Category Archives: Citizen Science

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.