"Bird & Bug Walk"
On August 17, 2013 a small group of folks from Westwood embarked upon a walk from the lower reaches of Delwood Street down through the woods to the north shoreline of Mountain Meadows Reservoir, aka "Walker Lake" by us locals. The goal was to observe, and hopefully photograph, some of the local birds and bugs that share the Mountain Meadows basin with us human folk. We were not disappointed!
As the "bug" guide on this Bird and Bug walk, my role was to provide identifications for the bugs that we encountered. To aid in this effort I supplied bug nets, which were used to catch bugs for closer observation. Also binoculars were carried by by several of us for bird observation.
The road to the lake was a bit dusty to begin with, but eventually gave way to the meadow grasses and a cow trail bordering the shoreline. The coolness of the early morning kept some of the day creatures hiding in their hidden sleeping places until eventually the warmth of the sun brought them forth around mid morning.
Birds and bugs were not the only animal life forms seen that day. Several fence lizards were see, as well as one very small garter snake, and a tree frog or two. And, of course, there were the trees of the forest, the plants of the meadows, and the cattails and bull-rushes at water's edge. And then there were the everywhere reminders that the local folks, of long ago years, used the around and about area for their dumping ground - which now-a-days sometimes provide useful hiding habitat for various little creatures.
Of the birds that we saw, perhaps the bird highlight for myself, was a small group of White-faced Ibises flying over the waters of the reservoir. They were the first of their kind for me to see. Hopefully, someday, I will see them a little closer up. I was quite in awe of our bird guide's ability to identify birds from afar off, or on the wing, or even by the call of their voices.
Most of the bugs that we saw, or caught with the nets, were not too difficult to identify to some degree. There were Dragonflies, Damselflies, Butterflies, Caddisflies, and Bee Flies. There were Grasshoppers, Ants, Bumblebees, and multitudes of tiny bugs flying in and through the sunbeams.
One of the first insect species that we encountered were some orange and black wasps "hanging" out in groups on some long stemmed grass seed heads under a small group of trees as we first entered the woods. A photo of one of these groups is shown at the top of this page. I recognized the wasps as Thread-waisted Wasp of the genus Ammophila; but I could not explain the reason for their gathering together like this, except that they had probably slept the night through there. Indeed, this hangout of Thread-waisted wasps was the first time I had ever seen such a gathering of Ammophila wasps. After a little online research, I found out that these Ammophila wasps do just as we saw them; they do sometimes gather together on grass stems to pass the night through. Then they go their individual ways during the day time. On our return walk we stopped to see them again; but they had all left for their adventures of the day.
Below are some additional insects that were collected by myself, and photographed later in my bug studio, and then posted online, with the hope of getting positive species identification. Clicking on an image will open a webpage that will include additional images of the specimen, along with current identification and other information.
Starting from the top left these insects are as follows:
1. One of those Ammophila Thread-waisted wasps discussed above. These wasps catch caterpillars, and then dig a little tunnel and bury the caterpillars. The wasp lays an egg upon the caterpillar, and when the larva hatches it consumes the caterpillar. The adult Ammophila wasps visit flowers for nectar.
2. A Green Midge. These little insects, about 1/4 inch long, were seen in great abundance, mostly flying about in both the woods and meadow areas along the shoreline. The fuzzy antennae indicate that this specimen is a male. The Dragonflies and Damselflies were quite busy reducing their numbers! The larva of midges are aquatic scavengers, and they usually make little case-like tubes which they live in.
3. This Band-winged Grasshopper was one of three grasshopper species viewed on our walk. During the first hour of our walk we did not see too many grasshoppers; but as the morning warmed up they came out in abundance. In the meadow areas near the lake we saw many wingless grasshopper nymphs (baby grasshoppers). On August 30, 2013 this grasshopper was identified as the Groove-headed Grasshopper, Conozoa sulcifrons, by an online expert.
4. A "Bee Fly" - so called because of their close resemblance to regular bees. Bee Flies are most often see in dry areas. The long proboscis on this specimen is used to suck nectar from flowers. Bee Fly larva are parasitic on other kinds of insect larva. On October 11, 2013 this Bee Fly was identified as species Lordotus gibbus, by an online expert.
5. A Tachinid Fly - so named after the family name Tachinidae. Identification to family level was provided by an online expert. Tachinid flies are often quite bristly, as with this specimen. The larva are parasitic on various kinds of insects, spiders, centipedes, and scorpions.
6. A female Pacific Meadow Katydid - Conocephalus occidentalis. At first we thought it was a grasshopper, but once in the net we could see the very long antennae, and the long sword-like ovipositor; and then we could see that it was a small female katydid. The habitat for this species are grassy or reedy areas. The body length of this adult specimen is 3/4 inch, not including the ovipositor.
7. A Caddisfly. The larva of these moth-like insects are aquatic, and construct a mobile case constructed from plant material, algae, grains of sand, and pieces of water snail shells. Caddisfly adults may emerge from the water in great numbers, and being nocturnal, and attracted to outdoor night lights may also appear in fair numbers around porch lights. Most species, like this specimen, are rather plain looking.
8. A Jumping Spider. These spiders, as the name implies, can jump! They are free range hunters, and use their remarkable jumping skills to catch prey. They are often quite colorful, and have an amazing set of large eyes. Click "here" to see some amazing photos of Jumping Spiders from around the world.
9. A Clear-winged Grasshopper. The hind-wings on this grasshopper are clear in color and do not have a dark band as do the Band-winged grasshoppers. The hind-wings may be viewed by clicking on the thumbnail photos of the grasshopper specimens. On September 3, 2013 this grasshopper was identified as species Camnula pellucida, by an online expert. In Westwood, and within the Mountain Meadows Basin, adult, winged, grasshoppers are usually seen beginning in the late Summer months and through the Autumn months. Only the eggs of the grasshoppers survive the freeze of the winter months. But look for the tiny wingless grasshopper nymphs in springtime.
Other insect species seen but not photographed are as follows:
1. Common Green Darner Dragonfly - Anax junius
2. Paddle-tailed Darner Dragonfly - Aeshna palmata
3. Bluelet Damselfly - Enallagma sp.
4. Common Wood Nymph Butterfly - Cercyonis pegala
5. Common Ringlet Butterfly - Coenonympha tullia ampelos
6. Yellow-faced Bumble Bee - Bombus vosnesenskii
Bird species seen or heard on our Bird and Bug walk are as follows:
1. Canada Goose - Branta canadensis
2. White-faced Ibis - Plegadis chihi
3. American Robin - Turdus migratorius
4. Mountain Chickadee - Poecile gambeli
4. Yellow-rumped Warbler - Dendroica (Setophaga) coronata
6. There were others!
Other animals seen are as follows:
1. Sierran Treefrog - Pseudacris sierra
2. Northwestern Fence Lizard - Sceloporus occidentalis occidentalis
3. Mountain Gartersnake - Thamnophis elegans elegans
4. Big-ear Radix Water Snail - Lymnaea auricularia
Other notes of interest during our Bird & Bug Walk:
1. Cattails and Bulrushes
When at the lake's shoreline there was both a big patch of cattails, and a big patch of bulrushes, growing in the water along the shoreline. But the two 'patches' were separated by a wide area of just the shoreline with no such plants blocking us from the lake water. A question somewhat like this was asked, "why do the cattails and bulrushes grow in separate locations like this, rather than together." My response was something like this; "where the seeds take root, there the patches grow." I mentioned that over closer to the dam area the two plants were growing more mingled together. I did a little research on the subject of the two species growing together and found this interesting article: "Bulrushes - Not to Be Confused With Cattails".
2. Wild Tobacco
Whenever I go out into the woods and meadows of the Mountain Meadows Basin, I am always keeping an eye out for some new plant species to photograph and add to the list of "Plants of the Mountain Meadows Basin" that I maintain on this website. While we were looking for birds and bugs near the lake, I noticed within the meadow grasses a small plant that had long trumpet shaped white flowers. It was an unknown plant to me. Our bird guide suggested it was perhaps a wild tobacco species. And so it was! A little searching on the Calflora website matched it with this species: the "Many Flowered Tobacco" - Nicotiana acuminata var. multiflora.
3. Concluding Thought
One of us on this Bird & Bug walk was young in age, and full of enthusiasm, and full of excitement about all that was seen and heard that day. I think it would be nice if more of the local folks, both young and old, had such an proactive interest in the realm of nature that exists within the Mountain Meadows Basin.