Sami is an avid birder – she logged 300 species last year! – and she was able to point out birds to us that we might have otherwise missed. Many of them – including a juvenile Golden Eagle – were on the fly and moving fast so I wasn’t able to get photos of them. But it was still cool to see them.
And Nate is a total nature nerd, like me, so it’s always fun to go out into the field with him. We get excited by things like bugs and fungus and otter scat… so, we enjoyed locating and identifying galls on the trees in the park, hah! We even found a gall I had never seen before. (Or at least didn’t recognize. It turned out to be an early stage of the Round Gall.)
The stand outs for the day for me, though, besides the lovely scenery at the park (which sits right along Putah Creek), were the peahens and their babies, a sleepy Western Screech Owl, a juvenile Great Blue Heron (who startled us by “appearing” on the shore right next to the path we were walking on), and an American White Pelican who was sitting in the middle of the creek, preening, sunning, and doing a little fishing.
We walked for about 3 hours, and then headed our separate ways.
Happy Fourth. I went out to the Cosumnes River Preserve for a walk and was disappointed to see most of the water now gone from the slough by the boardwalk paring lot. That was the only “wet” left in the wetlands area – and animals that depend on that water don’t have ready access to it anywhere else.
Anyway, I hung around the slough for a while to look for early summer galls and insects, and while I waited I did get to see a few birds. Belted Kingfishers are like my “nemesis” birds. I’ve spent YEARS trying to get a halfway decent photo of one of them. They’re super-fast and super shy… So, I was overjoyed when this female stopped on a tree across the slough from me and posed for a while. I also saw a Green Heron who was “caw-honking” to another one across the road from it: call and response. I’d never heard that from this species before, although I’m sure they do it all the time, so that was cool, too.
Bushtits, several Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets, Killdeer, and some Tree Swallows were among the other birds that came by. I also saw the head of a Red-Eared Slider Turtle and a Western Pond Turtle poke up from the shallow water at different intervals.
As for the galls, I saw some Oak Apple wasp galls, Ash Flower galls, Spiny Turbans and a few Round Wasp galls. It’s really too early in the season for most of them. Another month and different species should be popping up all over the place.
When I was done walking at the slough, I drove up the road to the nature center and just walked the boat ramp walk there. Lots of people taking their kayaks down to the river, but not a lot of critters or bugs. I was hoping to see some dragonflies and damselflies, but no such luck. I did get to see a little Trashline Spider, though, and a gorgeous male American Goldfinch.
I headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve. It was 68º when I left the house, and 75º when I got back home a little after 9:00 am.
The first thing I saw when I got to the preserve was a huge flock of Yellow-Billed Magpies foraging for bugs and seeds on the lawns near the payment kiosk. I parked in the little parking lot there and took a lot of photos. The magpies hardly ever sit still, so it’s always neat when I can get some decent shots of them. Most of them seemed to have yellow patches around their eyes. That’s not uncommon, especially if they’re molting.
There were more deer out this time than there were the past several times I’d gone to the preserve. Mamas are now showing up with their babies. I saw one doe with a fawn that was maybe four to six months old; out of its spots but still snack-sized.
And in another spot, I saw a mom with a newborn, but she was hiding him really well and I couldn’t get any good photos of him. She was down in a shallow gully between two hills and in the shade. Smart mama.
There were lots of California Ground Squirrels out and about. I saw one, though, who looked like it had a broken left rear leg… and whatever injury there was, was being harassed by flies. I couldn’t tell for sure, but it looked like part of the bone was poking through the skin, and the leg and foot were badly swollen. There were other wounds on its body; spots where the fur had been rubbed off or torn out. I wonder if it had been grabbed by hawk or Coyote and then freed itself – at the cost of its leg. I could tell it was in pain by the way it moved, but it was very stoic – no squeaking or crying. Poor squirrel; I wish I could have caught it and taken it to a vet or something.
I could hear the Red-Shouldered Hawks in the preserve screaming at each other, but only caught glimpses of them in flight. No photos of those guys today.
I came across a very small Velvet Ant, all fuzzy and golden. There are hundreds of species of Velvet Ants, so identifying them can be hard. Although they’re called “ants”, they’re actually a kind of wingless wasp – and they carry a very painful sting. According to one article: “In some areas, velvet ants are known colloquially as ‘cow killers’ because their venom packs a painful punch. In addition, their ‘sting’ – the scientific term for what many of us refer to as a ‘stinger’ – is agile and half as long as the wasp itself. This enables the insect to inject venom into a predator from varied angles and free itself.” So, look but don’t touch.
There were also signs along the trails warning hikers about the high-danger of rattlesnakes this time of year, and also a spot where some Yellow-Jacket Wasps had built a nest in the ground. Nature can be tough in the summer!
As I was leaving the preserve, I saw an Acorn Woodpecker drinking out of the water fountain by the nature center. Hah! Smart bird!
As an aside: I read a blog by Ron Dudley every day. He’s a fantastic nature photographer. His most recent post included information about a long-term Citizen Science project headed by Doug Tallamy, PhD, of the University of Delaware that’s been going on since about 2013. He’s trying to determine what birds eat, most specifically what invertebrates they eat, so he’s asking for people to send him photos of birds with insects and other such critters in their beaks. I’d recently taken quite a few of those — including one today of a Spotted Towhee — so I sent them off to him and also gave him a link to my Flickr account, saying he could use any of the photos there in his study if he wanted to. Citizen collect the data (in this case, the photos and forward it on to the scientist for study… that’s what Citizen Science is all about. (http://www.whatdobirdseat.com/)
A lot of the usual suspects at the preserve this morning, but there were a few interesting moments including being able to watch a flock of Wild Turkeys chasing each other in circles; and watching a California Scrub Jay pose nicely for me so I could get photos of it, and then seeing it jump down onto the ground and then flit back up into view with a big, fat Jerusalem Cricket in its beak. But the coolest sighting today was of a melanistic tree squirrel: all pitchy black. It was in one of the granary trees used by the Acorn Woodpeckers to stash their acorns and nuts, and was ripping off the bark from the branches to it could steal their stock from them. The birds were freaking out, buzz-bombing the squirrel, but it was bold and took the harassment (including be struck in the head several times by the birds) for quite a while. I’d never seen a squirrel like that before, and took lots of photos and video snippets of it.
“…Melanistic animals actually are somewhat common in nature, with some species even passing on the trait as a genetic adaptation. Black skin and fur assist in nighttime camouflage, and melanism can also help animals deal with extended periods in direct sunlight…”
I walked for about 3½ hours and then headed home. It was so nice outside when I got home that I opened up the whole house to let the fresh air in. (It was a little chilly, but lovely.)
Nature heals. I went over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve, and it was fortuitous that I did the walk there today. Tomorrow the place is going to be closed up for an equestrian event of some sort. It was a fortuitous walk, too, in that I was able to see a whole lot of different things…
The big news was the number of Monarch Butterfly caterpillars there were in the milkweed garden outside the nature center. So of the plants were covered with the buggers, the plants chewed down to just sticks… and I found one of the Monarch chrysalises! They’re such pretty little things, all pale jade green and studded with bright gold dots. I even found of the caterpillars mid-poop. Their frass (butterfly poop) is tans and rolled up like miniature bales of hay. Hah! It’s unusual for the caterpillars to be out en masse so late in the season, but the summer heat must’ve confused them, too… I also saw a late season Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly. They’re supposed to be finished and out of here by May… so that guy was REALLY late.
Saw quite a few birds including the ubiquitous Acorn Woodpeckers, Mourning Doves, California Towhees, House Finches, a Wood Duck, and a Flicker. I’d stopped at one point so get some photos of a young California Scrub Jay, and while I was doing that, a male California Quail popped up and climbed onto the same fallen branch the jay was sitting on… I also saw some European Starlings and Cedar Waxwings. Near the river bank, I saw quite a few Killdeer scurrying over the rocks. And in one of the old dead trees on the property, the Turkey Vultures were preening and sunning themselves in the early morning light.
One intense irritation for me was when I came across a whole covey of female Quails on the trail. I stopped to take some photos of them, and while I was focusing the camera to get a closer shot, these two women walked up behind me, pushed me to one side with a muttered “excuse me” and walked past me right front of my camera. I couldn’t believe it. These women were older than I am; way too old to be playing “mean girls”.
“You totally messed up my shot. Thanks,” I said. And one of the woman turned around and gave me a dirty look, while the other one grinned a stupid grin and said, “Well, it’s the only trail around.” Not true… and even if it WAS true, that didn’t excuse their behavior.
The tree squirrels and California Ground Squirrels were munching on black walnuts all over the preserve. I was able to get a few photos and a video snippet of one of them.
And, of course, I was able to see quite a few mule deer – including an older fawn who seemed fascinated by my camera. I could tell he REALLY wanted to walk over to see what it was, but he was smart and kept his distance.
At one other point along the trail I was astonished to see what I first thought were wasps flying in and around a hole in the side of a tree. I didn’t want to approach the tree to get a closer look, for fear of getting stung, so I used the super-zoom function on my camera and realized the swarm wasn’t wasps, it was Honey Bees. It couldn’t tell if the swarm was just starting to set up house in the tree, or if they were moving out their queen and relocating… but it was a mass of bees! A hundred or more that I could see… Considering the time of year and the activity at the tree, I’m guessing this swarm was gathered around a new emergent queen and were in the process of establishing a new hive, but I didn’t see the queen. It seemed obvious, especially in the video snippets I took, that the workers were chewing at the tree back and transforming the resins in it. You can see a distinct color difference between the unworked bark, and the bark on which the bees were focused.
I looked up some information on this and learned that “…the tree resin is not used in the hive in its original form when collected by the bees. The bees process the tree resin in their mouths and then, almost magically the tree resin is concentrated into an array of least 180 different compounds which have been identified so far…”
One of those compounds is propolis.
“… Propolis or bee glue is a resinous mixture that honey bees produce by mixing saliva and beeswax with exudate gathered from tree buds, sap flows, or other botanical sources. It is used as a sealant for unwanted open spaces in the hive. Propolis is used for small gaps…” The propolis makes the hive more structurally sound, protects the hive from the weather, and affords the hive protection from invading insects, molds and bacteria.
Should be interesting to see how this hive does… if the rangers allow it to continue where it is.
On my way out of the preserve, I stopped by their little pond, and got to see quite a few little Bullfrogs in the water, including one that still had some of its tadpole tail.
Day One of my vacation. I got up around 7:15 this morning and headed out to the American River Bend Parkfor a walk. The weather was perfect while I was out there, starting out around 50° with a bit of a breeze, and then getting up to about 70° by the time I headed home.
Spring was fully “sprung” at the park and I got to see the Wild Turkey in strut, Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly eggs, hatchlings and some nearly adult caterpillars (as well as the adult butterflies everywhere), Tiger Swallowtail butterflies, Buckeyes and Painted Ladies. And I think I saw a Monarch, but it was too far away to be sure. I also got some photos of the Mule Deer (mostly does and their yearlings), several hawks (including a gorgeous red-eyed Cooper’s Hawk who posed for me near her nest), Acorn Woodpeckers, Spotted Towhees, Tree Swallows and other birds. The Tree Swallows are pretty noisy little dudes, and I was able to locate two of their nests because of that. One of the nests was too high for me to get any good shots of it, but the second one was closer to the ground, and I was able to photograph the mama looking out through the nest-hole. I also saw a bunch of Lady Bugs, Craneflies, Snakeflies, Damselflies, wasps, mosquitoes, moths, crickets, Boxelder Beetles, and what I think was a Common Soldier Beetle (Cantharis pellucida). When the trail took me closer to the river, I saw two cormorants sunning themselves on the rocks.
There was so much to see that I got carried away and lost track of time. I ended up walking for almost 4½ hours! That’s waaaaay too long for me, and by the time I got back to the car, my feet and ankles were killing me. I stopped at Togo’s on the way home to pick up some sandwiches for “linner” and could barely walk across the parking lot.