Conversation in the Vineyard.. schedule

This is the schedule of events for the Conservation in the Vineyards program as they stand on Tuesday February 26, 2019.

National Endowment Logo 3

May 2:  6:00 PM to 9:00 PM Arrivals

There will be a reception and hosted cocktail party at the Vineyard Inn. The hospitality room is on the ground floor. Just ask. It won’t be hard to find.

Friday May 3: Various tours as follows.

Breakfast will be ready at 7 AM for the early starters.

8:00 AM – 12 PM. Trophy Room Tour The first van will depart between eight and 8:30 and it will take nearly an hour to arrive at Rich Pierce’s trophy room in Clayton. Box lunch will be provided. Return by noon. (Limited to 20 people)

38 inch mule deer cropped and resized

This 38 1/2 in wide buck is one of the larger bucks in Rich’s collection, maybe not the largest.

9:00 AM – 2:00 PM  Friday Ohlone Conservation Bank. Rob Fletcher will load his truck up with four guests and take them on a tour of the Ohlone Preserve Conservation Bank. This is a great time of year to view butterflies and wildflowers. (Limited to four guests)

11:00 AM Friday: Holm Ranch. Load up and travel to the Holm Ranch where former Livermore Chapter Chair Bob Holm will show you some of the best blacktail habitat in the East Bay Area. He’ll also provide a group of 8 people with a barbecue lunch. (Limited to 8 guests)

Emilee and (dad) Greg Selna Deer

Greg and Emilee Selna with a Holm- Ranch buck killed on a donated youth hunt.

11:00 AM until 4:00 PM Friday. Wine tasting at Livermore Valley wineries. Passes and transportation will be provided.

1:00 PM to 4:00 PM Friday Tour a ranch and wind farm with owner Janice Marciel. Come learn about Wildlife Barriers in the Altamont Hills – wind turbines, freeways and aqueducts. The Altamont Hills are home to many threatened and endangered species.

Friday and Saturday Tour Leader Janice Marciel

Janice Marciel will lead a tour of her ranch and wind farm.

Friday Evening 5:00 PM until 9:00 PM McGrail Vineyards

Social gathering at McGrail Vineyards. Hosted McGrail wine, heavy appetizers and a sausage table with some of your favorite venison – deer and elk.

This is a great opportunity to spend time one-on-one with MDF leaders, biologists, and land managers while trying out Livermore wines. Enjoy the fabulous view of the surrounding East Bay hills.

Saturday May 4. Open Space Tour 8:00 AM – 3:00 PM and load up the 4X4 pickups at 8 AM. This will be a caravan into Southeast Alameda County. The tour will be guided by many local experts and MDF supporters.

Here are some of the things you’ll be looking for:




The tour will cover three different management regimes. Although these open space lands may look the same, the underlying management goals are significantly different.

1.  The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission manages watershed lands throughout the Bay Area. Read about it.  SF PUC San Antonio Reservoir

The mission of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) is to provide their customers with high quality, efficient and reliable water, power, and sewer services in a manner that is inclusive of environmental and community interests, and that sustains the resources entrusted to their care.

Tour Leader Clayton Koopmann BIO Clayton third person short version with photo

2. East Bay Regional Park District East Bay Parks Stewardship

More information

Bio Doug Bell Bell_BioV2_2019 one pg

3. Fletcher Conservation Lands FCL web site

What is a private conservation bank?

About Rob Fletcher  Rob Fletcher Manager, FCLands

Joe DiDonato biologist Joe DiDonato bio

Saturday Evening 6:00 PM to 10 PM at Poppy Ridge Golf Course

Poppy Ridge 2014

Sit down and enjoy the views. Choose from four meal options. Hosted bar.

Hear what MDF leaders have to say about the state of MDF, the Endowment Fund, major MDF projects and the future. We will ask for your financial support.

Side by side flyer









Revisiting “A Sand County Almanac”

Read A Sand County Almanac for the first time about 32 years ago.

At that time I read it as a hunter, looking specifically for information that would be of value to me as a hunter. I shared the hunter’s lifestyle with Aldo Leopold and wanted to learn more about his philosophy.

I gleaned from the book what I wanted to find and that was it. For years I’ve considered re-reading the book and kept it on my book shelf. It is in very good condition, except for my recent dog ears.

img_6607 a sand county almanac

This time, I read this book as a conservationist and it had much more meaning. Now I have more in common with Aldo Leopold (especially at his age at the time he wrote the book) than I did 32 years ago.

Now I understand why his book was so full of meaning and why it is appropriately called a “classic of conservation” by many people.

Leopold’s views on wilderness, land use and recreation are expressed in great detail in the book. He was spot on.

I’m sure I’ll be reading it again, and again.

Highly recommended.

Kids are Amazing


On Christmas morning my grandson Fergus came to me with an acorn.

Referring to the hole in the acorn, he said, “A bird ate it.”

I looked at the acorn and said, “Yes, or a worm ate the acorn and the bird ate the worm.”

He smiled at me.

As I sat in my chair this morning, looking at the acorn, I realized where it had come from. About a year ago, I brought a limb home from the ranch. It was a limb off of an oak tree, but it was a special limb because it was covered with holes stuffed with acorn husks. The acorns had been placed in the holes by acorn woodpeckers.

The reason I brought it home was so kids, like Fergus, could explore my yard.

Mission accomplished.

Afterthoughts about My Inyo Mule Deer

While hunting the Goodale Buck Hunt, I met several people who said that the mule deer in the Inyo National Forest were a distinct subspecies of mule deer, separate from the Rocky Mountain mule deer found further north along the Eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California.

As I watched deer, it did appear to me that the deer were slightly smaller, on average, than the Rocky Mountain Mule Deer I’d been hunting in Modoc and Lassen Counties, but I didn’t give it a lot of thought until I’d killed my buck and returned home.

Rich with buck IMG_6485

He’s not a big deer. His width is 21 inches, and height just under 18 inches. He has all four points on each side and also nice eye guards. Everybody who hunts Goodale wants a monster buck, but the truth is that they are hard to find. I am very happy with this buck.

That’s when I remembered editing a piece for Mule Deer Magazine 1995. Dr. Valerius Geist was the author and he spoke of four or more distinct subspecies of mule deer in California. One of those is the Inyo mule deer, Odocoileus hemionus inyoensis. The other primary species being the Columbian black-tailed deer, the California mule deer,  and Rocky Mountain mule deer.

Readings within recent issues of MDF magazine reminded me that another mule deer expert, Jim Heffelfinger, has studied and researched this topic. His views appear to be similar to Dr. Geist’s, but also divergent.  A significant issue is whether the variations in  mule deer characteristics within California deer are created by evolution or hybridization.

In their 1999 book, A Sportsman’s Guide to Improving Deer Habitat in California, Kenneth Mayer and Tomas Kucera, recognized six sub-species of deer in California. They expanded the listing to include the southern mule deer and the burro mule deer. Here’s what they said about the Inyo mule deer.

The Inyo mule deer occurs only in California, ranging east of the Sierra Nevada in Mono and Inyo counties. Like the Rocky Mountain subspecies, it is migratory, with low-elevation Great Basin winter ranges and higher-elevation summer ranges, often on the west slope of the Sierra Nevada. Although a bit smaller it closely resembles the Rocky Mountain mule deer. Most wildlife biologists believe the Inyo mule deer is simply a southern form of the Rocky Mountain mule deer.

Possibly the most heavily researched issue with regards to differences between blacktailed deer and  mule deer has taken place along the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains, primarily in the Shasta Cascade Region. Based upon conversations with Dr. Geist, it is clear to me that when he wrote the article in 1995 he considered the variations in the deer in that area were primarily related to evolution. He labeled the mule deer in the Shasta Cascade region as California mule deer.

Many sportsmen consider deer in that area to be either Columbian blacktail, mule deer or hybrids.

As I reread the article written by Dr. Geist, my take away was that he believed that the primary differences between the deer species living in different regions of California was primarily due to adaptation to differing habitats (evolution).

The fact that these various sub-species of deer live in adjacent habitats supports the concept of hybridization. It is logical that the sub-species variations would be blurred by cross breeding. Jim Heffelfinger’s recent articles in MDF magazine and also Fair Chase magazine, Fall 2005,  discuss DNA sampling done for the Boone and Crockett Club. Addressing species boundaries has been an issue with record-keeping groups for years and the Boone and Crockett Club has made progress entering the arena of DNA sampling. Decisions about the species identity of an individual trophy can be made using DNA sampling technology instead of geographical location.

Since I’m not a scientist, I don’t want to go any deeper into the weeds, but I will say that my observations while hunting mule deer in the Owens Valley support the notion that the deer there are different from Rocky Mountain mule deer of Lassen and Modoc Counties in Northern California.

Here is a photo of a of an interesting illustration taken from the Winter 1995 issue of Mule Deer Magazine. In that article, Dr. Geist explains that a “cline” is a “…geographic line-up of forms that vary directionally in their characteristics… ” The sub-species of deer in the illustration fit that definition.

cline illustration from Mule Deer Magaine

This is a photo of an illustration provided to Mule Deer Magazine in 1995 by Dr. Valerius Geist – a recognized expert on mule deer taxonomy.


Connecting with Donald Trump Jr. at the WHCE and MDF Convention

“Why Donald Trump Jr.?” I thought to myself while preparing to leave for Utah and the 2016 WHCE at the Salt Palace. At the last minute I had learned that he was the keynote speaker on Saturday night.

“He must me a hunter,” was my next thought.

I was surprised, as it just didn’t seem likely that a New York business man and son of a presidential candidate would be a serious hunter or an individual who would fit in with the crowd at the Salt Palace. On the other hand, you can’t find a more conservative audience.

As he walked onto the stage, I was impressed with his appearance and body language. As he addressed the large crowd, I was also impressed with his direct approach, clear speak and well thought-out story.

But it was when he told us of his youth and how he was introduced to the outdoors that I connected. He told us about his grandfather and time spent in the woods during summers in Czechoslovakia. I then realized how much we had in common.

He said that his grandfather would often tell him to go to the woods and be back by dark. Those were the same words my own grandfather told my brother and I during our summers in the Lassen County woods during the nineteen sixties.

We fished for trout in Butt Creek and shot our BB guns at will. We waded through the marsh along the meadows and were in total control of our time.

By the time Donald Trump Jr. was finished with his story, I knew why he was in Utah and it made sense.


Solutions – Habitat Diversity

If we want to have more wildlife diversity, we need habitat diversity.

In general, things that create changes on the surface of the earth add to diversity. Here is what I have observed on two of the property types with which I’m most familiar.

On our ranch, topography is a natural creator of diversity.  The hills create different exposures to sun, wind and rain. A multitude of soils types, modified over time by water runoff and geologic formations and organic mater, create a variety of habitats.

Oak grassland is one component of our hill property.

Oak grassland is one component of our hill property.

Elevations run from 1,000 to 2,500 feet above sea level. The hills run from gently sloping to very steep. The four main habitats on our ranch are oak grassland, oak woodland, chaparral and riparian.

Because the ranch is remote, has shallow soils and slope that discourages access, the land has remained unchanged  over the last 150 years, with a few exceptions. The biggest exception is the introduction of non-native European grasses that make up a large percentage of the flora. Theses annual grasses have choked out many of the native bunch grasses. The resulting changes to the habitat have eliminated or greatly inhibited some native species. One of the most impacted is the kangaroo rat and the local sub-species, the Berkeley kangaroo rat is considered extinct.

The black-tailed deer is an animal that uses all the habitats on our ranch, while other species live primarily in only one or two habitat types. Species that cannot adapt to more than one habitat are more inclined to be threatened. Deer are an ancient species that has survived because of it’s ability to adapt to change.

This hill demonstrates diversity created by exposure and slope.

The hill in the foreground demonstrates diversity created by exposure and slope.

In an area with multiple habitats, transitions zones may also benefit wildlife.

Duck clubs are generally developed on ground that is nearly level or gently sloping. Seasonal marsh creates diversity as water levels vary. On the other hand, a permanent pond has little change in water level and has minimal diversity.

John Cowen, who managed the Gray Lodge Wildlife Management Area for many years, once told me of his preference for managing ponds. He flooded ponds up during the winter and liked to let the pond slowly dry out in spring. The receding water would create rings of growth around the deepest portion of the pond. The outer ring would be upland habitat that benefited the pheasants ( grasses and broad-leaf plants). The portions to dry out first would grow plants that required less water and cooler temperatures for germination (for example – smart weed). The pond bottoms would dry out last and would grow the seasonal marsh plants that preferred moist soil and hot weather for germination ( examples – swamp timothy and water-grass). Mixed in would be various types of bull-rush, cattail, fat-hen and cocklebur.

Here is a picture of Mayberry a few years ago showing it's diversity.

Here is a picture of Mayberry a few years ago – showing it’s diversity.

The marsh would create a tremendous food source for returning waterfowl in the fall and also resident birds and mammals all year-long. This type of habitat and habitat management is now threatened by many problems. Two problems I see are large scale changes in water availability and mismanagement of land intended to be managed as marsh ( due to either a lack of skill or a lack of will).

Mayberry was converted from seasonal to permanent marsh. It is no longer managed for waterfowl.

Mayberry was converted from seasonal to permanent marsh. It is no longer managed for waterfowl.

Confusion about habitat management and misunderstanding how marsh benefits wildlife is a common problem.

We need more land dedicated to and managed for habitat diversity.

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?

Consumptive Use and Wildlife Conservation

I recieved an email this week, from Suzanne Davies, asking me to create a link to a blog about photography and getting kids involved in the outdoors.  The blog is entitled “100 Resources for Teaching Your Kids About Wildlife Conservation” at .

I responded that I’d check out her blog and I did so. Although the obvious intent of the blog was to promote photography and wildlife, I couldn’t help but notice that there was no mention of true conservation, at least in the traditional form. Conservation means to conserve, which implies use. In my opinion, consumptive use.

As a hunter, conservation organizations are Ducks Unlimited, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, The Mule Deer Foundation, Pheasants Forever etc. None of these groups are listed among Suzanne’s top 100. Seeing this I am very disappointed. The implication is that wildlife conservation is preservation, which is not the case.

Hunting is a major reason why wildlife habitat still exists in the United States. Hunting will continue to provide valuable habitat in the future, unless unknowing individuals create the illusion that hunting is anti wildlife and I believe that Suzanne’s list accomplishes just that.

Sorry Suzanne, I don’t know if you ment it that way, but your list needs revision, or you will be doing kids and wildlife a disservice.

Do Coyotes Eat Ants?

Pair of coyote tracks

The pair of coyote tracks in the above photo was pointed out to me by my brother, Rob, during one of our reptile surveys. He had already figured out what was going on, before telling me about them. The tracks were the front feet of a coyote. They were deeply groved into the soft dirt, an indication that the dog had stood in one place, moving his head and forcing the tracks into the ground deeper than usual. The size of the tracks was just right for a coyote, but I wouldn’t rule out a gray fox.

Two feet in front of the tracks was a bush that completely blocked the view in his front vision. He wouldn’t have been looking ahead of him as he could only see about one foot. Yet he had stood in this position for more than a brief moment.  About a foot in front of the track, ants were traveling in and out of an ant hole. The coyote had stopped at this spot to feast on a few ants before moving on.

Tracks and ant hole outlined

With a little assistance, the picture is made more clear.

Here are the ants.

ants circled

I wonder how many ants a coyote can eat.