The recent rain event (last 10 days) dropped over 7 inches of precipitation onto the UC Hopland Research & Extension Center. The rangeland is SLOWY turning green with the annual grasses and forbs are now germinating. However, even more impressive on a scale of the short time period, is how quickly the bryophytes and mosses turn bright green after the first rain.
The photo below was taken literally within 48 hours after the first major rain last February 7th and 8th.
Most of us are familiar with the mistletoe plant ... at the very least from Holiday time Christmas carols and sprigs of it sold for Christmas Holiday decorations. Here in Mendocino County, the most common mistletoe plant recognized during those times is the Oak Mistletoe or Pacific Mistletoe (Phoradendron villosum (Nutt.). This parasitic shrub is native to California and the western U.S. where it grows mainly upon Blue oak and Valley oak.
Recently, within the last few months, casual observation at the UC Hopland Research & Extension Center appears to show a high mortality of these unique plants. Being a parasitic plant that grows on the trunks and limbs of oak trees, it grows its root-like "haustoria" into the water-conducting transport system of the tree, where the haustoria also infiltrates between the cells to absorb (and rob) nutrients of the host tree.
Based upon circumstantial evidence and the co-timeliness with the severe drought conditions an assumption can be made that the mistletoe mortality is drought-related. Perhaps the nutrient and water flow of the host tree is so stressed during drought years that the parasitic action by the mistletoe plant is compromised.
Feral hogs have been an introduced vertebrate pest species/game species (depending upon one's view point) in Mendocino County for around a century. Historically, during the late 1800s and early 1900s, ranchers and homesteaders owned small herds of domestic pigs that were allowed to "free range". However, over time events happened, such as the depression era, that allowed these free range pigs to be abandoned, and without any management these feral pigs became generations of truly wild feral hogs that were "wise" to the outdoor hardships such as predators.
Here at the UC Hopland Research & Extension Center there have been efforts historically to exclude or eliminate the risk of wild hog damage to the rangeland, fences, developed springs, native plants, etc. Fortunately, in most years, HREC normally experiences very few feral hogs coming onto the property. However, within the last month the Center has been invaded by a group of feral hogs that has done more damage on the rangeland than ever witnessed before. Currently HREC has very limited options on how to manage the problem of these destructive pests.
In the photo you see the meadow area near the Kelsey Orchard as it has been rooted by these pesky swines. The hogs are probably searching for delectable menu items such as earthworms and slugs.
Lambing is still taking place inside the main sheep barn here at the Hopland Research & Extension Center. Once the ewes have their lambs they are, after a day or so, combined with other ewes and lambs in larger "outside" pens. Here you see a rather surreal scene at 4:00AM in the morning. The air was cool and fresh this morning with a bit of a light mist wetting the ground.
The drought conditions have left the rangelands of the North Coast dry, dry, dry. In order to maintain the UC Hopland Research & Extension Center's sheep flock during this time of duress the Center has purchased supplemental feed. Such purchases have impacts upon our normal annual working budget ... but maintaining animal health is essential. Plans are underway for possibly reducing the flock size and selling lambs early.
Here you see ewes with lambs munching down the spread supplemental pelleted feed.