Tour beautiful Oak Hill Farm during fall harvest and help support the all-volunteer Sonoma Overlook Trail

home_slideshow_1_0You are invited to join Oak Hill Farm owner Anne Teller for a guided walking tour of her sustainably-farmed fields of flowers, vegetables and and fruit orchards on Saturday, October 1st from 10:30AM -1PM.

Oak Hill, a 25-acre farm at the foot of the Mayacamas and known to many by its distinctive Red Barn Store, is one of Sonoma Valley’s treasures. The Teller family has practiced sustainable agriculture for more than 50 years and harvests 200-plus varieties of organically-grown vegetables, fruits, flowers and herbs as they naturally come into season.

The farm is part of a larger, 700-acre property held in perpetuity as protected wildlands.  Anne will be delighted to talk with us about the Tellers’ commitment to sustainable farming and to stewarding Oak Hill’s incredible natural resources.

This is an easy, flat walk of about two miles round-trip. Afterwards we will enjoy a discussion with a light lunch and wine.

The walk is limited to 40 people and reservations are required. A donation of $45 will secure your space.

All proceeds go toward upkeep of Sonoma Overlook Trail. The public trail is managed on an all-volunteer basis by a group of Sonomans who donate their time to keep the trail in good repair, protect natural habitat, assist visitors and lead hikes.

To place a reservation email us at  LaurieSOT@gmail.com

To learn more about Oak Hill farm, please visit oakhillfarm.net.

We’re Winning!

P1010218Faithful readers of this blog (all two of you, and one is my Mom) will know that we’ve been fighting the good fight against the invasive non-native Yellow Star Thistle on both the Overlook and Montini properties. The season for pulling it runs from mid-May to August. Now that we are in August, when the weed dries out and the seed heads drop off, we must quit.

But I’m here to tell you that we are winning the war. This is the second year that I can certify that all of the infestations on the main properties of both the Overlook and the Montini have been essentially cleared. Judging from the number and size of the plants we are pulling in most areas (see the small plants pictured), we are depleting the seed bank, which can be viable for up to five years.

We could not have reached this point without essential assistance from Rich Gibson, a biologist and a Sonoma Overlook Trail volunteer steward, and the Sonoma Ecology Center’s EnviroLeaders program. Twice, at least half-a-dozen teenagers from the EnviroLeaders Program came out and helped decimate the worst patches of Yellow Star Thistle on the Montini Preserve. Tony Passantino, the SEC’s EnviroLeader’s program manager, has been very willing to bring his team out to support our removal efforts whenever we called for help. And the teenagers who are a part of this program are willing hard workers and ready to learn about the environment and how to keep it great. We so appreciate their help.

Next season expect a call to go out for help in decimating this scourge. And if you see it, please consider helping. The situation gets better every year, but we are still years away from eradicating it completely. We can use your help to make YST only a memory on these properties.

 

California Naturalist Training in Sonoma

“California is an incredible place to be a naturalist.”

CalNat-logoSo begins “The California Naturalist Handbook,” the standard textbook for a rigorous UC-approved course designed to turn local nature lovers into trained California Naturalists. These knowledge keepers act as park docents and as key leaders in the “citizen science” movement helping to shape California’s future.

Right now, Sonoma Ecology Center is teaming up with the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources to offer this accredited eight-week course locally – and we’re looking throughout Sonoma and Napa counties for people interested in joining the elite and venerable league of California Naturalists.

The course results in real college credits – but even better, it turns nature lovers into certified graduates of the UC California Naturalist Program, making them valuable authorities on California’s plants and animals, geology and soils, water, climate, biodiversity and much more.

California Naturalist courses are available at certain locations throughout the state, but this is the first time such a course will be offered at Sugarloaf Ridge State Park. The course, held Monday evenings from 6 to 8:30 p.m., will run from Sept. 19 to Nov. 19 at Sugarloaf Park’s Robert Ferguson Observatory. Speakers will include professors from local colleges and universities and experts from Cal Academy and the Sonoma Ecology Center.

The course also will include four five-hour fieldtrips (Oct. 8th, 22 and Nov. 12, 19) lead by field experts in and around Sugarloaf Ridge State Park. As their final project for the program, each naturalist-in-training will complete an eight-hour volunteer service learning project for a community organization. Participants of this course will graduate with a specialized knowledge of the oak woodlands indigenous to the Mayacamas Mountains.

“We are thrilled to be offering the California Naturalist certification training this fall as an expansion of our education programming at Sugarloaf,” said Sonoma Ecology Center educator Tony Passantino. “Bringing an accredited college course to this state park at the heart of Sonoma and Napa valleys is a rare opportunity.”

To sign up for the first-ever Fall 2016 California Naturalist Program at Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, go to www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2586749. For more information, call or write Tony Passantino at 707-996-0712 ext. 124 or tony@sonomaecologycenter.org. The course costs $370 (or $399 after Aug. 19) and is limited to 25 participants. Limited scholarships are available on a case-by-case basis.

Those able to do so are encouraged to print out and post our flier for the event! A pdf copy of the flier is available by clicking the link below.

CalNat_Course_Flier_SugarloafPark

Montini Invasive Species Kept at Bay!

The Invasive species removal day was a huge success for both Montini Preserve and the Overlook Trail. In total, 10 crew and volunteers came out to the event, including my Enviroleader Teen crew members and veteran Volunteer Roy Tennant.

The group met up at the Montini Water Tanks and dispersed into 3 smaller teams, each equipped with their heavy-duty trash bags as well as a handheld GPS device. In addition to pulling up primarily Yellow Star Thistle, each group documented the location and approximate size of the outbreaks on their digital way points. This information is being transferred to the Sonoma Ecology Center’s Geographical Information staff to be documented and mapped. This is crucial baseline measurement to determine if/and where we are making progress on fighting back the noxious plants from the Preserve. “We are depleting the seed bank each season and things will get easier and easier from here on in until complete eradication”said Roy.

Additionally, some of the other invasive plants like Harding Grass have already gone to seed this season but the mapping will give our staff and volunteer crew a jump on locations for 2017 that can be noted on the map below.

Montini Trail Map Pest Plant Locations

The primary locations that we dedicated our weeding towards was the rip-rap culvert adjacent to the Water Tanks fire road, the meadow at the Intersection of Spotted Fawn and Rattlesnake Cutoff and some really bad meadows along Norrbom Road on the cusp of both Montini and Overlook.
As Roy put it, “I think it is safe to say that the YST on Montini is virtually gone (this year)…This also means that for the second season running we will have completely eradicated it.”

A huge thank you goes out to Roy for his ongoing efforts in weed management. Your quietly diligent efforts at fighting back Yellow Star Thistle at the Montini and Overlook properties for the benefit of both hikers and habitat should not go unnoticed. A thank you to Joanna for getting the word out and supporting the Montini Preserve Volunteer efforts.

Look for other outreach events at the Montini Preserve coming later this fall!

 

 

Help Eradicate Invasive Plants in Montini Preserve

Friday, July 22 9:00am-11:30am

Field of Dreams/Police Station Parking Lot

What are Invasive Plants?Centaurea melitensis

Invasive species are, generally, non-native species that cause ecological harm to the biodiversity of an area. After human development, invasive species are the second greatest cause of habitat loss in the world.  In addition to displacing native plants and animals, invasives can increase fire risk and harbor pests.

Thanks to the work of our volunteers across Montini and Overlook Trail, we’ve made huge strides in suppressing the spread of many of the common invasive plants on our park land. However, it takes a community to constantly be vigilant and aggressive in maintaining outbreaks of yellow and purple thistles, harding grass and the other non-natives that threaten the ecological health of our lands.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/6f/C._calcitrapa1.jpg/220px-C._calcitrapa1.jpg Come out on Friday, July 22nd and work alongside our restoration technicians to help keep our parks clean and free of the spread of invasive plants. Learn about native flora and the impacts of non-natives on our landscape and enjoy a nice day of hiking. We will be starting at the parking lot next to the police station and Field of Dreams off of 1st Street East.

Also in attendance will be Sonoma Ecology Center’s high school crew of  summer Enviroleaders. These students have been working through their vacation months, becoming young stewards of the land and leaders of their community.

Preparation

Volunteers should bring layered comfortable clothing, sunscreen, and a a water bottle.   We will provide gloves and trash bags if needed. Efforts to use reusable items are guided by a desire to reduce the overall event footprint. Children must be accompanied by an adult.

For any questions, please call Volunteer Manager, Tony Passantino at  at 707-996-0712 x124 or email Tony@sonomaecologycenter.org.

 
 

Once More Into the Breach

IMG_1263Lately I’ve been too busy with a more important project to get my daily hike in on the Overlook and Montini trails. But yesterday I cleared some time and made my way there. I knew that we were well into the season of the invasive Yellow Star Thistle, so I took along a feed sack to pull what I could.

Those of you keeping score at home likely know that the Overlook Trail Stewards have been waging war against this pest, and that war has been stepped up in recent years. Last year we were successful in eradicating it from the main Overlook and Montini properties. We knew it would be back this year, but we also figured that given how we beat it back last year it likely wouldn’t be as bad.

Having inspected a couple locations where it was bad last year I’m happy to say that it isn’t nearly as bad this year. We are indeed making progress, but we also know that this is a multi-year war and that it will require us to be vigilant and relentless.

This war is led by volunteer Steward Rich Gibson, who has called work days for groups to get together and take out both Yellow Star Thistle and Scotch Broom – another non-native that has a tendency to take over the landscape. Without efforts such as these our landscape would look very different than what it should be, and has been for centuries.

Here Be Snakes

rattlesnakeAs I set out on my hike in the warm morning air, I realized that today would be a likely day to see a snake. Today was predicted to be a hot day following on a warming trend over the last several days. It proved to be prophetic, as a group of us who converged on the Overlook upper meadow at about the same time were treated to spotting a gopher snake (see picture from a previous sighting).

Gopher snakes have similar markings to a rattlesnake, so they are often mis-identified. The simplest way to tell is to look for rattles — if the snake has rattles, it’s a rattlesnake, if it doesn’t, it’s a gopher snake. The gopher’s head is also not as spade-shaped as a rattlesnake.

Although many people are afraid of snakes — and especially the poisonous rattlesnake — snakes are a necessary part of our ecosystem. Without predators, ecosystems can fall tragically out of balance and perhaps damage an ecosystem irreparably. They also tend to avoid humans if they can, and it’s usually only when they are surprised or cornered do they strike.

In a conversation later the same day, a man recounted the story of a relative running the trail just last week who was nearly bitten by a rattler as she ran past. It missed because she was in rapid motion, but it was likely because she was in rapid motion and going past the snake in close proximity that it chose to strike. This is why it is very important to watch the ground ahead of you, especially when running. When hiking the snake usually has time to sound a warning before you get too close. I have had this happen on the trail.

So now that snakes are out of hibernation and on the Montini and Overlook properties, stay alert! If you can avoid riling up a snake it can be a pleasant outdoor experience to see a predator up close and watch it slide away into the grass. Let’s hope this describes all of your future snake encounters.