Scouting Out Spots for Trail Cameras, 10-04-18

My Tuleyome coworkers Nate, Eric “Bam Bam”, Kristie and I were all scheduled to head over to the Lake County to scout out places to put the trail cameras today. We left the office at 8:00 am. The trip to the ranch, which is Lake County, took about 90 minutes (one way) and Nate did the driving, hauling all of us up there in his SUV.

It was overcast, around 63º, with some clouds dragging their bellies across the tops of the hills, but the rain held off until just before we were ready to leave.

Bam Bam had never been to the property before, and Nate and I hadn’t been there since the Pawnee Fire burned through it.  I was kind of shocked by how much surface damage the wildfire had done.  I need to find the “before” photos so you can see the change from when I first saw the place and what it looks like now. Even without the comparison, you’ll be able to see just how burned “BURNED!” is.  In some spots, the fire burned so hot and lingered so long that it burned down into the root ball of trees, and when the trees fell over the fire burned them down into the ground until there was nothing left but white and orange ash “skeletons” on the ground.  Bam Bam, who used to be a volunteer firefighter, said that when the mop up crews from the fire brigade come into a wildfire area after a fire, the first thing they look for are the root holes. They make sure that all of the roots are gone and that there’s nothing left smoldering in the holes that might re-ignite and start another fire.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

Nate had made maps that noted some areas where he thought would make good placements for the cameras, and he used that as a guide, but once we got to the site, we chose spots based on where we saw scat, tracks or game trails; where we could see where the water from the season creek would flow; and where there were open spaces flanked by areas where we figure vegetation would sprout in the spring. We’d originally thought we’d put out about 5 cameras, but we ended up finding about 9 spots where we want cameras to go.

One of “good” things about the wildfire was that it revealed all of the parts of the landscape that had been covered up by overgrown grasses and other vegetation.  We could clearly see the path of the seasonal creek – including a large pond – which helped us decide where to put cameras to capture images of river otters and other critters that might visit the creek once the water is flowing.  In the pond area, there was a stand of tules and cattails that were mostly dried out, and in among them Nate and Kristie found about 5 nests, most likely made by Red-Winged Blackbirds, woven into and around the tules. Nate cut out one of them, so we could use it as a display piece for our Certified California Naturalist class.

While we were scouting the area, we found evidence of deer, elk, bobcats, a black bear, jackrabbits, and coyotes… including some large elk bones (mostly ribs and vertebrae.) So, we know there are critters out there. The question will be: will they return as the landscape revives from the fire.

I documented some plant life but need to do more of that next time we’re out there. Along with the Blue Oak trees and Ponderosa Pines, there were also lots of manzanita trees and toyon bushes, mugwort, heliotrope, and doveweed… and some Yellow Star Thistle which needs to be pulled out.  I also found some fungi, including Barometer Earthstars.

The funniest part of the day was when Nate set off the sound box of a toy quail on the property — and live quails answered it. A couple of male quails jumped up into the branches of a dead tree trying to see who the intruder was. Hah!

The rain was polite and waited until just before we were ready to leave before it started. Everyone seemed to have enjoyed themselves. It was a fun and productive day.

Funding for this project was paid in part by the Sacramento Zoo, Project #18-022.

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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.