Tag Archives: wetland

The 1st Summer 2019 Naturalist Field Trip, 06-15-19

I got up at 4:00 this morning, got the dog fed and outside to pee, and then headed out to Woodland for our first field trip for the summer naturalist class.  I got to the Woodland Library around 5:45 am and waited for my coworker Bill and the students arrive. The weather was VERY cooperative today. I was worried that the summer heat would make our field trips unbearable in the summer, but today it was nice.  It was in the low 60’s when we headed out, and only about 78° when we came back, so that was great.  There was also a slight breeze which helped, too.

When everyone got to the library and had signed in, we all headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  I left my car in the parking lot and went with Bill in his van along with our student, Jeanette, who is a middle school teacher.

  • Locate and identify at least fifteen (15) animal species (birds, amphibians, reptiles)
  • Locate and identify at least ten (10) plant species
  • Locate and identify at least ten (10) insect species

While we were walking around the nature center, I think they all got the majority of those requirements!  The insects were probably the most difficult for everyone, but we’ll see on Friday (at class) how well everyone did. 

Near the nature center, we came across a large fat weevil sitting on the top of the flowering head of a tule.  Bill rapped on the weevil a couple of times and figured it was dead, but when I stroked it, its feet moved, so we all inferred that the weevil was in a state of torpor, waiting for the sun to get a little higher in the sky so it could warm up more and start moving around. 

Everyone took photos of it and tried to identify it using the iNaturalist app we’d told them about in class on Friday.  It came up as a Billbug Weevil from the genus Sphenophorus. If you look at the map in iNaturalist, though, you’ll see that Billbug Weevils have been sighted all over the globe. So, calling this a Billbug Weevil is somewhat accurate, but for a more precise ID, I wanted the students to try get down to the species level on the weevil when they got home. Insects can be especially hard to ID because there are literally millions of them, and you have to deal with taxon levels that include superfamilies, tribes and subtribes before you can get close to the species. It will be interesting to see how far the students are able to get.

We also found a buckwheat plant that I didn’t recognize as buckwheat at all because its shape wasn’t like any buckwheat plant I’d seen before.  The signage by the plant said it was California Buckwheat, Eriogonum fasciculatum, as did iNaturalist, but that didn’t quite look right to me. The leaves were the wrong shape.  So, I did a little more research, and I believe it was actually St. Catherine’s Lace, Eriogonum giganteum, a kind of wild buckwheat that usually only grows in Southern California. When we were studying the plant, two of the students (Jeanette and Edna) also observed that some of the flowers still had their pink pollen balls and others did not… and we inferred that those that didn’t have their pollen balls anymore had already been pollinated.

Buckwheat, St. Catherine’s Lace, Eriogonum giganteum, with pollen blass intact

When it came time to drive the auto-tour route, I drove Bill’s van so he could do more observations, and Jeanette and another student, Mica, a retired farmer, came along with us. Bill was able to open up both sides of his van, so the gals could get an unobstructed view of what was out on the preserve. Although everyone was able to go at their own pace along the route, we stopped at two of the park-and-stretch areas so we could compare notes and get a closer look at things.  At the first stop, the students Ken and Alison, who are already expert birders, were helping the students spot and identify bird species and also explained what they meant when they talked about the birds’ GISS.

GISS stands for “General Impression, Shape, and Size” (originally a military term). Birders often use the bird’s GISS as a way to do a preliminary or in-field identification of a bird when it’s backlit (only seen in silhouette) or is too far away to see any details of its coloring. So, Alison and Kent were able to distinguish a pair of Northern Harriers flying over our heads from the Red-Tailed Hawk that was flying near them by nothing but their GISS. Very cool.  I’m nowhere near being that kind of an expert. 

At the second park-and-stretch spot, students relaxed with their lunches for a little while, and I was able to find a couple of examples of a specific kind of gall to tell them about, a Cottonwood Petiole Gall and is created by the aphid, Pemphigus populitransversus. The wingless female aphid called a “stem mother” chews at the leaf petiole (the stalk that joins a leaf to a stem) until it swells and then she climbs inside the swelling and has her babies inside of it. The baby aphids are born live and can be in either a winged form (called an “alate”) or without wings.

Cottonwood Petiole Aphid Gall,
Pemphigus populitransversus

While the students were resting and checking up on their notes, one of them, Alison, let us see what she’d put into her field journal for the morning. She’s an artist, and she uses fountain pens and watercolors to write and decorate her entries. It was beautiful. I can hardly wait for Friday when all the students share their journals, so I can take photos and let you see what they’re doing…

I also overheard a couple of students talking about how much they enjoyed the class, how much they’ve learned already (in just two sessions) and how many resources we’ve introduced them to that they didn’t even know existed before now.  That is so gratifying!

One more learning moment: On the eucalyptus trees along the end auto-tour route on Saturday, I also stopped to pull a leaf off of an obliging eucalyptus tree, so I could show the students in our vehicle the white teepee-like formation on it that some folks mistake for galls.  The formations are actually called “lerps” and they’re created by a tiny insect called the Red Gum Lerp Psyllid, Glycaspis brimblecombei. These insects spin little white houses for themselves made of sugars and wax pulled from the leaves. They’re often very sticky with the honeydew produced by the insects.             

When we were done with the tour, everyone went their separate ways.

Species List:

  1. American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus,
  2. American Robin, Turdus migratorius,
  3. American Wigeon, Anas americana,
  4. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna,
  5. Ash-Throated Flycatcher, Myiarchus cinerascens,
  6. Bermuda Grass, Cynodon dactylon,
  7. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii,
  8. Billbug Weevil, Sphenophorus sp.,
  9. Birds-foot Trefoil, Lotus corniculatus,
  10. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
  11. Black Saddlebags Dragonfly, Tramea lacerata,
  12. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicusm,
  13. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum,
  14. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus,
  15. Bristly Oxtongue, Helminthotheca echioides,
  16. Buckwheat, St. Catherine’s Lace, Eriogonum giganteum,
  17. Bulbous Canary Grass, Phalaris aquatica,
  18. Bullock’s Oriole, Icterus bullockii,
  19. California Flannelbush, Fremontodendron californicum,
  20. California Fuchsia, Epilobium canum,
  21. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi,
  22. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis,
  23. Cinnamon Teal, Anas cyanoptera,
  24. Cleveland Sage, Salvia clevelandii,
  25. Common Checkered Skipper, Pyrgus communis,
  26. Common Minnow, Phoxinus phoxinus,
  27. Common Teasel, Dipsacus fullonum,
  28. Cottonwood Petiole Aphid Gall, Pemphigus populitransversus,
  29. Coyote Brush, Baccharis pilularis,
  30. Desert Cottontail, Sylvilagus audubonii,
  31. Eurasian Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto,
  32. European Heliotrope, Heliotropium europaeum,
  33. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris,
  34. Field Bindweed, Convolvulus arvensis,
  35. Field Mustard, Sinapis arvensis,
  36. Flax-leaved Horseweed, Erigeron bonariensis,
  37. Floating Water Primrose, Ludwigia peploides ssp. peploides,
  38. Fremont Cottonwood, Populus fremontii,
  39. Gold Dust Lichen, Chrysothrix candelaris,
  40. Goodding’s Willow, Salix gooddingii,
  41. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias,
  42. Great Egret, Ardea alba,
  43. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons,
  44. Great-Tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus,
  45. Green-Winged Teal, Anas carolinensis,
  46. Italian Thistle, Carduus pycnocephalus,
  47. Jimson Weed, Datura stramonium,
  48. Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos,
  49. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris,
  50. Monarch Butterfly, Danaus plexippus,
  51. Mosquitofish, Gambusia affinis,
  52. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura,
  53. Mute Swan, Cygnus olor,
  54. Mylitta Crescent Butterfly, Phyciodes mylitta mylitta,
  55. Narrowleaf Cattail, Cattail, Typha angustifolia,
  56. Narrowleaf Milkweed, Asclepias fascicularis,
  57. Northern Bluet Damselfly, Enallagma cyathigerum,
  58. Northern Pintail, Anas acuta,
  59. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata,
  60. Oleander Aphid, Aphis nerii,
  61. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps,
  62. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum,
  63. Raccoon, Procyon lotor,
  64. Red Gum Lerp Psyllid, Glycaspis brimblecombei,
  65. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus,
  66. Rough Cocklebur, Xanthium strumarium,
  67. Sharp-leaved Fluellen, Kickxia elatine,
  68. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciosa,
  69. Spotted Orb-Weaver Spider, Neoscona crucifera,
  70. Striped Horsefly, Tabanus lineola,
  71. Sunburst Lichen, Xanthoria elegans,
  72. Teasel, Wild Teasel, Dipsacus fullonum,
  73. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus,
  74. Turkey Tangle, Fogfruit, Phyla nodiflora,
  75. Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum,
  76. Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
  77. Western Kingbird, Tyrannus verticalis,
  78. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta,
  79. Yellow Starthistle, Centaurea solstitialis

My First Trip to the Mather Field Vernal Pools, 03-27-19

Around 8:00 am, my naturalist class graduate Roxanne M. and I went to the vernal pools at the end of Zinfandel Blvd. in Mather Field.  Rain was threatening, and it was about 51° outside, but the rain held off until after we’d left – about 2 hours later.

I’d never been there before, but Roxanne had so she showed me some of the highlights out there – like the white pipes used for hydrology studies, and the somewhat lumpy landscape dotted with “mima mounds” around the pools.

“…One theory on the origin of Mima mounds is that they were created by small burrowing rodents such as pocket gophers (Thomomys talpoides) of the endemic North American family Geomyidae. Researchers in the 1940s found that Mima mounds tend to form in areas with poorly draining soils, so the “Fossorial Rodent Hypothesis” proposed that gophers build mounds as an evolutionary response to low water tables… It could be argued that gophers live in the mounds opportunistically but did not build them.  Consequently, gophers in mima mound fields seem to be aware of randomly distributed topographic highs and orient their burrowing accordingly in early mound creation stages. However, the mounds were already fully formed and the gophers may have just been maintaining them. Nevertheless, the fact that the surface area of a typical Mima mound is similar to the size of an individual gopher’s home range is consistent with the theory they were constructed by the rodents…”

Roxanne and I were hoping the wildflowers would be out, but there were only a few species showing. In another week or so, if we get some sunshine, the place should be covered in flowers.  We could see large swaths of Frying Pan poppies around some of the pools, but they were all closed up because it was overcast outside. Along with the poppies, among the flowers we did see were things like Butter ‘n’ Eggs, Blue Dicks, Showy Fringe Pod, Popcorn Flowers, and Jointed Charlock.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

We also saw some Canada Geese, Western Meadowlarks, and some Western Kingbirds. One of the Kingbirds was eating a large sphinx moth, but it was too far away for me to get a clear photo of it.  Along the road we saw a Mourning Dove, a pair of dark morph Swainson’s Hawks, and some wild turkeys.

Both Roxanne and I had brought little bowls to collect some of the pond water in so we could look for little critters in it.  We lucked out and were able to find a lot of tiny swimmers in the water including the larvae of Predaceous Diving Beetles, called “Water Tigers”, Damselfly larvae, and California Clam Shrimp.  So cool!  I need a portable microscope to take with on trips like this – and I need a book on vernal pool creatures. I don’t know very much about this kind of habitat; it’s all kind of new to me.

We both enjoyed the walk and vowed to go back to the pools in another week or so.

Species List:

1. Blue Dicks, Dichelostemma capitatum
2. Butter ‘n’ Eggs, Triphysaria eriantha
3. California Clam Shrimp, Cyzicus californicus
4. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
5. Copepods, Copepoda
6. Damselfly Larvae, Class: Odonata, Order: Zygoptera
7. Dock, Curly Dock, Rumex crispus
8. Filaree, Stork’s Bill, Big Heron Bill, Erodium botrys
9. Flatworm, Dugesia gonocephala
10. Frying Pan Poppy, Eschscholzia lobbii
11. Jointed Charlock, Raphanus raphanistrum
12. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
13. Painted Lady Butterfly, Vanessa cardui
14. Popcorn Flower, Slender Popcorn Flower, Plagiobothrys tenellus
15. Predaceous Diving Beetles, Water Tiger, Cybister fimbriolatus
16. Rio Grand Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
17. Showy Fringe Pod, Spokewheel, Thysanocarpus radians
18. Slug, Reticulate Taildropper, Prophysaon andersoni
19. Swainson’s Hawk, Buteo swainsoni
20. Tadpole, Western Tree Frog, Chorus Frog, Polypedates occidentalis
21. Western Kingbird, Tyrannus verticalis
22. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
23. White-Lined Sphinx Moth, Hyles lineata

A Few Birds at the Cosumnes Preserve, 03-24-19

I got up around 6:30 and headed over to the Cosumnes River Preserve to see how things are shakin’ there.  It was about 44° when I headed out.

I was actually kind of disappointed. Even through a 4-hour walk which really taxed my body, I didn’t see as much stuff as I was hoping to. The ponds near the boardwalk parking lot were virtually empty. Handfuls of birds here and there; most of them out of range of my camera. Along the river trail I startled a Cottontail who, if he had been still, I would have passed by completely. But he decided to make a dash for it, then stopped out in the open. Must’ve been a young one; the adults know better than that.

I also got to see a Black Phoebe mining mud, I guess, from UNDER the boardwalk (I guess all of the other mud in the place wasn’t good enough for her). When she flew in under the boards, her wings and tail dipped in the water, and Phoebe feathers aren’t waterproof so she was kind of endangering herself with every dip.

Now, I assumed she was pulling mud OUT of there, but she may also have been creating a nest under the boards – although that seems really weird to me. If she was constructing her nest under the boards, it could be ruined if the water level in the ponds rises again (or the place gets flooded again). Phoebe nests are made primarily of mud, so if one got wet it would disintegrate, and the eggs or nestlings would drown.

I wished I could’ve gotten a camera under there to see what was really going on.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

There also seemed to be an inordinate number of Audubon’s Warblers all over the property… and the Tree Swallows were vying for nesting spots in the bird boxes and the trees. But otherwise, I felt the trip was kind of a bust.

Species List:

1. American Coot, Fulica americana
2. American Pipit, Anthus rubescens
3. American Robin, Turdus migratorius
4. American Wigeon, Anas americana
5. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
6. Ash Tree, Oregon Ash, Fraxinus latifolia
7. Audubon’s Warbler, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata auduboni
8. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
9. Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
10. Boxelder Tree, Acer negundo californicum
11. Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus
12. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
13. Cinnamon Teal, Anas cyanoptera
14. Cottontail, Desert Cottontail, Sylvilagus audubonii
15. Dock, Curly Dock, Rumex crispus
16. Fennel, Sweet Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare
17. Freshwater Snail, Bithynia tentaculata
18. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
19. Great Egret, Ardea alba
20. Greater Yellowlegs, Tringa melanoleuca
21. House Finch, Passer domesticus
22. Jointed Charlock, Wild Radish, Raphanus raphanistrum
23. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferus
24. Long-Billed Dowitcher, Limnodromus scolopaceus
25. Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos
26. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris
27. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
28. Northern Pintail, Anas acuta
29. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata
30. Oak Apple Gall Wasp gall, Biorhiza pallida
31. Oakmoss Lichen, Evernia prunastri
32. Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
33. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
34. Ring-Necked Duck, Aythya collaris
35. Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Regulus calendula
36. Hummingbird Sage, Salvia spathacea
37. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula
38. Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia
39. Spider’s Web, Spotted orb weaver, Neoscona crucifera
40. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
41. Tadpoles, California Tree Frog, Pseudacris cadaverina
42. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
43. Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus var. occidentalis
44. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
45. White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys
46. White-Faced Ibis, Plegadis chihi

Eagles, Ravens and More, 01-28-19

I wanted to get up a little early today so I could head out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge… The drive to the refuge is a long one: 2 hours there, 2 hours back, and about 4 hours of driving around the auto tour route. That’s a LOT of car time, sitting in a folded-up position. I haven’t done it since just before my surgery and didn’t know if my core could handle that yet. Well, I found out. It can’t right now.

I was okay on the drive there, but halfway through the auto tour route, I started to ache, and by the time I got back to the house I was in pain. Dang it! I thought I was doing so well. Gotta work more on the exercise and core stuff I guess.

Anyway, after putting gas in the car and stopping to pick up something for my own breakfast, the dog and I got to the refuge around 7:00 am. The sun was just coming up, so I got some red-sky photos. Because the light was so “low” and there was some cloud cover, the camera gave me fits all day. The cloud-glare bounced off the water and played havoc with the light meter/auto focus dealie, and I struggled to get the photos I wanted, sometimes failing miserably which was very frustrating. So, rather than relaxing me, I was kind of stressed out periodically throughout the drive.

Still, I did manage to get SOME halfway decent images. CLICK HERE to see the full album.

The standouts for the day were the Bald Eagles and Ravens. I saw about 5 eagles, including a bonded pair and a juvenile (maybe 2 or 2 ½ years old). One of the eagles was sitting what I generally call “the eagle tree” because you can often find one sitting in it.

It’s sometimes hard to get photos of the birds in that tree because it’s a tall one that sits on the right-hand side of the road. You either have to lay down in the front seat and shoot out the passenger-side window or turn the car at an angle that puts your driver’s-side window to the tree (and blocks the whole road). There were no other cars on the road at the time, so I chose to block it. (Didn’t think my core could handle my lying down in the seat and twisting to shoot out and up into the tree.) I was surprised to find that in that tree, on a few branches below the eagle, there was also a Cooper’s Hawk. You don’t really realize just how truly big the eagles are until you see one beside a hawk. Wow!

The rest of the eagles were near the end of the auto-tour route. The bonded pair were in a distant tree, sitting near the top of it, near the last park-and-stretch area. Because they were so far away it was hard to get any good close-ups of them with my camera. And because of the cloud-glare, their white heads tended to vanish against the white sky, so finessing the camera’s iris was tricky. I liked watching the pair, though. They sat side by side, surveying the surrounding wetlands, periodically touched beaks like they were kissing and groomed one another.

The last two eagles, an adult and the juvenile, were sitting up in the eucalyptus trees along the exit route. The juvenile, which was much more visible than the adult because it was sitting out near the end of some branches, at first looked like a mottled shadow against the twiggy branches, but then seemed to reveal itself as I got closer to it. So cool!

I also got to see three ravens. Two were of a pair that landed together in a tree near the end of the auto tour route. One was kind of bedraggled-looking; some of its feathers were on inside out. And the other flew up with it, offering it a treat I couldn’t quite make out. The treat-bearing one flew off again, and the bedraggled-looking one stayed behind, cawing loudly in the direction in which the other had left.

Even though I wrestled with the camera all day, I was still able to see over 30 different species of birds and animals while I was out there, so I still chalk it up as a “good” viewing day.

Waterfowl and Other Birds, 01-21-19

Around 7:30, I headed out to the Cosumnes River Preserve for a walk. I was a little pissed off, as were others who came to the preserve, that on a holiday day when they knew people would be coming to the preserve, the folks who run the preserve didn’t open the gates… So, everyone had to park on the road instead of the parking lots, which is dangerous because the road is kind of narrow with deep culverts and sloughs on either side, and the locals like to speed down it. It was about 45° when I got there, and a little breezy.

Not a lot of birds, which was kind of surprising considering the time of year. But even with the small number of birds, I was able to see about 25 different species including: Northern Shovelers, a Blue-Winged Teal, Cinnamon Teals, Green-Winged Teals, Northern Pintails, American Pipits, Marsh Wrens, Song Sparrows, Canada Geese, Black Phoebes, Western Meadowlarks, House Finches, American Coots, an American Robin, Black-Necked Stilts, Long-Billed Dowitchers, a Yellow-Rumped Warbler (Audubon’s Warbler), a Greater Yellowlegs, Golden-Crowned Sparrows, White-Crowned Sparrows, a Spotted Towhee and a California Towhee, a Great Egret and Greater White Fronted Geese.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

I also found a Bushtit nest in one of the trees. The most active were the little male Marsh Wrens who were flitting around and singing away setting out the boundaries of their territories before they start their nest-building activities. The Long-Billed Dowitchers were all sitting, snuggled down in the shallow water, dozing away – until a train came by and blew its horn. Then they all took off in a flurry.

I walked for about 1 ½ hours, but still covered about 2 miles.

Not Many Good Photos Today, 12-02-18

I got up around 6:30 this morning, and decided I’d try going out to the Sacramento and Colusa National Wildlife Refuges. It’s a long drive and I wasn’t sure how Wilson (my tumor)  would react to sitting in a vibrating thing, accelerating and decelerating for hours at a time. I tried going without any pain pills, too, but that didn’t last. Around 9:00 am I had to take one of the ibuprofen. Otherwise, Wilson pretty much behaved himself.

It was foggy in some spots along the highway, but otherwise chilly and mostly sunny all day. It was about 38° when I headed out and remained in the 40’s at the refuges. When I got back to Sacramento in the afternoon, it was about 54°.

On my way to the refuges, I counted 24 raptors along the highway. Most of them were Red-Tailed Hawks, but there were also 4 Turkey Vultures and 3 Kestrels in the mix.

I got to the Sacramento refuge around 9:00 am, which is really “too late” to see anything really good. Most of the birds had finished their breakfasts already and were hunkering down to digest their meals. I didn’t feel like I got any really good photos of anything, and I also felt I was rushed because there were so many other cars on the auto-tour route. So, it was kind of a disappointing day.

The Snow Geese and Ross’s Geese are dominating the landscapes right now, and their noise was defending at times. Soooo many birds!

I was hoping to see some eagles, and I did, but they were about a block away form the car on a small island in the wetland area adjacent to the last park-and-stretch point.  There was an adult Bald Eagle and two juveniles who were eating what looked like a downed Snow Goose. The juveniles looked like they were different ages; one about 2 years old, the other about 3 years old. When they were done eating, they flew off, and the adult eagle moved over to the carcass. While it was eating, it was approached by a seagull, then a Turkey Vulture, then a Raven… and the eagle was actually pretty tolerant of them. I got some of it on video, but because of the distance of the birds, the images aren’t very crisp.

I WAS able to get some nice scenery shots along the route and was happy to see snow on Snow Mountain (the northernmost end of the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument).

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos (even though I’m not really pleased with any of them.)