Thanks to the amazing collaborative efforts between UC Merced officials and AP Environmental Science Teachers Laura Hollister, Brian Hofsteen and Kevin Testo, nearly 130 PHS and THS students were able to contribute to authentic, cutting-edge biodiversity science at the UC Merced Vernal Pools & Grasslands Reserve. The students worked shoulder-to-shoulder with UC Merced professors Dr. Jason Sexton and Dr. Dannise Ruiz and Reserve Manager Mo Kolster to collect soil and sediment samples from vernal pools while soaking-in the sweeping views of the distant Sierra Nevada.
Vernal pools are small depressions in the valley and foothills that fill with water to become temporary wetlands in the winter and spring before evaporating completely during the hot summer months. Vernal Pools are known habitat for endangered amphibians, fairy shrimp and native plant species that are found nowhere else in the world!
The samples collected by the students will be taken to a new multi-million dollar lab at UCLA where remnant biological material such as fur, cells, urine & feces found in the soil will have its DNA extracted and sequenced. The DNA found in the environment (eDNA) will let researchers know EXCATLY which microbes, fungi, plants and animals call the Vernal Pools home during the spring!
Many students developed a newfound appreciation for the Great Central Valley by experiencing it beauty and discovering its biological value. The results of the student-collected samples will be freely available to the public within the next several months on the Cal eDNA interactive map at https://data.ucedna.com/.
A visit to the 2019 Carrizo Plain National Monument Super Bloom! There are too many lovely photos to post here, so please check out the photo album!
Zephyr, Grandma H and I headed for the hills to investigate how the 2019 wildflower season was coming along within the Red Hills Area of Critical Environmental Concern. We took a brief hike up the Overlook Trail and got a tremendous 360 degree view of the area. We also made a visit to our Red Hills Roach fish friends on the Serpentine Loop North Road. We identified 11 different species of wildflowers with just a cursory attempt at searching. iNaturalist has been an amazing resource to help me identify what we saw. Check out the complete Photo Journal to see all the amazing flowers and views.
Here's our Red Hill Roach friends swimming in the intermittent stream along North Serpentine Loop Road in 2018.
Z and I went down to the Fairmead Fossil Discovery Center to view their collection of 700,000yr old Irvingtonian fossils found in and excavated from the neighboring LANDFILL. 40 different species have been discovered, including several Colombian Mammoths. Most fossils are horses, though.
Most of the local specimens at the Fossil Discovery Center are beat-up thanks to being tumbled down the Chowchilla River and deposited in its floodplain. The complete fossils in the museum are casts from La Brea. It's very much worth an hours visit if you have hte time! https://www.maderamammoths.org
Post-museum Storm Chasing
Since Laura still needed more time to study, Z and I followed the Chowcilla River east into the foothills at Eastman Lake where we were able to take some great photos and experience a fun little hike along the dam.
Presidents' Day weekend was the only shot of a vacation we were going to get before summer since Spring Break is already booked with Laura's midterms. We had one heckuva time driving into a massive atmospheric river that pounded the desert. Arroyos flooded, highways flooded, cities flooded... it was insanely fun to witness from the safety of our new Ascent. We saw the Mojave River born again, and the immense power of flash flooding in the White Water River that flows through downtown Palm Desert.
Once the rain subsided we headed out to visit Anza-Borego State Park and Thousand Palms Oasis near the Coachella Valley Preserve to get-in several nice hikes. The hikes also provided me with an opportunity to test out my new Nikon D850 and 24-70mm lens. Mind... blown...! Enjoy the pics and the videos below.
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Laura, Zephyr and I headed out to the UC Merced Vernal Pool Reserve on a gorgeous and warm late-January Saturday morning to participate in a community science bioblitz. We helped collect soil and sediment samples in the Veranal Pools from which researchers at UC Merced and UCLA will extract environmental DNA. The scientist will use DNA extraction and sequencing techniques to figure out what lives in the area, from microbes to fungi, plants and animals. How cool is that? This collection day was put together by the CALeDNA Project which I found out about through Twitter.
Zephyr had a great time collecting samples and spotting fairy shrimp. So did we!
Last, but not least, here's a rough draft high resolution photosphere of the two vernal pools that we sampled. As you can see, the lighting was very harsh and hazy, so I hope to come back on a clear day to make some great scenes when the Sierras are visible. Enjoy!
Laura and I spent the morning at the SLNWR with 22 WildLink members, but had to leave Z at home with grandma due to a miscalculation of available seats. To make things right with Z, we ate a quick lunch at home and then headed back out to the refuge in the late afternoon hoping to let Z have some fun running around catch a sunset illuminating the clouds of what would be a pretty drenching storm the following day. We were not disappointed. Although individual bird types were hard to discern, there was no mistaking the Sandhill Cranes as they flew in to Sousa Marsh for the evening (listen to the video clips).
Enjoy the photos.
Grandma, Z and I went for a lovely stroll to catch the last of the fall colors just over Sonora Pass and check out a Sardine Falls up close and personal for the first time. Laura needed some time to finish projects for her MS classes today and we had to get Z out of the house. What a perfect day! Temps in the 60’s at 9000’ and not another person on the trail!
The Relief Peak Formation (~10.39Ma andesitic block and ash tuffs) makes for a great backdrop on an autumn day. Check out Busby’s work to better understand the geology of this area!
Ryan J Hollister - Geoscience & EnviroSci Educator, Avid hiker, Landscape photographer, WildLink Club Advisor, Central Valley Advocate.