Lots of Beaver Sign at the American River

I got up around 6:30 this morning and headed over to the American River Bend Park to see how things were there… The river was actually higher than it was the last time I was there.

CLICK HERE to see the full album of photos and video snippets.

When I went into the park, I saw something bright in a distant tree that I thought might be an owl or other large bird, so I stopped off in the turn-around the fishermen usually use to get a better view.  It was just a bent branch with dead leaves on it (a veritable “stick-bird” sighting), but since I’d parked and gotten out of the car anyway, I decided to walk down the trail there to the river to see how high the water was.  It was so high that 90% of the trail was under water!  Wow!  I took a little bit of video, and then went to check out what looked like beaver sign to me…

Sure enough, an old cottonwood tree on the now-riverside-bank of the river had been chewed up by beavers. You could see all the spat-out chunks around the tree, and the beavers’ teeth marks in the wood.  I was able to get right next to the tree, so I could get some good shots of the wood… and I also found beaver scat, which I had never seen “live” before.  It looks like little round balls of chunky sawdust.  When the river was at its drought-stage, the beavers never came up this close to the parking areas.  But now that the river is so high, they’re right up close.  I didn’t get to see any today  — I need to get out there a lot earlier – but it was cool to see the chewed up bits and the scat anyway.

The pipevines and Manroot vines are all starting to grow throughout the park, and I came across one lonely female Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly, but she was pretty wet and cold (it was about 43° at the river), so I don’t know if she’ll make it.  I pulled her out of the wet grass and propped her up in the crook of a tree to dry off and warm up in the rising sun.  (Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies are toxic to birds, so there was no danger in putting her out where birds could spot her.)  I saw quite a bit of Henbit out there in the tall grass, along with stinging nettle, mugwort, horehound, and miner’s lettuce.  All of those plants will really assert themselves over the next month…

At one point on my walk, I accidentally flushed out a large covey of quails.  One of the females stopped for a moment, so I was able to get a few quick shots of her.  They’re such pretty, funny-looking birds; they always make me smile.  I also saw a female Common Merganser, some California Towhees, European Starlings, Acorn Woodpeckers, California Scrub Jays, Tree Swallows and Wild Turkeys.   I also came across quite a few mule deer (singles or in small family groups)… Not too much in the way of fungi today, but I did come across some brown jelly fungus, Haymaker and Deershield mushrooms, and some Elfin Saddles. Then I found a big swath of Ink Cap Mushrooms and got some photos and video of them.

I walked around for about 3 hours and then headed home. On my way out of the park, I came across some mules deer who were walking past some dozing Wild Turkeys, and while I was getting a little video of them, a tree squirrel stopped in the shot – and the deer started too poop… so there was a little bit of nature-overload in that moment.  Hah

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Mary K. Hanson is a breast cancer survivor who, at age 61, took coursework to become a Certified California Naturalist. The author of “The Chubby Woman’s Walkabout”™ blog, Ms. Hanson has also written nature-based feature articles published in regional newspapers, authored over ten books, including her "Cool Stuff Along the American" series of guide books, and has had her photographs featured in books, articles, calendars, on the American River Parkway Foundation’s Instagram stream, and even the White House blog. This year Ms. Hanson is helping to launch and teach a new Certified California Naturalist course through Tuleyome, in partnership with the University of California and the Woodland Library, so members of the public can themselves become certified as naturalists in the state. All of the photos seen on her website were taken by Ms. Hanson herself (unless noted otherwise) with moderate- to low-end photographic equipment more easily affordable to the everyday nature enthusiast. She also occasionally leads photo-walks through the American River Bend Park for the public and is sometimes available for public speaking.