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Two-Horned Galls and a Beetle with a Hairy Chest, 07-11-19

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.

June Bug, May Beetle, Phyllophaga sp.,

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.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

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.

Blue Oak Galls and Other Stuff, 07-09-19

I headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve.  It was about 56° when I got there, but it was up to around 75° when I left.  When I got there, I was happy to see my friend and fellow-naturalist Roxanne there, too. She’s helping me out with the Monarch monitoring facet of my volunteer work at the preserve. I really appreciate her help, too, because it makes the somewhat tedious process of looking over each milkweed plant go more quickly. 

Still no sign of Monarch eggs or caterpillars, and what was odd was we didn’t see much in the way of other insects either.  We did find some spiders (including a White Crab Spider and a little Jumping Spider), some aphids, a single praying mantis, and a couple of beetles but that was it.  The lack of critters was rather surprising and made me wonder if the area had been sprayed or something.  We worked on the plants for about 90 minutes and then went for a short walk through the preserve.

 Although we heard a lot of different birds, we didn’t see any Wild Turkeys today, which was very unusual. They’re normally all over the place. We came across two bucks but no does and no fawns. Both bucks were in their velvet.  One was a nervous youngster who was just getting his first antlers (a “spike buck”), and the other was a laid-back 3-pointer who was just lying in the grass on the side of the trail.  He kept an eye on us but didn’t move from his spot. I guess he figured we were no match for him, so we weren’t much of a threat.  He was gorgeous. And because he was so still, we were able to get quite a few good photos of him.

CLICK HERE to see the album of photos.

The most exciting thing to me that we came across on our walk was sighting a few different species on a Blue Oak tree (Quercus douglasii) along the River Trail.  It had both Saucer Galls (Andricus gigas) and newly budding Crystalline Galls (Andricus crystallinus). The saucers start out flat and then form cups (some with smooth edges and some with serrated edges). The Crystalline Galls start out like tiny dark-pink urns and then swell up and get their sparkly spines. We hadn’t seen any galls at all on the “Frankenstein” hybrid tree further up the trail, so finding the galls on the Blue Oak by the river was rewarding. 

It was nice to see that this particular Blue Oak was also getting acorns on it. These oaks don’t produce acorns in drought years, and when they do produce acorns, they’ll produce a lot one year (a “mast” year) and then produce far fewer for the next two or three years.  So, as I said, it was nice to see this one with acorns all over it.  (The acorns usually take a year to develop.) Blue Oaks are also endemic to California, which means they’re found here and nowhere else on the planet.  It’s also one of the oak trees that is immune to the fungus that causes Sudden Oak Death.  Very cool trees.

Oh, and we found a Treehopper – but it jumped away before I could get a photo of it.  Those things are sooooooo weird-looking with their hunched backs. The one we saw was a Buffalo Treehopper (Stictocephala bisonia): mostly green with some burnished gold edges on it.

We walked the trails for about 2 hours.

Species List:

  1. Blue Oak, Quercus douglasii,
  2. Brass Buttons, Cotula coronopifolia,
  3. Buffalo Treehopper, Stictocephala bisonia,
  4. California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana,
  5. California Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta,
  6. California Praying Mantis, Stagmomantis californica,
  7. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica,
  8. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis,
  9. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus,
  10. Common Buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis,
  11. Common Merganser, Mergus merganser,
  12. Common Snowberry, Symphoricarpos albus,
  13. Convergent Ladybeetle, Hippodamia convergens.
  14. Crystalline Gall Wasp, Andricus crystallinus,
  15. Desert Cottontail, Sylvilagus audubonii,
  16. European Honeybee, Apis mellifera,
  17. Flax-Leaf Horseweed, Erigeron canadensis,
  18. Green Lacewing, Chrysoperla carnea,
  19. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon,
  20. Italian Thistle, Carduus pycnocephalus,
  21. Jumping Spider, Phidippus sp.,
  22. Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos,
  23. Moth Mullein, Verbascum blattaria,
  24. Mushroom Headed Mayfly, Small Minnow Mayfly, Callibaetis ferrugineus ferrugineus,
  25. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus,
  26. Occidental Grasshopper, Trimerotropis occidentalis,
  27. Oleander Aphid, Aphis nerii,
  28. Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum,
  29. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus,
  30. Saucer Gall Wasp, Andricus gigas,
  31. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa,
  32. Sweet Pea, Lathyrus odoratus,
  33. Tarweed, Common Madia, Madia elegans,
  34. Wavy-Leaf Soap Plant, Soap Root, Chlorogalum pomeridianum,
  35. Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
  36. White Alder, Alnus rhombifolia,
  37. White Crab Spider, Misumessus sp.

Poults and a Snake, 07-04-19

Happy 4th of July.  Up at 5:30 am, and out the door before 6:00 to go to the American River Bend Park for a walk.  It was about 59°when I got there with a slight breeze blowing, so it was nice.  I was expecting the place to be crawling with people for the holiday, but nope. I had the trails almost to myself all the while I was out there. 

The very first thing I saw when I drove in was a doe crossing the road in front of me.  She stopped and looked behind her, and then I saw her fawn come out after her and scurry across the road, too.  I tried to get photos, but I had to shoot through the windshield so… nuthin’.  Dang it!  But the park was otherwise pretty kind, giving me two other surprises with better photo ops.

CLICK HERE to see the full album of photos.

The first of those two was getting the chance to see some Rio Grande Wild Turkey poults (Meleagris gallopavo intermedia). I hardly ever get to see them because the moms are so good at keeping them hidden. This was a group of three adults and five poults. The poults were all fledged in their first feathers but still too small to fly.  Among the adults was the leucistic (black and white) female I see often in the park. She was following after the other two, so I inferred that she was “learning” from them. She mimicked a lot of what they did, and also seemed to be helping out with protecting the babies.

At one point, one of the adults jumped up into an elderberry bush and started pulling berries off and dropping them to the ground so the babies could get them. A few seconds later, one of the poults got up into the bush, as well, but couldn’t reach the berries and jumped down again. So cute.  I think that little guy was blind on one side. It kept on eye shut all the time, and the lid looked “flat” in the socket (instead of rounded out by an eyeball).

I walked with the small flock for a while, but the adults were really good about keeping the kids out of the sunlight, for the most part, and keeping themselves between the babies and me. Who says turkeys are stupid?

The second surprise came when I walked down near the shore of the American River because there was a Buttonbush down there in full bloom and I think the flowers are so cool-looking. Anyway, while I was taking pictures of the flowers, I caught a glimpse of something moving past my foot and going behind me, so I turned around and saw a spotted snaky form slipping through the rocks.  At first I thought it was a gopher snake because they’re really common in the park, but then I caught a glimpse of the head. Not a gopher snake.

It was a young RATTLESNAKE. It was about as long as my forearm, so not too-too big, but still large enough to pack a good supply of venom. What was weird was: when I first saw it, it was in diffused light so all of the light parts on it looked pale blue and all of the spots on it looked kind of orangey. Very odd.

Pacific Rattlesnake among the rocks on the shore of the American River.

I followed after it a little bit to try to get more photos — which is hard for me on the shore because it’s all rocks there and my feet don’t work well on unstable cobbly ground.  I stopped when the snake got pissed off at me and wound itself into a striking position. Uh, yikes! I took just a few more photos and then let it be.

I also came across a small family of crows: a parent and two fledglings, I think. I saw the parent hand off a rock to the kids – which they weren’t interested in — and then pick up some seeds from along the shore.  The fledglings were very loud and fussy, demanding that mom feed them (even though they were large enough to fly and forage by themselves.) Huge mouths!  They cracked me up.            

Walking through the rocks on the shore, and then having to climb back up an incline to get to the trail pretty much did me in, though. The bones in my feet are “welding together” like Mom’s did from arthritis, so my feet don’t bend and flex like they should, which is why walking on uneven ground is hard for me these days.  Still, I was able to walk for about three hours total before heading back to the house.

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus,
  2. Ash-Throated Flycatcher, Myiarchus cinerascens,
  3. Black Nightshade, Solanum nigrum,
  4. Black Walnut, Juglans nigra,
  5. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus cerulea,
  6. Buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis,
  7. California Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta,
  8. California Pipevine, Aristolochia californica,
  9. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica,
  10. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica,
  11. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus,
  12. Common Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos,
  13. Common Green Lacewing, Chrysoperla carnea,
  14. Common Merganser, Mergus merganser,
  15. Doveweed, Turkey Mullein, Croton setigerus,
  16. Fennel, Sweet Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare,
  17. Flowering Tobacco, Nicotiana alata,
  18. Giant Mullein, Verbascum thapsus,
  19. Golden Shield Lichen, Xanthoria parietina,
  20. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias,
  21. Green Shield Lichen, Flavoparmelia caperata,
  22. Horsetail, Rough Horsetail, Equisetum hyemale,
  23. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni,
  24. Italian Thistle, Carduus pycnocephalus,
  25. Live Oak Gall Wasp, 2nd Generation, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis,
  26. Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos,
  27. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura,
  28. Northern Pacific Rattlesnake, Crotalus oreganus oreganus,
  29. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii,
  30. Pumpkin Gall Wasp, Dryocosmus minusculus,
  31. Red Swamp Crayfish, Crawfish, Crawdad, Procambarus clarkia,
  32. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus,
  33. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia,
  34. Rusty Tussock Moth, Orgyia antiqua,
  35. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus,
  36. Tarweed, Common Madia, Madia elegans,
  37. Tree Tobacco, Nicotiana glauca,
  38. Treehopper, Oak Treehopper, Platycotis vittata,
  39. Western Bluebird, Sialia mexicana,
  40. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis,

Insects at the Wetlands, 09-09-18

I headed out to the Cosumnes River Preserve to see how things looked there.

On the way to the preserve, I counted 15 hawks along the highway (not including two that had been hit by cars), and that seemed to bode well, but at the preserve itself it’s still pretty bleak. They’re just now starting to pump water into the wetland areas, but today there was only a puddle at the far end of the boardwalk. Not enough to support many birds; and what birds were there flew off as soon as they saw me.

There is also no water along Desmond Road, so nothing to see there either. I DID get to see a handsome juvenile Red-Tailed Hawk along the also-empty slew. It had landed on the cracked and dried bed of the slough… but was then chased off by a very brave ground squirrel. The hawk flew up into the naked branches of a nearby tree, and I was able to get quite a few photos of it before it took off again.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

Since there wasn’t much else to see, I pulled by focus in tighter and started combing the few surrounding trees and shrubs with my eyes for any sight of galls, insects and other stuff like that. It took a little time, but I was rewarded for my patience.

I found single specimens of three different species of dragonfly: Easter Forktail, Green Darner and Blue Dasher. All of them were in the trees, not moving, trying to warm themselves up in the morning sun. I also found several Praying Mantises (mostly boys and one girl), and a fat adult Katydid. I got some of them, including the Katydid, to walk on my hands. I also spotted some Trashline Spider webs but couldn’t see the spiders themselves.

Along the road I found a large bird’s nest that had fallen out of a tree, and, sadly, some road kill including an opossum and *waah! a Black-Tailed deer fawn. The fawn was smashed flat, so it must’ve been hit by a semi or something. I can’t imagine how traumatic that must have been to its mother. The fawn was a newborn, still in its spots…

As for the galls, I also found several different kinds: Spiny Turbans, Club Galls, Round Galls, Oak Apple galls, and every some “Woolybear” galls (Sphaeroteras trimaculosum). There were also the galls of the Ash Flower mite on an ash tree.

My sister Monica had asked what “galls” were specifically… Galls are malformations caused by the interaction between a plant and an insect (like a wasp or midge or mite), a plant and a fungus (like rust fungus), or a plant and another plant (like mistletoe). To protect itself from the insect, fungus or other plant, the host plant (or tree) forms a protective layer of material over the intruder, and that protective layer is the gall. Galls can be in the leaves, in the bark, on the branches, or on the flowers, seeds, catkins or acorns.

The Woolybear galls I saw today, for example, are formed on the backside of oak leaves when a cynipid wasp lays its egg on the leaf. A chemical in the egg tells the tree “grow something here”, and also gives it a blueprint of what to grow. So, what you’re seeing in the photos is actually fuzzy plant material that the oak tree grew to protect itself from the developing critter inside the egg. The wasp larva grows inside the gall and then exits when its mature. Each wasp species has its own unique gall (and some have two different ones in the same year).

Anyway… I walked for about 2 hours and then headed back home.

Vacation Day #3: Sacramento Zoo… Mostly

DAY THREE OF MY FALL VACATION… Columbus Day; the office is closed.  I got up around 6:30 this morning, and initially headed over to the Cosumnes River Preserve to see if there was any water there yet or any sandhill cranes in the rice fields.  I saw some cranes in the distance, but the preserve was dryer than dry.  I walked for a little bit – to the end of the wooden boardwalk and back – and then I decided to leave the preserve and headed back to Sacramento.

By the time I got there, I knew the Sacramento Zoo was just about to open.  I thought with it being a “holiday” the zoo would be packed, but the parking lot was nearly empty when I got to it, so I spent the morning at the zoo instead.

At the zoo, I spent a lot of time watching the Wolf’s Guenon monkeys. The whole family was out: mom, newborn baby, the two older siblings (by the same mom) and dad. The baby is getting more and more brave, and wants to go searching around their enclosure, but mom is very protective of him and won’t let him too far out of reach. At one point, she had all of her children around her, and the baby squirmed away from her and started to climb down a branch. One of its older siblings caught the baby by its tail and slowed it down enough for mom to get up and scoop up the baby.  Hah!

The male Eastern Bongo was out, but the female and her baby weren’t. While I was watching the male, I noticed some tree squirrels running around, and saw one of them climb a sturdy cane of bamboo straight up into the overhanging limbs of a tree… where the squirrel had built a dray (the name for a squirrel’s nest).

Of the big cats, only the lions and jaguar were out. The female lion was perched on top of the “cat tree” in their enclosure, so I was able to get quite a few photos of her. But the male was pacing, so it was hard to get any good shows of him.  I heard him bellowing later, though, and assumed others got pictures of that. The jaguar there is very “secretive”, so you don’t get to see him at all very often.  Today, though, he was standing right by the fence on one side of his enclosure where there’s a small pond.  He was cleaning himself, licking his paws… I’d ever seen him that close before. His was sitting at kind of a weird angle from me, though, so most of the photos I got of him were from over his shoulder. His coat is soooo gorgeous…

I got to see the baby flamingoes again today and, wow, do they look different from the last time I saw them. All of their white baby fluff is gone, and they’re starting to get their fledgling feathers. They’re a mix of dark gray and pink now.

The zoo has built a new bridge and viewing platform the crosses through the middle of the big pond where the adult flamingoes hang out with many other birds (some of them wild, some of them belonging to the zoo). There were several pairs of Wood Ducks in and around the pond, and I got some photos and a video snippet of one pair as they were grooming one another and nibbling at one another’s bills.

In the Kangaroo enclosure, there were quite a few ‘roos and wallabies out hopping around. Usually, I hardly get to see one or two of the critters; today, they were everywhere.  The Red Panda, in the enclosure across the walkway from the ‘roos, was out, but was sleeping in his tree.

Here are some pix & videos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mkhnaturalist/albums/72157686030399802

Around 11 o’clock I stopped and had a hot dog, fries and a beer for lunch. After that, I walked through the reptile house before heading out of the zoo.

By the exit, there was a docent holding one of the zoo’s “animal ambassadors”, Tim (short for Timbuktu), a Mali Spiny-tailed Lizard. It was really cool-looking. His dark skin was really loose-fitting on his body, and he’s able to “inflate” himself in defense if he needs to. His tail looks like a major weapon: covered in rings of hard-scale spines… The docent said Tim was about 13 years old.

I got back to the house right around noon.

 

Vacation Day #1: American River Bend Park

DAY ONE OF MY FALL VACATION. I got up around 6:15 this morning and headed out to the American River Bend Park for a walk.

I hadn’t been over there for a while, and was kind of surprised to see that much of the tall dry grass in the park had been mowed down, and trees trimmed everywhere.  In all the years I’ve been going there, I’d never seen the place look so “manicured”.  The wildlife didn’t seem to mind…

CLICK HERE for a full album of photos and video snippets.

I missed a couple of opportunities for photos when I first drove in. There was a trio of mule deer does by the side of the main trail but they startled and ran off before I could get my camera out of it bag. And then I came across a coyote, who loped away from me, I front of the car before ducking off the trail into the underbrush, where I lost sight of it…. Oddly enough, I came across it again as I was leaving the park but again, it was ahead of me on the trail, so all I got were photos of it from the rear.  It was a young female, I think; lean but healthy-looking. There was a lot of fresh scat on different parts of the trail, too, so I know there’s more than just the female out there…

We’re sort of “between seasons” right now at the park, so there was only a smattering of wildlife to see… and no fungi out yet, except for the Sulphur Shelf.  I found two nice specimens of that.

The Western Bluebirds were in the park, pairing up for the winter, as well.  I saw a lot of little males vying for perching spots, and a couple of females.  The males’ blue coloring is always so, kind of, “shocking” against the yellow-tan of the dead grass and the dark green of the evergreen oaks… I also got a few nice shots of Oak Titmice and a Mourning Dove, a couple of crummy shots of a Yellow-Rumped Warbler, and some photos and a video snippet of a female Northern Flicker eating blue elderberries from the trees.  On rocks in the river, I saw some Killdeer, a young Herring Gull, several sleepy female Common Mergansers, and a Spotted Sandpiper (without its breeding spots). And on the shore, I got a few photos of White-Crowned Sparrows, some Black Phoebes, and a House Finch.

The ash trees were covered in seeds… and some of those odd crumpled-ball-like galls that the mites roust up.  There wasn’t a lot of fall color out there, yet. It hasn’t been cold enough.  What was colorful, though, was a handsome Western Fence Lizard I came across. He must have just shed, because his skin was really bright and shiny. He was standing up on top of a fence post, so I could see his yellow sides and bright blue belly…

I walked for about 3½  hours and then headed back home.