Category Archives: Citizen Science

Placing the Trail Cameras, 10-12-18

Today, we had Nate and Bam Bam, and two of my naturalist class graduates, Roxanne Moger and Lori Thomas (who is Sergeant Margie’s vet) and went off to Lake County to place the trail cameras.  (CLICK HERE to read more.) Nate had rented an SUV and Bam Bam drove his 4-wheel drive truck, so there was plenty of room for everyone. We made a brief pit stop at one of the turnouts for the Cache Creek Regional Park. It was brisk and breezy outside, and we got to see and hear Nutthall’s Woodpeckers, Acorn Woodpeckers, Scrub Jays and Northern Flickers.

The drive to the ranch was mostly uneventful except that in one spot along Highway 16, construction was taking place, so there was a queue to get through the one land that was open. It’s weird to see “so much” traffic on that highway (like, 12 trucks. Hah!)

When we got to the site and unpacked, Nate showed us all of the detailed tracking sheets and maps he’d made up for the project. He had overhead maps of the ranch with yellow “push pins” marking each of the spots where we would place cameras (and some white push pins for other prospective spots). Each push pin was marked with a name for easy reference: Staging Area, Gray Pine, Side of Cliff, Cattail Pond, Crossroads, Top of Ridge, Intersection, River and Gate. Then on other sheets, he had data-collection spreadsheets set up that not only included the general name for the camera spots but also included space to write down the camera serial number placed at each spot, the GPS coordinates, in which direction the camera was facing, and the key number for the camera cable’s lock.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

At the Staging Area, we found that the lash for the camera didn’t fit around the fat tree, so Nate climbed up into the branches to place it up a little higher where the trunk was thinner. We all tested our compasses to get the direction in which the camera was facing, and none of the them were the same. Hah! The on-phone apps couldn’t access the internet (no signal) to coordinate place and direction data… so they’re pretty much useless. Guess I’ll have to buy some real compasses for this project.

The other placements went easier. While we were walking to the Gray Pine, I was at the back of the group (because I walk more slowly than the others) and was surprised to see two large trucks with ATV’s driving across the property. I approached them to see who they were and what they were doing there. Turns out they were personnel from the US Geological Survey who had come to check on the landslide area again. They’re worried that with all of the plant life burned off of it by the fires that it will slide when the rains start…

I wasn’t able to climb the steep hills for the placement of the Top of Ridge and Intersection spots, so while the rest of the crew did those, I took some more landscape photos and watched for wildlife: saw a California Sister butterfly, several Variegated Meadowhawk dragonflies, a few Yellow Jackets, Crows, Northern Flickers, quail, three deer, and a Cooper’s Hawk… and heard Nutthall’s Woodpeckers. And that’s with the place in a burnt-out condition; I can’t wait to see what’s out there when it’s green and the creek has water in it.

I told Nate that going out once a month light be okay in the fall and winter, but we’ll need to get out there more often in the spring. Because it’s a “seasonal” creek and pond there, life will come in and leave in that small window of time when there’s abundant water and food for the critters… Once the creek and pond dry up again, there won’t be much to see. He was all for going out more often. (As we were driving away from the site in the afternoon, he kept saying, “I wonder if the cameras have seen anything yet.” Hah!)

We also used today’s outing to place the six signs I’d had made for us around the area that read: “Wildlife Research Area. Do Not Enter. This area is under video surveillance 24/7.” We’re hoping they’ll help to keep the trespassing OHV users and hunters off of the property. (Although it wouldn’t surprise me if next time we go up there, the signs will be shot up or destroyed. Some humans are assholes.)

I found a couple of baby Blue Oak trees that were fighting their way back already after the fire. I need to get some tomato-plant cages to take up to the site later to help enclose and protect them while they grow. Blue Oaks don’t reproduce very often, so the babies are important…

When Nate decided he wanted to drive up to the River spot, I stayed behind at the staging area while he, Bam Bam, Lori and Roxanne went up in Bam Bam’s truck. I can’t get into the truck (the step up is too high for my old legs) and it would be too claustrophobic for me with all the people in it… and besides, it was a little after noon by that time and I was tired and hungry. It took them about 90 minutes to make the drive up, place the camera and come back to the staging area. Nate said the “road” up was really rough and treacherous, and he wasn’t really pleased about where the camera was placed, so we just pull that one later.

By the time Nate and the others got back from the River spot, it was after 1:30 pm; time for us to head back to Woodland. Bam Bam decided to remain behind with Roxanne, though, so they could place the last remote-site camera we had left.

The others were “starving” by then; they hadn’t taken breaks or eaten lunch yet, so they all ate during the drive. We got back to the office by about 3:30 – 3:45 pm.

At the West Pond in Davis, 03-07-18

Gene Trapp and his wife Jo Ellen headed up one of their monthly walks at the West Davis Pond site this morning. He thought it might be good spot to bring the naturalist class, but I wanted to check it out first. (I also thought that after a few visits, I can add this to my own walk list here on this site.) It can be found in the city of Davis, California, off of Covell and Denali, where Isle Royale Land and Bryce Lane merge together. Look for the large white gazebo-like structure and park on the street.  (There are no restrooms along the path, but you can find a public restroom in the medical facility across the street from the short end of the trail.) You can see more information at Friends of West Pond on Facebook.

I had never been to the pond before, but was pleased at it was so easy to  locate – with a paved trail that was super easy to walk. Our group was unusually large, though (about 27 people) so that was a lot of bodies moving along a tight walkway all at once. I’d take smaller groups if I go with the naturalist students.

CLICK HERE for an album of photos.

Because it was chilly and overcast outside, we didn’t see much of anything.  I can tell by looking at the area, however, that in another month or so, when things start to green up and the critters all go into mating mode, it should be a very interesting, very pretty place. Lots of trees (including some gorgeous Cork Oaks, Quercus suber) and pretty shrubbery along the route (including some lovely quince bushes). Most of the stuff is non-native, of course, but Gene and Jo Ellen oversee the construction and maintenance of a large native-plant garden along the path as well as a large butterfly garden. They hold a lot of promise for future photo-taking / naturalist opportunities.

I did see some wildlife: Canada Geese, Mallards, Crows, Black Phoebes, Wood Ducks, Scrub Jays, Mockingbirds, lots of Anna’s Hummingbirds and Fox Squirrels, White-Crowned Sparrows, Golden-Crowned Sparrows, a couple of Spotted Towhees, House Finches, and a very red, very wet Purple Finch… things you’d typically see in an urban wildlife area. The not-too-seeable critters included Nutthall’s Woodpeckers, a Hairy Woodpecker and a Red-Breasted Sap Sucker that teased us with their presence, but made photo-taking difficult because they kept flitting around.

When someone mentioned that are sometimes Wilson’s Snipes along the edges of the ponds, a newbie birder who had brought her Sibley’s guide with her tried to look it up. Oddly, there were no Wilson’s Snipes mentioned in her guide even though they’re fairly common in this area. So I opened up the Merlin app on my phone and showed her a picture of it. That app is one of the easiest birding apps to use, and it’s free!

Gene and Jo Ellen were fun to walk with; they have so much knowledge and so many area contacts. Someone found a skull on the side of the path and Gene identified it as a raccoon skull. Very cool.

The walk was a good one, very informative, and I look forward to visiting the pond again.

A Visit to the Woodland Science Center Site, 04-19-17

My coworker Jenifer took the staff on a tour of the site where we hope the new Woodland Science Center will be built. Jenifer spearheaded this project for Tuleyome and has been working for the last two years to pull all of the community stakeholders together.  She’s pushed the project forward to the point where she already architectural drawings of the site and is starting to look for funding to build everything.  I’d heard her describe the site several times, and had seen some photos of it, but they don’t even begin to elicit the same response as actually stepping onto the site and looking at it.  I can see soooo much potential there, and am now more excited to see the center get built and the site protected and utilized. My coworkers Nate and Kristie came along with us, and we all got so involved with taking photos and recording sounds that the 1-hour site visit turned into a 2 ½ hour hike! We walked all the way around the borrow pit (which was full of water and looking great), and up to one of the high points on a hillock.

Jenifer said she really enjoyed being out on the site with us because we were so excited about everything, and were able to point out to her things she hadn’t seen or noticed before.

CLICK HERE to see an album of photos.

Because I had thought it was just going to be a short site visit, I hadn’t brought my “field stuff”, like my notebook, insect repellant, walking stick, etc.  Still, I was able to mentally keep track of many of the species we saw there, and I got some photos, too.   I told Jenifer that to get really good images I’d need to get onto the property at dusk and dawn when the light wasn’t so glaring (and it was cooler)… so I suggested she ask Sara if staff could do an overnight campout on the site (before the heat of summer was on us and all of the plants were dried up). We’ll see…

Of the species we were able to identify we saw: Purple Salsify, Annual Yellow Sweetclover, Silverpuffs, Soft Blow Wives, several different kinds of Lupine, Storksbill, California Goldfields, Cowbag Clover, Popcorn Flowers, Canary Grass, Dock, Italian Thistle, Bull Thistle, Milk Thistle, Oat Grass, Squirrel-tail barley, willow trees, cottonwood trees, and what I thought might be Alkali Milk Vetch (although that’s pretty rare).  We saw Variegated Meadowhawk dragonflies, Exclamation Damselflies, Northern Bluet Damselflies, Black-Fronted Forktail Damselflies, and Pacific Forktail Damselflies.  A coyote, rabbit, signs of otter slides along the banks of the borrow pit, a Green Heron, Tree Swallows, Barn Swallows, Western Kingbirds, Great-Horned Owls, Red-Tailed Hawks, Swainson’s Hawks, a small flock of Long-Billed Dowitchers (that “attacked” Nate), Mallards, Mourning Doves, Mockingbirds, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Western Meadowlarks, and Bullock’s Orioles.  We also heard the call of Pied-Billed Grebes and came across two hawks’ nests (one with a mama sitting on her eggs), and an owl’s nest. We also found some very large burrows… but couldn’t tell what lived in them because the tracks around them that clear.  We did find a lot of cow tracks, some deer tracks, coyote tracks and raccoon tracks. I think if we had more time on the site, we’d be able to better document a lot more (thus, the request for the campout).

What’s neat about the site is that the area around the borrow pit can be reformed into a beautiful pond / wetlands area, and there are also alkali sinks and vernal pools on the property, so it can be turned into a real environmental “learning space”.  And even though it’s “wild”, it sits right near rice farms, schools, and suburban housing, so it will be easy for the public to get to. I was really excited about the whole thing!

2nd Day of the Great Backyard Bird Count

I got to sleep in a tiny bit today, and got up around 6:30 so I could get out of the house by 7:00 and drive over to the Cache Creek Nature Preserve.  I got there just as they opened the gates.  Usually, they’re not open on weekends, and their weekday hours are so weird (9:00 am to 4:00 pm) that no one can get over there if they’re working, so… I took advantage of the fact that today they were opening the preserve for the Great Backyard Bird Count.  They didn’t have much of a turnout — I saw 4 other people besides the preserve staff – and I don’t like going with a group to look for birds because the groups are always so loud.  So, I took off by myself before the group finished figuring out how to use the binoculars.

I was VERY shocked by how “ugly” their wetland area looks.  It was almost empty!  (See my previous visit to the preserve.)  The water level was BELOW the footings of the pilings on their boardwalk, so there was just naked cement and gravel showing at the base of it.

I went through their riparian area which doesn’t hold a candle to the one at the American River Bend Park.  The path is exceedingly short, very muddy and was blocked throughout by fallen trees and accumulated debris.  I did see some interesting fungus along the trail, but even that was kind of “messy”.

For the Great Backyard Bird Count, I saw: Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, Canada Geese, Savanna Sparrows and lots of other sparrows, Tree Swallows, Killdeer, Robins, Finches, Black Phoebes, Red-Winged Blackbirds, a Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flickers, a Belted Kingfisher, Starlings, a female Anna’s Hummingbird, etc.  A new bird for me was a pair of Great-Tailed Grackles.  I’ve seen loads of Common Grackles all around the area, but had never seen this species before.  They look like other Grackles, but their tails are extra-long, and they have a wide range of calls, many of them quite beautiful.  I got a tiny bit of video of the male giving out some clear bell-like tones.

I also heard the deep resonant hoot of a Great Horned Owl and looked for him in the trees.  I was able to get one shot of him before he took off and disappeared into the trees.  I wasn’t sure of the quality of the one photos until I got home and had a chance to look at it on the monitor.  The owl was looking right at me; its huge eyes bright yellow.  So neat!  I also saw one of the beavers and some of the mule deer.

There were a lot of good tracks on the trail, and I got some photos of them.  The trail was so muddy in places, though, that it was difficult to walk on, and once the tread on the soles of my shoes got full of the muck, I lost all traction.  My feet slipped right out from under me and I fell backwards.  Hit with my butt and my back, so I didn’t bang my head. But my back and hips ached a lot after that, so I decided to head back to the car.  Altogether, I walked for about 2 ½ hours.