Tag Archives: wildflowers

A Somewhat Disappointing Excursion, 05-23-19

Feeling tired and stressed, I decided to try making the drive to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. Rather than being a therapeutic and relaxing time, however, I was faced with irritation after irritation, so the drive actually left me feeling more stressed and exhausted than I was before I started. *Heavy sigh*

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

Traffic wasn’t too terribly terrible, but it seemed like I hit every freaking red light there was, and the monster semi’s on the highway were “always” in front of me like giant snails. When I got to the refuge, I could see Bank Swallows collecting mud in the slough near the front gate, so I stopped to take some photos – and, of course, the birds wouldn’t cooperate, and two employees pulled up in their cars behind me and honked at me. Grrrrr. The rest of the day kind of went like that: I saw Gallinules, but they ducked into the tules before I could get a photo; I could hear Bitterns giving their “pumperlunk” calls close by, but couldn’t see them; it was windy, so most of the birds were hunkered down near the ground or deep in the trees; where there would normally be dozens of Marsh Wrens around, I saw only two deep in the tules; the dragonflies hadn’t come up from the water yet; what damselflies there were around were the tiniest ones that are like trying to photograph a strand of hair; there weren’t any of the Clark’s or Western Grebes that I was expecting to be out there by now; I couldn’t even get shots of ground squirrels… It was just one frustration after another. By the time I left, I had a splitting headache and just wanted to ram someone with my car. ((I didn’t though.)) *Heavy sigh-2*

Species List:

  1. American Avocet, Recurvirostra americana,
  2. American Bittern, Botaurus lentiginosus,
  3. American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus,
  4. American White Pelican, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos,
  5. Bank Swallow, Riparia riparia,
  6. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
  7. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus,
  8. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum,
  9. Cabbage White Butterfly, Pieris rapae,
  10. California Dock, Rumex californicus,
  11. California Milkweed, Asclepias californica,
  12. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis,
  13. Cinnamon Teal, Anas cyanoptera,
  14. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus,
  15. Common Gallinule, Gallinula galeata,
  16. Convergent Lady Beetle, Hippodamia convergens,
  17. Desert Cottontail, Sylvilagus audubonii,
  18. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auritus,
  19. Downingia, Downingia sp.,
  20. English Lawn Daisy, Bellis perennis,
  21. Eurasian Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto,
  22. Familiar Bluet Damselfly, Enallagma civile,
  23. Goodding’s Willow, Salix gooddingii,
  24. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias,
  25. Great Egret, Ardea alba,
  26. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons,
  27. Italian Thistle, Carduus pycnocephalus,
  28. Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos,
  29. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris,
  30. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura,
  31. Mute Swan, Cygnus olor,
  32. Northern Pintail, Anas acuta,
  33. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata,
  34. Painted Lady Butterfly, Vanessa cardui,
  35. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum,
  36. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis,
  37. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus,
  38. Ring-Necked Pheasant, Phasianus colchicus,
  39. Short-tailed ichneumon wasps, Ophion sp.,
  40. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula,
  41. Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia,
  42. Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus,
  43. Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum,
  44. Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
  45. Western Kingbird, Tyrannus verticalis,
  46. Wild Teasel, Dipsacus fullonum,

At the Sacramento and Colusa Wildlife Refuges, 05-06-19

Certified California Naturalist, Roxanne Moger and I went out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge around 6:00 am this morning. The weather was beautiful today, but there wasn’t a lot to see at the preserve. We’re kind of in between seasons, so the large flocks of birds have all left, but the insects (like dragonflies, damselflies, and orb-weaver spiders) haven’t arrived yet. We did see swarms of Painted Lady butterflies and some Cabbage White, but none of the other species normally seen there in the late spring/early summer.

Roxanne did all the driving, but we stopped a couple of time to get out of the car and walk parts of the trail or explore the boundaries of the park-and-stretch areas. Some of the vernal pools on the site were in bloom: all golden yellow and purple with Goldfields and Downingia. Just beautiful.

Although the species list at the end of the day wasn’t as long or as varied as I’d like, I did like the fact that I saw a few things I’d never seen before and learned more about some species than I’d known before. That’s what really makes these outings fun.

A large fly landed on the passenger side mirror of the car partway through the auto-tour and at first I thought it was a Robber Fly (those guys are pretty big). We were both intrigued by the fly’s huge goggle-like eyes and his tenaciousness.  He held onto that mirror for quite a long time.

When I got home, I looked up the fly to see if I could find its scientific name and found that it was actually a male Striped (or Lined) Horsefly, Tabanus lineola. I’d never seen one before. And, of course, once I find something new to me, I have to research it more.  Never having encountered a Horsefly before, I was surprised to learn that although the males drink nectar, the females drink blood (usually from large mammals like livestock). She had scissor-like mouth parts that slice into the skin so she can get to the blood. This species is usually found along the east coast and Gulf of Mexico, so it was something of a surprise to find it here… assuming I got the ID correct.

We also got to see a male Red-Winged Blackbird flaring his epaulets at a female, and a pair of Brown-Headed Cowbirds performing what we thought was courtship behavior.  The two birds sat across from one another, then one ruffled its feathers, opened its wings a bit and bowed down at the other, and the other responded in kind.

Roxanne and I inferred the behavior was “courtship” but, from what I read, after I got home, what we were seeing was actually two males trying to outdo one another in a machismo contest.  Apparently, the females don’t respond well to the males’ bows, which they see as aggressive, so the males only bow to one another. (You can read more here.)  The males open their wings to one another, and to females, to show how mature they are. Juveniles have pale markings on the inside of the wings.

You can see the video snippet I took of the birds HERE.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

And we found a couple of Black Phoebe nests, one stuffed full of babies who were almost fully fledged. They were stacked up, one on top of the other, with their tails sticking out over the edge of the nest. And toward the end of the auto tour route we came across a dead tree where there was a Western Meadowlark, a Red-Winged Blackbird and a tiny Song Sparrow all singing their respective songs.

We caught glimpses of American Goldfinches and Bullock’s Orioles, and hear Bitterns, but didn’t see any. One oddity was sighting a Mute Swan in the permanent wetlands area. That was odd because swans hardly ever go into the refuge, and Mute Swans are actually an invasive species. Unlike the Tundra Swans, the Mute Swans are super-aggressive and destroy the habitat they live in by ripping up water-plants from the roots.

When we were done at the Sacramento refuge, we decided to go over to the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge to show Roxanne the day-roost of the Black-Crowned Night Herons at the end of the auto-tour there. We were astonished to discover that the auto-tour there was roped off so no one could get to it… but the rope and signage was only visible AFTER you entered the refuge and started driving down the route. Stupid. They should have put the signs on the front gate or in the parking area.  A “manager” who showed up a little while after did, said that the auto-route was shut down because they were short handed and couldn’t patrol it well enough. Sad.

So, we didn’t do that tour and instead walked around a little bit in the native flower garden they have near the restroom facility.  Along part of a path near the garden, Roxanne found some galls we’d never seen before: the gall of the Elm Balloon-Gall Aphid, Eriosoma lanuginosum.

According to what I’ve read, the galls are initiated by a “fundatrix”, a parthenogenetic female aphid whose presence causes an extreme enlargement of the soft cell tissue on one side of the leaf. The galls are hollow and feel rubbery. They start out green and are covered with fine white hairs (which we saw) and turn brown as they age.

Inside the gall the fundatrix has her babies which are wingless and yellow until they mature. There can also be second generation aphids, called “alates” (usually winged individuals) which are dark green to black and wax powdered. Not all of the adults grow wings, however, and wing-growth seemed to be associated to crowding inside the galls, a short supply of food, and/or changes in the environment. Nature is so cool!

After walking around a bit, we headed back home to Sacramento and got there around 3:00 pm.

Species List:

1. American Avocet, Recurvirostra americana,
2. American Bittern, Botaurus lentiginosus,
3. American Coot, Fulica americana.
4. American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos,
5. American Goldfinch, Spinus tristis,
6. American Robin, Turdus migratorius,
7. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna,
8. Annual Yellow Sweet Clover, Melilotus indicus,
9. Arches Moth, Habrosyne sp.
10. Bird’s Foot Trefoil, Lotus corniculatus,
11. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
12. Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicus,
13. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum,
14. Blue Elderberry, Sambucus cerulea,
15. Bristly Oxtongue, Helminthotheca echioides,
16. Brown-Headed Cowbird, Molothrus ater,
17. Bullock’s Oriole, Icterus bullockii,
18. Bur Clover, Burr Medic, Medicago polymorpha,
19. California Flannelbush, Fremontodendron californicum,
20. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi,
21. California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica,
22. California Wild Rose, Rosa californica,
23. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis,
24. Cinnamon Teal, Anas cyanoptera,
25. Clark’s Grebe, Aechmophorus clarkia,
26. Cleveland Sage, Salvia clevelandii,
27. Common Mustard, Brassica rapa,
28. Convergent Lady Beetle, Hippodamia convergens,
29. Curly Dock, Rumex crispus,
30. Damselfly, Pacific Forktail, Ischnura cervula, (dots on thorax)
31. Damselfly, Sooty Dancer, Argia lugens, (no blue tip; rings around segments)
32. Desert Cottontail, Sylvilagus audubonii,
33. Dogtail Grass, Cynosurus echinatus,
34. Elm Balloon-Gall Aphid, Eriosoma lanuginosum,
35. Eurasian Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto,
36. Field Elm Tree, Smooth-Leaf Elm, Ulmus Minor,
37. Foothills Penstamon, Penstemon heterophyllus,
38. Foxtail Barley, Hordeum murinum ssp. glaucum,
39. Fremont Cottonwood Tree, Populus fremontii,
40. Fuller’s Teasel, Wild Teasel, Dipsacus fullonum,
41. Goldfields, Contra Costa Goldfields, Lasthenia conjugens,
42. Great Egret, Ardea alba,
43. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons,
44. Greenbottle Fly, Lucilia sericata,
45. Himalayan Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus,
46. Hood Canarygrass, Phalaris paradoxa,
47. Hoover’s Downingia, Hoover’s Calicoflower, Downingia bella,
48. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus,
49. House Sparrow, Passer domesticus,
50. Jimson Weed, Datura stramonium,
51. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous,
52. Large Oxtongue Aphid, Uroleucon picridis,
53. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris,
54. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura,
55. Mute Swan, Cygnus olor,
56. Narrowleaf Milkweed, Asclepias fascicularis,
57. Northern Paper Wasp, Polistes fuscatus,
58. Northern Pintail, Anas acuta,
59. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata,
60. Oleander Aphid, Aphis nerii,
61. Pacific Pond Turtle, Western Pond Turtle, Actinemys marmorata,
62. Pacific Tree Frog, Chorus Frog, Pseudacris regilla,
63. Painted Lady Butterfly, Vanessa cardui,
64. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps,
65. Plantain, Ribwort, Plantago lanceolata,
66. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum,
67. Purple Finch, Haemorhous purpureus,
68. Purple Needle Grass, Stipa pulchra,
69. Rabbit Tail Grass,Hare’s Tail Grass, Lagurus ovatus,
70. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis,
71. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus,
72. Rush, California Bulrush, Schoenoplectus californicus,
73. Sedge, Pennsylvania Sedge, Carex pensylvanica
74. Showy Milkweed, Asclepias speciose,
75. Silverpuff, Microseris acuminata,
76. Snow Goose, Chen caerulescens,
77. Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia,
78. Striped Horsefly, Tabanus lineola,
79. Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus,
80. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura,
81. Valley Popcorn Flower, Plagiobothrys canescens,
82. Varied Carpet Beetle, Anthrenus verbasci,
83. Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum,
84. Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
85. Western Kingbird, Tyrannus verticalis,
86. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta,
87. Willow, Gooding’s Willow, Salix gooddingii

Going Back to Bear Valley Road, 04-22-19

I got up around 5:00 am and was out the door with the dog before 6:00 am.  I wanted to check out the wildflowers along Bear Valley Road again to see if I could find the Most Beautiful Jewel Flower that was spotted there during the last Tuleyome driving tour.  Trying to drive the car on a dirt road, with sheer cliff walls on one side and a drop into a deep ravine on the other, while I tried to search for a tiny plant with nearly black flowers on it proved… difficult. Hah!  So, I didn’t find that flower, but I did see some I hadn’t seen the last time I was out there, and I was also compensated with the surprise find of an in-the-wild Burrowing Owl in one of the cattle ranch fields!

I saw what I thought at first was a ground squirrel poking its head up in a field, so I stopped the car to get some photos of it. As I zoomed in with the camera, I realized I wasn’t looking at a squirrel, I was looking at a Burrowing Owl. Cool! I’d met one at the Sacramento Zoo, but I had never seen one in its natural habitat before. I got out of the car to try to get closer to the fence that separated me from the owl, but the car door blew shut with a bang(!). [[It was windy out there.]]  The owl hunkered down near the opening of its burrow, which made it a lot more difficult to photograph, but I was glad I got to see it at all.

On another part of the road, I saw some Red-Winged Blackbirds mobbing a crow in the air. They were dive-bombing at him and grabbing at him.  Then I saw him land on the ground and thought that was weird of him because it made him an easier target for the blackbirds.  But then I saw the crow pick up a small blue egg out of a nest hidden in the long grass. I’m not sure, but I think the crow swallowed it. (I didn’t see him drop it.)  One of the blackbirds landed on the ground behind the crow and then rushed up again, smacking the crow in the back of the head, but the crow didn’t move right away. Instead, he reached down into the nest again. Two of the blackbirds attacked him once more and were finally successful in chasing him off.  I couldn’t see into the nest, so I’m not sure how much damage the crow did, but it seems like any nest on the ground is easy-pickings.

I always thought the blackbirds built their nests near water at the base of tules and other tall vegetation, so I was surprised there was one on the ground in an open field filled with roaming cattle.  According to the Audubon website, though, the birds also nest “in dense grass in fields. Nest (built by female) is bulky open cup, lashed to standing vegetation, made of grass, leaves, rootlets, lined with fine grass.” I love learning new stuff like this!

There were a lot of California Quails all along the sides of the road, several coveys.  But they moved too quickly for me to get any decent photos of them. There were also Killdeer along the road but, again, no photos.

And I saw some Western Kingbirds in what I think was part of their courtship displays.  There were also lot of them along the fence lines on the side of the road. Another nice surprise was being able to see a lovely Lark Sparrow. I hardly ever see those guys, and I think the patterns on their faces are so pretty.

CLICK HERE for the photos from today.

I stopped at the Keegan Ranch, which allows you to come onto the property to experience the wildflowers there, and I got to see a LOT of flowers. The fields were like “oceans” of them, with cattle “swimming” through them.  I also watched while a rancher on horseback rounded up some cows and their calves with the help of a handful of herding dogs. This ranch and the adjoining Epperson Ranch are actually protected by conservation easements (since 2016).  So, they cannot be drastically changed or built upon in perpetuity.

According to an article on them by the California Rangeland Trust: “From the rare serpentine soils, extensive wildflower fields and native grasses to the productive rangeland, this working cattle ranch is a great example of how ranchers can work with conservation groups to voluntarily protect the natural environment and sustain a way of life. These ranches are the first in California to be funded by NRCS’s Grasslands of Special Environmental Significance under its Agricultural Conservation Easement Program. The Keegan and Epperson Ranches are a great example of a multi-agency and private partnership that will protect vital habitats for plants and wildlife, expand and protect wildlife corridors, and will help wildlife adapt to climate change in perpetuity. Conservation of these ranches helps meet several goals aimed at reducing pressures to the Northern California Interior Coast Range Ecoregion outlined in California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s 2015 State Wildlife Action Plan…”

Combined, the ranches comprise 4,049 acres of now-protected landscape.  Makes me love this place even more.

My dog, Sergeant Margie, was great through the whole drive.  We stopped every once in a while so I could take photos, and when I did, I let him out to pee. On the way home, I had to go potty so I drove up Highway 16 a little ways to use the restrooms at Cowboy Camp.  One of the restroom buildings was locked, and the other one had no handle on the door.  I used that one, but had no privacy, obviously. Then I stopped at a Shell station in Williams and got a sandwich and cucumber smoothie for supper.

I got home around 2:30 pm.  Another long day.

Species List:

1. American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos,
2. Big Heron’s Bill, Erodium botrys,
3. Bird’s Eye Gilia, Gilia tricolor,
4. Black Angus Cattle, Bos Taurus,
5. Blister Beetle, Black Blister Beetle, Epicauta pennsylvanica,
6. Blow Wives, Achyrachaena mollis,
7. Blue Dicks, Dichelostemma capitatum,
8. Blue Witch Nightshade, Solanum umbelliferum,
9. Bulbous Blue Grass, Poa bulbosa,
10. Burrowing Owl, Athene cunicularia,
11. Bush Lupine, Silver Bush Lupine, Lupinus albifrons,
12. Butter Lupine, Lupinus luteolus,
13. California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi,
14. California Plantain, Plantago erecta,
15. California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica,
16. California Quail, Callipepla californica,
17. Canyon Live-Forever, Dudleya cymose,
18. Caterpillar Flower, Lacy Phacelia, Phacelia tanacetifolia,
19. Clover, Rabbitfoot Clover, Trifolium arvense,
20. Clover, Strawberry Clover, Trifolium fragiferum
21. Clover, Rose Clover, Trifolium hirtum,
22. Common Fiddleneck, Amsinckia intermedia,
23. Common Mustard, Brassica rapa,
24. Cream Cups, Platystemon californicus.
25. European Honeybee, Apis mellifera,
26. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris,
27. Frying Pan Poppy, Eschscholzia lobbii,
28. Giant Death Camas, Zigadenus exaltatus,
29. Goldfields, Lasthenia californica,
30. Gray Pine, Pinus sabiniana,
31. Hawkweed, Hieracium argutum,
32. Hereford Cattle, Bos taurus,
33. Hog Fennel, Lomatium utriculatum,
34. Holstein Cattle, Bos taurus,
35. Indian Paintbrush, Castilleja affinis,
36. Ithuriel’s Spears, Triteleia laxa,
37. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous,
38. Lark Sparrow, Chondestes grammacus,
39. Larkspur, Delphinium decorum,
40. Lupine, Lupinus sp.,
41. Milk Vetch, unidentified, Astragalus sp.,
42. Miniature Lupine, Lupinus bicolor,
43. Mountain Dandelion, Agoseris heterophylla,
44. Mule’s Ears, Smooth Mules Ears, Wyethia glabra,
45. Owl’s Clover, Dense Flower Owl’s clover, Castilleja densiflora,
46. Painted Lady butterfly, Vanessa cardui,
47. Pepperweed, Common Pepper Grass, Lepidium densiflorum,
48. Q Tips, Slender Cottonweed, Micropus californicus var. californicus,
49. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus,
50. Shepherd’s Purse, Capsella bursa-pastoris,
51. Sierra Tidy Tips, Layia pentachaeta ssp. pentachaeta,
52. Silver Puffs, Uropappus lindleyi,
53. Snowbrush, Ceanothus velutinus,
54. Tamarisk, Salt Cedar, Tamarix parviflora,
55. Tidy Tips, Fremont’s Tidy Tips, Layia fremontii,
56. Tidy Tips, Smooth Tidy Tips, Layia chrysanthemoides,
57. True Babystars, Leptosiphon bicolor,
58. Valley Tassels, Castilleja attenuate,
59. Wallflower, Erysimum capitatum,
60. Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
61. Western Hawksbeard, Crepis occidentalis,
62. Western Kingbird, Tyrannus verticalis,
63. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta,
64. Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis,
65. Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa,
66. Yellow-Faced Bumblebee, Bombus vosnesenskii,