Although we do not know the exact number of vernal pools in the Reserve, we've always known there are a lot of them. Determining exactly how many pools are in the reserve will require aerial imagery taken in late winter or spring, the time period when pools are filled with water. Graduate students in the MESA lab on campus are poised to help with this task. They've been testing their UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) for over a year and a half. When they rains come, they'll be ready.
Coyotes are a well-adapted species of the Canidae family that can be found in many parts of North America ranging from cold, mountainous terrain to low, dry elevations. At the Merced Vernal Pools and Grassland Reserve, Coyotes are the largest land predator, preying on California Ground Squirrels and other small rodents and birds as well as anything else it can find. Coyotes are also largely opportunistic and there have been reports of berries and plants found in their feces when more substantial food such as meat is scarce.
Making mounds out of molehills? The role of pocket gophers in the Mima mounds and vernal pools of the San Joaquin Valley (Part Two)
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
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.
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.
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.
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.