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.

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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.