Friday, November 25, 2022

Local Mammals

 
Gray Fox - Urocyon cinereoargenteus

Over the years I've seen a handful of different foxes in our neighborhood.  Usually I only see them for a few seconds at a time. It was by studying my photographs that I realized how unique each one is! They vary in the amount and pattern of the reddish fur that they have, the shape of their faces, their eyes, the markings around their eyes, as well as their size and overall appearance. Their behaviors also differ.  Some are on alert and dart away in a second.  Others are more use to humans and not so quick to depart . The one pictured above is commonly around the compost pile in our garden.  It doesn't eat the decaying vegetables, but rather it preys on the rodents and small mammals that are attracted to the compost!  

Gray Fox - Urocyon cinereoargenteus

Here are some of the foxes I've observed. As you can see, they differ quite a bit  in appearance.  I find all of them fascinating. I see them more often in the winter, when the branches are bare and the grasses have died back. 

Gray Fox - Urocyon cinereoargenteus

This is one of my favorite fox photos.  It just caught this fox on its way in its neighborhood, looking ahead, all beautiful and full of light. 

Virginia Opossum - Didelphis virginiana

I took this photo of a Virginia Opossum two summers ago, and I hadn't seen once since then.  To my surprise, just two nights ago, there was an opossum in our pantry busily eating dry cat food!  We have a cat door that we close at night, but the evening was still young.  When it saw me, the opossum tried to hide but there wasn't anywhere to hide, so I opened up the back door and it quickly scooted outside!  It was pretty big (approx. 36 inches long) and shaped like a giant raindrop with its pointy nose and round bum!  It was also mostly white in color.  How cool!  And of course it came back again the next night for a repeat performance!  From now on we're hopefully going to remember to close the cat door sooner!

Virginia Opossums are marsupials, in which the young are born incompletely developed and are typically carried and suckled in a pouch on the mother's belly. They are the only marsupials native to North America. Although originally found in the southern states and South America, they have been expanding their range to the north and west. This might be related to the warmer winters we've been having, and their ability to live around people where more food and shelter are available. However, they cannot live in extreme cold, as they do not hibernate, have furless ears and tails susceptible to frostbite, have inadequate thermoregulatory abilities, and poorly insulated fur. They prefer to live near water, in woodlands and thickets, from sea-level to 9,000'!

They are usually solitary, nocturnal, and terrestrial, but can also climb trees with a prehensile tail and big toes that work like thumbs!!! They are omnivores and eat vertebrates, invertebrates, plant material, fruits, grains, and carrion. In the wild they have a short life span of only 1.5 to 2 years! They are preyed on by owls, coyotes, foxes, raccoons, bobcats, and even large snakes!

Western Grey Squirrel - Sciurus griseus

Two of the squirrels in my neighborhood remain active all year, the Western Gray Squirrel and the Chickaree or Douglas Squirrel. At this time of year they mainly eat mushrooms, mistletoe berries, acorns, pine nuts and seeds. They search for food daily, but also have caches of food to eat when snow blankets the ground. They are incredible tree climbers and acrobats, and can rotate their hind feet 180° backwards when climbing down a trunk. During winter they usually live in a hollow tree or limb, or abandoned woodpecker cavities.

Ringtail Cat - Bassariscus astutus

We've been getting rid of stuff on our property, in preparation for the home owners insurance agent's visit.  As I was clearing the area under our back porch I came across this little, dead, ringtail cat!  It didn't have any visible wounds, so I don't know why it died.  It was unfortunate that it died, but It gave me the opportunity to observe one closely.  I've seen these lovely creatures only a few times in my life, always at night. They are about the size of a large house cat, only with a longer, bushier tail. They hunt for prey on the ground and in the trees, where they are excellent climbers. Their diet consists mainly of rodents, rabbits, squirrels, carrion, acorns, and berries during the winter. In the winter they sleep in underground dens, lined and padded with lichen and moss. They are solitary except during the breeding season in April. 

Ringtails are nocturnal. They are omnivorous and eat rodents, rabbits, squirrels, mice, insects, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fruit, seeds, berries, and acorns! They are not in the cat family, Felidae. They are members of the raccoon family, Procyonidae. Their habitat extends from sea level to 4,600' in the Sierra! 

I put this little beauty down where I've seen the Fox lately, and the next morning it was gone.  One dies and another survives.

Wild Turkey (juveniles) - Meleagris gallopavo

Wild Turkeys!

Wild Turkeys don't live in my neighborhood, so I don't know much about them. I saw this one (and several more) in an urban area! The following information is from the Cornell website allaboutbirds.org.

"Wild Turkeys get around mostly by walking, though they can also run and fly—when threatened, females tend to fly while males tend to run. At sundown turkeys fly into the lower limbs of trees and move upward from limb to limb to a high roost spot. They usually roost in flocks, but sometimes individually. Courting males gobble to attract females and warn competing males. They display for females by strutting with their tails fanned, wings lowered, while making nonvocal hums and chump sounds. Males breed with multiple mates and form all-male flocks outside of the breeding season, leaving the chick-rearing to the females, The chicks travel in a family group with their mother, often combining with other family groups to form large flocks of young turkeys accompanied by two or more adult females."

Wild Turkey (male) - Meleagris gallopavo

Male turkeys are large with a body length of 46", a wingspan of 64", and a weight of 16.2 lbs!  They can be distinguished from the females by their colorful blue heads and read throats. The females are smaller and not as colorful.


Turkey Body Feathers

My sister lives in Lake County and has LOTS of Wild Turkeys roaming through her property. She often sends me natural history "finds" that she thinks I'd be interested in, including turkey feathers!  If she hadn't sent them to me I'd never known how gorgeous they are.  Some of the broad body feathers even have a greenish band of iridescence on them!

Turkey body feathers - juvenile wing feathers (?) 

I've never seen a male Turkey display it's tail, but it must be gorgeous and impressive!

Wild Turkey (female) with chicks - Meleagris gallopavo

The female is the one that takes care of the young chicks, and often groups together with other females and their young, while the chicks develop into adults.

Wild Rose leaves in the Rain

Damp Earth Art

I'm going to keep posting rain inspired writings, art, etc. on my blog at dampearthart.blogspot.com. Any submissions would be greatly appreciated. Please join me in my continuing hope for precipitation! Perhaps our collective efforts may help it happen.


What's happening on the river?

What's happening in the foothills?

Check back next week for the answers to these questions and more!

Unfortunately, you can no longer sign up to get my blog via email. Just go to northyubanaturalist.blogspot.com directly.

Your questions and comments are greatly appreciated. Please feel free to email me at northyubanaturalist@gmail.com. Thanks!

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Falling Leaves!

North  Yuba River from the Canyon Creek  Trail  -  11/11/22

The snow that fell last week is almost totally gone in our neighborhood.  We've had dry, cold, windy weather this week.  A lot of the trees are totally bare of leaves, but the California Black Oaks are still vibrantly colored in golden-yellows, oranges, reds, and browns.

 The beautifully colored Fall leaves don't last forever. As the days shorten and temperatures drop, not only do the leaves change color, but a process called "abscission" begins.  The leaves don't just fall off the tree, they are actually being pushed off the tree by the tree itself!  Keeping lots of dead leaves on a tree could cause breakages from the weight of snow accumulating on them.  As Fall progresses a layer of cells, known as the abscission layer, starts to grow between the end of the leaf stalk and the twig supporting it.  These cells slowly grow and cut the leaf off from the tree without leaving an open wound.

California Black Oak - Quercus kelloggii

I was wondering why oak trees retain their leaves longer than other local deciduous trees, and this is what I found out.  Oak leaves last longer because oaks form an abscission layer much later than other species of deciduous trees.  Oak leaves often remain attached to the tree throughout the winter.  This retaining of dead leaves is called "marcescence." Trees that exhibit marcescence are called "everciduous."  

Marcescent California Black Oak leaves - Quercus kelloggii

Marcescence can also occur in trees when an early frost, or diseases and plant pests, kill the leaves before an abscission layer has formed.  Marcescent leaves may be retained indefinitely and do not break off until mechanical forces, such as wind, cause them to snap off. 

The are several theories why marcescence occurs including: protection of leaf buds from winter desiccation, or as a delayed source of nutrients or mulch when the leaves finally fall and decompose in spring.

Fallen Big-leaf Maple Leaves - Acer macrophyllum

When I was a kid, we used to rake up giant piles of leaves and run and jump into them.  We also used to rake paths between them and race our tricycles on the paths.  It was lots of fun!  Our neighbors also used to rake leaves up and haul bag after bag of them to the dump.  Now however, it's common knowledge that it's better to just leave the fall leaves on the ground and in your garden, because they are naturally beneficial to the health of the soil and the critters that dwell in them.  The information from the following website
explains this process well.

"Leave the Leaves!"

"It’s the time of year to do your fall garden cleanup. Rather than the tedious task of raking and bagging leaves and taking them to the landfill, the best way to reduce greenhouse gases and benefit your garden is to leave the leaves!

Leaves create a natural mulch that helps to suppress weeds while fertilizing the soil as it breaks down. The leaves also serve as a habitat for wildlife including lizards, birds, turtles, frogs, and insects that overwinter in the fallen leaves. These living creatures help keep pests down and increase pollination in your garden, so having a habitat for them in the fallen leaves can help to keep them around when you need them the most.

Micro-organisms are the life of soil, and they need food and nutrients all the time. The more leaves left on your garden, the more feed for these micro-organisms that make soil healthier and plants grow stronger. As the leaves decay, they add organic matter back into the soil, which lessens the need for fertilizer.

You can also include leaves in a compost mix to use on your crops. Mulching is a simple and beneficial practice you can use to create a healthy garden, and if you have trees, you have free mulch at your fingertips each fall. Mulching can protect the soil surface and help stop erosion from rainfall. Mulch also helps to moderate temperature extremes by keeping roots warmer during the winter and cooler in the summer, and helps to keep moisture in the ground, which is especially helpful during times of drought."

The Open Slope

Neighborhood Sightings!

Now that the Lakes Basin has a good foot or more of snow, I haven't been hiking up there.  Instead I've been wandering in my own neighborhood.  It's been lovely!  I re-visited the open slope a few days after the snowstorm and it was warm and sunny once the mists cleared off.  Several migratory songbirds were also visiting the open slope!  To my delight there were Western Bluebirds, Lesser Goldfinches, a Meadowlark, a Townsend's Solitaire, and even a Yellow-rumped Warbler!!!  The Goldfinches were feeding on Star Thistle seeds, the others were feeding on insects. Most of these birds are short-distance migrants, and will spend the winter locally or down in the snow-free elevations of the foothills and central valley.

Western Bluebird (male) - Sialia mexicana

Lesser Goldfinch (male) - Carduelis psaltria

Western Meadowlark (adult) - Sturnella neglecta

Townsend's Solitaire (adult) - Myadestes townsedi

Yellow-rumped Warbler (male)  - Setophaga coronata

Bald Eagle (adult)  - Haliaeetus leucocephalus

A few local Raptors!

Just this week I saw a Bald Eagle perched above the river in our neighborhood!  I hadn't seen one in months and months!  It stayed perched for more than ten minutes on a tree that many large birds perch in!  The tree is in a good location, right above some deep pools on a bend in the river.  I was so pleased to see one return to our area, they are quite uncommon here!  So impressive!

To read more about the natural history of Bald Eagles, just enter "Bald Eagle"  in the "search this blog" bar on the top right.  I've written about them extensively in previous blogs.

Northern Pygmy-Owl (adult) - Glaucidium gnoma

One late afternoon this week, around 4:30, my husband and I were walking along the road when I spotted the silhouette of a tiny, broadly round-headed bird on a bare branch. I instantly recognized it as a Pygmy Owl!  Oh WOW!!!  It was in the same area we spotted one last year, and at the same time of day!

Northern Pygmy-Owl (adult) - Glaucidium gnoma

I rarely see these lovely little diurnal owls, that are only 6.75" tall!  Last year, the owl took off while we were watching it, so I hot-footed it up to the cemetery on the off-chance it would show up there.  The cemetery is bordered to the west with trees and faces a big open dry meadow to east.  A perfect place for a Pygmy Owl to perch and scan for prey, such as songbirds!  Luckily the little owl showed up and posed for me in a big bare-branched cedar tree!  Such beauty! 

You can read all about that sighting and the habits of Pygmy Owls by going to my "Local Raptors" blog on Jan, 2, 2021. 

Northern Pygmy-Owl (adult) - Glaucidium gnoma

These are the photos I took last year in the same bare branches, and maybe it's even the same Pygmy Owl!  So Cool!

Red-tailed Hawk (adult) - Buteo jamaicensis

I continue to see a Red-tailed Hawk in our neighborhood, usually along the river.  This week it flew across the river with a critter in its claws, and landed in a distant tree!!!  The road that runs parallel to the river is probably a great place for it to catch squirrels!

Unknown mushrooms

Mushrooms!

Mushrooms are starting to pop-up in the forest!  If we get some more rain even more will "blossom".  Here are a few that my friend Rod spotted in a grassy field right off the highway.  I've only seen one Shaggy Mane in my life, so this was my second one!  How fun!

Unknown mushrooms - Shaggy Mane
species unknown - Coprinus comatus

Raindrops on Locust Leaves

Damp Earth Art

I'm going to keep posting rain inspired writings, art, etc. on my blog at dampearthart.blogspot.com. Any submissions would be greatly appreciated. Please join me in my continuing hope for precipitation! Perhaps our collective efforts may help it happen.


What's happening on the river?

What's happening in the foothills?

Check back next week for the answers to these questions and more!

Unfortunately, you can no longer sign up to get my blog via email. Just go to northyubanaturalist.blogspot.com directly.

Your questions and comments are greatly appreciated. Please feel free to email me at northyubanaturalist@gmail.com. Thanks!

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Fall into Winter


Last Tuesday we got an early winter storm that dropped three, heavy, wet inches of snow in our neighborhood, and several feet of colder, drier snow up in the Lakes Basin!  Most of the deciduous trees still had their leaves so lots of branches broke off with the additional weight of the snow, which resulted in power lines coming down.  This time our power was only out for a day and a half! Yay!!!  In the past, our power has been out for up to 12 days in a row!

The precipitation total for the storm was 3.55", and more rain is in the forecast for today!  I hope the storms keep coming and we have a wet winter this year!  Fingers crossed!

Grizzly Peak in early snow - 11/8/22

In our neighborhood, Grizzly Peak is the dominant feature of the landscape. I have photographed it many many times, but never tire of watching its changes.  This week was the earliest I ever remember it being covered in snow!

Cherry tree in snowstorm

The way the snow contrasted with the trees that were still in their Fall colors was beautiful! A lot of the deciduous trees in our neighborhood are not native, such as cherry, apple, locust, and walnut.  The native deciduous trees are Black Oak, dogwood, Big-Leaf Maple, and alder.

Red-tailed Hawk - Buteo jamaicensis

Birds in a Snowstorm

I always worry about how the birds are faring during a storm.  During heavy rain or snow, most of them remain as inactive as possible, and take shelter in thick undergrowth, under the cover of evergreens, tree cavities, and manmade structures.  Luckily, the trees create a leaky but protective "umbrella" with their branches, and the ground is often bare beneath them.  It's these snow-free patches that lots of birds depend upon for foraging areas.

There has been a Red-tailed Hawk hanging around in our area lately!  I've seen it perched in open, un-forested areas scanning for small mammals to eat. It may stick around if the winter isn't too harsh, or fly down to lower elevations if prey isn't readily available locally. I was amazed how camouflaged this one was against the wet trunk of a dead tree!

Golden-crowned Sparrow - White-crowned Sparrow (1st year)
Zonotrichia atricapilla - Zonotrichia leucophrys

White-crowned Sparrows spend the winter in our neighborhood. They mainly forage on the ground for seeds. The color difference in the markings of an adult White-crowned Sparrow, and a 1st-winter White-crowned Sparrow is amazing! When I first watched them I thought they were two different species!

Golden-Crowned Sparrows also live here in the winter. They spend their summers up in western Canada and Alaska. They too are avid seed-eaters, mainly feeding on the ground. In the winter they are often seen in flocks with White-crowned Sparrows.  It's a good thing that most of the local plants have gone to seed! Lots of birds need seeds to eat!

Fox Sparrow - Hermit Thrush
Passerella iliaca - Catharus guttatus

Fox Sparrows have migrated down from the higher elevations, where they spent their summer. They feed on the ground in a scratch-and-hop method like Spotted Towhees. Their diet consists of seeds, berries, plant buds and insects. They'll stick around until the colder weather arrives, and then migrate down to the foothills for winter.

The Hermit Thrush name comes from its solitary elusive behavior. Right now they are migrating through from their breeding grounds in the higher elevations. They will move on to lower elevations once the weather gets colder and the snow makes the ground inaccessible. Currently they're foraging on the ground for berries and any insects they can find. I've seen quite a few of them lately! They are well camouflaged when foraging in shrubs. Hermit Thrushes flit their wings about and pump their tails when they're perching.

European Starling - Sturnus vulgaris

To my surprise, I came across a flock of European Starlings foraging for invertebrates, berries and seeds under the trees in my neighbor's grassy field during the snowstorm!  They must have been surprised by the storm, as they aren't usually here when it's snowy!!  It was interesting to see how closely they stuck together as they foraged!  There are four of them in the photo above!

Starlings are not native to the United States. They were introduced from Europe in the late 1800's, and have spread throughout North America. The following quote from Birds of North America states, "Starlings flourished in North America because of their varied diet and ability to adapt to new food sources supplied either directly or indirectly by humans. They mostly feed on the ground and readily devour many types of insects, fruits, cultivated grains, and weed seeds." Starlings have had a significant negative impact on native cavity-nesting birds, because they will take over their nest sites. As yet no one has figured out how to deal with this huge problem."

Dark-eyed Juncos - American Robin
Junco hyemalis - Turdus migratorius

A flock of Dark-eyed Juncos have returned to our neighborhood for the winter! They spend their spring and summer at higher elevations, from 3,000'-10,500'! They are one of the most commonly seen summer birds up in the Lakes Basin. They come down to our neighborhood to avoid the winter snow! They are avid seed-eaters! They search mainly on the ground for seeds, but will also search in shrubs and trees.  I love how their return at this time of year is so familiar!

American Robins nest in our neighborhood, but will spend the winter down in the foothills and central valley of California.  Right now they're foraging for berries, worms, and insects.  Yesterday I watched one pull a worm out of a roadside ditch!  They are indeed beautiful birds!

Indian Rhubarb - Darmera peltata

Before the snowstorm and its accompanying cold temperatures, the Indian Rhubarb was gorgeously colored, and thriving along the river edge.  The snow and frosty temps have since knocked them down.  However, I just had to post some photos of them.  They are an intrinsic part of the fall beauty here in the North Yuba River Canyon, and one of my absolute favorites!  Enjoy! 

Indian Rhubarb - Darmera peltata

The rhubarbs can vary in color from golden-yellow to orange, or even raspberry!  Such beauty!

Indian Rhubarb - Darmera peltata

The contrast of the rhubarb against the leafless willows is stunning!

Indian Rhubarb - Darmera peltata

The rhubarb and their reflection creates beautiful borders on the river's edge!

Joubert's Diggins 11/07/22

Joubert's Diggins Revisited

I stopped by one of the ponds I regularly visit, just before the storm hit. There hasn't been much happening in this pond for a while, since the water has been so low. To my delight, the recent rain had raised the water level, and a variety of waterfowl had returned! 

Bufflehead (male) - Hooded Merganser (female)
Bucephala albeola - Lophodytes cucullulatus

I was delighted to see a female Hooded Merganser and a male Bufflehead (already in its mating colors) on the pond!  


Canada Geese - Great Blue Heron
Branta canadensis - Ardea herodias

I also saw several Canada Geese, and for the first time ever a Great Blue Heron!  I'm looking forward to investigating and watching these ponds over the coming winter months!

Cottonwood Tree riddled with Sapsucker wells in the Snow

Damp Earth Art
 
I'm going to keep posting rain inspired writings, art, etc. on my blog at dampearthart.blogspot.com. Any submissions would be greatly appreciated.  Please join me in my continuing hope for precipitation! Perhaps our collective efforts may help it happen.


What's happening on the river?

What's happening in the foothills?

Check back next week for the answers to these questions and more!

Unfortunately, you can no longer sign up to get my blog via email. Just go to northyubanaturalist.blogspot.com directly.

Your questions and comments are greatly appreciated. Please feel free to email me at northyubanaturalist@gmail.com. Thanks!