I had actually written the first version of this article in 2014, but updated it and released it again this week. CLICK HERE to read it in the Daily Democrat newspaper online.
My Tuleyome coworkers Nate, Eric “Bam Bam”, Kristie and I were all scheduled to head over to the Lake County to scout out places to put the trail cameras today. We left the office at 8:00 am. The trip to the ranch, which is Lake County, took about 90 minutes (one way) and Nate did the driving, hauling all of us up there in his SUV.
It was overcast, around 63º, with some clouds dragging their bellies across the tops of the hills, but the rain held off until just before we were ready to leave.
Bam Bam had never been to the property before, and Nate and I hadn’t been there since the Pawnee Fire burned through it. I was kind of shocked by how much surface damage the wildfire had done. I need to find the “before” photos so you can see the change from when I first saw the place and what it looks like now. Even without the comparison, you’ll be able to see just how burned “BURNED!” is. In some spots, the fire burned so hot and lingered so long that it burned down into the root ball of trees, and when the trees fell over the fire burned them down into the ground until there was nothing left but white and orange ash “skeletons” on the ground. Bam Bam, who used to be a volunteer firefighter, said that when the mop up crews from the fire brigade come into a wildfire area after a fire, the first thing they look for are the root holes. They make sure that all of the roots are gone and that there’s nothing left smoldering in the holes that might re-ignite and start another fire.
CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.
Nate had made maps that noted some areas where he thought would make good placements for the cameras, and he used that as a guide, but once we got to the site, we chose spots based on where we saw scat, tracks or game trails; where we could see where the water from the season creek would flow; and where there were open spaces flanked by areas where we figure vegetation would sprout in the spring. We’d originally thought we’d put out about 5 cameras, but we ended up finding about 9 spots where we want cameras to go.
One of “good” things about the wildfire was that it revealed all of the parts of the landscape that had been covered up by overgrown grasses and other vegetation. We could clearly see the path of the seasonal creek – including a large pond – which helped us decide where to put cameras to capture images of river otters and other critters that might visit the creek once the water is flowing. In the pond area, there was a stand of tules and cattails that were mostly dried out, and in among them Nate and Kristie found about 5 nests, most likely made by Red-Winged Blackbirds, woven into and around the tules. Nate cut out one of them, so we could use it as a display piece for our Certified California Naturalist class.
While we were scouting the area, we found evidence of deer, elk, bobcats, a black bear, jackrabbits, and coyotes… including some large elk bones (mostly ribs and vertebrae.) So, we know there are critters out there. The question will be: will they return as the landscape revives from the fire.
I documented some plant life but need to do more of that next time we’re out there. Along with the Blue Oak trees and Ponderosa Pines, there were also lots of manzanita trees and toyon bushes, mugwort, heliotrope, and doveweed… and some Yellow Star Thistle which needs to be pulled out. I also found some fungi, including Barometer Earthstars.
The funniest part of the day was when Nate set off the sound box of a toy quail on the property — and live quails answered it. A couple of male quails jumped up into the branches of a dead tree trying to see who the intruder was. Hah!
The rain was polite and waited until just before we were ready to leave before it started. Everyone seemed to have enjoyed themselves. It was a fun and productive day.
Funding for this project was paid in part by the Sacramento Zoo, Project #18-022.
I headed out to the Effie Yeaw Nature Preserve for a walk. It was about 61º when I left the house and got up to 103º by the late afternoon. The air throughout Sacramento County is dense and hazy with the smoke from the 45,000-acre Carr Fire (more on that later) even though the fire is about 180 miles away.
At the preserve, I was at first kind of disappointed that I wasn’t seeing very much, but then Nature “opened the doors”, and I got good shots of a Red-Shouldered Hawk, a mama deer and her twin babies, dragonflies, and a mama coyote and glimpses of two of her pups.
I saw the young coyotes first. They were “hunting” along the trail in the tall grass. They’re so cute when they do that: standing still with their ears pricked forward and then play-pouncing on whatever they found in the grass. I was only able to get some very short video snippets of them; when they saw me, they took off. Then a little further down the trail, the mama coyote came out and crossed the trail right in front of me. I was able to get quite a few still shots of her as she paused periodically on her way across a meadow to look at me. She was soooo beautiful.
When I saw the mother deer and her babies, I again saw the babies first. They came bounding out from behind a tall brush pile of downed trees and twigs, feeling their oats and playing, and mom followed after them. The fawns came running out toward me, but then when they realized I was another animal, they went bouncing back to mom. Made me smile.
I didn’t see the fawn that had the cough today, although I did see his mom browsing in her favorite spot. I worry that he didn’t make it… but the preserve is about 100 acres wide, so maybe I just missed him today…
I walked for about three hours and headed back home.
Friday the 13th. DAY SEVEN OF MY FALL VACATION… I got up around 6:30 am and headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. The weather was lovely all day: 43º when I left the house and around 73º when I got home. I thought it was going to be really smoky by the preserve, but the air was mostly clear; just a tiny bit of haze in the air.
At the refuge, I wanted to see how far along they were in flooding their seasonal wetland areas, and if there were any birds migrating in yet. The first half of the auto tour was pretty much “dry”, and the extension loop to the permanent wetlands was closed, so I thought the day was going to be a bust. But then I found a few areas where the water was creeping in, and the birds with it.
In one spot, where the slough runs parallel to the auto-tour route, I saw a Great Egret, a young Black-Crowned Night Heron, a Snowy Egret and an American Bittern feeding in the vegetation along and in the slough.
The Greater White-Fronted Geese were starting to move in and there were quite a few large flocks of them, and some flocks of Snow Geese as well… but the numbers aren’t at their maximum yet. I also saw some Mallards and some Northern Shoveler ducks, but none of the other breeds that usually occupy the refuge… Those should show up over the next few months. One species I saw quite a few of was the Wilson’s Snipe. I was kind of surprised by how many I saw…
I found the Great Horned Owl twins sitting up in a tree along the route, but they were deep in the shade in the high branches, so it was difficult to get a clear photos of them. I got a few shots, but they’re only so-so…
I saw a California Ground Squirrel snatch the head off of a teasel thistle. Those teasel heads are HARD and super-prickly – they used to be used to comb textiles. I was really impressed by how deftly the squirrel was able to pluck it off the stem and then strip it down to get at the seeds.
I didn’t see a lot of hawks, but I did see a Northern Harrier doing its strafing run along the ground, and a Red-Tailed Hawk sitting on one of the small “islands” in the shallow water…
I spent about 3½ at the refuge and then headed home.