U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

Sacramento Fish & Wildlife OfficeServing the people, conserving the fish, wildlife, and plants of California

A Unit Of The Pacific Southwest Region

Site Visit Insights from Nora Papian

August 5, 2019

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Photo of scene of downingia and cotula coronopifolia
Downingia and Cotula coronopifolia mark the high water mark of a vernal pool. Photo credit: Nora Papian, USFWS.
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Photo of scene flyt pollinating a flower
Vernal pool flowering plants rely on pollinators too. This goldfield is being pollinated by a fly. Photo credit: Nora Papian, USFWS.
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Photo of scene of two American Avocets
American Avocets (Recurvirostra americana) in a territorial dispute at a vernal pool at the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) Mitigation Bank. The bird on the right had been incubating its eggs when the bird on the left began feeding too close to the nest. The nest owner attacked the intruder and pushed it to the far side of the vernal pool and then returned to incubate. Photo credit: Nora Papian, USFWS.

Site visits are critical to helping Sacramento Fish and Wildlife Office (SFWO) biologists learn more about species and their habitats. The trips often take them into areas most people do not have a chance to explore, including public and privately-owned restricted sites, as well as some remote and hard-to-reach areas. "Site visit Insights" provides a behind-the-scenes perspective of wildlife biology, featuring photographs and interesting discoveries and happenings SFWO biologists experience in the field.

Wildlife Biologists:
Nora Papian, fish and wildlife biologist

Site visit location: Rancho Seco Preserve, Sacramento County, California

What was the purpose of the site visit?
The purpose of the site visit was to verify new wetlands that have formed naturally over time since the site was restored. The area we visited was leveled for cattle grazing in the early 20th century, but the natural shape of the land was restored in 2011 to create wetlands and intervening grasslands between the individual wetlands. Over time, however, new wetlands have formed naturally in depressions, and we visited these sites to make sure they support the correct species of plants and animals to be considered a wetland. Many of the species that rely on these wetlands are rare, and several are either federally or state listed as threatened or endangered.

Where did you go?
We visited the Sacramento Municipal Utility District's Rancho Seco Preserve in southeastern Sacramento County. This area is adjacent to the Rancho Seco Lake Recreation Area, but it is closed to public access to protect the listed species that inhabit the area.

What partners were you working with and what is the nature of SFWO’s partnership with them?
The visit was led by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District environmental team, who took us to the new wetlands and provided background information on the site. A biologist from California Department of Fish and Wildlife came to see the site and determine that the wetlands function appropriately for state-listed species. A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers biologist was there to verify the new wetlands (and teach us how to identify wetlands). Our role with these partners is to provide assistance to ensure that wetlands are present and support protected species.

What did you learn from this site visit that you didn’t know before?
I learned how to verify a wetland based upon its plant species. Even though the water had receded slightly since the previous rain, flowers that require flooding were blooming where the wetlands had been—a colorful signature of previous conditions.

What surprises did you encounter during the site visit?
While we visited the site to identify wetlands, two biologists with the U.S. Geological Service were looking for western spadefoot tadpoles in the wetlands. Because the wetlands were muddy, the biologists used nets to try to capture tadpoles that might have been hiding. We thought it might be too late in the spring and the tadpoles may have already transformed into adults and left the wetlands. But, to our surprise, the biologists caught both a western spadefoot toad tadpole and a young California tiger salamander! These (large) babies will transform into adults before the wetlands dry for the summer, but they were clearly taking advantage of the abundant food in the wetland to grow as big as possible before fully transforming.

Last updated: October 4, 2019