, but was pleased at it was so easy to  locate – with a paved trail that was super easy to walk. Our group was unusually large, though (about 27 people) so that was a lot of bodies moving along a tight walkway all at once. I’d take smaller groups if I go with the naturalist students.

CLICK HERE for an album of photos.

Because it was chilly and overcast outside, we didn’t see much of anything.  I can tell by looking at the area, however, that in another month or so, when things start to green up and the critters all go into mating mode, it should be a very interesting, very pretty place. Lots of trees (including some gorgeous Cork Oaks, Quercus suber) and pretty shrubbery along the route (including some lovely quince bushes). Most of the stuff is non-native, of course, but Gene and Jo Ellen oversee the construction and maintenance of a large native-plant garden along the path as well as a large butterfly garden. They hold a lot of promise for future photo-taking / naturalist opportunities.

I did see some wildlife: Canada Geese, Mallards, Crows, Black Phoebes, Wood Ducks, Scrub Jays, Mockingbirds, lots of Anna’s Hummingbirds and Fox Squirrels, White-Crowned Sparrows, Golden-Crowned Sparrows, a couple of Spotted Towhees, House Finches, and a very red, very wet Purple Finch… things you’d typically see in an urban wildlife area. The not-too-seeable critters included Nutthall’s Woodpeckers, a Hairy Woodpecker and a Red-Breasted Sap Sucker that teased us with their presence, but made photo-taking difficult because they kept flitting around.

When someone mentioned that are sometimes Wilson’s Snipes along the edges of the ponds, a newbie birder who had brought her Sibley’s guide with her tried to look it up. Oddly, there were no Wilson’s Snipes mentioned in her guide even though they’re fairly common in this area. So I opened up the Merlin app on my phone and showed her a picture of it. That app is one of the easiest birding apps to use, and it’s free!

Gene and Jo Ellen were fun to walk with; they have so much knowledge and so many area contacts. Someone found a skull on the side of the path and Gene identified it as a raccoon skull. Very cool.

The walk was a good one, very informative, and I look forward to visiting the pond again.

CalNat Field Trip #2, Lake Solano Park. 03-03-18

I led a California Naturalists field trip to Lake Solano Park today. The first thing we saw when we entered the park were two peacocks roosting high in a tree over our heads… and a male Phainopepla that was looking for mistletoe berries to eat.

It was originally the idea that half of the group would go in one direction and the other half of the group would go in another – so we could cover the whole park — but all of the students wanted to come with me, so we moved in one big group.

The walk was a productive one, however: we got to show students different kinds of plants including flowering Pipevine, Manroot vines with seed-pods forming on them already, and Northern Giant Horsetail (Equisetum telmateia braunii ), a subspecies of horsetail that grows in western North America. Although commonly referred to as “Horsetail Grass” it’s actually a kind of fern that grown simultaneously in fertile and non-fertile forms. We saw both the non-fertile green stems (that are photosynthetic), and the yellowish fertile spore-bearing stems in the same area. The spore-bearing stems die as soon as their spores are released, so there were a lot of them around looking like they’d “fainted”. Although the normal mature size of these ferns is about 4-5 feet tall, they can get as tall as 7 feet high. (So the ones we saw were just “babies”.) In another month or so, they’ll come up to my chest. (Both the infertile forms and the fertile forms grown from the same rhizomes of the same plant – so one feeds the overall fern while the other tends to reproduction.)

There were also plenty of waterfowl to see including Canada Geese, Double-Crested Cormorants, Common Goldeneyes, Mallards, American Wigeons, Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons (which seemed to be almost everywhere we looked), and a Green Heron.

When one student took a close-up photo of a sprout of mistletoe, she realized there was a bug on it and asked me if I could identify it for her. I’d never seen anything like it before. It looked like a scale bug, but I wasn’t positive, so I took a bunch of close-ups of it and then researched it after I got home. It was Icerya purchasi — (my brain first saw that as “Ikea Purchases”; hah!) — and it’s common name is Cottony Cushion Scale. It’s considered a pest species and usually attacks citrus trees, but it’s known to parasitize mistletoe. So the parasitic mistletoe has a parasite of its own. The one we saw was in the medium stage of its development, before it gets its big white cushiony behind.

We also saw a family of about 5 river otters in Putah Creek, but they were too far away (along the distant shore) for me to get any good photos of video of them. Another hard-to-photograph find was a male Belted Kingfisher that kept flying back and forth on the opposite side of the river. “See that white dot on the tree over there? That’s his breast.” Hah!

The find that all of the students really enjoyed was being able to spot the tiny Western Screech Owl, who was sleeping in the same tree I’d seen him in before. His tree is behind one of the most remote restrooms in the park, so I had the students follow me around the building, then file in behind me at the adjacent picnic tables, before I showed them where the owl was. I used a laser pointer to help them pinpoint his location. It was gratifying to hear all of the ooo’s and ahhhs, and the clicking of camera shutters once they spotted him. If nothing else, I’d been able to give them the treat of seeing something they’d never seen in the wild before. And some of the students didn’t even know the park was there, so it was nice surprise to them, too.

Along the walk (and we only covered half of the park in 4 hours!), I also pointed out stuff like Turkey Tail fungus, Black Jelly Roll fungus, different kinds of lichen, and some Barometer Earthstars. They’d never seen anything like that before, so I demonstrated for them how the spores are released from the puffer-belly in the center of the fungus – and one of the students took a video of that.

It’s hard for me to lead a walk, point out and hold specimens, AND take photos of my own, so I didn’t get as many pictures as the students themselves did. I told them they have to share them with me!!

On the way back to the parking lot, where folks gathered to share to lunches and decompress, my coworker Bill spotted some scat along the shore. So I put on a nitrile glove and picked some of it up. We concluded it was probably otter scat, considering all of the crayfish parts we found in it – including an intact, undigested antenna. I told the students Bill was “great at finding all sorts of crap”, and everyone laughed, including Bill.

While we were having our lunches, too, someone noticed an aggregate of Western Boxelder Bugs so I was able to give them a mini lesson on those. Some of the bugs were having sex, so the mass kind of looked like an orgy, but most of the bugs were just huddled together to keep themselves warm. (By that time of the day it was about 46º and the rain was just starting.) The species we see here in California is Boisea rubrolineata. Their host trees are ash, maple, Goldenrain trees, and soapberry; and they usually eat nothing but the seeds.

We all left the park around 12:30 pm, and headed back home. I took the long way around, going back to Woodland and then on to Sacramento, so the drive took me over an hour… but it was neat to see all of the sofa clouds and the storm squall starting to move in and cover the valley.

At the Nimbus Fish Hatchery, 02-27-18

Around 7:30 I headed over to the Nimbus Fish Hatchery. This was going to be the last day they were going to do the Steelhead spawning, and I wanted to film some of that process for the naturalist students. When I got to the hatchery, nothing was open yet, so I walked the ground for a little while. It was 37º there, but the wind coming off the American River made it feel like 32º. Brrrr!

The visitor’s center opened up at 8:00, which is when the Steelhead spawning was advertised to start… But I was told that it was going to be delayed for an hour or so, so the process could be simulcast to grade schools in the area.

I didn’t want to just stand around for an hour and half, so I decided to brave the cold again and walk part of the trail instead. If nothing else, I could take some photos of that to share with my naturalist class.

Right around the visitor’s center there were lots of Brewer’s Blackbirds, and I also saw some Lesser Goldfinch, a House Finch, lots of House Sparrows and Golden-Crowned Sparrows, and several hummingbirds (Anna’s, I think).

On the river I saw lots of Common Goldeneye Ducks, Common Mergansers (more females than males), Canada Geese, a single Grayleg Goose, Herring Gulls, Ring-Billed Gulls, and California Gulls.

The best find by the river was being able to see gulls and Double-Crested Cormorants lining up on a wire that goes from one side of the river to another. I’m not sure what it’s used for, but the winch-end of the wire is on the hatchery’s side. The cormorants get their “nuptial crests” – that stand out like bushy eyebrows over their eyes — during the breeding season, and we’re right at the beginning of that now. Most of the crests you see are black (which generally means that the cormorant is a resident of California), but occasionally you’ll see one with white crests which generally means they’re migrating down into our area from more northerly regions, like Alaska. I saw one with white crests today. That was a first for me.

CLICK HERE to see the album of photos.

The salmon raceways were empty, even the water had been drained out; but on the trout side of the facility, there were Rainbow Trout in various stages of development in every raceway.

Caught inside the structure, too, were a couple of Black-Crowned Night Herons. They must’ve gotten in when someone opened and the forgot to shut the entrance gate – and then got trapped in there when the place was locked up again. They were looking pretty panicked. The only way to get them out would be to open the gates again and shoo them toward the open door. But opening the gates means other fish-eating birds can get into the raceways, too… A conundrum.

By the time I got back to the visitors center, they were halfway through the filming of the Steelhead spawning, and I didn’t want to interrupt that, so I left.

On my way home, I passed right by the American River Bend Park, so I stopped there for a few minutes just to see if I could spot the Great Horned Owl on her nest that I saw the last time I was there. Yep. She was there, sitting on her nest, dozing away. Because the nest is so high and the lighting around it is so bad, I can’t get very good photos of it, but I took a few anyway.

In the same area, I also saw a mule deer in the distance, several Mourning Doves, a few Northern Flickers, Spotted Towhees, Oak Titmice, and an Audubon’s Warbler. It looks like stands of Stinging Nettles are starting to come again – which may be a bad thing for hikers and campers, but is a good thing for Red Admiral butterflies who lay their eggs on the plants, and whose caterpillars depend on them for food and protection. I only stayed at the park for about 30 minutes and didn’t walk any of the trails.

Deer, Deer and More Deer on My Rainy Birthday Walk, 01-22-18

Day 4 of my 4-day Birthday Weekend. Happy birthday to me!

I got up around 5:30 this morning to a dense overcast and drizzly rain. I waited until the sun came up a little bit more before heading over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk.

Because it was chilly (around 45º) and drizzling, I didn’t expect to see much or get many photos, but I needed the fresh air and little bit of exercise my walks afford me. I was kind of surprise, then, when I came across the deer – LOTS of them – out browsing in the grass despite the rain. The fawns weren’t too happy about it, but the other deer didn’t seem to mind.

CLICK HERE to see the full album of photos and video snippets.

One group was made up of does and young bucks, and some of them were standing stalk still in the grass, all looking in the same direction, and one of them was giving out a loud, snorting alarm.I couldn’t see which one was making the noise, but I think it was one of the old does. The snorting was very loud, and I tried to see what might have spooked her. Before I get a look, however, the lead doe turned and bolted through the forest and the others scrambled after her…

Later on the trail, I came to spot that smelled strongly of cat urine, and I found some scratch marks in the mud (along with the smell) that I think might have been made by a Bobcat. Maybe that’s what frightened the deer…

At another spot, I came across a mama deer grooming her fawn. The fawn refused to take its eyes off of me – I think it was confused (or mesmerized) by my umbrella – even as its mom licked its head and throat, cleaning its fur and lapping up the rain water from it.

Then, as I was on my way out of the preserve, I saw a large group of does and bucks run straight up the steep incline from the front of the preserve to the residential houses at the top of the hill. That hill is probably at a 80º angle from the forest floor. I don’t know how the deer managed the climb, but they did it nimbly and quickly.

The only other critters I saw were several California Scrub Jays, a Red-Shouldered Hawk, and a bachelor flock of Wild Turkeys. I’d seen a flock of females outside of the preserve on the residential streets, but all the boys seemed to be inside the preserve. One was trying to get others to challenge it, but no one was in the mood to fight. Several of the boys stood and posed for me, so I got quite a few photos of them.

It was a wet walk, but a nice one.

Foggy and Cold on MLK Day, 01-15-18

It’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  I’m feeling better; just really fatigued. I slept soundly last night and got up with the dog a little before 6:00 am.  By about 7:00 am I headed over to the Cosumnes River Preserve for a walk.

It was chilly and super foggy in the morning hours, and only got up to about 50º by the afternoon (under a thick overcast). When I got to the preserve, I could see cars in the parking lots, but all of the gates were closed. I assumed it must have been staff members in the lots, none of whom thought to open the gates for the public. So, at first I had to park on the road.  I walked around for a little while, and I think the people in the parking lot saw me or my car and they eventually got around to opening the gates. One of the people waved at me as he drove off.  I walked back to my car, and pulled into the parking lot. Because of the chill and dense fog there weren’t a lot of birds out and about but I did get a few photos.

The photos aren’t all that great because of the dense fog, but you’ll get the idea… CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

Then I drove over to where the nature center is and walked the river trail there.  Again, because of the for and chill there weren’t many critters around. But the damp air had awakened a lot of the different lichen and some of the willow trees were starting to get their fuzzy “pussy willow” catkins on them.  I kept my walk a bit short so I wouldn’t wear myself out again, and then headed back home.