I went out to look at the latest burn on the lower Parkway this evening. It appears that roughly 10-30 more acres of mostly grassland habitat burned in this fire across the river from Sutter's Landing Park on 8/2/14 while I was away. The area that burned in this fire likely overlaps with part of the larger Woodlake fire that burned here about a year ago. There have been many such fires on the lower American River Parkway recently and these fires have resulted in much habitat loss and wildlife impact. The impact to riparian forest and oakwood land habitats are especially destructive and will be slow to restore.
There also benefits from fire including the production of herbs and forbs as new ground cover and forage. This is the case now at last year's Woodlake fire where quite a bit of new vegetation is visible. I saw some raptor activity at the newest burn nearby today but didn't have my binoculars to confirm sps. Very little new vegetation growth was seen within the recent CalExpo (Bushy Lake) fire except for bermuda grass which doesn't have much wildlife value and is nonnative. I have seen at least one of the pair of White-tailed kites that recently nested there but don't know how the rest of this family of raptors fared in that large burn which destroyed much important habitat. Many wildlife likely were able to flee into the adjacent unburned areas where they would have to try and establish new homes and compete with other animals already present. Young wildlife are less likely to be able to escape or survive such fires which can impact future populations.
As I rode back down the bike trail through the Woodlake burned area I spotted several deer and stopped for a closer look. Two young forked horn bucks were casually foraging in the new growth. I watched them for awhile and they were soon joined first by a spotted fawn. A little while later I saw a second fawn and adult doe nearby. A few more fuzzy deer photos can be seen here. This appears to be a single family unit, perhaps with young from the last couple of years. Deer sightings are uncommon in this area of the Parkway but likely to be more common now as new vegetation returns. There is other increasing wildlife activity in the burned area now including a number of turkey flocks and other avian species. Take the time to look closely when you are in these areas and share them.
A group of 25 people, including at least six youngsters, flocked to the FORB event on Saturday, July 12 to learn about the birds and their habitat along the American River at Sutter's Landing Park. We identified 30 species of birds, including some young birds that were being fed by their parents. It was great to imagine that birds, such as tree swallows and ash-throated flycatchers, were hatched somewhere along this stretch of river and that the trees that were providing us with shade were also providing all of these birds with a home.
Along the river, we saw a gaggle of Canada geese floating by and several white-faced ibises flying overhead. As two belted kingfishers flew by we learned that the females of this species are more dazzling than the males, which is an exception in the bird world. We also saw mallards, a double-crested cormorant, great blue heron, and great egret. Swainson’s hawks are usually found nesting near this stretch of river and were seen high overhead during this outing. Nests of several other species were noted too. We then climbed up the bank to the cottonwood thickets and heard Nuttall’s woodpeckers, which are common in the tree canopy of Boulevard Park. Still wandering around the trees, we saw fly-catching birds, including black phoebes and Western kingbirds.
Our guide on this adventure, ornithologist Hillary White, is a Senior Wildlife and Restoration Ecologist with H.T. Harvey & Associates and works on projects that benefit birds and other wildlife.
The full list of bird species we saw was recorded on eBird and can be viewed there if you set up a free account. eBird allows birdwatchers to compile and share data with researchers to better monitor species. FORB contributes to this effort and the observation list from this outing is also copied below. For a list of all birds and wildlife that have been viewed at Sutter's Landing Park visit the "What's There" link FORB’s web site, www.friendsoftheriverbanks.org. For more about all things ornithological, check out www.allaboutbirds.org, a comprehensive web site maintained by the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology.
American River Parkway--Sutter's Landing Park, Sacramento, US-CA
Jul 12, 2014 9:00 AM - 10:45 AM
Comments: Friends of the River Banks monthly walk.
Canada Goose 45
Double-crested Cormorant 5
Great Blue Heron 1
Great Egret 1
White-faced Ibis 12 flyover
Turkey Vulture 2
Red-shouldered Hawk (California) 1
Swainson's Hawk 2
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) 8
Mourning Dove 6
Black-chinned Hummingbird 1
Belted Kingfisher 2
Nuttall's Woodpecker 1
American Kestrel 1
Black Phoebe 3
Ash-throated Flycatcher 2
Western Kingbird 7
Western Scrub-Jay 3
American Crow 2
Northern Rough-winged Swallow 1
Tree Swallow 40
Oak Titmouse 2
House Wren 1
American Robin 1
Northern Mockingbird 3
European Starling 2
Spotted Towhee 2
House Finch 4
Lesser Goldfinch 2
FORB plans to host similar events in the future.
The CalExpo fire and crews fighting it surrounded Bushy Lake on the 4th of July. Neither seemed to acknowledge that this designated nature study area in the American River Parkway received special recognition from the state legislature. Fire frequency and intensity have increased in recent years while Parkway and Fire department budgets have decreased. County crews recently enlarged existing dirt roads as fire breaks around the area. The goal being to facilitate emergency fire response efforts and allow better access for vehicles and better protection to existing habitat.
In the heat of the well organized and comprehensive response, no mention of Bushy Lake's status was heard over fire department radio frequencies monitored. During the fire, a bulldozer widened existing firebreaks and created new ones and towed trucks that became stuck in areas beyond existing access.
A helicopter provided direction to help crews working quickly under thick smoke and limited visibility. The high voltage lines through the area could not be shut down during the fire and crews were concerned that sparks could arc in those smokey conditions. The comprehensive response restricted the fire from reaching most areas below the towers and lines as well as the fairgrounds. The relative priorities seemed to be protect existing utility infrastructure, the nearby state fair grounds with scheduled events and then Parkway habitat in that order.
The scene still smoldered with hot spots to watch so access was restricted along the bike trail the day after. The trail was opened again on the 6th. The area burned was actually much larger (163 acres including riparian and oak woodland habitat) than the 40 acres of "brush"initially reported. This is the largest and perhaps most damaging recent fire in the parkway and includes some backfire areas burned to help control the fire.
The state fair complex across the levee was threatened by this fire and evacuated hours before the scheduled $50,000 firework display and soccer match. The soccer match was rescheduled but the firework show went on that night. What else to do with all those purchased explosives? There was some damage to a few parked cars but otherwise the fire did not reach the structures or large eucalyptus trees present. Parking for the evening fireworks event was restricted due to smoky conditions which likely put more pressure on nearby areas such as Sutter's Landing Park. Several days after the fire, vehicles associated with the livestock programs for the upcoming state fair are again parking on areas that recently burned.
Biking along the levee between the fair and burned area the day after it was noted that personal fireworks had been lit there near the eastern edge of the fire. Could this have been the cause of the CalExpo fire? Headlines about other fires being fought nearby reported that embers from one city's annual firework display was thought to have caused fires in another county at their fairgrounds no less.
I learned yesterday that the CalExpo fire is thought to have started from a small fire that occurred earlier in the week and the same location and was being monitored by fire and park staff. It is not clear yet how the monitored fire could have resulted in this much bigger problem. This needs to be reviewed closely to determine what can be done to avoid such results in the future.
It is also important to evaluate the effectiveness of the measures taken in the Bushy Lake area during this fire. Was habitat protection adequate or should other steps be taken in the future? Will habitat restoration be a priority? An overall question in the midst of this drought is whether personal fireworks should be more tightly managed too.
Special thanks and kudos to all fire response personnel who handled the CalExpo fire in a professional and effective manner while being at risk due to difficult conditions.
More photos of this and other recent Parkway fires are available at this link.
The FORB event on Saturday, June 14 attracted about 50 people, including more than a dozen who arrived by bike. We met downriver about a mile from Sutter’s Landing Park at Camp Pollock to learn about the rich lives of the Nisenan Maidu, who thrived in this area until the Gold Rush. Chuck Kritzon, primitive education expert, gave a fascinating introduction to Maidu culture and highlighted the incredible natural resources of this area that supported it.
We began the morning by meeting inside the recently restored Camp Pollock lodge, which was built in 1924. Chuck laid out reproductions of Maidu artifacts on several tables for us to examine. As he described them, we learned that the Maidu used every part of the local plants and animals for tools, hunting and fishing equipment, clothing, musical instruments, games and toys, and currency. When they needed obsidian to make tools, they traded feathers with tribes near Mount Lassen or the Modoc area. They fashioned whistles from duck wing bones and dice for gambling out of walnut shells. They made water-tight baskets from sedge roots and nets out of dogbane to catch salmon and sturgeon.
As we ventured outside toward the river, we saw some of the important local plants. Oak trees were plentiful and provided acorns for mush that was baked into pancakes. Manzanita berries and elderberries could be made into cider or used medicinally. The Maidu dug up mature brodeia bulbs and roasted them like potatoes, leaving smaller bulbs to mature for harvesting the following year. In this way, they continued reaping bulbs from the same fields for hundreds of years.
After hiking down to the river, we returned to the lodge where several people played native gambling games.
For more information about Camp Pollock activities, visit www.sacramentovalleyconservancy.org. The lodge, only minutes away from Boulevard Park or Sutter's Landing Park by bike or car, can be rented for special events or office retreats.
After being away in snow country for a while, it was especially nice to return to and see Swainson's hawks out busily hunting on the grassy mound at Sutter's Landing Park, as the annual summer mowing began.
We had about 40 people at this years event, co-sponsored again by FORB and "Friends of the Swainson's Hawk" (FOSH). That was impressive given the number of competing events that weekend.
Betsy & Bert represented "Save the American River Association" (SARA), including plenty of refreshments and of course cookies.
Darrell, represented the Sacramento Audubon Chapter.
Sallie and Liz from California Raptor Center at UC Davis brought two Swainson's hawks.
Jay from "Raptors are the Solution" (RATS), came with three raptors, a White-tailed Kite, a Swainson's hawk and a Prairie Falcon. RATS works to save wildlife from rodenticide exposure. He had Raticators for sale, which are battery-powered electrocution traps for mice and rats. The traps are effective, easy to use, and humane. Jay said he'd send some info from his talk soon. Ever seen a Prairie Falcon before? Certainly not I. I'm pleased with the education and discovery shared through our programs.
As we were ready to begin the talk, Jane Taylor spotted a wild Swainson's hawk soaring high above which heightened the expectation level for all. Even though we didn't have the use of FOSH's speaker system, as the power was not turned on, people seemed to hear ok and we had many good Q & A from the crowd.
Jim Pachl and another serious birder carried spotting scopes down as we hiked along the river banks. The scopes allowed all to see three Belted Kingfisher nest burrows in the steep banks across the river and we did spot and hear one. We saw several places where Beavers had hauled tree branches down to the river the night before, much poop remained in the shallows where they had fed.
We also saw a few Swainson's hawks and one was spotted with nesting material which makes us think there is a new or yet unidentified nest across and down river from the old nest sights.
Our neighbor Carol attended the event and shared the following:
I had a lovely time at the river today. I enjoyed it so much that I convinced Kevin to come back with me at dusk and we saw bats, beavers and the owl!
Here are the best of the pictures I took. I hope you enjoy them.
Thank you so much.
You are invited to view Carol's photo album: Swainson's walk with FORB
Swainson's walk with FORB
Apr 12, 2014
Friends of the River Banks "Return of the Swainson's Hawk Celebration" at Sutter's Landing Park, Saturday, April 12, 2014
A brief update for now with some photos I took below.
Once again, Ryan LaPorte led us on a search for mushrooms and other fungal bodies and shared his knowledge about these fantastical organisms. On a bright “early” spring day an estimated 40+ people of all ages came out to learn about the secret world of the fungi among us. Ryan also brought some live examples of locally grown fungi as well as a copy of his favorite pocket guide to identify them.
This warm record breaking January 2014 weather seems to be coaxing the beavers at Sutter's Landing out to bask in the sun during the afternoons. Normally they are seldom, if ever, seen durning daylight. Bring your binoculars and take a look at these elusive animals which we often detect by where they've been and what they did, but rarely see in person. Notice how colorful their fur is when it dry. I first saw two of them this year on MLK day when I noticed what looked like a furry stump in the water near the river bank. Even with my binoculars it looked like a stump because it remained motionless for nearly a half hour. It quietly slipped into the water and swam up river past the second one resting on a log and then went into it's den. Many more den entrances are now visible with such low water levels.
Tuesday Jan. 21st, our neighbor and her girls sent a text to say they saw five beavers! When I got there this was the only one still sunning. There was also a small group of common mergansers hunting and posturing near the beaver. The male mergansers have many attention getting signals such as making sudden loud splashes with their feet, tail raising and chest raising, see photos below. Another group were hunting down river, all together there were about twenty or more.
On Wednesday Jan. 22 afternoon, I saw the largest flock of meadowlarks I've seen this winter. They flitted and flew along the fence line of the mound and I guessed they numbered about thirty or forty.
It'll be interesting to see how the wildlife will fare at the Park this year, but they are survivors, especially with a little help from all their Friends of the River Banks. Please share your observations with FORB so we can all better understand the health and value of the Park and Parkway to wildlife, nature, and our enjoyment.
The best chance to see these beavers currently is to head upstream to the second trash can and look across the river from there. Good luck!
30+ people walked, biked or carpooled for hot beverages and goodies before a brief discussion on the tree mitigation project and then a tour of the planting site now underway at the park. At least three generations were present at the event including new and familiar faces. A coyote crossed the mound and levee in full view to the group as it headed down to the river.
The tree mitigation work was taken on by the city after staff unnecessarily destroyed a stand of cottonwoods in a detention basin. Members of the city-appointed committee were present to give some background as the group walked to the triangle parcel east of the mound and mainly visible from west bound business I-80. The city has done a good job of follow through on this matter. Native species of trees and shrubs have been planted and are now being maintained under city contract. The plants have mulch and are watered by a system that has been installed to deliver hauled in water. The final report approved by the city council is available here and includes a number of recommendations to preserve existing habitat, restore habitat, and involve the public. (http://www.cityofsacramento.org/parksandrecreation/pdf/sutters-l-p_sltrm-approved-report.pdf)
Parks and Recreation commissioner Jeff Harris gave the group an overview of the many issues and activities around SLP. He indicated that the current intent is to preserve and feature natural habitat/open space values at the park as has been requested by a majority of the public. There are ongoing projects and landfill operations that need to be considered and integrated into this long term vision.
On the way back walking along the river the group noted the low water dry conditions present there. A number of wildlife and their signs were seen with the highlight being watching a young peregrine falcon swoop through a group of common goldeneyes before perching across the river in a ghost cottonwood snag. An appropriate sighting given the recovery of this species after nearly losing it to toxic chemicals and other human impacts. Peregrine falcons were recently delisted from the California Endangered Species Act after careful status evaluation (https://nrm.dfg.ca.gov/FileHandler.ashx?DocumentID=9911). This stretch of the river and former landfill/park need similar help to restore habitat and wildlife populations to a healthy condition.
The group also noted increased signs of human disturbance in the park including litter, vegetation destruction, fires, slope trampling and fireworks debris. More work is needed with all of these issues at the park.
2014 is off to a good and hopeful start at Sutter's Landing Park with its many natural resource and open space values. There are many issues and activities that need careful evaluation, participation and oversight to insure that these vales will continue to remain far into the future.