Tag Archives: white-lined sphinx moth

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

It was Hit and Miss at the Refuges on Saturday

I was going to sleep in today, but the dogs got me up a little before 5:00 am, and then I couldn’t get back to sleep. So, I just got up and headed over to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge for the day.

When I drove into the refuge I saw a Turkey Vulture sitting on the edge of the sign at the mouth of the auto-tour. It let me walk up pretty close to get photos of it before it flew away. I think those are the coolest birds… I heard some Bitterns “pumper-lunking” but only saw a few in flight, and didn’t get any photos. The bullfrogs were doing their ninja thing, too: I could hear their deep cello-calls, but couldn’t see or photograph any of them…

Click here for the full album of photos and videos.

I did get some good photos of Clark’s Grebes and a few other birds, though.

There was a male Great Tailed Grackle in the tules around the permanent wetlands that was performing for the females. He went through a variety of different calls including its high-pitched “peep”, deep-throated “clap!” and loud echoing “yeeeeeeeeeeeeeep!” I got some video of him, but was interrupted a few times by other drivers along the trail who crept or rushed past my car. One lady parked right next to my car and yelled through the open window, “Did you see the owl?!” Uh, yes… but I’m trying to film a grackle right now… Guh!

I also came across a family group of otters, a mom and dad and two babies. They were one of the permanent ponds but moved so quickly, it was really difficult to get any clear shots of them. I did manage to get a little bit of video, though… until dad saw me, snorted loudly and turned his family around.

When I was done at the Sacramento refuge, I headed over to the Colusa one. I hadn’t been there in quite a while because they took the brunt of the flooding earlier in the year, and were closed to the public for months. It was kind of a waste to go there today, though, because now they’ve drained off a lot of the water (so the surrounding rice fields can have it), and most of it is just a big dirt hole with flowers growing here and there.

One pond was filled with dead carp – stinking bodies everywhere – and others that were slowly dying as the pond evaporates. The carp come up with the flood waters, and when the flood recedes, they get caught in-land and can’t get out. I was surprised that the refuge allows them to suffer slow deaths like that; surely there must be some way to collect them and relocate them.

Where there were spots in the refuge that still had water in them, the water was shallow, and the banks were overrun with water primrose… One interesting thing, though, was that in some of the waterless ponds there were crayfish chimneys, structures the crayfish make by piling up little balls of mud. The bottom of the chimney opens into water (when there is water), and the top opens to the air. They use them to hide in when they’re breeding and getting ready to lay their eggs…

My visit to the Colusa refuge was also kind of ruined because there was a biplane from one of the neighboring rice fields flying around. He’d circle over the refuge, fly down really low, and dump seeds and pesticides on the fields next door. The noise was horrible… You can’t “relax and enjoy nature” when there’s some guy buzz-bombing the place every few minutes. It was ugly… I won’t need to go back there at all for the rest of the year…

The Universe Played Keep-Away, But I Still Got Photos, 05-12-17

DAY 7 OF MY VACATION. I go up around 5:00 this morning and headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge again.  It was another beautiful day as far as the weather went: 48º when I headed out; 73º by the late afternoon with a slight breeze all day.

CLICK HERE to see the entire album of photos and videos.

I got to the refuge around 7:30 am… and it was a kind of frustrating, disappointing day.  It was like the Universe was playing “keep away” all the while I was out there.  You know, that horrible “game” wherein someone takes your hat, dangles it out in front of you, and then snatches it away just as you reach for it.  It was like that.  Oooo, there’s an otter in the water… but as soon as I trained my camera on it, it was gone.  Oooo, there are two Bitterns… but they’re in the tall grass and the camera refuses to focus on them.  Oooo, there’s a Yellow-Headed blackbird… and it flies away.  Oooo, there’s a Bullock;s Oriole… and won’t sit still. Oooo, listen! You can hear the calls of a Great-Tailed Grackle… but it never comes out where you can see it long enough to get a photo…  Even the ground squirrels wouldn’t pose for me.

Guh! It was like that ALL DAY.  It seemed like I was “fighting” with nature and the camera every minute.  It was the most unproductive photo day I’ve ever had out on the refuge.  So frustrating.  I was getting more and more pissed off as the day went on… And, of course, that kind of negativity broadcasts out, and then none of the critters want to come anywhere near you… *Sigh*

There were a couple of “yay” moments, however.  I was hoping to see at least one White-Striped Sphinx Moth flitting around the blooming thistles and teasel; it’s the right time of the year for them to wake up and start flying. Well, as soon as the sun started warming up the air, I saw about a dozen of them at different points along the auto tour; sometimes two or three at a time.  That was cool!

And on my way out of the refuge, I came across a Black-Crowned Night Heron fishing in a slough… and he was close enough and cooperative enough that I was able to get photos and video of him… While I was filming him, a pair of American Bitterns landed onto the side of the slough: one with its white shoulder feathers extended.  They lighted on the ground for a moment and then took off again… That white-shoulder display is part of their courtship ritual, but they went by so fast, I only barely got a few frames of the male’s display (and no images of the female).  At another spot, I also saw a male Common Gallinule fan his tail for a female… So, the day wasn’t a total waste.

Oh, and the little Killdeer I saw the last time I was there who had built her nest close to the road on the auto-tour route, was still there. And she had 4 eggs now instead of the two I saw the last time.  So, that was nice.

Last Day of Vacation: WPA Rock Garden

Black-Crowned Night Heron. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Black-Crowned Night Heron. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

Last day of vacation.  Both Marty and  I got up around 6:00 this morning, and I headed over to the WPA Rock Garden and the duck ponds at William Land Park for my walk.

The garden is starting to really show off; another week and it should be spectacular.  Lots of flowers and trees in bloom; layer upon layer of color in some places…  LOTS of snails.  I know the gardeners hate them, but I like taking photos of them.  I like the whorl in their shell, their “nubbly” skin and their stalk eyes… I also found a lot of Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly caterpillars, and one young White-lined Sphinx Moth caterpillar.  I was hoping to see some Monarch caterpillars, but… nothing yet.  I did see several Ladybeetle larvae and one of them in its pupal stage.

It was 51° outside, so I was a little surprised to see steam rising off the duck pond behind the garden… I was also surprised – shocked actually – to see a Black-Crowned Night Heron fishing along the edge of the larger pond.  I had NEVER seen one of those in that park, and was surprised to see it in such an open spot, and out that “late” in the morning.  (This is the breeding season, though, and sometimes they’ll hunt during the day when that’s going on.)  This bird was pretty bold, too, and let me get fairy close to it so I could get the photos I wanted.  When someone brought their dog close, though, the heron took off and set itself down on the island in the middle of the pond.  An older couple who were taking pictures with their cellphones saw it when it landed and asked me what it was.  When I told them, they then asked me to identify the other birds they were seeing: Turkey Vultures, Chinese Geese, Canada Geese, Mallards, Cormorants, Wood Ducks…  I got to do my “naturalist” thing. Hah! When I identified “those big brown birds” as Turkey Vultures, the couple were afraid that the vultures would hurt the ducklings in the pond, but they felt better when I assured them that Turkey Vultures don’t generally go for live prey – they’re carrion eaters.  (I didn’t tell the couple that the Night Heron might eat chicks and ducklings, though.)

The Turkey Vultures were hanging around the trees near the edges of the largest pond, and one of them decided it liked a nesting box as a perch.  I don’t know if there was anyone occupying the nest box, but the Turkey Vulture looked so “incongruous” sitting on top of it.  Lots of people stopped to take pictures of it.

This time of year, it’s always fun to see all the ducklings and goslings around.  Along with the Canada Geese goslings, I saw Mallard ducklings and Wood Duck ducklings… There are also a lot of very “horny” male ducks – the ones who couldn’t get a female of their own, I think – that were harassing some of the females even if the females had ducklings with them.  There was a Swedish Blue duck that kept trying to get to a female Mallard, and the male Mallards ganged up on him to make him leave her alone.  In the garden, I came across a female Cayuga duck being harassed by a male.  She ran close to where I was standing and the male backed off, waddling away through the plants.  The female hung around me for a few minutes, following me until I went into a part of the garden where she might have felt too “exposed”…

There was one of the big white Chinese Geese pond-side who was harassing people rather than other birds.  Its companion, I noticed, was blind on one side, and the big white was hyper-protective of it.  I saw it bite one woman, and later attack another woman’s Chihuahua.  The Canada Geese hissed at anyone who came near their goslings, but they didn’t “attack” like the Chinese Goose did.  When I walked by the Chinese Goose, I kept my camera bag between the birds and my body, so if it bit at me it would get fabric and not skin.  It lowered its head and ran at me, but pulled up at the last second and walked back to its companion.  Fake out.

There were also lots and lots of squirrels running around.  A few of them were “people-friendly” and ran up to me so I could take their pictures.  I actually ended up taking over 600 photos throughout the walk, and picked about 100 of them that I really liked to share with you.  There are so many that I’m breaking them into two albums (one for flowers and one for birds).

Album #1:

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Album #2:

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I walked for about 3 ½ hours and then headed home.