A hybrid SLEWS Field Day

Woodland High School at the Maples
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | April 22, 2021

Summary of the Day
For weeks now, I have been working with Woodland High School teacher Jerry Delsol to plan a virtual SLEWS field day of sorts for his students. We previously coordinated for him to attend one of our volunteer habitat restoration SLEWS Field Days in December (read more here), which he broadcast live to his students back in the classroom. Students were able to interact with our adult volunteers, see the site, and even ask questions of their own! 

We planned to do something similar at our headquarters at the Maples in Woodland, focusing more on the restoration and wildlife monitoring plans being implemented onsite. Some of his students were even part of the class that participated in our first year of SLEWS at the Maples (blog posts here and here!), so they’d be able to see how much the native habitat they planted has grown! When I met with Mr. Delsol the week prior to the field trip, I was thrilled to hear that he’d be able to bring a small group of students to the field day to participate in-person, while still broadcasting live to students attending school from home.

Students arrived bright and early on Thursday morning, meeting us at the “bioswale” their class created last SLEWS season. This SLEWS project included transforming a stormwater retention basin into viable habitat. I introduced the project to the class, and showed the next phase of the project (an adjacent hedgerow), which volunteers planted this past winter. Then we moved to the side of the bioswale to a wildlife monitoring camera set up by Center for Land-Based Learning’s Ecologist Jeanne Wirka. Jeanne introduced herself and her work at the Maples, where she is currently gathering baseline data on the wildlife and pollinators present. She’s already begun getting snapshots of wildlife from the motion-activated camera facing the hedgerow – including a coyote whose scat one student spotted! 

After meeting Jeanne, students split into three groups to rotate between different activities.

I led students in a native plant identification workshop and shared about how scientists press plants to create herbariums, preserved collections of plants in an area. Students then collected clippings of plants in the hedgerow to create plant pressings of their very own. Some of the species identified included California poppies, lupines, common fiddleneck, and yarrow.

Jeanne taught students about cavity nesting birds (and why it is difficult for them to find nesting habitat) before showing each group how to install a bluebird nest box on the Maples campus. They looked at nest boxes installed a few weeks ago by Yolo County Audubon, and even found an egg in one of them!

Mr. Delsol led a soil sampling activity in the nearby ag fields, looking at soil types and sampling the compost as well.

Meanwhile, Mr. Delsol’s student teacher engaged with students attending the livestream by asking them questions and leading them through the activities so they were active participants. Though this was a very quick field day (we only had 1 hour!) it was amazing to finally engage with students in-person.

A day of birds, boxes, and bugs

Woodland High School at Capay Open Space Park
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | March 4, 2020

Participating School
Woodland High School

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
Cache Creek Conservancy

Mentors
Grace Auringer, Technician, Genomic Variation Lab
Matt Clement, Facilities Steward, Center for Land-Based Learning
Mandi Finger, Associate Director, Genomic Variation Lab

Summary of the Day
For our fourth and final day with Woodland High School, we were back at Capay Open Space Park. By breakfast it was already shaping up to be a warm day, and students arrived eager to get to work. We started the day with a game of “all aboard”, a game in which students attempt to stand on one foot on a tarp that keeps decreasing in size by half. When the game became impossible, we met up with Corey Shake, a biologist who gave us an introduction to bird boxes.

Nest boxes provide valuable breeding habitat for cavity nesting birds like Western Bluebirds when natural cavities are difficult to find. Michael Perrone and Joe Zinkl of Yolo Audubon were on deck to demonstrate how these boxes are built, and then mentor groups set to work assembling the boxes and attaching them to a long pole for installation.

Once the nest boxes were ready to go, Corey gave an instructional demonstration on how to use binoculars. We went on a walk to the installation sites and stopped along the way to do some birding. Mentor groups competed against each other to see which group could identify the most birds – the winning group identified 13 species! Some of the birds we saw included: Peregrine Falcon, Northern Mockingbird, Western Scrub Jay, White-crowned Sparrow, Anna’s Hummingbird, Common Raven, Red-tailed Hawk, Turkey Vulture, Tree Swallow, Black Phoebe, Western Meadowlark, Mourning Dove, California Quail, House Finch, Great Blue Heron, Red-shouldered Hawk, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and American White Pelican.

Amongst blooming redbuds, we installed 4 bluebird boxes along Cache Creek before heading down to the creekbed for our next activity: macroinvertebrate sampling. Elise Stinnett of Cache Creek Conservancy gave an introduction that showed students the types of macroinvertebrates we might see, and what they can tell us about the health of the creek. Four students donned mud boots to enter the creek and collect samples, and students were able to identify macroinvertebrates like dragonfly nymphs, mosquito larvae, and mayfly larvae. Looking at the species overall, students determined that this was a moderately healthy creek, as it included species that you’d expect to see in a healthy creek AND an unhealthy creek. Students were also excited to see many frogs jumping around by the creek’s edge.

After lunch and a celebratory cake, we sat down to write thank you notes to someone who made this SLEWS project possible. As students worked on their thank you notes, I asked for autographs on a “SLEWS was here!” sign that will be installed at our other project site (and new CLBL headquarters), the Maples.

To conclude the day, students shared their favorite experiences from all 4 of our Field Days together. Responses included hanging out by the creek, riding the argo across the creek, building bird boxes, spending time with friends, and planting.

Restoring wildlife habitat with Florin High School

Florin High School at River Garden Farms
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | March 12, 2019

Participating School
Florin High School

Partners/Landowners
Audubon California
River Garden Farms

Mentors
Aaron Haiman, Environmental Scientist and Tribal Liaison, Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy
Esther Tracy, Environmental Scientist, Department of Water Resources
Fanny Ye, Soil Conservationist, NRCS
Jacob Byers, Partner Biologist, Sacramento NWRC

Summary of the Day
After donning the now-ubiquitous yellow rainsuits, Florin High students gathered with mentors and River Garden Farms staff to begin their final Field Day at River Garden Farms. After a fun round of PVC golf, we tromped through the mud to the site of our first Field Day. Students worked hard last December to install a complete drip irrigation system, and today it was time to plant the native shrubs and milkweed that will make use of this water.

Students worked in mentor group to plant native shrubs, with milkweed plugs planted as “associates” next to these larger plants. “Two years from now there will be something here” one student remarked, “we should come back here for graduation!”. And he’s correct – though the hedgerow doesn’t look very impressive yet, these plants will continue to grow and eventually provide habitat for pollinators and other native species.

Once sections of plantings were complete, students began installing Wood Duck nest boxes along the hedgerow. Since there are relatively few trees in this agriculture-heavy area, it can be difficult for Wood Ducks to find suitable nesting habitat. Students worked together to pound 10 posts into the ground along the planting area and affix wood duck nest boxes to each. Perhaps next season, some of these boxes will be occupied!

With such a long irrigation line, we realized by the end of the morning some students had walked over 3 miles, planting all the way! Florin students planted an impressive 125 native shrubs and 150 milkweed associates, and installed 10 wood duck nest boxes by lunchtime. Students found worms, frogs, hawks, turkey vultures and even a dead skunk!

After lunch students interviewed mentors about their education and career paths, before we gathered for closing circle. More students than ever before said their favorite part of SLEWS was making new friends and working as a team with their mentor groups. What a fantastic project with fantastic students!