Tag Archives: Yellow Star Thistle

Naturalists at the Conaway Ranch, 03-10-19

I headed out to Woodland around 8:30 am to help my co-worker Bill with his recon outing at Conaway Ranch.  He has about twenty outings slated for that venue over the next months or two; he takes school children out there to tell them about food chains, rice growing and harvesting, wildlife, etc. There’s a slough that runs through one part of the property and it acts like a mini-riparian habitat that attracts otters, opossums, birds, snakes and small critters.  Today, he just really wanted to look at the state of the property after all of the rains and see what there was around to tell the kids about.

I was expecting some of our current naturalist students to join Bill out there, but instead, we had four of our former students (now certified naturalists themselves) come out –Susan Sallocks, Barbara Meierhenry, Bob Ream and Donna Moyer – all offering to help Bill with his future outings. All of them greeted me, some hugged me or wished me well in my ongoing fight against The Children of Wilson, and a couple of them said how much they had enjoyed the naturalist class and how I’d changed their lives for the better… It was all so unexpected and lovely, it almost made me cry. What a sweet way to begin our day.

We spent about three hours walking along the slough, checking out tracks, trying to identify the birds around and in the air overhead, looking at the different plant species starting to emerge everywhere.

The first thing I saw when I got to the spot was a medium sized garter snake curled up along the side of the road. It was limp and cold, and it wasn’t moving. But I couldn’t tell if it was truly dead or just in a deep torpor because it was so cold outside (in the high 40’s).  Its eyes were still clear, it didn’t look like any part of it had been run over by a car, and it was limp, not stiff with rigor mortis. I took some photos of it and then put it back down the way I’d found it. At the end of our walk, it was still there, so I guess it was dead. It’ll make a good meal for some critter.

Bill showed us some of the props he uses for the outings with the kids including one about the water cycle and how rice grows. Very cool and informative. We didn’t see any live crayfish, but we did find several skeletons and their mud chimneys in the burned rice field.

There was a team from the University out on the property checking on and upgrading the solar-powered electronic boxes on the Wood Duck boxes they have lined up along the slough. They stopped to talk with us for a little bit and then went on ahead of us.

As far as wildlife went, we didn’t see a whole lot, but did get to see crows, bullfrogs and Pacific Tree frogs, flocks of Greater White-Fronted Geese and Sandhill Cranes flying overhead, some Marsh Wrens, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Northern Mockingbirds, a Say’s Phoebe, and a Great-Horned Owl.  We heard a Belted Kingfisher but couldn’t see it. As the weather warms up, there will be a lot more to see there.

CLICK HERE to see the album of photos.

The naturalist graduates were intrigued with the property and said they were hoping to be able to come out to the ranch to help Bill with his group outings throughout the coming months.

Species List:

1. Ant, Velvety Tree Ant, Liometopum occidentale
2. Asian Clam, Freshwater Clam, Corbicula fluminea
3. Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon
4. Broadleaf Cattail, Typha latifolia
5. Broad-Leaf Lupine, Lupinus latifolius
6. Bullfrog, American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus
7. Crow, American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
8. Fava Beans, Vicia faba
9. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons
10. Great-Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus
11. Himalayan blackberry, Rubus armeniacus
12. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris
13. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
14. Pacific Tree Frog, Chorus Frog, Pseudacris regilla
15. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum
16. Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
17. Red Swamp Crayfish, Crawfish, Crawdad, Procambarus clarkii
18. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
19. Sandhill Crane, Grus canadensis
20. Say’s Phoebe, Sayornis saya
21. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor
22. Tule Pea, Lathyrus jepsonii
23. Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
24. Valley Garter Snake, Thamnophis sirtalis fitchi
25. Western Pond Turtle, Pacific Pond Turtle, Actinemys marmorata
26. Wood Duck, Aix sponsa
27. Yellow Star-Thistle, Centaurea solstitialis

Scouting Out Spots for Trail Cameras, 10-04-18

My Tuleyome coworkers Nate, Eric “Bam Bam”, Kristie and I were all scheduled to head over to the Lake County to scout out places to put the trail cameras today. We left the office at 8:00 am. The trip to the ranch, which is Lake County, took about 90 minutes (one way) and Nate did the driving, hauling all of us up there in his SUV.

It was overcast, around 63º, with some clouds dragging their bellies across the tops of the hills, but the rain held off until just before we were ready to leave.

Bam Bam had never been to the property before, and Nate and I hadn’t been there since the Pawnee Fire burned through it.  I was kind of shocked by how much surface damage the wildfire had done.  I need to find the “before” photos so you can see the change from when I first saw the place and what it looks like now. Even without the comparison, you’ll be able to see just how burned “BURNED!” is.  In some spots, the fire burned so hot and lingered so long that it burned down into the root ball of trees, and when the trees fell over the fire burned them down into the ground until there was nothing left but white and orange ash “skeletons” on the ground.  Bam Bam, who used to be a volunteer firefighter, said that when the mop up crews from the fire brigade come into a wildfire area after a fire, the first thing they look for are the root holes. They make sure that all of the roots are gone and that there’s nothing left smoldering in the holes that might re-ignite and start another fire.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

Nate had made maps that noted some areas where he thought would make good placements for the cameras, and he used that as a guide, but once we got to the site, we chose spots based on where we saw scat, tracks or game trails; where we could see where the water from the season creek would flow; and where there were open spaces flanked by areas where we figure vegetation would sprout in the spring. We’d originally thought we’d put out about 5 cameras, but we ended up finding about 9 spots where we want cameras to go.

One of “good” things about the wildfire was that it revealed all of the parts of the landscape that had been covered up by overgrown grasses and other vegetation.  We could clearly see the path of the seasonal creek – including a large pond – which helped us decide where to put cameras to capture images of river otters and other critters that might visit the creek once the water is flowing.  In the pond area, there was a stand of tules and cattails that were mostly dried out, and in among them Nate and Kristie found about 5 nests, most likely made by Red-Winged Blackbirds, woven into and around the tules. Nate cut out one of them, so we could use it as a display piece for our Certified California Naturalist class.

While we were scouting the area, we found evidence of deer, elk, bobcats, a black bear, jackrabbits, and coyotes… including some large elk bones (mostly ribs and vertebrae.) So, we know there are critters out there. The question will be: will they return as the landscape revives from the fire.

I documented some plant life but need to do more of that next time we’re out there. Along with the Blue Oak trees and Ponderosa Pines, there were also lots of manzanita trees and toyon bushes, mugwort, heliotrope, and doveweed… and some Yellow Star Thistle which needs to be pulled out.  I also found some fungi, including Barometer Earthstars.

The funniest part of the day was when Nate set off the sound box of a toy quail on the property — and live quails answered it. A couple of male quails jumped up into the branches of a dead tree trying to see who the intruder was. Hah!

The rain was polite and waited until just before we were ready to leave before it started. Everyone seemed to have enjoyed themselves. It was a fun and productive day.

Funding for this project was paid in part by the Sacramento Zoo, Project #18-022.

A New Gall (for Me) at the Preserve, 07-14-18

Around 5:30 am I headed over to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve. Even that early in the morning, it was already 67º degrees outside. It got up to 93º but felt a lot hotter because of the humidity in the air. Pleh!

At the preserve, there weren’t as many deer out this time as there were last time, but I still got to see a few of my favorites. The little fawn that I’d seen before that had the bad cough is over its cough now, but it still looks badly underweight. I could see all of its ribs. So, I don’t know if it’s going to make it or not. Its mom is always nearby, but I don’t know if she’s still feeding him; she’s not a very attentive mother…

I also came across the doe I’d seen before that had one newborn fawn. Well, I actually saw the fawn first; mom was dozing in the tall grass. I wasn’t able to get close to them – she’s very protective of him. – but I did get a few photos.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

I came across a gall I’d never seen before, and that’s always fun. It was an Alder Tongue Gall caused by a fungus called Taphrina alni. The galls start out green but turn red as they get older and look like tongues poking out from the female catkin (or pseudocone). When the growth is fully mature, it goes to spore. Cool!

I also came across a pair of Northern Flickers, a male and a female, but I got the impression that maybe the male was the female’s son. He wasn’t in his full breeding colors, and he followed her around begging for attention like a fledgling. It was neat to see the two of them so close together.

I walked around for about 3 hours, and by then it was almost too hot to do much of anything, so I headed back home.

Ibis Rookery at the Water Plant, 07-03-18

The dog and I headed out right away to go into Woodland and look for the water treatment plant before going into the office. One of my naturalist course graduates, Sonjia, had told me there was an Ibis rookery there, so I had to go see it!

Luckily the main gate was open.  I overshot the pond area and had to turn around, then went down the gravel road, and took photos from my car and the adjacent field. The air quality was horrible this morning, with all of the wildfires burning around the valley, so everything was tinged an extra shade of red-orange.

At first, I only saw flocks of White-Faced Ibis, Black Necked Stilts and a few other shorebirds, but as I watched I could pick out other individual birds like Tricolored Blackbirds and Yellow-Headed Blackbirds, Killdeer, Mallards, Pied-Billed Grebes, Canada Geese and Great-Tailed Grackles.  Some of the grackles were posturing and “dancing” along the side of the road. One of them kept stepping on the tail feathers of the others to mess them up. Hah!  I also found some damselflies who weren’t warm enough to go anywhere yet, so they clung to the stems of the star thistle, sometimes several of them on the same plant. Lots of photo ops… but I felt rushed because I had to get to the office by 7:00 am.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos and video snippets.

A little further along the gravel road was the rookery area itself, with Ibis practically piled on top of one another in their twiggy nests.  Because it was so early in the morning, most of the adults on the nests weren’t quite awake yet, but in some of the nests, parents were busy feeding hungry hatchlings. If I come back again later in the week, I’ll come a little bit later in the morning when more of the birds are awake.

I was able to see some of the unhatched eggs in nests; they’re a beautiful turquoise blue color. Both parents help to keep the eggs warm. Some evidence seems to indicate that the males sit on the eggs during the day, and females sit on the eggs in the evening, but they can also switch shifts. Both parents also feed the babies (by regurgitation). While I was watching one nest, I saw mom feeding the kids. Then dad flew in, gave mom his breakfast, and flew off again… and mom fed what dad brought to the kids. Lots of barfing and re-barfing going on in that exchange. Eeew! Hah!

The pairs of adults are supposed to be monogamous, but I don’t know if that’s for life or just for the breeding season.  I saw several pairs, some of them interacting very gently with one another. “Allopreening” (mates preening one another) is supposed to reinforce the pair bond.

The baby Ibises have black and white striped beaks and bald heads. They’re so funny looking! And they grab at the parent’s beak to try to get them to open their mouths. Pushy, fussy babies.

In some spots, the female Great-Tailed Grackles were poking around the Ibis’ nests and harassing them. One of them poked its head right in under a mama Ibis who was sitting on the nest, causing her to jump up and turn on it.  It’s not unusual for the grackles to be predatory and try to steal eggs from the nests, but this one was awfully bold!  (I wonder if the Black-Crowned Night Herons come by in the evening to steal babies and eat them… They’re notorious in this area for stealing and killing local Wood Duck ducklings; sometimes killing for no reason and leaving the ducklings bodies lying around.)

I was out there for about an hour and then had to head off to the office, but that was cool way to start my day.

The Baby Deer Has a Bad Cough, 06-30-18

I got up around 5:00 am, and headed out to the Effie Yeaw Preserve again before it got too hot outside. It’s supposed to get up to 103º today. It was 61º at the river when I got there, and by the time I left at 8:30 am it was already 78º. Ugh!

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

When I drove in, there were Yellow-Billed Magpies and American Robins trying to snatch up early morning bugs near the kiosk.

By the nature center, a male Anna’s Hummingbird posed in a tree long enough for me to get a few photos of him.

I watched as a Wild Turkey went up to a blue elderberry bush and jumped up and down to snag the ripe berries from it and pulled them to the ground. At another spot, I was standing under a wild plum tree, and Scrub Jays were in the branches knocking the plums down. Almost got hit by some of those!

Further along the trail, I got to see a pair of American Kestrels in the top of a tree; a little male and a female. They’re so talkative! I also got to see a Red-Tailed Hawk, and a juvenile Turkey Vulture (along with some adults). You don’t get to see the juveniles very often, so it’s always kind of a treat when they’re out and about.

The young fawn and its mother that I’ve seen on my last few trips to the preserve has come down with a horrible cough. It always looks kind of skinny and scrawny to me, but I’d never heard it cough so much before. I looked up pneumonia in deer and apparently, it’s a thing. It affects Big Horn Sheep and White-Tailed Deer more often, but can affect Black Tailed Deer, especially if they’re living near water in a confined space (as they sort of are at the Effie Yeaw Preserve). I don’t know if the preserve staff can do anything for the baby, but that cough is surely going to make him a target for the local coyotes. It’s loud, and it advertises that the fawn is in poor condition. His mom also looks like she might be pregnant again, so I don’t know how she’ll manage with a newborn and a sick yearling… Poor baby.

In one of the ant colonies I cam across, winged adults were emerging, getting ready to start a new nest somewhere else. They were emerging out into the sun, but when I stepped closer to the ant hill to get some photos, by shadow blocked the entrance – and they all went back inside. When I stepped away again to let the light hit the entrance, they all came back out again. Interesting.

And it seems to me that the oak trees are getting awfully full of acorn buds this year. Maybe we’ll have a mast year this fall?

Lots of Surprises at the Refuge Today, 05-23-18

I went out looking for field trip sites for the naturalist class.  I timed the trip(s) from Woodland, not the house in Sacramento, and to Anderson Marsh it takes a little over 90 minutes.  To Clear Lake State Park it’s another 30-45 minutes. (I just went past the main gate and didn’t go in.)  – and then finding somewhere to park and finding the trail heads might take up another 30 minutes.  That’s just too much time in the car and not enough time walking.  If we had a campout there it might be doable, but otherwise, no.

Anderson Marsh might be an option, but still, it might be easier on folks if we did an overnight in Williams and tackled the marsh from there. (It’s up Highway 20, to Highway 53.) I want to make that run one more time to see if it’s really feasible.  The crappy thing is: I wanted to go out onto the trails at the marsh, but although they let dogs in the parking lot, they don’t allow them on the trails. I wasn’t leaving Sergeant Margie alone while I did some walking.  I should have checked that before I brought him with me.

So, I felt like the first part of my morning was kind of a bust. There are caves and a geothermal plant up there, too, but I didn’t go to check them out. Instead, I turned the car around and headed back to Williams.

Since, I was already in the area, I went over to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge and made a quick run through the auto-tour there. I was MUCH more successful there than I was in Lake County. The drive seemed full of surprises.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

At one point along the auto tour route, I saw a pair of Killdeer along the side of the road.  Mama started doing her “broken wing” act, so I knew there must have been a nest near the road somewhere. (Killdeer like to nest in gravel, and their eggs look like little speckled rocks.) The surprise was, though, when I saw a tiny, fuzzy Killdeer baby running across the road! They’re so small, it’s hard to see them unless they’re moving. It crouched down in the gravel in the middle of the road, and I was soooo worried that I might accidentally run it over, so I very slowly pulled the car off to the side of the road (still worrying that a nest might be there.)  The baby ran around and stomped its tiny feet on the ground, peeping for mom.  Mama finally showed up, peeping loudly, and had the baby follow her back to the nest (behind my car and down the road a little way.)

Surprise #2 was seeing eagle at the preserve. They’re usually gone by March, so seeing them in May was completely unexpected. I saw an adult and what I thought was a juvenile Bald Eagle picking at a Snow Goose carcass. The juvenile eagle flew across the now-empty large pond (on the extension loop) and landed in a tree right along the side of the road – so I was able to get some photos of him. As I looked over the photos, it struck me that this wasn’t a juvenile Bald Eagle at all; it was a young Golden Eagle. The giveaway was the feathering that went all the way down its legs to its feet.  Cool!  I’d never seen a Golden Eagle out there before.

Surprise #3 was a muskrat. I saw something moving in the water in a slough along the side of the road, and it was at a distance, so I wasn’t sure what I was seeing. I videod it before it disappeared under the surface of the water. At first, I thought it had been a Pied-Billed Grebe floating low through the water, but when I took a closer look at the footage, I found it was a muskrat, swimming with its nose above the surface.  I think I also located where the entrance to its push-up was, so I’ll check that out the next time I’m there.

Surprise #4 was seeing a gorgeous Valley Garter Snake sitting the shore next to the water, warming itself in the sun. Usually, the snakes zip away and all I get is a photo of their side or the end of their tail as they disappear into the water or the brush. This snake sat still, and I was able to get a lot of pictures of it, even its face.

Surprise #5 was seeing a fawn that looked like it was “right out of the box”, maybe only a day or two old. It was very small – but bounding, jumping and curious – and still had its newborn blue eyes.  It was following after its mom who was walking through a stand of cocklebur. The baby was so little, he’d disappear under the big leaves of the cocklebur, then appear again a few feet away.

Surprise #6 was a California Ground Squirrel that ran out near the side of the road with a huge Milk Thistle flower-head in its mouth. I stopped the car and watched as the squirrel held onto the head, ripped through the back it, to avoid the spines on it, and pulled out all of the seeds.  It struck me as funny: it looked like a bridesmaid who had caught the bouquet and then ATE it. Hah!

I saw several American Bitterns flying overhead but none on the ground, a hawk flying off with its kill (with a Crow chasing it), a fledgling Northern Harrier sitting on the ground with whatever it had been able to catch, and Marsh Wrens singing (and one building a new nest). I also caught a glimpse of Orioles and got some good shots of a Blue-Winged Teal, among other critters.  It was a nice way to end the day.