Sunday, November 28, 2021

On the Road


I'm on the road this week, so no time to blog.  Check back next week for the latest natural history news from my neighborhood!  
Thanks!

Unfortunately, you can no longer sign up to get my blog via email. Just go to northyubanaturalist.blogspot.com directly. It looks better than the emailed version!

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

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Recent Arrivals!

Dark-eyed Juncos (female-top, male-bottom) - Junco hyemalis

Over the past two weeks small flocks of little birds have arrived in our neighborhood!  Some of them have come down from the colder, higher elevations and will spend the winter here.  Others are passing through on their way further south, or down to the foothills.  This happens every fall, and I rejoice every time they arrive! 
 
There are six subspecies of Dark-eyed Juncos in North America. The ones we have locally are the "Oregon" subspecies. Males have black hoods. Females have gray hoods. They are common and widespread across the U.S. in winter. Seeds are their preferred food. They will spend the winter here, and migrate up to higher elevations to breed in the spring. They are commonly seen in large flocks, except during the breeding season.

Pine Siskin - Spinus pinus

Last winter the Pine Siskin population in California, and across the U.S., suffered a tremendous loss from the salmonella bacteria in unclean bird feeders.  It is the reason why I have TOTALLY stopped feeding birds.  My focus now is to plant plants in our garden that will feed the birds.  Right now there are hundreds of dried up sunflowers in our garden, that the birds have been feasting on!  I plan to add more native plants next spring, and for years to come.  This is a safe way to "feed the birds"!  So far I've seen a couple of small flocks of Pine Siskins in our neighborhood!  I am so glad that they have returned!
  
Pine Siskins are named for their preference for pine and other conifer seeds. They will hang from the tips of branches to glean seeds from the cones. They also feed on the ground for a wide variety of grass and shrub seeds, garden vegetable leaves and stems, and insects. Sap in tree trunk holes, that Sapsuckers have made, can also be part of their diet! They will also ingest minerals along the sides of roads! They range widely and erratically in response to seed crops. Their main food in winter is cone seeds and tree buds. Locally they've been eating the seeds from this year's cedar cones.

When food is plentiful they will store lots of seeds in their crop, which gets them through cold winter nights. Unlike hummingbirds, that go into a state of torpor overnight, Pine Siskins ramp up their metabolic rate to stay warm at night! They also put on a layer of fat for winter! They travel in small to large flocks all year, never staying long in any one area, in their constant search for food.  I love watching these flocks of little birds flying in unison from tree to tree, and hearing their busy chatter as they forage and perch! 

Bushtits (males) - Psaltriparus minimus

Bushtits live year-round in California. They are tiny little birds, measuring only 4.5" in length, and weighing only 6 oz. I'm not sure if they stay here in the winter. They mainly eat insects and spiders, as well as some seeds. Most of the year they live in flocks of 10-40 birds. In the end of February to early March, they pair off to breed and build their nest. It will take both the male and the female a month or more to build their amazing, 6"-12", sock-like nest of spider webs and plant material! I've seen these nests in museums, but never in the wild. It would be fabulous to find one! They female lays 4-10 eggs in the nest, and may have two broods in a season. Interestingly, adult male offspring help the mated pair raise their young! Also, incredibly the whole family sleep together in the sock-like nest!

 Golden-crowned Kinglet (males) - Regulus satrapa

Locally, I've been watching these tiny Golden-crowned Kinglets flit about in the bare lilac bushes this week! Apparently they are looking for tiny insects to eat! Being so tiny, only 4" in length and 6 grams in weight, they can balance on the skinny tips of branches and glean insects! They move so fast, it was hard to get some photos! I took the photo on the right two years ago, when I found one dying on a trail (see"A Bird in my Hand" - Oct. 13, 2019 blog).  

These beautiful, tiny, birds are found across North America, and are one of the most abundant bird species found in the dense forests of the Sierra, from 4500'-9000' in elevation. They prefer to remain year-round in these forests. They have unusually thick fluffy plumage that keeps them warm in the winter! In areas of extreme cold, they may even huddle together overnight! They specialize in eating insects at the tips of slender branches, under bark, and in tufts of conifer needles. Their small size and their ability to hover makes this feeding strategy possible. This strategy is apparently quite successful, as they outnumber all other bird species in these forests!

Their golden crown is very distinctive, as well as the black and white stripes on their head. Only the males have the golden crown. I usually see some every winter in our neighborhood. We're so lucky to see them here at 2,674' in elevation, way below their normal range!

Ruby-crowned Kinglet (adults) - Regulus calendula

Ruby-crowned Kinglets are named for the bright scarlet "crown patch" the male exhibits when excited or antagonized. Most of the time the crown isn't visible. These tiny birds mainly inhabit the snow-free foothills during winter.  In Spring they move up to the Lodgepole/Hemlock forests to breed, around 9000' in elevation. They have been coming to our neighborhood every winter for years! Their fluffy, thick plumage keeps them warm at night. For food, they glean small insects off of twigs and branches.

Yellow-rumped Warbler (first year - male) - Setophaga coronata

I was surprised to see a small flock of Yellow-rumped Warblers feeding in the lilacs across the street this week.  Apparently local Yellow-rumped Warblers are found year-round in the Sierra, and migrate down to the lower elevations for winter. In other parts of the US they migrate down to the desert areas or even down to Costa Rica for the winter, from their breeding grounds across northern Alaska and Canada. The Lakes Basin is one of the southern most areas in which these warblers breed. They mainly feed on insects and other small invertebrates in the summer, and switch to insects and berries in the winter. I'll have to keep an eye out for them this winter!

Insect-egg Slime Mold - Leocarpus fragilis

An Odd Organism!

To our surprise bright orange-yellow slime molds have been showing up in the forest this week.  It's all over the place!  It isn't a mold or fungus, it's a group of single-celled organisms that move around and engulf their food, mainly bacteria!  The following quotations from several websites briefly explain this complex organism!   

The following information is from https://www.nature.com/articles/nature.2012.11811

"In the wild, P. polycephalum rummages through leaf litter and oozes along logs searching for the bacteria, fungal spores and other microbes that it envelops and digests à la the amorphous alien in the 1958 horror film The Blob. Although P. polycephalum often acts like a colony of cooperative individuals foraging together, it in fact spends most of its life as a single cell containing millions of nuclei, small sacs of DNA, enzymes and proteins. This one cell is a master shape-shifter. P. polycephalum takes on different appearances depending on where and how it is growing: In the forest it might fatten itself into giant yellow globs or remain as unassuming as a smear of mustard on the underside of a leaf; in the lab, confined to a petri dish, it usually spreads itself thin across the agar, branching like coral."

The following information is from,

"Slime molds have characteristics of both molds and protozoa. Under certain conditions, the slime mold exists as masses of cytoplasm, similar to amoebae. It moves over rotting logs or leaves and feeds by phagocytosis. The amoeba stage is called the plasmodium, which has many nuclei.

The amoeba stage ends when the plasmodium matures or encounters a harsh environment. At this point, it moves to a light area and develops fruiting bodies that form spores at the ends of stalks. The spores are resistant to environmental excesses. They germinate when conditions are suitable to form flagellated swarm cells, or amoeboid cells, which later fuse to again form a multinucleate plasmodium."

The following information is from 

"Defining Fungi and Slime

Slime molds may be slimy, but they are not molds. Molds are fungi. A century ago, fungi, were defined by what they did not have, or did not do:

- They did not move, like animals.
- They did not have the green pigment chlorophyll
- They were not as small as bacteria.

Today, organisms in the Kingdom Fungi are defined by:

- having chitin in their cell walls. 
- not being able to move during any stage of their life cycle
 - lacking chlorophyll
- being larger than bacteria.

Alive and Durable

Slime molds move, and lack chitin in their cell walls. They are now classified as belonging to the Kingdom Protista (Protoctista). 

Their ingestion of food is one reason slime molds are not considered to be fungi. Fungi produce enzymes that break down organic matter into chemicals that are absorbed through their cell walls, not ingested."

Insect-egg Slime Mold - Leocarpus fragilis

None of the slime molds we found stayed in one place!  When we went back to a site where we'd seen slime molds the day before, they had disappeared without a trace!  How wild!  I think these little droplet-like shapes must be the spore-bearing fruiting-bodies. What do you think?

Non-biting Midges - Chironomidae Family

They're Back!

Once again, the non-biting midges have hatched out of the river and are congregating at the tops of the pines that grow on the sunny side of the river. It is fascinating to watch these beautiful undulating clouds of mating midges! Midges are often mistaken for mosquitoes due to their similar size and body shape. They lay their eggs in shallow waters. The eggs sink to the bottom. In a few days the larvae hatch out of the eggs and burrow into mud, or construct a small tube in which they live, feed and develop. The aquatic larvae feed on detritus in the water and are a great source of food for fish and aquatic insects. American Dippers also feed on these underwater larvae! After 2-7 weeks, the larvae turn into pupae. The pupae then swim to the surface and the adults emerge from their pupal exuviae (cast off skin). Adults do not feed and spend their short, 3-5 day lives mating!

Non-biting Midges - Chironomidae Family

I've been watching this phenomenon for two weeks now!  
I wonder how much longer it will continue!

Walking in the Rain

Damp Earth Art

We got another .13" of rain this week! Yahoo!!! Hopefully we'll get more rain soon! Thanks to all of you who contributed art, thoughts, and wishes to this "rain dance"! It's been fun! I'm going to keep posting rain inspired writings, art, etc. on my blog at dampearthart.blogspot.com. Check it out and pray for rain!

 Wild Turkey - Meleagris gallopavo

Wild Turkeys don't live in my neighborhood, so I don't know much about them. I saw this one (and several more) in a undeveloped piece of land 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."

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Is there any Fall color left?

What's happening in the Lakes Basin?

What's going on at the Open Slope?

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. It looks better than the emailed version!

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

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Canyon Creek Trail

Giant Chain Fern - Black Oak & Dendroalsia Moss
Woodwardia fimbriata - Quercus kelloggii - Dendroalsia albietina

On Thursday, a group of us hiked the Canyon Creek Trail, which follows the North Yuba River for approximately 3 miles to its junction with Canyon Creek.  It's around 2500' in elevation, damp and moist at this time of year, and forested with Madrone, Big-leaf Maple, Tanoak, Black Oak, Incense Cedar, and Douglas Fir. Right now the trailside rocks are covered in lush Dendroalsia Moss, mushrooms have popped up everywhere, and Giant Chain Ferns are flourishing on the banks.  The deciduous trees had created a carpet of colorful leaves on the forest floor which glowed in the late afternoon sun. It was gorgeous!

Orb Weaver Web & Tangle/Cobweb

As soon as we started our hike, spider webs caught our eye!  They were incredibly bejeweled with dewdrops!  Just gorgeous!!!  Spider webs are pretty incredible structures.  Spider silk is a protein fiber that varies in structure (up to 7 different kinds) depending on its use!  Most silks have exceptional mechanical properties, including high tensile strength and extensibility.  A given weight of silk is five times stronger than the same weight of steel!  Some spiders repair their webs at night.  Others eat their web and rebuild it daily! Some spiders, such as the Crab Spider, don't build webs at all and rely on camouflage and ambush to catch their prey!

The Orb Weaver web above was made by a female spider. The female spider doesn't get stuck in her own web because she mainly travels on the non-sticky structural lines. Sometimes she has to walk on the sticky spiral lines, but her hairy legs have an oil that keeps them from sticking! Male Orb Weavers don't make webs.  They spend their time cruising for females to mate. At this time of year, the females are laying their last clutch of eggs, and will die at the first frost.  The eggs will overwinter, up to several hundred eggs in one egg sac, and hatch in the spring.

Sheet Web

There  were lots of these sheet webs in the dry grasses, often in clusters.  There are over 4, 600 species of sheet web weavers in the world!  They are very tiny and don't use sticky thread, but rather entangle and snare prey in their dense webs.  

The following information describes the five main types of spider webs and is  from http://ffden-2.phys.uaf.edu/webproj/212_spring_2019/Rose_Peters/rose_peters/spiderwebs.html

"There are five basic types of spiderwebs, each unique to a distinct species of spiders. The parts that make up a spider web can be summed up as such; two different types of silk, one being dragline silk which are the radial threads from the outer edges of the web to the center. Capture silk is the second, and these threads are what absorb momentum when prey collide with the web.

Spiral Orb webs are the most commonly known, made by orb weavers. These webs are made with two spirals, the first being a non-sticky basic web, the second covered in adhesive. Once the adhesive spiral is complete the spider removes the initial spiral. The appearance of these webs looks like a wheel with spokes.

Tangle/Cobwebs are typically associated with the Theridiidae family (black widows or house spiders, for example.) These webs lack symmetry and are simply several jumbled threads supported by a base.

Sheet webs are horizontally spun, flat sheets of silk between tufts of grass or tree branches. These webs are made with individual strands or are woven as a thick sheet of silk, and the spider will also spin separate criss-crossed threads about the sheet. Some of the spiders associated with this web type include the bowl and doily spider, and the filmy dome spider.

Funnel webs generally hidden between rocks, close clusters of vegetation, or any area that provides a decent amount of shelter. These non-sticky funnel-shaped webs are used as burrows for the spider, and are typically inhabited by multiple families (Agelenidae, Dipluridae and Hexathelidae) one example would be the hobo spider.

Tubular webs are similar to funnel webs in the way that they are typically found on the ground or along the bases of trees. These webs are just as they are named, tubes of web that are used as a hiding place until something triggers a thread radiating from it."

 unknown mushroom - unknown mushroom - Questionable Stropharia

 The spider webs were mainly out in the sunny areas.  As soon as we were in the shady, damp forest we started to find lots of different mushrooms!  Once again, none of us knew the names of most of them, but we enjoyed seeing them!
 
 unknown mushroom - Turkey Tails - unknown mushroom

 Convergent Ladybird Beetles - Hippodamia convergens

 When we got the the end of the trail, there were thousands of Ladybird Beetles on the rocky point where the North Yuba River and Canyon Creek join together. Every fall I've hiked here, ladybugs have always been present! I always am so pleased whenever I see natural events reoccurring! 

The word "bug" is commonly used as a name for any insect. However, Ladybugs are not true bugs, they're beetles! A more scientifically correct name for them is Ladybird Beetles. Every year 1,000's of these Ladybird Beetles converge to mate on this rocky, sunny, point. They remain here throughout the winter and return to lower elevations in the Spring, when temperatures warm up. Like most over-wintering insects, they replace any water in their body fluids (hemolymph) with an anti-freeze during the winter. This prevents any frost from forming within their cells and causing damage. There aren't many predators of ladybugs, as they secrete a noxious fluid that makes them unpalatable.

Sierra Newt - Taricha torosa

After spending some time at the confluence, we headed back to the trailhead.  On the way, my friend Diane spotted some wonderful critters!  First she saw two different California Newts crossing the trail!  Apparently the warmer temperature made them become active!  Their mating season should be over by now, so maybe they were out just looking for the perfect place to overwinter, usually under some forest duff or fallen log.  Not many animals prey on newts, as they are poisonous. However, garter snakes are known to develop a tolerance to the newt's neurotoxin, tetrodotoxin!  Handling newts does NOT expose you to this toxin, but eating one could kill you!  We left the two we saw alone, but were thrilled to see them!

Northwestern Fence Lizard (male) - Sceloporus occidentalis occidentalis

Diane also spotted a dead lizard that tiny ants were feasting on!  This was so cool, as I'd never seen the blue belly of a Northwestern Fence Lizard before!  I've been so hesitant to catch one and look at its belly.  So this was great!  The blue was a BRILLIANT royal blue, accented by the pale yellow under arms and striped thighs!  We'll never know why the lizard died.  Perhaps a bird nabbed it and then got interrupted in its meal.  In the meantime, it was amazing to see its beautiful colors! 

North Yuba River from the Canyon Creek Trail - 11/11/21
 
By the time we got back to where we parked our cars, a heavy mist was on the river, and it was getting dark.  After hugs all around, I headed home, my mind filled with the sights we'd see that day. Such beauty, such wonders!

Dyer's Polypore (side view & top view) - Phaeolus schweinitzii

 Polypore Update!

Ever since I found this Polypore, I've been photographing its development.  It's happening pretty fast!  I'll keep photographing it every couple of days until it's "mature", and maybe even after that!  Here's the first series of photos.  Enjoy!

the same Dyer's Polypore (top view) - Phaeolus schweinitzii
1 day later - 2 days later - 5 days later

the same Dyer's Polypore (top view) - Phaeolus schweinitzii
9 days later!

Sierra Buttes from the Tamarack Connection Trail - 11/6/21

Lakes Basin Update!

I've been on several hikes in the Lakes Basin and near Sierra City lately.  Here are three different views of the Sierra Buttes that I enjoyed!
 
Sierra Buttes from Sierra City - Sierra Buttes from the Love's Falls Trail

Fall Dogwood in the Rain

Damp Earth Art

We got another 2.18" of rain this week! Yahoo!!! The river has risen to 5.7' and running at a rate of 1,617 cfs! Hopefully we'll get more rain soon! Thanks to all of you who contributed art, thoughts, and wishes to this "rain dance"! It's been fun! I'm going to keep posting rain inspired writings, art, etc. on my blog at dampearthart.blogspot.com. Check it out and pray for rain!

This is a Snow Plant sprouting in November!

How are the mosses and lichens?

What kind of ferns are thriving?

What kind of birds have arrived for the winter?

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. It looks better than the emailed version!

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

Friday, November 5, 2021

Because of the Rain!

Dyer's Polypore - Phaeolus schweinitzii

Mushrooms are popping up all over the place, lichens and moss are springing back to life, ferns are sprouting, raptors are spreading out their feathers to dry, and ducks are on the pond again, all because it rained heavily a week ago!  It's amazing how quickly our local ecosystem has changed over this past week!
 
I came across this very unusual fungi in my neighborhood this week. They kind of looked like muffins with a lightly broiled, cheesy-cauliflower topping! They were only about 1.75" tall, and didn't have any pores, gills, or teeth! I carefully looked through my field guide, page by page, but couldn't find a match! Then I posted the photos on iNaturalist.org, but no one identified them! So I sent photos to two friends, who then sent them on to the same mycologist, an Assistant Professor at CSU East Bay University, and bingo he identified them as VERY YOUNG Dyer's Polypores - Phaeolus schweinitzii. Mystery Solved! How cool! Apparently they don't look at all like the mature polypores, that are large and round, like a fluted plate! No wonder I couldn't find them in the field guide!  I'm going to photograph their development and post it in a future blog!

Boletes - unknown mushroom - Puffballs

I spent several hours this week searching for mushrooms in the local woods.  I found hundreds of them!  However, I'm not good at identifying the majority of mushrooms I find.  There are SO many kinds of mushrooms (an estimated 3,000-4,000 species in California), and many of them also vary greatly in color and shape during their lifespan, that I usually find them difficult to identify. Unless of course it's a very common one that doesn't vary much and looks just like one of the photos in a field guide (in my dreams!). Therefore I haven't identified most of the ones pictured here. Every year I learn a few more, so in 20 years I'll be able to identify...

Questionable Stropharia - Puffballs - unknown mushroom

Even though I don't know the proper name of most mushrooms, I find it really fun to go out looking for them. I enjoy their unusual shapes, textures, sizes, and colors. The main part of a mushroom is a web of fine white threads called mycelium, usually found underground. The individual threads are called hyphae. This is the part of the mushroom that digests nutrients and can also create a mycorrhizal relationship with trees. Additionally, when a male hyphae and a female hyphae meet underground, they fuse together and produce a mushroom. Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of the mycelium.

unknown mushroom -  emerging Amanita - older Amanita (species unknown)

If you want to eat mushrooms you really need to be able to identify them precisely.  Several deadly-poisonous mushrooms look just like non-poisonous mushrooms.  Before you eat any mushrooms, I highly recommend taking a mycology class, or taking a mycologist with you into the field!  There are also many excellent mycology websites online. My favorite is mykoweb.org, which has photos and text for 831 of the California mushroom species! 

Banana Slug feasting on a Bolete!

A variety of critters are fungivores (eaters of fungi), such as the Northern Flying Squirrel, deer, mice, voles, squirrels, beetles, and even banana slugs!  It appeared to me that the favorite mushroom for slugs and other critters with teeth were the Boletes!  I came across several areas of the forest, which I named Bolete Buffets, that were littered with dozens of chewed up boletes on the ground! Boletes have pores, that are actually tubes lined with spores, instead of gills.

Sharp-shinned Hawk - Accipiter striatus

I saw a juvenile Sharp-shinned Hawk perched in the big cedar at the cemetery one morning this week!  It had rained overnight, and it was spreading out its tail feathers and wing feathers to dry!  Just beautiful!  It's probably the same one I've been seeing lately.  There was also one perched outside an upstairs window of our house this week!  Didn't get that great of a look, or photo, to see if it's the same one.  It probably was, as there aren't usually several hawks of the same species in our neighborhood.  There's not enough food for more than one!

Joubert's Diggins - 11/02/21

We stopped at the local pond again this week and to my delight there were several different ducks present!  The water had clearly risen from the rain, and its clarity was way better.  You could even see the underwater green plants!

Hooded Mergansers (2 males - 1 female - 1 juvenile) 
Lophodytes cucullatus

Hooded Mergansers are listed as visiting our area in the Winter, or non-breeding season! They primarily breed up north in Canada. Classified as diving ducks, Hooded Mergansers eat small fish, aquatic insects and crustaceans, particularly crayfish. They have serrated bills for grasping and handling slippery prey. Their eyes are specially adapted to see underwater.  I've seen Hooded Mergansers on this pond before!  So nice to see them back again, and with a small juvenile!

Mallard (male-females) - American Coot - Ring-necked Duck
Anas platyrhynchos - Fulica americana - Aythya collaris

I spotted the sleeping Mallards because of their reflection in the pond.  I've seen Mallards on this pond year-round, often with their ducklings in the summer.  

The American Coot has been here a few weeks!  It was fun to watch it cruise around with the Hooded Mergansers!

The Ring-necked Duck is probably another winter visitor to our area, as most of these ducks breed in northern Canada. However, some stay in our area year-round and raise their ducklings locally.  I've never seen a Ring-necked Duck on this pond before!

Fiberfill from a garden scarecrow in an Oriole nest!

Damp Earth Art

We got another .32" of rain this week, on Sunday and Thursday, and more is on the way.  Yahoo!!!  Thanks to all of you who contributed art, thoughts, and wishes to this "rain dance"! It's been fun! I'm going to keep posting rain inspired writings, art, etc. on my blog at dampearthart.blogspot.com. Check it out and pray for rain!

What kind of plant is this?

How are the mosses and lichens?

Are there any insects around?

What's happening in the Lakes Basin?

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. It looks better than the emailed version!

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

 

Saturday, October 30, 2021

12.3" of Rain!!!

Red-tailed Hawk in the Rain - Buteo jamaicensis

Rain started falling last Thursday and didn't stop until Tuesday! The total precipitation for the storm was 12.3"!!!  Most of the rain, 7.9", fell on Sunday!  IT POURED!  It was fabulous! We haven't had heavy rainfall like that for years and years!  It has washed away the threat of wildfires in our area!  What a miracle!!! 

The storm was part of an "Atmospheric River" that covered most of California, with the northern part receiving the most rain.  The following is NOAA's simple description of an atmospheric river.

"Atmospheric rivers are relatively narrow regions in the atmosphere that are responsible for most of the transport of water vapor from the tropics. Atmospheric rivers come in all shapes and sizes but those that contain the largest amounts of water vapor and strongest winds are responsible for extreme rainfall events and floods. This type of hydrologic event can affect the entire west coast of North America. These extreme events can disrupt travel, induce mudslides, and cause damage to life and property. Not all atmospheric rivers are disruptive. Many are weak and provide beneficial rain or high elevation snow that is crucial to the water supply."

Red-tailed Hawk - Red-shouldered Hawk
Buteo jamaicensis - Buteo lineatus

After the Storm

I saw the Red-tailed Hawk in the top of a pine tree during a heavy rainstorm in 2019.  This week, after the storm passed, I was lucky enough to see two different hawks spreading their wings to dry out in the sun. The Red-tailed Hawk pictured on the left was near the Open Slope that I often write about.  The Red-shouldered Hawk on the right was on my neighbor/fellow naturalist's property! It made me wonder how birds stay dry in wet weather.

The following information is from birdwatchingpro.com.

"If you’re an avid bird watcher, then you probably already know that if a light rain is falling, birds will still go about their business as usual. This is because they are designed to have at least some sort of water resistance. Unless it’s a heavy rain, water will generally just slide off the feathers, and their bodies will be kept warm thanks to the air pockets beneath their feathers.

But in the heavier rains, most land birds will seek shelter from the storm. Small bushes, shrubs, thickets, or even some trees will provide excellent shelter from heavy rain. In order to maintain their body warmth for as long as possible, the birds will stay still and conserve their energy.

If the rain does not cease, then the birds will eventually run out of energy. So, they will have to venture out and find food to fuel their energy. Birds that feed on insects may have a tough time finding grubs while it is raining, but they tend to be spoilt for choice after the rain.

Raptors may also suffer during prolonged periods of rain. Birds that feed on seeds and worms will be okay for food, especially since heavy rains tend to unearth worms. If a storm rages on for a prolonged period of time, then raptors and insect-eating birds will suffer greatly and face hypothermia and even death."

The following additional information is from gckcopywriter.com.

"Raptors like rain about as much as a cat likes a bath.

Hawks, eagles, owls, and other birds of prey have a tough time during drenching rains.

First, depending on their size, a raptor’s wings can take as much as an entire day to dry out. Before that, it’s too difficult to fly any normal distance to find food.

Second, even if they can fly normally, their prey – whether its smaller birds, rabbits, or squirrels – take shelter against storms in dense surroundings or burrows. They stay hidden.

If it rains too long, raptors can be faced with a serious lack of food and face a real crisis."

North Yuba River 10/23/21 

The River!

Before the storm came, the North Yuba River was very shallow and slow.  There was a good sized rock bar that was visible downstream, with willows growing on it.  During the height of the storm that rock bar was totally submerged!
 
North Yuba River 10/26/21 

Over the course of the storm, the  river rose from 1.4ft to 11.3ft in height. That's a difference of almost ten feet!!!  It has since dropped back down to 3 feet in height.  The cubic-feet-per-second (cfs) rate rose from 90cfs to 7,925cfs, at the height of the storm!  It has since dropped down to 420cfs!  It was amazing to see!  The last "high water" I remember was in 2017!
 
Wood Duck (male) - Aix sponsa

Before the Storm

The day before the storm arrived I was down at the bridge in the early evening and just happened to spot a male Wood Duck swimming by!  Wow!  I have only seen these ducks on ponds, so it was a complete surprise to see one on the North Yuba River! It quickly took off downstream when it saw me, so I only got a few blurred photos. (The photo above was taken on a pond in the foothills last spring.)

Wood Duck (male) - Aix sponsa

Adults feed mainly on acorns off the ground, but will also forage for invertebrates and aquatic plants. These duck nest in the foothills of the western Sierra, usually below 3,000' - 4,000' in elevation, where there are a lot of oaks and acorns. They are tree-cavity nesters. They use natural cavities that have formed in a mature tree, often where a branch has broken off due to heart rot, as well as abandoned Pileated Woodpecker cavities. The Wood Duck is the only North American duck that regularly produces two broods in one 5-6 month breeding season! The female lays 10-13 eggs in her feather-lined nest, anytime between March and June. The incubation period is 30 days. The ducklings are born precocial, and leave the nest usually within 24 hours after hatching. They jump to the ground and their mother leads them to water, where they immediately start feeding! After approximately 30 days, the female abandons the young ducklings, to start another brood!

Common Merganser (female - male) - Mergus merganser

Earlier that day we also spotted several Common Mergansers on the river!  We hadn't seen any for three weeks.  At this time of year the males are molting and getting their mating plumage back.  Their bright white breasts and bellies are a striking contrast to their dark heads.  We haven't seen them since the storm came through.  They must seek out ponds and slow moving side streams during periods of heavy rain and high water.

Columbian Black-tailed Deer - Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
inset: American Black Bear scat


Wild Rose in the Rain

Damp Earth Art

 Thanks to all of you who contributed art, thoughts, and wishes to this "rain dance"!  It's been fun!  I'm going to keep posting rain inspired writings, art, etc. on my blog at dampearthart.blogspot.com. Check it out and pray for rain!


What kind of Mushrooms are popping up?

Are the lichens active again?

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

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