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Plant Studying At the Silver Spur Ranch, 04-16-19

Up at 5:30 am, so I could leave before 6:30 and head out to Woodland to the Tuleyome office.  It was overcast and drizzling when I left the house, but by mid-morning the clouds had broken up, letting the sun in, so it was a beautiful day.

My coworker, Nate, had set aside this day to take me out to Tuleyome’s Silver Spur Ranch property where we’re doing the wildlife study paid for in part by a grant from the Sacramento Zoo. We weren’t servicing the field cameras today, instead we were doing a plant and wildlife photo outing.  And volunteer Roxanne came with us.  It’s about a 90-minute drive to the property, but we were pretty much out in the middle of nowhere, so traffic was never an issue. The roads are all dirt, and some of them were pretty scarred up by illegal OVH users and the recent hard rains, but Nate knew the path well, so we didn’t have any issues with that either.

The last time I’d seen the Silver Spur property was after the Pawnee Wildfire in 2018, and everything was dirt and blackened trees. Now it’s all bursting with new life and new growth. Green grasses, fields and hillsides covered in wildflowers, water in the seasonal pond and streams, critters in the water… I’m so glad I got see it!  ((So, Nate, once again: thank you, thank you, thank you, ad infinitum…)

Nate was also awesome on the trip. He helped me over uneven ground, pulled me out of a divot when I accidentally sat down in it at lunchtime (D’OH!), he pulled me back up onto my feet… and he did the “pack-mule” thing for me, carrying all of my bag, on the way out of the property.

And how great that Roxanne got to go with us! My sister Melissa jokingly says, “You can’t go out with Roxanne anymore, you never get home.” Hah! ((I’d spent a whole day out with Roxanne when he did the wildflower outing together, and then again today.  Two long days.  This one was actually longer. I didn’t get back to the house until almost 7:00 pm!))

When we got to the property, Nate ran off to the south-camera to see if he could find the pouch associated with it that fell off of Bill’s motor scooter on their trip out to service the cameras there last Thursday.  He couldn’t find the pouch, but on the way back to meet up with Roxanne and I, he did find some wildflowers that we didn’t get to see – and even laid down in a field of them and took a selfie.

So. Many. Flowers. In some areas, they lined the dirt road, in other areas they covered whole fields and hillsides. It seemed like the farther we walked in, the more spectacular they got.  We saw a lot of stuff that Roxanne and I had seen on our wildflower excursion (as many of the wildflowers are common and natives) but there were some new ones (for us), like Golden Violets, Mosquito Bill Shooting Stars (also called Henderson’s Shoot Stars), California Indian Pink (which is sub-species of the Cardinal Catchfly), Long-Spurred Seablush (that kind of looks like double-decker clover), what we think might have been Gambleweed (Pacific Sanicle), and some wicked-looking thistle with twisting purple-blue, thorn-rimmed leaves.

I insisted on getting myself to the seasonal pond on the property, so it was a long walk. The dirt road into the property is too damaged by erosion to get a car in there, so Nate parked at the gate and we walked in. Going in, it’s all downhill, so coming back (obviously) it’s all uphill which can be especially trying when you’re already tired from the rest of the day’s walk. I think I covered about 4 kilometers altogether.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

We picnicked in the shade of a big oak by the seasonal pond before heading back to the car, stopping every now and then to take more photos, and more photos, and more photos.  We got to the point where we’d seen so many Painted Native butterflies sipping nectar from wildflowers that we pretty much ignored them on the way out. Hah!

At the pond, Nate dipped a dish and net in to see if we could find anyone interesting: Water Boatmen, Water Striders, some insect larva… I was hoping to see some of the California Newt eggs or some of their tadpoles, but there was just the “jelly” left from the eggs and all of the babies (except one or two newborns) had apparently ridden the streams out to more permanent water structures.  In the puddle, though, I did get some video of what I think were crab shrimp and some mosquito larvae.  By the pond, where the water-striders were I also saw some small crustacean-looking things that I’ll need to work on identifying. The mosquito larvae were in a turgid-looking puddle and when my shadow passed over the puddle, they all dove down from the surface, only to rise, very slowly again later. Eeew! Hah!

When Nate, Roxanne and I were eating lunch, there Red-Winged Blackbirds tending to their nests and courtship rituals in the tules at the far end of the pond.  I watched while one of the males flew out to the side of the stream that fed the pond, and then started rolling rocks over so he could eat what he found underneath them. I had never seen that behavior before, so that was cool to see!

We didn’t see much wildlife, so I only got a few photos of birds, but we could ear more birds than we could see… and at one point saw a large crow fly over our heads with a beak full of nesting material.  We tried to see where it landed, but it disappeared over the crest of a hill.  There was also a Mourning Dove nest near the front gate, but it was unoccupied.

The trip was totally exhausting, but totally fun.

Species List:

1. American Robin, Turdus migratorius,
2. Baby Blue Eyes, Nemophila menziesii,
3. Bay Laurel, Laurus nobilis,
4. Bedstraw, Sticky Willy, Velcro Grass, Cleavers, Galium aparine,
5. Big Heron’s Bill, Erodium botrys,
6. Bird’s Eye Gilia, Gilia tricolor,
7. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
8. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum,
9. Blue Dicks, Dichelostemma capitatum,
10. Blue Oak, Quercus douglasii,
11. Buckbrush, Ceanothus cuneatus,
12. Bulbous Blue Grass, Poa bulbosa,
13. Butter ‘n’ Eggs, Johnny Tuck, Triphysaria eriantha,
14. California Burclover, Medicago polymorpha,
15. California Clam Shrimp, Cyzicus californicus,
16. California Geranium, Geranium californicum,
17. California Golden Violet, Viola pedunculata,
18. California Indian Pink, Silene laciniata ssp. californica, (as subspecies of the Cardinal Catchfly),
19. California Maidenhair Fern, Adiantum jordanii,
20. California Manroot, Bigroot, Marah fabaceus,
21. California Newt, Taricha torosa
22. California Pipevine, Aristolochia californica,
23. California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica,
24. Chamise, Adenostoma fasciculatum,
25. Chinese Houses, Collinsia heterophylla,
26. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus,
27. Common Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos,
28. Common Fiddleneck, Amsinckia intermedia,
29. Common Fringepod, Thysanocarpus curvipes,
30. Common Mustard, Brassica rapa,
31. Common Woodland Star, Lithophragma affine,
32. Common Yarrow, Achillea millefolium,
33. Damselfly, Vivid Dancer Damselfly, Argia vivida (note the arrow-markings on the abdomen),
34. Damselfly, Western Forktail, Ischnura perpava (note the mostly black abdomen),
35. Dwarf Sack Clover, Castilleja exserta ssp. exserta,
36. Fragrant sumac, Rhus aromatica,
37. Frying Pan Poppy, Eschscholzia lobbii
38. Giant Death Camas, Zigadenus exaltatus,
39. Giraffe’s Head Henbit, Henbit Deathnettle, Lamium amplexicaule,
40. Golden Fairy Lantern, Diogenes’ Lantern, Calochortus amabilis,
41. Goldfields, Lasthenia californica,
42. Gray Pine, California Foothill Pine, Pinus sabiniana,
43. Hawksbeard, Crepis sp.,
44. Hog Fennel, Lomatium utriculatum,
45. Houndstongue, Pacific Houndstongue, Cynoglossum grande,
46. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon
47. Indian Paintbrush, Castilleja affinis,
48. Jeweled Onion, Allium serra,
49. Larkspur, Delphinium decorum,
50. Lichen, Rock Firedot Lichen, Caloplaca Saxicola,
51. Lomatium, Lomatium sp.,
52. Long-Spurred Seablush, Plectritis ciliosa,
53. Lupine, Lupinus sp.,
54. Manzanita, Arctostaphylos sp.,
55. Miniature Lupine, Lupinus bicolor,
56. Miner’s Lettuce, Claytonia parviflora
57. Mosquito, family Culicidae,
58. Mosquito Bill Shooting Star, Primula hendersonii,
59. Mouse Ear Chickweed, Cerastium fontanum,
60. Mule’s Ears, Smooth Mules Ears, Wyethia glabra,
61. Narrow Leaf Collinsia, Collinsia linearis
62. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii,
63. Oregon Grape, Mountain Grape, Berberis aquifolium,
64. Owl’s Clover, Dense Flower Owl’s clover, Castilleja densiflora,
65. Pacific Peavine, Canyon Sweet Pea, Lathyrus vestitus,
66. Pacific Sanicle, Gambleweed Sanicula crassicaulis,
67. Painted Lady butterfly, Vanessa cardui,
68. Pepperweed, Common Pepper Grass, Lepidium densiflorum,
69. Pineapple Weed, Matricaria discoidea,
70. Pink Grass, Windmill Pink, Petrorhagia dubia,
71. Plectritis ciliosa, Long spurred plectritis,
72. Popcorn Flower, Plagiobothrys chorisianus,
73. Purple Sanicle, Sanicula bipinnatifida,
74. Q Tips, Slender Cottonweed, Micropus californicus var. californicus,
75. Red Maids, Calandrinia ciliate,
76. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus,
77. Scarlet Pimpernel, Lysimachia arvensis,
78. Shrubby Butterweed, Bush Groundsel, Senecio flaccidus,
79. Spinster’s Blue-Eyed Mary, Few Flowered Collinsia, Collinsia sparsiflora,
80. Tomcat Clover, Trifolium willdenovii,
81. Toyon, Heteromeles arbutifolia,
82. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor,
83. True Babystars, Leptosiphon bicolor,
84. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata,
85. Valley Tassels, Castilleja attenuate,
86. Variable-leaf Nemophila, Canyon Nemophila, Nemophila heterophylla,
87. Wallflower, Erysimum capitatum,
88. Water Strider, Aquarius remigis
89. Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
90. Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis,
91. White Seablush, Plectritis macrocera,
92. Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa ssp. varia,

Many Wrens and “Blue Bellies”, 03-30-19

I got up at 6:30 this morning and had some breakfast before heading out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve again.

It was a gorgeous day weatherwise – sunny, cool in the morning and warm in the afternoon — so much so that we were actually able to keep the house open for most of the day.  It was about 43° when I got to the preserve and about 65° when I left.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

At the preserve, I didn’t walk the route that would have taken me by the spot where I spotted the hive last week; I checked out different trails.  There were no special stand outs during this walk, but there were House Wrens everywhere, singing their little hearts out.  I saw two males fighting over the same perches on which to sing; they must have had territories that overlapped or something. For such tiny guys, I’m surprised by how ferocious they can be.  I also saw Acorn Woodpeckers and European Starlings fighting over nest cavities. The Starlings are invasive, and the woodpeckers and other cavity-nesting birds lose breeding spots because of them.

I saw a few female Starlings doing their “baby bird begging” thing to try to get males to feed them. They sit out in open on conspicuous branches and flap their wings against their sides, gaping and calling out. So funny to watch.

Lots and lots of Audubon’s Warblers… I don’t remember ever seeing this many around here before. (They’re a kind of Yellow-rumped Warbler, differentiated from the others by their field markings.  They’re also affectionately referred to as “Butter Butts” for the bright yellow splotch on their rump where the tail attaches to the body.)

On a different part of the trail, I heard a California Ground Squirrel giving out a repeated alarm call, so I tracked it down, and found it in the field right across form the nature center. I was astonished by the fact that it had a gash in its nose and blood on the fur around its mouth and face!  The mamas can be incredibly brave and aggressive when it comes to protecting their burrows and babies, I know, but I’d never seen one in this condition before. There was also a bite mark on the ruff around its neck.  It was roughed up!

The squirrels are supposed to have different calls for land-based predators and air-based predators (like chickens do), but I don’t know their calls well enough to distinguish one from the other. I imagine it had fought a domestic cat (they hunt in the preserve) or something like that, and had to give it props for its tenacity, to keep on kicking and having the wherewithal to alert its fellow ground squirrels of danger nearby.

I saw lots of Pipevine Swallowtail Butterflies throughout the preserve. This is their time of year.  I was hoping to see some eggs but didn’t find any on this trip.  Maybe next time.

There’s lots of tall-tall grasses and sedges out right now, and all of the trees are budding their new leaves so the whole place is green-green-green.  I love this time of year!

I’ve been sort of dissatisfied with the macro photos I’ve been getting out of my camera, though, so I pulled out my cell phone to take some of the super close-up shots I wanted of plants and stuff.  The phone takes excellent close-ups, but it’s sometimes hard to manage holding that and my camera at the same time.  What we do for photos!

On my way out the preserve, I came across a male Mourning Dove doing his coo-ing thing from a tree branch. I love the way their whole chest and neck swell up with their song.  That cooing is most often sung by the male birds (not the females) and is used to “woo” the females.  Cooo-oooo-woo-woo-woo.

Because it was warming up outside, the Western Fence Lizards were out in force in some places.  (They’re also called Blue Bellies” for the bright blue underbellies of the males.)  Saw a lot of the boy doing “push-ups” and challenging rivals on different logs.

I walked for about 3 ½ hours and then headed back home

Species List: 

1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
2. American Kestrel, Falco sparverius
3. Audubon’s Warbler, Setophaga auduboni auduboni
4. Bedstraw, Velcro-Grass, Sticky Willy, Galium aparine
5. Black-Headed Grosbeak, Pheucticus melanocephalus
6. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum
7. Blue Dicks, Dichelostemma capitatum
8. Bullfrog, American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus
9. Burr Chervil, Anthriscus caucalis
10. Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus
11. California Geranium, Geranium californicum
12. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
13. California King Snake, Lampropeltis getula californiae
14. California Manroot, Marah fabaceus
15. California Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta
16. California Pipevine, Aristolochia californica
17. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
18. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis
19. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
20. Common Pepper Grass, Pepperweed, Lepidium densiflorum
21. Dog Vomit Slime Mold, Fuligo septica
22. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
23. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
24. Foxtail Barley, Hordeum murinum
25. Golden-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
26. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon
27. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
28. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
29. Little Plantain, Plantago pusilla
30. Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos
31. Miner’s Lettuce, Claytonia perfoliata
32. Miniature Lupine, Lupinus bicolor
33. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
34. Northern Pacific Rattlesnake, Crotalus oreganus
35. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus
36. Pacific Gopher Snake, Pituophis catenifer catenifer
37. Peregrine Falcon, Wek-Wek, Falco peregrinus
38. Pleated Ink Cap, Parasola plicatilis
39. Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
40. Puffball Fungus, Bovista dermoxantha
41. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
42. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
43. Rock Shield Lichen, Xanthoparmelia lavicola
44. Saw-Whet Owl, Sophia, Aegolius acadicus
45. Shepherd’s Purse, Capsella bursa-pastoris
46. Soap Plant, Wavy Leafed Soaproot, Chlorogalum pomeridianum
47. Spotted Sandpiper, Actitis macularius
48. Stork’s Bill, Big Heron Bill, Erodium botrys
49. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
50. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
51. Water Fern, Azolla filiculoides
52. Western Bluebird, Sialia mexicana
53. Western Fence Lizard, Blue Belly, Sceloporus occidentalis
54. Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis
55. Western Tanager, Piranga ludoviciana
56. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis

A Beaver and a Loon at Lake Solano Park, 03-16-19

The weather at Lake Solano Park was perfect for walking with my naturalist students; about 49° when we first got there, and then up to about 68° by the time we left. It was sunny, clear and bright outside. My coworker Bill and I took turns pointing things out to everyone, and one of the students, Charlie (who’s something of a plant expert) helped us identify plants.

CLICK HERE for an album of photos.

When I got to the park, Bill and some of the students were already there, and some of them had already spotted an otter in the water. What a great way to start their day! Other highlights during the outing included spotting a beaver in the lake (!) and a Common Loon (!!) which I had never seen there before. We at first thought the beaver was another otter, but it’s large size and big ears brought us to the conclusion of its true identity. It was moseying along in the water, and treaded water for a long time, so we were able to get some photos of it. ((I think I took about 500 photos of its head poking out of the water. Hah!)) Eventually, it made its way to the other side of the lake and disappeared into the shadows. We inferred it might have had a lodge over there although we couldn’t see one.

The loon was a big surprise. At first we were all looking at it, trying to wrap our heads around what we were seeing. Checking through a field guide, though, we were able to determine that it was a non-breeding Common Loon, most likely resting there during its migration through our region.

Deeper inspection of the skull and skeleton we’d found on Wednesday, seemed to indicate that they were from opossums, not dogs as we’d originally thought (based on the canine teeth). There were “too many” small teeth between the canines for the skulls to be from a dog, so opossum was the next best guess. I need to study skulls more deeply – especially the ones of the common animals around here.

I stupidly stepped into the ants’ nest near where we located the Giant Horsetail ferns again. I recognized the spot and tapped on the area with my foot to see if the ants were still there from Wednesday, but nothing emerged, so I thought it was safe to go in there… But as soon as my shadow passed over their nest, they came out in force again. I got bit a few time, but nothing bad. They weren’t Fire Ants; more like red Harvester Ants. But they were still angry about my trespass over their nest and practically “exploded” out of the ground to swarm all over me. The students helped to whack them off my clothes.

On another part of the trail, we came across a large colony of Velvety Tree Ants swarming over an old log. What alerted me to them was a White-Breasted Nuthatch that flitted down onto the log, snatched up an ant, and flew off, flitted down onto the log, snatched up an ant, and flew off several times in a row. Along the ridgeline of the log was a line of winged adults getting ready to take off to establish new colonies… and it was the big winged one the Nuthatch was after. Very cool.

On the lake were Bufflehead ducks mingling with Goldeneyes, and both Common and Hooded Mergansers (along with the egrets, some herons, and Canada Geese). On the shore were lines of turtles sunning themselves; both Red-Eared Slider Turtles and a few Pacific Pond Turtles. We also all got to watch a Belted Kingfisher on the other side of the lake, dive-bombing for fish in the water. Some of the students had never seen that before and were “wow-ing” at the speed of the little bird.

In the ponds, we found Water Boatmen, Mosquito Fish, Bullfrog tadpoles, and a Black-Fronted Forktail Damselfly that was “swimming” along the top of the water before it lighted on some algae to dry off. I’d never seen a winged damselfly swim before! So odd! I need to remember to bring my dip-net with me next time I go out there so I can scoop up some critters to photograph.

We walked for about 3 ½ hours, and all in all, I think I recorded over 60 different species (that we saw and/or heard). It was a good day.

Species List:

1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus,
2. American Kestrel, Falco sparverius,
3. American Robin, Turdus migratorius,
4. Arundo, Giant Reed, Arundo donax,
5. Audubon’s Warbler, Setophaga auduboni auduboni,
6. Beaver, American, Beaver, Castor canadensis,
7. Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon,
8. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii,
9. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
10. Black-Fronted Forktail Damselfly, Ischnura denticollis,
11. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus,
12. Bufflehead, Bucephala albeola,
13. Bullfrog, American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus,
14. Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus,
15. California Manroot, Bigroot, Wild Cucumber, Marah fabaceus,
16. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica,
17. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis,
18. Cattail, Broadleaf Cattail, Typha latifolia,
19. Chickweed, Stellaria media,
20. Cliff Swallow, Petrochelidon pyrrhonota,
21. Common Goldeneye, Bucephala clangula,
22. Common Loon, Gavia immer,
23. Common Merganser, Mergus merganser,
24. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus,
25. Fresh Water Snail, Fluminicola sp.,
26. Galium, Bredstraw, Velcro-Grass, Sticky Willy, Cleavers, Galium aparine,
27. Giant Horsetail Fern, Equisetum telmateia,
28. Giraffe’s Head Henbit, Lamium amplexicaule,
29. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias,
30. Great Egret, Ardea alba,
31. Honey Fungus, Armillaria mellea,
32. Hooded Merganser, Lophodytes cucullatus,
33. Longstalk cranesbill, Geranium columbinum,
34. Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos,
35. Mistletoe, American Mistletoe, Big Leaf Mistletoe, Phoradendron leucarpum,
36. Mosquito fish, Gambusia affinis,
37. Mugwort, California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana,
38. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos,
39. Pacific Pond Turtle, Western Pond Turtle, Actinemys marmorata,
40. Peafowl, Indian Peafowl, Pavo cristatus,
41. Phainopepla, Phainopepla nitens,
42. Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta
43. Pipevine, California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica
44. Red Harvester Ant, Pogonomyrmex barbatus,
45. Red-Eared Slider Turtle, Trachemys scripta elegans,
46. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus,
47. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis,
48. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus,
49. River Otter, North American River Otter, Lontra canadensis,
50. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula,
51. Speedwell, Veronica arvensis,
52. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus,
53. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor,
54. Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus,
55. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata,
56. Velvety Tree ant, Liometopum occidentale,
57. Water Boatmen, Corixidae (family),
58. Western Bluebird, Sialia mexicana,
59. Western Screech Owl, Megascops kennicottii,
60. White Alder, Alnus rhombifolia,
61. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis,
62. Yellow-Headed Blackbird, Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus,