Naturalist Blog

Being a Naturalist is a wonderful job.  Check here regularly for insights into our world!

Birding to Awaken Wonder Fundraiser

Posted by on Feb 12, 2015 in Naturalist Blog | 0 comments

Birding to Awaken Wonder Fundraiser

Birding to Awaken Wonder is a fundraiser for bird education put on by the Woodleaf Legacy Birding Team for Shady Creek Outdoor School. The goal of our team is to see 2015 bird species around the world in 2015.FullSizeRender

Our birding team is made up of former Woodleaf Outdoor School and Shady Creek Outdoor School naturalists who have a passion for birding and want to contribute to bird education in California. The Woodleaf Legacy Birding Team will be looking for different birds throughout the Americas, Asia, Australia, and Africa in hopes of reaching or surpassing our goal of 2015 species of birds.

Thousands of Central Valley students participate in Shady Creek’s bird education program each year. While at outdoor school, these students see our raptors up close, they develop their own questions about birds in our bird classroom, and they experience the excitement and wonderment in birding.

Shady Creek Outdoor School’s bird education program has been using the same materials for the past 20 years. We are hoping to update our educational resources so we can continue to provide a top-notch experience for the students who visit.

Supporters of Birding to Awaken Wonder would contribute a certain amount of money for every new bird species that is seen by the team. For example, if a person donated $ .01 per bird, and we meet our goal of 2015 species, that person would donate $20.15 to the program. Donations are tax deductible.

Pledge forms can be downloaded on the Shady Creek Outdoor School website, or you can request a pledge form by emailing Follow the Woodleaf Legacy Birding Team’s progress on Facebook by searching Birding to Awaken Wonder. You can also find us on Twitter@Woodleaflegacy.

Birding to Awaken Wonder Pledge Form

Working With The Raptors

Posted by on Nov 21, 2013 in Naturalist Blog | 0 comments

Hi, my name is Redwood and I am a student naturalist here at Shady Creek! I first heard about the student naturalist program during my senior year of high school. Interested in taking a year off before college to try something new and out of my comfort zone, I decided to visit Shady Creek to see what it was all about. I immediately fell in love with the program as soon as I stepped on to the property. One part in particular that clearly stood out in my mind was visiting the raptor center. At the time, Shady Creek’s raptor center was home to Shasta, a Bald Eagle, and Roja, a Red-tailed Hawk. I remember feeling very impressed with and interested in the birds, but slightly uneasy because as a student naturalist I would have to feed the birds a variety of dead animals including chicks, quail and mice. Since that visit, I have loved working with the raptors on a daily basis, and have proudly overcome my initial worries about feeding the birds. Raptor mealtime has even turned into one of my favorite parts of interacting with the raptors. I have not only learned how to gut quail, but also how to properly feed the birds and log the food each one receives.  I have gained a whole new insight and interest in the anatomy of birds and importance of their diet and how it can affect their mood and overall heath.

Bird Pic 1

Last May, Shady Creek took in three new unreleaseable birds of prey including Piper, a Western Screech Owl, Pancha, a Red-shouldered Hawk and Sly, a Red-tailed Hawk. All five birds have unique personalities and behaviors that require varied approaches and techniques when being handled. All of Shady Creek’s birds are significantly injured in one way or another. This greatly minimizes their chances of surviving on their own in the wild. With the guidance of our director Shannon, raptor consultant and local falconer Marya, and other naturalists, I have learned an immense amount of fascinating information regarding the correct procedure and equipment to use when handling and working with the birds, as well as some awesome and unusual facts about them. One favorite is that the scientific name for the two feather tufts on top of owl’s heads are plumicorns (“plume” like a feather and “icorn”, coming from unicorn and resembling a horn).

One bird I’ve had an exceptional, yet occasionally difficult experience with is Sly. Sly is a male Red-tailed Hawk between one and two years old. He is partially blind in his left eye, but still fully capable of flying. However, what makes him most challenging to work with is that he is “imprinted”.  He was taken into captivity at a very young age, before he could fully develop an understanding of who he is and how to hunt and survive on his own. This resulted in confusion over whether he is a bird or a human. He has become protective over his mew (another name for the rooms the birds live in) and unpredictably aggressive because of this. However, he is an extremely valuable asset to our birds class and I thoroughly enjoy spending time with him. Being our only bird who is fully flighted and still has some vision, the naturalists have been training him to fly between us using special, thick raptor handling gloves. We have even been able to fly Sly during class in front of students, providing a whole new and up close perspective on the amazing adaptations of raptors. I have loved participating in training Sly, teaching him to respond to our commands, helping him exercise and spending time outside as well as trying to get him to become more comfortable around people. Handling Sly is definitely a challenge, nonetheless, I have loved interacting with him and look forward to the next challenge to come my way.

Bird Pic 2

A year ago, when I first heard about Shady Creek, I had no idea I would have the opportunity to feed and hold raptors. Every minute I get to spend time in the raptor center is fantastic. Working with and learning about the birds has been one of my greatest life experiences.

AEOE Conference & Road Trip!

Posted by on Nov 7, 2013 in Naturalist Blog | 0 comments

A couple weekends ago, several staff members and I drove down to Sierra Outdoor School to attend the Fall Northern California AEOE Conference.  AEOE, or the Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education, hosts conferences twice a year in California for environmental educators to get together and learn from each other. Quail, Madrone, Echo, Redwood, Midnight, Aurora, Raven and I all piled into two cars and road tripped south to Sonora.  When Quail wasn’t giving us great information and history about all the sites we passed along the way, we belted out Mackelmore and the Backstreet Boys as we drove and stopped in Angel’s Camp for some delicious burritos before arriving at the outdoor school after dark.  As soon as we arrived, we noticed several people gazing up at the night sky and spinning in circles before collapsing on the ground. Echo squealed and she and Aurora quickly ran off to play the popular stargazing game “Star Spinning” with them.  We immediately felt right at home!

We set up our tents and headed down to the bonfire to meet the other conference attendees.  Everyone was gathered around the fire, playing music, singing and chatting.  It was so fun to meet naturalists from other outdoor schools all over Northern California, all with similar goals and passions as us.  I was excited to meet a naturalist that had worked in the same entomology lab that I had worked in at UC Davis and another naturalist who had visited my home town of Tallahassee, Florida and frequented the same springs and beaches that I loved growing up.  We all had so much in common and it was great to talk about our respective schools and compare our programs.

The next morning, after a quick breakfast, we dove into our workshops.  The first workshop I attended was about insect diversity.  We covered the basics of insect evolution and classification and then when out to catch bugs.  I was paired with some naturalists from San Mateo Outdoor Education and enjoyed teaching them about insects as well as the natural history of many of the plants we found while exploring.  Last week I brought the information I learned back to Shady Creek and in-serviced our entire naturalist staff.  I hope we can incorporate what we learned about insects to some of our classes here at Shady Creek!

My next class covered community-building strategies. We played a variety of games aimed at building teamwork and community and went over strategies for getting kids to think about community and how it relates to their own lives.  We have already brought some of these strategies to our Discovery Hikes as well as our ropes course. My third workshop was an introduction to the use of poetry as a way of documenting and connecting with nature.  The course provided strategies for incorporating poetry writing into classes, but also brought in the idea of poetry as a tool for a naturalist on a day-to-day basis in observing and studying nature.  I had so much fun on this class and hope to start writing more poetry for myself, as well as using these exercises in classes like gorking and silent watch.

In the evening, there was a conference-wide talent show, with lots of skits and music.  Our whole staff sang the song “Predator Blues”, written by our former director Curious George, who now works at Walker Creek Ranch.  Some of the naturalists from Walker Creek Ranch attended the conference but had never heard the song.  They really enjoyed it, so we gave them a copy of the lyrics to take back with them and surprise Curious George!

For our final day of the conference, we each attended one more workshop.  I went to the workshop called “Why Birds are Fantastic” taught by an employee of the Fish and Wildlife Service.  We have a great birds class here at Shady Creek, but this workshop gave us some nice ideas for other topics we could cover when we talk about birds, such as migration, as well as the important ecological services that birds provide for humans, like pest and disease control, seed dispersal, pollination, cleanup, and ecotourism.

We were sad to leave the conference and all our new friends, but we missed our home at Shady Creek and were excited to make our way back. We took the scenic route, driving through the Sonora Pass.  We stopped at an overlook with an amazing view of the Donnell Reservoir on the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus River. We then pulled over to scramble down to a stream and put our feet in the freezing water. We headed up to the Sonora Pass by Stanislaus National Forest and gazed out at all the mountains and valleys from over 9000 feet elevation! It was spectacular! We got into a bit of a snowball fight, as we were at high enough elevation for some snow to still be on the ground. I saved some of the snow in a cup in our car and pegged Raven at the gas station when we stopped close to Carson City.  On our last stretch we drove past the dreamy blue Lake Tahoe before finally making it home, exhausted and dirty but happy and so pumped to share what we had learned. I can’t wait for more learning and fun at the next AEOE conference in the Spring!

Honeybee's Mini Snowman

Honeybee’s Mini Snowman

The whole crew!

The whole crew!


Enjoying the view of the Donnell Reservoir on the Stanislaus River

Enjoying the view of the Donnell Reservoir on the Stanislaus River


On Top Of The Pass

Another view from Donnell Vista

Another view from Donnell Vista

Naturalist Talk About Trees

Posted by on Sep 5, 2013 in Naturalist Blog | 0 comments

A couple of weeks ago, Corinna, a Naturalist, and Alatna, a Student Naturalist attended the Forest Foundation’s Talk About Trees facilitator training. Talk About Trees, or TAT, is a program that is dedicated to educating elementary aged students about California’s forest ecosystems and “responsible stewardship and management.” They do this by providing “balanced, science-based information on environmental, economic, and societal uses of forest resources.”

Paul Bunyon

The majority of TAT facilitators visit students in their own classrooms and provide a one hour presentation on tree physiology, forest management including fire ecology, laws and regulations, and associated careers. Shady Creek facilitators have an advantage in that we get to present all of this information in an actual forest. From tree identification to tree biology and the photosynthesis process, to the Carbon, Nitrogen, and Water Cycles, all are taught outside, where kids can see real-life examples of all the different “players” in a forest ecosystem.

Sas and Kids

During the facilitator training, Alatna and Corinna had the opportunity to visit a real-life logging operation, located just 25 miles from Shady Creek. The land is owned by an individual, but he leases it out to Sierra Pacific to log. On this land there were various harvest methods going on, like selective logging, where a machine goes in and pulls out a tree here and a tree there, while leaving other trees to grow more.


They also saw what a clear-cut looks like in California. Clear-cuts in California are allowed to be no bigger than 20 acres, most logging companies and the Forest Service do not go bigger than 15 acres. The reason they keep the size small, compared to other states is because a size around 15 acres mimics natural disturbances, like fire and wind. Foresters are also required to re-plant every acre they harvest, 300 trees per acre, according to the law.

Alatna and Corinna also had the opportunity to learn all about tree products, including fun games to incorporate into their lessons.

Forest Products

After attending this training, Corinna and Alatna feel enthused and motivated to bring new ideas and activities to some of our classes and our ‘Day in the Forest’ program. The TAT program is great in that it really focuses on the importance of trees being a renewable resource while combining information about the environmental, societal, and economic benefits our forests provide.

Naturalist & Student Art Brightens Shady Creek

Posted by on May 1, 2013 in Naturalist Blog | 0 comments


This Spring Shady Creek Naturalists, led by Karis “Pegasus” Joldersma, and students from Brittan Elementary’s California Junior Scholarship Federation (CJSF) club have been working hard to paint murals in our amphitheater.  The color and beauty of the murals have transformed the area, making it one of the most inviting spaces on our campus.


mural complete

Each year, Brittan’s CJSF club chooses to do a service project at Shady Creek.  They have done tremendous work in our garden, but this year they wanted to leave a legacy.  Pegasus chose to take the lead and help them create a lasting art project for the campus.  She began by painting a sunset over mountains as the background for the students paint on.  When the CJSF club arrived the students got a lesson in foreground and background, after which they went to work painting trees, flowers, and animals into the scene.
beginning pic


During their time at Shady Creek the students made great progress on the mural, but only so much could be done in one day.  After they had gone the naturalists had a great time pitching in a finishing the project, adding their own creativity and style.

mural 5

However, upon completion the other side of the amphitheater began to look a bit boring.  Once again, Pegasus jumped to action and began preparing for another mural.  This time she has selected a paneled mural that includes a creek scene, and a unique perspective on a cedar tree.  Joined by Student Naturalist Alyson “River” Hubbard, Pegasus has created a paint-by-numbers scene that is continuing to bring vibrance to Shady Creek.  Thank you to everyone that has participated in this project!  We can’t wait to see where inspiration will strike next!

mural 8


creek pic