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Willits Bypass Offsite Mitigation Project

The Willits Bypass Offsite Mitigation Project is the largest public wetlands mitigation project in the State of California. In 2015, MCRCD assumed long term management responsibility for the 2,087-acres of wet meadow, stream corridors, and oak woodlands. MCRCD has four staff members managing and monitoring grazing impacts to listed species, ecosystem function, and overall biological diversity. CalTrans created a non-wasting endowment through the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation as a permanent source of funding for management and monitoring of mitigation lands. MCRCD was signatory to the Endowment Agreement, and signed a 10-year interim contract to provide necessary on-the-ground land management and monitoring services.

   Blog of the Week

“Observations and Ruminations”

blog authored by

Marisela De Santa Anna

The Important Job of Scavengers

December 9, 10 am. A couple of weeks ago we had a female elk get hit by a car on Hwy 101 just north of the Willits on-ramp. No people were hurt but unfortunately the elk died from the collision. The RCD decided to take the opportunity to learn what animals would come...

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Robins in the Rain

Sunday, December 1, 10 am. The day is grey, with low clouds covering the hillsides and drizzle as I am walking near Mill Creek, on the east side of Highway 101.  Since my rain gauge showed it rained over 2.50 inches during the last week, I am curious to see if any...

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Wild Turkeys

​ November 24th 10 am As Thanksgiving approaches, I always want to write about our Wild turkeys that are found throughout the area in grasslands, wet meadows, mixed forests, and on the drier hillsides. Last year I wrote about how these turkeys are not native to this...

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A Few Fascinating Facts About Woodpeckers

November 14, 9 am. It is another beautiful fall day as I walk around the Willits Valley Mitigation Land along Davis Creek. The trees have mostly lost their leaves, their silhouettes outlined against the blue, blue sky. I can hear the drumming of a close-by woodpecker....

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The Benefits of Grazing on the Mitigation Lands

November 11, 2 pm   Upon looking out into the Little Lake Valley landscape, what is seen is the flat, open grazing lands that are an important part of the complex ecosystems within it. The Willits Bypass Mitigation Project covers 2,094 acres of the Little Lake Valley...

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Two Migratory Raptors

October 29th,  9 am.  In October and November there are many raptors that arrive here in the Willits Valley on their way south from the far northern regions. This week I was lucky to see two of these species, the Rough-legged hawk and the Ferruginous hawk. The...

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The Western Gray Squirrel

October 22, 10 am.   There are many Western Gray squirrels, Sciurus griseus, in the oak and ash tree woodland we call "Plasma" in the Willits Valley. This year there are some very large and beautiful valley oaks there that have plenty of acorns. It is delightful to...

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Bright Red Wild Rose Hips

October 16, 9 am. Fall is a time for wild berries and seeds - our oaks are full of acorns, the madrones full of their red-orange berries, dogwoods have their purple berries, poison oak has pale white berries, and the wild rose has its bright red “hips.” These are the...

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The Crowned Sparrows are Back!

October 9, 2019 This time of year, the birds that come back to winter in the Little Lake Valley begin to fill the void that those spring nesters have left. They don’t sing as much and are not as brightly colored, but they are a wonderful presence. Today I am looking...

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A Few Juvenile Birds

September 23, 10 am.First day of fall and it is perfect out. The clear blue sky with that crispness in the air says fall is here. I am noticing an increase in the sparrows, the crowned sparrows as they are called, with their songs of "oh dear me" and the sweet...

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Gathering Snowberries

September 18, 9 am.Walking out along Davis Creek, the scent of fall is in the air.  I admire the vegetation that is growing all around me, there are grasses of different shades of green, wild roses, some very tall mugwort, and a charming round bush with white...

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A Tree Climbing Fox

September 14, 9 am.This week I am focusing on the Common Gray fox, Urocyon cinereoargenteus. We were able to capture one on our video cam recorder and I had the good luck of having a young one visit our land and got one photo of it with my phone. The other photos are...

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A Glorious Insect

September 4, 9:30 am It is a clear warm morning and I am walking along Davis Creek, listening for any unusual sounds, keeping my eyes open, looking all around for mammals that may be out this morning. The birds are active in the riparian areas, taking baths and...

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Elk Friendly Fence Crossings

September 1, 9:00 am.The days are getting shorter, each day the sun is coming up a little later and setting a little earlier. The hot afternoons make me forget the cool crispness of the mornings yet every morning, as I take my morning hike up the mountain, it is...

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A Family of Beavers

August 28th 10 am. This week I am going to talk about the American Beaver, Castor canadensis, one of my favorite mammals.When researching the history of beavers in this area I found that there are no written records of beavers living in the Little Lake Valley. This...

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Late Summer Diversity

August 19th, 9 am.The long summer days are beginning to get shorter and the mornings have a crispness to them. Even so, summer is still here for another month and I am thinking of how much diversity there is in our Little Lake Valley. By that I, of course, mean the...

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A Very Large Spider and a Nasty Thistle

July 31, 10 am.Today we are working as a team to try and control some of the invasive thistles and other invasive plants that grow on the mitigation lands. we are looking for the thistle called Canada thistle or Creeping thistle, Circium arvense. Canada thistle is a...

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Poison Hemlock as a Food Source for Birds

Monday July 29th, 12:00 pmThe heat has eased off today and there is a pleasant breeze as I walk along the riparian area in the center of the valley. It is alive with fledgling birds begging for food from their parents as usual. Along the fence there is a variety of...

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A Lovely Migrant

Thursday, July 18th 9 amIt is a glorious summer day and I am walking along the riparian corridor of Berry creek heading to Davis creek. It is late July and there is still water in both of the creeks, though Berry creek has slowed down and I know it will be dry after...

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Flowers and Pollinators

July 15th, 9:30 amAs the summer moves along I am taken with how mild this summer is compared to last year. The temperatures have been marvelous, not too hot, and not too cold. Having fog last week, in the early hours of the day, and then the temperature not going much...

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Summer Wild Flowers

July 8, 11 am.It is a cool, foggy morning and I reflect on how wonderful it is to have fog in the summer. So far this summer has been the perfect temperature a far as I am concerned. The afternoons have warmed up nicely but the mornings retain their coolness until...

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Happy July 4th!

June 26th This is a short blog to let you all know I will be off for this coming week. To celebrate this holiday with you,  I had to post these photos of a Common Yellow throat warbler with food in its mouth for a young fledgling (I did not get a photo of the...

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The Management of Some Invasive Plants

Monday, June  24th, 9 am.Today I am going to talk about some of the work we at the Mendocino Resource Conservation District are doing on removing invasive plants from the mitigation lands. As part of the mitigation and monitoring proposal for the Willits Bypass,  we...

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The Hard Work of Being a Bird Parent

Monday, June 11, 9 amThe days have turned hot and the cicadas are singing in full force. Even though it is not yet the 97 degrees it is supposed to be later today, there is a cool freshness to the air, especially in the shade of the Valley oaks and Oregon ash trees I...

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A Spectacular Field of Sunflowers

June 8, 9 am.The last week of May I was on the property we call the Benbow area, walking along a small creek that has no name, when ahead of me I saw a field, stretching as far as I could see, that was filled with a golden yellow sunflower. When got closer I could see...

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The Elusive Grasshopper Sparrow

May 29th, 9 am.Sometimes it is the bird that is not so colorful or flashy that catches my attention. Today as I am walking around the grassland fields in the south end of the valley, I hear the high trill of the Grasshopper sparrow, Ammodrumus savannarum. This little,...

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Ode to Cow Parsnip

May 17, 9 am. Today the plant, Cow Parsnip, Heracleum maximum, has caught my attention. In the woodlands and along the creek it is a spectacular specimen of a plant.  It is also known as American cow-parsnip, Indian celery, Indian rhubarb or pushki. It is sometimes...

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Hidden Nests in the Grass and Wetlands

May 12,  9 amIt is with much anticipation that I set out today in hope of finding some nesting birds. For weeks now, it has been apparent that birds are displaying territoriality everywhere I go. The Red- winged blackbirds are the most dramatic with the showing off of...

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The Handsome Common Merganser

May 6, 9 am.Today the sunshine is intense, I can feel the ground drying up around me as I walk along the east side of Outlet creek.  The sky i s a brilliant blue and I am grateful for our wonderful air quality. It is a lucky day for me because I am alone in the beauty...

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The Sea of Blue

May 6, 1:00 pm.Today is a glorious day and I am out looking at the flowers that are blooming in the Little Lake Valley. It is the peak of the Blue Camas bloom, Camassia quamash, a perennial with leaves emerging from a persistent bulb in a basal rosette. This is the...

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The Breeding Bird Survey

April 29th, 8:00 amFor the last 4 years the Mendocino County Resource Conservation District, or MCRCD, has been conducting a breeding bird survey on the Little Lake Valley mitigation lands specifically around the riparian and wetland areas. It is mostly a listening...

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Singing Warblers in the Valley

April 19th, 10 am.Spring is in full swing and the days are longer and maybe a little bit warmer too. It is such a delight to head out to the oak woodland in the south end of the valley. The sun is streaming in through the just barely breaking bud branches of the great...

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A Surprise Encounter

April 3, 12:00 pmIt is a glorious spring day. I have walked out to Outlet creek from the Harc 4 gate, around the south end of a small oak woodland we call Lusher. The Giant white wakerobin, Trillium allbidium, are in bloom here with Meadow Rue and Milkmaids...

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An Abundant Trillium Year

April 8, 10 am.Spring has truly begun even if the rain just keeps coming. The warmth and moisture is making all the green plants push up and up. Sometimes when I am out for a while in the dampness, it seems things are growing right in front of my eyes! The many...

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Turkeys in the Springtime

March 24, 10 am.Spring is definitely  here in the bird world. As I walk out to the wetlands the sounds of Redwing blackbirds, Western meadowlarks, Song sparrows, and lots of wild turkeys fill the air. As I look ahead to the west there is a large flock of mixed...

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The Search for Nesting Spaces

March 19, 9 am.The feel of spring is in the air as I make my way to the north end once again. Today my intention is to observe the nesting behavior of two cavity nesting birds, our year-round resident the Western Bluebird, Sialia mexicana, and one of our migrants, the...

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The Tule Elk in the Spring

March 13, 2019  9 am. It is a cold and clear day with a promise of warmth later on. I am headed out to the north end of our valley to count the Tule elk and check on how it is going with their antler shed. This time of the year the bull Tule elk begin to act a little...

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A Break in the Rainy Weather

March 11, 11 am.After a storm system which, in some places in our county, dropped over 10 inches of rain, it feels good to have a break with blue sky and sunshine. I am headed out to Berry Creek, at the HARC 2 gate. The fog is still low in the valley but the rich...

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More Water in the Little Lake Valley

We have a small break in the rain and snow today and I am heading out to see how flooded the valley has become over the weekend. My waders and raingear in hand, I head out to the middle section. As soon as I arrive I can tell my waders will be necessary. There are a...

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Poetry in Our Valley

February 11, 1:00 pmToday as I walk out along Davis Creek, my mind is on poetry. A myriad of green hues stand out in the winter light, alive in the lichens, grasses, shrubs, trees, and mosses. The sun has penetrated the grey fog that was present earlier, adding a glow...

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Another Winter Day in the Valley

February 6, 10:30 am. The snow has fallen thickly at my house and I try to remember seeing this much on the ground before. I am anxious to see how the valley floor is looking so I head for the south end. My first stop is the northern offramp of the highway where there...

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Elk in Action

January 29th 1:00 pmAnother gorgeous warm blue sky day. Rain is in the forecast for later in the week which allows me to relax and enjoy this winter day that feels like spring. I have come out to the HARC 4 gate to see what the inundation looks like now that we have...

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Helping Wood Ducks

January 24th, 9 am.Today I am excited to be able to help one of our volunteers, Jayman Cooper, and our Project Assistant, Jake Stubberfield move some wood duck boxes, we had put up last year with the help of our Project Manager, Chris Bartow, from an area along Outlet...

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Lichens and Mosses

January 8,  9 am.Another wonderful rainy winter day as I head out to the Berry Creek area with my full rain gear on, raincoat, pants, and high top rain boots. I even bring my umbrella so I can take photos while it rains. Today the colors of the lichens and mosses...

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One of Our Dazzling Resident Birds

January 4, 9:30 am.It is colder than I expected today but I am content that we have more rain coming with winter in full swing. The bird that is attracting my attention, on this day, is the Western Meadowlark. There is a little drizzle as I start out which seems to...

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Our Wetlands Return and so do the Ducks!

January 1, 2019 10am.It is a clear, cold, icy day with the sky above me an astounding blue. I am out in the western area of the mitigation lands, drawn here to find the ducks I have been hearing out where Mill creek overflows. As I approach over the wet and muddy...

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Two Different Buteos

December 17,  10 am.Today is a damp and foggy autumn day. The rain over the weekend and last night has soaked the ground and caused the creeks to rise. It is not cold and I am anxious to get walking out on the valley floor. This is the time for migrating raptors to...

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Planting Shade and Diversity in the Pastures

December 8, 9 am.This week our team is planting for diversity and shade in some of our open grazing areas. Construction efforts on Mitigation lands left several areas utilizing livestock as a management tool with a lack of natural shade for animals during the hot...

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The Return of the Bald Eagles

December 5, 9 am.Today it looks like it will rain before too long. I am wearing a rain jacket and pants plus have an umbrella for taking photos.  As I get out of the car, I see a pair of magnificent Bald Eagles, Haliaeetus leucocephalus, sitting in the trees on the...

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A Perfect Fall Day

November 28th, 10am.This is my favorite kind of fall day. We have had over 4 inches of rain and today it is a little drizzly but very warm. There is a chance the sun may come out for a bit later on but more rain is due tonight. That feeling of drought is...

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The Beautiful Black Cottonwood

November 12, 9 amThis is another clear blue autumn day with no rain in sight. Today the trees have begun to show more color maybe since the evenings have become cooler. It is the Black Cottonwood, Populus trichocarpa, that really stands out as a vivid yellow candle...

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The White-Tailed Kite

Nov. 15, 9 am.It is a frosty morning, the air crisp with some haze around the hills in the distance. There is a lot of bird activity at the beginning of my walk along Berry Creek towards Davis Creek. The Wrentits are singing that ping pong ball song on either side of...

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One of the World’s Most Impressive Birds

November 11, 8:30 amThere is a bit of ground fog this morning, so it is a little cooler than the past few days.I am walking out along Mill Creek on the east side. It is a fine riparian corridor with lots of streamside vegetation, such as Oregon Ash, Willow, and Leaf...

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Two Hoofed Mammal Cousins

November 5th, 10 am. Today is another cool, clear, fall day. It is a day for me to compare two ungulates, the Black-tailed deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus and the Tule Elk, Cervus elaphus nannodes, that live in the mitigation lands and in  Mendocino County. Our...

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A “Day of the Dead” Blog

October 24th, 8:30 am. As autumn progresses and Halloween approaches I begin to see the earth around me full of signs of the season. I am not a great fan of Halloween but prefer the celebration of the Day of the Dead, El Dia de los Muertos, because I do love the idea...

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What a Difference Some Rain Makes

October 8th, 10 am. The bright clear sky is an intense blue. It is crisp out but it will be warm this afternoon, so I am dressed in layers. There is a sweet smell in the air of dampness. The mosses have turned dark green from the moisture. I am aware of a sense of...

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RCD Team Busy in Streams Before Waters Rise

October 2nd, Wednesday, 2:20 p.m. LARGE DEBRIS ACCUMULATIONS. Yesterday and today the Willits RCD team, and fisheries biologist, Joe Scriven from the Ukiah office, have been working on Stream Channel Maintenance. For the last 5 years the stream channels on...

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The Autumn Singer

September 24th, 1:00 pm. This is a fine autumn day. The morning was cool enough for me to start the day wearing layers including a down vest. Now the temperature is approaching hot so I am down to my t-shirt layer! The sky is a clear, brilliant blue with...

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Many Woodpeckers and Some Fall Color

September 4, 9:30 am As I am walking along Berry Creek on this beautiful day, I am struck by the sound of tapping on a small Ash tree. I climb down into the creek bed and begin looking for where the sound is coming from. It is a Hairy Woodpecker, Picoides villosus. I...

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Late Summer Action

Wednesday, August 29th, 8:30 am It feels like a bit of fall is in the air. The nights have been cooler, we had 47 degrees this morning, and the days take longer to warm up. Of course, the sun is setting earlier which shortens the amount of time outside. Today I am...

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In Search of the Tule Elk

August 25th, 8:30 am. It is a very foggy and cool morning. We are a group of 12 brought together by our interest in the Tule Elk of the Willits Valley. I have been looking for them all week hoping to scope out where they might gather so we can all see them. The path...

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A Small and Creative Marsh Dweller

August 15th 9 am It is an extremely smoky morning and I am out in the northern wetlands immersed in the tules. This is a plant some people call common tule or hard stem tule, but its scientific name is, Schonoplectus acutus. This for me is one sign of a true wetland...

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A Day Walking the Creek

August 8th, 9 am. Today I am joining a couple of colleagues on a survey of two creeks looking for log jams that could impede fish passage during the salmon migration times. They will mark each log jam location so that we can come back before the winter rains and...

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Baby Birds Everywhere

August 1st 8:30 am. It is a warm morning and I am out early to try and beat the heat. It is also obvious that the birds are more active this time of the day in this riparian area on Outlet Creek. There are lots of bird sounds especially the young birds calling to...

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The Majestic Valley Oak Woodland

July 25th,  8:30 am. The heat of summer is building up. Each day seems to be hotter and drier. The shade of the trees is something I have been appreciating more each day and today especially since the temperature gauge in my car said it was already 97 degrees. Trees...

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Tracks and Scats

Friday, July 13th, 9 am It is an unusual summer morning. The sky is full of grey clouds and it feels like it is going to rain. I am thrilled by this idea and have not brought my raincoat. It is warm with a breeze that is full of the smells of summer in the valley,...

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The Early Days of Summer

June 25th, 10:30 am. Today does not seem as hot as the two days prior. The forecast said it would get to be 88 degrees and for me, as long as the temperature is below 90 it feels perfect. I am walking a loop around Outlet Creek and Mill Creek, around a large area of...

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Another Day in Paradise

June 12th, 9 am. Another wonderful spring day and I am walking in an area we call Plasma. The valley oak woodland is vibrant and full of life. Birds, bees. and all kinds of insects are humming loudly and singing. I hear baby birds sounding hungry, their cries...

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The Bounty of Outlet Creek

May 29th, 9:30 am. It is a clear warm day. As I walk through the green pastures towards Outlet creek, I am struck by the vastness of this amazing flat valley we live in, the Little Lake Valley. The riparian corridor of Outlet is ahead of me. It stands out...

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Hidden Marvels in the Fields of Grass

May 21st, 9 am. It is a foggy a.m. but I feel the sun’s warmth coming through the clouds. As I walk past Outlet Creek, the bird songs are everywhere as spring is reaching a crescendo. The vast fields of grass are waving emerald green to the east and north of me. It...

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The Morning Chorus

May 16, 7 am. This morning began as all the other mornings have for a couple of weeks now, with an early morning concert beginning around 5:15 am. I fondly call it the cacophony of spring. It is impossible for me to sleep through it, especially since I sleep with at...

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Those Little Brown Birds

May 2, 9 am. The spring days pass by so quickly! Soon will be time again for our annual breeding bird survey for the mitigation project. This is a survey that uses 40 points in the valley where an observer stops to listen and see what birds are calling or flying in a...

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April Showers Do Bring May Flowers

April 27, 10 am. Walking out the Berry Creek Road towards Davis Creek Bridge, I am amazed at how much lusher and green the fields have grown since I was last here two weeks ago. The grass is now higher than my knees and my legs are getting very wet as I make my way...

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Inundation, Transformation

April 7, 9 am. We have had 6.5 inches of rain and I want to get out to the valley and see what it looks like. First, I go to the area called the W4 fields. It is where Mill creek crosses through the mitigation lands and where it overflows its banks, creating a...

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A Haven for the Swallows

March 29, 9 am. As I am getting out of the car, I notice a couple of new swallows flying in and out of a small wooden building near where I am parked. They are the red-brown Barn Swallow with its’ long forked tail. These must have just arrived from their long journey...

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The Powerful Cry of a Redtail Hawk

March 22, 10 am., There are big billowy clouds building up in the south and a storm is expected later today. I am walking on the “Cox 80” parcel on the south end of Outlet Creek. There are some very large cottonwoods, Populus trichocarpa, growing in the riparian areas...

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More Signs of Spring

March 7, 10 am It is a typical March day. There is a cool breeze blowing billowy, puffy clouds across the very blue sky. It is a good day to pay attention to the signs of spring approaching. This day I am in the southern end of the Willits valley walking along Outlet...

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Sunset in the Wetlands

March 5, 4:00 pm The day has turned out to be clear and warm. Last weeks snow and rain have disappeared, leaving the Willits valley with more water in the wetlands. This is a boon for the waterfowl and associated species that depend on the inundation for food and...

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A Quiet Time in the Cycle

February 21, 10:30 am. It is one of those cold, dry but sunny days. This week winter seems to have stalled yet spring has not arrived either. I decide to go out  Davis Creek to see if there are any new bird arrivals. The last few days out in this valley I have seen...

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A Family Nature Hike in the Valley

February 19, 10 am The temperature has cooled at least 10 degrees from yesterday and 30 degrees from last week. It feels again like winter, even though the sun is shining. The wind is at 13 mph from the north and all the Presidents Day flags were blowing heartily. It...

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Feels Like Spring but I Hope it’s Not

February 7, 10 am February 7, 10 am     After a whole week of higher than average temperatures in February, I go out into the valley to see what is happening. The first thing I notice is how much the grass is growing. It seems to be inches taller than last...

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A Hot February Day

February 3, 10 am Today a group from Sonoma County came to bird and explore the Willits Little Lake Valley with me. This group, the Redwood Region Ornithological Society was organized in 1962 “to encourage the study and conservation of birds, other wildlife, and their...

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Kayaking in the Little Lake Valley

January 26, 10 am. We are geared up and ready to go. The kayaks are loaded with paddles, seats, and our tools.  We pull them out into the water and jump in. We are dressed warmly: raingear, boots, and layers, to keep the water and chilly air out. As we paddle out into...

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Love is in the Air

Friday, January 19, 9:00am Earlier this morning it rained very hard but right now the sun is shining and the blue sky is making the clouds look white and puffy. There are bird calls and songs in the air. Meadowlarks are singing that beautiful melody that reminds me I...

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Beavers , Eagles, and Red-tailed hawks

        January 12, 8am It is a typical winter day. It is grey and foggy, not the kind of fog that one finds at the ocean but a Willits ground fog that comes up from the very wet ground. I am in the south end of the mitigation properties, at the...

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The Pacific Flyway

January 7, 8am This is a very foggy and cold morning. As I drove through Willits the town was quiet, but out here in the valley the air is filled with the many sounds of birds, ducks in particular. In every wet area there are ducks of many species seemingly...

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Winter Wonderland & Happy Holidays!

December 10, 2017, 10:30 A.M. It is 29 degrees in the Willits valley. Looking out I see a frozen landscape with a cold fog rising up from the small ponds left over from when it last rained. Yet the air is full of quacking, splashing, and sounds of ducks...

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Winter Beauty

Thursday, November 30th, 1:00pm Even though in the winter we do not have many flowers to look at, lichens and mosses fill that gap with their unique and fantastic forms. This week my attention was on a few plant forms that really stand out after...

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Ducks and More

November 17th,  Friday 10am. Low fog and clouds to begin with, but it cleared up quickly to a beautiful, sunny day. The moisture in the ground made the ground squishy. A flock of Canada Geese and American Wigeon flew by, the geese honking...

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Raptors, Raptors, Raptors

  Ferruginous hawk, juvenile, buteo (broad-winged, short tails)   White- tailed kite, adult,  (long pointed wings, hovers while hunting)   Coopers Hawk, juvenile accipiter (long tailed,short rounded wings)   Red tail hawk, adult(dark phase), Buteo...

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Two Lovely Days in November

November 6th, 10am In the Fall, the weather can be completely different from day to day. Last week was a week of contrasts, one day being sunny and warm,  with no wind, and the next day was cool and wet, with showers coming down heavy at times, and windy....

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Unveiled and Hidden

A grey November day in the north end of the valley where the wetlands are changed into their fall colors. The leaves have fallen off the Ash and Oaks revealing masses of Ramalina and other species of lichens hanging in sheets, their pale green...

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“A beautiful white arc across the sky”

Walking along Davis Creek, 9am. There is white ground fog rising from the valley floor, creating a beautiful white arc across the sky. It is so quiet and peaceful. A short time later the whispy whiteness has burned off and the clear blue sky and sunshine lights up the trees. Sounds of many different birds…

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