Things are Getting Interesting at the Wildlife Refuge, 10-28-17

At the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, the wetlands areas aren’t completely flooded yet, so it’s not as full of birds as it could be… but there were a lot of the early-arrival species like the White-Fronted Geese, Snow Geese, Ross’s Geese, Northern Pintails, Northern Shovelers, and Gadwalls. I also saw a few different species of sparrow including Song Sparrows, White-Crowned Sparrows, and Savannah Sparrows, a Dark-Eyed Junco, and a Nutthall’s Woodpecker. Among the other birds I saw – like the Wilson’s Snipes, Killdeer, Black-Necked Stilts, and American Pipits — a nice surprise was spotting the local Peregrine Falcon who was sitting up in “the eagle-tree”. He was obscured by branches and twigs, but I got a few fair photos of him.

Later on, I came across a trio of mule deer browsing in the tall grass and weeds.  One was a male, a two-pointer, and I couldn’t see any details but could tell there was a big lump – like a knot made out of hide — on the side of his head near one of his eyes. It looked like the eye was missing, but I’m not sure; it could have just been that the knot was casting a shadow over the eye socket. It didn’t seem to inhibit the buck or interfere with his ability to move around…

The big surprise of the day, though, was when I saw a skunk moving along the tules and weeds on the edge of one of the wetland ponds, and stopped to take some photos and video of it. As I watched it, I could hear it nattering angrily at something and thought maybe there was another skunk or a snake or something near it in the weeds…  When a raccoon climbed out over the vegetation and moved gingerly past the skunk I had to laugh.  I wasn’t expecting that at all!  You can see the video here:

I saw another raccoon further along the auto tour route near the large viewing platform.  I heard first as it went scuffing through the fallen dried leaves under the platform, and then saw it as it was walking away along the edge of the slough near the base of the platform.

Here is an album of pix:

I was at the refuge for about 3 ½  hours and then turned around and headed back home.

Working on Piñatas: “Evergreen Santa”

In the summer of 2018 I’ll be teaching several adults-only workshops on making and decorating tabletop piñatas.  The first four classes are called “Monumental Piñatas” events (because they’re based on creatures and plants found in the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument), and the last two classes art called “Art/Nature Fusion” events. All of the classes are two-day workshops (on two consecutive Saturdays) during which I teach participants how to build their own piñatas “from the balloons up”, and then teach them how to decorate them.

I’m volunteering my time for these workshops, and all of the proceeds from the ticket sales will go to support Tuleyome’s Certified California Naturalist program.

Before the classes start, however, I needed to create the sample piñatas to use for advertising purposes.  What you see in this post is my “Evergreen Santa” sample piece.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Just about everything about the piñata is made of recyclable, biodegradable materials. The form is made of recycled newsprint paper, flour, salt and water and is built up around balloons (which are popped and properly disposed of once the form dries).  The exterior is decorated with tissue paper, light poster board, art paper, construction paper, and water-soluble glue.

Santa’s boots and pants were done in a flat-application technique where the tissue paper is glued flat onto the piñata form in strips.  That technique allows for quick coverage of an area, and can be layered to give it less translucency if required.

The jacket and faux fur was done in the layering technique I use for most of my own piñatas. I tried several different kinds of evergreen plant leaves and needles, and although it’s kind of a cliche, I settle on using holly leaves. That choice also allowed me to give the Santa holly leaf buttons and cufflinks which I liked.

The hair and beard were made of regular 20# white copy paper.  I chose that paper and weight because it’s relatively easy to curl (running the paper strips along the edge of the blade of a pair of scissors, like curling ribbon) and it’s light enough to cut somewhat intricate patterns.  All of the curls were glued into place first, and then the cutout layers of the beard and mustache were added last.

Final touches included a stocking cap made of tissue paper, and accents of “icicle” glitter and a sprig of mistletoe (made of cardboard, tissue paper, and faux pearls.)

Like all of the piñatas I create, the Evergreen Santa doesn’t need to be smashed to get to the goodies inside of it.  Instead, the hat on the top of the piñata can be removed to fill it up and empty it out.

If you would like me to do a workshop for your nonprofit, business or group, please contact me at