Adventures of a Creek Week Site Leader

by Kris Olsen


Creek Week

Leading a site? Sound unappealing? Not at all. I mean, if you are bringing your own crew, you need to juggle maps, e-mails about parking, and possible hazards; but on the upside, you get to boss people around for half a day and they actually listen to you.

This year’s adventures began with excellent weather, a beautiful backdrop, plenty of tools and hands to wield them. Our site was Hansen Ranch in Rio Linda.

Being at the bottom of the watershed, where most flotsam goes to die, the area was definitely in need of our attention! As a result, we collected quite an array of interesting "junk & gunk." That would include a giant coke bottle, more than ten tires with rims (who loses a tire with the rim still on it, I ask you?), a huge water heater, a couple of tubes of lip balm, balls of all sizes and states of inflation, a wounded Barbie, your usual helping of recyclables, and an infinite number of styrofoam chunks from those disposable coolers. Not that it means they ever really go away after you "dispose" of them, as I have discovered, they just get smaller. I recommend an immediate intervention for anyone who is seen buying one of those evil things.



In addition to lots of trash, our crew removed a large patch of non-native invasive plants, red sesbania, leaving the area open for native vegetation to flourish in addition to
protecting the resident cows from eating the poisonous seed pods.

All in all, this was one Saturday morning where you can tell your friends that you did more before 11:00 a.m. than they did all day. I felt that I had really earned my t-shirt and hot dog by the end! I hope that next year you can join us for another rewarding Saturday morning of community service. Who can turn down a free hot dog & commemorative t-shirt? Sign me up!

This article originally appeared in our Summer 2006 Newsletter

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Cliff Swallows

by Bruce Swinehart


No story of Spring would be complete without mention of the return of the swallows. This romanticized event is familiar to almost everyone. The swallow most often referred to is the cliff swallow, Petrochelidon pyrrhonota.

This sparrow-sized bird has the characteristically pointed wings of the swallow but is the only swallow with a square tail. The creamy-white forehead, blackish back and light brown rump spot make identification positive. The gourd-shaped mud nests are built in colonies under eaves, bridges, etc. Where these places are not available to them, they nest on rough cliffs or almost any other place they can attach their nests to. The availability of mud is an important factor.

The fact that the nests are closed on top gives them greater versatility in nesting than the barn swallow whose nest is an open cup.

Food of this fascinating summer visitor is evidently 100 percent insects. The quantity consumed by a breeding colony is tremendous. Nestlings are fed almost their own weight every day while adults will eat nearly half their weight. Insects are generally caught while on the wing. The beneficial aspect of this species should not be underestimated, and they should be protected at all costs. Large-scale insect spraying can have a disastrous effect on them. They are, of course , protected by state and federal law. The nests also come under legal protection as soon as an egg is laid in them.

The cliff swallows start arriving in central California in February. The peak of the migration is in early May. We find them along our creeks where there are nesting places like culverts, bridges and buildings with eaves. I have not noticed as many birds this year as I have in the past.


The birds spend their spring and summer in nest building, incubation, and preparing the young birds for the long migration to the remote parts of Brazil. The young must be ready for the long migration so the birds are on a narrow time frame. They all leave the area by the end of September.

At Mission San Juan Capistrano, legend has it that they always arrive on March 19th, St Joseph’s Day. There are several different legends as to why the birds come on this particular day. Birds that arrive early are either ignored or called “scouts.” Natives, however, were hard pressed to define the purpose of the scouts since they certainly did not fly back to South America to warn the other birds. According to the legend, they leave Capistrano on October 23rd, San Juan’s Day. This migration was made famous by the song “When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano.” The swallows there are no different than the ones I used to band under the culverts of Highway 50. No one has immortalized them, however, by a song titled “When the Swallows Come Back to the Culverts of Highway 50.” Too bad!

We found after years of banding that the birds do come back to nest in large numbers in the place they were hatched. Many even return to the same area on the walls of the culvert or bridge. These are fascinating little birds, and I am pleased our creek preservation policies encourage them.

This article originally appeared in our Summer 2006 Newsletter

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And the Award Goes to…Calvine High School

Calvine High School received the Creek Steward award for their study of Strawberry Creek in south Sacramento County and Elk Grove. They have conducted water quality tests, surveyed plants and animals and compared the results on two different creek stretches. One section of creek has been straightened and lined with concrete to allow development to come close to the creek. The other section of creek, just downstream, has been given more room and is more natural. The students’ field experiences, observations and data are used in various areas of the school curriculum.

Two Calvine students, inspired by the school’s creek studies, read their essays at the Creek Week Splash Off event. We would like to share some of their words with you.


Taking Steps: Strawberry Creek
by Esteban Campos

All throughout the history of mankind, we have been known to grow in population. When our population grew, so did our achievements. Brilliant minds arise and make differences. Good-hearted souls serve their community, and many other great things happen in a large population. But, as a way of life, with the good achievements come sacrifices. What happens when we destroy something that is part of the land’s history due to population demands and personal desires to profit? When we satisfy our desires, we usually don’t think of the collateral effects that may take place afterwards. Unfortunately, this is also well known in mankind’s history.

Did you know that the last global assessment for rainforests’ productivity was in 1990? An area of about one hundred-fifty thousand square kilometers of rainforest, equivalent to the size of Wales, was being destroyed every year. This figure is believed to have increased in the last year. It sometimes takes statistics like these for we as people to rethink our intentions and causes.

These facts that are presented to you are not to try and convince you that Strawberry Creek is a one hundred-fifty thousand square kilometer rainforest, but rather to express what we are really destroying. We are truly destroying ourselves. No matter what damage we do to the earth, the earth will adapt and evolve with the damage it is taking, it does not mean the earth has to evolve with us.

Let Strawberry Creek stand as a natural monument of our community’s respect and appreciation of all the natural gifts that were freely given to us. Let our youth from Calvine High School clean and care for the land, let us be of service to our community, and let’s all take a small step for big opportunities.


Strawberry Creek
by Elizabeth Cavazos

Calvine High School students are making one of the many contributions to the preservation of life by visiting Strawberry Creek. Strawberry Creek, like most creeks in California, has been polluted. Consequently, water has been contaminated and millions of organisms have been exterminated. Examining and cleaning the polluted water at Strawberry Creek will be very valuable and necessary for the environment. Not only does pollution affect the environment, but it also takes a toll on life in general.

First and most importantly, all creatures on this earth have the right of existence. Although humans are the dominant species, all other living things have just as much right to live as we do. Would you like it if someone invaded your living space and started dumping trash everywhere? Polluting the habitat of various creatures has a ripple effect on everything and everyone. For example, once a river or lake is contaminated, many fish and sea animals die. Fish are the main food supply for bears. If bears don’t have anything to eat, they also then become extinct. In addition, every organism has a purpose as one of God’s many beautiful creatures.

Water is the most common substance on earth and very important to our everyday lives. On the average, each person in the United States uses about 70 gallons of water a day in his or
her home. Water is also needed for power, industry, irrigation, transportation and recreation. Our rivers, lakes and creeks supply the water. We should preserve water instead of polluting
it. No one wants to live around dirty, smelly, polluted water that contains germs or chemicals. Polluted water can spread typhoid fever and other diseases. Pollution prevents people from using and enjoying water for recreation, and the risk of disease makes polluted water unsafe. In conclusion, the more pollution there is, the less chance we have of enjoying life to the fullest.

All in all, testing the water in Strawberry Creek and cleaning the environment will bring mankind one step closer to solving this problem.

This article originally appeared in Summer 2006 Newsletter

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Dipping Into Creeks
An Educator’s Guide and Kit

by Beth Etgen,
Urban Creeks Council Vice President, Education

With flowing water, wooded banks, and a variety of wildlife, local creeks are an ideal resource for learning through experiential environment-based education. Research and classroom-based studies show that students learn better, are better citizens at school, and transfer their learning to new situations better in environment-based education programs.

The Sacramento Chapter of Urban Creeks Council developed “Dipping Into Creeks” as an environment-based activity guide for educators that use community creeks as a “window on the world” to increase students’ understanding of our complex environment.

Creeks naturally attract children; they are just about the right size of water for easy exploration. “Dipping Into Creeks” is a fun, experiential resource guide packed with great activities designed to encourage educators of children in kindergarten through eighth grade to use creeks as classrooms. The activities in “Dipping Into Creeks” give the leader everything needed to prepare and guide a group of children to a local creek, from “Getting Ready in the Classroom” to “Planning For Action”. During the learning process, the children proceed from awareness of their local creek to knowledge of the importance of the creek habitat, to planning a specific task for creek improvement. The guide is $20 and is available from Urban Creeks Council.

Pulling together the equipment that is needed for a group to do activities at a creek site can be a time consuming job. Because of this, a kit of materials that can be used at a creek site is also available for loan. The kit includes aquatic life identification guides, dip nets, white trays, magnifying glasses, ph paper, clip boards and more, for a class of 30 students. To request a loan of a creek kit, please call the Arcade Creek Recreation and Park District office at (916) 482-8377.

Dipping Into Creeks” would make a wonderful addition to any elementary or middle school educator’s library as well as helping to support the Sacramento Chapter of Urban Creeks Council and their work to educate the community about the importance of urban creeks. Consider purchasing one for yourself, your child’s or grandchild’s teacher or for a local school. With the active participation of many individuals, we can help improve the quality of life for all Californians.

“Much of California’s economic prosperity has depended on how we have used our environment.

In the future it will depend on how we understand our environment.

In its broadest definition, our environment is the Now that joins our Past to our Future. Our environment links everyone and everything.”

– From Education & The Environment, Strategic Initiatives for Enhancing Education in California

This article originally appeared in our Fall 2005 Newsletter

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An Educator’s Guide and Kit

Creek Plants: Buckeye

by Bruce Swinehart

One of the most obvious changes that is evident in fall is the transition many plants make. To me, the drying of the grasses to a golden brown in late summer transforms the rather monotonous contours of the foothills into a colorful representation of our Golden State. As you travel through our valley, the warm brown plains create an aura of tranquility that artists consistently try to capture.

Although most of the changes in the hue of our vegetation are expected and accepted, there is one plant that makes a dramatic change that causes concern in the discerning observer.

California Buckeye

Aesculus californica

Every year near the end of summer many people are alarmed at the buckeye tree that has all the symptoms of dying. These trees are generally seen along the streams of this area. Along our creeks there are many good examples. At this time of year we often see several trees with brown leaves that hang down as if the trees are in the throes of death. It is as if each leaf has echoed the despair of the tree in death. If one looks more closely, there are probably lemon-sized grayish-green balls hanging among the leaves. This would seem to indicate even further that something has killed the tree before the fruit has ripened. Often there are many of these trees in the same area that look the same. This is even further evidence to indicate a disease has attacked and is killing all of the trees.

Such is not the case, however. The trees are not dead or dying but merely preparing for winter. The leaves have finished making food for the tree. The leaves then die to prevent further water loss. The various mechanisms the tree has to bring this about are interesting but complicated. The fruit continues to ripen and the leaves and fruit fall later so the fruit can take advantage of the early spring rains. If the fruit is examined after the covering has split open, the rich red-brown fruit of the buckeye can be recognized.

The buckeye fruit, sometimes called the Horse Chestnut, has large amounts of tannic acid in it and as such is inedible. Beekeepers do not appreciate the buckeye as its pollen is poisonous to bees. Sometimes many bees are found dead under the tree.

Several years ago I taught a class in edible wild plants. We had successfully made edible acorn meal. I challenged the class to a project to see if they could leach the tannic acid out of the buckeye. They tried drying and roasting it and just about every other possible way. But nothing worked. No matter what was done, when water was applied to leach it, it became a gooey, mucilaginous mess. I heard it said once that if the eastern Indians had learned to make the buckeye edible, we may not have been able to colonize America. I was born in the buckeye state, Ohio, so they are special to me.

This article originally appeared in our Fall 2005 Newsletter

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Reaching Out to the Community

Mira Loma High School Students Introduce
the Outreach Portions of the Arcade Creek Project

by Lisa Kelly, Senior Manager of Outreach

The Arcade Creek Project began as a result of the International Baccalaureate Program coming to Mira Loma High School. The students and their instructors began studying nearby Arcade Creek, a beautiful neighborhood waterway that runs year-round just north of the school.

Today, the Creek Project is in its fifth year, and it has grown from encompassing seven components to eleven – eight studies, a restoration group, an outreach group and a data analysis group. The outreach group is the group which comes in contact with the public. We do this a number of ways, from participating in Creek Week and Sacramento Urban Creek Council’s newsletters to visiting elementary schools to emphasize the importance of the environment and why we want to protect it.

One major interaction the project has had with the public involves politics and government. A large section of the watershed feeding into the creek was almost sold to another local philanthropic group (they were planning on turning it into a parking lot). Because Mira Loma students had been running ecological surveys on this watershed parcel, they knew its importance to adjacent wetlands. They undertook a massive letter writing campaign and invited City Council members to the site to explain its importance. This political part of the process added a new dimension to the project. The proposed parking lot has been put on long term hold, and it seems that the students’ work has paid off.

Outreach works to make the community more aware of its environment. Its current projects are developing curricula for visiting elementary and middle schools and teaching classes about caring for the environment, representing the Arcade Creek Project at various environmental symposia and gatherings, publishing a column in a local environmental newsletter promoting the interests of the creek, and generally reaching out to the community about our project and the environment.

This year, Outreach will be bringing this comprehensive project into classrooms in kid-sized portions. We are creating curriculum at this moment that will translate into even greater levels of stewardship and community service. We’re hoping to inspire kids at a young age to feel a responsibility for the environment. We feel it is but one manner in which we can do our part to contribute to a generation of people who will be prepared to face the challenges of sustaining the world for generations to come.

We plan to do all this with a series of curriculum that teachers can choose from, including Dr. Seuss’s timeless classic story, The Lorax. This story is a great tool for teaching kids about the importance of environmental awareness and conservation. Another curriculum involves understanding proper lab technique as an incredibly important component of any science education. This lesson will teach students about listing a hypothesis, experimental and control groups, materials and methods, procedure, data, data analysis, and conclusion in lab reports while giving them hands-on education about the environment. Yet another involves informing students about the importance of protecting the quality of water, soil, air, and wildlife habitats as well as the importance of preserving biodiversity for environmental and aesthetic reasons.

This outreach group hopes to promote and motivate children to form healthy, lasting relationships with nature by generating an interest in the protection of natural resources. We hope to pass on the understanding that the Earth has provided for and nourished us for millions of years. Yet, with the destruction of the environment from our consumption and industry, we are endangering ourselves and all posterity. The environment must be protected – for ourselves, for our children. And who better to train to protect it than those same children?

This article originally appeared in our Fall 2005 Newsletter

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California National Guard Cleans Arcade Creek

by Alta Tura

Wayne Lorentzen of the California National Guard was looking for a worthy Earth Day service project when he called me in March. I had just the place that needed a tough, well-organized group with experience in tackling hazards safely. This very needy section of Arcade Creek had not been cleaned for the last few years. Steep banks, lots of poison oak, illegal dumping and homeless encampments make this one of the most challenging of our creek clean-up spots. Because Wayne’s group wanted to clean on Earth Day, they were not officially part of Creek Week. However, we were able to help them by providing advice and equipment such as garbage bags, ropes with hooks, litter getters and t-shirts.

Fifteen soldier and staff volunteers from the California National Guard worked from 9 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. on Friday, April 22. They made good use of the ropes and hooks to pull out an engine, a refrigerator, tires, shopping carts and furniture. Enough debris was removed from the creek and nearby businesses to fill a rented 40-yard roller box. The box of collected debris was taken away that afternoon before vandals could get a chance to raid it and dump trash back into the creek. Hazardous waste was separated out and properly disposed. In all, about 1,250 feet of Arcade Creek were cleaned. The volunteers celebrated with pizza donated by Mountain Mike’s Pizza. On behalf of Arcade Creek, we want to thank the California National Guard volunteers for their initiative and hard work.

This article originally appeared in our Summer 2005 Newsletter


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Horsing Around Ueda Parkway during Creek Week 2005!

By Bill Templin

photo by Bill Templin

photo by Bill Templin

This year Creek Week offered a new activity, a horseback tour of the Ueda Parkway! The idea was Barbara Eggleston’s and it was a good one. What a great way to spend a beautiful Sacramento Saturday morning in spring. It had been quite a while since I had last ridden a horse, but as they say -It’s just like riding a bike, it comes right back to you.- This ride was held on an absolutely beautiful spring day and was well timed between all of those rainstorms. The scenery in the Ueda Parkway and Hansen Ranch was beautifully pastoral and the view from horseback was much better than on foot.

Barb borrowed this cute little pony to ride, as her horse was under the weather on this day. Thanks to Barbara Longo for loaning me a horse to ride and to all of the attendees who provided me so much encouragement and guidance.

The wild flowers and waterfowl were in abundance but only about ten horse persons enjoyed this first year’s ride. Hopefully next year many more people will be able to enjoy the experience, and I highly recommend that they do!

For more information on Ueda Parkway you can visit the Natomas Journal’s Ueda map and the Journal’s Place In the City

This article originally appeared in our 2005 Summer Newsletter

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Red-Shouldered Hawk

by Bruce Swinehart

red shoulder hawk

Red Shoulder Hawk

Wow! What is that noise? This is a comment often made by people hearing the shriek of the Red-shouldered Hawk. This bird is often heard long before it is seen sitting inside the branches of a tall tree rather than out near the edge. The shrill call is often described as “kee-yoo”.

It is perhaps not quite as easily distinguished as the Red-tailed Hawk with its very red tail. It is quite easily told, however, not by its red shoulders, but by its strikingly black and white banded tail edged in white at the end. The striped wings often show translucent crescent shaped “windows” (an ornithologist’s term) underneath. While the Red-tailed Hawk will glide for long periods without flapping its wings, the Red-shouldered Hawk will glide and flap, glide and flap. It is very characteristic. Its 16-inch body and 40-inch wingspan is a little smaller than the Red-tail.

A pair typically stays together all year. When you find one, there is most likely another. Some think they pair for life. They like to nest in taller trees along our creeks. The young do have the banded tail but lack the buffy color of the breast and wing linings.

red shoulder hawk

The Red-shouldered Hawk is found in the Eastern United states and along the western edge of California, but is conspicuously missing from middle America. In days of yore when all hawks were considered bad, they were called the derogatory name, chicken hawks. The Red-shouldered Hawk helped give hawks a good name. They seem to eat mostly small things often found near water and along our creeks. Chickens are not much of its diet but mice, rats and squirrels are. Farmers could often observe this and recognize its value. Watch for it, it is a hawk you can positively identify on your own.

This article originally appeared in our Summer 2005 Newsletter

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Mission Accomplished!

By Alta Tura

In the weeks and days leading up to the yearly clean-up of Sacramento County’s creeks, planners worried a bit about the weather. Nothing can squelch a creek clean-up more thoroughly than a heavy rainstorm. So the sunny and mild spring conditions on the day of the clean-up were very welcome. Not too hot, not too cold and, most important, not too wet.

Volunteers reported to more than fifty different sites at 9 a.m. on Saturday, April 9. Some groups numbered as few as three workers while the largest group was a whopping 61 strong. Their collective labors resulted in the removal of about 20 tons of man-made debris from creeks in the unincorporated County and in the cities of Sacramento, Citrus Heights, Rancho Cordova and Folsom. The red sesbania plant, another creek villain, was delivered a set back by the 100 volunteers who toiled to remove the invasive plants from 1,200 feet of creek banks.

Thanks to the effective work of Creek Week volunteers, Sacramento County’s creeks will have fewer obstructions during high water events, our rivers and even the ocean will be cleaner and native willows will have an opportunity to make a comeback along the banks of Dry Creek.

This article originally appeared in our Summer 2005 Newsletter

Posted in Author: Alta Tura | Comments Off on Mission Accomplished!