On the evening of 2/20/10, I joined KD, JH, and KG on a permitted scouting trip for KD and JH’s upcoming owl hike. The weather was a little chilly at first, but I didn’t need gloves. We started out around 4:45 in overcast weather, wondering if we would be rained on.
We walked through the winery to the area near the bathroom. The nearby creek was full. Making our way towards the pond, parts of the trail were muddy, but the spring was not bubbling out of the middle of the trail like it sometimes does.
At the pond, we saw many Mallards swimming around. The water was higher than it was back on 1/27. Some treefrogs were calling, and one occasionally called from the culvert under the large dead trunks in the corner by the Zinfandel Trail. One or two newts could be seen, barely, as they came up for air in the middle of the pond. The surface of the pond, especially the edges, had a lot of vegetation debris, like dead grass. There was a small bit of slime mold on the dead wood.
We saw a White-tailed Kite, heard California Thrasher singing, Spotted Towhee, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Hermit Thrush, and Bewick’s Wren calling. There were also two Brush Rabbits and several deer.
Continuing through the gate to the wooded part of the trail, we began to see occasional newts. Hound’s Tongue and California Buttercup were in bloom. Several black cup fungi lined the trailbank, and a small patch of fruiting liverworts (Asterella, I think) was nearby. We arrived at the bridge a bit after sunset, somewhere around 6:00. Just before the bridge, water rushed over the smooth rocks crossing the trail. It was dark enough under the trees to not be able to see detail.
After a quick bite, we decided to check out the rest of the trail. With UV, a tiny scorpion clung to the dirt trailbank. That was a surprise at this time of year.
Some vegetation had been cleared, revealing a misty view of the reservoir. Treefrogs called from somewhere below us. We could hear a distant Great Horned Owl.
Around 7:00, a small millipede showed up under UV as we tried for owls. Many newts crossed the trail, different sizes, shapes and shades of brown. We had to tread carefully. KG spotted a little toad! It was about 1.5″.
After we emerged from the woods, we heard Western Screech-owls duetting. A newt heading into the grass had a sowbug hitchhiker. A cute little toad showed up, smaller than the first. I hadn’t seen small toads before. Many of the newts, and the toads, were heading uphill.
The sound of treefrogs got louder and louder. As we approached the pond, we could see many smooth-skinned newts in the water. The frogs congregated on the far side, but a few scattered around gave their own calls. One newt stood with its head sticking out of the water.
Here is what it sounded like from the side opposite the congregation:
Nearing the restroom area, a few millipedes began to show up. Then, with a sweep of the light, in front of us, about 35 appeared under the UV! As we looked, we found more and more, ending up with around 50. That was a magical sight, and I wished that I had some way to visually record it. We probably saw a similar number of newts.
We arrived back at the lot around 8:30. For an owl hike, we saw lots of amazing things.
On 2/27, I joined KD and JH, along with KP. The weather remained clear with some clouds, and the moon was full. I haven’t seen Orion for a while, but it was out.
Birds were similar to what we saw on our scouting trip, but we also saw a Varied Thrush in a tree.
The owls weren’t too cooperative, but we did hear a Barn Owl call several times near/at the lot, and some heard a distant Great-horned Owl and distant Western Screech Owl.
There weren’t as many newts on the trail, but we had some, probably less than 20. I didn’t see any young ones, or young toads, this time.
But the pond was almost overflowing with toads! Well, not quite, but it seemed like it. The Sierran Treefrogs (P. sierra, formerly P. regilla) were calling from various areas, not just from where we heard them last time. I couldn’t see any though. As I neared the pond, ahead of the group, three California Toads (Bufo boreas halophilus) that I could see, sat in a clearing near the pond. They eventually moved off. A pair was in amplexus in the water. I shined my flashlight over the water to perhaps quiet the treefrogs down for a little bit so the group could listen for owls (not very successfully, the frogs were just too excited), and could see pairs of eyeballs swimming around. The eyeballs belonged to more toads. In the shallows were lots of newts, and more occasionally came up for air farther out. The group got to see the newts and a few swimming toads. A bat also flew over the water in the light of my flashlight.
Back near the restroom, we found a few millipedes, but not nearly as many as on our scouting trip.
6/26/10 update: The toads have hatched and are now toadlets! There is still water in the pond, which helped. See here for some photos of the around- .75 cm-sized little guys.
Since the winery (leased by a private party) is the first thing one sees when they come here, people sometimes forget that it is a preserve. The pond is home to many creatures, whose lives depend on the seasonal pond. They have a limited amount of time to produce their babies and for the babies to grow big enough to survive.
Enjoy viewing them as they go about their business, but help keep them safe by leaving them there. Also, other animals left by people can introduce disease and eat the natives.