The first last SLEWS day of the year

Davis Senior High School at Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | February 4, 2020

Participating School
Davis Senior High School

Partners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Yolo Basin Foundation

Mentors
Aaron Haiman, Environmental Scientist and Tribal Liaison, Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy
Brian Keegan, Sacramento State Graduate Student
Randy Wittorp
Xerónimo Castañeda, Conservation Project Associate, Audubon CA

Summary of the Day
Of all the SLEWS projects so far this season, the two coldest days have BOTH been with Davis High School at the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area! Our third and final field day was quite chilly and windy, but Davis students simply put on an extra layer and didn’t seem to mind. We attempted to warm up with a game of PVC golf (all four mentor groups were able to successfully transport the golf ball into the goal!) before heading out to finish our SLEWS project.

We had 106 container plants and 15 plugs to plant, and did quality control (securing tree tubes after some severe wind) on every plant on the four trestles. We thought we’d be lucky to finish all that before lunch. Imagine my surprise when the group finished…at 10:30am! Finishing early gave us time to to do some wildlife observation, and we were in luck because mentor Aaron Haiman is an excellent birder. He showed students how to use and focus their binoculars, and we set off on a birding adventure. Species we spotted included Horned Lark, Savannah Sparrow, Northern Harrier, Peregrine Falcon, Prairie Falcon, White-crowned Sparrow, Red Tailed Hawk, Western Meadowlark, blackbirds, and White-throated Swifts.

We also had time to do a reflection activity. Students found a spot to sit by themselves and had the opportunity to write a thank you card to someone who made their SLEWS experience possible. Students wrote note to mentors, restoration partners, their teacher, funders, guest speakers, and parent drivers – all people who were essential components of this project.

Since it was the last SLEWS Field Day, we had a mini celebration at lunch, complete with cupcakes decorated with trestle mounds and deer antlers! It was a throwback to photos students saw at the beginning of this project, an aerial view of deer trapped on a trestle mound taken when the bypass flooded last year. When the bypass floods next time, hopefully those stranded animals will find it to be much more suitable habitat, thanks in part to Davis students!

After lunch, students gathered to hear from Yolo Basin Foundation’s Corky Quirk, a bat expert. Corky even brought 3 live bats to show students (a pallid bat, a Mexican free-tailed bat, and a big brown bat). Students were absolutely enthralled by her presentation, and asked tons of excellent questions. Do all bats live in colonies? (No) How many babies do they have? (our native species tend to have just one per year) Does pregnancy affect their flight? (probably!) Are bats blind? (no) Do vampire bat bites hurt? (not really – their saliva contains an analgesic!) Corky discussed bats in the bypass and all around the world, and touched on topics like rabies, and white nose syndrome.

Like our first field day, during closing circle, we shared our favorite moment of SLEWS. On the first field day, however, many students answer was “the burritos!”. This time, only one student mentioned burritos – most students mentioned planting, birding, and bats as some of the highlights of their experience. What a great season with Davis High!

Second round of plants at Yanci Ranch

Pioneer High School at Yanci Ranch
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | January 31, 2020

Participating School
Pioneer High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Rominger Brothers Farms

Mentors
Dominic Carrillo, Development Associate, Center for Land-Based Learning
Elaine Swiedler, California Farm Academy Apprenticeship Program Coordinator, Center for Land-Based Learning
Gina Radieve
Jen Metes, Conservation Programs Administrator, The Freshwater Trust

Summary of the Day
Our second field day with Pioneer High School at Yanci Ranch began as planting days often do, with a game of “Where the Wind Blows” during opening circle. In this game, students cross the circle to find a new carpet square to stand on whenever the person in the middle says something that applies to them. These students moved FAST – mentors and restoration partners ended up in the middle far more than the students themselves!

After reuniting mentor groups from the previous week, students learned about five native plants to play, you guessed it, a game of “Steal the Native Plant”! Similar to “Steal the Bacon”, students race against other mentor groups to be the first to identify the plant species as they’re called out. This time, students learned to identify elderberry, interior live oak, buckwheat, foothill pine, and coffeeberry, five of the species we’d soon learn to plant.

After gathering supplies, we headed down to the planting area where Michael Felipe of Yolo County Resource Conservation District gave a demonstration on the proper way to plant. Most students planted container plants, but one group also learned how to pole plant cuttings of trees. We planted along an irrigation line parallel to the one Grant Union High students planted the week prior. Students created systems to get the planting done more effectively – some groups chose to have dedicated diggers and planters, some groups switched off, and others worked in pairs. By the end of the morning, we had planted over 150 plants and installed a protective tube around each one!

After lunch, Brandon Baker of the Yolo County Resource Conservation District led us on a walk to check out earlier phases of the restoration projects at Yanci Ranch. Students recognized mature elderberry, foothill pine, and coffeeberry plants, and learned about toyon, quailbush, and coyotebrush as well. These earlier phases are very similar to the project Pioneer students are completing this year – they were just planted a few years ago. It was like looking into the future and seeing what our site will look like in several years’ time. The idea is that these phases connect to create a corridor for wildlife in an area where there are not always good food sources or places to hide. We even spotted a few deer near a more established hedgerow!

We shared a few moments of total silence to listen to the birds and look for wildlife. Throughout the day we saw lots of birds: white tailed kite, red tailed hawk, meadowlark, killdeer, blue heron, flicker, bluebird, and a Say’s phoebe. Birdwatching seemed to be a favorite activity of the day!

An adventure across Cache Creek

Woodland High School at Capay Open Space Park
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | January 29, 2020

Participating School
Woodland High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Cache Creek Conservancy

Mentors
Grace Auringer, Technician, Genomic Variation Lab
Mikayla Peterson, Outreach & Watershed Education Specialist, Cache Creek Conservancy
Matt Clement, Facilities Steward, Center for Land-Based Learning
Matt Young, Fish Biologist, California Water Science Center, USGS

Summary of the Day
Our first morning in Capay Open Space Park was quick as we were trying to beat the heat – 700 beehives were near our planting area and we wanted to get as much done as we could while the bees were still relatively cold and inactive! After a game of Where the Wind Blows, we grabbed tools and headed down to Cache Creek.

To avoid walking by these 700 beehives, crossing the creek was our best option. Though the creek was shallow, it wasn’t shallow enough to make it across in our mudboots. Enter: the Argo. An amphibious ATV that works on land and water! Students donned PFDs and were ferried across in groups by Phil Zoucha of Cache Creek Conservancy.

Once everyone was across, we gathered for a quick refresher on plug planting. Students didn’t need much instruction as this was an activity we did on our first Field Day. Mentor groups each tackled a marked section and set to work plug planting – scraping away excess vegetation, “dibbling” a hole, inserting the native plant plug, and pinching the native soil over the top. Woodland High students really seem to take pride in being hard workers, and did a great job staying on task, checking the quality of their work, and helping their peers. As mentor groups finished sections, they moved to unplanted areas and even started makeshift “mulching” the plugs that were already done with the vegetation they scraped away. We planted all 1200 plugs in no time.

Before argo-ing back to the other side, we were able to spot some cool wildlife including a kingfisher, and the highlight of the day – a bird called a California Thrasher. While planting, students noticed many invertebrates including millipedes, worms, and a Jerusalem Cricket!

Our next task of the day was seeding. Depending on who you talk to in the RCD, you may hear this technique called “dinner plates” or “chia pets”. The basic technique is: clear a patch of soil (taking care to avoid native perennial grasses!), break up the soil, sprinkle seeds on top so they land about 1” apart, stir up the soil, and pack it back down. Mentor groups took on different areas of the park and planted seeds until lunchtime. Tanya Meyer of Yolo County RCD estimated we put about a pound of native seeds in the ground when all was said and done!

After lunch it was time for a SLEWS classic – mentor interviews. Sitting down and having a guided conversation with mentors about their education and career paths hopefully gets them thinking about what they may accomplish in their own lives. Students asked great questions including asking about mentor’s favorite plants, favorite college experiences, and what a “researcher” does exactly – and what they have figured out through science.

After this, students found space to sit by themselves and write and draw to reflect on the day. I saw some California Thrashers and well-planted plugs among the drawings!

With our “one word to describe the day” closing circle, popular words were “fun!” and “dibble!”. And I for one am very relieved to report we made it the whole day without a single bee sting!

Emitters, plugs, and fun on day one

Pioneer High School at Yanci Ranch
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | January 24, 2020

Participating School
Pioneer High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Rominger Brothers

Mentors
Corey Shake, Partner Biologist, Point Blue Conservation Science, NRCS
Amanda Lindell, UC Davis Graduate student
Elaine Swiedler, California Farm Academy Apprenticeship Program Coordinator, Center for Land-Based Learning
Jen Metes, Conservation Programs Administrator, The Freshwater Trust
Dominic Carrillo, Development Associate, Center for Land-Based Learning

Summary of the Day
Though I had the flu on this Field Day, Caring For Our Watersheds Coordinator (and former SLEWS Coordinator!) Beth DelReal saved the day by stepping in to lead this day. Thanks a million, Beth! From my conversation with her, here’s what happened on the day.

Since this was Pioneer High’s first field day, landowner Bruce Rominger gave an introduction during opening circle to the property and his philosophy of land management. He and Rominger Brothers Farms really make an effort to be stewards of the land and create corridors for wildlife, as evidenced by many restoration projects and SLEWS sites over the years. Corey Shake introduced the project and the importance of wildlife corridors, explaining that the work they were doing would help connect the habitats together. Beth added on by connecting this to the restoration cycle we talked about during the classroom visit and what piece they are now fulfilling.

After a fun round of group juggle to learn everyone’s names, the group headed down to the project site to get a demonstration from Joanne on emitter installation. Five mentor groups divided along the irrigation line to install 210 emitters before gathering together again to get a demonstration on how to plug plant. Beth asked students why might it be bad for chunks of earth to flow down the creek, which led to a great discussion with project partners about the importance of erosion control.

Mentor groups dibbled and plugged away, planting between 400 and 500 plugs of plants to help stabilize the soil in the area. As they planted, students asked great questions about soil, the species of plugs we were planting, and why certain species were being planted in certain locations. Kudos to Pioneer students for being such an inquisitive group!

After lunch, students spent time with their mentor to learn a little more about them before reflecting on the day by creating a postcard – drawing on one side, writing on the other. At closing circle, everyone shared one word to describe the day.

Thanks again to Beth, Joanne and the RCD team, Bruce, mentors, and teacher Ms. Lumbard for making this day happen!

Plants and postcards at Yanci Ranch

Grant Union at Yanci Ranch
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | January 23, 2020

Participating School
Grant Union High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Rominger Brothers Farms

Mentors
Kathy Rightmire, Director of Development, Center for Land-Based Learning
Dani Gelardi, UCD Graduate Student
Carolyn Kolstad, Biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Jacob Byers, Partners Biologist, Sacramento NWRC
MJ Farruggia, UCD Graduate Student

Summary of the Day
For our second Field Day at Yanci Ranch, Grant Union students arrived early and eager to plant! After breakfast and opening circle, we got to know one another better (and brushed up on names) with a game of “Where the Wind Blows”. After dividing into mentor groups, students learned the names, characteristics, and ecological functions of coyotebrush, sage, elderberry, wild rose, and buckwheat – five of the plants we would be planting that day.

After becoming familiar with the plants, mentor groups faced off to be the first to identify those five plants in a game of “Steal the Native Plant”. Then it was time to grab tools and head down to the planting area to learn the proper way to plant our hedgerow. Some students would be planting native trees and shrubs from containers, while others would be planting cuttings of cottonwood, red willow, and mule fat in areas that tend to have more water.

Mentor groups divided themselves down the line, working the same sections they installed emitters on back in December. By lunchtime, students had planted an impressive 179 containers and 30 cuttings!

After lunch, we took a walk to take a look at some of the earlier phases of restoration here at Yanci Ranch. Rominger Brothers Farms has been working with Yolo County Resource Conservation District for several years to increase biodiversity and create corridors of native habitat on this cattle ranch. Several SLEWS projects have taken place here, including one with Grant Union High School! Amy Williams of Yolo County RCD led us through several of these previous phases, giving students a view of what their site might look like after it’s had a few years to mature. Students were even recognizing some of the same plants they just planted, but much larger, of course!

We took a moment to reflect in a beautiful meadow as students spread out to create a postcard from the field. On one side, students drew a picture to represent their experience and on the other, wrote a postcard to commemorate the day. As we returned to our home base and circled up to close the day, students expressed gratitude for the experience and remarked on how being outside and contributing to restoration made their stresses melt away.

Plants under the powerlines

Florin High School at River Garden Farms
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | January 14, 2020

Participating School
Florin High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
River Garden Farms

Mentors
Colin Fagan, Lab Assistant, Williams Lab
Dana Stokes
Jacob Byers, Partner Biologist, Sacramento NWRC
Miles Daprato, Environmental Steward for UCD Campus Planning and Environmental Stewardship Department
Nick Gallagher, Rangeland Management Specialist, USDA

Summary of the Day
Our second Field Day at River Garden Farms was warmer than anticipated, and thought it had rained the night before the dirt road was only damp, not muddy! After a breakfast of bagels and fruit, we got moving with a game of “Where the Wind Blows” before heading over for our planting demonstration.

Planting was tricky on this day – we were planting both tiny plugs and container plants, and putting protective tubes around each plant. Alex Tremblay of Yolo County Resource Conservation District gave a demonstration on all the necessary steps before we divided into mentor groups to play “Steal the Native Plant”, a variant of “Steal the Bacon”. Students learned how to identify sage, elderberry, coyotebrush, toyon, lupine, and wild rose before racing to be the first group to identify these native plants.

After gathering tools, mentor groups ventured out towards their assigned section. River Garden Farms had some tree tubes they wanted to reuse, but they were too small to fit around some of our larger shrubs. Students improvised to fit two tubes together to make one megatube that would fit around the plants! This was a slower process than usual, but students were meticulous in their work and did a great job planting. Some students began even naming plants as they went!

I have to hand it to Florin students for being so enthusiastic and dedicated to the project – this was the first time I’ve ever had to beg students to come back for lunch!

After some well-deserved burritos, students had the opportunity to interview all of the mentors about their differing education and career paths. I heard students asking mentors for advice and some great off-script questions, including “what’s your favorite superhero?”. One mentor, who’s in the restoration field, replied that he’d pick time travel so he could travel back in time to see what the area really was like so he’d be better at his job. Perhaps some of the same native plants that would have been around back then are once again back in the area thanks to Florin students!

An invertebrate-heavy day in Winters

Winters High School at Putah Creek Dry Creek Confluence
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | January 10, 2020

Participating School
Winters High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Valerie Whitworth and Michael Barbour

Mentors
Josh McCabe, Restoration Coordinator at ACRT Pacific
Lea Pollack, UCD Graduate Student
Marisa Alcorta, Apprenticeship Program Manager, Center for Land-Based Learning

Summary of the Day
Our second field day at the confluence of Putah and Dry Creek in Winters brought us many eager students, both familiar and new to the program.

A guest speaker joined us for opening circle – Jessa of the Xerces Society, an organization focused on invertebrate conservation. She spoke about the alarming decline in the population of the Western Monarch Butterfly (population down 86% from 2017 to 2018) and how the results of this restoration project will help support monarchs in their migration. We finished our opening circle with a game of “Where the Wind Blows” to identify similarities within our group.

After dividing into mentor groups and gathering our tools for the day, we headed down to the project site for our planting demonstration. Amy Williams of Yolo County Resource Conservation District began by introducing students to four of the plants we’d be planting that day – deerweed, toyon, fuschia, and wild rose. As these plants were passed around, students learned their ecological benefits and how to identify them. Then Amy demonstrated the main task of the day, planting trees, shrubs, and forbs. Each plant would be planted in specific spots along the irrigation line, and an emitter would be installed next to it to provide the plant with adequate water.

Mentor groups enthusiastically tackled this job in different areas, with some groups following to install “spaghetti” line to ensure the water would reach the plants. Once groups finished planting the larger plants, Amy showed them how to plug plant smaller “plugs” by poking holes in the ground using a “dibble”. We were all impressed by how much we accomplished by lunchtime!

After lunch, mentor Lea Pollack gave a presentation on the work she’s doing in her Ph.D. program. She studies behavioral ecology and works with black widow spiders. Students were surprised to learn that black widows have personalities! The more “aggressive” (not to people – to other spiders and prey) spiders build their webs in a different way than less aggressive individuals, and you can actually see the difference when the webs are sprayed with water! Mentor groups were each given a misted web (without a widow in it) and counted the number of “gum footed” lines in the web to figure out whether the spider that made it was aggressive or not.

During closing circle, students reflected on what they had learned that day. Many students shared facts about monarch migration, others shared the planting techniques they learned, and even more mentioned black widows – that they have personalities, that only the females build webs, and that the web structure can tell us about their behavior!

Planting through the fog

Davis Senior High School at Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | January 7, 2020

Participating School
Davis Senior High School

Partners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Yolo Basin Foundation

Mentors
Aaron Haiman, Environmental Scientist and Tribal Liaison, Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy
Brian Keegan, Sacramento State Graduate Student
Randy Wittorp
Xerónimo Castañeda, Conservation Project Associate, Audubon CA

Summary of the Day
Drier weather made access easier for our second day at the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area, but it was still a bit difficult to find the site as the bypass was blanketed in a thick layer of fog all day! Students were troopers in the foggy, cold weather – it didn’t get above the mid 40s all day, and the sun never did come out.

We played “Where the Wind Blows” during our opening circle, an activity where students, mentors, and partners identify commonalities within the group. After this, we divided into mentor groups so each group could learn to identify mugwort, wild rose, California blackberry, coyotebrush, quailbush, and deergrass in preparation for the “Steal the Native Plant” game. Students raced to be the first to correctly identify each plant and earn points for their mentor group. This came in handy later – students were able to recall the names and ecological value of the plants as they planted them!

Alex Tremblay of Yolo County Resource Conservation District demonstrated proper planting technique before mentor groups headed out to tackle their trestles. You might recall that on this project we are helping to vegetate 4 former railway trestles, and each mentor group is adopting one! It requires a bit more flexibility than a typical SLEWS planting plan, as each trestle presents different challenges and obstacles. One group experienced extremely rocky soil, another had to avoid planting next to larger rocks. By the end of the morning, students had planted 350 container plants of native shrubs and forbs, and 80 deergrass plugs as “companion” plants!

After lunch, educator Sabreena Britt of the Yolo Basin Foundation led students in a water quality testing activity. After explaining the what’s and why’s of water quality testing, she had students rotate through 8 stations where they tested water turbidity, dissolved oxygen, salinity, conductivity, temperature, pH, total dissolved solids, and oxidation reduction potential. The data students collected was uploaded to Earth Echo International as citizen science data that can be used by real scientists! Check it out here: http://www.monitorwater.org/.

SLEWS returns to Yanci Ranch!

Grant Union High School at Yanci Ranch
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | December 12, 2019

Participating School
Grant Union High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Rominger Brothers Farms

Mentors
Kathy Rightmire, Director of Development, Center for Land-Based Learning
Dani Gelardi, UCD Graduate Student
Carolyn Kolstad, Biologist, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
MJ Farruggia

Summary of the Day
Yanci Ranch, a cattle ranch about 7 miles north of Winters, has hosted three SLEWS projects in the past – and this year, the project is large enough that we will have two schools adopting the site! Grant Union High kicked us off with the first field day, two years after their classmates completed a project on the same property.

A foggy morning obscured the beauty of the site, which includes a picturesque pond and views of the hills (though that made for a fun surprise when the fog cleared later that morning!). We began our day as we always do, in an opening circle. Landowner Bruce Rominger introduced the site to the students and Amy Williams of Yolo County Resource Conservation District shared the project details before we broke the ice with a game of group juggle.

After gathering our supplies and putting on mud boots, we walked down to the project site. Bruce had used a slip plow to pre-bury a line of irrigation, so our first steps would be to measure along the line and place flags every 10 feet. One mentor group tackled this, while the others followed and installed emitters and spaghetti line at each flag. This was harder than it sounds as the line was buried – to access the line, students had to first dig down to it! Grant Union student’s keen eyes noticed many signs of wildlife throughout the morning, from deer on the way in to millipedes, centipedes, and frogs along the planting area. We even found some cow bones – this is a cattle ranch, after all! After installing emitters (!), Bruce was kind enough to give students a demonstration of how the slip plow works. He showed students how the spool of irrigation tubing fits on the back, and as he drives the tractor, the line is buried under the soil.

One irrigation was complete, students plug planted sedges and rushes in an area susceptible to erosion. These plants will help alleviate this problem while also contributing to the quality of habitat.

After a well-deserved burrito lunch, students got a chance to talk with each mentor about their education and career paths. Since they will see these mentors at each field day, it was also a great opportunity to get more comfortable with our Yanci Ranch team!

Milkweed for Monarchs at the Maples

Woodland High School at the Maples
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | December 11, 2019

Participating School
Woodland High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District

Mentors
Bob Ream, retired
Grace Auringer, Technician, Genomic Variation Lab
Mandi Finger, Associate Director, Genomic Variation Lab
Matt Clement

Summary of the Day
You may have heard that the Center for Land-Based Learning is moving from our current headquarters at the Farm on Putah Creek in Winters to The Maples in Woodland. The new office is coming together quickly (check out our new headquarters here!) and we have plans to do SLEWS projects onsite for many seasons to come – starting now!

As part of the site construction, a stormwater retention basin was installed alongside our future California Farm Academy plot. Since this area won’t be actively used, it’s a great opportunity to create habitat for wildlife!

You may have heard the unfortunate news that monarch butterflies are at risk – the California population plummeted by 86% in just one year (from 2017 to 2018). To help address this, the Xerces Society has developed “Monarch and Pollinator Habitat Kits” to distribute to restoration partners. Yolo Resource Conservation District is implementing one of these kits here at the Maples. These kits consist of native milkweeds (the host plant for monarchs, essential to their breeding success) and nectar plants to support adult monarchs and other pollinators. Along with the Xerces kits, the Yolo County RCD planned to line the bottom of the basin with native grasses.

We will have two field days at the Maples with Woodland High School, and at our opening circle I recognized many familiar faces – several of the students participated in SLEWS last year and were back for more! As we relocated to the stormwater basin after opening circle we realized we had a surprise visitor – Mary Kimball, Executive Director of the Center for Land-Based Learning! She assisted the Yolo County RCD staff in giving a stellar planting demonstration, in the process planting the very first plant of this restoration project!

We had a TON of work slated for this first field day, yet as always Woodland High students shocked us with their enthusiastic and unwavering work ethic. We started by laying down two 750+ foot lines of drip irrigation, and followed by planting 225 container plants and installing drip emitters for each. After that students moved on to plug planting in the basin itself, planting more than 2000 plugs! Finally, students planted 150 milkweed rhizomes in the pollinator meadow area.

A productive morning of work was rewarded with burritos from Chuy’s Taqueria, and we were fortunate to finish the field day just as the rain started! Our next field day with Woodland High will be at Capay Open Space Park, and I cannot wait to see what we accomplish there!