This week, my Wild Davis students and I are doing our mid-day observations. Earlier in the quarter, we observed a location at dawn, and in a few weeks, we’ll revisit the same spot at dusk. This quarter, I’m doing my observations at the campus BOG, which gives me an excuse to get out of my house for a little bit and is one of my favorite quiet nature spots on campus.
Yolo County’s health guidelines now include wearing facemasks in all public spaces. I’m not entirely sure if the BOG would be considered ‘public’ – I’ve noticed most people not wearing masks outdoors, but I err on the side of caution and wear one anyway. The mask I’m wearing is one my sister made for me, out of spare material from a quilt we made together over the summer. She has made masks for our whole family, as well as her husband’s family out of spare material from a variety of previous craft projects and they are more comfortable and ‘stylish’ (if perhaps less effective) than the medical masks. They are also made with love, which is what I enjoy most.
It doesn’t make much difference out here at the BOG today. When I arrive a few minutes after noon, there is only one other person in sight and she is sitting quietly at the benches with a notebook and headphones (and no mask). It is easy to keep well more than 6 feet apart and we mostly ignore each other throughout my observation.
When I was here in the morning a few weeks ago, most of the animal activity was morning birds. Dawn is a little too early for the pollinators, though I did see a couple bumble bees right at the end. Today, as I expected, the pollinators abound. As soon as I get close, I can see numerous dragonflies swarming above the flowers and hear the gentle hum of the honeybees.
It appears that peak bloom has passed for many of the species. Much of the Phacelia is closing up to set fruit, though the few flowers that are still open are popular, as always, with a wide variety of bees. The silver and arroyo lupines are also mostly gone, though the yellow coastal bush lupines still abound. As I walk through the center of the BOG, I can smell the plants even through the mask. The smell is more vegetative though, than floral – almost like a fresh-cut lawn.
The BOG appears very dry. I don’t know if that’s because many of the annual flowers are passing their prime and putting their last resources into fruit, or if the garden is not being watered or irrigated as much under the current shelter in place guidelines. I wonder how managed this garden is – I have seen people working in it frequently, yet it also appears that the annual flowers reseed themselves and the garden does not have a manicured or cultivated look, but is instead allowed to grow somewhat ‘wildly’.
Many organisms prefer a less ‘perfect’ garden, and indeed, in addition to the pollinators, I also see a variety of birds, and a bunny, and of course squirrels. One squirrel in particular seems personally offended by my presence at the picnic table and barks at me until I apologize and move to another.
At my new bench, I stop to make a short recording of the bird calls I hear. The voice recorder app I use shows the amplitude of the sounds its recording and as I watch it, I notice that it’s recognizing sounds even when the birds are silent. That’s when I notice there are construction noises, and the faint beep of a large vehicle backing up somewhere. I had blocked out these noises until the recording brought them to my attention.
I see several goldfinches, as I did on my morning observation. They flit about in a small group and are easily startled as I walk through the garden. They prefer the northwestern ‘lobe’ of the garden which is close to the Eucalyptus stand and they dash back and forth between the two, chattering at each other and picking seeds out of the BOG plants. I enjoy how they perch on tiny plants that don’t look sturdy enough to hold their weight. One in particular seems to struggle to balance on a blade-like leaf, which frankly looks kind of painful for her little feet.
As I’m hunting for good pollinator photos, I come across a bee I’ve never seen before. At first, it appears to have a bright orange line across its abdomen, but through my zoom lens I can see it is a neat row of pollen. I have never seen a bee carry pollen like this before and I’m unsure what type of bee it is. It’s about the size of a small bumble bee, but shiny and black like a carpenter bee. It is clearly neither of these, though, as its proportions are different than both. It is beautiful, and I capture a few good photos to use later to identify it.
Later that evening, as I’m going through the photos at home, I send one to Wild Davis TA and bee afficionado Chris Jadallah. He quickly identifies it as a member of the Megachile genus, which are known to carry pollen in this manner, and forwards the photo to another bee expert friend of his, who confirms it as Megachile gemula. I look this species up on iNat and find its common name is ‘small-handed leaf cutter bee’ which I find pretty amusing. I get suspicious though, when I notice that iNat only has records of this species in the northeastern quadrant of the US, the closest observation being in Illinois. There are only 18 total observations, though, so perhaps its full range hasn’t been documented. I ask Chris how sure his friend was and post the photos to iNat under genus Megachile, just to be safe.
For the rest of the observation, I sit quietly at the picnic bench and simply watch the garden. It is a beautiful day – a little warm in the sun, but perfect in the shade, and from this vantage point I can see the goldfinches darting back and forth as well as the dragonflies swarming over the southern ‘lobe’ of the garden and the occasional butterfly and hummingbird. I enjoy the chance to decompress for a moment; this quarter has been stressful in a variety of ways, for the students as well, and even a short break is a welcome one.