Wetland Walk Trail
Wetland Walk Trail at Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in California. Published by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS).
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U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Wetlands Walk Trail Guide Welcome to Wetlands Walk Come explore the wonders of our wetlands along the trail that meanders through shallow marshes, along a creek, and past deep ponds! N Lo ga nC Seasonal Cycle During the fall and winter, the Refuge wetlands are flooded. Thousands of ducks and geese are on the Refuge at this time. In the spring, waterfowl migrate north as the water recedes, while shorebirds and songbirds are more common. During the summer, most wetlands are dry, therefore, resident animals are often found near permanent ponds. Viewing Tips The best times to see wildlife are in the early morning and late afternoon from November through February. To increase your chances of seeing animals, take binoculars, walk slowly, talk softly, and stay on the marked trail. Trail Tidbits It takes at least an hour to leisurely walk this two-mile trail. However, a shortcut allows you to return to the trailhead from the halfway point. Numbered posts correspond to the stops in this guide. Quiz Yourself! Pictures of the plants and animals are numbered. See how many you can identify correctly! Their names are listed on the last page of this brochure. ree k 99W 4 3 5 6 2 7 1 Shortcut Entrance Road 9 * 8 14 11 13 Start Here 12 10 I-5 Visitor Center Benches 2 * Parking Auto Tour Wetlands Walk Trailhead To begin the walk, follow the trail across the entrance road. 3 1. What Are Wetlands? 1 There are many different kinds of wetlands. Wetlands may be as small as puddles or as big as lakes, and they may contain fresh or salty water. Some wetlands contain water all year long, while others dry out in summer. The wetland you see here is a freshwater marsh. On the Wetlands Walk, you will be exploring wetlands that include seasonal marshes, permanent ponds, vernal pools, and riparian (waterside) woodlands. Each one supports unique plants and animals that have adapted to this soggy environment. 3. How Important Is This Creek? Logan Creek provides water for some of the Refuge’s marshes, through a system of canals and pipes. Along the creek grows a special forest of cottonwoods and willows — trees that like to keep their roots wet. This riparian woodland provides food and shelter for a variety of animals. Raccoons, egrets, and herons hunt for fish and crayfish at the edge of the creek. Deer, rabbits, and owls seek relief from both the hot summer sun and cold winter rains under the trees. Nesting songbirds find insects here to feed their young. 4 2 Notice the variety of plants in the seasonal marsh along the creek... 2. A Seasonal Marsh 3 4 Historically, the Sacramento River flooded in the winter and spring. The floods created vast seasonal marshes. Beginning in the late 1800s, most of the Sacramento Valley was converted to farmland. Marshes like these have been created to provide homes for animals that need wetlands. Water is drained from the marsh in late spring so a new generation of marsh plants can sprout in the warm, moist pond bottoms. In the fall, when the seed heads ripen, the marshes are reflooded to bring an abundance of food within easy reach of many birds. Follow the trail across the auto tour and to the right to explore the secluded riparian (rye-pair-ee-an) woodlands . . . 5 Look in the willow trees for nests, and along the creek banks for beaver-chewed trees. 5 4. The Duck That Nests In Trees Unlike most other ducks, wood ducks, or “woodies,” nest in holes in trees. Because so many riparian woodlands have been cut down throughout the United States, nest boxes like this one have been placed to make up for lost nesting trees. Notice the entrance of the nest box is small enough to let adult wood ducks in but keep raccoons and other predators out. However, many other animals will use the boxes, including owls, honey bees, and woodpeckers. 7 6 9 8 Look for tracks of wildlife along the creek and trail. 5. Wetlands Are Working For You Wetlands act as a living filter. Agricultural and urban runoff may enter these wetlands via Logan Creek. Marshes can absorb excess chemicals thereby helping to purify the water before it returns to the Sacramento River. Listen for lizards, pheasants, and rabbits as they scurry away to hide from you — a possible predator! 6 7 6. Smell The Marsh! During the walk, you may have noticed a faint rotten egg odor. In wetlands that are flooded for a long time, dead plants and animals collect on the bottom and rot slowly, creating a thick black muck. Special bacteria that live naturally in this waterlogged muck release a sulfur-containing gas as they break down dead plants and animals. This gas gives the marsh its characteristic, rotten egg odor. Look for floating cut cattails which are evidence of muskrats digging for roots to eat. 10 8. Permanent Or Year-Round Ponds Many plants and animals depend on permanent ponds. Dense cattails and bulrush in and around the edges of the pond offer nesting places for yellow-headed blackbirds and snowy egrets. The open water, with floating plants, provides a place for animals to feed on aquatic life year-round. Given time, the cattails and bulrush will replace the floating plants, until very little open water is left. This cycle of plants replacing each other is called succession. Every so often, permanent ponds are drained to recycle nutrients, and cattails and bulrush may be burned to set succession back so that floating plants may grow once again. Look and listen for marsh wrens calling within the bulrush. 7. You’re Halfway! While you take a break near the eucalyptus trees, listen and look for songbirds and turkey vultures. You may hear the deep bellowing of bullfrogs or witness the heron’s slow stalk and quick spearing of a crayfish. 12 13 14 15 16 17 At this point the trail splits. Continue straight ahead to go back to the visitor center. Follow the trail crossing to the entrance road to continue on the Wetlands Walk. 11 8 As you walk between the permanent ponds, notice how the tall, dense bulrush and cattails provide excellent hiding places for wildlife and you! 9 9. Survival In The Marsh Muck! Wetland plants have evolved unique ways of coping with oxygen-poor soils. Air-filled tubes run from their leaves to their roots, forming a snorkel through which the plant can breathe; they also help the plant float. Cattails and bulrush have additional air-filled cells around these breathing tubes, which provide extra support for their tall stems. 19 Bulrush have no leaves! Gently feel their spongy stems. 10. Grasslands And Alkali Meadows: Who Needs Them? At first glance this flat, treeless expanse looks dry and deserted, particularly during the summer and fall. But jackrabbits, ground squirrels, pheasants, red-tailed hawks, and coyotes feed in these grasslands year-round. In the fall, some grasslands and alkali meadows are burned to control invasive weeds, return nutrients to the soil, and stimulate the growth of rare, native plants. Winter rains cause grasses and wildflowers to sprout. Wigeon and geese join the resident wildlife to graze on the tender young grasses and wildflowers. The grasslands are part of the original Colusa Plains. Much of the Refuge looked like this prior to the early 1900’s. 20 21 22 23 10 18 11 11. Wetland Nursery Wetlands are “nurseries” for many animals. Dense plants protect young animals from predators, and there’s plenty of good things to eat. The western pond turtle, bluegill, common garter snake, green darner dragonfly, cinnamon teal, black-tailed deer, and muskrat are just a few of the animals that raise their young in the wetlands. Smartweed, also called knotweed, is characterized by its slender leaves, knobby stem joints, and nodding, pale-pink white flower spikes. 24 12. Vernal (Springtime) Pools Vernal pools host a unique community of plants and animals adapted to the dry-and-wet cycle. In the summer, the pool appears lifeless, but seeds of plants and eggs of shrimp lie in the cracked soil. 25 In late fall, rain stimulates growth. Soon after, thousands of shrimp, insects, and microscopic animals hatch, providing a protein-rich “soup” for ducks and shorebirds. Drying springtime pools display vivid rings of goldfields, white meadowfoams, and purple downingias. North winds trigger summertime plant growth, and the cycle continues. 27 28 29 30 31 Notice how the high concentration of calcium and salts have lightened the soil color. It’s not surprising that early attempts at farming these poor soils failed. 26 32 33 12 13 13. What Is The Future Of These Special Lands? This is a great opportunity to see many different habitats at a glance. The Coast Range Mountains, in front of you, silhouette the cattails of the seasonal marsh. Turning to your right, the tall trees of the riparian woodlands are a dramatic contrast to the vast grasslands which give way to the jagged Sutter Buttes in the distance. Today, in California, over 90% of the original habitats like these have been lost to urban development and agriculture. But the picture is not entirely bleak. Thousands of acres of special habitats like these are being restored and created throughout the State. Although much has been achieved, there is much more to be accomplished. Listen for the sounds of nature . . . leaves rustling in the wind, wren’s musical rattle and buzz, crickets chirping, creek bubbling . . . 14. How Can You Help? If you’ve enjoyed the beauty and wonder of these wetlands today, you can help preserve them for tomorrow’s generation. By conserving water, volunteering, joining a wetland conservation group, or buying a Migratory Bird Hunting and Conservation Stamp (Duck Stamp), you will be doing your part to protect our valuable wetlands. We hope you enjoyed the Wetlands Walk. Visit again, during a different time of year to explore the dramatic seasonal changes that occur here! 1 Mallard Pair 19 Western Meadowlark 2 American Coot 20 Coyote 3 Seasonal Marsh 21 Immature Red-tailed Hawk 4 Raccoon 5 Northern Flicker 22 Black-tailed Jack Rabbit 6 Black Willow 23 California Ground Squirrel 7 Cattail 24 Smartweed 8 Cottonwoods 25 Killdeer with Young 9 Wood Duck Pair 26 Grindelia and Blister Beetle 10 Turkey Vulture 11 American Bittern 12 Yellow-headed Blackbird 27 Black-tailed deer 28 Common Garter Snake 29 Western Pond Turtle 13 Marsh Wren 30 Damselfly on Pickleweed 14 Pacific Tree frogs 31 Western Sandpiper 15 Muskrat 32 Fairy Shrimp 16 Bulrush 33 Goldfields and Downingia 17 Redhead Pair 18 Ring-necked Pheasant Photo Credits: Cover, Great Blue Heron and Page 5, Northern Flicker ©Vaughn Ruppert Pages 9-10, 11-12 and photos 1, 2, 4, 10, 11, 12, 13, 17, 18, 21, 22, 23, 25, 31 ©Steven R. Emmons. Photo 9, Wood duck ©Mike Peters Photo 14, Tree frog ©1996 Glenn McCrea. Photo 32, Fairy shrimp ©George Turner. Photos 26, 28, 33 Joe Silveira, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. All other photos U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. If you are finished using this brochure, please return it to the rack for others to use. 14 15 Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge 752 County Road 99 W Willows, California 95988 530/934 2801 http://www.fws.gov/refuge/sacramento TTY 530/934 7135 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1 800/344 WILD Pacific Southwest Region Information http://www.fws.gov/cno This brochure will be made available in other formats upon request. May 2013 Printed on 100% recycled paper with a minimum 50% post-consumer fiber content.