Two Murders on Deer Creek – 1944

This is a story of murder and assumptions. The first murder happened in October of 1944, when a young WWII veteran was shot in woods near the north fork of Deer Creek. The finger of guilt pointed squarely at the local scapegoat, an oddball mountain man. 

Henry Lewis

Murders on Deer Creek

Two months after his homecoming from World War II, 24-year-old Henry Lewis organized a hunting party with his family and friends. Henry was a Purple Heart and Bronze Star decorated veteran.

Unbeknownst to Henry, this day would be his last. Did he stumble upon the hiding place of an eccentric neighbor and school buddy? Or did Henry see something or someone who was involved in an illegal cattle selling operation running in the area?

William ‘Bill’ Ebaugh was someone Henry had known for years. He was the fugitive hiding from the law that day.

How ‘Wild Bill’ Earned His Name

  • At age 21, he was committed to Napa State Hospital (1928) after an affair with a young woman from a prominent family. He was released, ‘cured,’ and agreed to voluntary sterilization.
  • Long hair

    young William Ebaugh

  • Long beard
  • Frequently walked around barefoot
  • Sung Irish ditties from treetops ‘broadcasting’ through an old Victrola horn
  • Many women were attracted to him
  • Running naked through the woods
  • Sneaking up on young lovers and bursting into song
  • Good aim when shooting
  • Participated in an armed stand-off with sheriff outside Ebaugh’s home (1935) – peacefully resolved
  • Sheriff searches Ebaugh’s room and confiscates a double-barrel shotgun, an automatic shotgun, a revolver and an automatic pistol (1935)
  • Arrested for disturbing the peace (1937) – Willow Valley Road
  • In public, Bill boasts that he won’t be taken alive
  • Charged with the rape of neighbor (1939) – acquitted
  • Charged with buying a miner’s wife for $20 and holding her captive (1937) – charges dismissed
  • Charged with stealing cows (1943) owned by Charles Morandi
  • Hiding from Sheriff
  • Broke into cabins stealing food and trinkets

Local Culture of the Time

Young men were away at war. Newspapers touted articles about spies and communism. Food and necessities were rationed. To buy beef, a special coupon was needed.

To better understand the local culture during World War II, watch the video below.


 In Nevada County, it was said that women and children were afraid of the ‘wacko’ living in the hills.

Local Sheriffs were on edge, having multiple run-ins with Bill Ebaugh.

Additional Information:

There may have been an illegal beef selling operation (not requiring government issued red-dot coupons) in the Willow Valley area.

As a miner, Bill built a rock crusher. With it, he helped disguise gold pocketed by hard rock miners working for local mines. He kept their identities secret.

Tension Inciting Language about Ebaugh Published in the Newspaper

Hermit of the hills
Phantom of the hills
Bad Character
Desperate character
Man long feared
Eccentric resident
Terrorizing neighbors
Reign of terror
Menace to society
Alleged to be an escapee from a State Hospital
Threatened the Sherriff
Crafty and resourceful fugitive
People in his home section will breathe easier once he’s behind bars

Finding Lewis’s Body and the Hunt for his Killer

After hearing two shots and a multi-day search, Henry’s body was found by his Uncle Jack. It was face down in the Snow Mountain Ditch.

A Boyscout troop discovered Ebaugh’s mine tunnel living quarters about a mile away. Inside, Sheriff Tobiassen recognized items belonging to Ebaugh, including a Victrola horn and wet clothes. The Sheriff directed the search party to change course from looking for Henry Lewis to hunting for Willliam Ebaugh.

Uncle Jack commented that he didn’t think Ebaugh was dangerous. He and Henry had been friends for years and Bill probably didn’t know Henry had been killed.

Blood spots, a rifle, and a bullet with bone and hair were discovered about 15 feet from Ebaugh’s tunnel. It was determined that this is where Henry had been shot in the back.


A fear-drenched community with mob mentality contributed to flawed decision making for public protection and private gain. 

Armed volunteers combed the hills for weeks looking for Bill Ebaugh. If Bill wasn’t the shooter, then the killer had ample time to disappear.

For nine days, the Grass Valley-Nevada City Morning Union published a Dead or Alive Notice on page two. The Reward offered by a citizens committee headed by Grove Celio.

Bill Ebaugh’s executioner was 24-year-old Irvin Woodrow Davis, a P.G. & E. Carpenter. He wasn’t part of the posse group photographed above but lived near the old cabin where Ebaugh had been hiding since his tunnel was discovered.

Early one morning, Irvin moved into a sniper position. 

Bill was unarmed and standing on the front porch; he’d just finished his morning wash-up. Bill must have seen or heard the man holding him in his gun sight because he was diving for cover when Irvin’s shot hit its mark, killing Ebaugh on the spot.

A coroners jury decided that Irvin’s actions were “justified and excusable.” 

While citizens appalled by the mishandling of the case were concerned about retribution, they sent an inquest petition to the Attorney General.

The Attorney General sent an investigator to review the case.  No additional action was taken.

Bill had no family to hold authorities accountable;  no one paid a price for painting a bulls-eye on Bill’s back and opening a free-for-all.

William Ebaugh didn’t have a chance to answer the charges or defend himself in front of a jury of his peers.

Multiple Losses 

  • The Lewis family lost a beloved son.
  • A misunderstood mountain man was gunned down by a carpenter.
  • The reward money was unlikely adequate compensation for a life lived with that memory (Irvin Davis), and
  • the community would harbor lingering doubt about the men working to protect and serve in Nevada County.

Liberties with the law were taken and those entrusted to guard it looked the other way.


Editor’s Note: When viewing history through your own place and time, it’s impossible to fully comprehend. Research revealed that it was common to have citizen groups assisting the Sheriff’s department, similar to Volunteer Fire Fighters.

This editor would like to believe if William Ebaugh lived today, he may have had social support services and he might not have become an instantaneous target.


Want more? Check out Anthony House Aflame Under Lake Wildwood.


 Dead or Alive When a Local War Hero Died Mysteriously Vigilante Justice was Swift – The Union

Draft Card Found article (Bill Ebaugh)

Gravesite – Henry Lewis

Gravesite – Willian Ebaugh

The Wild Bill Ebaugh Story by Bob Paine

Stories in the Media:

Capital Public Radio – Controversial Side of Local History Explored in Foothill TheatreListen to the radio show

Dakota Sid & – Amazon song – The Ballad of Wild Bill Ebaugh      

Foothill Theater Company production ‘Long Shadow’ (2005) – Show Script           

The Saga of Wild Bill Ebaugh – Dale Pendell

True Detective Magazine – March 1945 & December 1945


Cleaning out Ebaugh’s ‘den’, highlighting his Victrola horn.

Clothing in 1944

By studying the clothing styles popular in the 1940’s, one can see why journalist Bob Paine called Bill Ebaugh Nevada County’s ‘first hippie.’ 

Kent State Museum – WWII  – Civilian Clothing

 Clothing and Uniforms from WW II

Compilation image (with a model) showing how Bill Ebaugh may have dressed.

click on image to see more Life on the Creek art




Tarplant | Spikeweed – Prolific Oil Producer & Drought-Tolerant to the Extreme

Within the California Floristic Province, there about 90 species of native tarweeds. Over millions of years, they developed to succeed in a variety of microclimates from sea level to mountain elevations. Tarweeds are part of California’s first native plants and are members of the sunflower family.

“Large swaths of undeveloped California are populated with all variety of tarweeds, because tarweeds have that logic in their DNA.” – Eric Simmons, Bay Nature Magazine

Tarweed, Hemizonia fitchii, is also known as tarplant, spikeweed, or Fitch’s Spikeweed.

They are part healthy grassland ecosystems. They’re also commonly found in areas where the soil has been disturbed.

Spikeweeds are annuals and drought-tolerant in the extreme. Seeds don’t require water to germinate!

Stalks and leaves are covered with fine hair and oil glands. A strong aroma is produced by the oil. Some folks claim it smells like turpentine, this blogger thinks it smells like eucalyptus. Tarplant oil may contain mosquito repellant properties.

Like other plants that make sticky oils, tarweeds attract certain bugs. Once they become stuck, they become carrion for predator insects that have evolved along with the tarplant, able to move about unhampered. Some of the carrion is eaten by predators while others may become nutrient sources for the plant.

Seeds are edible, like sunflower seeds. They can be eaten raw, toasted, or ground into flour. Native Americans used them to make mush. Birds and other animals also enjoy this food source.

At knee height, tarplants are eaten by grazing animals when they’re freshly sprouted, but later in the season when spikes are fully developed at the end of stem leaves, most grazers avoid them.

Flowers bloom between July – September.

click image to see more Life on the Creek art

If you liked this post, you may also enjoy learning about another oily California native plant – Yerba Santa – Fire Follower & Phlegm Fighter


Calflora – Hemizonia fitchii

Discover Life – Hemizonia – more photos

Native American Food Plants: An Ethnobotanical Dictionary by Daniel E. Moerman (Book)

Chico State – Friends of the Herbarium Newsletter (PDF pg. 3)

Native Foods Nursery (Oregon)

Research Gate – Biologically active constituents of North American Plants

Restoration Landscaping – Growing tarweed from seed

UC Berkeley – Jepson Herbaria – Bruce Baldwin

UC Davis – Weed Report (PDF)

Other Interesting Tarplant News:

Bay Nature – Weird, Ugly, Rare – Livermore Tarplant
A tarplant variety on the edge of extinction and mass botanical insensitivity.

California Department of Fish and Wildlife – Livermore tarplant

Rabbits & Hares – Chickens of the Predator World

Lagomorphs include hares, rabbits, and pikas. For this post, we’re concentrating on the first two, commonly seen in Nevada County. Hares and rabbits are fast-food for predators; coyote, fox, badgers, bobcat, hawks, owls, snakes, mountain lion, and squirrels. Dogs, cats, and humans hunt them too.

If you’re a top item on the predator menu, you develop and learn survival skills.

Similarities between Rabbits & Hares

Lagomorphs generally remain hidden for most daylight hours. Large ears with acute hearing and big eyes with 360° peripheral vision reduce being caught off guard.

Eyes and ears made for being ever watchful.

Both consume about a pound of grass per day and most of their water intake comes from dew.

Rabbits and hairs get most of their water from morning dew.

Hares and rabbits are thermoregulators. They conserve moisture by staying in the shade, stretching out, panting, and slowing metabolism. Large ear surfaces help cool the blood so it can lower body temperature. When it’s windy, they stay in hiding because the wind interferes with hearing.

Incisors grow throughout life.

Rabbits and Hares have four incisors, unlike rodents who have only two. Incisors grow continuously throughout life and must be kept in check by constant chewing.

Cellulose (in grass) is difficult to digest, so they do it twice by eating their own poop. A certain amount of ground food is diverted to a blind-ended pouch, the caecum. Once in the caecum, it’s mixed with micro-organisms, yeast, and bacteria that break the cellulose down into sugar.  This is known as hindgut fermentation. About four to eight hours after a meal (after dry pellets are excreted) a second set of soft, moist droppings are produced, cecotropes. These are eaten immediately to absorb the nutrients.

Defense Behavior

Thumping – warning

Ear flapping during the chase to distract predators.

Running, zig zagging and hiding.

Differences between Rabbits & Hares

Rabbits – 1.5 – 2.5 lb. (full grown)
Hares – 4.5 – 14 lbs (full grown)

Physical Differences
Rabbits – short legs and ears
Hares – long legs and ears

Rabbits – about 3 years
Hares – 6-7 years

Nests, Gestation & Young
Rabbits – uses burrows dug by other animals for nesting, lines it with grass and fur
22-28 day gestation |5 litters per year | 1 – 7 kittens

Hares – creates a nest from shallow depressions under bushes
41 -47 day gestation |3 -4 litters per year | 3 – 4 young (leverets)

Birth & Nursing
Rabbits are born hairless & closed eyes (altricial). Young are nursed for about a month.
Hares are born with full hair & open eyes (precocial). Young are nursed for only 2-3 days.

Rabbits are social. They huddle for security, perform group grooming to build relationships and prefer to remain in brambles and bushes.
Hares are solitary (except when mating) and prefers open spaces.

Eating Times
Rabbits – early morning & evening
Hares – nocturnal

Cottontail Rabbit

Mountain Cottontail, left. Desert Cottontail, right.

Range – California, and Oregon


Jackrabbits [Hares]

Pioneers coming out west called them ‘jackass-rabbits’ which was shortened to jackrabbit.  Though the name has ‘rabbit’ in it, these animals are hares.

Black-tailed Jackrabbit, left. Snowshoe Hare, center. White-tailed Jackrabbit, right.

When courting, Jackrabbits chase each other, playing hard to get. Boxing matches (teasing) are a sign of affection.


click image to see more Life on the Creek, Jackrabbit, and Cottontail art


If you liked this post, you may also like North American Beaver – Water Banker.


Taxonomy of Rabbits and Hares 0:28 – 2:15 – Ear Flashing Behavior in Black-tailed Jackrabbits

Canadian Journal of Zoology

California Department of Fish and Wildlife – Rabbits and Hares

Kahn Academy – Predatory-prey cycles

McGill Office for Science and Society – Rabbits Eat Their Own Poop

Wikipedia – Desert cottontail

Wikipedia – Lagomorpha – Hares & rabbits 

Wikipedia – Mountain Cottontail

Einstein Corvidae – Crows & Ravens



Smart birds—crows, and ravens are part of the Corvid family. This group of perching birds includes blue jays, magpies, and nutcrackers.

In Old Norse and English cultures, a dark-haired person who steals is referred to as a ‘raven.’ Native Americans associated the raven with prophecy and an omen of loss.

Smart Bird Intelligence

Corvid Commonalities

As adaptable as the raccoon and coyote, corvids live in a variety of environments – wherever there’s a ready food source – and take full advantage of abundant opportunities that humans offer.

  • Omnivores – corvids will eat just about anything; insects, snails, worms, frogs, snakes, garbage, carrion, seeds, grain, berries and other fruit, fish, small turtles, crayfish, mice, and baby birds from other species.
  • They quickly learn how to access food sources whether it’s by opening trash cans or dropping nuts from distance.

  • Corvids are social animals, mating for life and living in extended family groups.
  • Males and females build nests together. Between 3 – 9 eggs are laid and chicks hatch after about two weeks. Older siblings help care for the young.
  • Family units provide education, protection, comfort, socialization, and companionship.

Photo Credit:

  • Thought to be one of the most intelligent birds, experts say their reasoning abilities are about the same as a seven-year-old child.
  • Crows remember events for ten years plus, teaching new generations what they learned.

  • Crows and ravens work in groups to problem solve.
  • Corvids have developed, sophisticated language skills – differing group and family dialects.
  • Mobbing is when they work together to drive off predators.
  • Corvids enjoy playing and require lots of mental stimulation.
  • They notice when a member of their group has died, holding ‘funerals.’


What are the differences between crows and ravens?



.7 – 1.5 lbs
Crows make caw-caw calls.
Fan-shaped tails.
Spend winter nights in communal roots, sometimes numbering in the thousands.
Vocalize while flying.



Photo Credit: Diliff

1.5 – 4.5 lbs
Ravens make growl-like calls.
Diamond-shaped tail.
Hides food in stashes and uses distraction to draw attention away from them.
Large throat hackle feathers.
Mostly hunts for food in pairs.
Soars without making calls.


If you liked this post, you may also like Woodpeckers – Drumming Hoarders.

click on image to see more Life on the Creek art

click on image to see more Life on the Creek art


Audubon – American Crow

Audubon – Common Raven

Audobon – How to Tell the Difference between Crows

Audobon – How to Tell a Raven from a Crow

Cornell Lab of Ornithology – American Crow Life History

Cornell Lab of Ornithology – Common Raven

Cornell Cooperative Extension  – Crows – Wildlife Damage Management Fact Sheet (PDF)

John Marzluff – Professor of Environmental & Forest Sciences, College of the Environment, University of Washington

Humans & Corvids:

Trash Collecting Crows

Chuck and I – friendship

Canuck and I  – Facebook page (Seattle)

Ladybugs Wind Sail into the Hills

Ladybugs are members of the Coccinellidae family. The Latin translation means ‘scarlet.’

In the US, they’re called Ladybugs. In Europe, they’re Ladybirds. Legend (or internet rumor) says in the middle ages in Europe, farmers prayed to Mother Mary to save blighted crops. Prayers must have been made in spring because Ladybugs came along to save the day.  In this case, ‘Lady’ or ‘Lady’s birds’ refers to Mary Mother of Jesus. Their German name – Marienkafer, translates to Mary Beetles.

In North America, there are 450 species of Ladybugs with California hosting at least 175.

The Convergent Ladybug is native to the North and South American continents. It is easy to identify by convergent (or intersecting) white lines on the pronotum, behind the head.


Solitary for most of the year, Ladybugs like to be near water and ponds. They congregate around food sources which can occupy forests, grasslands, suburban gardens, and agricultural fields.


All Ladybug species prey on soft-bodied plant suckers such as;

  • aphids
  • mealybugs
  • whitefly
  • scale insects
  • plant mites

They’ll also eat;

  • stinkbug eggs and larvae
  • asparagus beetle eggs and larvae
  • potato psyllid eggs and larvae
  • their own eggs and larvae

In the fall, when Ladybugs are preparing to go into diapause, adults will eat pollen to gain extra fat.

Adult ladybugs can eat nearly 50 aphids per day and 5,000 over a lifetime.

Convergent Ladybugs have a special ability to modify their development in times of food scarcity.

Hunting Behavior

Ladybugs use a sense of smell (with antennae) to detect pheromones secreted by aphids and other prey. They also have good eyesight.

Macro shot of ladybug eye.

They’ve been clocked at flying up to 37 miles per hour!


Bleeding Joints, a Defense Mechanism

Like other animals with flashy coloration, this communicates poison. The Ladybug is no exception. When frightened they produce an (alkaloid) chemical that causes a yellow stain. It’s secreted from their joints and has a bitter taste and foul smell. (Larval forms secrete it from the abdominal area.)

Another type of defense is playing dead. Pulling vulnerable legs under its hard shell, a Ladybug can withstand small scale attacks.

Life Cycle and Life Span

Females generally lay between twenty to thirty eggs at one time.

They have two reproductive cycles a year, in spring and fall.

Females will lay eggs in aphid beds so larva have a ready food supply.

All life stages can be found together at the same time.

Adults live for one year. However, temperature and food sources may alter this. In cooler temperatures, adults have been observed living for up to three years.


Ladybug predators include birds and other beetles. If a Ladybug gets too close to an ant colony, they will attack. One-on-one ant and Ladybug relationships are dismissive but polite.

Insect Hibernation – Diapause

When temperatures drop, Ladybugs fly up! High above the ground, wind blows them into the hills (see Ladybug Wash-Ups in Resources below).

Aggregate site selection may be a combination of long-chain hydrocarbons left by previous winter gatherings as well as pheromone sensing. They also seem to enjoy places that receive warm sun rays.

Once temperatures drop below 55º, ladybugs stop flying. Aggregation is for warmth and mating.

Estimates of 37 million beetles have been observed in some aggregate locations.

Biological Pest Management – Invited Invasive Species 

In the late 1800s farmers began experimenting with natural predators to control insect infestations. In the 1920s Southern California citrus growers imported  Australian Ladybugs to combat mealybugs.

Between the 1920s and 1980s American farmers released imported Asian ladybugs in pecan, pine and soybean crops. (The native home-range for the Asian Harlequin is eastern Asia – Siberia and Russia through the Himalayas, China, and Japan. ) Now, Asian Ladybugs – Harmonia axydris, though beneficial, are considered one of the worlds most invasive beetles.

The Harlequin beetles are stronger than the native species. They compete for the same food sources. A success factor may be a single-celled parasite that lives inside them. It exists in all life stages from egg and larva to adult. It’s harmless to the Harlequin but deadly for other species especially if they eat their eggs and larvae.

Color and marking varieties of Asian Harlequin Ladybugs


Problematic Diapause

Asian Harlequin beetles have a problematic habit of aggregating on or in homes. They prefer light-colored buildings and seem to like window screens.

When frightened or disturbed, Asian Harlequin’s may bite, as well as release their chemical defense.

If trapped in food, grapes, or wine they contaminate it with bitter ‘ladybug taint.’

To remove Asian Ladybugs, it’s best to wait until it’s cold and use a vacuum cleaner to suck them into a nylon stocking.



If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy, Pill Bug – Heavy Metal Detector of the Underworld.

click on image to see more Life on the Creek art

click on image to see more Life on the Creek art



American Journal of Enology and Viticulture – Influence of Harmonia ayridis on the Sensory Properties of White and Red Wine

Animal Diversity – Hippodamia convergens

Ask an Entomologist – Ladybug Declines in the US (comparing museum collection data)

Bay Nature Magazine – When Thousands of Ladybugs Gather in the Park

Cornell University – Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle  – Insect Diagnostic & Pest Management (PDF)

Hearts Pest Management – Asian Lady Beetles vs. Native Ladybugs

Journal of Insect Science – The multicolored Asian lady beetle, Harmonia axyridis by R.L. Koch –

Ladybug Planet – Do Ladybugs Eat Ants? When Ants and Ladybugs Clash!

National Geographic – Learn how the ladybug’s big appetite is a boon to many farmers. Find out the real purpose of their familiar polka-dot pattern.

Nature – Invasive ladybird has a biological weapon by Ed Young

Oxford Academic – Environmental Entomology – Olfactory Response of the Lady beetle Hippodamia convergens

Writing for Nature – The Beneficial Lady Beetles: Good Luck Bugs or God’s Little Cows 

Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences – Department of Entomology – Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle 

Research Gate – University of Florida – ConvergentLady Beetle Hippodamia convergens (PDF) 

Science Direct – Elytron

Science Direct – Beneficial Insects (Ladybug introduction to California) – History of Insect Pathology

ThoughtCo – 10 Facts about ladybugs

University of California at Berkeley – History of Biological Control (PDF)

University of Minnesota – Multiclored Asian Lady Beetle

Wikipedia – biological pest control 

Wikipedia – Coccinellidae

Wikipedia – Harmonia axyridis


University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources – Natural Enemies Handbook


Ladybug Harvesting

Ladybug Wash-Ups

*Biologists speculate that wash-ups are caused by winds blowing in the wrong directions when Ladybugs are preparing to diapause. (Insect hibernate)

Flying Over & Filming the Creek – Behind-the-Scenes

After weeks of route planning and equipment experimentation, Roger Harris was ready to fly over Deer Creek.

GoPro’s, attached to the plane, filmed the journey.

Roger Harris attaching a GoPro to the Cessna 180.

In the video below, Roger explains many factors that went into trip planning.

Additional Observations:

Houses are built close to creek banks. – Roger Harris, Pilot

The color difference between Scotts Flat Lake and Lake Wildwood. – Bonnie McKeegan, Ground Film Crew

Viewing the Deer Creek Watershed inside the greater Yuba Watershed makes one appreciate the sculpting power of water on the land. – Lisa Redfern, Producer

In an upcoming FDC behind-the-scenes look post, Howard Pincus, Pilot of the Cessna 180, will be featured.

If you liked this post, you might also like, Deer Creek Water Origins, Resouce Management & Recreation

World Water Day – 22 March – Science & Beauty

In honor of world World Water Day, FDC is going global. The water flowing through Deer Creek isn’t just ‘in your back yard,’ it’s part of a shape-shifting planetary system.

Today, we’re celebrating science and the ability to gather mass data. We’re also admiring the stunning beauty of water, an element all life needs to grow.


11:21 – Central California Aquafir

Jet Propulsion Laboratory – GRACE Mission: 15 Years of Water on Earth

United Nations – World Water Day 22 March

Woodpeckers – Drumming Hoarders

The Picidae bird family is adapted to tree life. It lives in oak and pine woodland forests. Toe arrangement is ideal for bark gripping, beaks are styled for pecking, long, sticky tongues are good for catching wood-boring insects, and skull size and orientation prevent brain impact injuries. Picidae species include; woodpeckers, the northern flicker, and sapsuckers.

This article focuses on family commonalities, then concentrates on acorn woodpecker behavior patterns.

Woodpeckers are an indicator species for healthy oak woodlands.

Woodpeckers, flickers, and sapsuckers inhabit areas with multiple oak tree varieties because each type produces a different amount of nuts per year. Acorns dropped by woodpeckers aid in tree proliferation.

Picidae feathers are mostly black and white with red highlights. Males and females can be identified by head plumage. (In the Resource section below, you’ll find bird call and feather pattern identification links.)

Spring, Summer, and Fall Diet:

  • ants
  • bees
  • berries
  • fruit
  • lizards
  • oak flowers
  • sap
  • seeds
  • wasps
  • wood-boring insects (*Black-backed woodpecker specializes in eating wood-boring beetles that emerge after a forest has burned.)

Winter Diet:

  • hoarded acorns, nuts, and insects

Predators & Food Thieves:

  • Blue Jays
  • Hawks
  • Mule Deer
  • Squirrel


Drumming – proclaims territory and attracts a mate during mating season.

House Damage:

Usually occurs during March through June mating season.

Pest Management:

  • Physical – netting, sheet metal, filling holes
  • Scare Away – bird-of-prey statuettes, twirlers, and brightly colored plastic strips
  • Building prevention – light colored siding made of aluminum or vinyl
  • Other control methods – bird feeding stations, nest box placement, offering poles and other granary sites.

Migratory Bird Treaty Protection:

Woodpeckers are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. ”All woodpeckers are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). This law says: “No person may take (kill), harass, possess, import, export, transport, sell, purchase, barter, or offer for sale, any migratory bird, or the parts, nests, or eggs of such bird except as may be permitted under the terms of a valid permit…” Control methods that do not harm the bird or an active nest are allowed for most species.”  -U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. (See link below).

Acorn Woodpecker – Melanerpes formicivorus


The industrious acorn woodpecker may be best known for constructing granaries. A granary, also known as a ‘mother’ or ‘pantry’ tree, is an older tree with thick bark. Borehole depth doesn’t spill sap that would spoil the nut.

A snag or telephone/power pole can also serve as a pantry.

Granaries are built by multiple generations of bird families. They require constant maintenance. As nuts dry, they shrink, causing them to loosen.  A loose nut can be stolen, so acorn woodpeckers move them to smaller holes and continually check for tightness.

Gathering more nuts than is needed is known as hoarding. Hoarding is used to remain in place year-round.

A single bird can gather up to 100 nuts per day in a harvesting territory that ranges between 12-15 square miles.


Family Social Structure

Acorn woodpeckers are highly social. Family units can be as large as fifteen. Usually there are several mating pairs with the females sharing a sister relationship. Grown children or siblings remain in the group to care for young and maintain granaries.

Females use a joint nest, laying all their eggs in the same hole. (As egg laying begins, a female entering a nest with eggs already in it will destroy some before laying her own.)

Cooperative behavior (adult birds opting not to reproduce) is an usual phenomenon that has been the subject of a long-range study by UC Berkeley and Cornell University scientists.

If you liked this story, you might also like California Quail – Happy Under Cover.


Have you observed Picidae in Nevada County not mentioned in the article? If so, please leave a comment in the comment section below.

click image to see more Life on the Creek art

click image to see more Life on the Creek art


Northern Flicker

Bird Calls & Plumage Identification

Acorn Woodpecker
Black-backed Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker
Lewis’s Woodpecker
Northern Flicker
Pileated Woodpecker
Red-breasted Sapsucker
White-headed Woodpecker
Williamson’s Sapsucker

All About Birds Articles

Acorn Woodpeckers Help Each Other in Times of Plenty

Can Woodpecker Deterrents Safeguard My House? 

Shared Dynasties Among Acorn Woodpeckers

Why Global Climate Change May Be Putting More Birds In The Same Basket 

Cornell Cooperative Extension – Woodpeckers – Wildlife Damage Management Fact Sheet (PDF)

Cornell Lab of Ornithology – Walt Koenig’s Lab

Book – Population Ecology of the Cooperatively Breeding Acorn Woodpecker by Walter D. Koenig

Stanford Magazine – Full Life with Woodpeckers

University of California Agriculture & Natural Resources – Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program – Woodpeckers

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service – Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service – Woodpeckers – Inflicting Damage on Property (PDF)

Special Feature:

Massachusetts Institute of Technology – How Woodpeckers Avoid Brain Injury

Toyon – Rose Apples

Toyon, in the rose family, carries a name given to it by Native Americans and produces fruit related to apples. Because it ripens and turns bright red around the holidays, its common names are Christmas berry and California Holly.

Photo Credit: redit Miguel Vieira

Toyon’s scientific name, Heteromeles arbutifolia, means “different apple.”

There’s debate surrounding the plant’s association with the naming of Hollywood. [See link in resources.]

A California native, Toyon is an evergreen shrub. It grows from sea level to scrub oak zones up to 4,000 ft. elevation; it’s drought tolerant and accepts a variety of soil types— including clay.


Specially adapted to flourish after fire, Toyon root crowns store carbohydrates allowing the plant to quickly send up new sprouts.

Established shrubs, reaching 8 to 10 feet in height, have lower water requirements than young plants.


Photo Credit: John Rusk

Small white flower bunches appear in June and July.


Photo Credit: Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz

While fruit is developing, berries contain a cyanogenic glucoside, a toxic substance, that protects them from being eaten.

Photo Credit: John Rusk

As the fruit ripens, turning red, the cyanogenic glucoside moves from the pulp into the seeds.

Photo Credit: Becky Matsubara


Birds and some mammals, such as coyote and bear, eat Toyon berries in the fall.

For humans, the taste of fresh berries is bitter. It’s a good idea to spit out the seeds.

Heating berries before eating removes some of the bitterness.


  • Bark and leaf tea for stomach problems and wound infections – Kumeyaay people and other Native Tribes
  • Leaf infusions – menstruation regulation – Costanoan people
  • Sun parching – Luiseno people (southern California)
  • Thirst quencher – Mahuna people
  • Wine, custard, jelly, and porridge – Spanish and American settlers



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click on image to see more Life on the Creek art


*This article is dedicated to Rose Sponder, who identified the plant on Instagram.


Harvesting Berries

Fermented Toyon Beverage

Bear Yuba Land Trust – Toyon (recipes)

Biological Sciences – Santa Barbara City College

Briar Patch Coop – Wild Winter Spices and Add Local Flair to Holiday Cooking

California Native Plant Society Blog – Holiday Native Plant Recipes 12/11/17 

California Native Plant Society – Redbud Chapter – Natives for Landscaping

Calscape – Toyon

EthnoHerbalist – Native Americans in southern California enjoyed berries from the toyon plant

KCET – Deck The Hills with Boughs of (California) Holly

Living Wild (recipes) – Toyon

Natural History Museum Los Angeles County – California Holly: How Hollywood Didn’t Get its Name

SFGate – How to Care for A Toyon Tree



Deer Creek Water Origins


Before we ever see water in Deer Creek, most of it has rained, snowed, and been stored in NID’s Mountain Division and PG&E Lakes. It’s moved from lake to lake, going through multiple powerhouses, generating electricity. It enters Scotts Flat Lake where swimmers, motor boaters, and fisherman enjoy it. Flowing into Lower Scotts Flat Reservoir, human or wind-powered boaters recreate on it.

Another portion of water entering Deer Creek comes from the watershed. A watershed is an area of land that channels water to a low point, such as a stream, river, lake, or ocean.

History of Water Management in Nevada County: 1850 Water Business is Born

Placer miners needed water for rockers; hydraulic miners needed it to move mountains.

The first miner’s ditch, to which PG&E traces its tap root, was built in 1850 by The Rock Creek Water Company.  Historians locate this ditch is near Coyote Hill. Constructed by Charles Marsh, William Crawford, John & Thomas Dunn, and C. Carol at a cost of $10K, the ditch was nine miles long.

After only two weeks of operation, The Rock Creek Water Company investment paid off.

Successful, and profitable, water transportation soon spread to neighboring counties— Placer, Eldorado, Amador, Calaveras, Stanislaus, and Tuolumne County.

Before water management, Deer Creek was seasonal.

An 1854 drought caused local economic hardship. Mines stopped working, miners couldn’t pay debts, and real estate values crashed.

Wooden water flume. Photo Credit: Les Nicholson

After assessing the lakes in the Yuba Watershed, water companies understood that gravity and elevation would work in their favor. They built systems to move water to the mines using flumes, tunnels, high-pressure pipes, siphons, and trestle bridges.

The water transportation system was an engineering marvel of its time.

Early engineers and savvy businessmen realized the potential of a year-round water supply for ranching, mills, and establishing towns.

When the Sawyer Decision washed-up hydraulic mining in the mid 1880s, the South Yuba Water Company, and its subsidiary, the Central California Electric Company, was poised to capitalize on a new industry—hydroelectrisity.


Photo Credit: LocoSteve

Following Deer Creek’s Water Path

Deer Creek water begins in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, north of I-80, fifty-five miles northwest of Lake Tahoe.

French Lake–elevation 6,676 ft.
Faucherie Lake–elevation 6,135 ft.
Sawmill Lake–elevation 5,869 ft.
Bowman Lake–elevation 5,600 ft.
Fuller Lake–elevation 5,344 ft.
Canyon Creek Drainage
Bowman Spaulding Canal
Spaulding Hydro Power Plant
Spaulding Lake–elevation 5,014 ft.
Hwy 20 & Bear Valley–South Yuba Canal
Big Tunnel
Deer Creek Forebay–elevation 4,477 ft.
Deer Creek Hydro Power Plant
North and South Fork Deer Creek Confluence
Deer Creek
Scotts Flat Lake–elevation 3,069 ft.
Lower Scotts Flat Reservoir–elevation 2,094 ft.


“There’s very little natural water in Deer Creek,” says Les Nicholson, retired Nevada Irrigation District Hydroelectric Manager.

Burlington Ridge, the apex of the North and South Fork of Deer Creek isn’t high enough to maintain a snowpack (4,160 ft elevation).

“Most Deer Creek water is imported,” Nicholson says. “Imported water means it comes from another drainage.”

In Deer Creek’s case, that drainage is the Yuba Watershed.

Nicholson generously shared his time to explain the complicated route water takes before we see it in our ditches, creeks, and rivers.

*After leaving Lower Scotts Flat Reservoir, the video tour back-tracks to Burlington Ridge, the physical headwaters of the North and South Forks of Deer Creek.


Run-off and gravity always show the direction water is flowing.


Bear Yuba Land Trust – Trails Portal

Burlington Ridge | North Fork Deer Creek – Skillman Horse Camping video

Gold Country Trails Council – Horse Camps & Trail Maps

Skillman Horse Campground reservations 

USDA Forest Service – Skillman Campground & OHV information 

 Burlington Ridge | South Fork Deer Creek

Burlington Motorcycle Trail System

OHV Trails around Donner Summit 

Hiking Trails & Camping

All Trails – Cascade Canal

Outside In – Snow Mountain Ditch 

Nevada Irrigation District

Since 1921 the Nevada Irrigation District has supplied domestic, irrigation, and domestic water for Nevada and Placer Counties. It is an independent California special district governed by an elected board.

South Yuba Canal NID video

Nevada Irrigation District Campgrounds & Lakes


Book: PG&E of California,1851-1952, by Charles Coleman

History of PG&E

Wikipedia – Pacific Gas and Electric Company