With the forecast saying the rain would hold off until 5:00, KG, KP and I headed off on 1/24 to scout a new property for our upcoming hike. CR joined us. The sky was overcast, and a bit chilly, 50+. We started out on foot at 2:15, walking up the hill from the school parking area. After unlocking and relocking the gate, we found an American Kestrel perched on a telephone line, and we could hear Red-winged Blackbirds, found with European Starlings on the telephone lines near the ranch buildings. American Robins were plentiful.
A coyote crossed the road ahead of us, and KG noted a cow with mud socks half way up its legs. There were calves, with their mothers keeping an eye on us. We had an amusing discussion on calves’ genders. We checked the stream of water at the side of the road to see if there were any amphibian eggs; the water was almost lukewarm.
Reaching the lower pond about half an hour later, we examined the water by the edge. There wasn’t much activity other than some birds. Farther out on the water were Canvasbacks, Ruddy Ducks, Bufflehead, and American Coots. A pair of Red-tailed Hawks soared in the northwest, and we heard occasional Acorn Woodpeckers. Towards the west, a deer wandered a pasture.
The ground was muddy, especially along the berms where the cattle had been. Some areas were pretty slippery, so we took our time negotiating the water-filled holes created by the cattle hoof prints. Milk thistle provided lots of places to step. We noticed that, except for one bunch on the west side, all the rushes were apparently browsed down by something and were almost like boot brushes.
We reached the west side of the lower pond around 3:15. Looking west, there were several large puddles past some trees that might be worth checking out in the future.
Lots of Yellow-rumped Warblers flitted around, and a Say’s Phoebe perched on a shrub. We checked out the vegetation-lined upper side of the pond, and after we passed a few trees, found a California Newt by the base of one. It decided to climb the tree, stopping where the trunk branched. Its skin was still bumpy, so it hadn’t been to the water yet.
We found that this was the pond that had the poison oak tunnel, so we turned around and decided to try climbing the hill above the vegetation to get to the other side of the pond. While we were still in the trees, an otherwise silent Ruby-crowned Kinglet let out a sudden burst of song over our heads.
There were some mushrooms on the hillside, some growing on a cow patty. KP found a few puffballs, also. We had to make our way down another slick, muddy section to get to the upper pond. Another newt was alongside the trail. It was around 4:00 when we reached the edge of the pond, CR found a male newt near the edge that had already been to the water, and appeared much smoother than the tree-climber. Its tail was ribbon-like. A couple of small gray and white mushrooms were next to the newt, and lots of more mature ones were nearby.
Amongst some vegetation in the water, CR found a few egg sacs, probably snail eggs.
As we explored around the pond, Common Ravens croaked and flew over. A few Western Bluebird and Western Scrub Jay calls came from the direction of the ranch buildings, Killdeers called occasionally, a Northern Flicker gave its “clear” call, Black Phoebes did their thing, a few Mourning Doves got startled out of an oak a couple of times, and as it got later, KP heard Great-horned Owl from the west. A surprise was seeing a couple of what looked like shorebirds flush from the east side of the pond. They landed on the west side and disappeared, but flew over to the north side. As they flew I got a look at their plumage; they turned out to be Wilson’s Snipe! There were at least 3, maybe 4, that revealed themselves.
CR was examining the northeast side of the upper pond. She called to us to say that there were quite a few newts. As we watched them quietly, they would come stick out their heads for a moment, for a gulp of air. A few raindrops started to come down.
Another unusual thing found was part of a newt in the water. CR fished it out, and we figured out that it was the front arm section (with what appear to be scapulae), since each hand had four digits, versus the rear.
Around 5:30, some treefrogs were calling in the distance, but none called from these two ponds. As we made our way back, stopping to check a few spots, we found that the frogs had been calling from a creek down the hill near the ranch buildings. We checked out a water trough–actually, CR checked out the water trough, and we found out how the cow got mud socks.
At 6:00, we heard the Pacific Treefrogs calling from the two ponds we had just left. They sure manage to hide well, and not a peep when we tried to coax them into calling!
We got back to the cars around 6:30 having wandered about 3 miles, none too worse for wear except for our mud-caked boots.