Tag Archives: Volunteering

The Monarch Larva Monitoring Project, 06-19-19

On this busy Wednesday, I headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve (EYNP) around 5:00 pm for their Monarch Larva Monitoring Project (MLMP) training.  When I drove in, I saw one of the big 4-pointer bucks, still in his velvet, sitting in the shade under the trees on the golf course. The wet grass must’ve felt good on his belly. (It was about 93° outside then.)

Along the walkway, the Wavy-Leaf Soap Plants were in bloom, white spidery flowers everywhere.  The plants only bloom in the evening, starting at dusk and continuing through the night. By morning, they’re done. They close up and die off… so getting to see them fully open is a bit of a treat.

The training was led by a volunteer, Krystin Dozier, who’s been helping to monitor the butterflies since she took the naturalist course at Effie Yeaw in 2015.

The monitoring project is a “Citizen Science” effort coordinated through the University of Minnesota in which everyday folks help to monitor milkweed plants in specified areas and keep track of Monarch eggs and caterpillars. About 5 people showed up for the training (all women, no men) and Rachel Cowen the EYNP Volunteer Coordinator was there, too. After a brief presentation, we went outside to look at the Showy Milkweed plants near the nature center and were assigned plots, which we’ll monitor through the month of July (or longer if we want to).

CLICK HERE for a map of the plots.
CLICK HERE for a PDF explaining the project, it forms and guidelines.

While we were looking at the plants I was able to identify some errant insects that were on them for the group (like a Long-jawed Orb Weaver Spider and a katydid nymph), and I offered to be of assistance to the other people in the group if they needed help with ID-ing plants and insects. Rachel told them I was their “local nature geek”. Hah! (Three of the women stopped me after the meeting and asked for my email address so they could contact me if they needed to.)

I asked for Plot 1A in the grounds because it knew it got shade most of the time which I figured would benefit me if I’m monitoring the plants there in the heat of the summer. 

Basically, you count all of the milkweed plants in your plot and then look over every part of each plant looking for butterfly eggs and caterpillars. If you find anything, you note it in your weekly report and tie a yellow ribbon (piece of yarn, pipe cleaner) to the plant to mark it.  Whenever caterpillars in their 4th or 5th instar are found, you let everyone know so the Effie Yeaw staff can collect them and rear them from that stage through the butterfly stage, so they can make sure the butterflies live, and can tag them for migration monitoring.

Eastern Monarch populations seem to be doing fairly well, but the Western Monarchs (those populations west of the Rockies) are in a severe decline; about a 90%+ loss in just one year. At first everyone thought it was due to habitat degradation and a loss of milkweed plants, but the plant populations haven’t declined much, so that had been ruled out as an overriding factor.  Now, the theory is that the Western Monarchs are being affected by a fungal infection (from plants in Mexico), so another aspect of the study is to test the butterflies for that fungus.  We plant monitors won’t be doing that piece, but I think it’s all very fascinating.

I’m slated to work on my plot on Tuesday mornings at 6:00 am starting in July.

Lots of Deer but No Fawns Yet on 06-13-19

I headed over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve this morning and got there around 6:00 am and it was about 63° then. I was joined by “The Other Mary”, Mary Messenger, and we walked for about 4 hours.  We saw lots of deer today, mostly does with their older yearlings. Some of the gals were very “round” with their pregnancies. When the new fawns arrive, some does chase off the older kids… but others let them hang around for a couple of years. We didn’t see any fawns, but that’s to be expected. The does keep them well-hidden when they’re new. 

Along the shore of the river, we came across the mama Common Merganser and her three red-headed ducklings again. They were hanging around a pair of female Wood Ducks who had one slightly older duckling with them. We couldn’t get too close, so we had to be satisfied with long-distance photos.

We saw several Turkey Vultures, Cathartes aura, including one bird sitting in a tree and one sitting on a stump on the bank of the American River. The one on the bank turned toward us and lifted its wings in the “heraldic pose” so we could see its white under-wing feathers.  This pose, in which the Turkey Vulture turns its back toward the sun and opens its wings, is used by the birds when they want to warm themselves up quickly. 

The legs and some of the feathers of the vulture sitting in the tree were covered in dried feces (making them look white-washed). When it’s really hot, the Turkey Vultures will defecate their mostly white, watery feces on their legs and feet and then allow evaporation to help cool them off. As gross as this may sound, keep in mind that the vulture’s digestive system is so aggressive and their immune system is so high, that their feces come out virtually bacteria free and actually acts like a kind of natural sanitizer. Cool, huh? I wrote an article about the vultures in 2015. You can read it HERE.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

We also stopped under the Red-Shouldered Hawk’s nest along the Pond Trail and saw one fledgling sitting in it. Where the nest is placed, it’s hard to get a good angle on it for photographs, so all we saw was the tippy top of the fledgling’s head.  Near the pond itself, we saw another fledgling, and near the nature center we saw an adult… So got a few photo ops on the hawks today.

This is the time of year when there are a lot of Western Fence Lizards scurrying all over the place, ad we were able to see quite a few of them, including a pair on a log. The stubby-tailed male was trying to court a female, but she just wasn’t that into him.  Hah!

We walked for about 4 hours and then headed back to our respective homes.

Species List:

1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus,
2. American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus,
3. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii,
4. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
5. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus,
6. Bull Thistle, Cirsium vulgare,
7. Bur Chervil, Anthriscus caucalis,
8. Bushtit, American Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus,
9. California Bumblebee, Bombus californicus,
10. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi,
11. California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana,
12. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica,
13. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis,
14. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus,
15. Common Merganser, Mergus merganser,
16. Coyote Mint, Monardella villosa,
17. Coyote, Canis latrans,
18. Dallisgrass, Sticky-Heads, Paspalum dilatatum,
19. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auritus,
20. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger,
21. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris,
22. Giant Sunflower, Helianthus giganteus,
23. Goldwire, Hypericum concinnum,
24. Himalayan Blackberry, Armenian Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus,
25. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon,
26. Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Lords and Ladies, Arum maculatum,
27. Monarch Butterfly, Danaus plexippus,
28. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura,
29. Northern Bluet Damselfly, Enallagma cyathigerum,
30. Northern Bush Katydid, Scudderia pistillata,
31. Northern Yellow Sac Spider, Cheiracanthium mildei,
32. Pearly Everlasting, Anaphalis margaritacea,
33. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum,
34. Prickly Sowthistle, Sonchus asper,
35. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus,
36. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia,
37. Rusty Tussock Moth, Orgyia antiqua,
38. Santa Barbara Sedge, Carex barbarae,
39. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa,
40. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus,
41. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura,
42. Wavy Leaf Soaproot, Chlorogalum pomeridianum,
43. Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
44. Western Gray Squirrel, Sciurus griseus,
45. Wild Carrot, Daucus carota,
46. Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa,
47. Wood Duck, Aix sponsa,
48. Yellow Jacket, German Wasp, Vespula germanica,
49. Yellow Starthistle, Centaurea solstitialis,
50. Yellow-Faced Bumblebee, Bombus vosnesenskii,

 

Lots of Nesting Birds, 04-30-19

I got up around 5:30 and was out the door by about 6:15 am to go to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for my regular Tuesday trail-walking gig. The weather was beautiful: about 53° when I got to the preserve and about 70° when I left. Sunny and a little bit windy.

I saw LOTS of birds’ nests: European Starlings bringing some twigs for the nesting cavity and some bugs and worms for the hatchlings. (I could hear the babies squawking inside the tree); Phoebes bringing bugs for their babies; an Oak Titmouse carrying fecal sacs out of her nest; a male House Wren showing a nesting cavity to a female, even going to far as to get into the cavity himself, stick his head out and sing to her. Hah!

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

Saw lots of squirrels, especially young Fox Squirrels who were running around, jumping, and putting just about everything they could into their mouths.  Generally, acting “squirrely”. Hah!

I found some caterpillars I’d never noticed before on the Redbud trees. They were pale green and had folded themselves inside the soft leaves of the tree.  You’ll never guess what they’re called…  Redbud Leaf-folder Moth caterpillars. Sometimes the names are like, “Duh!”, obvious.

I also found caterpillars on the leaves of the blackberry bushes, and these guys were tricky. They had an escape hatch, so if I touched the front of their silk “nest”, they would zip out the back and fall onto the leaf below them. Some of them had black faces and some of them had reddish-tan faces. I haven’t really ID-ed them yet.

And, of course, there were Tussock Moth caterpillars everywhere.  Here’s a video snippet of an active guy on the top of one of the water stanchions at the preserve: https://youtu.be/Bj9nZiy_EmI

I think I’d mentioned before about the fact that I was finding tiny dirt-clod turrets on the trail.  They look like “hoodoos”; y’know like the big stone ones at Bryce Canyon, but on a tiny-tiny scale.  I couldn’t figure out what was making them, so I put my naturalist students on the hunt for information. Naturalist graduate Deborah Dash sent me some photos of the Diadasia bees and the turrets they make, but all of the photos were from the top of the turrets not the side, so I couldn’t really compare them to the photos I had.  But, that tip led me to look up other Diadasia bees, and I think I found the right one.  I now believe these are the turrets of the “aggregate nests” of the solitary, native Mallow-Loving Digger Bee, Diadasia sp., subgenus Coquillettapis, This website shows how the turrets are created. So neat! (http://nathistoc.bio.uci.edu/hymenopt/Diadasia%20Coquillettapis.htm)

Near the end of my walk, I couldn’t understand why I was so frigging tired. Then I looked at the time and realized I’d been walking for FIVE HOURS!  Yikes!  I get so wrapped up in what I’m seeing on the trail that I lose track of time.

Species List:

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus,
  2. American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus,
  3. Ants, Little Black Ants, Monomorium minimum,
  4. Ash-Throated Flycatcher, Myiarchus cinerascens,
  5. Asian Lady Beetle, Harmonia axyridis
  6. Azolla, Water Fern, Azolla filiculoides,
  7. Bedstraw, Cleavers, Galium aparine,
  8. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii,
  9. Black Bean Aphid, Aphis fabae,
  10. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
  11. Black Walnut Erineum Mite galls, Eriophyes erinea,
  12. Black Walnut, Juglans nigra,
  13. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus cerulea,
  14. Blue Oak, Quercus douglasii,
  15. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi,
  16. California Manroot, Bigroot, Marah fabaceus,
  17. California Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta,
  18. California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica,
  19. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica,
  20. California Towhee,
  21. Coffeeberry, Frangula californica,
  22. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus,
  23. Common Catchfly, Silene gallica,
  24. Convergent Lady Beetle, Hippodamia convergens,
  25. Coyote Brush Bud Midge gall, Rhopalomyia californica,
  26. Cranefly, family Tipulidae,
  27. Cutworm, Olive Angle Shade Moth, Phlogophora iris,
  28. Desert Cottontail, Sylvilagus audubonii,
  29. Dog Vomit Slime Mold, Fuligo septica,
  30. Dogtail Grass, Cynosurus echinatus,
  31. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger,
  32. Elder Moth, Achatodes zeae
  33. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris,
  34. Fiery Skipper, Hylephila phyleus,
  35. Himalayan Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus,
  36. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon,
  37. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni,
  38. Lazuli Bunting, Passerina amoena (stripe across wing),
  39. Live Oak Gall Wasp gall, 2nd Generation, Callirhytis quercuspomiformis
  40. Mallow-Loving Digger Bee turrets, Diadasia sp., subgenus Coquillettapis http://nathistoc.bio.uci.edu/hymenopt/Diadasia%20Coquillettapis.htm
  41. Northern California Grape, Vitis californica
  42. Oak Apple Wasp Gall, Andricus quercuscalifornicus,
  43. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus,
  44. Orange Tortrix Moth, Argyrotaenia franciscana
  45. Painted Lady butterfly, Vanessa cardui,
  46. Periwinkle, Vinca major,
  47. Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta,
  48. Plum, Prunus cerasifera,
  49. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum,
  50. Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum,
  51. Purple Needle Grass, Nassella pulchra,
  52. Redbud Leaffolder Moth, Fascista cercerisella,
  53. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus,
  54. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia,
  55. Rusty Tussock Moth caterpillar, Orgyia antiqua
  56. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciose,
  57. Silver Hairgrass, Aira caryophyllea,
  58. Spittlebug, Meadow Spittlebug, Philaenus spumarius,
  59. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus,
  60. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor,
  61. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata,
  62. Western Bluebird, Sialia mexicana,
  63. Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
  64. Western Gray Squirrel, Sciurus griseus,
  65. Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis,
  66. White Horehound, Marrubium vulgare,
  67. Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa,
  68. Woodland Skipper, Ochlodes sylvanoides,