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Hiking with Amphibians and Reptiles on the Stockton Creek Nature Preserve

Frogs were singing and turtles were basking on logs at the Stockton Creek Nature Preserve where I learned how to identify some of our local amphibians and reptiles with the Sierra Foothill Conservancy.

Where: Sierra Foothill Conservancy, Stockton Creek Nature Preserve
Distance: 2.21 Miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation Range: 2,250′ – 2.406′
Date: April 15, 2018
Maps: Ben Hur, Buckingham Mountain Topographic Quads
Dog Hike? Maybe

When the Sierra Foothill Conservancy listed an upcoming class/hike as an Amphibian Bio-Blitz, it caught my interest for a couple of reasons.  I just don’t know much about amphibians and it was time I learned more, plus it was on the Stockton Creek Nature Preserve and I had never visited it. I signed up, hoping to be able to get better at identifying the amphibians and reptiles in our area.

We met at the large parking area at the gated entrance to Stockton Creek Nature Preserve off of Hwy 49, about .8″ of a mile above Old Hwy. The trail or road that we walked along was actually the Old Trabucco Street.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our lead instructor was Ninette Daniele, taking us down the road to our outdoor classroom under a shaded canopy.  Jessica Thompson also assisted in leading our class.

We walked through a trail easement donated by the Fischer Family through their adjacent property where we saw a few turkeys, then we entered the Stockton Creek Preserve. The Stockton Creek Preserve is a unique partnership project between Sierra Foothill Conservancy (SFC) and Mariposa Public Utility District (MPUD). The completion of this 410 acre preserve and trail system provides domestic water supply protection, viewshed conservation, recreation opportunities, and fire hazard reduction. SFC worked in partnership with MPUD to develop the project and complete the 410 acre Stockton Creek Preserve with the county agency in December 2011. MPUD now owns and manages the property for its public benefits in perpetuity.

The Stockton Creek Preserve surrounds The Stockton Creek Reservoir, provides immediate watershed protection for the town’s primary domestic water resource. The Mariposa High School track team has been training on the property for years and they can now do so freely as the Preserve is open to the public. Visitors, residents, and students can enjoy a hike just on the edge of town on the network of trails on the preserve.

Our classroom portion included identification of frogs and toads by many different methods, including their tadpole stage, egg masses and song. We were introduced to a wonderful online resource to help identify them and rather than post a bunch of pictures off of their site, I want to share the California Herps Website with you. We could easily hear the difference between the Foothill Yellow-legged Frog call, the Sierran Chorus Frog call, the Western Toad call and even the Yosemite Toad call. We learned about Bullfrogs, an introduced and invasive species, and what a difference in the Bullfrog call.

We also learned how to identify the Western Pond Turtle, the only native turtle in California from the invasive Red-Eared Slider. I also learned more about Sierra Newts, common snakes in our area and lizards.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jars with tadpoles were passed around as a test for our identification skills.

A jar with a Western Fence Lizard was also passed around and if you looked very closely, you could see ticks on the lizard. I learned that the Western Fence Lizard is a host to nymphatic ticks and the Western Fence Lizard blood also “cleans” the Lyme disease out of a tick if it is infected at this stage. It doesn’t mean the tick can’t pick it up at a later stage of its possible 3 year life though.

If you want to try to identify local amphibians and reptiles, there is a great site that includes lots of pictures and information about our local inhabitants at California Herps Home Page.

It was time for our trip down to the Stockton Creek Reservoir, named after Robert F. Stockton who owned a mine and stamp mill during the California Gold Rush. The Mariposa Public Utilities District (MPUD) operates the 95 foot tall Stockton Creek Dam on Stockton Creek and it holds a major source of water for the community of Mariposa.

Our goal was to try and see if we could find and identify turtles. Boy, they were fast though. We spotted one right at the beginning but plop, in the water it went from its log. A spotting scope was set up and it made it very easy to view the turtles from a distance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How could this Western Pond Turtle be comfortable on this log? It looks like it could fall off in this position.

Western Pond Turtle

Once I had them in the spotting scope, I was able to locate them in my binoculars and zoom in with my camera on my monopod.

4 Western Pond Turtles

Western Pond Turtle

There was also other wildlife to see.

Geese and Mallard

I want to thank our Botonists on this fun adventure and loved learning new things about amphibians. If you are interested in going on one of these guided hikes on the Sierra Conservancy land, there are many choices on their website linked at the end of this blog. You can sign up online and if you are a member, there is no cost. Don’t worry if you are not a member though because the cost is minimal, $5 for this hike. The funds go to a wonderful cause, protecting our foothill lands. They also have some Open Preserve Days which there is no charge to attend.

The mission of the Sierra Foothill Conservancy is as follows:

  • Protects wildlife & preserves native flora
  • Provides educational and recreational opportunities for the community
  • Promotes scientific study of foothill ecosystems
  • Maintains open space and beautiful vistas

The Sierra Foothill Conservancy is a non-profit public benefit corporation under the Internal Revenue Service Code Section 501(c)(3) and California Revenue and Taxation Code Section 23701d. Contributions are deductible for federal income tax purposes.

Dog Hike?

Maybe. This is the only one of our local Preserves that dogs are welcome but there are some dangers to be aware of. This area is loaded with poison oak and your dog will pick up the oils on their coats, possible sharing them with you or your family when they get home. There are also rattlesnakes in the area. On my walk out, people shared with me that they had just seen a large rattlesnake on the trail but he was gone by the time I got there, but I bet he was watching me from close by. The Stockton Creek Reservoir serves as drinking water for the town of Mariposa. The reservoir is a restricted area and no public access is allowed because of it being a drinking water source. So, you will need to provide drinking water for your dog. Here is the dog policy for the Sierra Foothill Conservancy:

DOG POLICY: In order to protect endangered species and sensitive habitat, only service dogs are allowed on the Preserves, with the exception of the Stockton Creek Preserve in Mariposa where dogs are welcome at any time.

Leave No Trace: Leave the Preserve as you found it – try to follow the Seven Leave No Trace Principles. THANK YOU and hope to see you in the Great Outdoors!

Maps and Profile:

Stockton Creek Preserve Amphibian Bio-Blitz Doarama

Stockton Creek Preserve Topographic Map

Stockton Creek Preserve Profile

Sources:

Sierra Foothill Conservancy Home Page

Stockton Creek Preserve

Stockton Creek Wikipedia

California Herps Home Page

 

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