My First Trip to the Bufferlands

I really wanted to just sleep in all day today, but I also wanted to go on a “birds and buds” tour at the Bufferlands wildlife area because I’d never been there before.  So I dragged my carcass out of bed by 7:00 am, and was off to the site by 8:00.  It’s actually very close to the house; only about 20 minutes.  The area is a wetland area, grassland area and riparian forest that was created by the Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District as “mitigation” for the land they took over when they built their enormous water reclamation and waste station out there.  The Bufferlands are the wide expanses of land that surround the plant to separate it from the local residential areas.  The tour I went on was just around a part of the grasslands and near the edge of the wetlands.  There weren’t a whole lot of blossoms out there because there hadn’t been enough rain to fill all the vernal pools on the property.  When the pools are full, flowers bloom all around and across the bottom of them.  Today there were patches of flowers, but no great expanses of them.  Still, it was interesting to see the layout of the place, and watch the birds out there.

The tour was lead by a guy named Roger.  He had a lot of great stories to tell including the year when he noticed that too many trees in the habitat were being felled by beaver.  He got permission to do catch-and-release work so he could see how many beaver were out there.  The 100 acres or so can only manage to safely hold about 18 to 20 beaver at a time… but he counted and tagged over 110 of them in one year.  The beavers were eating and destroying everything, so they had to get biologists and zookeepers and hunters and everyone out onto the property to get the population under control…  He said the beavers were relatively easy to catch and except for a few really angry ones, most of them were as docile as cats.  He could pick them up and hold them and pet them…

Not true of the otters he had to catch once, though, he said.  The otters were so vicious that they’d attack whatever human was nearest to them.  One time, he had someone video tape him releasing a captured otters back into the pond on the property after it had been health-checked and tagged.  When he opened the cage, the otter went straight for the camera man!  Hah!  They got more of an action video than they’d hoped for.

On another occasion he set up a night-vision camera to see what kind of other critters were roaming around the property and over a weekend he got footage of opossums, skunks, coyotes, foxes, turkeys, rabbits…  He even managed to get some footage of an opossum using a “tool”.  It could reach the part of its back it wanted to scratch so, with the camera watching, it picked up a stick and used that to scratch itself.  He said the footage went all over the world; animal behaviorists had never seen anything like that before…

Roger also told us that in the winter months the place is overrun with Starlings; millions of them.  So many, in fact, that every day he’d have to go out to where they roosted to clean up the hundred or so of them who died each week…  He said it was a ghastly mess, but he loved watching them fly in their “murmurations”…

We noticed there were bird boxes all over the place and he said they were necessary because there were so few trees around that could house the birds that only nest in holes.  The birds who weave nests or make them out of mud don’t need help, but Tree Swallows will only nest in holes… so he set up boxes all over the property to help house them… and we could see birds sitting on top of them or near them everywhere we looked.  There was also a huge owl box in one tree where, Roger said, there was a nesting pair of Barn Owls.  The owls generally had about 3 to 4 clutches of chicks each year.

We couldn’t see into the box to see the Barn Owls, but we did see Tree Swallows, Anna’s Hummingbirds, Robins, ducks, geese, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Red Headed Sapsuckers, a Kingfisher, egrets, a heron, a flock of American White Pelicans flying overhead (man, they’re BIG birds!), a kite dragging its prey into a tree, and a Great Horned Owl sitting up in its nest.  It was very ingenious and had hidden its nest on top of a pile of mistletoe in a tree.  If you looked up at it from the base of the tree, you couldn’t see the nest; but if you walked across the grassy area, and looked back at the tree, you could see the owl’s head peaking up over the top of the nest.  I even got to see my first Western Kingbird.

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We walked for about 2½ hours, and ended up back at the starting point, where he gave us packets of seeds he’d gathered from the native plants on the grasslands, and also gave us each a calendar with images of the critters on the property he’d taken himself.  Very cool.  Id’ love to out into the area again…

Slime Mold Article Published

My article and photos on slime mold has been published in the Davis Enterprise newspaper!  Woo-hoo.



And it’s also appeared in the Lake County Record Bee and the Daily Democrat newspapers!

And it prompted this email from a UC Davis student:

“Hi Mary,

I just wanted to thank you so much for all the work you put into your slime mold article. If you would like to see a large number of them in a very accessible place, let me know because they are all over our newly chipped border at the UC Davis Student Farm. The area all total is over a third of an acre. I was just looking at them this morning wondering what in the world should be done, if anything, about them and you answered the question!

Sincerely, Laurie”


And on 04-26-14, the same article was published in the Lake County News newspaper.  Its getting a lot of play.