Status Determination

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We are all familiar with the “to the death” struggles between males of certain mammal species to determine social status within their group. However, such dramatic confrontations are not the only methods for animals to ascertain a dominance hierarchy. Adult … Continue reading

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Pseudostellaria jamesiana

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One common name for Pseudostellaria jamesiana, sticky starwort, is appropriate for a plant that is covered with glandular hairs and has flowers shaped like stars. Other common names for this member of the Pink Family are tuber starwort and sticky … Continue reading

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Irruptive Behavior?

Lewis’s Woodpecker

Although Lewis’s woodpeckers (Melenerpes lewis) are not overly abundant here in Northeastern California, Leonard and I usually saw them several times each year. We eventually learned a few areas where they could usually be found. However, in the last couple years we did not see any local Lewis’s woodpeckers and wondered why. Had their range changed for some climatic reason? Did a disease affect the population? Did we simply miss sighting them? Where were the Lewis’s woodpeckers?

About two weeks ago while hiking the Loop Trail at Baum Lake (Shasta County CA) we saw at least ten Lewis’s woodpeckers congregating near a ponderosa pine snag. How exciting? Since then, we returned twice and both times saw Lewis’s woodpeckers, both at the snag and at other locations near the lake. Why were we suddenly seeing these “missing” woodpeckers.

Lewis’s woodpeckers are beautiful birds with their glossy, greenish-black upper parts, pale grey breast band and collar, pinkish belly and deep red face. They inhabit open pine woods or areas with scattered trees and shrubs west of the Great Plains. Short-distance migrants, Lewis’s woodpeckers move to lower elevations and lower latitudes in the winter. Where we live Lewis’s woodpeckers are resident, only leaving briefly during severe winter conditions. In the spring and summer Lewis’s woodpeckers feed mainly on insects which they primarily catch while in flight. In the winter, their diet consists of acorns and conifer or other seeds.

Lewis’s woodpeckers are irruptive species. (Irruption is associated with sporadic or unpredictable food supplies resulting in birds migrating to widely separated areas in different years.) Their movements in the winter are irregular depending on the availability of acorns or seeds. Although there always seemed to be abundant supplies of acorns, maybe the “disappearance” of the Lewis’s woodpecker for several years was related somehow to food supply.

Leonard and I will probably never know why we missed observing Lewis’s woodpeckers for about two years. Whatever the reason, we are happy they have returned.





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Pacific Coast Tick

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There are two types of ticks – hard shelled and soft shelled. Hard ticks have a shield-like plate (scutum) covering part of their back while soft ticks lack a scutum. Ticks, like spiders, are classified as Arachnids and have 8 … Continue reading

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Cinnamon Teal Pair

Cinnamon Teal

Cinnamon teal (Spatula cyanopteria) have two separate breeding populations, one in North America and the other in South America. The North American population has resident populations in Central Mexico and along the California Coast. The other North American cinnamon teal winter throughout Mexico and breed west of the Rockies in Continental United States.

This pair of cinnamon teal were photographed in the pond along the road to the Antelope Parking Lot in Ash Creek Wildlife Area (Modoc County CA). The breeding male is easy to identify with his bright cinnamon red head and body. The eclipse (non-breeding) males and females are grey brown overall and, at least for me, more difficult to identify.

Cinnamon teal inhabit freshwater semi-permanent and seasonal bodies of water and wetlands. The nest, built by the female, is a depression on the ground lined with grasses and down. Often the female locates the nest below dead matted vegetation so it is completely concealed. The entrance to this hidden nest, which contains 4 to 16 creamy white eggs, is through a tunnel in the vegetation.

Anas cyanoptera is a synonym for Spatula cyanoptera.

With luck this cinnamon teal pair will raise a brood of chicks this year.

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Sandhill Cranes Arrive

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Each February Leonard and I anxiously await the return of the sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis). Their arrival signals that despite cold temperatures, howling North winds and even snow, spring IS not too far away. We love to listen to their … Continue reading

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Willow Stem Galls

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The second gall Leonard and I found on willows along the Lower Hat Creek Trail (Shasta County CA) is the willow stem gall. I discussed the willow rosette galls that infect leaf buds in my last post (“Willow Rosette Gall” … Continue reading

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