By Linda Novy, Volunteer Mounted Patrol, Marin County Parks
On April 20, in honor of Earth Day and to support Marin County Open Space, a group of equestrians from Creekside Equestrian Center, Dickson Ranch, and as far away as Penngrove, gathered at the trail head of East Sylvestris Fire Road in the Gary Giacomini Preserve to make a dent in the “pioneer” French and Scotch broom population there. By removing this relatively small area of aggressive and invasive plants, we had a chance of keeping their population contained and even eradicated. Rich Gibson, Marin County Parks Supervising Ranger, and his team thought our recommended project was a good one. He was there to welcome us at 9:00 AM sharp with a cooler filled with water, some snacks, tools, and most importantly, small packets of IvyX and Technu to subdue the poison oak we were bound to come in contact with!
Everyone had their own reasons to show up. The youngest equestrian, Jenna Dahlin, 10, who arrived with her grandmother, Sandy, said she came because: “I did it (pull broom) on a field trip and liked it. “ Meagan Amaglio, a young woman who also rides at Creekside, was there with her mother, Elizabeth. She said she wanted to participate, and that she “…didn’t want to see the broom take over.” The rest of us were there because we also wanted to give back something to the lands we enjoy on horseback and on foot. Several members of the Open Space Mounted Patrol participated: Delos Putz and his wife, Rena, Vicki Englert, Tracy Engelen, and Linda Novy. Others members of the team included Arielle Ikeda, who assists the Friendly Trails program, Katie Mason and Rebecca Bailin, all from Creekside. From Dickson Ranch, Lisa Capaldini came with Sherry Amanpour. Everyone worked diligently to eradicate the broom.
And as the broom came out, we discovered a diverse palette of California native plants struggling to survive amongst the invasive broom. Some of these plants included: Western Buttercup, Douglas Iris, Pink Honeysuckle, Sticky Monkey Flower, Coyote Brush, and Oak, Toyon, and Madrone seedlings. By removing the “competition” (the broom), we were giving these native plants a chance to grow and add to the beauty and bio-diversity of the Preserve.
We’ll all have the pleasure of watching this area develop as we ride and hand walk our horses along the Fire Road, and who knows, perhaps we’ll take the time to stop and pull out some of the remaining or re-sprouting broom plants. As equestrians, we have the opportunity to not just add our horses’ hoof prints and fertilizer to the trail, but to demonstrate reciprocity. Next time we have a broom pull, we hope you’ll join us and contribute some sweat equity to our beautiful Open Space Preserves.
For more information about upcoming volunteer events, please visit our website at www.marincountyparks.org.
By Katherine Mindel Jones, Marin County Parks
If you’ve spent time on the trails of Mt. Burdell recently, you’ve probably caught a glimpse of cows grazing placidly on the hills above San Marin. Livestock grazing has actually taken place on Mt. Burdell for more than a century. When the Marin County Open Space District acquired the preserve, which was part of a former ranch, in the mid-1970s, the District continued the practice. As far back as 1974, the District leased Mt. Burdell to local ranchers for grazing purposes and to provide fire fuel reduction to protect nearby homes.
Today, grazing is conducted by Hicks Valley Cattle and rancher Dr. Bill Barboni, a fourth generation Marin rancher, under a 5-year Lease Agreement. Grazing is beneficial to the Mt. Burdell preserve in many ways. It reduces fire fuels; preserves habitat for native species including fragrant fritillary, savannah sparrow and grasshopper sparrow; and sustains high quality forage to support local agriculture. The grazing season begins in early January each year and ends sometime in June; so over 150 cows (but no bulls or cows with calves) will graze on Mt. Burdell for the next few months.
Recently, Marin County Parks and Bill Barboni worked together to obtain Organic Certification, from the Marin County Department of Agriculture, making Mt. Burdell an organic certified rangeland. Dr. Barboni monitors the cows and the fence lines by horse a few times a month. If you see him, be sure to say hello!
By David Herlocker, Marin County Parks Naturalist
It is just after dawn on a mid-March morning, a doe is moving slowly through the dew covered grass between two ancient oak trees. She wanders away from her year-old daughter and seeks out the shelter of this quiet place. She feels the imminence of birth within her. A short time later she tenderly nuzzles two fresh spotted fawns, licking and nudging them both in turn as they lie wide eyed, ears laid flat back, getting to know the smell and feel of their mother. A little bigger than jackrabbits, they soon stand on spindly legs and nurse contentedly. Within an hour the mother has consumed the placenta, and coaxed each of the fawns to settle quietly beneath the massive trees where they become invisible among the bits of fallen branches nestled among the tall spring grass. Their spotted coats subtly blend with the pattern of dappled light and shadow. They wait still and silent as the mother steals away to feed. A boy wanders near; he’s flipping over the smaller fallen branches in search of salamanders, he comes within six feet of one of the fawns but it remains still, unnoticed as the boy continues up the hill. Even a hunting coyote would not detect these fawns unless it stumbled directly upon them, they are scentless and they innately know that stillness is their protection.
The doe feeds steadily nearby, ever alert for disturbance or danger. Just after noon one of the fawns awakens hungry, and it utters a high pitched bleat. Quickly the mother returns and coaxes the fawn to stand and follow her a short distance before allowing it to nurse. The mother turns several times to lick the fawn; she licks beneath its tail and stimulates it to urinate and defecate, which she consumes – leaving no telltale scent to alert potential predators. The first fawn settles down and assumes the compact, head down, ears back posture. The doe locates the second fawn and entices it to move to a new spot under the adjacent tree before feeding and cleaning it. For a few weeks this activity pattern will continue. Eventually as the new fawns become stronger, they will follow their mother and year old sister wherever they go. This little family will remain within their 150 acre home range, seldom associating with other family groups or the bucks that roam over the entire valley.
By midsummer the fawns are feeding alongside the older females, they nurse less and less and they begin to lose their spots as they are weaned. The tender sprouts on which they grazed during the spring are gone, and they now spend most of their time browsing – stripping new leaves off of shrubs and small trees. Between bouts of foraging they lie together in sheltered places, chewing and re-chewing their cud, each facing in a slightly different direction, ears cocked, alert. Although they are extremely fast runners, their principle means of avoiding predators like coyotes and mountain lions are their keen senses. They use their acute eyesight, hearing, and sense of smell to detect threats across great distances.
Adult males live solitary lives or sometimes form loose associations during the non breeding season. From January through April they resemble females to most observers, but late in spring, they begin to sprout antlers which develop quickly through the summer. Antlers originate as living bones that are nourished by an outer layer of highly vascularized tissue known as velvet. Late in summer, the antlers stop growing and the bucks seek out willow trees on which they will scrape off the still bloody velvet. Their preference for willows becomes clear whenever you look for the telltale signs of antler rubbing in groups of mixed small trees. Oaks and alders remain untouched, while willows have their stringy bark stripped bare. Perhaps this is because of the analgesic properties of the willow sap; willows are the original source of salicylic acid, the active ingredient in aspirin.
The shorter days of fall trigger many changes in the bucks. Antlers are polished, the skin of the neck becomes swollen, and the testicles enlarge dramatically. The surging hormones that accompany these changes also cause bucks to focus almost exclusively on tracking adult females. Males attend closely to females, constantly on the lookout for rival males that are chased off. During this period a buck will ignore his own hunger, he becomes preoccupied with sniffing at the female and her urine, seeking to detect the time when she will be ready to mate. When a rival buck approaches he is usually greeted with a series of ritualized displays which allow each buck to assess the size and fitness of the other. Occasionally well matched individuals will lock antlers and engage in a shoving match. Both bucks twist their heads in an attempt to throw their rival to the ground. The vanquished buck retreats, the victor proceeds to focus his attention on the female feeding nearby.
The little family we watched at the beginning of this story is still together at the end of September. They focus on finding acorns which are plentiful this fall in the surrounding oak woodlands. These acorns are a rich resource, filled with proteins and fats that will sustain them through the winter ahead. A three year old buck attends to the group. He follows them for two weeks until he is challenged by a prime five year old. He retreats without a fight. When he leads off the year and a half old female, the older buck does not notice, he is entirely focused on the older doe. The young buck and the young doe remain together through the fall, they mate several times but she does not conceive, a common occurrence among yearling females. By December she will rejoin her mother and younger siblings.
The older buck remains with the older doe until November, when he wanders off in search of another receptive female. He has repelled many suitors, but he has mated successfully. He is worn out and nearly starving from two months of ignoring his own hunger. A pair of coyotes decides to test him; they chase him down the valley and over a ridge. He falters at the top; they sense his fatigue and press the pursuit. Within the hour they have him cornered in an impenetrable willow thicket. He lowers his antlers, but the coyotes are quick and relentless, eventually he goes down. The coyotes gorge themselves on his organs and flesh; they will not need to feed again for a week. Turkey vultures, ravens, crows, foxes, three more coyotes, and a hundred million insects will proceed to spread the tissue of this once magnificent creature throughout the surrounding countryside. He also remains a part of this valley in the form of two perfect fawns who will greet a dew draped morning the following spring.
By Mehran Azizian, Volunteer and Outreach Intern
My name is Mehran Azizian and I am the Volunteer and Outreach Intern with Marin County Parks. Over the next few months, I will write a blog series based on my adventures and experiences. I was born and raised here in San Rafael, yet never spent much time in the outdoors growing up. However, over the past several years I have become much more active in hiking, camping and backpacking and have developed an appreciation of the outdoors and wilderness areas. This appreciation of the outdoors stems from a cataclysmic event that made me reconsider my life path and pursue something larger than myself. In the Spring of 2010, I was bedridden from my previously active lifestyle after being hit by a car. Although it’s unfortunate that it took such a monumental and detrimental event for me to investigate my priorities in life, I am grateful that I was able to walk away from it with the insight that I have now.
Just prior to this incident, I had the privilege of hiking in the Los Padres National Forest. While bedridden, I desperately held on to this fresh memory and contemplated what this experience meant to me. On a very basic level, it was so impactful because it represented my entire being in a physical and perfectly mobile sense. Not only was I free from physical restrictions, but I had also taken this for granted. I grappled with the idea of how my life would be if that was my last significant memory of being entirely able-bodied, and what I would do to cope. It was during this period that I came to appreciate more from this hiking experience than just having the use of my body, but also having such an inspirational area protected and maintained for the enjoyment of generations. It was at this point that I came to appreciate the importance of being an ambassador for these wild lands and also led me to my studies.
I am currently in my final semester at San Francisco State University, and will be receiving my Bachelor’s Degree in Recreation, Parks, and Tourism Administration this May. As a part of my major, we are required to work or volunteer a total of 800 hours by our final fall semester. My desire to work in the open spaces I grew up around led me to reach out to Marin County Parks. I actually began volunteering for Parks more than a year ago, in the summer of 2011. That summer I worked on the Marin County Parks Trail Maintenance Team, helping with the development of the 680 Trail and assisted on other trail maintenance projects. In order to complete my major, I will spend my final semester working full time in an internship position related to my field of study. Having enjoyed my previous experience volunteering for Marin County Parks, and my interest in preserving our natural resources, I have taken this opportunity to fulfill my internship requirements with Marin County Parks.
My first week has been more eventful than I imagined, every morning I report at the Lucas Valley field office yet each day is different. For example, on my first day on the job I assisted Volunteer Program Coordinator Greg Reza pulling French broom with 7th graders from Marin Country Day School on Ring Mountain, I toured the field office in Lucas Valley, read Marin County Parks’ Ambassador manual as well as the Parks Strategic plans, researched ways to improve community outreach, helped lead a nursery work day with Dominican University students, and assisted rangers with the Camino Alto Wide Area Fuelbreak project.
Over the course of my internship, I will be working out of the Lucas Valley field office on several larger projects including the development of community outreach plan, managing My Earth Day Marin Collaborative, and researching a program user survey. Along the way I hope to be involved with more volunteer days and ranger programs. It is safe to say that I am very excited and grateful to have the opportunity to intern with Marin County Parks. Check back soon for updates as the internship progresses!
By Marin County Parks Naturalist David Herlocker
When we think of February, we think of water. Every stony canyon is alive with dancing, splashing water; emerald green mosses carpet the fallen logs and ancient trunks. The rain has brought the world around us to life. In sunny openings we see traces of the coming spring; clouds of tiny insects dance in shafts of light. Where the sun’s rays touch the forest floor, red admiral and tortoiseshell butterflies spread their wings and soak up the rays.
Seeds are sprouting; leaves unfold as roots push deep into the soft, soaked earth. This is the best time to stoop down and try to figure out what these tiny sprouts will become in the months ahead. Milkmaids are already blooming in the woods; buttercups and shooting stars will soon brighten the grassy hills. Queen bumblebees emerge from their winter hideouts and seek these first flowers, their dense fur coats provide them with insulation for these brisk winter days.
Some birds are beginning the nesting process: Juncos and bushtits leave the flocks in which they have spent the winter months and form pairs. Red-tailed hawks are remodeling nests used in previous years and engaging in aerial courtship displays. Hawks are among the earliest breeders; this allows them to begin feeding their young just as rodent populations boom in early spring. Within our local bird community, the earliest nester is the Anna’s hummingbird; this is the only hummingbird that remains in this area all year. Courtship and pair formation commence in early winter; some of them will be feeding their first clutch of babies by early February.
Among the birds which spend our winter from Mexico to South America, the first migrants to reach this area are the tiny Allen’s hummingbirds. They arrive in Marin just as the manzanita and pink flowering currant are blooming. These beautiful blossoms provide the nectar that fuels the nimble flight of these feathered jewels. Violet-green and tree swallows also return during February, seeking nest sites in old woodpecker holes and other tree cavities. There is fierce competition for these prime pieces of real estate; bluebirds and oak titmice (species which don’t leave the area during winter) have already staked claim to many available cavities. These swallows take a big chance by arriving so early: they are entirely dependent upon flying insects for food, so extended periods of wet weather can make it difficult to feed their young.
In the bay – oak forests, the western gray squirrels have finished building their nests. You’ve seen these structures, typically they are messy looking balls of twigs and dead leaves placed high in the foliage of oak trees or tucked into the erect forks of bay tree branches. What look like disorganized clumps of dead vegetation are actually tightly constructed waterproof homes, within each is an insulated chamber lined with fluffy moss and fine grass; a perfect place to raise a family. The females are ripe with unborn young that will be delivered in March or April. During the early morning and evening hours, western gray squirrels forage on the forest floor, digging for the nuts they hid in the fall, and sniffing for buried truffles and other tasty fungi.
If you want to get out and see some of these marvels and learn a bit more about them, check out our naturalist walks, family walks and ranger-led activities. On Saturday February 16 naturalist David Herlocker will be leading a 7.5 mile walk that will start on Loma Alta and follow the new 680 trail to Terra Linda/Sleepy Hollow divide. Ranger Christin Lopez will guide a Bird walk at Bolinas Lagoon on Sunday February 17, and Open Space Rangers will lead a walk to Dawn Falls in our Baltimore Canyon preserve on Saturday February 23. These are just a few of the activities we offer, for a complete listing, please visit our events calendar at http://www.marincountyparks.org/depts/pk/calendar.