I got into Woodland around 10:00 am, so I went over to The Nugget and got some of their premade deli sandwiches and muffins to share with the students. Roxane had a similar idea and brought a box of cookies and some homemade Rice Krispies Squares. She makes hers with cinnamon, so they were extra yummy. She also brought 10X “loops” (small magnifying glasses) for all of the students so they could bring them out into the field with them tomorrow. That was soooo nice of her!
Our guest speaker was Robyn from the River Otter Ecology Project. He had done a lecture for the winter class earlier this year and we really enjoy having him come up. He works primarily in the Bay Area, but he does a lot of outreach outside San Francisco County. He’s a quiet, kind of retiring man, until he’s talking about the otters. Then his passion really shows through. One of the thing he pushes for is the citizen science projects his organization is doing all over California: Otter Spotters, https://riverotterecology.org/otter-spotter-community-based-science/. If you see otters, their scats or their slides, you take photos and then load them up on the otter-spotter site. That way, the organization can create maps of where the otters are in the state and how many people are seeing them.
This was the class when we did the final exam quiz, what we call our “Your Naturalist Knowledge EcoBlitz Game”. We split the students up into teams, and they answer questions based on what we taught them throughout the entire length of the course. Whichever teams ends up with the most correct answer wins prize bags worth over $400. This time around we had a relatively small class, so we broke them out into two teams: the Murderous Crows and the Eager Estivators. The Estivators were ahead through most of the game, but then the Crows pulled out in front with their final lightning round of questions.
This class brings out the
competitive spirit in otherwise low-key docile students, and also lets the quieter
students shine when it’s their turn to answer a question for their team. The energy in the room gets so high,
especially toward the end, that everyone is exhausted by the end of it. Hah!
Around 11 o’clock, my co-instructor Bill Grabert and I took all of our stuff over to the library to set up for the Certified California Naturalist class, and our guest speaker arrived around the same time: Jenny Papka of Native Bird Connections. She’d done a lecture for our winter class earlier this year so she kind of knew the drill. She set up her bird stuff while we finished setting up the classroom.
Jenny brought a Peregrine Falcon, a Swainson’s Hawk and her Eurasian Eagle Owl with her this time. Since she was ready to go when the students arrived, we just let her go first and did our announcements when she was finished. We also to a break when she was done, so the students could get photos of the owl and the props Jenny had brought with her.
About halfway through Jenny’s presentation, our volunteer Roxanne Moger arrived with a box of bird’s nests she’d gotten from a retired teacher, and a HUGE live sphinx moth caterpillar in a jar. She’d been cutting down some grape vines for her neighbor and found the caterpillar on them. Super cool.
It kind of looked like a tomato hornworm, but was gray instead of green and had a eye-spot on its rump. I’m not sure but I think it’s the caterpillar of an Achemon Sphinx Moth (Eumorpha achemon). They’re the kind of caterpillar that pupates underground, though, so Roxanne will have to put a couple of inches of dirt in the bottom of the jar, so the caterpillar can bury itself when it’s ready. It might overwinter under the dirt, so we may not be able to see it until next year…
After the break, Bill did the chapter on forest management, and I did a module on bird species identification.
Because it was a holiday weekend, only about half of the students in our Certified California Naturalist program showed up for this class, and we didn’t have a guest speaker. So, it was a more “intimate” group, and we got to do a lot of species identification stuff and showed the students how to use the various facets of Calflora.org and CalScape.org for plant species identification.
This particular class focused on plants, so our volunteer/fellow naturalist Roxanne Moger, brought in her display of a variety of different seeds. The students took time to go through them and tried to figure out the mechanism the plant might use to disperse its seeds.
Nate also helped to augment the class with a “spot the critters” exercise. He was showing the class images from the field cameras we have set up at the Silver Spur Ranch, and how he has to go through the photos carefully in order to see what’s actually being recorded. ((This is the project being funded in part by the grants I got from the Sacramento Zoo.))
After an early morning meeting, I was totally exhausted by the time the naturalist class started. But I didn’t want to miss Hillary Kasemen from West Coast Falconry and her talk on falcons.
She brought with her “Cubby”, a male Anatum Falcon (Falco peregrinus anatum) a subspecies of Peregrine Falcon also called an American Peregrine, “Aerial”, a female American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) and “Islay”, a female Lanner Falcon (Falco biarmicus).
We learned, among other things, that because they fly so fast (up to 200 mph in a dive) falcons have an exaggerated tubule in the nose to help channel air so they can breathe better. Jet engines are made with the same kind of “baffle” (nose cone) in the center. “This example of biomimicry is very retrospective in that engines weren’t first designed this way.” Nature never ceases to amaze.
And we also learned that the hoods often used in falconry help to calm the birds. Falcons take a lot of information in through their eyes, and can get visually over-stimulated at times. Put a hood or other covering over the eyes helps to cancel out some of that stimuli.
CLICK HERE for the full album of photos and some video snippets. #CalNat
Some students asked why we have presentations like this during the naturalist classes, and the reason is two-fold: (1) we want to introduce students to live specimens of species they might not otherwise encounter, and (2) we want to provide students who capstone ideas and volunteer opportunities.
I got up at 4:00 this morning, got the dog fed and outside
to pee, and then headed out to Woodland for our first field trip for the summer
naturalist class. I got to the Woodland
Library around 5:45 am and waited for my coworker Bill and the students arrive.
The weather was VERY cooperative today. I was worried that the summer heat
would make our field trips unbearable in the summer, but today it was
nice. It was in the low 60’s when we
headed out, and only about 78° when we came back, so that was great. There was also a slight breeze which helped,
When everyone got to the library and had signed in, we all headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. I left my car in the parking lot and went with Bill in his van along with our student, Jeanette, who is a middle school teacher.
Locate and identify at least fifteen (15) animal
species (birds, amphibians, reptiles)
Locate and identify at least ten (10) plant species
Locate and identify at least ten (10) insect
While we were walking around the
nature center, I think they all got the majority of those requirements! The insects were probably the most difficult
for everyone, but we’ll see on Friday (at class) how well everyone did.
Near the nature center, we came across a large fat weevil sitting on the top of the flowering head of a tule. Bill rapped on the weevil a couple of times and figured it was dead, but when I stroked it, its feet moved, so we all inferred that the weevil was in a state of torpor, waiting for the sun to get a little higher in the sky so it could warm up more and start moving around.
Everyone took photos of it and tried to identify it using the iNaturalist app we’d told them about in class on Friday. It came up as a Billbug Weevil from the genus Sphenophorus. If you look at the map in iNaturalist, though, you’ll see that Billbug Weevils have been sighted all over the globe. So, calling this a Billbug Weevil is somewhat accurate, but for a more precise ID, I wanted the students to try get down to the species level on the weevil when they got home. Insects can be especially hard to ID because there are literally millions of them, and you have to deal with taxon levels that include superfamilies, tribes and subtribes before you can get close to the species. It will be interesting to see how far the students are able to get.
We also found a buckwheat plant that I didn’t recognize as buckwheat at all because its shape wasn’t like any buckwheat plant I’d seen before. The signage by the plant said it was California Buckwheat, Eriogonum fasciculatum, as did iNaturalist, but that didn’t quite look right to me. The leaves were the wrong shape. So, I did a little more research, and I believe it was actually St. Catherine’s Lace, Eriogonum giganteum, a kind of wild buckwheat that usually only grows in Southern California. When we were studying the plant, two of the students (Jeanette and Edna) also observed that some of the flowers still had their pink pollen balls and others did not… and we inferred that those that didn’t have their pollen balls anymore had already been pollinated.
When it came time to drive the auto-tour route, I drove Bill’s van so he could do more observations, and Jeanette and another student, Mica, a retired farmer, came along with us. Bill was able to open up both sides of his van, so the gals could get an unobstructed view of what was out on the preserve. Although everyone was able to go at their own pace along the route, we stopped at two of the park-and-stretch areas so we could compare notes and get a closer look at things. At the first stop, the students Ken and Alison, who are already expert birders, were helping the students spot and identify bird species and also explained what they meant when they talked about the birds’ GISS.
GISS stands for “General Impression, Shape, and Size”(originally a military term). Birders often use the bird’s GISS as a way to do a preliminary or in-field identification of a bird when it’s backlit (only seen in silhouette) or is too far away to see any details of its coloring. So, Alison and Kent were able to distinguish a pair of Northern Harriers flying over our heads from the Red-Tailed Hawk that was flying near them by nothing but their GISS. Very cool. I’m nowhere near being that kind of an expert.
At the second park-and-stretch spot, students relaxed with their lunches for a little while, and I was able to find a couple of examples of a specific kind of gall to tell them about, a Cottonwood Petiole Gall and is created by the aphid, Pemphigus populitransversus. The wingless female aphid called a “stem mother” chews at the leaf petiole (the stalk that joins a leaf to a stem) until it swells and then she climbs inside the swelling and has her babies inside of it. The baby aphids are born live and can be in either a winged form (called an “alate”) or without wings.
While the students were resting and
checking up on their notes, one of them, Alison, let us see what she’d put into
her field journal for the morning. She’s an artist, and she uses fountain pens
and watercolors to write and decorate her entries. It was beautiful. I can
hardly wait for Friday when all the students share their journals, so I can
take photos and let you see what they’re doing…
I also overheard a couple of students talking about how much they enjoyed the class, how much they’ve learned already (in just two sessions) and how many resources we’ve introduced them to that they didn’t even know existed before now. That is so gratifying!
One more learning moment: On the eucalyptus trees along the end auto-tour route on Saturday, I also stopped to pull a leaf off of an obliging eucalyptus tree, so I could show the students in our vehicle the white teepee-like formation on it that some folks mistake for galls. The formations are actually called “lerps” and they’re created by a tiny insect called the Red Gum Lerp Psyllid, Glycaspis brimblecombei. These insects spin little white houses for themselves made of sugars and wax pulled from the leaves. They’re often very sticky with the honeydew produced by the insects.
When we were done with the tour, everyone went their separate ways.
American Bullfrog, Lithobates catesbeianus,
American Robin, Turdus migratorius,
American Wigeon, Anas americana,
Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna,
Ash-Throated Flycatcher, Myiarchus cinerascens,
Bermuda Grass, Cynodon dactylon,
Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii,
Billbug Weevil, Sphenophorus sp.,
Birds-foot Trefoil, Lotus corniculatus,
Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans,
Black Saddlebags Dragonfly, Tramea lacerata,
Black-Tailed Jackrabbit, Lepus californicusm,
Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum,
Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus,
Bristly Oxtongue, Helminthotheca echioides,
Buckwheat, St. Catherine’s Lace, Eriogonum giganteum,
Bulbous Canary Grass, Phalaris aquatica,
Bullock’s Oriole, Icterus bullockii,
California Flannelbush, Fremontodendron californicum,
California Fuchsia, Epilobium canum,
California Ground Squirrel, Otospermophilus beecheyi,
Today’s class focused on collaboration and interpretation, data gathering, field journaling, how to record volunteer hours, and how to use online websites and cellphone apps to correctly identify species. Students were provided with practical learning opportunities by the class instructor, Bill Grabert, and our volunteer, Roxanne Moger.
Roxanne had brought in her collection of plant samples and seeds (which were gorgeously presented in clear boxes, some with magnifying boxes inside to show off the seeds). While the students signed into iNaturalist, Roxanne showed them how to identify the samples through the app.