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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!

Vacation Day 13: SNWR Part 2

California Ground Squirrel. American White Pelican. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
California Ground Squirrel.  Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

Vacation Day 13. I got up about 5:30 this morning. The hotel bed and pillows were wonderfully comfortable, but I just couldn’t get into a sound sleep, so I cat-napped on and off all night. Still, I was feeling pretty energetic, so I packed up all my stuff and was out of the hotel before 6:00 am. I had some leftover pineapple from yesterday and had that for breakfast – and gave Sgt. Margie one of his small cans of dog food before we left. Then I went back to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge (which was about 15 minutes away from the hotel).

I saw a lot today that I saw yesterday, but today I also got my first look at an Eared Grebe in its breeding plumage (which is VERY different than its non-breeding plumage) and I saw some Bullock’s Orioles, but they moved too fast through the trees for me to get any good photos of them. I also saw a Peregrine Falcon and a Bald Eagle. The eagle was perched in a tree, but I couldn’t get close enough to him to get a good photo. I got one shot of him through the windshield but it sucked. Dang it!

Here’s a video on the Eared Grebe: CLICK HERE

Here’s a video of a female Blackbird collecting fibers for her nest: CLICK HERE

Along one part of the auto tour you can see a bare scraggly tree off to the left. Today, I noticed there was a nest on one of the outer branches… and there was a huge Great Horned Owl sitting in it! Cool! I took some photos even though it was pretty distant from the car. I also think I saw the gray-white fluff of an owlet next to the mama. These are the moments when I wish I had a better telephoto lens.

Oh, and I also saw some goslings with their parents, AND the wildly-colored babies of a Pied-Billed Grebe. I’d seen photos of the babies before but had never seen one live. The pictures I got aren’t the best because the birds were moving away from me in the water, but I just loved the pattern on the chicks!

And where there were rabbits all over the place yesterday, today it was California Ground Squirrels. They were out en masse. Some of them are very skittish and shy, but others are bold. There were a couple of them who sat on the ground right outside my car window and posed for me. Hah!

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The dog and I were out of the refuge by about 11:00 and headed back to Sacramento, but along the way I stopped to get us some tacos which we ate for lunch at a rest stop. It was a nice couple of days. Now, I need to forage through the 2000+ photos I took! As we were heading home, the clouds were starting to move in… there’s supposed to be rain coming in for tomorrow.

Once home, I relaxed for a bit with the dogs, and then baked up some chicken and biscuits for supper and had them with fresh asparagus.

Vacation Day 12: SNWR Part 1

Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

Vacation Day 12. I had stayed up late Wednesday night to watch “The Night Manager” on AMC (with Hugh Laurie and Tom Hiddleston), and was going to play today by ear, but I woke up around 5:00 am. I was feeling oddly energetic – considering that I’d stayed up until 11:15 pm last night – so I packed an overnight bag, got the dog into the car, and headed off to Willows to spend the day at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. I got there around 7:30 am and didn’t leave until 2:30 pm, just driving around the auto tour and walking some of the trails.

Sergeant Margie doesn’t mind the car ride (since he gets extra treats and fancy food for being a good boy in the car), but he’s showing hi age on the walking trails. He can barely keep up with me, and at one point I was seriously considering picking him up and carrying him the rest of the way to the car. He was a trooper, though, and made it back under his own power – if very slowly.

What I didn’t like about the trails was that there were a grillion ticks everywhere. Every time Sergeant Margie stopped to pee, I had to stop and pull about 6 ticks off of his face and ears. I never see that many ticks at any of the other places where I go walking. It was GROSS!

Lots of Jackrabbits and a few Cottontails were scrambling around. For so many critters, I’m surprised I don’t see more babies – especially the jacks. Their babies, called leverets, are born above ground, fully furred, and ready to go within a few hours of birth. (Unlike baby rabbits, called bunnies, that are born underground, almost furless, and unable to see or hear for about 3 weeks.)

The big show of the day, though, was the Killdeer. They’re starting to build their gravel nests and lay their eggs, and I came across several mamas doing their “broken wing act” to try to distract me from where their nests were. They fly a few feet away from the nest, lay on their side on the ground, and flap around as though they’re injured. Once they feel their nest is safe, they jump up, fly off, and then circle around back to the nest to make sure the eggs are okay. One of them had built her stone nest right next to the pull-off area beside a large viewing platform. Almost within reach, but far enough behind a fence to keep law-abiding humans away from her. She didn’t mind when I walked up to the fence, but she wasn’t thrilled with Sergeant Margie. She flew off and rolled on ground, crying, pretending to be wounded… and then didn’t really know what to do when I didn’t fall for her act. She got up, walked off a bit more, fell back on the ground, stood up, walked away, fell over on the ground… As silly as she looked, I had to give her props for her persistence, and for the fact that her walk-and-fall routine circled the area where her nest was so it was always within her sight.

After I put the dog back in the car, she flew back to her nest and its tiny eggs that look like stone. I stepped up onto the viewing platform to get photos of her from another angle, and while I was up there, a male Killdeer came by. The female ran out to him for an on-the-gravel quickie, and then went back to her nest. Hah! Wutta slut!
I also watched a group of Kingbirds cavorting around. Some of what I saw I’m sure was courtship behavior males flying up and down, zig-zagging through the air while they chattered. I think the other behavior I saw was territorial: several bird fighting back and forth between adjacent trees where each had a nest.

I saw four Bitterns during the day (which is the most I’ve ever seen there). Three actually flew across the hiking trail in front of me and disappeared into the grass on the opposite side of it. The fourth one was trying to hide in some tules along the auto tour route, stretching itself up to try to mimic the reeds… but it’s belly was too fat, so it was easy to spot despite its efforts. Hah!

I was hoping to see some Grebes in the permanent wetland area, but they weren’t around today.

I did get to see a lot of other critters, though, including American Avocets, Meadowlarks, Dunlin, Mule Deer, Red-Winged Blackbirds, American White Pelicans, Double-Crested Cormorants, Turkey Vultures, White-Front Geese, Snow Geese and Canada Geese, some Ring-Necked Pheasants, quite a few dragonflies, and more and more and more. Lots of photos… I also caught a glimpse of raccoons in my side mirror, but by the time I maneuvered the car around to get a better shot they were gone. Waah!

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As I said, I stayed at the refuge until about 2:30 pm, and by then I was exhausted so I drove another 15 minutes or so into the town of Willows and spent the night at the Holiday Inn Express there.

I don’t know why, really, but the place was full! They only had two rooms left: a large suite and a small first floor room. I certainly didn’t need a suite, so I took the small room… and found it was all ADA compliant with a push-button to open the door after you unlocked it, a low-profile bath tub with a seat in it, and a high-rise toilet. This old woman scored! I had tuna fish and crackers with fruit for supper and then hit the hay.