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.

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.

Finishing another season of restoration at River Garden Farms

River Garden Farms
SLEWS Program | Sacramento Valley | February 18, 2021

Partners/Landowners
Yolo County Resource Conservation District
River Garden Farms
Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation

Volunteers
Mandi Finger
Felisia Castaneda
Peter Johnson
Joe Hardie
Bri Grosskopf
Griffin Capehart

Summary of the Day
February 18th marked our final SLEWS Field Day with Yolo County Resource Conservation District, and we were back for our third double-header at River Garden Farms. On our previous field day, we spent two shifts planting 480 plants, including installing protective cartons and an irrigation system. Today it was time to mulch these plants to discourage weed growth and improve moisture retention. Like we did at Capay Valley Lavender, we were able to repurpose byproducts of the farm (in this case, rice straw) to accomplish this important task! As we mulched, we also did quality control – checking that emitters were working properly, and anchoring stray protective cartons.

As volunteers worked to place large mats of straw around each plant, River Garden Farms employee Arturo followed along towing a trailer full of straw bales. These weren’t your ordinary straw bales, either, they were gigantic! Arturo ensured that straw was always available when we needed it, and did a great job matching our pace. We were thankful that our COVID-19 masks provided protection against all the dust and debris from the straw as we made our way down the future hedgerow!

The morning shift of volunteers was able to mulch the majority of the plants, which the afternoon crew quickly finished up. Then we got in our vehicles to regroup at a new project site. The Sacramento River flows through River Garden Farms, and they wanted to beautify a ¼ acre levee area adjacent to their headquarters while supporting conservation efforts. The solution? Plant native wildflowers on the levee.

We took to the levee, using hoes to scrape away patches on the surface of the earth, sprinkling wildflower seed mix, and patting down before moving on to create more patches. By the end of the afternoon, we had finished seeding our project area, covering about 33% of the area in native wildflower seeds. I can’t wait to see the transformation when the flowers bloom – it’ll be an explosion of lupines and phaecelia!

Thank you to our partners, funders, and volunteers for helping us to keep our SLEWS restoration projects moving forward, even when working with students is not possible. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a more typical SLEWS season next fall!