Home sweet nest box

Grant Union High School in the GEO Academy Garden
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | September 29, 2021

Funded by
Sacramento Municipal Utility District SHINE Award

Summary of the Day
For our third and final field day on our restoration project in Grant Union High School’s campus, we were finally able to work with a nearly normal number of students! 22 students joined us for a field day in the GEO Academy Garden.

To begin the day, we circled up in the garden to play a round of Group Juggle to learn each other’s names and then reviewed our agenda for the day. Students grabbed rakes to do some maintenance on the native plant area SLEWS students planted in April. The nearby sycamore trees had littered their leaves all over the area, making it difficult for the plants to get enough sunlight. Once the leaves were removed and composted, we moved on to our next activity – building bird nest boxes!

Center for Land-Based Learning Ecologist Jeanne Wirka led a discussion about cavity-nesting birds and how bird nest boxes can provide critical breeding habitat for these species. Groups of students were each given a bird box “kit” – a drill, cut pieces of wood, and screws and other fasteners. I was so impressed at how eagerly and confidently students jumped into this activity! Students who had never used a drill before figured it out with ease, and built the boxes using only a model box as a guide.

Once all the boxes were complete, each group signed and decorated their box before learning how to install it in the GEO garden – at least 30 feet from other boxes, facing the north or east, and making sure to affix an upside down trash bin around the pole to prevent predators from climbing up. Each group chose their own spot for their box, and by the end students had installed 9 bird boxes in the GEO Garden! Come spring, these students will be able to watch as swallows and/or bluebirds make nests and raise young right outside their classroom door, and will monitor the boxes themselves, contributing data to the Cornell NestWatch program.

Once bird boxes were installed, Jeanne shared her education and career path with students. Many students asked Jeanne for advice and had very insightful questions for her. From there we moved to some flowering plants in the garden and observed many pollinators, including carpenter bees, hoverflies, skippers, honeybees, damselflies, and a fritillary butterfly!

We ended the day with burritos and a “favorite moment” from each student. I was impressed with the variety! Some students loved raking, others preferred building bird boxes, others enjoyed looking at pollinators, and others loved the burritos most of all! I think we can all agree, it was an excellent day.

The last volunteer SLEWS day

Wild Oak Vineyards
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | May 20, 2021

Partners/Landowners
Solano Resource Conservation District
Wild Oak Vineyards

Volunteers
Gina Radieve
Josh McCabe
Dominic Carrillo
Sara Lipschutz
Weipeng Wang
Samuel Flohr
Natalie Ruckstuhl
Noreen Mabini
Karyn Utsumi
Teresa Clapham

Summary of the Day
This season (our 20th!) of SLEWS has looked different than all others before it. The glaring difference? A distinct lack of high school students. I have been extremely grateful to have the opportunity to work with a fantastic group of adult volunteers, but I know all of us are eagerly awaiting the moment we can have a field day with high school students once again.

To cap off our 2020-21 season, we held a long-awaited field day at Wild Oak Vineyards in Fairfield. This was actually meant to be a SLEWS site in the 2019-20 season, but when the project was delayed we relocated to a project at Lake Dalwigk in Vallejo (blog post here: http://landbasedlearning.org/blog/2020/03/12/urban-greening-in-vallejo/). It was fun to finally make this day happen with volunteers and Solano RCD staff!

At our opening circle many volunteers were surprised to recognize each other from class at UC Davis – what a coincidence! Amy King from Solano RCD introduced us to the project site and the day’s activities, and Sarah McKibbin presented about monarch butterfly conservation and the role of farms like this one in the effort to save them. One of our volunteers shared that she had been planting pollinator plants in her apartment complex and asked for resources to continue doing so!

After our introductions, it was time to get to work. The first task was spreading piles mulch in a future planting area – this will help prevent weed growth and improve water retention in the soil to give those plants a better foundation. There was one area that didn’t have enough mulch, so half our group stayed to cart wheelbarrows full of mulch back and forth to fill in the area while the other half started the other task – weeding. Volunteers made their way along a previously planted hedgerow of native plants and used hoes to remove weeds growing near the plants. This will reduce competition between the native and non-native plants and give them a better chance of survival. We even found a patch of milkweed that had popped up on its own!

After a vigorous morning of work, it was time to break for lunch. I enjoyed spending lunch chatting with some of our volunteers – many of whom are hoping to find a career in habitat restoration! Off to a great start, I’d say. Cheers to a great, albeit strange, 2020-2021 SLEWS season!

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.