Sunday, November 11, 2018

The River!

North Yuba River - 11/04/18

Due to the lack of rain, the North Yuba River is really low right now. Many places in the river channel that would normally be underwater are now exposed. The Ospreys have left, along with the Spotted Sandpipers and most of the waterfowl. The temperatures have dropped, insects have diminished in number, and the aquatic snakes and frogs have left the river. What is more visible now are our year-round residents. Although they are not as numerous as our seasonal residents, they are easily seen if you take the time!

Coastal Rainbow Trout - Oncorhynchus mykiss irideus

I have been looking and looking for trout in the river, but have only seen a few.  This particular trout (above) has been hanging around in the same area of the river for weeks now!  It is large, about 16" in length!  Because it is so camouflaged, I usually see its shadow on the rocks before I see the actual fish.  It is in a deep, fairly swift, part of the river.  I am always surprised to see it every time I look for it!

Right now the river is a chilly 42 degrees!  Being coldblooded, trout become less active when the the water temperature drops below 40 degrees.  Their metabolism and respiratory rates slow down.  Adult trout usually stay in deep pools during fall and winter.  To keep from being eaten, young trout stay away from adult trout!  They tend to spend the winter in shallower pools near the shore, where overhanging branches provide cover. 

Belted Kingfisher (female) - Megaceryle alcyon

One of the main predators of young trout are Belted Kingfishers.  They live on rivers, creeks, lakes, and estuaries where the water is clear enough to detect prey.  They dive into shallow waters to catch small fish, crayfish, tadpoles, and frogs.  They dive with their eyes closed, and grab prey with their bill!  WOW!!!  They rarely submerge.  After the prey is caught, it is carried to a perch and pounded against it.  This stuns the prey, which allows the kingfisher to turn it and swallow it head first!  You can figure out what a kingfisher has been eating, if you examine one of their regurgitated pellets.  I have never found any of their pellets, but apparently they usually contain undigested fish bones and scales.

I've seen the above kingfisher in our neighborhood, many times this year.  My neighbor has seen it perching above her pond.  I have also heard it flying up and down our creek!  This one is a female.  Females have a rusty-red band across their chest, and males don't.  We are excited to have a kingfisher in our neighborhood again!  It has been a few years since one has lived here!  We hope she stays!

Great Blue Heron - Ardea herodias

There are two Great Blue Herons living on the river in our neighborhood.  Most of the time I only see one of them.  Herons are usually solitary, except during breeding season.  Their main food is fish.  They will also eat frogs, newts, aquatic insects, and crayfish.  Sometimes in winter they will hunt small mammals on dry land.  They cast pellets, like kingfishers, but they only contain mammal hair.  Apparently they can digest fish bones and scales!  Lately, in the morning, I've been seeing them perched in trees instead of in the river.

Cold air tends to sink to the lowest areas overnight.  In our neighborhood, the lowest area is the river corridor.  We had several hard frosts this week, with the lowest temperature being 27°!  Staying warm might be tough if you're a tall bird standing still in the cold river, with an air temperature below freezing!  Perhaps that's why the herons have been perching rather than wading in the morning!  
  
Common Merganser - American Dipper
Mergus merganser - Cinclus mexicanus

I haven't seen any Common Mergansers on the river since the beginning of October.  To my surprise, two of them came back this week!  If fish are available in winter they will stay year-round.  If fish aren't plentiful they will migrate down to clear-water rivers, lakes, or reservoirs at lower elevations.   Mergansers will also eat aquatic insects, molluscs, crustaceans, worms, frogs, small mammals, and plants.

American Dippers live here year-round.  They hunt for aquatic insects and their larvae, small fish, and snails, in fast moving rivers and streams.  A dense layer of downy feathers keeps them warm in the cold water.  They also waterproof their outer feathers with oil.  Using their tails as rudders, they swim with their wings!  They do not have webbed feet, but have long, sharp toes for gripping slippery rocks!  At night Dippers sleep in trees with dense foliage, with their bills tucked under their wings.

Western Gray Squirrel eating Indian Rhubarb
 Sciurus griseus - Darmera peltalta

I've been watching for River Otters in the river but I haven't seen any for weeks.  Instead, I watched this Western Gray Squirrel scurry along the edge of the river, grab a leaf off an Indian Rhubarb plant, and start to eat it! Wow! I've never seen that before! My neighbor said she had heard that the plants were poisonous, but they're not. According to Wildflowers of Nevada and Placer Counties, "Native Americans ate the young shoots raw. The fleshy leaf stalks were also peeled and eaten raw, the flavor being similar to celery. Pulverized roots were mixed with acorn meal to whiten the meal."  This plant can be found all along the North Yuba River corridor. I've never eaten any of it, but I will next Spring!

Steller's Jays - Cyanocitta stelleri

Project FeederWatch!

This will be the second year that I have participated in Project FeederWatch.  It began yesterday, Saturday, November 10, and is sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  By recording the type and number of the birds that come to our feeders, I will help with the study of bird populations in winter, across North America.   I'll be a Citizen Scientist!  New this year, we have 3 hummingbird feeders and a birdbath!  It will be fun to see who uses them!   We have the feeders down by the garden, away from any windows.  The garden will also provide food for birds, and will be included in my bird counts.  I really enjoyed participating in Project FeederWatch last year.  I saw lots more birds than ever before and learned a lot!   If you are interested in joining this project, check it out at their website: feederwatch.org.  Below are photos of the birds I saw on my first day of observation!

Lesser Goldfinch (male - left, female - right)  -  Carduelis psaltria

Anna's Hummingbirds - Calypte anna

Fox Sparrow - Dark-eyed Sparrows (Oregon subspecies) - Spotted Towhee (male) 
 Passerella iliaca - Junco hyemalis - Pipilo maculatus

 American Robin - Golden-crowned Sparrow 
Turdus migratorius - Zonotrichia atricapilla


  Skippers sp.  (Skippers are difficult to identify!)

Skippers are in the same scientific order as butterflies and moths, Lepidoptera, but they have their own family, Hesperiidae.  The main obvious difference is their hooked antennae.  They feed on nectar, and have a life cycle just like moths and butterflies. This week my garden got frozen and almost all of the flowers have been damaged.  There's not much nectar available anymore.  I hope these adult Skippers have already laid eggs that will overwinter. 

What's happening with the deer?

Where are those lovely foxes?


How long will the Fall colors last?
Check back next week for the answers to these questions and more!

If all of a sudden you haven't been getting email notices of my blog being published, just sign up again on my blog. I don't know why you got "unsubscribed". It's some kind of problem with Blogspot.com and/or FeedBurner.com. I apologize for this glitch!

Your questions and comments are greatly appreciated!

Please email me at northyubanaturalist@gmail.com


Sunday, November 4, 2018

Black Oaks

California Black Oaks - Quercus kellogii

California Black Oaks are one of the many native, deciduous trees in our forests. Even though it has been an extremely dry year, the local oaks still changed color this Fall. Right now they are incredibly beautiful in their golden-yellow autumn foliage!   

Acorn crops vary greatly from year to year.  This year there is a bumper crop of acorns.  There are 1,000's of them on the ground!  Some scientists have actually estimated that in a high yield year, there can be as many as 250,000 acorns per acre!!!!  Bumper crops apparently occur, on average, 2 out of every 10 years.  Since so many critters eat acorns, scientist think that oaks may vary their acorn production levels to control critter populations.  If they had bumper crops of acorns every year the critters that eat them would also increase in population.  This population increase could potentially decrease the amount of new trees sprouting from uneaten acorns.


California Black Oak acorns - Quercus kellogii

When I cracked some acorns open, I was surprised to find that the shell was leathery and pliable, not dry and brittle!  The size of the nutmeat inside was impressive!  About a third of the acorns I opened were damaged.  It turns out that a variety of insects eat and live in acorns!  

While an acorn is still attached to a tree branch, an Acorn Weevil will drill a hole into it (center photo, below) and then lay an egg!  In about 2 weeks, the larva hatches from the egg and feasts on the nutmeat, until the acorn falls from the tree. Once the acorn lands on the forest floor, the larva emerges from the acorn and digs down about 12" into the ground.  The larva then lives underground for up to 5 years, before it pupates and emerges as an adult!

An Acorn Moth lays an egg near the hole an Acorn Weevil has made, but only after the weevil larva has left.  In a few days the Acorn Moth larva hatches and crawls into the acorn, via the hole the Acorn Weevil made!  The larva then builds a web across the hole to keep others out!  It remains in the acorn, eating the nutmeat, until the following spring when it pupates and emerges as an adult.

Lots of insects will live in emptied acorn shells, including ants, snails, wasp larva, and slugs.  These in turn can be eaten by predators, such a centipedes!  WOW!  What a complex little ecosystem an acorn can be!  
   
Canyon Live Oak acorns (uncut - left, cut open - right) - Quercus chrysolepsis
Center photos:
 acorn with weevil hole - interior filled with frass & partially eaten nutmeat

Band-tailed Pigeons - Mule Deer 
Columba fasciata - Odocoileus hemionus

Acorns are also eaten by a variety of birds and mammals. Mammals grind them up with their teeth, but birds use their gizzards! A gizzard is a muscular organ found in the lower stomach of many birds and reptiles, that grinds food, usually with the aid of ingested gravel or grit.  Mountain Quail, Steller's Jays, Band-tailed Pigeons, and some woodpeckers eat acorns.  Raccoons, Flying Squirrels, Black Bears, Deer, Gray Squirrels, and rodents also consume acorns.  Oak trees also provide housing and a place to forage for many more species. 
To quote Wikipedia:  "The California black oak is a critical species for wildlife. Oaks may be the single most important genus used by wildlife for food and cover in California forests.  Cavities in the trees provide den or nest sites for owls, various woodpeckers, tree squirrels, and American black bears.  It is a preferred foraging substrate for many birds.  The parasitic plant which commonly grows on this oak, Pacific mistletoe, produces berries which attract birds as well."  

 Mountain Quail - Western Gray Squirrel 
Oreortyx pictusSciurus griseus

Bedrock Mortars - Halls Ranch Trailhead - Tahoe NF

Acorns are also an important part of the past and present-day life of the Nisenan, the local Native Americans.  The Nisenan lived in this area for thousands of years. They hunted, fished, and gathered many plants and seeds.  Acorns were one of their main winter staples, which they pounded into flour using pestles and bedrock mortars.  The resulting acorn flour was made into cakes, breads, soups, and mush.  A typical Nisenan family would gather 500+ lbs of acorns, to get them through a winter!  You can see some of their mortar holes (photo above) at the Halls Ranch Trailhead on Hwy. 49.  The oak trees were also used for construction materials, dyes, and medicines.

 It is estimated that in the past the Nisenan tribe had a population of approximately 7,000 individuals.  In the 1800's, the settlers and government of California decimated this Native American population through rampant genocide and disease.  Today there are only 147 Nisenan in existance, but they have been actively bringing their culture back to life.  An excellent article on their past and recent history, accompanied with beautiful photographs, can be found at https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/vbyxnx/the-california-tribe-the-government-tried-to-erase-in-the-60s-456.

Northern Flicker (male - left, female - right) - Colaptes auratus  
Inset: possible hybrid

Woodpeckers!

Two weeks ago, I posted photos of two unidentified woodpeckers. I also posted the photos on inaturalist.org, hoping that someone would identify them. So far inaturalist.org commentors have identified the genera they are in, but not the species. 



The bird in the insert above is a type of Northern Flicker. The odd thing about it is that it has a red band on the back of its head, and red malars (facial stripes). Usually only the Yellow-shafted subspecies has a red band on the back of their head, but they have black malars. The Red-shafted subspecies, which is commonly seen in my neighborhood, has red malars but no red stripe on the back of their head. Although these two subspecies have been known to interbreed, one commentor on inaturalist.org thought that my neighborhood is too far south for Yellow-shafted Flickers! So it's still a mystery bird, but I'll keep you posted on further developments!

  Red-breasted Sapsucker - unknown Sapsucker
Syraphicus ruber - Syraphicus sp.(?)

The Red-breasted Sapsucker (above left) is the most common Sapsucker in my neighborhood.  The other Sapsucker on the right is harder to identify, because I wasn't able to get a full view of its head.  The initial obvious difference between them, is the lack of red on the head of the unknown species.  There are 4 possible Sapsuckers it could be, but two of them are extremely rare in my area.  Commentors on inaturalist.org have only identified it as in the Sapsucker genus, but not the species.  Hopefully, I'll see it again soon, and get a better photo. 

Black-necked Stilt - Northern Pintail - Greater White-fronted Geese  
Himantopus mexicanus - Anas acuta - Anser albifrons

California Wetlands!

I stopped by the Colusa NWR in my travels last week. I had never visited one of these refuges this early in the season, and was thrilled to see thousands of birds in the wetlands all squawking at once! White-fronted Geese were the dominant species. These geese migrate down to California's wetlands, from their arctic breeding-grounds, to spend the winter! These refuges are great places to see all kinds of migratory birds in winter. If you haven't visited one, I highly recommend that you do! Check out their website at https://www.fws.gov/refuge/Sacramento/. 



Here's some information from the Colusa NWR website: "Colusa NWR is just one of the 5 National Wildlife Refuges/3 Wildlife Management Areas that make up the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex. Colusa NWR was established in 1945 as a refuge and breeding ground for migratory birds and other wildlife and to reduce damage of agricultural crops caused by waterfowl. 


Flocks of shorebirds begin arriving in August and September as the water begins to flow back into the wetlands. Northern Pintails are the first ducks to arrive and signal the beginning of fall migration. White-fronted geese will follow. White geese begin to appear in October. Colusa NWR typically supports wintering populations of more than 200,000 ducks and over 75,000 geese. Many birds including nesting wood ducks and mammals can be seen year-round."

 White-faced Ibis - Plegadis chihi

 Shorebirds & Waterfowl - Colusa National Wildlife Refuge

  Cattle Egret - Great Egret
  Bubulcus ibis - Ardea alba

 What kind of "skipper" is this?

What kind of fungi is this?

Where are those lovely foxes?

Next week I'll talk about where the trout go when the river gets low and cold.

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

If all of a sudden you haven't been getting email notices of my blog being published, just sign up again on my blog. I don't know why you got "unsubscribed". It's some kind of problem with Blogspot.com and/or FeedBurner.com. I apologize for this glitch!

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

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Out of Town

Lesser Yellowlegs - Tringa flavipes

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!

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

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Local Corvids

Common Raven - Corvus corax

Most of the songbirds and waterfowl have left for the winter. Our neighborhood is seemingly quiet and still, due to their absence. However, the year-round residents are now capturing my attention, mainly the corvids! 

As a group, corvids are uncommonly smart. A bird's brain, in general, has a small, poorly developed cerebral cortex. Intelligence in mammal brains is associated with the cerebral cortex. However, birds have developed a part of their forebrain, the hyperstriatum (which mammals lack), as their chief organ of intelligence! Smarter birds have a larger hyperstriatum. Additionally, the part of the brain that deals with memory is the hippocampus. Birds that have a large spatial memory have a large hippocampus. A corvid's brain has a large hyperstriatum and a large hippocampus!  That's probably why they are so smart!

Common Raven - Corvus corax

Ravens are thought to possibly be the smartest of all Corvids!  The smarter the bird, the more latitude it has to modify its inherited patterns.  Ravens are capable of learning innovative solutions to newly encountered problems!  They have been known to place nuts (e.g. walnuts) on a road and then retrieve them, after cars have driven over them and cracked the shells!

We have two Ravens that live in our canyon, but not right in the immediate area.  They live here year-round.  I watch them fly by daily as they head down to the highway, from their distant up-canyon roosting area.  Occasionally they will perch in a nearby tree.  The highway is a good source of food for these ravens, as roadkill provides carrion.  Ravens mate for life, and family members usually stick together for years.  I haven't ever seen these Ravens with any young.  I wonder why!      


Steller's Jay - Cyanocitta stelleri

Steller's Jays are also in the Corvid family.  There are about 16 of them that live here year-round.  Every morning they really squawk to each other.  Sometimes they sound quite alarmed!  They are very inquisitive, and are usually the first to notice anything new in the area.  They eat seeds, insects, fruit, garbage, carrion, and small mammals!  Lately I've been watching them fly by with Live Oak acorns in their beaks!  Yesterday, I heard what I thought was a woodpecker hammering on a tree trunk.  It turned out to be a Steller's Jay pecking on an acorn, that he was holding against the top of a branch!  I didn't know that they ate acorns!     

Yellow-billed Magpie - Pica nuttalli

The Yellow-billed Magpie that has been living in our neighborhood for 3 months is also a corvid!  Its residence here is an anomaly for a magpie.  Usually these birds inhabit the Central Valley, and valleys of the Coast Range, year-round in California.  Oak savannah is their preferred habitat, with open pastures or cultivated fields, and orchards.  They also usually roost communally with up to 800 other birds!  So far it is the only one in our area!   

Yellow-billed Magpie - Pica nuttalli

In the morning it likes to chatter from the sunny top of a tree.  It is a loud talker, louder than any other bird in the neighborhood!  I love hearing it!  I am really hoping this magpie sticks around, but I'm not sure how it will survive a snowy winter.
    

Petroglyphs in the Lakes Basin!

My friends, Rod and Rochelle took me cross-country to a petroglyph site up in the Lakes Basin this week!  WOW!  It was so exciting!  The petroglyphs were shallowly carved and pecked on a horizontal slab of bedrock, right next to a creek bed.  There were about 15 different designs on the site!  The only other petroglyphs I have seen in the Lakes Basin are the ones in the Lakes Basin Campground, that are accompanied by a USFS interpretive display.  Another local area that is known to have petroglyphs is near Hawley Meadows. My friends and I hiked out there to see them, but had to turn back before we found them.  Hopefully next time we'll see them!


I asked my friend, local historian/archeologist Hank Meals, about the origin of the petroglyphs.  He explains it eloquently in the following paragraphs.

"In the higher reaches of the Feather, Yuba, Bear and American Rivers are symbols pecked into bedrock by ancient hunters and gatherers. They are typically found above 5000 feet with motifs that are distinctive and reoccurring. There are some recognizable elements, such as animal prints, but most are abstract symbols, at least to us. Many of the petroglyph panels are in dramatic settings with expansive views.

There is no way to accurately date the petroglyphs but occasional artifacts found at the sites date from 4,000 to 1,500 years ago. No one claims to know what the abstract glyphs mean including contemporary Nisenan and Washoe people. If, in fact, they do know why should they tell us? Theories about their meaning include boundary markers, maps or places to conjure, or summon, hunting luck/magic." 


Hank Meals has hiked, photographed, studied, and written about our local area for many years!  His knowledge of the area is incredible!  He has published several books on the local trails and their history, such as Yuba Trails (1995), Yuba Trails 2 (2001), and The River (2008).  He has a blog, yubatreadhead.blogspot.com, in which he shares his experience and knowledge of this area.  Check it out!  It's fascinating!

 Cedar Waxwings -  Bombycilla cedrorum

Surprise Visitors!

Late one afternoon I noticed a bunch of birds in a mistletoe clump near the top of a dead cedar tree, eating the berries!  They were backlit and hard to indentify.  Later, when I looked at the images on my computer, I was surprised to see that they were Cedar Waxwings!!!  I have only seen them a few times before in the Spring, eating the local cherries!

It turns out that Cedar Waxwings can be found throughout California during the winter!  They travel in flocks, ranging from less than 10 to several 100 in size!  Being "frugivores" they exist almost totally on fruit, mainly in the form of local berries.  They eat madrone, mistletoe, juniper, mountain ash, hawthorn, dogwood, strawberries, raspberries, serviceberries, and cedar berries.  Cedar berries are their main food in the winter, but are not found on cedar trees. They are misnamed. They are actually the berries of the Eastern Red Juniper, which mainly grow on the east side of the Sierra. In summer, Cedar Waxwings supplement their fruit diet with insects and some flowers.

Their name is derived from their preference for cedar berries in winter, as well as the waxy tips of their inner flight feathers.  It is suggested that the bright red color of the waxy tips may attract mates.  No other function of the waxy tips has been determined!  It was so interesting to see them in our neighborhood!  I had no idea that they might be around.  I'll keep a closer watch this winter! 

Chickaree or Douglas Squirrel -  Tamiasciurus douglasii

Lately, this little Chickaree has been busy collecting walnuts for the winter, from my neighbor's tree.  It is such an acrobat!  Usually when it sees me, it stops moving and holds perfectly still.  I watched it for several minutes, and it finally moved!  It lay down on the branch, perhaps in an attempt to become less visible. 

Chickaree or Douglas Squirrel -  Tamiasciurus douglasii

 I love how its hind toes wrapped around the branch!  Their hind legs are double-jointed, which is one of the reasons they're such good climbers!

Convergent Lady Beetles - Hippodamia convergens

The Ladybugs are Back!

Every year 1,000's of these Lady Beetles or Ladybugs converge to mate in our neighborhood.  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.  However, my neighbor, Tammy, has watched dragonflies catch them again and again, near her pond!  Wow! 

 What do trout do when the river temperature drops?

What kind of uncommon birds are these?

Where are the foxes?


The track I posted last week was a Black Bear track.
I found it in a dry lake bed in the Lakes Basin.


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

If all of a sudden you haven't been getting email notices of my blog being published, just sign up again on my blog.  I don't know why you got "unsubscribed".  It's some kind of problem with Blogspot.com and/or FeedBurner.com.  I apologize for this glitch!

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

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Lakes Basin Beauty

Pileated Woodpecker (male) - Dryocopus pileatus

We went up to the Lakes Basin for my husband's annual birthday picnic this week.  Just as we started to hike up the Grassy Lake trail, we heard a woodpecker knocking on a tree trunk.  I ran back to see what kind of woodpecker it was, and was thrilled to see a Pileated Woodpecker hammering on a dead Lodgepole Pine!  We've only seen these woodpeckers a few times in the Lakes Basin.  This time I was able to take several photos as it chiseled away at the tree trunk! WOW!!!

 
Pileated Woodpecker (male) - Dryocopus pileatus

These woodpeckers, measuring 16"-19" in length, are the largest woodpeckers in most of North America!  They live in coniferous forests from 2,000'-7,5000', but are uncommon in our area.  They are non-migratory birds, and live year-round in their chosen habitat.  The name pileated comes from the latin word "pileatus" meaning "capped", and refers to their red crest.  The one I saw was a male.  Females have a red cap, but not as extensive, and do not have a red stripe on the side of their head.  Males and females usually pair for life, and will defend their territory year-round. At night they will roost singly, or with other species of "roosters", in tree cavities!

Pileated Woodpeckers peck tree trunks and stumps to find their prey of carpenter ants and wood-boring beetle larvae.  They will also eat grasshoppers, termites, cockroaches, flies, fruit, and nuts.  Their tongues are long, sometimes 4" in length, sticky, bristled, and recessed back over the top of their skull when not in use!!!  These long tongues are used to retrieve insect prey from inside the trunk of a tree.  When searching for prey they usually peck 20 times per second, with a total of 8,000 to 12,000 pecks per day!!!  Their skull is structurally reinforced to spread the impact force of constant pecking, and is composed of strong but compressible sponge-like bone.  To prevent the movement of the brain during pecking, their brains are surrounded with minimal cerebral fluid. 

Woodpecker feet are "zygodactyl" with 2 toes in front and 2 toes in back. (Most birds are "anisodactyl" and have 3 toes in front and 1 toe in the back) This zygodactyl arrangement, combined with their stiff tail feathers, helps brace woodpeckers against tree trunks while they are pecking. They also have thick, sharp, talons to grip the wood. To protect their eyes from flying wood chips, their eyes have a thick nictitating (blinking) membrane.  Their nostrils are usually slits, to keep out debris, protected by specialized feathers.  What incredibly adapted birds!  How lucky I was to watch this beautiful bird!!!

Sandhill Cranes - Antigone canadensis

We were also lucky to hear and see these Sandhill Cranes flying overhead!  We always hear them before we see them.  The field guides describe their call as, "a loud, resonant, wooden-sounding bugle with rattling or rolling quality" or "a trumpeting, rattling gar-oo-oo, audible for more than a mile."  I think their loud call sounds rubbery, like water balloons being rubbed together!  Regardless of the description, their calls are LOUD and unmistakable!  If you hear them at this time of year, look up and watch them flying west!  

The shorter days and cooler nights prompt many species of birds to migrate to their winter quarters.  These large cranes (almost 4' tall) are flying down from their nesting territories in southeastern Oregon, northeastern California, northwestern Nevada, and Sierra Valley.  They will spend the winter in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys of California, where they congregate in the tens of thousands!  I have yet to go and see them in their winter home.  Hopefully, I will go to the delta this winter.

Springtime - Sandhill Cranes in Sierra Valley  
(adults - possible mated pair) - Antigone canadensis


Aspens - Populus tremuloides

We also enjoyed the small, beautiful, groves of Aspen trees in the Lakes Basin that day! Some trees are still green, but many are turning a gorgeous golden-yellow. They will probably last for about another week, so get up there if you haven't lately! Such beauty!

We saw a lot of young short aspens sprouting in one section of a meadow. It turns out that these saplings didn't grow from seeds, but rather they sprouted from the root tips of adult aspens. Each tree grows from a common root system, expanded by root-sprouting seedlings. A grove of aspens is also a group of "clones". The trees in a group of "clones" are genetically identical. One clonal aspen colony in Utah is the oldest living organism in the world, at perhaps 80,000 years old!!! Wow!

A grove of aspen trees may produce millions of seeds, but not many are viable. Pollination is inhibited by the fact that aspens are either male or female, and large stands are usually all clones of the same sex. Even if pollinated, the small seeds can only survive for a short time as they lack a stored food source or a protective coating.


Bare Winter Aspens - Grassy Lake
 Populus tremuloides

Long Lake Sparkles - 10/11/18

On another day last week, my friend B.J. and I hiked cross country to Long Lake.  It was an incredibly windy, clear-view day, with beautiful clouds passing by!  The wind bejeweled the lake with sparkles! We were mesmerized by the movement and light!  I took lots of photos, but the two below were the most interesting!


In this photo I focused on the pine needles, 
with the sparkles out of focus in the background.


In this photo I focused on the sparkles, 
with the pine needles out of focus in the foreground.  

When I looked at the image on my camera, I was surprised to see sparkly concentric circles where the pine needles had been!  It looked like the painted circles around the stars in Van Gogh's "Starry Night" painting.  Wow!  I have no idea why this happened, but it also happened on my friend's camera!!!  If you can explain why this happened please let me know!  My email address is at the bottom of this blog.

 Northern Flicker (female - male) 
Colaptes auratus

Neighborhood Update

 Down in my neighborhood several Northern Flickers have recently shown up!  Measuring 12.5" in length, they are the second largest woodpecker in North America.  Like the Pileated Woodpecker, they are sexually dimorphic in appearance. The red stripe on the male's head is absent in the female.  Unlike other woodpeckers, they usually forage on the ground for ants, beetles, moths, snails, flies, larvae, seed and berries!  They probably won't spend the winter here, and will migrate to lower elevations as winter approaches.

Both the Northern Flicker and the Pileated Woodpecker communicate  by "drumming" on trees in loud regular patterns.  These drummings may possibly attract a mate, declare a territory, or send out an alarm or warning!  Locally, the Northern Flickers like to drum on my neighbor's chimney cap!

  Northern Flicker foraging on the ground (female) - Colaptes auratus

 California Tent Moth -  Malacosoma californicum

These translucent tents are made from the silk of California Tent Moth caterpillars.  The tents are created for the protection of the caterpillars, while they eat the leaves of their host tree.  In some areas of North America these caterpillars have created a lot of damage to trees, especially aspens.  Luckily in our area their population is not at an infestation level.  We see them every year, but not in huge concentrations.   


Woolly Bear Caterpillar - Pyrrharctia isabella       Praying Mantis - Mantis religiosa

The Woolly Bear caterpillar is the offspring of the Isabella Tiger Moth, which I have never seen!  I've seen several of the caterpillars down in our garden lately.  They will overwinter as caterpillars, emerge in the Spring, pupate, mate, and then lay eggs!  Although folklore states that there is a correlation between the width of the black stripes and the type of winter that approaches, there is no correlation. The amount of black varies with the age of the caterpillar and the moisture levels where it developed! 

I also found another Praying Mantis in our garden this week!  Bugguide.org identified it for me as a non-native european mantis, Mantis religiosa, like the beige one I found a month or so ago.  Since this mantis was green, it made me wonder if Praying Mantis can change color to fit their surroundings. Here's an article from the bulletinofinsectology.org that explains it thoroughly.



"Colour change and habitat preferences in Mantis religiosa" 

by Roberto Battiston & Paolo Fontana 


"In summary...hot sun, low humidity and intense light of summer promote the production of brown ground vegetation and brown mantids, more moderate temperatures promote higher humidity and low light intensity promotes green vegetation and mantids. But probably two other factors explain this colour distribution: predators detect and eat mantids that do not match the changing environmental colour and the mantids possibly actively prefer microhabitats that match their own coloration. The colour of the substrate in the field should be considered as a co-factor of the success of this strategy of M. religiosa but not its main direct cause."


 Are the ladybugs back?

Where are the foxes?

Are the Mergansers still here?

Is the Magpie still here?

Whose track is this?

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

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