Urban greening in Vallejo

Rodriguez High School at Lake Dalwigk
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | March 12, 2020

Participating School
Rodriguez High School

Partners/Landowners
Solano Resource Conservation District

Mentors
Mary Badger, Technician, UC Davis Genomic Variation Laboratory
Natalie Kopec, UC Davis Undergraduate
Sarah Gaffney, UC Davis Graduate Student
Teska Hapig-Ward, UC Davis Undergraduate

Summary of the Day
By this time of year, most of our SLEWS projects are coming to an end – I’ve gotten accustomed to coordinating final field days with cupcakes and thank you notes and a shared sense of accomplishment. After finishing 5 of 7 SLEWS projects, it was quite an adjustment to get back in first field day mode, with introductions and name games! But that was just the case with our project with Rodriguez High School.

Our field day was at Lake Dalwigk in Vallejo, a public park in which Solano Resource Conservation District is implementing an urban greening project. The project involves planting native trees, shrubs, grasses, and wildflowers in the park, and our contribution would be helping with the tree planting.

During opening circle, Sarah McKibbin gave students an overview of the planning process for this project, and what had been done so far. Some of the trees had already been planted, but there were over 100 left to plant, which we all agreed would be impossible to complete in the time we had. We’d plant as many as we could and call it a day!

We played group juggle to learn each other’s names before dividing into mentor groups to learn to identify 5 of the trees we’d be planting: coastal live oak, valley oak, California buckeye, western sycamore, and black walnut. Once students could do this confidently, it was time to pit mentor group against mentor group for a game of “Steal the Native Plant” with students racing to correctly identify the trees.

After gathering shovels and gloves, Sarah led a planting demonstration, showing students how to dig a hole at the right depth, make a “pedestal” for the plant to rest on, cover the potting soil with native soil, install a tree tube, and secure it with a stake inside the tube.

Mentor groups set off tackling different sections of the irrigation line. Students really seemed to get in the flow of planting – one student who at first claimed he “didn’t dig” was later seen crushing it and planting 5 trees all by himself! This group was incredibly efficient and productive, FAR exceeding the RCD’s expectations – in fact, RCD staff were scrambling to set plants out in time for students to put them in the ground! By the end of the morning, our team had planted over 100 native trees, an incredible achievement!

After a well-deserved lunch, we learned how to use binoculars so we could look at some of the birds in and around Lake Dalwigk, including MANY Canada Geese, several species of ducks, gulls, coots, and sparrows. Students received and personalized field journals, then transitioned into mentor interviews. This gave them an opportunity to get to know the mentors they’d been working with all day, especially learning about their education and career paths.

To close the day, students summed up the day in just one word. Popular ones included: FUN, green, extravagant, interesting, productive, trees, collaborative, and rewarding. I couldn’t agree more!

With schools canceled for at least several weeks (if not the rest of the school year) due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it remains unclear whether we will be able to complete the rest of our field days. It’s possible this was the final Field Day of the 2019-20 SLEWS season. If this is the case, I could not have picked a better field day to end on.

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.

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!