Tag Archives: Wild Cucumber

The Birds and Flowers are Starting to Spring, 03-19-19

It was cloudy in the morning, and very overcast by the afternoon, but mild temperature-wise: 47° when I first headed out, and up to about 51° by noon.

I headed over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve to do my volunteer trail walking there. I had invited others to come along on the walk if they wanted to, but no one else showed up, so I was on my own (which is fine with me).

The air was full of bird song: wrens, nuthatches, woodpeckers, hawks, towhees, turkeys, everyone was talking.  I heard Nutthall’s Woodpeckers and Spotted Towhees but couldn’t see them amid the branches and brush.  I did get to see a lot of House Wrens and a few Bewick’s Wrens, California Scrub Jays and Western Bluebirds, Oak Titmice and White-Breasted Nuthatches.

In one area, I came across a juvenile Red-Tailed Hawk that flew from tree to tree along the trail.  And in another area, I saw a pair of Red-Shouldered Hawks calling to each other and mating (twice). I think they might be using the nest on the Pond Trail near the fire suppression stanchion 4B. Their mating took place very near there, and I saw the female fly into the tree where the nest was.

During the second mating, there was a group of children on the trail, so they kind of got an eyeful. Hah!  On another part of the trail, I came across another small group of kids (each of whom was allowed to go on a solo walk before rejoining their group). When the kids were grouped together, they were right near where I was, so I told them that if they looked up into the tree across from them on the trail, they’d be able to see a Bushtit nest that the little birds were actually in the process of building. They couldn’t make it out at first, so I used the laser-pointer I had (I always take one on my walks) to point out the nest.  They oooed and awwwed, and at the same time a mature couple walked up, asked what we were seeing, and stopped to take photos.

A little further up the same trail, there was a large tree in a shallow meadow, and it was being visited by Western Bluebirds, Tree Swallows, an Anna’s Hummingbird, and Audubon’s Warblers. I swear, I should have just set a chair up there and spent the day watching that tree. Lots of photo ops.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

I saw some deer today, mostly small groups of does and a handful of buck (most of them having lost their antlers by now). In one spot, I came from behind a tree on the trail where there’s an open field – and a coyote was standing out there, right in the open. For some reason, my brain freezes when I first see the coyotes, so it takes me a couple of seconds to realize what I’m looking at… and the coyotes usually use those seconds to turn their back on me and lope away as did this one. Dang it!

One of the does was sitting down almost obliterated from view by grasses and shrubbery. She was in an area where, last year, one of the does had her fawn.  I wonder if this was the same doe…

There were a few flowers starting to come up in the grass, and the Interior Live Oak trees are dripping in catkins right now, so spring is springing.  Another few weeks, warm weather permitting, it should be super gorgeous out there.

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

Species List:

1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
2. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
3. Audubon’s Warbler, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronate auduboni
4. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii
5. Blue Dicks, Dichelostemma capitatum
6. Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimus
7. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
8. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis
9. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
10. Coyote, Canis latrans
11. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
12. Elfin Saddle, Helvella lacunosa
13. Giraffe’s Head Henbit, Henbit Deadnettle, Lamium amplexicaule
14. Golden-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
15. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon
16. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
17. Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos
18. Manroot, California Manroot, Bigroot, Wild Cucumber, Marah fabaceus
19. Miner’s Lettuce, Claytonia perfoliata
20. Mole, Broad-Footed Mole, Scapanus latimanus
21. Mugwort, California Mugwort, Artemisia douglasiana
22. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
23. Nutthall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii
24. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus
25. Oxalis, California Wood Sorrel, Oxalis californica
26. Periwinkle, Vinca major
27. Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
28. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
29. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
30. Rio Grande Turkey, Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
31. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
32. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
33. Western Bluebird, Sialia mexicana
34. Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis
35. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis

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

Watching a Hawk Eat His Breakfast, 03-04-19

I headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk today.  It was about 46° at the river, and while I was walking the clouds parted, leaving things partly sunny and quite lovely outside. I walked for a little over 3 hours and covered about 2½ miles.

One of the first things I saw was a small group of male Western Bluebirds. They’re small birds, but so brilliantly colored it’s hard to miss them even at a distance.  Around that same area, I watched as an Eastern Fox Squirrel added foliage to a drey she was building inside and around a mound of mistletoe. Smart squirrel. It’s really hard for predators to see the drey from above or below. Now I know where two dreys are in the preserve; I’ll have to keep an eye on them to see if I can spot any babies (once they’re old enough to emerge).

All of the plants and critters are getting ready for spring. The poison oak is starting to leaf out everywhere, their new reddish leaves vibrant in the morning light. And manroot and pipevine are showing up all over the landscape.  In one spot, I found the native manroot intertwining with invasive Periwinkle vines.  Elsewhere, the invasive European Starlings are in a battle with native Acorn Woodpeckers for nesting sites. The Starlings can’t drill their own nesting cavities, so they steal from the woodpeckers whenever they can.

I also spotted a tiny female Anna’s Hummingbird plucking the fluff off of the top of dead Yellow Star Thistle blossoms and flying off with it. They use it to line their nests.

I saw a few Red-Shouldered Hawks today, including one that flew over my head with something in its talons. I tried following it, even though it was moving really quickly, and my legs are really short. Then I could hear it calling from somewhere close, and I jokingly said to myself, “Y’know, it would be really nice if you landed on the bat box over there so I could actually get some picture of you.”

And when I finally found it, it had landed on the bat box! Yay!

It stayed there, letting me take photos of it until it had finished it breakfast and flew off again. Awesome. And in many of the photos, you can see that it had a little dark vole. In some of the photos, you can clearly see the vole’s eyes and face.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

The biggest surprise of the day was hearing the gravelly call of Sandhill Cranes from overhead. The sound can travel for over a mile, so sometimes they’re REALLY hard to spot, but I managed to see the flock, flying waaaaaaaaay overhead among the clouds. ((Later, when I got home, my sister Melissa and I were able to spot another flock flying overhead.))

I love this time of year.

Species List: 

  1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
  2. American Kestrel, Falco sparverius
  3. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  4. Audubon’s Warbler, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata
  5. Black Jelly Roll Fungus, Exidia glandulosa
  6. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus
  7. Blessed Milkthistle, Silybum marianum
  8. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus cerulea
  9. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi
  10. California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica
  11. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  12. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis
  13. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
  14. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
  15. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  16. False Turkey Tail fungus, Stereum hirsutum
  17. Giraffe’s Head Henbit, Henbit Deadnettle, Lamium amplexicaule
  18. Golden Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
  19. Haymaker Mushroom, Panaeolus foenisecii
  20. Manroot, California Manroot, Bigroot Vine, Wild Cucumber, Marah fabaceus
  21. Miner’s Lettuce, Claytonia perfoliata
  22. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
  23. Nutthall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii
  24. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus
  25. Periwinkle, Vinca major
  26. Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Western Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
  27. Raccoon, Procyon lotor
  28. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  29. Sandhill Crane, Grus canadensis
  30. Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus
  31. Western Bluebird, Sialia mexicana
  32. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis
  33. Wild Turkey, Rio Grande Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  34. Yellow Field Mushrooms, Agaricus campestris
  35. Yellow Star-Thistle, Centaurea solstitialis

Fungus Walk with a CalNat Student, 02-24-19

Date: Sunday, February 24, 2019
Time: 8:00 am to 12:00 pm PST
Location: American River Bend Park, 2300 Rod Beaudry Dr, Sacramento, CA 95827
Habitat: Oak Woodland, Riparian, along the American River
Weather: 43° to 53°, overcast but not raining

Narrative: I’d scheduled a fungus walk at the American River Bend Park for my naturalist students with the understanding that even if no one wanted to come along, I’d still go on it myself. Students are allowed to use these extemporaneous walks I do (if they come along) as a substitute for a missed class or a missed field trip. The weather was chilly, but there was no rain.  I was joined by one of my male students, David D., who had never been to the park before – so it was all a new experience to him.

There weren’t as many different fungi out today as I was hoping there might be, but we did get to see some interesting specimens. We also saw some deer, several different species of birds, and got to see the early pipevine and manroot plants just starting to show themselves and bud out. David had fun climbing trees to get the photos he wanted, and was able to get quite a few really good close-ups with his cell phone.

We walked for about 4 hours before heading home.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

Species List:

1. Acorn Woodpecker, Melanerpes formicivorus
2. Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon
3. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii
4. Black Jelly Roll fungus, Exidia glandulosa
5. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
6. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus
7. Brown Jelly Fungus, Tremella foliacea
8. California Black Walnut, Juglans californica
9. California Buckeye, Aesculus californica
10. California Pipevine, Dutchman’s Pipe, Aristolochia californica
11. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
12. Canada Geese, Branta canadensis
13. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
14. Common Goldeneye, Bucephala clangula
15. Crust Fungus, Phlebia sp.
16. Crust Fungus, Stereum complicatum
17. Deer Shield Mushroom, Pluteus cervinus
18. Destroying Angel, Amanita ocreata
19. Dryad’s Saddle polypore fungus, Polyporus squamosus
20. Eastern Fox Squirrel, Sciurus niger
21. Elfin Saddle, False Morel, Helvella lacunosa
22. English Walnut, Juglans regia
23. False Turkey-Tail Fungus, Stereum hirsutum
24. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
25. Great Egret, Ardea alba
26. Green Shield Lichen, common, Greenshield, Flavoparmelia caperata
27. Hoary Shield Lichen, Hoary Rosette Lichen, Physcia biziana
28. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon
29. Interior Live Oak, Quercus wislizeni
30. Lace Lichen, Ramalina menziesii, California State Lichen
31. Lemmon’s Rockcress, Boechera lemmonii
32. Manroot Vine, Bigroot, Wild Cucumber, Marah fabaceus
33. Miner’s lettuce, Narrow leaved miner’s lettuce, Claytonia parviflora
34. Mower’s Mushroom, Haymaker Mushroom, Panaeolina foenisecii
35. Mugwort, Artemisia vulgaris
36. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus, red-shafted
37. Nutthall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii
38. Oak Titmouse, Baeolophus inornatus
39. Oyster Mushroom, Pleurotus ostreatus
40. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
41. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
42. Red-Tipped Photinia, Photinia × fraseri
43. Sunburst Lichen, Xanthoria parietina
44. Tiny unspecified Marasmius sp. Mushroom
45. Turkey-Tail Fungus, Trametes versicolor
46. Unidentified Russula sp. mushroom
47. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata
48. Western Bluebird, Sialia mexicana
49. Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis
50. Western Tussock Moth, Orgyia vetusta, cocoons, pupal case
51. White Horehound, Marrubium vulgare
52. White-Breasted Nuthatch, Sitta carolinensis
53. Witch’s Butter, Golden Jelly Fungus, Tremella mesenterica
54. Yellow Fieldcap, Egg-Yolk Mushroom, Bolbitius vitellinus