Jepson Prairie Preserve /
Vernal Pool Tours
From the Sacramento Bee
Published 2:15 am PST Thursday, March 9, 2006
Adventure of the week:
Spring busts out in the pools and on the prairie
If you've never seen a California tiger salamander or a Conservancy fairy shrimp wiggling about in its natural environment, you have a chance to spot these endangered critters Saturday.
Saturday is the first day of docent-led walks of the vernal pools in the Jepson Prairie Preserve, an ecological island near Dixon. Docents have federally issued permits that allow them to net nature's fragile creatures for inspection and portraits. The vernal-pool tadpole shrimp is among the numerous fragile species in the preserve.
Docent-led tours of the preserve continue at 10 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays through May 14. The outings take from less than an hour to two hours, depending on the interest of the group.
If you head out this weekend, you will see the tiger salamander in its larval stage, according to docent Jim Steinert of Davis. Go later in the season, he promises, and you may see them all grown up - but they are quite shy. Once the vernal pools evaporate, the salamander finds a gopher's burrow to call home for the dry season.
This Saturday, you'll see the vernal pools emerging from the winter season. As you trek cross-country through grassland, you'll see tiny, colorful wildflowers dotting the open spaces.
You'll want to bring binoculars for a good look at the many birds in and around the Olcott Pool. There will be migratory shorebirds, ducks, Canada geese and black-necked stilts, Steinert says.
Herds of tule elk and deer once roamed about this vernal-pool ecosystem. Now sheep graze the grassy flatland. The soil here is mostly clay and too dense for farming, so it's never been plowed. Once rain saturates the preserve's soil, vernal pools - huge, knee-deep puddles - form and wake up dormant flowers. As the pools evaporate, the wee wildflowers flourish, usually from mid-March through April.
For midweek visits, the preserve has a self-guided trail open during daylight hours. It also offers special tours on request (707-432-0150, ext. 202; minimum charge is $35).
Jepson Prairie is owned and managed by the Solano Land Trust in cooperation with the University of California Natural Reserve System. The Nature Conservancy purchased the land in 1980 and transferred ownership in 1996.
Any time you go to the preserve, you could encounter biology students studying the isolated ecosystem's biodiversity. More information about its endangered species can be found at www.calacademy.org/ naturalhistory/california_hotspot.
Tadpole shrimp, which grow to 2 inches, are among the critters that call the Jepson Prairie pools home.
Goldfields are among "belly flowers" -- so called because they grow close to the ground -- that color the preserve. Sacramento Bee file, 1999/Anne Chadwick Williams
Jepson Prairie Preserve
What: Docent-led tours
When: 10 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays through May 14
Directions: The preserve is on Cook Lane off Highway 113, 11 miles south of Dixon
What to wear: Dress in layers for changeable weather; wear boots or shoes that can get wet or muddy
What to bring: Water, binoculars, camera
How long: Walks range from just under an hour to two hours, depending on interest
Cost: $1 donation is requested
Information: (707) 432-0150, ext. 202; or www.solanolandtrust.org
Jepson Prairie Wildflowers www.vernalpools.org : This is an interactive plant identification tutorial and quiz for the Jepson Prairie docent program.