Seeding Native Grasses

It would have been nice if European annual grasses had not replaced most of our native bunch grass.

On our hill ranch there are about as many native plant species as any place in the region, but invasive grasses still make up a huge percentage of the flora.

Well intended is the State of California requirement to use native grass seed when re-seeding areas disturbed by grading or dirt moving. I’m not sure how deep this policy is ingrained in our agencies, but it is appears to be beyond the influence of people of reason.

There may be occasions when native grass seeds have a chance to root and outcompete non-native annuals, but it’s not usually the case. To require native grass seeds to be used for re-vegetation after dirt work is folly.

Here’s photo of our property on Sherman Island. (click on photos to enlarge.)

Following construction, the berms at Mayberry were seeded with native grass seeds.

 After seeding, the rains came and the native grass seeds germinated. For a while, it looked as though they might work out. In the meantime, nearby non-native plants grew rapidly. (The native grasses were green with envy.)

I took a photo this week with my phone camera, not the best source, but you’ll get the point.

Took this photo yesterday from the levee overlooking Mayberry.

Non-native broad-leaf vegetation took off along the sides of the berm and the project managers were forced to spray it with herbicides to prevent it from taking over the native grass planting. This effort can be compared to dumping buckets of fresh water into the ocean in an effort to dilute it.

Native grass seed is more expensive, less available, less competitive and therefore requires more followup work to give it a chance to succeed. Once left unmaintained, the plants will fail.

Not only will the native grasses eventually fail, in the meantime we will have no vegetation at all on the berms to provide any habitat. Non-native vegetation has value, even if it’s not original.

Why are we wasting our resources in this feeble effort?

While grading around our ponds on the hill ranch last fall, we went through the same routine . The requirement to seed with native grasses may be well intended, but the effort is folly. We cannot be successful while planting native grasses on little patches of land surrounded by oceans of non-native plants, which have taken over because the native grasses could not compete with them to begin with.

I believe it’s time to put our resources where they make a difference. Sometimes we need to use common sense.

April Weekend at the Ranch

It was a good weekend to be in the hills. Here are a few of the photos I was able to take while traveling around the ranch. (Click to enlarge.)

Here's the typical view of a ranch road coyote.

Surprise. It’s unusual for ranch road coyotes to pose for a broadside photo.
Another rarity, only in spring will you see two great blues together like this.
Nice cape on this great blue heron.
Rob pointed out some baby blue eyes – with bug.
Mules ear is having a good year. Maybe it likes the cool spring.
Checkerbloom I believe.
The goldfields were looking good.
My first whipsnake of the season. He was sold cold I could have picked him up.
I don’t know whose brand this is.
Fence lizards were out in force for the first time this spring.
Pacific newts have a rubber look.
The does were in hiding with fawns, but a few bucks were around.
We went to a spot I’d never been before.
Instant replay of the earlier coyote.
For the second time in a weekend, a coyote stopped and looked back.

Fence Gobbler

Here's a vineyard turkey in full strut.

Here’s a gobbler that stopped on a vineyard fence to strut his stuff. Turkeys are active, but following hens which often makes them difficult to attract. Click to get a close up view of him and the nearby black phoebe.

This time of the year, hens are receptive to the toms and will lay one fertilized egg each day until they have completed their clutch, which is normally about a dozen eggs. Once the eggs are laid, the hen will set on the eggs and incubate them. With luck, the polts will hatch out in about 30 days. By beginning incubation at the same time, the eggs will hatch nearly simultaneously.

When, in another week or two,  when the hens begin to sit on eggs, the unsatisfied toms will become more vulnerable to hunter’s calls and decoys.

Spring in the Altamont

We remained a ways off from the burrowing owls, not to disturb them.

Joe spotted a couple Swainson’s hawks gliding high overhead. Red-tails were hanging around a stand of eucalyptus trees and a ferruginous hawk was spotted on the horizon. 

Several Swainsons hawks passed high overhead.

 Joe also found a young king snake under a board. We took quite a few photos of the willing snake.

We found this very small king snake under a board.


 Burrowing owls were in their usual haunts. It was a nice day to observe.

Youth Hunt, Another Lesson

“How long will we sit here?” asked little Mason Nevis.

“Until the turkeys come,” I replied.


I wondered what the little guy thought of that. Maybe a tough reality, but I didn’t want him to think we were going to give up easily and start bouncing from tree to tree or attempting to sneak up on turkeys. In my world that is not real turkey hunting.

I believed his no-reply was an endorsement of my statement.

We waited another hour and I continued my sporadic calling. A tom appeared in a flat about 200 yards to our right and slightly down hill. A second and a third followed him across and opening.

I continued to call and they gobbled. I could still see one of them and he turned towards us and sprinted. “Get ready,” I told Mason.

We had done some dry firing with the H&R 20 gauge single shot, but he had not fired  live rounds from this borrowed shotgun and I knew that he was at a disadvantage.

The turkeys gobbled again, closer and I knew they were near, but couldn’t see them any more. We waited and waited, but they failed to show. Most likely they’d been intercepted by a hen turkey and led away – following what males in heat follow.

We waited some more. Now it was time to retract my statement.

“Let’s move down to the spot where I saw the turkeys,” I announced. We were on our feet stretching, gathering decoys and I’m certain both Mason and his father, Mike, were happy to be moving.

We carried our gear about 300 yards down the gradually sloping hill past the area where the toms had stood an hour before and I looked for a spot to set the decoys up where they could be seen and we could hide against a reasonably large oak. Mike hid beside a log out of the line of fire.

About 75 yards in front of us, the canyon dropped off steeply and that’s where most of the turkey calling was coming from.

We placed the strutting tom decoy and receptive hen twenty yards in front. The distance was important as it was the distance at which Mason would shoot the gobbler.

Sitting behind Mason, who was left-handed, gave me a good view of his sighting. Unfortunately, I had not brought shooting sticks, which would have helped his aim by supporting the weight of the shotgun as he waited. I was concerned that the ten-year old, who weighed about 75 pounds, would have trouble holding the gun up as the birds slowly worked their way to the decoy.

“Maybe one will come running in,” I wished to myself. But that seemed unlikely for toms still following flocks of hens.

In position, I made a few soft yelps with my mouth diaphragm. Deep yelps, of a boss hen. And, an answer came from the canyon.

Another deep yelp. I responded in kind.

Then a gobble and several back-up gobbles. Things were heating up and the birds were only about 100 yards away – just over the drop off.

I continued the yelping and the responses were positive. We were about to have action.

Turkeys rose up from the canyon. First a bright read head stared in our direction.

“I can see one,” I told Mason. “Stay still.”

The tip of a tail fan appeared and finally four gobblers, one in full strut. Their heads were like neon signs. The sun glistened off the tail fan of the dominant bird.

Later Mike said it was surreal, and he was right.

The four gobblers and a hen turkey approached. The hen veered to our left and the gobblers could now see the big strutting tom decoy. The three jakes were leery of the big intruder, but the dominant strutting tom was well aware of the challenge – but not sure whether to stay with the hen or defend.

His head jerked up as he spotted the squatting hen decoy. Now he was mad – no sex allowed for this intruder. He approached directly towards the plastic gobbler. I whispered to Mason to cock the shotgun. The target bird was at 25 yards and getting closer. 

“Wait till he reaches the decoy and then shoot,” I whispered while making yelps which seemed to keep the toms gobbling and distracted. At 20 yards, I coaxingly told Mason, “Shoot.” 

Shifting slightly to line up the barrel, the birds caught sight of the movement. Now they were all staring.

I felt like a discovered burgler. My head was spinning. It was all up to Mason. I waited and watched the barrel make circles around the gobbler’s head. Now the strutting bird turned and began to slowly move off – floating away. I felt helpless.

I didn’t want to put pressure on Mason, so I said nothing. Then, just as it appeared he was about to pull the trigger, the big bird stopped directly in front of two jakes. I’d seen this before and I didn’t want three turkeys dropping at once.

“Wait,” I whispered. “Three are lined up.”

Mason must have got the message, because he held off – impressive.

As the birds moved apart, still at 25 yards I said, “OK, now.”

Watching the circling barrel, I wished for a dead bird. The little 20 gauge popped and the gobblers walked away. I could see no obvious damage.

I was dizzy and disoriented, I could have thrown up.

It was a wonderful, but painful.

That wasn’t everything that took place on Monday. We tried again after lunch and had another close call, but Mason didn’t take home a turkey.

We all experienced a bunch of the good stuff that comes with hunting and it will be with us for a while. For me, it was one of my most exciting hunts ever.

Bad News – but Good News in UC Lead-Poisoning Reports

These turkey vultures were captured on film with a trail camera.

Two reports from UC Davis confirm what most of us have expected. Turkey vultures, ravens and golden eagles eat the remains of deer, pig, bear and various varmints killed by hunters and those birds have been proven to ingest lead when eating the remains that contain lead from lead bullets.

Lead bullets often fragment when they enter the target animal. Those fragments can spread throughout the meat and intestines of game animals killed by lead bullets. Often, the intestines of game animals – along with hide and sometimes bones – are left in the field after the animal is harvested. Vultures are one of the first to take over a gut pile.

Varmints are often left afield when killed by varmint hunters or predator hunters.

Here are links to the UC Davis reports:

The first is entitled, “Impact of the California Lead Ammunition Ban on Reducing Lead Exposure in Golden Eagles and Turkey Vultures.”

Golden eagles, like vultures, are vulnerable to lead poisoning from eating carrion laced with lead from bullets.

The second is entitled, “Lead Exposure in Free-Flying Turkey Vultures is Associated with Big Game Hunting in California.”

The end game is a ban of the use of lead in projectiles used by hunters. This is nothing new as lead bullets have already been banned in most of Southern California. Part of the good news is that replacing lead in bullets is primarily only an expense. Hunters who believe in protecting the environment will pay this price as part of hunting.

It is unfortunate that additional costs may make it slightly more difficult to recruit new hunters, but recruitment is already difficult in California where few of us have an opportunity to appreciate the value of and goodness of hunting.

What other good news do these reports contain?

For one, we can maintain that hunters and the hunting industry have once again, as with steel shot,  taken action to protect California wildlife by accepting the costly challenge of producing and accepting non-lead ammunition.

Here is one quote: “These findings indicate that there has been a positive impact of the lead ammunition ban on reducing lead exposure in individual vultures sampled for our study.” Hunters take credit.

Here’s a pig that helped feed the local vultures.

I guess you might say “the spin starts here,” but keep in mind that many hunters supported a ban on lead bullets and many more will support it now that these reports have been published.

And, a diminished group will continue to wail.

One report also makes an unintended pro-hunting statement. “Big game hunting in California is presumed to supply a substantial food source to avian scavengers, especially year-round wild pig hunting, which provides hunter-killed carrion throughout the year to scavengers within the wild pig range. Hunting activities vary by type and intensity throughout California and there is considerable overlap of different hunting seasons.” This may be the biggest endorsement of wild pig hunting by non-hunters ever.

It appears that hunters provide food for a significant portion of this avian population. Without hunting, we would (presumably) be faced with fewer of these large birds –  critters of importance. Hunters also provide a significant source of food for themselves.

So, we hunters are a step closer the elimination of lead bullets as a hunting option. The biggest issue is what will replace lead? Will it be effective? And, will it be inert?

Mending Fences – with Distractions

The pace of work changes when you spend a couple days in the hills. It’s really hard to get in a hurry and there are many distractions. The main event- mending fence. The sub plots – turkeys, wildflowers and other photo ops.

Rob and Terry looking down at a half mile of very old or non-existent fence, an intimidating project.

 (Click photos to enlarge.)

When you’re working on a project that looks overwhelming, it pays to not get in a hurry – so we didn’t.

The starting point for the fence project was at the top of a very steep drop off into a spot we had to exit the same way we went in. In other words what you carry down, you also carry up unless it’s fence material. A few hours per day is all we could handle on a project like this. A couple hours of hanging on to the side of a cliff while working is enough.

In the mean time distractions were all around us. On the way in I came across a group of four old gobblers that have been a making a living eating grain from horse feed.

These old toms have been hanging out near the neighbor's barn.

Wild flowers were blooming. Johnny-jump-ups, shooting stars  and butter cups were everywhere. The yellow and white flowers seem to bloom early while the blue flowers like lupins seem to bloom later on. There’s likely a reason, but I don’t know what it is.

Johnny- jump-ups (wild pansy) are a butterfly host plant.

The plant, which most locals call johnny-jump-ups, is also known as wild pansy or yellow pansy. The scientific name is viola pedunculata. It is a host plant for the Callippe Silverspot Butterfly, which is endangered.

Other early favorites include the shooting star (“mosquito bills” variety).

Mosquitobills shooting star.

While checking the spillway on one of our dams, I found a fresh mountain lion scat. The scat, about the size of my labs scat tends to be clay-like and greenish is color when it’s fresh – and if really fresh, extremely stinky.

Mountain lion scat. This is a medium-sized scat.

We also found a few stinkbells in bloom, but they seemed to be a little past their prime.

The stinkbell is somewhat rare.

The scientific name for the stinkbell is fritillaria agrestis.

The California buttercup is very common on our ranch.

The scientific name for the buttercup is ranunculus californicus.

With some fence progress and obligations at home, I departed while Rob and Terry continued to work on the fence. On the way home I came upon more turkeys. This time two gobblers were hanging out with three hens. Looks like nesting time is about here, but they were not very active.

These birds slipped into a creek and moved quickly out of sight.

It’s a little early in the nesting season and the turkeys were not in full breeding mode. The gobblers were more interested in eating than strutting for the hens.