Spineless Wonders

JO, JH and I led our fourth SW hike at Windy Hill on 4/6/13. There was a 10% chance of rain, but it was only cloudy with some clear areas, and temps ranging from 52-62F.

We had fewer sightings than last year, perhaps from the lack of rain (despite recent rain). We did find an unusual mass on our scouting hike, possibly fungal or a misshapen slime mold.


Unknown lumpy white mass, possibly fungalAbnormally developed Fuligo septica slime mold

At first, we didn’t know if it had come from an animal (it was white, and lumpy, but didn’t smell). The outside looked woven/netted of several layers of pliable, somewhat tough material (but not tough enough to withstand a stick). I poked a hole in it to see what the inside was like; it was grayish purple “goo”. It was still there on Saturday, but looked a bit deflated.

We started off past 5:30, after looking at a small Lepidopteran caterpillar that had crawled onto my shirt (3 pairs of legs, 4 pairs of prolegs, and a pair of anal prolegs). Sausal Pond had many small fish (Gambusia). A Hooded Merganser took a bath, and American Coot, Pied-billed Grebe, and Mallard floated on the water. Azolla concentrated around the emergent vegetation. JO swept tiny insects and arachnids onto a cloth from an oak for us to look at.

The puddles in the trail didn’t have much if any life in them, unlike last year. At the bench, we looked at damselflies and the tray of water I had set up earlier. I had to dip 6-7 times before I got anything, and that was only tadpoles and one ostracod.

Pseudacris sierra tadpole?

Pseudacris sierra tadpole?

Again, there was a lot more last year. When I approached the area before the hike, 5-6 splashes from the edge of the water occurred, along with a couple of alarm squeaks. Bullfrogs do this. (Both Gambusia, aka mosquito fish, and American bullfrog are not native here.)

There were a few mushrooms along the way. Part of the group had stopped a few times to look at insects and arachnids. We didn’t stop to try to look at any microorganisms in the seasonal pool, which was only a few inches deep and very tannic.

At the log pile, we found two small millipedes, one pink and one beige, and a centipede. Under one of the logs, we marveled at the lavender color of two Panus conchatus mushrooms.

JH went ahead to set up some trays from the creek, and we reached the bridge at 6:50. There were more mushrooms in the meadow, lavender fungus on the log, a California slender salamander, a tick (one of a few), and a large spider in the family Amaurobiidae. While we ate dinner, we looked at a water penny, two caddisfly larvae, and other aquatic larvae. JO found a couple of small black and orange beetles on a piece of bark, and a couple of bats flew over our heads.

We left at 8:00 and headed for the dirt trailbank. The one kid in the group spotted a small snake in the back. We found a large occupied turret in the bank.

On our scouting hike, we checked the “treehole mosquito” tree, but there was no water in the hole. We had taken the additional .5 mile uphill leg, but skipped it this time, opting for the shortcut to Betsy Crowder. We saw a newt and a slender salamander on that leg, but no newts on this night. We did see another 2-3 slender salamanders sitting in the trail, and noted that it seemed like we’ve been seeing relatively a lot of them in the trail this year. There were also many native shoulderband snails; we observed snails on Saturday, but it was difficult to see whether they had the dark line running along the shell.

As expected, closed suncups lined the trail. We missed the crab spiders that we’d seen on our scouting hike, but did have around ten fluorescent millipedes. There were a few black beetles including Scaphinotus, but nothing as interesting as the several harvestman-Scaphinotus-prey scuffles that we observed on the previous Monday. One apparent joint feeding was between some small earwigs and a harvestman. And, having just returned from a recent bryophyte foray with UC, we found another liverwort.

A lone Great Horned Owl called briefly as we passed through the eucalyptus grove.

We made our usual stop at the lichen fence, and around 9:40 those who wanted to depart did so, while some of us returned to the pond to look at frogs. The treefrogs were calling, and we were able to see at least one bullfrog’s eyeshine.

All critters, temporarily collected in clean trays, were returned to their homes.

Here are some photos from both nights.