First published November 12, 2017 | updated & edited September 28, 2018
Nevada City, CA September 21, 2017
During the first weekend in October, when 44 studios open their doors across Nevada County for the Fall Colors Open Studios Art Tour, artist Lisa Redfern will be showing a range of her artwork while spotlighting local watershed awareness with her Life on the Creekart series. Focusing on Deer Creek, the series features plants and animals that live there.
Redfern will be accepting donations for Sierra Streams Institute.
“Deer Creek is a sweet little waterway that runs through our backyard,” says Redfern. It became a passion and focus of the art series last winter when storms turned the creek into a powerful, churning force that threatened homes and businesses.
Redfern began blogging about it after photographing high water levels and comparing them to images she’d taken in 2011. Having recently read The Diary of a Forty-Niner by Chauncey L. Canfield, she was drawn to the Deer Creek references. As a writer as well as an artist, Redfern was inspired to use her blog, Following Deer Creek, to tell a bigger story about how the creek was formed, what plants and animals live around and within it, who are the native people that inhabited the area, how the gold rush and contemporary living habits have affected it.
“Research for every blog post consistently led to the Sierra Streams Institute website. I knew about their programs for school children, but until I started working on the Deer Creek project, I hadn’t fully appreciated everything that they do to study and care for our local watershed,” says Redfern.
“What became apparent very quickly,” she continues, “is that even though Deer Creek is smaller than the Yuba River and other rivers in the news, it shares the same problems as watersheds across the globe.”
“Once I had enough information on the blog to show where I was going with the idea, I contacted Sierra Streams Institute,” said Redfern.
“Art and science are natural allies, and this project is a terrific example of how art and science can come together to inspire us to appreciate and protect the natural world,” said Joanne Hild, biologist and SSI’s executive director. “We were delighted to discover that the science background and data on the Sierra Streams website was so helpful to Lisa in developing this innovative project, and are excited to expand the collaboration as the project develops.”
Postcards with information on ordering custom Life on the Creek items online will also be available at Redfern’s booth.
Events where I plan to show art provides motivation to create new pieces.
click image to see more Life on the Creek art
‘Deer Creek Bridges’ was created for the 2018 Nevada County Fair photography competition.
click on image to see more Life on the Creek art
The ‘Pine Street Historic Bridge’ piece was made for display and sale during the 2018 Fall Colors Open Studio Tour.
Video Productions doing Double Duty
This video was created for the blog post, Native Plants for Healing the Land After Fire. It was produced a few weeks before the Redbud Chapter of the California Native Plant Society conducted their annual Native Plant Sale. It helped tell the story about the importance of native plants in the Deer Creek Watershed and promote the event.
Responsible Art Production
Since most of my work is digital, time and hydroelectric generated power (as well as computing hardware) are the main production resources involved in making these creations.
Historical Research Inspires New Design Concepts
As I do background research for posts, I also generate an art piece. At the time of this writing, 62 designs are in the Life on the Creek collection.
While I started with graphic designs involving text, Latin names, and waves, several recent posts inspired a new layout direction.
$5 from every online sale helps support the Following Deer Creek website/film project. (Production cost of selected item + $5 LoC savings + tax & shipping = total price.)
Pony Express help wanted advertisement.
‘Pony Express Riders’ is a blending of a public domain map and a help wanted advertisement. This came about after discovering that Joaquin Miller, Poet of the Sierras (and a mining camp cook who developed scurvy for the post Scurvy in California’s Food Capital) was also a Pony Express rider.
*In the newer designs, you may notice an absence in the ” wording at the bottom of the Following Deer Creek logo. These pieces were created after I moved the website from a free site to a paid site in an attempt to reduce unwanted advertising clutter.
Made-to-Order Art Reduces Environmental Impacts
FineArtAmerica.com hosts my artwork online and produces made-to-order prints and household items.
At my Open Studios Tour booth (#30) October 13th and 14th, I will have a number of these pieces on display.
Though Timbuctoo and Smartsville are in Yuba County, we are including them in our creek history because water from the Yuba River and Deer Creek watersheds flowed through them causing one of the first land use limit laws to be written in the country.
Hydraulic Sluce Blocks for the Blue Gravel Claim, Smartsville, Nevada County
In the 1850s, Timbuctoo and Smartsville were centers of activity. The population was between 1,000 to 4,000, many of them were Irish immigrants. With the invention of hydraulic mining, it became one of the wealthiest regions in California. Estimates say that millions of dollars of gold dust were moved through local business and the Wells Fargo headquarters in Smartsville.
Gold attracted more than miners. Famous robbers such as ‘the Timbuctoo Terror,’ Jim Webster and Black Bart prowled the roads.
Profits from hydraulic mining encouraged boomtown growth, enriched mining corporations, and filled state coffers.
Between 1850 and 1878, the Excelsior Company sent approximately eight million cubic yards of debris and plant matter into the Yuba River at Smartsville.
The town of North Bloomfield is located near Malakoff Diggings.
Silt and debris washed out of the steep mountains and settled, changing the course of waterways and making channels shallow.
Riverboat traffic conducting trade between Sacramento and San Francisco was threatened.
Alarmed by the danger of downstream flooding, farmers and townspeople created costly levee systems.
A lawsuit against the North Bloomfield Gravel and Mining Company and others was filed. In 1884, the United States District Court in San Francisco ruled in favor of the farmers, putting an end to hydraulic mining.
Commentary from Yuba Trails and Tales blog by Hank Meals
“In the late 1870’s, the annual value of the dry-farmed wheat crop alone had reached $40,000,000, more than double that of the dwindling gold output. According to geographer David Larsen, “The trend was clear and irreversible the pivot of prosperity had shifted permanently toward the fields.”
“Obviously, by outlawing the dumping of tailings there was improved water quality and fish habitat and there would be less toxins inadvertently released but this particular environmental remediation was incidental to the intent of the law. Except in a very general way there were no environmental considerations addressed in the 24 volumes of testimony that were collected for Woodruff vs. North Bloomfield Mining and Gravel Company. This law was not created out of respect for Gaia, or any consideration whatsoever for stream ecology. Simply put, the issue was business interests in the Sacramento Valley (agriculture) were losing income to the wasteful procedures of a powerful upslope industry (hydraulic mining). Specifically agricultural lands were being covered with choking mud, towns were periodically flooded and steamboat operations were hampered by the decreased navigability of the rivers. I can’t see how the Sawyer Decision exhibits environmental activism but it does represent the beginning of regulations in the public interest. The Sawyer Decision effectively limits the ideology of laissez-faire, which legitimized the single-minded pursuit of wealth at all costs. This alone is a very big step in the direction of conservation and sustainability.” – Hydraulic Mining in the Yuba and Bear River Basins – Yuba Trails and Tales, Hank Meals
Pioneer Day – Yearly – Last Saturday in April
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If you live in Lake Wildwood, Rough & Ready, Smartsville, Penn Valley, on Beale Air Force Base or off McCourtney or Lime Kiln Roads, you’re on ground zero for the Nisenan People of Nevada County, the land of broken promises.
Long before houses and roads were built, this land was designated in a treaty between the local tribes and the United States Government.
Tribal Headmen gave careful consideration to where the boundary lines would be drawn. Their decisions were based on changing elevations and food sources. The traditional Native way of life depended on moving with the seasons according to when plants were ready for harvest or when game was available.
Village sites with significant populations along Deer Creek in Nevada City were released in good faith for the promised lands.
Approximation of treaty land made between the United States and Indian Headmen.
The Nisenan way of life changed drastically during the Gold Rush era.
In his book, The Conflict between the California Indian and White Civilization (1976), Sherburne F. Cook, states, “He was driven from his home by the thousands, starved, beaten, raped, and murdered with impunity. He was not only given no assistance in the struggle against foreign diseases, but was prevented from adopting even the most elementary measures to secure his food, clothing, and shelter.”
“The utter devastation caused by the white man was literally incredible, and not until the population figures are examined does the extent of the havoc become evident.”
Due process. The Native People trusted it. Yet the treaties they worked so diligently to form remained in a drawer, unratified by the other party. It was a colossal ‘gotcha’ that remains an unresolved wound on the face of the Nation.
Before the white man came, the Anthony House / Rose Corral area of Penn Valley was home to Nisenan Headman Pamelo. The village, Cocosa, was once a vibrant trading site.
“The very earliest settlement of which we can obtain a trace in the territory now known as Nevada County, was in the summer of 1848, at a place known as Rose’s Corral, between what is now the Anthony House and Bridgeport. A man named Rose here built an adobe house, in which he traded with the Indians of the neighborhood, and a corral.” – A. A. Sargent, Nevada, Grass Valley and Rough and Ready Citizens Directory 1856
Historic Property Listing – May 8 & 15, 1852 – NEVADA JOURNAL A Rare Chance.
FOR SALE – The Anthony House, together with a splendid Ranch of 160 acres of the best sort of land, situated in Spring Valley, Deer Creek. Four yoke of oxen, wagon, timber, carriage, a quantity of poultry, hogs, etc. A garden, spring house, water in abundance all season. The house is capable of accommodating fifty boarders and in full trade at present. The team earns twenty-five dollars daily, by contract. As the subscriber wishes to return to the Atlantic States, in consequence of the ill health of his wife, there will be a good chance for the purchase to realize a fortune in a short time. Apply on the premises or to J. WARREN, Star Bakery, Grass Valley
Penn Valley Chamber of Commerce – Long-Time Rancher Looks Back (Anthony House), Marianne McKnight 1999
“Before Lake Wildwood was built, the road meandered alongside the Creek, on what is now the other side of the lake. …There was a one-way bridge across Deer Creek.”
Found nowhere else in the world,
Aesculus Californica is a true California Native.
Photo Credit: Halava – Distribution map for California Buckeye
In late winter and early spring, the California Buckeye blooms with long strands of sweet smelling flowers. This early blooming season is a unique adaptation of the plant to its environment.
Another unique adaptation is when it goes dormant, during the arid summer months.
In Nevada County, (Calif.), Buckeye bushes are found at lower elevations, in grasslands, and growing near oak trees and Ponderosa Pines.
Some beekeepers transport their bees to the valley when the Buckeye blooms because the flower pollen and nectar contain alkaloids. Alkaloids are toxic to honey bees. It’s not only the flowers that contain toxins, but the fruit, leaves, and shoots too.
Nisenan Tribal Member Processing Buckeye Nuts
Native American Uses for Buckeye
Native Americans used the plant’s poison to their advantage. They ground nuts or hulls into a powder, throwing it into pools in the creek. Fish in those pools, stunned by the water additive, floated to the surface where they could be scooped out. (Toxins didn’t transfer to the person eating the fish.)
In seasons where acorns were not plentiful, Native Californians ate Buckeye nuts. Processed like acorns, bitterness and harmful substances are leached out before eating.
Once the minerals were exhausted, many hastily built mining towns were abandoned. Grass Valley and Nevada City persisted after the Gold Rush because San Francisco investors gambled on hard rock mining, water rights, and power generation.
Large cattle ranches had become established. Lumber mills continued to operate, supplying timber for the railroad (mid-1860’s through 1870’s). Railroads moved goods and people between coasts.
The age of the automobile, beginning in the early 1900’s, led to road development. By the end of WWII, in the 1940’s, travel and outdoor recreation had become a trend that middle-class America embraced.
1950: Freeway Proposal
Traffic problems between Nevada City and Grass Valley were documented by the California Division of Highways. Logging trucks jammed narrow roads. Some residents remember it taking between 30-45 minutes to drive between towns, a distance of 4.2 miles.
1951: Choosing Sides – Historical Preservation vs. Commerce Development
If there was a historic rivalry before, the coming of the freeway strengthened it. Folks were divided about where the road should go. Some merchants thought that downtown offramps would stimulate business while others lamented about the loss of historic buildings.
1960’s: Freeway Construction Begins
In the early 1960’s right-of-ways had been obtained, structures were removed and dirt work commenced. When the building contractor declared bankruptcy, it took the Highway Department nearly a year to secure a replacement.
Nevada City residents, disturbed by the altered landscape, called the Broad Street area a ‘Calamity Cut.’
Courtesy Searles Library
1965: Beryl Robinson came in as Nevada City Manager. Downtown was in trouble. He inherited ‘a mess.’
Nov. 15, 1966. Unfinished bridge on the Broad Street freeway crossing collapses. Eleven men injured, no fatalities. Photo courtesy Searles Library.
1968: The controversy and upset over the freeway project may have garnered public support for Nevada City Historical Ordinance 338, written by Bill Wetherall, Nevada City’s Attorney. (The ordinance governs preservation of Mother Lode architecture. It was the first one written in the State of California.)
“Nevada City’s future is in the preservation of its past,”
is a quote from former City Council member and mayor, Bob Paine, that hung in City Hall for many years during that time.
1969: Freeway is Complete
In December, twenty-two two years after the first traffic survey, the Golden Center Freeway opened for traffic.
City Freeway Expenditures
$7,000,000 spent by the City of Grass Valley
$5,000,000 spent by the City of Nevada City
1972: Nevada City received a grant to move utilities underground. Gaslights were installed. Neon signs removed.
Page 16 from Nevada City building Design Guidelines
Thanks to keen observers, county civic organizations, and city leaders the historic Mother Lode charm of Grass Valley and Nevada City remains. Since their beginnings, the towns along the Deer Creek watershed have been community gathering places, a hub of entertainment and a place to enjoy nature.
Nevada City’s Mission Statement – The City of Nevada City is dedicated to preserving and enhancing its small-town character and historical architecture while providing quality public services for our current and future residents, businesses, and visitors.
Grass Valley Mission Statement – The City of Grass Valley’s Public Works Department is committed to providing essential municipal infrastructure maintenance and improvement services that preserve and enhance the quality of life in our community for residents, businesses and visitors alike, while providing a safe and productive work environment for Department employees.
Moving forward, if lessons learned are heeded, the area will continue to thrive while remembering and honoring its past.
Nevada City – Housing element 2014-2019 [PDF]
The focus on preservation of a strong sense of community, coupled with geographic, topographic, and infrastructure constraints has limited growth to a slow, manageable pace.
The Oak Woodland Forest ecosystem is prevalent in California. It contains both evergreen (live oaks) and deciduous types of oak trees. Oaks are considered foundation species because of their role in the web of life.
Identifying California Oak Trees
Acorns – One of the Most Important Protein Sources for Native Americans
As long as they have enough cover, food, and space this animal can live successfully among humans. Each bird requires at least one acre of land to support it – this land needs to be continuous since they prefer running to flying.
When startled, quail will make a fast, short flight known as ‘flushing.’
Often quail can often be observed scratching the ground like chickens in their quest for food. While the flock is feeding, the male leader perches in a high spot, keeping watch.
The male makes different calls, informing covey about what is going on.
An adaptation that quail have for living in dry environments is that they can get adequate moisture from insects and succulents. In sustained periods of drought, however, they do need a water source.
Quail remain in their habitats year-round, staying within 10 miles of where they were hatched.
To keep themselves looking good, quail take dust baths. This abolition usually takes place in a sunny location with loose soil. Squatting in the dirt, they burrow in, one to two inches deep. Ruffling, flapping wings, and wiggling, they send a plume of particles into the air. The dust bath helps maintain oil on their feathers.
Coveys feed early in the morning. Their diet includes;
some berries (including poison oak berries)
acorns (if they’ve been cracked)
Quail have protozoans in their intestines that help digest plant materials. (Chicks get the protozoans by pecking adult feces).
Pit-pit call alerting the covey of possible danger.
Mating & Reproduction
California quail form breeding pairs. Ratios are such that there are more males than females, so males must compete for partners. The male’s topknot, consisting of six overlapping feathers, and his, ‘I’m available call,’ help differentiate from others.
When it is time to nest, the female lays between 12 to 16 brown speckled eggs – perfectly camouflaged for their environment.
Especially large broods (as many as 28 chicks!) occur when a female does egg-dumping, laying her eggs in an already occupied nest.
Females sit on eggs for about three weeks. Both males and females take turns caring for the chicks once they are hatched.
It takes approximately six weeks for chicks to reach maturity.
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Dragonflies have been around longer than dinosaurs. Except for size, they’ve changed little through time. They’ve gone from a wingspan about the size of an adult shin (between knee and ankle), to palm-sized (stretching between a fully extended thumb and pinky).
Evolutionary biologists believe that size reduction is connected with decreased oxygen levels in the atmosphere.
Dragonflies are fierce hunters, expert flyers, and the subject of artificial intelligence and robot developers.
Recent dragonfly brain studies can now explain the mechanisms behind the aerial acrobatics. Like the human brain, dragonflies have target-detecting neurons that track moving objects and predict where it will go.
Dragonfly Super Skills
Approximately 80% of the dragonfly brain devoted to the visual processing
Some species can see prey up to 30 feet away
Movement detection up to 60 feet away
Almost 360⁰ range of vision
Hunt capture rate in the high 90% range
Seizes prey with feet and eats while flying
Swarm Behavior Studies
Swarm behavior is still not fully understood, but puzzle pieces are falling into place as scientists amass data.
Biologists know there are static (food source) and migratory swarms. The two types may be related.
Generally, both swarm types follow these patterns;
They occur more in the midwestern states
Take place before a storm that follows a hot, dry spell
Happen between July – October with September being the peak
They follow coastlines and lakeshores
Dragonfly migrations appear to match bird migration patterns
Life Cycle – Up to 5 Years – Most of it Under Water
Mating – Mid to late summer.
Egg laying – Females lay eggs in still waters on submerged aquatic plants or in shallow areas. In cooler zones, like Nevada County, dragonfly eggs wait until spring to hatch.
Nymph – Molts up to twelve times and can live for as many as four years in the water.
Nymphs are voracious eaters, happily dining on;
All dragonflies must have clean, fresh water to live.
Adult – The final molt is completed above the water’s surface in late spring or early summer. They live only two to four months before dying.
Adult Dragonfly Diet
Features for Dragonfly Friendly Water Gardens
Dragonflies breed in water. To encourage dragonflies and damselflies, include these features in your pond, trough, or marsh area;
water free of pesticides & fertilizers
protected from wind
receives 5-6 hours of midday sun
flat rocks near pond edges for sunbathing
shallow areas (but not so shallow it dries up)
aquatic vegetation, especially reeds and lilies
cover for final molting safety
tall above water plants for perching
Websites devoted to dragonfly symbolism are diverse! The meaning that cultures apply to dragonflies seems to be as diverse as the people who observe them. Below are a few examples.
Change, Transformation & Adaptability – Worldwide
Swiftness, Activity & Purity – Native Americans
Good Luck, Harmony & Prosperity |Instability & Weakness – Chinese
Light & New Joy| Irresponsibility & Unreliability – Japanese
A dragonfly will lead you to fairies – Ireland & Europe
Horse possessed by the devil – Romania
Eye Pokers – Norway
California and Sierra Newts are native to California.
In winter and spring, Sierra Newts in Nevada County respond to an over-powering urge – to return to the pond or stream where they were born.
Hormones cause this migratory breeding behavior, known as water drive. (The hormone, prolactin, is also responsible for human breast milk production.)The migration begins with travel and ends in a submerged ball-like embrace with a female (amplexus).
Predators & Toxins
On its mating journey and throughout its twenty-year life, the only form of defense that the newt possesses is its skin. The skin contains tetrodotoxin, a neurotoxin.
“This neurotoxin is strong enough to kill most vertebrates, including humans,” – Wikipedia.
When threatened, the newt arches its back, flashing its colorful underbelly, offering the predator a warning and a choice (unken reflex). [See Worlds Weirdest video below.]
Newts are one of the most toxic animals in the world. But the toxicity of the Sierra Newt is nothing to worry about when handling this interesting and delicate creature. It’s only dangerous if you eat it!
“Scientists have tested 30 potential predators of newts, from belted kingfishers to great blue herons to bullfrogs and fish, finding in every case that the newt killed them,” writes Lynda V. Mapes, Seattle Times staff reporter.
photo credit: Bill Bouton from San Luis Obispo, CA, USA
Dead and dying trees in the Tahoe National Forest and Nevada County is a fact of contemporary life. Being aware of hazards that dead trees cause and hyperconscious of fire starting activities will help keep families and neighbors safer.
From 66 million dead trees in 2010 to 129 million in 2017, the State of California is losing trees at a rate that no one has previously seen.
An effective response is beyond what the US Forest Service and CalFire can handle.
Keeping populated areas safe from wildfires and falling trees, as well as aiding in forest recovery will take cooperation between homeowners, PG&E, NID, recreation facility managers, environmental, nonprofit, and government agencies.”
“The Tree Mortality Taskforce has provided an essential venue for coordination of response efforts, exchange of ideas, reporting, and accountability for the ongoing statewide response to this incident,” says Supervisor Nathan Magsig of Fresno County. – News Release 12/12/17 Tree Mortality Taskforce.
In Executive Order B-42-17,Governor Brown relaxed regulations so that anyone licensed for timber and tree service operations can perform tree removal in high-risk areas.
California’s ‘New Normal’ Fire Safety Strategies
“Approximately 95% of all wildfires in California are caused by people,” says the California Wildland Fire Coordinating Group (CWCG).
Roadway, Burn Pile, and Camping Safety
Sparks Along Roadways
Burn Pile Safety
Putting out Campfires
stay clear of large stands of dead trees, especially if it is windy
look up and around before parking near dead trees, don’t park in the potential path of a tree fall
if traveling to remote areas, keep a chainsaw or ax in your vehicle in case a tree fall blocks the road
“The importance of removing dead and diseased trees cannot be overstated. Addressing widespread tree mortality is a crucial first step to not only safeguarding our forest communities but also in creating a healthier and more resilient Sierra Nevada forest – which provides more than 60 percent of the state’s water supply.” – Tom Berryhill, Tree Mortality Update – 3/2016
“It’s about the size of a mouse turd,” says Diana Six, Professor of Forest Entomology/Pathology at University of Montana, when describing the Mountain Pine Beetle.
Historically, the Mountain Pine Beetle contributed to a healthy forest by eliminating weakened trees, making room for new growth. Cold temperatures kept populations in check, only 20% of larvae would survive a winter.
At higher altitudes, Pine Beetles may live for up to two years; however, most beetles complete a life cycle within one year. They go through egg, larva and pupa stages beneath the bark of a tree. When summer temperatures warmed sufficiently, adults emerged in search of a new host. Females lead the charge, emitting pheromones that beckon males to follow.
Carrying a fungus in mouth pockets, it is released inside the tree when the beetles begin boring into it. The fungus grows, gathering nitrogen that supplies the beetles with needed food. A female will lay approximately 60 eggs. The fungus supplies nutrients to the growing offspring.
Fungus Kills the Tree
The fungus invades the sapwood, preventing the tree from using pitch to repel beetles. It also blocks water and nutrient transport inside the tree.
Pine Beetles are opportunists. When conditions are right, they colonize and reproduce. Now might be the beetle’s greatest moment in history.
Contributing Factors to Widespread Beetle Success
Managed forest landscapes – the practice of replanting only a single species
Years of fire suppression procedures
Climate change – low night temperatures at night don’t drop enough to kill larvae
Forest trees weakened by years of drought 2014 – 2017
Mountain Pine Beetles have been devastating forests in Canada, trees at higher altitudes with no natural resistance. The insects aren’t picky when food source areas are depleted, they move on to another one. Ponderosa and other pines in Nevada County, stressed and weakened by drought, are feeling the bite.
It may be the largest forest insect blight
ever seen in North America. – Wikipedia
Unfortunately, by the time tree needles turn red, the beetles have already settled in another host. A single besieged tree will nourish enough beetles to infect seven more. With numbers like that, they cut a wide swath through a forest quickly. Aside from keeping dead trees from becoming a hazard to humans or buildings, there is no effective method to halt or control the infestation…
Reddish dust and “boreholes”
“Pitch tubes” resing globules the tree produced in an attempt to protect itself
Leaves / needles turning yellow, then red
Horizontal larvae egg galleries under the bark
A blue-gray color in sapwood, caused by beetle introduced fungus
As disturbing as it is to see huge areas of forest turning red, a bright spot may be the survivors – genetic adaptors. These are trees that struggled in cooler, wetter conditions. The beetle blight is giving them an opportunity to flourish. Mountain Pine Beetles don’t ‘see’ those trees as food.
It is too soon to tell the effects that these species will have on animal habitats, water retention, and snow packs.
“Insects are expected to be one of the first indicators of climate change in terrestrial ecosystems because they are cold blooded. Everything they do – everything – is dependent on temperature.” -Andrew Nikiforuk, author of Empire of the Beetle
Sound as Pest Control
click on image to see more Life on the Creek art
If you liked this post, check out Tree Mortality State of Emergency
Even though it has ‘tree’ in its name, the Sierran Tree Frog is mostly found near the ground.
Tree frogs live in bushes and grass. Their preference is for damp, moist areas.
Large toe pads that allow it to walk on vertical surfaces. The toe pads are also useful for clinging to sticks and twigs.
To avoid being eaten, the Sierran Tree Frog is fast! It can jump long distances and swim quickly to hide. It also remains perfectly still and changes color to stay camouflaged. Sierran Tree Frogs can change from green and gray to brown.
The Sierran Tree Frog is more often heard than it is seen. Males call to advertise availability and attract mates. Breeding and egg-laying occur from November through July. During this time, males establish a territory that they defend with encounter calls, butting, or wrestling with rivals.
Worms, small invertebrates, and flying insects are the frog’s dietary staples.
Tadpoles feed on algae, bacteria and organic debris. Their feeding activities help keep streams and waterways clear of slippery plant material.
Global Amphibian Issues
Scientists say that we are living in the Anthropocene epoch, a time when human activity is the dominant influence on climate and the environment. Unfortunately, the consequences of this are that many habitats and species will disappear.
Frogs and newts are indicator species because they have thin skin that easily absorbs pollutants. Since they live both in water and on land, they absorb toxins from both environments. Like the miners who used canaries to warn when toxic gas was present, amphibian health determines the quality of the environment.
There are a number of factors that affect amphibian populations. Not unique to Nevada County, these conditions are happening globally.
Factors Contributing to Amphibian Decline
Housing and Habitat Loss
“We’re running out of places where frogs are healthy,” Amphibian Study Volunteer
“It doesn’t matter how many frogs we save if there is no place to put them back in the wild,” Edgardo Griffith, El Valle Amphibian Conservation Center
Chytridiomycosis (Batrachochytrim dendrobatidis) Skin Fungus – A Global Epidemic
The state produces half of the US agricultural produce.
99 percent of artichokes
99 percent of walnuts
97 percent of kiwis
95 percent of garlic
89 percent of cauliflower
85% of the lettuce
71 percent of spinach, and
69 percent of carrots
Contaminated agricultural water runoff affects the entire ecosystem.
“Atrazine (an herbicide) is the most common contaminant in our drinking water. It causes male frogs to turn into females.” – Tyrone Hayes, UC Berkeley Biologist
“Bullfrogs pose several threats to the native amphibians of California, many of which are endangered. When bullfrogs—the largest frogs in North America—escape or are released into the wild, they have a tendency to eat other amphibians and any other wildlife that will fit in their mouths. Their size also allows them to outcompete native species for food. Even worse, a large portion of the bullfrogs imported into this country—62 percent according to one study—are infected with the deadly chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis), a lethal skin disease which has already been blamed for extinctions of about 100 amphibian species around the globe.” – Should California Ban American Bullfrogs? Scientific American Blog
How to Help
Speak up for Nevada County frogs, toads, and salamanders.
If you see a frog die-off (more than one dead in a single location) – DON’T TOUCH IT – but do report it
Don’t move amphibians from one location to another
If fishing, wash & dry gear before moving between spots
Don’t pour anything down a storm drain that would damage amphibians
Well before the Gold Rush (by the 1750’s) it was known that eating citrus fruit prevented scurvy
scur·vy | ˈskərvē/ | noun – a disease caused by a deficiency of vitamin C, characterized by swollen bleeding gums and the opening of previously healed wounds, which particularly affected poorly nourished sailors until the end of the 18th century.
“Yet the 1849ers, in their rush to riches, chose to ignore common wisdom (fresh fruit and vegetables) and medical counsel. They paid a severe penalty. Americans were some of the best-fed people in the world in 1849; nevertheless, scurvy stalked the mining West relentlessly that year.” –Life and Death Jostle One Another: Medicine in the Early Gold Camps (1994)
Duane A. Smith, Professor of History at Fort Lewis College,
Alonzo Delano 1806-1874 – Miner, journalist, artist & humorist
“Most immigrants, even if they arrived in good health, would ‘be sick after arrival.’ Exposure and bad diet contribute much to producing sickness.” – Alonzo Delano
While many miners turned to popular medicines – opium, mercury, quinine, and castor oil – some experimented with eating wild plants or drank sassafras and pine needle tea.
Joaquin Miller, Poet of the Sierras 1837-1913 – A mining-camp cook (Willamette Oregon region) who contracted scurvy from eating his own cooking. Also a lawyer, judge, journalist, Pony Express rider, and horse thief.
When dreaming of leaving the goldfields, Joaquin Miller wrote,
“I’ll not have to live on chile beans
Shortbeef and rusty bacon
Nor work in mud and more and rain
And be all the time a shaken.”
An infection that grows in the human small intestine. It spreads through excrement contaminated water, food, unwashed hands, dirty bedding, and clothing. Once established, cholera disturbs water absorption, causing debilitating diarrhea, and a grey, sunken appearance.
Cholera in California
The California cholera epidemic began in 1849 and directly coincided with the rush for gold (Roth 1997:527, 549). Cholera followed both the overland and ocean migration routes of travelers, and parasites and bacteria were easily transported and transferred as these migrants settled along rivers, streams and stagnant water sources (Rosenberg 1962:115; Roth 1997:529, 549). The newly established towns in California contained crowded transient populations, primitive sanitation measures, and since water supplies were shared, individuals were highly susceptible to the spread of the cholera bacterium (Rosenberg 1962:115; Roth 1997:549). – Disease on the Western Frontier: Cholera and Tuberculosis During the California Gold Rush (1850-1900) – CSU, Chico Thesis [PDF] – by Shannon Clinkinbeard
Also known as consumption, tuberculosis is a chronic infection that mostly inhabits the lungs. It is spread by exposure to microscopic particles in an infected person’s cough, sneeze, or spit. Symptoms include deterioration of body tissues and severe cough that may expel blood.
Tuberculosis can remain dormant in the body for a lifetime, becoming active when the immune system of the host is compromised.
Parasite infestations and disease were greatly reduced once the mechanics of infection spread was understood and public health infrastructure such as wastewater and sewage treatment systems were in place.
Vaccinations turned infections with guaranteed death sentences into barely remembered occurrences in history.
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Not considered a beautiful bird, the common Turkey Vulture is a scavenger. It is also is an important part of the Deer Creek ecosystem. They do the dirty work of picking clean the dead.
Turkey Vulture & Turkey
The Turkey Vulture’s Latin name, Cathartes aura, means ‘breeze purifier.’ Its common name, ‘turkey’ is for the bird’s resemblance to the wild turkey. Vulture means ‘tearer.’ In flight, a group of vultures is a ‘kettle,’ and when feeding together, they are called a ‘wake.’
Turkey vultures inhabit both American continents. In the warmer climates, they remain throughout the year. In colder areas, they are migratory.
Photo credit: Docent Joyce – vulture ‘committee,” volt,’ or ‘venue’
Vulture food consists of freshly dead animals of about their own size or smaller. A unique adaptation is an acute sense of smell that can locate carcasses up to eight miles away.
Social animals related to hawks and eagles, they eat, soar, mate, and roost in groups, heading off alone when searching for a meal.
With large wingspans and bodies, they wait for warm thermals before taking to the air. This economizes wing flapping.
Full grown Turkey Vultures have few predators. In junior states of life they can fall prey to raccoons, opossums, red-tailed hawks, eagles, and great horned owls.
Breeding season in our climate can last from March through August. Both males and females care for young, regurgitating food for the chicks for about two-and-a-half months.
Other Turkey Vulture Adaptations
lowering body temperature at night – becoming slightly hypothermic
horaltic pose for warming, appearing larger to threats, and UV sterilization of feathers
no voicebox (syrinx) – communicates with hissing and grunts
noxious smelling barf – repels threats
urohydrosis – noxious smelling pee – repels threats, cools legs, kills bacteria from walking on dead animals
bald heads – cleanliness after burying face in a carcass
boney shield covering nose
ability to clear nostril when it becomes clogged
Cellphone video & stills of Turkey Vultures off Newtown Rd. May & June 2018.
As of 2012, the American Black Bear population living in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range was estimated at 10,000 bears. Mostly, they live at higher elevation levels, 3,000 feet and above, in areas managed by the U.S. Forest Service or the National Parks. There is about one bear per square mile.
A rough estimate of Nevada County’s high elevation habitat puts our bear population count at around 500 bears.
Coat Variation Colors
Brown, cinnamon, yellow-brown, grey-blue and white
Full Grown Females: 100-200 pounds
Full Grown Males: 150-350 pounds
Ninety-five percent of a bear’s diet is plant-based.
insects (Snag logs, left to decompose, are sources for insects and used as dens.)
Bears are omnivores. They will eat whatever is available, including human garbage and pet food.
Excellent sense of smell
Female bear fertility is directly linked to nutrition and food availability. They must have high-quality berries and acorns to successfully reproduce.
Bears mate in June & July (females begin to breed at age four-and-a-half).
Typically females have litters every other year, producing two to four cubs in early spring while the mother is in the den.
Adult females can hold fertilized eggs for months. The zygote doesn’t attach to the uterine wall unless the female has gained adequate fat by hibernation time. If the female is undernourished, the zygotes will not develop.
Hibernation & Human Health Studies
During hibernation, bears don’t defecate. Scientists believe that reabsorbing nitrogen-rich urea, helps them to maintain muscle mass while losing between 15 to 30 percent of their body fat. Studies of this phenomena may one day lead to weight loss aids for humans.
Accumulated fat and high cholesterol levels sustain them through the winter. A bile acid that bears generate during hibernations has been found to dissolve gallstones in humans.
Another interesting hibernation fact is that, while in that state, bears repair and regenerate bones. Researchers are studying this with the hope of curing human bone diseases and degenerative arthritis.
Bear cubs are the most vulnerable to predators such as coyotes, bobcats, and mountain lions.
Largest Threat: Habitat Loss
Humans and habitat loss is the biggest threat to bears.
In the wild, American Black Bears can live to 30 years. Unfortunately, when a bear is drawn into human territory, their lifespan shrinks to about ten years.
Long range relocation studies have shown that relocation efforts are unsuccessful.
Relocated bears will:
return to the original scene of the disturbance
apply learned behavior in new areas
or are killed by territorial bears already living in resettlement zones.
Bears & Humans
Most interactions between bears and humans occur when bears are hungry in spring and late summer/fall.
Once bears become a nuisance to humans, they continue to be a problem. Problem bears are put down.
The best way to live successfully in high elevation zones, is to discourage bears from establishing bad habits.
*Keep a tidy home and be conscious of items that act as attractant odors.
Guidelines for Bear-Proofing a Home, Property, or Campsite
Use ammonia or bleach to deodorize trash cans.
Put garbage containers in a shed or garage when not out for pick-up.
Freeze smelly food waste and only put it out for collection close to the time it will be picked up.
Use a garbage disposal when possible.
Keep outdoor grills clean and free of meat drippings.
Bring in bird food and pet food at night.
Pick up fallen fruit from around trees.
Install bear-proof compost containers.
Use bear-proof garbage boxes.
Keep food and other fragrant items out of your car.
Close and secure ground level doors and windows at night.
Survey your property for potential hibernation sites; under decks or buildings. Block those places so animals can not access them.
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California Department of
Fish & Game Offices
Northern California-North Coast Region