Making mounds out of molehills? The role of pocket gophers in the Mima mounds and vernal pools of the San Joaquin Valley (Part One)

By Dr. Sarah Reed, UC Berkeley. (Dr. Reed recently received her PhD, based in part on mima mounds studies she carried out in the Reserve and on nearby ranchlands)

Mound and trough are Siamese twins, joined by an invisible, crucial stratum that holds the ponded water.  -- Hans Jenny


From Field to Laboratory, by Cami Vega

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.

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


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