Category Archives: Citizen Science

Plant Studying At the Silver Spur Ranch, 04-16-19

Up at 5:30 am, so I could leave before 6:30 and head out to Woodland to the Tuleyome office.  It was overcast and drizzling when I left the house, but by mid-morning the clouds had broken up, letting the sun in, so it was a beautiful day.

My coworker, Nate, had set aside this day to take me out to Tuleyome’s Silver Spur Ranch property where we’re doing the wildlife study paid for in part by a grant from the Sacramento Zoo. We weren’t servicing the field cameras today, instead we were doing a plant and wildlife photo outing.  And volunteer Roxanne came with us.  It’s about a 90-minute drive to the property, but we were pretty much out in the middle of nowhere, so traffic was never an issue. The roads are all dirt, and some of them were pretty scarred up by illegal OVH users and the recent hard rains, but Nate knew the path well, so we didn’t have any issues with that either.

The last time I’d seen the Silver Spur property was after the Pawnee Wildfire in 2018, and everything was dirt and blackened trees. Now it’s all bursting with new life and new growth. Green grasses, fields and hillsides covered in wildflowers, water in the seasonal pond and streams, critters in the water… I’m so glad I got see it!  ((So, Nate, once again: thank you, thank you, thank you, ad infinitum…)

Nate was also awesome on the trip. He helped me over uneven ground, pulled me out of a divot when I accidentally sat down in it at lunchtime (D’OH!), he pulled me back up onto my feet… and he did the “pack-mule” thing for me, carrying all of my bag, on the way out of the property.

And how great that Roxanne got to go with us! My sister Melissa jokingly says, “You can’t go out with Roxanne anymore, you never get home.” Hah! ((I’d spent a whole day out with Roxanne when he did the wildflower outing together, and then again today.  Two long days.  This one was actually longer. I didn’t get back to the house until almost 7:00 pm!))

When we got to the property, Nate ran off to the south-camera to see if he could find the pouch associated with it that fell off of Bill’s motor scooter on their trip out to service the cameras there last Thursday.  He couldn’t find the pouch, but on the way back to meet up with Roxanne and I, he did find some wildflowers that we didn’t get to see – and even laid down in a field of them and took a selfie.

So. Many. Flowers. In some areas, they lined the dirt road, in other areas they covered whole fields and hillsides. It seemed like the farther we walked in, the more spectacular they got.  We saw a lot of stuff that Roxanne and I had seen on our wildflower excursion (as many of the wildflowers are common and natives) but there were some new ones (for us), like Golden Violets, Mosquito Bill Shooting Stars (also called Henderson’s Shoot Stars), California Indian Pink (which is sub-species of the Cardinal Catchfly), Long-Spurred Seablush (that kind of looks like double-decker clover), what we think might have been Gambleweed (Pacific Sanicle), and some wicked-looking thistle with twisting purple-blue, thorn-rimmed leaves.

I insisted on getting myself to the seasonal pond on the property, so it was a long walk. The dirt road into the property is too damaged by erosion to get a car in there, so Nate parked at the gate and we walked in. Going in, it’s all downhill, so coming back (obviously) it’s all uphill which can be especially trying when you’re already tired from the rest of the day’s walk. I think I covered about 4 kilometers altogether.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos.

We picnicked in the shade of a big oak by the seasonal pond before heading back to the car, stopping every now and then to take more photos, and more photos, and more photos.  We got to the point where we’d seen so many Painted Native butterflies sipping nectar from wildflowers that we pretty much ignored them on the way out. Hah!

At the pond, Nate dipped a dish and net in to see if we could find anyone interesting: Water Boatmen, Water Striders, some insect larva… I was hoping to see some of the California Newt eggs or some of their tadpoles, but there was just the “jelly” left from the eggs and all of the babies (except one or two newborns) had apparently ridden the streams out to more permanent water structures.  In the puddle, though, I did get some video of what I think were crab shrimp and some mosquito larvae.  By the pond, where the water-striders were I also saw some small crustacean-looking things that I’ll need to work on identifying. The mosquito larvae were in a turgid-looking puddle and when my shadow passed over the puddle, they all dove down from the surface, only to rise, very slowly again later. Eeew! Hah!

When Nate, Roxanne and I were eating lunch, there Red-Winged Blackbirds tending to their nests and courtship rituals in the tules at the far end of the pond.  I watched while one of the males flew out to the side of the stream that fed the pond, and then started rolling rocks over so he could eat what he found underneath them. I had never seen that behavior before, so that was cool to see!

We didn’t see much wildlife, so I only got a few photos of birds, but we could ear more birds than we could see… and at one point saw a large crow fly over our heads with a beak full of nesting material.  We tried to see where it landed, but it disappeared over the crest of a hill.  There was also a Mourning Dove nest near the front gate, but it was unoccupied.

The trip was totally exhausting, but totally fun.

Species List:

1. American Robin, Turdus migratorius,
2. Baby Blue Eyes, Nemophila menziesii,
3. Bay Laurel, Laurus nobilis,
4. Bedstraw, Sticky Willy, Velcro Grass, Cleavers, Galium aparine,
5. Big Heron’s Bill, Erodium botrys,
6. Bird’s Eye Gilia, Gilia tricolor,
7. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
8. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum,
9. Blue Dicks, Dichelostemma capitatum,
10. Blue Oak, Quercus douglasii,
11. Buckbrush, Ceanothus cuneatus,
12. Bulbous Blue Grass, Poa bulbosa,
13. Butter ‘n’ Eggs, Johnny Tuck, Triphysaria eriantha,
14. California Burclover, Medicago polymorpha,
15. California Clam Shrimp, Cyzicus californicus,
16. California Geranium, Geranium californicum,
17. California Golden Violet, Viola pedunculata,
18. California Indian Pink, Silene laciniata ssp. californica, (as subspecies of the Cardinal Catchfly),
19. California Maidenhair Fern, Adiantum jordanii,
20. California Manroot, Bigroot, Marah fabaceus,
21. California Newt, Taricha torosa
22. California Pipevine, Aristolochia californica,
23. California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica,
24. Chamise, Adenostoma fasciculatum,
25. Chinese Houses, Collinsia heterophylla,
26. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus,
27. Common Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos,
28. Common Fiddleneck, Amsinckia intermedia,
29. Common Fringepod, Thysanocarpus curvipes,
30. Common Mustard, Brassica rapa,
31. Common Woodland Star, Lithophragma affine,
32. Common Yarrow, Achillea millefolium,
33. Damselfly, Vivid Dancer Damselfly, Argia vivida (note the arrow-markings on the abdomen),
34. Damselfly, Western Forktail, Ischnura perpava (note the mostly black abdomen),
35. Dwarf Sack Clover, Castilleja exserta ssp. exserta,
36. Fragrant sumac, Rhus aromatica,
37. Frying Pan Poppy, Eschscholzia lobbii
38. Giant Death Camas, Zigadenus exaltatus,
39. Giraffe’s Head Henbit, Henbit Deathnettle, Lamium amplexicaule,
40. Golden Fairy Lantern, Diogenes’ Lantern, Calochortus amabilis,
41. Goldfields, Lasthenia californica,
42. Gray Pine, California Foothill Pine, Pinus sabiniana,
43. Hawksbeard, Crepis sp.,
44. Hog Fennel, Lomatium utriculatum,
45. Houndstongue, Pacific Houndstongue, Cynoglossum grande,
46. House Wren, Troglodytes aedon
47. Indian Paintbrush, Castilleja affinis,
48. Jeweled Onion, Allium serra,
49. Larkspur, Delphinium decorum,
50. Lichen, Rock Firedot Lichen, Caloplaca Saxicola,
51. Lomatium, Lomatium sp.,
52. Long-Spurred Seablush, Plectritis ciliosa,
53. Lupine, Lupinus sp.,
54. Manzanita, Arctostaphylos sp.,
55. Miniature Lupine, Lupinus bicolor,
56. Miner’s Lettuce, Claytonia parviflora
57. Mosquito, family Culicidae,
58. Mosquito Bill Shooting Star, Primula hendersonii,
59. Mouse Ear Chickweed, Cerastium fontanum,
60. Mule’s Ears, Smooth Mules Ears, Wyethia glabra,
61. Narrow Leaf Collinsia, Collinsia linearis
62. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii,
63. Oregon Grape, Mountain Grape, Berberis aquifolium,
64. Owl’s Clover, Dense Flower Owl’s clover, Castilleja densiflora,
65. Pacific Peavine, Canyon Sweet Pea, Lathyrus vestitus,
66. Pacific Sanicle, Gambleweed Sanicula crassicaulis,
67. Painted Lady butterfly, Vanessa cardui,
68. Pepperweed, Common Pepper Grass, Lepidium densiflorum,
69. Pineapple Weed, Matricaria discoidea,
70. Pink Grass, Windmill Pink, Petrorhagia dubia,
71. Plectritis ciliosa, Long spurred plectritis,
72. Popcorn Flower, Plagiobothrys chorisianus,
73. Purple Sanicle, Sanicula bipinnatifida,
74. Q Tips, Slender Cottonweed, Micropus californicus var. californicus,
75. Red Maids, Calandrinia ciliate,
76. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus,
77. Scarlet Pimpernel, Lysimachia arvensis,
78. Shrubby Butterweed, Bush Groundsel, Senecio flaccidus,
79. Spinster’s Blue-Eyed Mary, Few Flowered Collinsia, Collinsia sparsiflora,
80. Tomcat Clover, Trifolium willdenovii,
81. Toyon, Heteromeles arbutifolia,
82. Tree Swallow, Tachycineta bicolor,
83. True Babystars, Leptosiphon bicolor,
84. Valley Oak, Quercus lobata,
85. Valley Tassels, Castilleja attenuate,
86. Variable-leaf Nemophila, Canyon Nemophila, Nemophila heterophylla,
87. Wallflower, Erysimum capitatum,
88. Water Strider, Aquarius remigis
89. Western Fence Lizard, Sceloporus occidentalis,
90. Western Redbud, Cercis occidentalis,
91. White Seablush, Plectritis macrocera,
92. Winter Vetch, Vicia villosa ssp. varia,

Kite-Man and Robin, 04-11-19

After breakfast, I noticed there was a fat Robin, Turdus migratorius, sitting on the fence in the backyard, so I ran to get my camera and got some photos of her. Then I could hear the neighborhood magpies fussing over something, so I looked around and saw a bird sitting in the top of a tree about a block away. It was shaped like a raptor, but I couldn’t identify it because it was backlit.

So, I opened the iris on my camera as much as I could and zoomed in on it. It was a White-Tailed Kite (!), Elanus leucurus, having its breakfast. Whatever it was eating looked pretty dark, so I assumed it was a mole or a vole (rather than a rat or someone’s Chihuahua). Because of the distance, the photos and videos of the Kite are grainy, but you can still see what it is and what’s going on.  Cool!

CLICK HERE for the album of photos and video snippets.

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.