Vacation Day #5: Smoky at the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve

DAY FIVE OF MY FALL VACATION…  I got up about 6:45 this morning and headed off to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve. I was surprised, when I got outside, by the heavy smell smoke in the air.  There are wildfires all around us (but none close to where we live), and the smoke is pervasive. There was so much smoke in the air it was actually a little hard for me to breathe, and by the time I’d finished with my walk I had a headache…

Here is a map of all of the fires burning around Sacramento

At one point along the trail, I came across a troupe of mule deer: mostly females, a couple of yearlings, and one male – a spike buck sporting his first one-pronged antlers. One of the matriarchs stepped up onto the trail directly in front of me, so I couldn’t get any closer to the fawns in the group.  She stared me down for quite a while, and I was impressed with her bravery and tenacity.  When she felt the others were safe enough, she backed off and went into the dry grass to graze.

I followed the troupe for a while, and watched as a doe and her fawn broke off from the herd and headed toward the river. I walked out that way after them and got some photos and video snippets of them. I was worried that the doe was going to try to take her fawn across the river; the current is really strong in that area.  But she just waded the baby out until the water was up to its knees and then brought it back to shore.

The smoke in the air clouded the sun, and the sunlight coming through it was bright orange… which made the water in the river look like it was on fire in places…

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos and videos.

There were quite a few specimens of Sulphur Shelf Fungus throughout the preserve – the most I’ve ever seen there…

When I had stopped on the path to take some photos of a Northern Flicker, a woman came up right behind me to look at the photo-screen on my camera to see what I looking at. I thought that was kind of rude and annoying, but I was nice and refrained from elbowing her in the face.

She asked me, “Where is that?” and I told her the bird was sitting on a hanging branch further up the path.

“Wow, how did you know it was there? I can’t see it from here.” 

“Once you do this for a while, you get a kind of ‘nature eye’ and can see all sorts of things most people miss.”

“Wow. Thank you for pointing that out.”

At another spot, I was taking photos of the Acorn Woodpeckers, and different woman came up. Just as I turned to look at her, a Hairy Woodpecker flew into a nearby tree and she got all excited. “Did you see that?! Did you see that?!” (We old women can get so excited about the smallest things.  Hah!) I did see the Hairy, and I started taking photos and video of it. We actually had a short discussion about whether it was a Hairy Woodpecker or a Downy Woodpecker. I get the two mixed up all the time because their markings are nearly identical. Based on the overall size of this guy, though, we decided it must be a Hairy…

The woman watched it for a while, and then took off back down the trail to tell her friends (who were lagging behind) about the bird.

While she was gone, a White-Breasted Nuthatch flew down onto the trail in front of me and started pecking at a dried piece of scat. I got photos of that, too, just before it grabbed the scat and flew off with it. Eew! Hah!

The oak trees are all covered in acorns right now – not as many as in a mast year, but still a good yield.  Most of the trees in the preserve, though, are hybrids, so the acorns aren’t necessarily good for harvesting (for the purpose of replanting).  The deer, squirrels, and birds really like them, though, so there’s a lot of action around them in the forest. I watched the Acorn Woodpeckers grab acorns from surrounding oak and fly them back to their granary trees and jam them into the holes for safekeeping over the winter.  Some of the birds are efficient at it and seem to know which acorns are ripe enough to pull easily away from their caps, and others… not so much.  They try to pull unripe acorns, and end up in a tug-of-war with the things.  So funny…

The weather was gorgeous – except for the smoke – while I was out there.  I was about 47º when I got there, and only around 68º when I left.  And it remained cool throughout the rest of the day, in the 70’s.

I walked for about 3½ hours, which is generally my limit, and I had a really bad headache by then which I attributed to the smoke… but I liked the exercise.

Working on Piñatas: Nature’s Egg

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. One workshop encourages participants to come with their own idea for a piñata, and the other one focuses on an “Evergreen Santa” piñata.

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.  This one is the “Nature’s Egg”.

This “egg” form is covered using a variety of techniques, and displays some of my favorite plants and critters: an oak tree, California Poppies, a water feature with a rock that has a tiny Pond Turtle sitting on it, Pipevine, Pipevine Swallowtail caterpillars, eggs and butterflies, wildflowers (Baby Blue Eyes, Tidy Tips, Hawksbeard, and wild onions),  some Turkey Vultures, a little bit of jelly fungus and lichen.

Like all of the piñatas I create, the Nature’s Egg doesn’t need to be smashed to get to the goodies inside of it.  Instead, a cap on the top of the piñata  can be removed to fill it up and empty it out.  The sample was finished in early October… and there’s what it looks like.

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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.

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