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: https://youtu.be/yrja6wSMtxA.

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: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mkhnaturalist/albums/72157665598291929

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.

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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 thechubbywoman@gmail.com

Vacation Day #13: Nimbus Fish Hatchery

DAY THIRTEEN OF MY FALL VACATION… I got up a little before 7:00 am and headed out to the Nimbus Fish Hatchery. I knew they had the salmon gate open, so I wanted to see if I could spot any of them; and I wanted to see if the migrating birds were around there yet. The weatherpeople forecast clouds and rain for today, but when I went out it was mostly sunny and around 53º… and it stayed nice all the while I was outside.

At the hatchery, there weren’t hardly any waterfowl.  I saw some Mallards, a couple of Great Blue Herons and some Great Egrets, along with several Double Crested Cormorants but no other ducks or geese. There were a lot of different kinds of sparrows out there, though, and I saw House Sparrows, White-Crowned Sparrows, and Golden-Crowned Sparrows. There were also Acorn Woodpeckers around and lots of Starlings. I saw one Starling poking its head out of its nesting cavity… which was too near the Acorn Woodpeckers, and they were fussing about it. The big surprise was seeing a small flock of Cedar Waxwings.

A one place along the trail there was a huge fig tree, and the leaves were dotted with clusters of Assassin Bug egg cases. Yikes!  The fig was just starting to get fruit on it. Coffeeberry trees along the route were burgeoning with berries, though, just in time for the Waxwings (who eat berries almost exclusively).

The raceways were full of trout and salmon. When I was walking around the trout raceways, one of the rangers came up to me and handed me a big (16 oz) cup filled with fish food so I could feed the fry.  “You’re the first kid we’ve had through here today,” he said as he handed me the cup.  Hah! He said there were currently over 3-million trout in the raceways (everything from fingerlings to adults), and in another month or so they’d be pulling them all out and depositing them in tanker trucks to take to the lakes and ponds all over the area. None of the trout form there go into the rivers.

The fish are used to being fed by hand (or by another truck that goes between the raceways and blows food at them like a huge leaf-blower). Whenever I leaned in over the side of the raceways to look at them, they’d all rush to the edge and splash around expecting food. When you toss food to them they all attack it at the same time and it’s gone within seconds.

Also in the raceways were about four Green Herons. The raceways are completely surrounded and covered by chain link fencing, but someone must’ve left a door open and the smart herons rushed in.  Once they’re in there it’s hard to get them out, but there are literally millions of fish for them to eat, so it’s not like they’d starve.

When I went over to the salmon side of the hatchery, I was surprised to find that they were actually collecting and “spawning” the Chinook Salmon that were coming up the ladder. I didn’t think they were doing that until December, so it was a treat to be able to see it so early in the season.

Here are some pix: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mkhnaturalist/albums/72157686356492352

Video #1: https://youtu.be/6gf0-kdqX-w

Video #2: https://youtu.be/92TwnHBQsgU

When they bring the salmon up to take the eggs, they kill them (because they’re at the end of their life cycle anyway).  There was one hug female in the mix –- she must’ve weighed 40 to 50 pounds – and the rangers said she probably had 10,000 eggs in her belly. (A normal take is about 5,000 per female.) The bodies of the fish that are killed, are tagged and sent to Washington state where they’re used in dog food and made into fertilizer, so they’re “recycled” and not wasted.

I walked around the hatchery grounds and trails for about 3 ½ hours and then headed home.