On a Field Trip for my Certified Naturalist Class

On Saturday, I was up at six and out the door by 7:00 am to go to the Cosumnes River Preserve for a naturalist class field trip. We all met in the parking lot in front of the nature center. I and one of my classmates were the first ones there and while we waited for the others to arrive we got to see a large Monarch Butterfly come in and land on one of the willows trees in front of us.

After everyone showed up, we went into the nature center and stood through a lecture by one of their volunteer docents, Bruce Miller. He talked about the preserve; how all of the sloughs and wetland ponds are managed by man (not by the river) – they’re flooded or allowed to dry out according to whatever the yearly – as are the vernal pools on the property; about the different kinds of animals you can see there, etc. The preserve is over 50,000 acres, but it’s not all “contiguous”; some of the properties are outlying; and some are conservation easements (like the one on Howard Ranch – the ancestral home of Seabiscuit – where the vernal pools are. It was all interesting, but the room was too hot and there was no place to sit down, so I eventually had to step outside and breathe some fresh air. I was afraid I was going to pass out. As soon as I stepped out, several other people did, too… I guess they were just waiting for someone else to open the door first…

When he finished his talk, Bruce came out and asked what our group was training for. I let him know that we were seeking our naturalist certificates and he suggested that I attend the volunteer docent training at the preserve (June 6th and June 20th) and/or volunteer there. They do bird counts, bat studies, habitat restoration projects, etc… and work with the BLM, Fish and Wildlife, the Nature Conservancy and other agencies. Might be a good experience… But I would only want to work out there in the winter and spring. The rest of the year, it’s too hot and dry… I might go to the training anyway (if there still spots open). That means I’d miss the bat handling training on the 6th, but Cosumnes is closer; the bat training is Placer County… We’ll see how things shake out.

We were also told about the bat-watching events being hosted over the summer by the Yolo Basin Foundation. I had thought about going to one of these last year, but didn’t sign up. John, our naturalist class instructor, said these events are awesome and that we shouldn’t miss the opportunity to participate in one… so… , so I signed up for one of those on August 10th during which they’re also going to be serving Sudwerks beer. Sounds like it should be fun.

Anyway, back to the field trip: We walked for about three miles around one part of the preserve. I saw a few new things to add to my naturalist journal. By about 11:00 o’clock it was already 80° outside, and heat and I do not do well together. I finally had to John that I had reached my physical limit, so he found a shady place for me to sit down and then went on the with group – with the promise he’d come back for me in about 30-45 minutes. While I was sitting, I ate my lunch and got to see a few different butterflies, and a small cottontail rabbit came up to pose for photos.

As the rest of the group finished the last loop of the tour and headed back to the nature center, John came back for me and we walked back together. It was a great happenstance for him that he had to stop and take some extra time to come back for me. He’s an avid birder, and while just the two of us were walking he got to see and photograph an Ash-Throated Flycatcher and also got to hear the call of a Black Rail.

Black Rails are considered “threatened” – on the verge of being endangered – and are super secretive. John said he’d read somewhere that one had been heard on the preserve, so he was anxious to find it. On our way back to the nature center, we passed another guy with a camera who said he’d heard the Black Rail over in the tule field on the center trail. So we walked over there, and found a group of three other birders who were also hoping to hear the bird. John took out his cell phone and used his bird call app. The call on the phone sang out, “kick-ee-doo!”… and the Black Rail in the reeds answered it immediately.
Imagine it: four adults holding a hand over their mouth so as not to scream out loud, while they grinned ear to ear and jumped up and down in joy. They’d waited all morning to hear that sound. Hah! It was so cute to see.   John was so ecstatic that on the rest of the way back to the center, he was laughing, giddy, and pumping his fist, “yes, yes, yes!” Sort of how I’d probably act if I’d met Tom Hiddleston. Hah-ha-ha!

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According to Cornell Laboratory’s “All About Birds” site: “…The smallest rail in North America, the Black Rail is perhaps the most secretive too. This small denizen of shallow salt and freshwater marshes is rarely seen and its distinctive call is heard primarily at night…” So it was a cool thing that we were able to hear one in the early afternoon… and that we were able to hear one at all.

When we got back to the center, everyone else was sitting outside at the covered picnic tables. While the others ate their lunch, John recapped our walk – and announced he’d heard the Rail – and helped to identify some of the sparrows and hummingbirds we saw around the tables. He also told us about some other local places to see birds: Elk Grove Park (on Elk Grove and Florin Roads), Camden Pak (on Camden Lake Way in Elk Grove), and along the levies on Twin Cities Road (from I5, turn left onto Twin Cities and go about 7 miles…) So, now I have some extra places to add to my “go to” list…

I went straight home after the field trip, and was too tired to put together anything for “linner”, so I tried a new place on theGrubhub.com list: Chic Express, they do Thai and “Asian” food. I ordered spring rolls, pot stickers, Yum Woon Sen salad (glass noodles and prawns tossed with vegetables in a spicy lime dressing), and Five-Spices chicken. It was all brought to the door within about an hour, and everything was incredibly delicious: fresh, super tasty. I was very pleased.

A Tribute to My Brother Miles

My tribute to my brother.  ©2015 Mary K. Hanson.  Al rights reserved.
My tribute to my brother. ©2015 Mary K. Hanson. Al rights reserved.

I am all cried out, but still emotionally exhausted. I wanted to do a little private farewell ceremony for my brother Miles who passed away over the Memorial Day weekend in his apartment in Texas, so I took a photo of him out along a trail that runs along the side of the American River. He always loved green places. I found a tree that is accessible from the trail, but not so close that you can see the river-facing side of it from the trail. In the base of that tree , facing the water, is a natural hollow, like a “tree womb”. I put the photo in there – so Miles can “see and hear” the river – and decorated it with some wild fennel, woodland clarkia, rattlesnake grass (because I think it’s pretty) and some wild herbs. I said a quiet “farewell” and an “I love you”, and then I went on with a longer walk. I know it’s just a “symbol” but it means a lot to me to have done it.

Here are a few more photos of him from his Facebook page:

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Lots of Bird Encounters

After saying goodbye to my brother, Miles, I looked in on the Red-Shouldered Hawk fledgling at the American River Bend Park, and also briefly encountered his mother who did NOT like me hanging around her baby’s tree.  She screeched at me and then sky-rocketed over me.  The baby is almost fully fledged.  He’ll probably be flying by next week.  I also saw the Wrens, Tree Swallows, and a couple of pairs of Western Bluebirds at their nests.  I thought I was getting video of one of the bluebird nests but when I got home I realized I didn’t have it.  The nest was low enough that I was hoping the camera could see inside of it and catch a glimpse of the babies. I could hear them chirping… but I must not have pressed the record button hard enough.  Dang!  I then found a Mourning Dove nest tucked away in the “elbow” of a tree.  It was camouflaged so well that I didn’t see it until it was right in front of my face.  Mama was sitting on it, perfectly still, perfectly quiet.

Along the river, I came across a large flock of Turkey Vultures.  Some were sitting on a large flat rock in the water; others were up in the trees in front of me and over my head.  Most of them flew off when I approached — shy creatures — but there were a couple of brave ones that stayed around long enough for me to get some photos of them.  While I was watching them, they were watching a family of Canada Geese swimming along the river bank: two adults, two fuzzy silver-gold goslings, and two fledglings that were just starting to come into their adult coloring.  The vultures didn’t bother them.

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While I was walking, another photographer came along and said there was a Cooper’s Hawk nest by the horseshoe pit area, so I drove over there, but I couldn’t find the nest.  That ARE always well-hidden though. While I was there, I took some photos of a pair of male Wild Turkeys that were napping in the shade before I headed home – and pretty much collapsed for the day.