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,
I headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve around 8:00 am. It was overcast, around 58°, and mist-raining when I got there, but the mist stopped shortly after I arrived. I was able to do a slow 3 hour walk but couldn’t cover as much ground as I normally could. Saw lots of different birds today. That’s not unusual since the migrations are going on right now. Within the first few minutes of my arriving, I got photos of Ruby a Crowned Kinglet, Golden-Crowned Sparrows and California Towhees. I also saw several Bewick’s Wrens, an American Robin, California Scrub Jays, Western Bluebirds, Mourning Dives, the ubiquitous Acorn Woodpeckers, and a small flock of Dark Eyed Juncos (in what looked like both the “slate” and “Oregon” color forms).
On the river, I saw Canada Geese, Mallards, a Snowy Egret, some Bufflehead ducks, and a female Common Merganser. In the river, I also saw the humped backs and dorsal fins of some salmon… but every time I tried to get a photo of that, the fish ducked down under the water again.
The Wild Turkeys were out en masse. This time of year, the males are showing off a lot, and it seemed like the flock I was looking at actually broke along “gang” lines: one part of the flock intimidating and chasing off the other part. I got some still shots of them and some video snippets.
I saw the melanistic Eastern Fox Squirrel again. He was down on the ground but kept himself well hidden in the tall dried grass and weeds, so I didn’t get any real picture of him. There were also California Ground Squirrels, Western Gray Squirrels, and “normal colored” Fox Squirrels in abundance.
Among the deer I saw today, most of them were the big bucks, so lying down in the grass, some following after females. There’s a young spike buck that thinks he’s the bees’ knees and walks right up into the big bucks’ harems to try to lure the girls out. They ignore him, but he’s persistent. Gotta give him props for that. Another one of the bucks I saw looked badly beaten up. One of his antlers had cracked off close to the pedicle (and the break looked so clean it looked like it could have been done with a saw). He had battle scars and shallow gouges on one shoulder and walked with a slight limp. The Rut can be rough!
At one point along the trail, I stopped to get a photo of some Sulphur Shelf Fungus and saw what I though was an odd light-and-dark pattern on the ground. I couldn’t tell what I was looking at with the naked eye, so I zoomed my camera in to take a closer look. Oddly enough, it was a rattlesnake! It’s super unusual for those guys to be out when it’s “cold”; most of them have gone underground into their hibernacula already. While I was taking photos of the snake, careful not to get too close (even though I knew that in the cool air he’d be pretty torpid), a family group (grandparents to little grandchildren) came by and I got to do my “naturalist” thing for them. I explained how rattlesnakes were ectothermic and usually slept during the winter months in a state called brumation (which is like hibernation for warm-blooded animals), blah, blah, blah. And the mother with the little girls in the group said, “That’s neat… but we’re going to stay on the other side of the trail for now.” Hah! Good call.
The recent rain has brought out some of the early season fungi and I was able to find jelly fungus and Barometer Earthstars here and there. The rain also fattened up the mosses and lichen so parts of the forest are looking green already even as the fall colors start showing off.
As I mentioned, I walked for about 3 hours and then headed back home.
Before I even got to the preserve, I came across a group of three mule deer: a yearling, a mama with swollen teaties, and a young male in his velvet, all eating grass along the roadside. I bet there was a younger fawn somewhere; the yearling and the male were too big to be feeding off of mama’s teats…
There was a small flock of Yellow-Billed Magpies in the lawn by the kiosk near the front gate. This species of magpie is special because it’s found in this part of California but nowhere else in the world. Birders come from all over the planet to see them – and here they are, right in our “backyard”….
Near the nature center, there were Monarch butterfly caterpillars chomping up the milkweed in the native plants garden. I’d seen a thing on a nature documentary on TV just last week about them which said that to keep themselves from being caught and drowned in the milky white latex produced by the milkweed plant, the Monarch caterpillars will go onto the back of the leaf and sever the main vein to stop the flow of latex to the rest of the leaf. They then chew through the rest of the leaf without get sticky… And sure enough, on each leaf I checked, I could see where the caterpillar had severed the main the vein of the leaf before it started eating. Cool!
Elsewhere, I could hear the Red-Shouldered Hawks nearby screeching at each other, so I went over to where the noise was coming from. One of the juvenile had caught a snake on the ground, and mama was supervising him. The other juvenile was in a tree nearby, screaming for attention. They youngsters are just learning how to fly and hunt, so they’re not really very graceful yet. I got some photos of the one on the ground, but missed the shot when it flew up off the ground with the snake hanging from its talons. Gotta be fast out there, man!