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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,

Out with Some of My Naturalist Students, 03-31-18

Up at 6:45 am.  I headed out to the American River Bend Park to meet some of my naturalist students for a hike and to see the Great Horned Owl nest there.  The weather was perfect, and I had seven students show up.  Our pace was slow, and it was great having so many sets of eyes looking around the same area. What one missed, others found.

The Wild Turkeys were out in force, including the leucistic ones I’d seen earlier in the month. The males were strutting: tails fanned out, snoods hanging. I got video of one “treading” on the ground (it looked like a Flamenco Dancer, hah!)

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

The group was able to spot several different nests, including two Bushtit nests (that look like hanging socks), two large owls’ nests, and a nest with a Red-Shouldered Hawk in it.  Just before we got to the first owl’s nest, we were met by a Ranger who let us know where the second nest could be found. I know the park well enough that I was able to figure out which area the ranger was  talking about.  In the first nest was mama Great Horned Owl and her two owlets. (She might have had three, but I’m not sure.) The babies were moving around and standing up occasionally so we got a few photos of them. We all kept our distance, though, so as not to disturb them.

There were Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies all over the place (mostly females). We found some of their eggs, and also got a couple of them to pose for photos. There was one spot, too, where we were able to see and photograph a pair of the butterflies mating. At one point, we found some female River Bluet damselflies. They’re tan, and they were able to camouflage themselves well among the leaf litter. Even when we were standing right over them, it was hard to see them.  We also found a single Scarab Hunter Wasp; I think it might have been a queen.

Other critters we saw along the way included male and female Nutthall’s Woodpeckers, Audubon’s Warblers, lots of House Finches singing from trees, some Spotted Towhees, Anna’s Hummingbirds, tree squirrels, a small herd of mule deer, Tree Swallows, Western Bluebirds, Acorn Woodpeckers, etc.  We also heard some California Quails, but couldn’t find them, and came across a tiny dead vole on the trail.

At two spots along the trail we found nice outcroppings of Common Ink Cap Mushrooms (Coprinopsis atramentaria), also called “Tippler’s Bane” because when consumed with alcohol they can be poisonous.

After a short break for snacks and a restroom break, we headed toward the second owl’s nest. The nest was HUGE but there were no owls in it. We weren’t sure if the owls were still building it and not occupying it yet, or if it (like a nest on the other side of the park) had been rejected by the female.  We did, however, come across another nest which had a Red-Shouldered Hawk sitting in it. All we could see was the bird’s back end, but she was definitely “occupying” it.

We walked for almost 5 hours and then called it a day.

Vacation Day 1: Cache Creek Conservancy Nature Preserve

DAY 1 OF MY VACATION. Around 8:00 am I headed out to the Cache Creek Conservancy’s nature preserve.

They only open up the preserve on a weekend about once a quarter, so when it opens up, I try to get over there. I got there just as they were opening the gates, so I got first pick of a parking space in the very-limited-parking lot adjacent to the walking trails.  I don’t usually see a whole lot when I’m there. Their riparian area is pretty small and is mostly willows and cottonwood trees (with only a few scattered oaks). I knew they were working on expanding their trail system, though, so I thought I’d check it out.

CLICK HERE for an album of photos.

In and around the small wetlands area, I saw Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons along with a few Pied-Billed Grebes and lots of blackbirds, some Northern Flickers, and White-Crowned Sparrows.  I got a little video snippet of a young grebe trying to eat a crawfish.

At one point along the trail I saw a big Red-Tailed Hawk strafe and knock down a Cottontail rabbit.  It hit the rabbit so hard it broke its neck.  By the time I got close enough to it to take photos, the hawk flew off into the nearby trees, but left his meal behind.  I checked out the rabbit to make sure it was suffering and, nope, it was dead.  Eyes still open.  It only had a few bites taken out of it from the hawk – which I’m sure went back to the rabbit as soon as I was away from there.

I also saw a Northern Pike in the wetlands area.  It was moving around in a shallow pond, so I could see the water being slowly agitated but at first I couldn’t see clearly what was causing the agitation.  I took a few videos and watched them all in slow motion when I got home.  The dorsal part of the fish would come to the top of the water – a slightly humped back and sort of yellowish-olive patterned body — then I’d see the tip of its tail fin poke out above the surface.  The fish must have been 2 feet long, easily.  Those guys are super-efficient predators that eat just about anything.  I wonder if the conservancy knows they’re in the pond.

It’s just about the end of the gall season, but there were still some clinging to the leaves of trees and scattered on the ground.  There were two I hadn’t seen or photographed before, so that was cool.  The little round ones were called – duh — Round Galls (Besbicus conspicuous), and the other one I saw was along the edges of the leaves of the Cottonwood Trees.  Now, I’d seen the Petiole galls before (lots of them) that form at the base of the leave and are caused by a species of aphid (Pemphigus populicaulis), but I’d never seen the ones that formed along the edges.  I took a bunch of photos and when I got home, I looked them up in my trusty galls books and I actually had some trouble finding it.  It’s a kind of “leaf curl” gall also caused by an aphid (Pemphigus sp.) but the exact species wasn’t specified.  I’ll have to do more research. There were also a lot of Jumping Galls (Neuroterus saltatorius ) still clinging to the leaves of some of the oaks.  Along with the willows, cottonwood trees and Valley Oaks, I also came across some very late-blooming Rock Phacelia (Phacelia egena), Vinegarweed (Trichostema lanceolatum), Cocklebur, Chicory and Tree Tobacco (Nicotiana glauca) – an invasive species.

I got to see a pair of mule deer, but couldn’t get very close to them before they were off, dashing toward the river side…  I walked for about three hours and then headed back to the car.