Tag Archives: Western Screech Owl

A Beaver and a Loon at Lake Solano Park, 03-16-19

The weather at Lake Solano Park was perfect for walking with my naturalist students; about 49° when we first got there, and then up to about 68° by the time we left. It was sunny, clear and bright outside. My coworker Bill and I took turns pointing things out to everyone, and one of the students, Charlie (who’s something of a plant expert) helped us identify plants.

CLICK HERE for an album of photos.

When I got to the park, Bill and some of the students were already there, and some of them had already spotted an otter in the water. What a great way to start their day! Other highlights during the outing included spotting a beaver in the lake (!) and a Common Loon (!!) which I had never seen there before. We at first thought the beaver was another otter, but it’s large size and big ears brought us to the conclusion of its true identity. It was moseying along in the water, and treaded water for a long time, so we were able to get some photos of it. ((I think I took about 500 photos of its head poking out of the water. Hah!)) Eventually, it made its way to the other side of the lake and disappeared into the shadows. We inferred it might have had a lodge over there although we couldn’t see one.

The loon was a big surprise. At first we were all looking at it, trying to wrap our heads around what we were seeing. Checking through a field guide, though, we were able to determine that it was a non-breeding Common Loon, most likely resting there during its migration through our region.

Deeper inspection of the skull and skeleton we’d found on Wednesday, seemed to indicate that they were from opossums, not dogs as we’d originally thought (based on the canine teeth). There were “too many” small teeth between the canines for the skulls to be from a dog, so opossum was the next best guess. I need to study skulls more deeply – especially the ones of the common animals around here.

I stupidly stepped into the ants’ nest near where we located the Giant Horsetail ferns again. I recognized the spot and tapped on the area with my foot to see if the ants were still there from Wednesday, but nothing emerged, so I thought it was safe to go in there… But as soon as my shadow passed over their nest, they came out in force again. I got bit a few time, but nothing bad. They weren’t Fire Ants; more like red Harvester Ants. But they were still angry about my trespass over their nest and practically “exploded” out of the ground to swarm all over me. The students helped to whack them off my clothes.

On another part of the trail, we came across a large colony of Velvety Tree Ants swarming over an old log. What alerted me to them was a White-Breasted Nuthatch that flitted down onto the log, snatched up an ant, and flew off, flitted down onto the log, snatched up an ant, and flew off several times in a row. Along the ridgeline of the log was a line of winged adults getting ready to take off to establish new colonies… and it was the big winged one the Nuthatch was after. Very cool.

On the lake were Bufflehead ducks mingling with Goldeneyes, and both Common and Hooded Mergansers (along with the egrets, some herons, and Canada Geese). On the shore were lines of turtles sunning themselves; both Red-Eared Slider Turtles and a few Pacific Pond Turtles. We also all got to watch a Belted Kingfisher on the other side of the lake, dive-bombing for fish in the water. Some of the students had never seen that before and were “wow-ing” at the speed of the little bird.

In the ponds, we found Water Boatmen, Mosquito Fish, Bullfrog tadpoles, and a Black-Fronted Forktail Damselfly that was “swimming” along the top of the water before it lighted on some algae to dry off. I’d never seen a winged damselfly swim before! So odd! I need to remember to bring my dip-net with me next time I go out there so I can scoop up some critters to photograph.

We walked for about 3 ½ hours, and all in all, I think I recorded over 60 different species (that we saw and/or heard). It was a good day.

Species List:

1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus,
2. American Kestrel, Falco sparverius,
3. American Robin, Turdus migratorius,
4. Arundo, Giant Reed, Arundo donax,
5. Audubon’s Warbler, Setophaga auduboni auduboni,
6. Beaver, American, Beaver, Castor canadensis,
7. Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon,
8. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii,
9. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
10. Black-Fronted Forktail Damselfly, Ischnura denticollis,
11. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus,
12. Bufflehead, Bucephala albeola,
13. Bullfrog, American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus,
14. Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus,
15. California Manroot, Bigroot, Wild Cucumber, Marah fabaceus,
16. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica,
17. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis,
18. Cattail, Broadleaf Cattail, Typha latifolia,
19. Chickweed, Stellaria media,
20. Cliff Swallow, Petrochelidon pyrrhonota,
21. Common Goldeneye, Bucephala clangula,
22. Common Loon, Gavia immer,
23. Common Merganser, Mergus merganser,
24. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus,
25. Fresh Water Snail, Fluminicola sp.,
26. Galium, Bredstraw, Velcro-Grass, Sticky Willy, Cleavers, Galium aparine,
27. Giant Horsetail Fern, Equisetum telmateia,
28. Giraffe’s Head Henbit, Lamium amplexicaule,
29. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias,
30. Great Egret, Ardea alba,
31. Honey Fungus, Armillaria mellea,
32. Hooded Merganser, Lophodytes cucullatus,
33. Longstalk cranesbill, Geranium columbinum,
34. Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos,
35. Mistletoe, American Mistletoe, Big Leaf Mistletoe, Phoradendron leucarpum,
36. Mosquito fish, Gambusia affinis,
37. Mugwort, California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana,
38. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos,
39. Pacific Pond Turtle, Western Pond Turtle, Actinemys marmorata,
40. Peafowl, Indian Peafowl, Pavo cristatus,
41. Phainopepla, Phainopepla nitens,
42. Pipevine Swallowtail Butterfly, Battus philenor hirsuta
43. Pipevine, California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica
44. Red Harvester Ant, Pogonomyrmex barbatus,
45. Red-Eared Slider Turtle, Trachemys scripta elegans,
46. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus,
47. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis,
48. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus,
49. River Otter, North American River Otter, Lontra canadensis,
50. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula,
51. Speedwell, Veronica arvensis,
52. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus,
53. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor,
54. Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus,
55. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata,
56. Velvety Tree ant, Liometopum occidentale,
57. Water Boatmen, Corixidae (family),
58. Western Bluebird, Sialia mexicana,
59. Western Screech Owl, Megascops kennicottii,
60. White Alder, Alnus rhombifolia,
61. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis,
62. Yellow-Headed Blackbird, Xanthocephalus xanthocephalus,

Pre-Field Trip Field Trip at Lake Solano, 03-13-19

I got up around 6:00 this morning so I could head out to Lake Solano Park in Winters, CA. This was a recon for the trip we’ll be doing with the whole class on Saturday, and I wanted to check out where plants were growing, if the ferns were out yet, what birds were out there, etc. It was very windy and chilly around 44° when I got there and about 53° when I left.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

At the park, I was joined by my coworker Nate L., some of my naturalist class students, Sharyn L. and Mary S., and two of my naturalist class graduates Elaine and Roxanne.  Sharyn had forgotten her cell phone and was double bummed when she realized the battery in her camera was dead, so she had no way of taking photos. Not having the technology in her hands, though, she said helped her to focus more on what she was hearing rather than what she was seeing, so the experience was a lot different than she thought it might be.

I was hoping to see some pipevine, manroot and Giant Horsetail, and thankfully they were all present. Those are always great things to show to the students. We also saw over 30 different plant and animal species, including the resident Western Screech Owl, and found a couple of animal skulls. We think one was a coyote skull, and the other (with a fully disarticulated skeleton) was some kind of domesticate dog, based on their teeth.  It’s always great to go out with a group on excursions like this because everyone sees something different, and as a group we’re alerted to more things.

We walked for about 3 ½ hours, and then each went on our way.

Species List:

1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
2. American Mistletoe, Broadleaf Mistletoe, Phoradendron leucarpum
3. Audubon’s Warbler, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronate ssp. auduboni
4. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii
5. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
6. Broadleaf Cattail, Typha latifolia
7. Bufflehead Duck, Bucephala albeola
8. California Manroot Vine, Bigroot, Wild Cucumber, Marah fabaceus
9. California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica
10. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
11. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
12. Cliff Swallow, Petrochelidon pyrrhonota
13. Common Goldeneye, Bucephala clangula
14. Common Merganser, Mergus merganser
15. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auritus
16. Echo Azure Butterfly, Celastrina echo
17. Galium, Velcro Grass, Sticky Willy, California Bedstraw, Galium californicum
18. Giant Horsetail, Great Horsetail, Equisetum telmateia
19. Giraffe’s Head Henbit, Lamium amplexicaule
20. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
21. Great Egret, Ardea alba
22. Hooded Merganser, Lophodytes cucullatus
23. Lodgepole Pine, Pinus contorta
24. Mottled Willowfly, Mottled Stonefly, Strophopteryx fasciata
25. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
26. Oyster Mushroom, Pleurotus ostreatus
27. Pacific Pond Turtle, Western Pond Turtle, Actinemys marmorata
28. Peacock, Indian Peafowl, Pavo cristatus
29. Phainopepla, Phainopepla nitens
30. Praying Mantis, California Mantis, Stagmomantis californica
31. Racoon, North American Racoon, Procyon lotor
32. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
33. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
34. Turkey Tail Fungus, Trametes versicolor
35. Western Screech Owl, Megascops kennicottii
36. White Alder, Alnus rhombifolia
37. Willow, Pacific Willow, Salix lasiandra

Nature Walk on a Lovely Day, 09-14-18

I went on a photo walk with my coworker, Nate, and one of Tuleyome’s donors/volunteers, Sami, to Lake Solano Park this morning.

The weather was extraordinarily lovely today. It was in the 50’s at the park and got up to about 75º by the late afternoon. There was slight breeze and the sky was filled with cirrus clouds. Gorgeous.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

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.

CalNat Field Trip #2, Lake Solano Park. 03-03-18

I led a California Naturalists field trip to Lake Solano Park today. The first thing we saw when we entered the park were two peacocks roosting high in a tree over our heads… and a male Phainopepla that was looking for mistletoe berries to eat.

It was originally the idea that half of the group would go in one direction and the other half of the group would go in another – so we could cover the whole park — but all of the students wanted to come with me, so we moved in one big group.

The walk was a productive one, however: we got to show students different kinds of plants including flowering Pipevine, Manroot vines with seed-pods forming on them already, and Northern Giant Horsetail (Equisetum telmateia braunii ), a subspecies of horsetail that grows in western North America. Although commonly referred to as “Horsetail Grass” it’s actually a kind of fern that grown simultaneously in fertile and non-fertile forms. We saw both the non-fertile green stems (that are photosynthetic), and the yellowish fertile spore-bearing stems in the same area. The spore-bearing stems die as soon as their spores are released, so there were a lot of them around looking like they’d “fainted”. Although the normal mature size of these ferns is about 4-5 feet tall, they can get as tall as 7 feet high. (So the ones we saw were just “babies”.) In another month or so, they’ll come up to my chest. (Both the infertile forms and the fertile forms grown from the same rhizomes of the same plant – so one feeds the overall fern while the other tends to reproduction.)

There were also plenty of waterfowl to see including Canada Geese, Double-Crested Cormorants, Common Goldeneyes, Mallards, American Wigeons, Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons (which seemed to be almost everywhere we looked), and a Green Heron.

When one student took a close-up photo of a sprout of mistletoe, she realized there was a bug on it and asked me if I could identify it for her. I’d never seen anything like it before. It looked like a scale bug, but I wasn’t positive, so I took a bunch of close-ups of it and then researched it after I got home. It was Icerya purchasi — (my brain first saw that as “Ikea Purchases”; hah!) — and it’s common name is Cottony Cushion Scale. It’s considered a pest species and usually attacks citrus trees, but it’s known to parasitize mistletoe. So the parasitic mistletoe has a parasite of its own. The one we saw was in the medium stage of its development, before it gets its big white cushiony behind.

We also saw a family of about 5 river otters in Putah Creek, but they were too far away (along the distant shore) for me to get any good photos of video of them. Another hard-to-photograph find was a male Belted Kingfisher that kept flying back and forth on the opposite side of the river. “See that white dot on the tree over there? That’s his breast.” Hah!

The find that all of the students really enjoyed was being able to spot the tiny Western Screech Owl, who was sleeping in the same tree I’d seen him in before. His tree is behind one of the most remote restrooms in the park, so I had the students follow me around the building, then file in behind me at the adjacent picnic tables, before I showed them where the owl was. I used a laser pointer to help them pinpoint his location. It was gratifying to hear all of the ooo’s and ahhhs, and the clicking of camera shutters once they spotted him. If nothing else, I’d been able to give them the treat of seeing something they’d never seen in the wild before. And some of the students didn’t even know the park was there, so it was nice surprise to them, too.

Along the walk (and we only covered half of the park in 4 hours!), I also pointed out stuff like Turkey Tail fungus, Black Jelly Roll fungus, different kinds of lichen, and some Barometer Earthstars. They’d never seen anything like that before, so I demonstrated for them how the spores are released from the puffer-belly in the center of the fungus – and one of the students took a video of that.

It’s hard for me to lead a walk, point out and hold specimens, AND take photos of my own, so I didn’t get as many pictures as the students themselves did. I told them they have to share them with me!!

On the way back to the parking lot, where folks gathered to share to lunches and decompress, my coworker Bill spotted some scat along the shore. So I put on a nitrile glove and picked some of it up. We concluded it was probably otter scat, considering all of the crayfish parts we found in it – including an intact, undigested antenna. I told the students Bill was “great at finding all sorts of crap”, and everyone laughed, including Bill.

While we were having our lunches, too, someone noticed an aggregate of Western Boxelder Bugs so I was able to give them a mini lesson on those. Some of the bugs were having sex, so the mass kind of looked like an orgy, but most of the bugs were just huddled together to keep themselves warm. (By that time of the day it was about 46º and the rain was just starting.) The species we see here in California is Boisea rubrolineata. Their host trees are ash, maple, Goldenrain trees, and soapberry; and they usually eat nothing but the seeds.

We all left the park around 12:30 pm, and headed back home. I took the long way around, going back to Woodland and then on to Sacramento, so the drive took me over an hour… but it was neat to see all of the sofa clouds and the storm squall starting to move in and cover the valley.