At the Cache Creek Nature Preserve on Wednesday

Around 2:30 pm, I followed my Tuleyome coworker, Charlotte, over to the Cache Creek Conservancy’s Nature Preserve in Woodland, CA.  I’d never been there before but I wanted to tag along to take photographs while Charlotte and her Home Place Adventures team oversaw an outing for about 15 high school teens.  None of them had ever been to preserve before either, so it was a learning experience for all of us.  The weather cooperated: it was in the high 40’s while we were there, and the sky was clear.  So we had to bundle up a little bit, but no one “froze”.

We were met by two of the preserve’s main volunteers, Fred and Mark, who taught the teens about the different habitats inside the preserve, how to use binoculars to spot and identify birds in the area, how to “read” animal tracks we found in the dirt, how to tell what kind of scat it was we came across, how some of the native plants (including coyote bush and cattails) disbursed their seeds, what wild California rose hips tasted like, what lives inside the galls on the oak trees, and what owl pellets were.  Some of these teens had never seen a “live” cattail or owl pellet before and were fascinated by them.  We also learned that some of the planning for the “native plants” area around the wetlands portion of the preserve was done in conjunction with local Native American tribes, and that tribe members come onto the property periodically to collect the tule reeds to make baskets.

Among the birds the teens spotted were Yellow-Rumped Warblers, a Great Blue Heron, Scrub Jays, a Red-Winged Blackbird, a Hairy Woodpecker, and a Kingfisher who came down to the water and scolded us for invading “his” space.  They also found some invasive Starlings.  ((Before the teens got there, I went out onto the pier in the wetlands part of the preserve and spotted what I think was a Black-Crowned Night Heron, which I’d never seen before.  I sent a photo over to the preserve folks after I got home to see if I’d identified it properly.))  Walking around the barns and other small buildings on the front part of the property, we came across deer and raccoon tracks, and found several owl pellets — one of which had a complete mouse skull in it.  And we also came an animals’ “latrine site” where we found scat from raccoons, deer (adults and babies), and coyotes.  Later, when we took the teens over to wetlands pier, we saw a beaver swimming in the water.  He circled a few times, and then did kind of a flip and dove down under the surface, slapping the water’s surface with his tail as he submerged.  They all thought that was a great show and applauded the beaver’s antics.

Near the end of the outing it was getting dark and cold, so we all went inside the little learning center on the property where the teens got to see all different kinds of animal skulls, pelts and taxidermied critters.  Favorites among them were the beaver (none of us had realized how huge those things could get) and otter (next to which some of the teens wanted their photo taken.  Hah!)  Then everyone sat down in a circle and Charlotte and her crew asked the teens what they’d learned that day, and when the question, “Would you like to come back here again and learn more about the animals here?”, came up, every single teen raised his/her hand.  So, we considered the outing a success… and I ended up with over 120 photos to share with Tuleyome and the Preserve folks…  Here are a few of them:

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The preserve isn’t generally open on weekends, but it IS open on weekdays from about 7:30 am to 4:00 pm, so I might go back there during the Christmas week holiday and have another look around there.