I could have slept in, but Sergeant Margie needed to go potty around 6:30 am so I got up to let him out and then just stayed up. Marty was already gone for the day! He was going to a car club thing at Ironstone, and they had to go in early to set up the cars before the guests arrived.
Around 8 o’clock I headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve in Carmichael (about a half an hour from the house). I’d never been there before and always wanted to check it out. I had an extra incentive today because they were hosting an Acorn Gathering course by the Sacramento Tree Foundation. The nature preserve was a little difficult to find because it’s off a road that isn’t really clearly marked; and inside the complex you have to be careful not to go down the wrong one-way roads or you end up facing all their tire-shredding road spikes. But now that I know where it is, I should be able to find it again easily. I got to the preserve around 8:30 and the class didn’t start until 10 o’clock , so I took some time to walk around a little bit. They have a nice set of offices and a nature center there with a small amphitheater in the back of it, and a museum and shop inside. They also have some raptors they’re rehabilitating including an owl and a Red-Shouldered Hawk. Outside the center was a garden with lots of Showy Milkweed in it. The plants all had large seed pods on them, but I didn’t see any Monarch Butterfly caterpillars on it.
I’d only walked out a short way from the nature center building when I came across a Mule Deer doe lying down in the grass… and nearby were her two sons, a yearling (with his first set of antlers) and a fawn (who was still too young to have gotten his first set yet). I also saw several Turkey Vultures, Acorn Woodpeckers, Scrub Jays, several samples of sulfur shelf fungus, and all sorts of different galls including: Red Cone galls, Popcorn galls, Spangle Galls, Wooly Leaf Gall, etc. All before the class started! Wow!
The class was really neat. It was held outside — the weather was lovely, in the high 60’s and a little breezy — and the presentation was by Zarah Wyly of the tree foundation. She told us about the general morphology of oak trees (there are 20 different kinds in California, not counting the hybrids), and then narrowed that down to about 6 trees we’re supposed to look for. We have to be careful what kind of acorns we gather and where we get them, because not all of them are “native” and the tree foundation doesn’t want to replant non-native acorns or the weird hybrid ones. Apparently, oak trees don’t care who they have sex with, and if you gather acorns from a Live Oak tree and there’s a non-native Burr Oak tree within 1000 feet of it, the two can cross pollinate and create unwanted hybrid acorns that give you who-knows-what kind of oak tree. Some of the who-knows-what acorns have too much tannin in them and can poison wildlife. I had no idea… I thought an acorn was an acorn.
We were given kits with the capacity to collect 200 acorns within the next month and a half. The acorns have a short period during which they ripen and fall. We only collected the fallen ones; not the ones on the tree. And we don’t collect fallen ones that are mis-colored, have lumps or holes in them, that are “squishy” to the touch, or that won’t let go of their caps… because those are rotten or infested with something. One of the acorns Zarah picked up when she took us out onto the preserve had a hole in the side of it that she said was indicative of weevil infestation. While she was talking, this fat, pale weevil larva wriggled out of it onto her hand… right on cue. Eeeew! Hah! When we collect the acorns we’re supposed to get about 40 from the same area, bag them, ID them by date, place and time (and take a photo of the leaves and bark if we can to help to positively identify the type of tree we’re collecting from). Then we’re supposed to put the bags in the fridge (not the freezer, and no anywhere where the acorns will get too hot — no leaving them in the trunk of your car — and then notify the foundation that we have bags for pick up. Their people will then meet with you to collect the bags. We were given totes that proclaim that we’re authorized acorn interns, and blank releases in case we need to get a land-owner’s permission to collect on their property. It was a 2-hour class, jammed with information… and very interesting. I was so glad I went there!