Sunday, July 14, 2019

On Vacation!

Snowplant - Sarcodes sanguinea

I'm on Vacation, but I'll be back in a few days. You won't believe what I saw!!! Check back next Sunday for some amazing Natural History News! The bright-red, tentacle-looking photo I posted last week was a close-up of this Snowplant!

Your questions and comments are greatly appreciated, please email me at northyubanaturalist@gmail.com 

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Seeps & Bogs

A steep seep on Hwy. 49 - 6/21/19

Last week we explored a few seeps and bogs. Several were local, others were up north in the Plumas National Forest. Most of them were thriving, but one was heavily impacted by grazing. They were all fascinating!

Seeps

Wikipedia states: "A seep or flush is a moist or wet place where water, usually groundwater, reaches the earth's surface from an underground aquifer."  

There's a steep seep (above photo) right off of Highway 49 that is always noticeably green and blooming long before and way after other local slopes.  I've been watching it for several years.  This year I finally hiked/climbed up it and was astounded by what I found!  It was jammed packed with blooming plants, including Seep-spring Monkey Flower, Elegant Brodiaea, Round-toothed Ookow, Keckiella, Skullcap, Mock Orange, wild onion, Globe Gilia, and Soap Root!  There were lots of insects feeding on the flowers, including Hairstreak Butterflies, Variable Checkerspot Butterflies, Annaphila Moths, beetles and bees!  The ground was moist and squishy with moss!  I've gone back several times and have been delighted with this unique ecosystem!  Here are some of the beauties I saw!

Hairstreak on wild onion - Variable Checkerspot Butterfly on Globe Gilia
unknown species on Allium sp. - Euphydryas chalcedona on Gilia capitata

California Skullcap -  Keckiella
Scutellaria californica - Keckiella breviflora

Seep-spring Monkey Flower - Harvest Brodiaea
Mimulus guttatus - Brodiaea elegans

Annaphila Moth - Long-horned Beetle 
Annaphila lithosina - Judolia instabilis
on 
White Brodiaea - Triteleia hyacinthina

Bog Orchid - Stream Orchid - Sierra Rein Orchid
Plantathera sparsiflora - Epipactis gigantea - Plantathera leucostachys

Orchids

Orchids are commonly found in wet seeps and bogs.  Although I didn't find any orchids in the seep mentioned above, there is another seep alongside Highway 49 that is filled with thousands of Stream Orchids, and many Sierra Rein Orchids!  I stop by to take pictures every year. I also found a green Bog Orchid (left photo) in a bog near Harris Meadow!  I've never seen one of these before! How exciting!

Pitcher Plants in Butterfly Valley - Darlingtonia californica

Bogs 

The Forest Service states:  "A bog is a freshwater wetland of soft, spongy ground consisting mainly of partially decayed plant matter called peat. Bogs are generally found in cool, northern climates. All bogs take hundreds or thousands of years to develop. A bog is formed when a lake slowly fills with plant debris. Sphagnum moss, as well as other plants, grow out from the lake's edge. The vegetation eventually covers the lake's entire surface. Plants decay slowly in bogs, because flooding prevents a healthy flow of oxygen from the atmosphere. Bog soils are oxygen and nutrient-poor, and are much more acidic than other soils." 

We visited two different bogs this past week. On Friday we visited Butterfly Valley in Plumas National Forest.  The Forest Service states:  "Butterfly Valley was designated as a botanical area in 1976, due to its outstanding abundance and diversity of plant life.  It is managed to provide the public with an opportunity to enjoy an undeveloped area of profuse floral display."   I had never seen such an abundance of Pitcher Plants, Sundews, Hastingsias, Bog Asphodels, Sneezeweeds, and Leopard Lilies in my life!  The Pitcher Plants were also HUGE, about 2' tall!  It was an amazingly vigorous and thriving wetland, including a bog, with an astounding variety of plants in full bloom! 

On Saturday we drove up to a local bog near Harris Meadow in the Tahoe National Forest.  This bog is not in a preserve and cows graze in it, which decimates the plant population.  There were probably only about 100 Pitcher Plants, fewer Sundews, and not many other wildflowers.  The Pitcher Plants were also much smaller than the ones we saw at Butterfly Valley, only about 8" tall.  The land is owned by Sierra Pacific Industries, not the Tahoe National Forest.  I visited this bog 13 years ago, and it was in much better shape then.  Unfortunately, lots of logging and road building has occurred in the area since then.  What a shame.

Pitcher Plant Flower & Leaves - Darlingtonia californica

Pitcher Plants are carnivorous plants, and are only found in bogs.  They have largish maroon/yellow-green flowers that dangle from tall stalks above their green, pitcher-shaped leaves.  The rounded top of the leaves are covered with translucent small cells that you can see through!  Another name for the Pitcher Plant is Cobra Lily, which I think fits the plant perfectly!  I found these unusual, exotic plants to be exquisitely beautiful!

The Forest Service states: "Darlingtonia californica is a carnivorous plant; it lures, traps, and dissolves insects with its pitcher shaped leaves. Insects are lured to the slippery pitchers by color and nectar. Once the insect enters the bulbous top of the pitcher it becomes disoriented by the translucent quality of the leaves. Then, the insect has a difficulty determining which way to exit. Eventually, the insect gets trapped inside the tube and slides downward toward the bottom of the pitcher where it is dissolved and absorbed as nutrients by the plant."

Round-leaved Sundew (leaves) - Drosera rotundifolia

These wild-looking, sticky plants were growing in the bog near the Pitcher Plants.  Much smaller in size, the leaves are about as big as the end of your thumb, they are easily overlooked.  However, once you see one of them, you'll suddenly realize there are hundreds of them!  Sundews are carnivorous plants, that are only found in bogs. The genus name, Drosera, is Greek for dewy and refers to the moist, glistening, sticky drops on the leaves, to which small organisms stick. Longer-stalked glands near the edge of a leaf slowly bend inward, securing and placing an entrapped organism in the digestive area of stalkless glands. By feeding on insects, Sundews are able to survive on nutrient-poor soils where other plants are at a disadvantage.  WOW!  What a gorgeous, outrageous plant!

Hastingsia - Mountain Sneezeweed
 Hastingsia alba - Helenium autumnale var montanum

False Asphodel/Western Tofieldia - Bog Asphodel
Tofieldia occidentalis - Narthecium californicum

Four-spotted Skimmer - Goldenrod Crab Spider on Western Azalea
Libellula quadrimaculata - Musumen vatia on Rhododendron occidentale

 Bog Bugs

Lots of dragonflies were zooming all over the bog catching the insects that were feeding on the flowers. They catch insects with their legs, and eat their prey while flying!  My friend spotted a Western Azalea that still had a few blooms on it, in the dry woods.  I zipped over to smell it, as their fragrance is heavenly, and just about bumped my nose on the Goldenrod Crab Spider that was totally camouflaged in the flower center!   I don't think the crab spider would have bit me, but if I had been a flying insect I could have been its lunch!

Washington Lily - Lillium washingtonianum

Forest Flowers

Butterfly Valley is not all bog.  It has forests, creeks, and some wet meadows.  We saw quite a few flowers in these areas, some of which we had never seen before!  The Washington Lily (above photo) was in a pool of sunlight in the dark forest!  It had a lovely, feminine fragrance!  The sunlight dramatically lit this graceful, 4' lily!  Such beauty! Below are photos of some of the flowers that were new to us.  Enjoy!

Douglas's Spiraea - Hedge Nettle
Spiraea douglasii - Stachys albens

Bear Grass near Harris Meadow - Xerophyllum tenax

We saw Bear Grass in Butterfly Valley but it had already bloomed and dried up.  However, at the bog near Harris Meadow it was in bud and in full bloom!  Apparently, the cows didn't eat them because they weren't in the bog.  They were poking out of thickets!  I had never seen these 5' tall plants before!  I lucked out and saw about 25 of them, all in various stages of bloom!  WOW!!!  The "bud" is at the top of a green, asparagus-like, 3'-5' stalk.  The flowers bloom from the bottom of the bud to the top.  Some of them looked like hats!  How lucky we were to see them in bloom!  They were incredible!  

Bear Grass sprouts from an underground rhizome, and doesn't always bloom every year.  However, they will bloom profusely after a forest fire!  Native Americans used the grasses to make cooking bowls, mush baskets, basket hats, small baskets, and braided it for necklaces!  Some tribes boiled the root and ate it!  

Dusky-footed Woodrat Home - Neotoma fuscipes

We came across this Dusky-footed Woodrat home near a creek in a forested area of Butterfly Valley!  It was huge, about 5' tall by 7' wide!  On one side of it, there were several entrances.  We also found some freshly cut vegetation in one of the entrances, a sure sign that the home was inhabited.  Woodrat homes can be quite old.  Some have been documented to be over 60 years old!  Large Woodrat homes have 3 or 4 waterproof sleeping rooms that can also be used as birthing nests and nurseries, as well as leaching rooms, food storage rooms, and latrine areas!  Usually only one Woodrat will occupy a home.  However, several other animals use Woodrat homes for lodging, including mice, brush rabbits, salamanders, snakes, frogs, lizards, centipedes, spiders and insects!  WOW!!!


What is the heck is this?

What's happening with the Bullock's Orioles?

What's happening on the river?

Thanks to inaturalist.org, I found out that these ants are all Carpenter Ants.  
They look different because they are major and minor workers.

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

If you suddenly stop getting my blog in your email, you need to sign up again. This is a problem with blogspot.com and I can't figure out how to fix it.

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

Sunday, June 30, 2019

A Brief Blog

Bullock's Oriole female and three nestlings!

I'm camping this week so I don't have time to blog.  Just wanted to let you know that we saw and heard three nestlings in the Bullock's Oriole nest near our home!  The nestlings chattered loudly all day long, while their parents flew in and out with insects for them to eat!  It was just fabulous to watch them!  Yahoo!

Check back next week for a report on my camping trip,
and the latest Natural History News from my neighborhood! 

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

Sunday, June 23, 2019

A Few Unusual Sightings!

Carpenter Ants - Camponotus pennsylvanicus

Last week we came across a Carpenter Ant Colony in the Lakes Basin!  I hadn't seen one for many years!  Carpenter Ants don't eat wood.  They excavate homes in damp, rotting logs, and remove excess wood mouthful by mouthful!  In the picture above a carpenter ant is about to drop a mouthful of wood!  The telltale pile of sawdust in the photo below is the result of many mouthfuls of wood being dropped!  (I'm not sure why the two ants in the photo look different.  I'll post it on inaturalist.org and see what they say.)

Carpenter Ants live in colonies of one or more queens and thousands of female workers. The workers forage for food at night, enlarge the size of the nest, and care for the queen and her larvae. They eat mainly dead insects, as well as honeydew from aphids. This food is subsequently regurgitated and fed to the queen and larvae!  In the summer, 200-400 winged females and males develop in the colony. These winged ants overwinter in the nest, and disperse in the Spring to mate.  After mating the males die, and the females remove their own wings and search for a location to start a new colony!
  
Carpenter Ant Sawdust Pile

 Spotted Flower Buprestid Beetle - Sierra Pericopid Moth
Acmaeodera sp. - Gnophaela latipennis

There are LOTS of insects out there eating and pollinating the flowers right now!  Inaturalist.org is a great resource for identifying flowers, insects, birds, etc.  Just post your photo and search their data base for a matching image, and almost always it will be instantly identified!  I spotted two different adult wood boring beetles feeding on flowers this week (above left & bottom right)!  As larvae they live under the bark or in the heartwood of trees!  I also spotted two moths (above right & below left) that I thought were butterflies!  I had never seen these moths before!  The Annaphila Moths were tiny, about as big as my thumbnail!  I posted it on Bugguide.net, and it was a new species for their guide!  WOW!  How lucky to see them!

Annaphila Moth - Dimorphic Flower Longhorn Beetle
Annaphila lithosina - Anastrangalia laetifica


California Striped Racer - Masticophis lateralis lateralis

Herps Update!

I was out wandering one morning when a lizard zoomed past me in the grass, hotly pursued by a snake!!!  The lizard got away, but the snake shot up a nearby tree!  WOW!  I've never seen a snake climb a tree before!  They use the "scoots" on their bellies to move, and apparently climbing trees is a cinch!  The snake was a California Striped Racer, distinguished by the yellow stripes on its sides. Their preferred foods are lizards, snakes, frogs, small mammals, birds, snakes, and some insects.  I've never seen one before!  Racers can really move FAST!!!

Sierran Tree Frog - Pseudacris sierra

Up in the Lakes Basin, we came across a Sierran Tree Frog that was orange in color!  The ones I've seen have always been green or brown, never orange.  Apparently it's not rare to see an orange tree frog, just not that common.  We were lucky to see one!  


Yellow-bellied Marmot - Marmota flaviventris

Mammal Update!

I saw this Yellow-bellied Marmot up in the Lakes Basin this week!  I haven't seen one in a while!  It was hanging out on a bunch of boulders, its preferred habitat.  Usually marmots live in underground colonies, below boulder fields.  Marmots are vegetarians and eat a wide variety of plants.  Marmots mate soon after they emerge from hibernation.  About 30 days later, females will give birth to 3-8 pups.  The pups are nursed for 3 weeks, after which the pups emerge from the den.  Parental care is limited after pups emerge, but the family unit stays together.  During the winter, when plants are not available, marmots hibernate.  They are true hibernators.  Their respiration and heart beat slows down, and their body temperature drops slightly.  This slows down their metabolism, and makes them able to live off their body fat while hibernating.  Marmots can hibernate for 6 to 8 months, depending on the severity of winter!

Black-tailed Mule Deer (male) - Odocoileus hemionus columbianus

A group of bucks with their antlers in velvet have been charging through our neighborhood the past two mornings!!!  There must be a Mountain Lion nearby!

Bullock's Orioles preening! (female & male) - Icterus bullockii

Nesting News!

The Bullock's Orioles have been super busy feeding their nestlings!  I've watched the female repeatedly dive into our garden and catch a butterfly!  She then whacks the wings off, and flies off to feed the body to her nestlings!  The male prefers to catch insects in the Iceland Poppies!  Maybe it's catching honey bees!  I've also watched the female preen herself in a cedar tree near her nest.  It's amazing to see her fluff out her feathers as she grooms herself!  Bullock's Oriole nestlings usually fledge after 2 weeks in the nest, which will be sometime next week.  They may stay around in the nest tree for a few days, before the whole family heads south for their winter home in Costa Rica!  The 4,000 mile trip south takes around 3 months!  I sure hope I get a glimpse of the fledglings before they go!

Bullock's Orioles (male & female) - Icterus bullockii

They are such beautiful birds!  I didn't think you'd mind seeing more photos of them!


Red-breasted Sapsucker (adults) - Syraphicus ruber
  
The Red-breasted Sapsucker adults have also been super busy feeding their young.  They fly to the nest about every 2-5 minutes, with something to feed the nestlings!  I can't tell if there's more than one nestling in the nest.  This morning one was really sticking out of the nest!!!  Wow!  Woodpecker nestlings stay in the nest for 23-28 days.  When they fledge, they are fully feathered and capable of gliding flight.  Maybe it will fledge later today!  How exciting!!!

Red-breasted Sapsucker (adult) and nestling - Syraphicus ruber

Hopefully I'll get a photo of this nestling after it fledges!

Anna's Hummingbird (female) & Bee Balm - Calypte anna & Monarda didyma

To Feed or not to Feed!

Since that little hummingbird died two weeks ago, I haven't been feeding the birds at all.  I've been reading a lot about feeding birds, and there are pros and cons. For now, I've decided to plant flowers for hummingbirds!  There are many great websites that deal with the types of plants that attract hummingbirds.  A good one is  https://www.hummingbirdsociety.org/hummingbird-flowers/.  We have quite a few of these flowers in our garden, including salvia, columbine, lupine, penstemon, bee balm, and zinnias.  There are also many native plants available in the surrounding forest.  Plants are definitely the natural way to feed hummers!  I'll keep you posted on further research I do on the feeding of birds.

The cherries are ripe!  
I took this photo last year, but haven't seen any bears yet this year!  
Where are they?

The river is slowing down with a flow of 1,350 cfs.  
Now that it's slower, will the mergansers, heron, and kingfisher show up?


What other birds are fledging?

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

If you suddenly stop getting my blog in your email, you need to sign up again. This is a problem with blogspot.com and I can't figure out how to fix it.

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

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Wildflowers!

Snow Plant - Sarcodes sanguinea

Lots of rain, followed by warm, sunny days is the perfect combination for abundant wildflowers!  Right now wildflowers are popping up everywhere!  Although the higher elevations are still snow-covered there are lots of wildflowers at 6,000' and lower.  I went to Carmen Valley, Sierra Valley, and the Saddleback Lookout this week. Due to the differences in these three habitats,  the wildflowers aren't the same.  Even within one habitat the flowers differed, from wetland to dry land, and from sunny areas to shaded areas.

The most striking wildflower of them all is the Snow Plant, which was growing in the Yellow Pine Forest that surrounds Carmen Valley.  We saw quite a few of them on our visit to Carmen Valley on 6-4-19, but a week later they had already dried up!  Snow plant grows in the thick humus of montane coniferous forests from 4000' to 8000', often under pines, blooming from May to July. It supplements its nutrient intake by parasitizing the roots of pine trees by means of a shared mycorrhizal fungus. 

The following quote from the book Sierra Nevada  (published in 1970) by Verna R. Johnston, describes it in detail.

"Occasional wildflowers brighten the forest floor, snow plant the most brilliant among them.  Its stout, fleshy stems, covered with reddish scales and crowded with bell-shaped crimson flowers, push through the humus just after the snow has melted.  Sometimes there are two stems to a clump; occasionally as many as twenty-two.  Lacking green leaves, the snow plant cannot manufacture its own food as plants with chlorophyll do.  It feeds indirectly on decayed organic matter in the soil through the medium of microscopic fungus that completely covers its roots.  As summer wanes, its flowers produce small red marble-like capsules. By September the parent has one or more well-formed young plants underground at its base, ready to emerge next summer at the first sign of melt."

Western Peony - Woollen-breeches - Spotted Mountain Bells
Paeonia brownii - Hydrophyllum capitatum var. alpinum - Frittillaria atropurpurea

In Carmen Valley the forest was blooming as well as the wetlands.  In the dry forest, we found three flowers that most of us had never seen before, a Western Peony, Woollen-breeches, and Spotted Mountain Bells!  I have come across the peony a few times in the Sierra!  Their maroon-brown, large, nodding flowers are beautiful!  The Woollen-breeches are in the Waterleaf Family. They are unique in that the flowers are on the ground, below the leaves!  We only saw one Spotted Mountain Bells plant.  It was so camouflaged we were lucky to see it at all.  None of us had ever seen this lovely maroon-brown, checkered fritillary before!  Just gorgeous!

Bitter Brush - Blue-eyed Grass - Hairy Owl's Clover
Purshia tridentata - Sisyrinchium bellum - Castilleja tenuis

We also saw lots of Bitter Brush throughout the area, and along the perimeter of the wetlands.  Each bush was loaded with thousands of creamy-yellow blossoms.  The leaves and young twigs are a favored food of Mule Deer.  The seeds are eaten by many birds and rodents, including chipmunks, deer mice, ground squirrels, and woodrats!
The Blue-eyed grass was growing in a wet meadow, and is purple (not blue) with a yellow center!  I often wonder why some species (including birds) have names that don't make sense!  The aptly named Hairy Owl's Clovers were growing in dry, sunny areas and were super hairy!

Nuttall's Larkspur - Common Camas Lily - Common Camas Lily
Delphinium nutallianum - Camassia quamash - Camassia quamash

 The wet meadows were filled with hundreds of beautiful blue (and a few white) Common Camas lilies.  In the Nez Perce language, "camas" means "sweet."  The bulbs of these plants were the most important bulb utilized by the Native Americans.  Areas where these bulbs were abundant were sometimes fought over!  They also used the larkspur flowers to make a blue dye to color feathers, as well as in special ceremonies.

Western Bistort - Acrid Buttercup - Long-stalked Sandwort/Chickweed
Polygonum bistortoides - Ranunculus acris - Stellaria longipes var. longipes

There were also lots of Bistort and Buttercups, in the wet meadows.  Apparently all parts of the Western Bistort are edible, some raw, some cooked.  The name refers to its twisted root.  Among the common Western Buttercups (not pictured), we found a different species of buttercup, the Acrid Buttercup.  However, it is not native to California.  In among the grasses there were a variety of small white flowers, including Long-stalked Sandwort/Chickweed.  It's latin name means "star-shaped".  

The abundant beauty of all these flowers was amazing to see!  


Spring Gold/Lomatium - Arrow-leaved Balsam-root
Lomatium utriculatum - Balsamorhiza sagittata

Later in the week, we drove and hiked up to the Saddleback Fire Lookout. The area was dry but the flowers were plentiful!  Spring Gold/Lomatium was growing in the dry gravely areas. Their umbels of flowers are characteristic of their Carrot, or Apiaceae, plant family.  The Arrow-leaved Balsam-root is easy to mistake for Mule Ears.  One of their obvious differences is the shape of their leaves.  Balsam-root is named after the sticky sap of its taproot.

Twin-leaved Onion - Subalpine Onion - Spreading Phlox
Allium anceps - Allium obtusum - Phlox diffusa


We also came across two types of wild onion on the gravely slopes, as well as an abundance of spreading phlox.  Native Americans roasted and ate most wild onions.  The phlox flowers change from white to lavender once they are pollinated!  It was amazing to see these lovely flowers thriving on the hot, dry, and rocky slopes!


Carmen Valley - Saddleback Fire Lookout - Sierra Valley

Carmen Valley is really close to Sierra Valley, but it's a lot smaller.  It doesn't have the bird population that Sierra Valley has, but it hasn't been grazed by cows and the wildflowers are plentiful.  Both valleys are well worth exploring.  The Saddleback Fire Lookout is located about 8 miles from Downieville, but is only accessible via a dirt road (4WD recommended).  I hadn't been up to the lookout in 24 years!  The last time I was there, I was taking photographs to make drawings for the Tahoe National Forest!  Below is the drawing I did from those photos!  Hard to believe it was 24 years ago!

Saddleback Fire Lookout - Tahoe National Forest - 1995

Black-crowned Night Heron - Nycticorax nycticorax

Birds of Carmen Valley and Sierra Valley

 In Sierra Valley we saw many Yellow-headed Blackbirds, White-faced Ibis, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Cliff Swallows which I've featured in previous posts.  New to us were Ruddy Ducks and a Black-crowned Night Heron!  

The night heron was gorgeous with the water all sparkling behind it!  The Cornell Lab of Ornithology states, "Black-crowned Night-Herons are opportunists feeders that eat many kinds of terrestrial, freshwater, and marine animals. Their diet includes leeches, earthworms, insects, crayfish, clams, mussels, fish, amphibians, lizards, snakes, turtles, rodents, birds, and eggs. They also eat carrion, plant materials, and garbage from landfills. Rather than stabbing their prey, they grasp it in their bills. Black-crowned Night-Herons normally feed between evening and early morning, avoiding competition with other heron species that use the same habitat during the day. They may feed during the day in the breeding season, when they need extra energy for nesting."
  
 Ruddy Duck (male - female) - Oxyura jamaicensis

We were astonished by the bright blue of this male Ruddy Duck's bill!  It was incredible!  The female was so camouflaged that at first I thought she was a rock!  I have never seen these ducks before!!

The Cornell Ornithology Lab states, "Both (Ruddy Duck) adults and ducklings eat aquatic insects, crustaceans, zooplankton, and other invertebrates, along with small amounts of aquatic plants and seeds. They forage mostly by diving to the bottom of shallow ponds, straining mouthfuls of mud through thin plates on their bills and swallowing the prey items that are left behind. Occasionally they strain food from the surface of the water. Midge larvae form a large part of their diet. Other food items include water fleas, worms, amphipods, seed shrimp, snails, caddisfly larvae, dragonfly nymphs, predaceous diving beetles and their larvae, bugs, water boatmen, brine fly larvae, crane fly larvae, mosquitoes, mayflies, and plant material from arrowhead, pondweed, muskgrass, bulrushes, bayberry, spikerushes, water lilies, duckweed, and more. Plant material is more common in their diet during migration and winter than during the breeding season."

Western Bluebird (female) and nesting cavity - Sialia mexicana

  In Carmen Valley, my friend Judy spotted a female Western Bluebird fly out of a cavity in a fence post!  The entrance to the cavity was quite large, and at eye level so we took a quick peak inside.  To our delight there were four tiny eggs in a nest!!! 
We left quickly after we saw the eggs, and happily watched the female return to her nest a few seconds later!   

Anna's Hummingbird (Immature) - Calypte Anna

Leave Wild Things Wild

Down at our bird feeders this week I found a sick immature hummingbird on the ground. I had no idea what I could do to help it.  I was on my way to the Wildlife Rehabilitation & Release center that morning, so I brought it with me.  Sadly, the little hummer died on the way to the center. The staff at the center thought that it had probably died from avian pox, which is highly contagious.  

The following quote from the Cornell Ornithology website briefly explains avian pox.
"Two forms of avian pox exist. In the more common form, wart-like growths appear on the featherless areas of the body, such as around the eye, the base of the bill, and on the legs and feet. In the second form, plaques develop on the mucous membrane of the mouth, throat, trachea, and lungs, resulting in impaired breathing and difficulty feeding.

Avian pox can be caused by several strains of the pox virus and has been reported in at least 60 species of birds, including turkeys, hawks, owls, and sparrows. The virus can be spread by direct contact with infected birds or contaminated surfaces (e.g., feeders) or by ingestion of contaminated food or water."

The staff at Wildlife Rehabilitation & Release advised me to take down our feeders and clean them with a bleach/water solution, and then wait a few days before putting them back up.  I was REALLY SCARED that other birds at our feeders might die as well, so I called my husband and he immediately took them down.  So far, thankfully, I haven't found any more sick or dead birds.  

I have since decided not to put our feeders back up, and to not feed any wild birds anymore.  There are so many insects, fruits, berries, flowers and natural seeds available right now that I'm sure they will be just fine.  I just want to be sure that I'm helping the birds NOT harming them in any way.  I'm going to really research it.  The death of the hummer really changed how I think about feeding wild birds.  It was a hard lesson.  It is always better to leave wild things wild.  

What kind of insect is this?

Where are the mergansers, heron, and kingfisher?
What bugs are out and about?
Where are the bears?

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

If you suddenly stop getting my blog in your email, you need to sign up again. This is a problem with blogspot.com and I can't figure out how to fix it.

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

Sunday, June 9, 2019

It's Warming Up!

North Yuba River Evening Light - 6/3/19

Before the weather warmed up this week, we had one last crazy rainstorm! Around 5:30 pm on Monday afternoon, big thunderheads moved in and it hailed for a few minutes, then it POURED, THUNDERED, and CRACKLED lightning for a solid hour! Distance was obscured by the heavy curtain of rain! Everything got drenched! The total rainfall for the downpour was .40" of rain!!! It was wild! Then the clouds opened up, the sun shone and it stopped raining!  Sheesh! 

Since then it's been blue-sky sunny, warm, and windy with a few clouds! The snow up in the Lakes Basin is melting fast, and the river has risen 2' in the last 5 days! It's still flowing steadily at 4,000 cfs. Our daytime temps have been in the 70's-80's. Next week they're predicting temps in the 90's!!! Summer is on the way at last!

Morning Fog - North Yuba River - 6/4/19

The next morning we drove over to Carmen Valley to check out the wildflowers.  
On the way, we were enchanted by the heavy mist hanging over the river!  
The air was warm and super humid.  We had never seen fog on the river like this!  It was probably due to the heavily saturated ground, and the warmer temperatures.  It smelled heavenly!

Margined White Butterfly stuck on unknown Mushrooms

Mushrooms!

All the rain we've been getting has made mushrooms pop up!  There are lots of them in our neighborhood right now!  I'm not a mushroom expert at all, so I don't know the names of most of the ones pictured.  I did come across an unusual sighting of a butterfly stuck to two tiny mushrooms!  It is a Margined White Butterfly and it was stuck on the slightly slimy caps of the mushrooms.  I'll bet it thought the mushrooms were yellow flowers and got stuck!  I gently pulled it off and it flitted off after a few seconds!  That was neat!  

Unknown mushrooms - Puffballs (species unknown)

Unknown Mushroom Species

American Robin - Red-breasted Sapsucker
Turdus migratorius - Sphyrapicus ruber

Nesting News!

The American Robin is still sitting on her nest.  It's been about 14 days.  The eggs should hatch any day now!  The nestlings will stay in the nest for approximately another 14 days, before they fledge.  The Red-breasted Sapsucker had been going in and out of its nest, busily feeding its babies for the past week or so! The nestlings will probably fledge in a few more weeks.  Woodpeckers have a much longer nesting period than most songbirds, because they are fully feathered and capable of limited, gliding flight when they leave the nest!  I'm really hoping I get to see them!

Steller's Jay (front & back) - Cyanocitta stelleri

A pair of Steller's Jays made a nest in a Cedar tree right off our porch, about a month ago.  Two weeks ago, I wrote in my blog that I thought some critter had eaten the eggs, because we hadn't seen much activity at the nest.  Much to our surprise and delight, two large nestlings were perching on the edge of the nest this past Monday morning!  WOW!!!  All day long the nestlings stayed on the nest and flapped their wings and looked super ready to fledge.  On Tuesday morning, they were still on the edge of the nest, but they were hopping all over and acting super restless. I checked on the nest around noon, and the two nestlings had fledged and left the nest!!!  They were perched on branches higher up in the same Cedar.  Over the course of the day, they kept going higher and higher up the tree, and their parents kept feeding them.  On Wednesday morning, we searched and searched the cedar tree with our binoculars, but couldn't see the fledglings.  However the parents were periodically flying in and out near the top of the tree.  We think they might still be up there, or have flown off to another tree.  We're also hoping that the juvenile birds will eventually show up at our bird feeders.  We're keeping our fingers crossed!  I'm just so glad the baby birds survived and didn't get eaten!  Yahoo!

Steller's Jay fledglings - Cyanocitta stelleri

Black Headed Grosbeaks (female - male) - Pheucticus melanocephalus

I just discovered a Black-headed Grosbeak nest off the other side of our porch!  It's in a Big-leaf Maple tree.  There are two nestlings in it!  It's difficult to photograph because of the wind and leaves in the way, but it's fun to watch!  Both parents are feeding the nestlings!  I have no idea how old these nestlings are.  Usually Black-headed Grosbeak nestlings fledge two weeks after they hatch.  Maybe they'll fledge next week!
  
Black Headed Grosbeaks (nestlings) - Pheucticus melanocephalus


Bullock's Orioles (male - female) - Icterus bullockii

For the third year in a row, a pair of Bullock's Orioles are nesting in a Big-leaf Maple tree right down the street!  In past blogs I've featured pictures of their previous nests, all three of them, on the same branch!  Now they've built a fourth nest!!!  These are the Orioles that have been feeding at out hummingbird feeders this year!  Only the female builds the nest and incubates the eggs.  Both parents will feed their young.  It always amazes me that they return to the same tree in our neighborhood every year.  Their annual migration is 4,000+ miles one way, from their winter home in Costa Rica or Guatemala!  It's unbelievable!  I'll keep you posted on their progress.

Bullock's Oriole nest

Violet-green Swallows (female -fledgling) - Tachycineta thalassina

I was thrilled to see this female Violet-green Swallow and her fledgling one morning this week!  These birds live on a fairly sheer rock face along the highway.  They make their nests inside rock crevices and cracks.  The fledglings, like the adults, can't walk, but they can perch!  They have a longer nesting period than songbirds, 23-24 days, as they leave the nest fully developed and able to fly!  They remain dependent on their parents for food, for a few weeks.  How fun it was to see this little fledgling with a few downy feathers still showing!

Sierra Buttes - 6/4/19

Last Thursday my friends and I decided to hike up to Long Lake in the Lakes Basin.  We thought the trail would be totally snow-covered but it wasn't!  It was mostly snow free, except for the higher exposed areas where there was still 3' of packed snow.  

Fawn Lilies - Prostrate Ceanothus/Mahala Mat - Giant Stream Orchid
  Erythronium purpurascens - Ceanothus prostratus - Epipactus gigantea 

There were just a few plants in bloom on our hike to Long Lake.  Fawn Lilies were the first flowers we saw.  They are always one of the first plants to bloom after the snow melts.  They are so gracefully beautiful.  We looked for Steer's Heads that often grow alongside Fawn Lilies, but only their leaves were showing, no flowers yet.  Maybe we'll find some next week. The Prostrate Ceanothus/Mahala Mat was blooming in some areas.  Their flowers are tiny, elaborate, and purple-petaled, with secondary spoon-like petals that stick out! Just amazing to look at up close.  My friend Nancy and I always carry magnifying lenses just to look at plants closely. Quality hand lenses cost about $35, and they are well worth it!  The macroscopic world of flowers is incredibly complex and super beautiful!  We are always being astonished by what we see!   

The Stream Orchid (pictured above right) wasn't in the Lakes Basin, it was down near Downieville along Highway 49!  It just had to feature it because they are so unique and gorgeous!  There were only about 50 of them in bloom, in another week or so there will be thousands blooming!

Long Lake 6/6/19

The lake itself was still mostly frozen, and the water was rushing fast and cold over the dam!  It was wonderful to be back up in the Lakes Basin at one of our favorite lakes!  So beautiful!  Who knows where we'll go next week?  

What's happening in Carmen Valley?

Where are the mergansers, heron, and kingfisher?
What bugs are out and about?
Where are the bears?

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

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