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.

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!