Our Blog - Happenings at Hopland REC
It is incredible and surprising to realize that a small bird that weighs less than 7 grams can migrate from the UC Hopland Research Center to places like Belize, Guatamala, and Honduras for the winter ... and then return. The Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caeruleana) is a very small songbird that returns to the chaparral brushlands of the Center each April.
These unique birds have a very squeaky, wheezy call that cannot be missed by human ear once you learn it. A pair will establish a territory of their own and proceed to build a camouflaged cup nest in the fork of a chaparral-type bush or small tree, many times a chamise bush, scrub oak, or live oak. The outside of the nest is covered with bits of lichen and spider web so that it blends in with the adjacent trunk and limbs. About 4 to 5 eggs are laid and incubation only takes 13 days.
HREC has many opportunities for the study of neo-tropical migrant bird species. Especially lacking is knowledge of bird use in the chaparral habitats of the North Coast.
Springtime brings many changes to the rangelands of the North Coast. Here at the UC Hopland Research & Extension Center springtime brings on new visions and hopes for the future. Here you see a Fremont Cottonwood, one that the BLOG has shown a couple times in the past ...but in the fall.
Well, the April sunrise through a particular gap in the horizon creates the same "sunlit tree" and "shadowed background" as I see in the fall .... and here it is.
The recent rain event (last 10 days) dropped over 7 inches of precipitation onto the UC Hopland Research & Extension Center. The rangeland is SLOWY turning green with the annual grasses and forbs are now germinating. However, even more impressive on a scale of the short time period, is how quickly the bryophytes and mosses turn bright green after the first rain.
The photo below was taken literally within 48 hours after the first major rain last February 7th and 8th.
Most of us are familiar with the mistletoe plant ... at the very least from Holiday time Christmas carols and sprigs of it sold for Christmas Holiday decorations. Here in Mendocino County, the most common mistletoe plant recognized during those times is the Oak Mistletoe or Pacific Mistletoe (Phoradendron villosum (Nutt.). This parasitic shrub is native to California and the western U.S. where it grows mainly upon Blue oak and Valley oak.
Recently, within the last few months, casual observation at the UC Hopland Research & Extension Center appears to show a high mortality of these unique plants. Being a parasitic plant that grows on the trunks and limbs of oak trees, it grows its root-like "haustoria" into the water-conducting transport system of the tree, where the haustoria also infiltrates between the cells to absorb (and rob) nutrients of the host tree.
Based upon circumstantial evidence and the co-timeliness with the severe drought conditions an assumption can be made that the mistletoe mortality is drought-related. Perhaps the nutrient and water flow of the host tree is so stressed during drought years that the parasitic action by the mistletoe plant is compromised.
Feral hogs have been an introduced vertebrate pest species/game species (depending upon one's view point) in Mendocino County for around a century. Historically, during the late 1800s and early 1900s, ranchers and homesteaders owned small herds of domestic pigs that were allowed to "free range". However, over time events happened, such as the depression era, that allowed these free range pigs to be abandoned, and without any management these feral pigs became generations of truly wild feral hogs that were "wise" to the outdoor hardships such as predators.
Here at the UC Hopland Research & Extension Center there have been efforts historically to exclude or eliminate the risk of wild hog damage to the rangeland, fences, developed springs, native plants, etc. Fortunately, in most years, HREC normally experiences very few feral hogs coming onto the property. However, within the last month the Center has been invaded by a group of feral hogs that has done more damage on the rangeland than ever witnessed before. Currently HREC has very limited options on how to manage the problem of these destructive pests.
In the photo you see the meadow area near the Kelsey Orchard as it has been rooted by these pesky swines. The hogs are probably searching for delectable menu items such as earthworms and slugs.