Tag Archives: wasp galls

Lots and Lots and Lots of Deer, 09-15-18

OMG it was soooo beautiful outside today I could hardly believe it: around 53º when I got up around 6:30 am, and never made it past 77º by the afternoon. Breezy, sunny… just gorgeous! It had even rained a little bit during the night, so everything had that wonderful earthy smell to it… There were a lot of nimbus clouds in the sky, but they disbursed by the end of the day.

I went to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for my walk and was surprised to find the ambient nature sounds disrupted by the noise of some kind construction (or gravel work) being done further up river. The grinding, crunching, scraping noise lasted for about 90-minutes, and was replaced by the noise of a soccer game or something taking place on the lawn near the entrance to the preserve: men shouting “That’s mine! That’s mine!”, “To me! To Me!” and “Keep it moving!” Guh! So much for a quiet nature walk.  It also didn’t help that the loud, obnoxious group of trail-walkers came up behind me on one of the trails, and the leader yelled to the others, “We found the lone hiker!”  That group has no sense of respect for the place, the animals or the other people on the trails. When you’re out in nature BE QUIET, people!

Despite the noise and interruptions, I did get to see a LOT of deer, including some bachelor groups of bucks and a group of does with a fawn. Another doe on a different part of the trail also had a fawn with her. The baby was still in his spots, but it looked like he might’ve been attacked by something. Most of the hair around his neck was gone (leaving just crusty-looking skin) and he had a gash down his throat. It wasn’t deep but was very red and sore-looking. I wonder if one of the young coyotes had tried to get a hold of him.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos:

Among the bucks, one was still in his velvet and hanging out with the does. I guess I couldn’t hang with the guys until his antlers were more presentable. Hah!

As far as the birds went, I got photos of Lesser Goldfinches, Acorn Woodpeckers, a White-Breasted Nuthatch, a Black Phoebe eating a Jerusalem Cricket (those bugs are HUGE; it made for a good breakfast for the little bird), and Wild Turkeys. There was one spot along the trail where there was a huge mess of turkey feathers everywhere. A fox or coyote must’ve ambushed one of the turkeys – an early Thanksgiving dinner. I could hear the California Quails shouting out their “chi-ca-go!” call but couldn’t see any of them. I did get some photos of California Scrub Jays, though.

I watched (and videoed) an Eastern Fox Squirrel as it ran with big fat acorn and then buried it in the ground. Stocking up for winter (such as it is here).

You can see the video here: https://youtu.be/EJFjrlyiNmo

I also got to see a few specimens of the first Sulphur Shelf Fungus of the season. They don’t like it when it gets really wet outside, so they usually show up a month or two before the other fungi.

At the little pond in the front of the preserve, I noticed that all of the branches on the alder tree that had been sporting the Alder Tongue Galls I photographed earlier in the month, had all been cut off the tree. So, it was looking pretty barren and wretched around the bottom. I get that the groundskeepers probably don’t want the fungus up so close to the nature center but… it isn’t a “preserve” if all of the elements of the nature area aren’t allowed to do what they normally do – including the Alder Tongue Gall fungus.

I walked for a little over 3 hours and then headed home.

Saw a Coyote Family Playing in a Meadow, 08-11-18

Got up around 6:00 am after a good night’s sleep. I head over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve and it was already 68º outside (with a “real feel” of 73º according to the weather app on my phone.)

The first thing I saw when I got to the preserve was two coyote pups (teenagers) bouncing through the meadow. I parked the car and got out hurriedly and tried to figure out which way the kids were going. As I entered the grounds, I saw an adult coyote standing next to the nature center. It walked up the side of a hill and then sat down in the tall grass, nearly disappearing as it did so. I continued on down the trail and found the pack in the meadow. It looked like mom and about four pups. They were running around, play-hunting, and jumping up and down. Mom would sit down in the grass, and the pups would run around her and back and forth across the meadow. Then they’d all converge on the mom and pounce on her like she was prey. She’d roll around and nip at them… they were all having such a good time; it was so fun to watch them.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos. And here are some videos from today:

A little further down the same trail, I came across a trio of does. They were standing in the woods, and all of them had their ears cocked, listening to the coyotes in the field nearby. So pretty.

And still further down the trail, near the pond, I saw a doe to my left, and could hear what I first thought was a kitten mewing to my right. I looked around the tules by the pond and found that the “mewing” was actually coming from a fawn. The fawn was still in its spots and looked as though it had injured one side of its mouth. Its bottom lip was swollen in the corner and that tilted the mouth a bit, so it looked like the fawn had a perpetual “resting bitch face” look. Hah!

I’m not sure, but it looked like maybe the fawn had been stung by bees or wasps. The mouth injury didn’t seem to have interfered with the fawn’s ability to eat, though; it looked chubby and healthy. Its coat was a little ratty-looking but that might be because it was shedding its baby coat and making room for its teenager coat.

The wild mugwort is going into bloom everywhere throughout the preserve, and more wasp galls are appearing on the oak trees.

Another treat was being able to see a large flock of Yellow-Billed Magpies on one of the lawns. They were slumming with a smaller flock of European Starlings. It looked like most of the magpies were going through a molt; you could see all the yellow skin around their eyes…

At one point, one of the magpies jumped on top of another. The magpie on the bottom started screaming and struggling to get up. While it screamed, and the other magpies flew in around it. I got the impression that they weren’t ganging up on the one on the ground, so much as they wanted the magpie that was on top to leave the other one alone. The magpie on top moved to one side, and the pinned one flew away. Wow.

I walked for about 3 hours and then headed home. While I was walking, I had the Pokémon Go game running on my phone and walked enough miles to hatch out two eggs. Both of them were Magnemites. For those of you who don’t play the game, you’ll have no idea what that means. Hah-ha-ha!

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.

National Public Lands Day, 09-30-17

It’s National Public Lands Day! And by coincidence, I got my lifetime “Senior Pass” to all of the national monuments and public lands in the mail today.  The passes are going up in cost to about $80… but I ordered mine before the price hike so it only cost me $10.  Such a deal!

I slept in a tiny bit and got up around 6:30 am, then headed out the door to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

The first thing I saw when I went into the preserve was a small flock of female wild Turkeys chowing down in the grass… and then I could hear a Red-Shouldered Hawk screeling in a tree nearby, so I went to see if I could find it.  It was up pretty high in the branches of a tree, but I got a few photos of it.  I was so focused on keeping an eye on the hawk as I was walking that I went right past a mother Mule Deer and her fawn, and didn’t notice them until I turned around on the trail and started walking back up it again. D’oh!

Further along the trail, I could hear a California Ground Squirrel giving out one of its loud “Chip! Chip! Chip!” alarm calls, and although I couldn’t see the one shouting the alarm, I did see other ground squirrels around stop moving or stand up to try to figure out what was going on.  One of them stopped right on a length of an old, dried up, felled tree and sort of posed for me…

Along the river side, I could hear Spotted Towhees, California Quail, Killdeer, and a Belted Kingfisher, but never caught sight of them. Dang it!  What I did catch sight of, though,  was something I’d never expected to see there: a male Phainopepla (pronounced fain-oh-PEP-la.) They’re about the length of a jaw, but super thin and svelte-looking. The males are shiny blue-black with deep red eyes and they have a crest on the top of their head.  (Females look almost the same except that they’re a shiny ash-brown in color.)  It was sitting up on the top of an Interior Live Oak tree and was pretty far away, but with the “birding” setting on my camera I was able to get some fairly good shots of him.

The oak woodland/riparian habitat at the preserve is actually kind of perfect for it, but I’ve never seen one of them at the river before, so it was a nice surprise. Phainopeplas are kind of unique in that they breed twice a year in two different places: scrubby deserts/chaparral and woodlands. When they’re breeding in desert areas where food can be scarce they’re very territorial, but when the birds breed in woodland areas they’re “colonial” and often share nesting trees with others of their species.  They eat mostly berries, and love mistletoe berries…

I also saw some of the Turkey Vultures around: one adult standing in its “heraldic pose” in a tree, warming itself in the sun; and the juvenile I’d seen last week.  He was sitting in a different tree and pretty far away, but I recognized him by his gray head. I wonder if he’s flying better now that he was a week ago… The adult vulture kept its eye on me as I walked past it, and eventually folded its wings shut and turned around to face me as I got nearer to it.  Despite their size, Turkey Vultures are pretty much “harmless” birds, and don’t have the talons other raptors have that can rip your eyes out. Still, I gave this one a wide berth so I wouldn’t freak it out too much.

Along another loop of the trail I found a queen Yellow Jacket looking for a spot to overwinter… and I found the hive of bees again that’s I’d seen about a month or so. Apparently, they’re going to stay there, at least over the winter months. I could see that the grass from the trail to the tree was tamped down, which I assume was done by the rangers and docents at the preserve (walking back and forth as they kept an eye on the developing hive). I hope they leave it alone; it’s be a great teaching tool – and they’ll get some honey out of it.  I usually keep firmly to the trails in this preserve (because it’s kind of small and going off-trail can really impact the wildlife here), but because the ground was already tamped down near the bee-tree, I stepped in a little closer to it.  I’m assuming these are European Honey Bees and not Africanized Bees. As long as I kept my distance, they didn’t seem to mind my being there and just went on with their “terraforming” duties.  It would be neat to get an x-ray or sonograph of the inside of the tree: I wonder if there’s a long tunnel through it that leads to an underground chamber, or if the bees are actually filling up the entire tree with their hive… Where is my money from Publishers Clearing House?! I have scientific studies I want to do! Hah!

Near where the Yellow Jacket was I found the first outcropping of Sulphur Shelf fungus this season. This is a kind of fungi that doesn’t like real wet weather, so it shows up before the winter rains start.

I saw a lot of turkey and raccoon tracks along the trails…and lots of fresh coyote scat. Those guys were pooping everywhere!

As I was heading out of the preserve, I came across two young bucks play-sparring with one another. By their antlers, I’d guess they were both about 2½ or 3 years old. They’d graze for a while, then joust a little bit, then go back to eating, then joust a little bit. They were behind a thick tangle of vines and shrubs so I couldn’t get any really decent photos of them, but they were fun to watch. This is the start of the rutting season for these guys, so I should be seeing a lot more of the larger males out here soon.  As I was watching the boys joust, several female Wild Turkeys tip-toed by and then hurried down the trail in front of me. They’re such funny things… big as trucks, but so shy.

I also stopped at the pond on my way to the parking lot, and found a bunch of bullfrogs. One of them was actually sitting on top of a big leaf in the water, posing for everyone. Others were more difficult to spot: hiding under umbrellas of grass or blending in with the green of the water foliage… I walked for about 3 hours at the preserve.

Saw My First Virginia Rail… and Her Babies!

Virginia Rail and chick. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Virginia Rail and chick. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

I got up about 6:00 am on Sunday, May 1, and headed over to the Cosumnes River Preserve for my walk. On the way there, I saw a Swainson’s Hawk sitting on a fencepost along the freeway, and then came across a pair of Red-Tailed Hawks that were “doin’ it” on another fencepost further down the road, right there in front of God and everybody.  Hah-ha-ha!  It’s that time year.

The main gate to the preserve was closed, so I went over to the boardwalk area.  There’s hardly any water left in some places, so there are very few birds there right now.  I saw some Avocets, Ibis and Coots, some Canada Geese (some with goslings), and a couple of American Bitterns who were sitting across from one another at the pond by the viewing platform and they were giving their territorial “pumper-lunk” calls to each other.  All talk, no action.

I was really surprised (and pleased) to see my first live Virginia Rail there – and she had babies!  The chicks were pitch black, and looked like big fuzzy caterpillars.  The mama was trying to lead them across the walkway from one area of the pond’s shore to the other, but the babies were totally unruly and just ran wherever they wanted to.  Mama wasn’t too happy to see me approaching, and gave out an alarm call that sent the babies ducking for cover… but they were split up now.  Mama and two babies on one side of the walkway, and the third baby by itself on the other side.  The chick started crying and mama started squawking… I didn’t want to stress them out, so I left the area until it got quiet there again.

When the preserve finally opened its main gate, I drove over there and was hoping to be able to walk their marshland trail… only to find when I got to the trailhead that all of the trails were closed today.  Some kind of safety issue or something.  A sign telling me that back at the parking lot would’ve been nice!  They made me walk from the parking lot to the trailhead before saying anything.  What a waste of my time!  Irritated, I decided then to walk down to the boat ramp and back.  When I got to the boat launch, my foot sipped out from under me and got caught in a shallow ditch alongside the ramp.  I continued to fall, landing on my hip… and was very lucky that I didn’t break my ankle (considering how my foot was wedged in the ditch).  I was actually more concerned about my camera getting damaged than anything else.  I check it before I checked myself. Hah! Because of my arthritis it was hard for me to find a position from which I could get back up onto my feet without being in a lot of pain.  I managed somehow, and headed off back to the car.

I then drove down to Desmond Road to see if there was anything interesting there, but… no… so the whole trip was kind of a bust (except for the Rails).  I probably won’t be going back there until the fall.

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A Few New Galls

I was out the door before 6:00 and heading over to the American River Bend Park.  There were signs all over the place saying “Alcohol Prohibited July 11th” but without a reason given.  I guess they were having some kind of race there or something.  Parts of the bike trail were supposedly closed off, but the bikers didn’t care and were using them anyway…

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Since I’d gone through my “gall book” a bit, I was more aware of anything that looked like a gall on the oak trees at the park.  There are mostly Live Oaks there – and the galls I like to see are usually on Blue Oaks or Valley Oaks – so I didn’t see a lot of them, but there were a few I hadn’t seen before.  One looked like a fly saucer on a tether, and another one looked like a tiny hard apple or pumpkin… so those were cool.

I watched a pair of female Common Mergansers in the river, floating, diving and trolling for fish… Saw lots of Canada Geese (some with their fledglings)… Watched a Spotted Towhee singing from a treetop… saw some Phoebes and Flycatchers… I also got some extra plant photos to add to my book.  No big woopty-doo moments or critters on the trail, but an interesting walk.  I was out there for a little over three hours and then headed back to the car.