We are lucky to live within two to three hours of some of the state’s most exciting and iconic destinations.
It’s also nice to not always have to drive that far to enjoy the great outdoors. Over the past few months, I’ve been trying to focus on some of the closest places to enjoy the outdoors. Continuing with that theme, this week I have two recommendations for upcoming local outdoor events: evening “Sandhill Crane Fly-ins” at the Merced National Wildlife Refuge and the California Naturalist class at UC Merced.
Sandhill Crane Fly-ins – Some of you probably participated in the popular “Crane Day” at the Merced National Wildlife Refuge on Nov. 14 as the cranes began arriving from the Arctic. They are wintering here and are especially impressive to see as they return to their evening roosts silhouetted against the sunset. The cranes are large, magnificent birds – standing 3 to 3 1/2 feet tall with wingspans of 6 feet.
On two evenings – Dec. 19 and Jan. 30 – there will be refuge staff members on site to give a natural history presentation about the cranes and lead visitors to the best location to view the cranes.
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There’s no cost for the event, and you don’t have to register in advance. Just show up by 4 p.m. on either date. For information, call 209-826-3508. The refuge is located at 7430 W. Sandy Mush Road in Merced.
Bring a water bottle, binoculars and a camera.
California Naturalist Class – Want to know more about local landscapes, ecosystems and wildlife? Taking the CalNat class is the best way to do so. In addition to learning about our local outdoors, the class also prepares participants to be docents and volunteers, and to participate in local conservation projects.
I took the class when it was offered last spring, and I heartily recommend it. Having majored in history in college, my understanding of science has always been spotty and full of gaps. I enrolled in the class to learn more about local landscapes and habitats and to be better prepared to explain the outdoors to student groups I take on field trips.
The course provided me with considerable foundational information that has left me better prepared to learn on my own. Additionally, I learned many specific, useful facts about local ecosystems and landscapes I’ve been able to share with friends, family, Sun-Star readers and my students. The size of the class was small, and it was easy for students to ask questions. The top four things I gained from my participation include:
▪ Vastly expanded knowledge of local environments and their inhabitants.
▪ Meeting and networking with interesting people.
▪ Comprehensive understanding of the environments of our field trip destinations.
▪ Beginning an exciting community service project (you’ll read more about that part in a future column).
California Naturalist courses are offered throughout the state through the University of California’s Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Each course focuses on the ecosystems of the region where the course is taught.
The UC Merced course features the landscapes of our valley and surrounding foothills, including the campus’ Vernal Pools and Grasslands Reserve.
Starting Feb. 11 and running through April 21, the course meets from 5:30-8 p.m. Sessions includes lessons from three instructors, exciting guest speakers and hands-on activities. There are also four Saturday field trips included. You can learn more about this year’s class by going to calnat.ucanr.edu/Take_a_class/UC_Merced/. There’s a draft syllabus that can be downloaded for more detailed information.
Registration is open. The course fee of $350 covers class, field trips and textbooks. Five partial scholarships are available for anyone who finds it difficult to afford the entire fee.
The lead instructor for the course will be UC Merced botanist Monique Kolster. She’ll be assisted by Karyn “Kestrel” O’Hearn, a ranger naturalist with Yosemite National Park and a science instructor with the Merced City School District, and Chris Swarth, a UC Merced ecologist and director of UC Merced’s Vernal Pool and Grassland Reserve.
Adam Blauert: firstname.lastname@example.org