Tag Archives: Spinus tristis

Lots of Fledglings and Other Critters Today, 06-30-19

I got up around 5:30 this morning and immediately headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for my weekly volunteer trail walking thing.  It was cool, around 55°, when I got there, but as soon as the sun got up a little higher in the sky it started to heat up.  It ended up around 75° by the time I left the preserve.  There were some latent clouds overhead which meant it was humid, too. Not my favorite.

Along with the usual suspects – deer, Acorn Woodpeckers and Wild Turkeys – I got to see quite a few fledgling birds out today.  The fledglings are fully feathered and the same size as the adults, but not quite adept at flying yet, so they spend a lot of time around ground level begging their parents to feed them.  They’re so bossy!  I watched one little House Wren fledgling sitting on top of a pile of old tree limbs.  For a while, he tried posturing like the adults do with his little tail standing straight up behind him, but then he got tired and just sat and dozed… until he saw or heard one of his parents flying by. Then he’d perk up and open his mouth wide expecting food to be dropped into it. Hah!  Although I could see the parents flitting around where he was, they also had other fledglings in the nearby shrubbery (which I could hear buzzing away), and because I was standing between the shrubs and the baby on the woodpile, they wouldn’t go near him. After getting quite a few photos of the little guy, I decided I’d better move on or he wouldn’t get fed at all.

I also came across two fledgling California Towhees.  Now, the California Towhees usually look kind of obese and drab to me, but the babies… they were soooo scrabbly looking; total bed-heads!  They were sitting close to one another with their feathers all fluffed out, so they looked extra fat and messy. Made me chuckle.  One was content to sit and wait for their parents to bring breakfast, but the other one was extra hungry, I guess, and kept tugging at the dead grass near them trying to get something out of it. Can’t get milk out of a stick, son. Sorry.

California Towhee, Melozone crissalis

Further on along the trail I could hear a parent and fledgling Red-Shouldered Hawk calling to one another.  The fledgling was very loud and persistent, demanding to be fed, and the parent would call back him as if to say, “Shut up! I’m working on it!”  I eventually came across the fledgling sitting up in the bare branches of a tree. (He was so loud he was announcing to everyone exactly where he was.)  He saw me and tried to scramble away to other branches but was still unsure of how to make his wings work, so he looked pretty clumsy.  He stuck to the shadows as much as he could then, but I was still able to get a few photos of him.  (And I’m assuming he was a male based on his coloring; females are usually larger and have less vivid colors.) 

I also found one of the parents, sitting quietly now in the low branches of another tree right along the side of the trail, just above eye-level, ignoring the fledgling. Totally habituated to people, it didn’t move from its perch, but kept its eye on me as a passed by and stopped to take some photos. I think they’re such handsome birds.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

Among the other things I found today were a few Pumpkin Galls on the leaves of a Live Oak tree. It’s kind of early in the season for those, so I was surprised to see them.  They’re super-tiny galls, and if you don’t know where or how they develop you’d completely miss them. Right now, they’re pale green, but come fall they’ll turn dark orange and fall off the leaves onto the ground were the little larvae will pupate through the winter.

I found a few Eastern Fox Squirrels and some California Ground Squirrels.  I was surprised to see one of the Fox Squirrels climbing through poison oak and eating the berries! Yikes!  I mean, I knew that the toxin in poison oak don’t generally harm wildlife, but I’d never actually seen any of the animals eating the stuff before.  I also saw a Fox Squirrel eating the husk off of a black walnut and watched a Ground Squirrel eating the tops off of some other plants.  (I think that gal was blind on one side, but once she saw me she moved too fact for me to get photos of her blind side.)

The other cool thing I spotted along the trail was that feral honeybees have found the tree along the Pond Trail again and seem to be setting up house there.  I saw them last year (I think it was) checking out the big opening in the side of the tree, but they left the site after a few weeks.  I guess the queen didn’t like it.  Now the opening is more covered with plants, so maybe it will feel more “protected” to them and they’ll stay there this time.  I let the gals in the nature center know they were there, so hopefully they can discourage hikers from walking off the trail to see the bees. We’ll see.

A feral hive of European Honeybees, Apis mellifera

I walked for about 4 hours and then headed home.

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus,
  2. American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus,
  3. American Goldfinch, Spinus tristis,
  4. American Robin, Turdus migratorius,
  5. Ash-Throated Flycatcher, Myiarchus cinerascens,
  6. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
  7. Black Walnut, Juglans nigra,
  8. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus,
  9. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus nigra ssp. cerulea,
  10. Blue Oak, Quercus douglasii,
  11. Bordered Plant Bug, Largus californicus,
  12. Bur Chervil, Anthriscus Sylvestris,
  13. Bushtit, American Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus,
  14. California Black Walnut, Juglans californica,
  15. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi,
  16. California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana,
  17. California Penstamon, Penstemon californicus,
  18. California Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta,
  19. California Pipevine, Aristolochia californica,
  20. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica,
  21. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis,
  22. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica,
  23. California Wild Plum, Prunus subcordata,
  24. Chinese Privet, Ligustrum sinense,
  25. Cloudless Sulphur Butterfly, Phoebis sennae,
  26. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus,
  27. Common Green Lacewing, Chrysoperla carnea,
  28. Coyote Mint, Monardella villosa,
  29. Desert Cottontail, Sylvilagus audubonii,
  30. Doveweed, Turkey Mullein, Croton setigerus,
  31. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger,
  32. Elegant Clarkia, Clarkia unguiculata,
  33. European Honeybee, Apis mellifera,
  34. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris,
  35. Fig, Common Fig, Ficus carica,
  36. Flax-leaved Horseweed, Erigeron bonariensis,
  37. Giant Sunflower, Helianthus giganteus,
  38. Goldwire, Hypericum concinnum,
  39. Himalayan Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus,
  40. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon,
  41. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni,
  42. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria,
  43. Live Oak Wasp Gall, 1st Generation, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis,
  44. Lords-And-Ladies, Arum maculatum,
  45. Mayfly, Order: Ephemeroptera,
  46. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus,
  47. Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum,
  48. Pumpkin Gall Wasp, Dryocosmus minusculus,
  49. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus,
  50. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia,
  51. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa,
  52. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  53. Sweet Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare,
  54. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura,
  55. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata,
  56. Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
  57. White Horehound, Marrubium vulgare,
  58. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis,
  59. Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa,
  60. Yarrow, Achillea millefolium,
  61. Yellow Salsify, Tragopogon dubius,
  62. Yellow Starthistle, Centaurea solstitialis,

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