Streaked Horned Larks on the Reserve?

Horned Larks can be seen year round in the Reserve. Look for these inconspicuous birds as they walk slowly in the short grass or as they fly in big flocks low and fast across the grassy slopes. The only true lark native to North America, these  small, gray-brown, short-legged birds are found in open country all across North America. They breed from the arctic tundra of northern Alaska, south through the highlands of southern Mexico.

Gators in the Reserve?

This summer, the Reserve purchased a four-wheel drive, gas-powered John Deere Gator. This four-seater ATV is perfect for the dirt roads and rolling hills of the Reserve.  It has high clearance and lacks windows and a roof, so we get a commanding 360 degree view of the landscape, the sky, and the birds soaring by. It has a bed for hauling supplies and extra storage under the rear seat. We’ve made 10 trips so far with Colusa (named for a very rare vernal pool grass, Neostapfia colusana, found in the reserve) and she’s proving to be a very useful vehicle.

My Hikes at the Reserve by Alex Gueorguieva, sophomore, El Capitan High School

We went on two hiking trips on the Reserve. I really enjoyed both the day and the night hikes. We were able to experience something that we see everyday but now we actually got to SEE it and appreciate its beauty. Before I thought, so what? These are just fields of grass. The hikes opened up my eyes and I got to see all the little creatures that live there, their tunnels and caves.

Meet the American Kestrel (Falco sparverius) by Cami Vega (Reserve Intern)

     The miles of barbed wire fences that criss-cross the Reserve’s 6,500 acres of open grasslands and vernal pools are ideal perches for falcons in search of prey.  Our resident falcon, the American Kestrel, is often seen perched on fence posts, pumping its tail or hovering in the open, searching for insects and mice.

Cliff Swallows on the Reserve, by Cami Vega (Reserve Intern)


Spring brought life and color onto the Reserve. Dry vernal pools were filled with pockets of beautiful wildflowers. Burrowing bees escaped the depths of their burrows to pollinate the blooms of Goldfields, Downingia, and Meadowfoam. The warm breezes and blooming flora set the breeding season into full throttle. After a short winter, Cliff Swallows returned from the tropics to their optimal breeding site in the Reserve.

Nest boxes for Kestrels by Chris Swarth

Photo by Chris SwarthAmerican Kestrels populations are declining in many areas across North America.  Habitat loss, lack of prey, and lack of nest sites are all reasons cited for this decline. At UC Merced we're trying to help kestrels by erecting nesting boxes along fence rows in the Reserve. Kestrels are small relatives of the lightening fast Peregrine.

Winter is Raptor Season

by Chris Swarth,
February 3, 2014.
There are few places in California that have as high a diversity of daytime raptors as the Reserve. This winter we’ve recorded many sightings of the following species:
Bald Eagle                         Rough-legged Hawk
Golden Eagle                    Red-tailed Hawk
Northern Harrier              American Kestrel
Ferruginous Hawk            Prairie Falcon
White-tailed Kite               Merlin

UC Regents Vote Reserve into the UC Reserve System

Written by Kathleen Wong.

Rolling grasslands that harbor rare vernal pool ecosystems next door to UC Merced have joined the UC Natural Reserve System. The 6,561-acre Merced Vernal Pools Grassland Reserve will enable students and faculty to study fairy shrimp, endemic plants, and some of North America’s oldest soils just minutes from campus. Most of California’s original vernal pool habitats have been destroyed, making the new reserve a critical refuge for rare and endangered plants and animals.

Exploring Chemistry in the Reserve, By Marilyn Fogel

(Oct. 26, 2013) About once a week since the dead heat of summer, I’ve been heading out to the Vernal Pool and Grassland Reserve with Chris Swarth and my research assistant David Araiza. In July and August, as temperatures soared to over 100°F, we started out at 7 am when the landscape was still cool. Our mission was to collect dried grasses for residual dry matter (RDM) measurements, which entailed scissors and a balance for weighing the samples back in the Lab. As a new faculty member with a laboratory barely getting off the ground, we had the “technology” for RDM measurements.

Splendor in the Grass?

By Tom Hothem, Assistant Director
Merritt Writing Project
October 18, 2013
In a previous post on “Assessing the Impacts of Cattle Grazing on the Reserve,” Chris examined the biological diversity (or, sometimes, the lack thereof) in the vegetation that surrounds the UCM campus. The average Mercedian could perhaps be forgiven for overlooking such things this time of year, so sere is the landscape.


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