2nd edition, January 2019
Oak Ambassador Training Handbook
Written and compiled by B.J. Gingg and Nathan Sharon
Learning Among the Oaks is a program of The Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County
Oak Ambassadors (OAs) are San Luis Obispo County students, 4th grade and up, who’ve completed specialized training for service as junior nature guides on Learning Among the Oaks (LATO) nature trails associated with each public partner school. OAs may also teach other kids about nature through a variety of community outreach projects.
The OA program started in 2010 at Santa Margarita Elementary School (Atascadero Unified School District) and has grown each year with more students seeking the challenges involved in becoming competent nature guides for younger students and families, exploring wonders within San Luis Obispo County's oak woodlands.
"Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you."
----Frank Lloyd Wright
Who are the Oak Ambassadors?
I’m on my way to becoming a junior oak nature guide, also known as an Oak Ambassador!
Table of Contents
1. Getting Started
Introduction and goals
2. Understanding Basic Concepts
Classification of living organisms
Ecosystem and habitats
Matter and energy
3. Exploring the Native Oak Plant Community
Lichens, mosses and fungi
Oaks and associated native plants
4. Discovering Animals of the Oak Woodlands
Invertebrates - Insects, spiders and kin
Reptiles and amphibians
5. Hands on the Land Where Oaks Grow
Rocks and fossils
Soil and watershed science
Rangeland ecology and grazing
6. People and Oaks
Historic uses of oak resources
Acorns at the center
Native plant uses
Toys and games
7. Guiding Hikes
Outdoor safety and first aid
Trail guide tips and tools
Opening and closing a hike
Field ethics~Let nature be!
8. Presenting Puppet Shows and Skits
9. Handling Specimens
11. Recommended Resources
1. Getting Started - Introduction and Goals
Tips for Success:
Wonder - Explore with eyes wide open! Curiosity is a key ingredient for success.
Participation - Attend every training session, unless absent from school that day.
Scholarship - Stay on top of your regular classroom studies and homework.
Citizenship - Serving as an Oak Ambassador is an honor. You're representing your school.
Teamwork - Share attention and work well with your fellow Oak Ambassadors.
Thoughtfulness - Be thoughtful, kind, caring, and respectful toward others.
Self-Assessment - Do your best! Keep trying to improve!
To help you develop the knowledge and skills needed to serve as a capable nature guide for children and families exploring local Learning Among the Oaks trails.
To empower you to lead and inspire other children to explore, learn about and care for nature.
Over the course of your OA training, you'll be exploring the topics included in this handbook. You might already be familiar with some topics from past experiences on the trail or on your own; some may be new to you. Whatever the topic, be open to new learning experiences. Stretch your mind!
1. Getting Started - Self- assessment
What I know about the oak ecosystem and how to guide nature hikes:
I can identify* three kinds of oaks found in San Luis Obispo County oak woodlands. *Common name, scientific name and distinguishing characteristics.
I can identify a producer, consumers (primary, secondary and tertiary), and a decomposer in the oak woodlands and explain their roles in nutrient cycling within the oak ecosystem.
I can explain three ways oak woodlands are valuable to people and wildlife.
I know what symbiosis means and can use a lichen to explain the concept.
I know what an adaptation is and can point out an example of a plant and an animal adaptation.
I can look at a mammal skull and identify clues that tell me if the animal is primarily a predator or prey; carnivore, omnivore or herbivore.
I can identify five factors involved in soil formation.
I can explain the rock cycle and the distinguishing characteristics of the three types of rocks.
I can point out a local native plant and explain how it was or still is used by the Salinan or Chumash tribes.
I can describe one thing that ranchers/land managers do to conserve oak woodlands and maintain wildlife. habitat.
I know what a watershed is and why it's important to the health of people and wildlife.
I know what a watershed is and why it’s important to the health of people and wildlife
I know at least one trick used by effective hike leaders to engage kids in nature exploration.
I know key trail safety precautions to minimize risks of ticks, rattlesnakes, insect stings and mountain lions.
I can identify and avoid poison oak. I also know how to treat a poison oak rash.
I know how to ask open-ended questions to encourage careful observation and thinking skills.
Here’s an example of the classification for a common oak woodland animal:
Species: Lynx rufus
Common name: Bobcat
A trick to remember this classification hierarchy:
Kings Play Chess on Fine Grained Sands
The Big Five
Scientific knowledge is continually evolving as we learn more about life. The five kingdom system of classification is the one most commonly accepted but this may change. According to this system, all living organisms can be grouped into one of these kingdoms:
2. Understanding Basic Concepts - Classification of Living Organisms
Before we begin learning about life within local oak communities, let’s first look at how scientists classify or sort living organisms into a tree of life. This tree shows relationships between living organisms and helps us identify specific organisms we find in nature. Closely related organisms will appear closer together on the tree or chart. This hierarchical system was developed by Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus in 1735.
Every animal needs a home, or habitat, which provides the food, shelter, water and space needed for survival. For each animal species, the needs are different.
Look closely at just one old oak to see plenty of food and shelter for a variety of animals. Cavities, bark, canopy, and leaf litter provide sheltering spaces while acorns, leaves, bark, twigs, associated small animals and decaying logs provide food for many different diets.
California’s oak ecosystems provide habitat for more than 300 vertebrate species and thousands of invertebrate species. These oak ecosystems include woodlands, grasslands or savannas, coastal sage scrub, chaparral and riparian plant communities. All are rich in biodiversity!
2. Understanding Basic Concepts - Oak Ecosystem and Habitats
All living organisms have a life cycle --- a predictable series of changes that occur from birth to maturity, through reproduction and death. The predictable nature of life cycles means that when you see frog eggs, you know what comes next: tadpoles.
In the oak ecosystem, you’ll see many different types of life cycles and developmental stages throughout the year.
These stages of life are usually tied to seasonal changes in the environment. Active growth usually occurs when food, sunshine and moisture are plentiful. The study of the seasonal changes in the life cyles of animals (and plants) in relation to environmental changes, especially climate, is known as phenology.
How do organisms survive the winter (though ours are mild!) and when conditions are unfavorable, such as drought? When are baby mammals born and how are they protected? How do insects know when to emerge? Why do some birds migrate?
When you see an insect along the trail, try to figure out what stage it is in. As you learn more, you'll be able to make predictions.
Spotlight on Insects!
Insects are some of the most successful animals on earth. . They are highly adaptable! Insects grow from egg to adult through the process of metamorphosis, which can take one of two forms.
About 87% of insect species go through complete metamorphosis. This life cycle includes four distinct stages: egg, larva, pupa and adult. Butterflies, moths, bees, wasps, ants, beetles and flies go through complete metamorphosis.
Other insects go through incomplete or gradual metamorphosis which includes just three stages: egg, nymph and adult. Grasshoppers and true bugs are examples.
2. Understanding Basic Concepts - Life Cycles
Most plants, including oaks, produce flowers. Seed production requires pollination. Pollen can be carried by bees, butterflies, birds and other animals or by the wind. Oaks produce both male flowers, called catkins, and female flowers. Wind carries the pollen to the tiny female oak flowers located in leaf axils. If pollination is successful, an acorn will grow from this female flower.
Oak Life Cycle
Fungi, including mushrooms, reproduce asexually by budding, fragmentation or by producing spores. A fungus includes two parts: 1) the mycelium made up of thread like hyphae (hi-fee) and 1) the fruiting body. The hyphae spread through the soil or decaying organic matter, absorbing nutrients for growth. The fruiting body produces spores that are dispersed by the wind. A mushroom is really a fruiting body!
Not all plants produce flowers. Conifers produce naked seeds protected only by the overlapping scales of a pine cone. Ferns and mosses are primitive plants that produce spores instead of seeds. Look for tiny spore cases on the backside of a fern frond. These neatly arranged cases, called sori or “fruit dots,” burst open when ripe to release millions of dust-like spores.
Camouflage hides prey from predators but also functions to hide predators from prey. The opposite of camouflage, bright coloration can warn animals: I taste bad or am poisonous, stay away! Specialized mammal teeth, bird beaks (scientists call these bills), or claws help animals eat.
Rattlesnake venom renders prey defenseless, making constriction unnecessary. A deer’s large ears detect the sound of an approaching predator. Long tails provide balance for runners, long ears help regulate body temperature, and wet noses enhance the sense of smell.
Some behavioral adaptations of animals include living in dens or burrows to stay comfortable when it’s too hot or cold outside, working together to gather food, marking territory with claw marks or smells to keep competitors away, and migration to follow sources of food.
2. Understanding Basic Concepts - Adaptations
An adaptation is a physical or behavioral change that helps an organism survive in its environment. Nearly all physical and behavioral characteristics of animals are adaptations that help them survive.
In oak ecosystems, you can find an array of adaptations that have evolved among plant and animal populations in response to survival challenges. What are some of these challenges? Hot dry summers, fires, predators, and more. Life in San Luis Obispo County oak habitats is not easy!
Thorns, thick bark, and resinous leaves are examples of plant defenses. These defenses may discourage grazers or protect from extreme weather or fire. Flowering plants produce fruit structures, sometimes large and tasty, to protect seeds.
Flower colors and scents are designed to attract pollinators. Deep roots, like those of oaks, and enlarged underground stems, such as bulbs, allow plants to soak up and save water for survival in dry environments.
Thistles have sharp spines on flower heads that say "Don't eat me!" to deer, cattle and other grazers. Cockleburs have seedheads covered with sticky spines (nature's velcro) so that animals passing by will carry seeds to new territory. Why are seed dispersal mechanisms important?
Oaks and associated plants adapted for survival through long dry spells feature a common set of leaf adaptations designed to minimize water loss due to evapotranspiration. These are especially evident in the driest plant community, coastal sage scrub.
Look for these dry climate leaf adaptations:
Small size, leathery or waxy surface (limit transpiration surface area, hold water in)
Gray color (reflects sunlight)
Hairy (at a micro level, reduces wind speed to prevent drying)
Strong aromatic oils, resins (retain water, repel grazers, attract pollinators)
Vertical orientation (reduces exposure to sun)
Plants are producers in an ecosystem. They are the only living organisms capable of making their own food! Using energy from the sun and nutrients from the soil, plants use the process of photosynthesis to grow. The leaves, stems, fruits and other plant materials provide nutrients and energy for consumers.
2. Understanding Basic Concepts - Matter and Energy Flow
Consumers get their energy from eating other living (or once living) organisms. All animals are consumers. A consumer that eats only plants is called an herbivore. Deer, rabbits, squirrels, and other herbivores are considered primary consumers.
Animals that eat herbivores are secondary consumers. An insectivorous bird is an example of a secondary consumer. Tertiary consumers are animals that eat animals that eat other animals.
Examples include mountain lions, coyotes, and hawks. Tertiary consumers are also known as apex predators.
Change is constant in nature! Nutrients and energy are on the move as plants grow, are eaten, and then eaten again by animals that eat animals that eat plants. The flow of energy and nutrients in an ecosystem can be tracked in a diagram called a food web or a food chain.
Decomposers are consumers that get their nutrients and energy from dead or decaying plants and animals. Millions of decomposers live in the soil. Their wastes are composed of nutrients that can be taken up by plants through their roots. Most fungi (such as mushrooms) and many invertebrates such as flies or earthworms are decomposers.
Parts of a Perfect Flower*
*Perfect flowers include both male and female parts. Imperfect flowers have only male or female parts. When you observe flowers in nature look for the pollen producing male parts called stamens and the female part called a pistil where successful pollination leads to fruit formation. A fruit is a ripened ovary which contains the ovules or seeds.
You'll get to know plants like coyote brush that has male and female flowers on separate plants. This is an interesting plant adaptation that you'll learn about.
3. Exploring the Native Oak Plant Community - Botany Basics
Botany is the scientific study of plants. There is too much to include in your handbook so here you'll find just a few basics.
All plants fit into one of these groups:
Bryophytes - Small, simple plants without a vascular system (mosses, liverworts, hornworts)
Seedless vascular plants - Simple, spore producing plants with a vascular system (horsetails and ferns)
Gymnosperms - Plants with seeds that are unprotected by an ovary (fruit) (conifers, ginkgo)
Angiosperms - Flowering plants that produce seeds within an ovary (fruit)
Photosynthesis and pollination are two of the most important processes you should understand. They are essential to life on earth.
The more you learn about oaks, the more you'll appreciate how truly amazing and valuable California's oak ecosystems are to both humans and wildlife. Oaks provide shelter and food for wildlife, clean the air, prevent soil erosion, increase property values, provide scenic beauty and more.
The three common oak trees in San Luis Obispo County are the coast live oak, valley oak and blue oak. Each has its own preferred growing conditions. See the "Oak Woodlands of San Luis Obispo County" map on page 15. North County Oak Ambassadors are most likely to see all three species of oaks along LATO trails. Coastal and South County Oak Ambassadors would mostly see coast live oaks and some valley oaks. Blue oaks are restricted to drier interior sites.
HOW TO KNOW AN OAK TREE
Visit when you can,
next introduce yourself,
now enter into stillness.
Walk completely around my trunk, and take your time,
See me from many angles,
Hide behind me,
listen for any sound,
gaze to my top.
Notice my strong roots,
rest beneath my branches.
Look for signs of life,
even on fallen limbs.
You and I are now friends.
~ Alison Watt Jackson
3. Exploring the Native Oak Plant Community - Oaks at the Center
Dig deeper: https://ucanr.edu/sites/oak_range/
Dry, rocky foothill woodlands and borders of interior valleys
Deciduous, up to 60’ tall
Distinctive pale blue-green leaves oblong, with or without shallow lobes, 11/2-3' long
Acorns 3/4 to 1 1/2' long, cups shallow and warty
Bark is light gray with shallow, dark cracks
Coast live oak
Coastal hillsides, lower mountain slopes and canyons
Evergreen, 50-100’ tall
Leaves are leathery, holly-like, 1-3” long, with tufts of brown fuzz along the midrib
Leaves often curled like a boat
Acorns slender with deep cup
Bark is light gray with texture that varies from smooth to furrowed; thick, reddish inner bark
Over 35 of California's land mammals and at least 30 oak woodland birds eat acorns.
An acorn is the nut (a type of fruit) of an oak tree. All oaks produce acorns; each acorn contains at least one seed.
How to identify San Luis Obispo County oaks
Oak woodlands and riparian forests of coastal hillsides and Central Valley floor
Prefers rich, valley soil
Deciduous, large heavy trunk and branches spreading near ground, up to 100' tall
Leaves 2-4" long, deeply lobed
Acorns conical, 1-21/2" long with rounded, warty cups
Thick bark is deeply furrowed, creating a pattern of brick-like plates
Oaks benefit from wildlife dispersing and planting acorns. Scrub jays, woodpeckers, magpies and gray squirrels are among animals who provide services to oaks.
Plants with similar growing needs form ecological communities. Let’s look at some native plant communities associated with San Luis Obispo County oaks:
Oak savannas (grasslands)
Oaks are scattered across grasslands covering flat to gently rolling terrain along the coast and inland valley areas.
Oak savannas generally occur at elevations below 900 feet, where conditions are drier than in than in woodland areas. Coast live oaks and valley oaks dot coastal valley grasslands; blue oaks can be found in interior valley areas.
Perennial native grasses that once dominated oak savannas have been largely displaced by introduced annual grasses. Most of California’s oak savannas are utilized for cattle grazing. With improved rangeland stewardship, native grasses are making a comeback. You'll learn more about grazing ecology in class.
Oak woodlands are found in 46 of California's 58 counties.
Oak leaf canopies often touch but seldom overlap, allowing sunlight to reach understory vegetation. Woodlands occur at lower elevations than forests but higher elevations than savannas. There is more moisture available in woodlands than in savannas. As elevation rises, you’ll begin to see native gray pines mixed with oaks.
Coastal sage scrub
This plant community occurs on dry slopes and cliffs above the ocean, as well as on south-facing slopes inland below the chaparral line. Plants are mostly small shrubs and soft-stemmed perennials. Wind, fog, salt-spray (if near ocean) and very dry conditions present survival challenges. Common plants include California sagebrush, California buckwheat, sticky monkey flower, gooseberry, currant, and coyote bush.
Dense, tough shrubs dominate chaparral, creating an almost impenetrable barrier for humans and large animals. Plants are well-adapted to dry conditions and periodic fires.
Soils are rocky and well-drained. Chaparral areas are drier than oak woodlands but moister than coastal sage scrub. Common shrubs include coyote bush, chamise, manzanita, and ceanothus.
Canyons where moisture is present year round as surface water in creeks, streams, and rivers or as groundwater during dry season. Soils are fertile and rocky. Climate is cool and damp. Common plants include coast live oaks, sycamores, willows, coffeeberry, toyon, poison oak, miner’s lettuce, fiesta flower, gooseberry, and ferns.
You can tell the age of a tree by counting the annual rings. The width of the rings varies, depending on several factors, including amount of rainfall, available light, and length of growing season. How would a prolonged drought affect tree rings? Tree rings tell us about past environmental conditions.
How old is that oak? Many oaks are hundreds of years old. Another reason why they are so special!”
As trees age and mature, they grow in height and width. A cross section of a tree (tree cookie) reveals growth rings.
There are two parts to an annual ring – a light portion and a darker portion. The light section is called springwood. This part of the ring is usually widest because the tree does most of its growing during the moist spring months. The darker part, summerwood, is thinner. The tree’s growth slows down, hence a thinner band.
The annual rings of a tree are made when a new layer of wood is added to the trunk and branches of the tree. New wood grows from the cambium layer between the old wood and the bark.
Mosses are primitive plants that lack true roots, and reproduce using spores instead of flowers. Most grow on land, in cool and most places on soil, rocks and bark; some can be found underwater in streams and ponds.
One of the mosses we find is called resurrection moss. It can exist in a dry, seemingly lifeless state. Add a bit of water and watch it spring to life! It will turn emerald green and unfurl its tiny leaves right before your eyes. What a neat survival trick for life in drought prone areas.
Did You Know: The lace lichen that adorns oaks is California’s state lichen? Lace lichen includes only an algal partner. So long, Sally Cyanobacteria! Alice Algae makes plenty of food for Freddy Fungus : )
3. Exploring the Native Oak Plant Community ~ Lichens, Mosses and Fungi
Lichens are composite organisms consisting of a fungus (decomposer) living with an alga and/or a cyanobacteria (producer) in a symbiotic relationship. Read the story of Freddie Fungus, Alice Algae and Sally Cyanobacteria to find out how they help each other.
Lichens reproduce by sending spores into the wind. Some lichens only grow one millimeter in diameter per year. Sunny places like rock faces, tree trunks, or dead tree branches provide the best sites for lichen growth.
Lichens are among the first organisms to colonize a bare rock surface and begin the process of soil formation. Lichens on the bark of fallen oaks can also play a role in decomposition. Lichens in the canopy collect nutrient rich dust particles which are washed by rain to enrich the soil beneath the tree.
With eyes wide open on the trail, you can find an amazing variety of colorful lichens. Some are like a flat coat of crusty paint on a rock (crustose lichens), others form a leafy mat on oak branches and twigs (foliose), and the most prominent lace lichens form mossy veils hanging from oak branches (fruticose).
It's easy to spot mistletoe during the winter! Look for clumps of green among the bare branches of deciduous oaks.
The fruiting bodies of fungi release spores into the air. When the spores land on dead plants or animals, they digest and absorb the nutrients and energy stored in the dead matter. Without fungi, nothing would decompose. They are the earth’s great recyclers.
Fungi come in a wide array of colors and forms. Keep in mind that all mushrooms are fungi but not all fungi are mushrooms. One example: The yeast that leavens bread is a fungus!
3. Exploring the Native Oak Plant Community ~ Lichens, mosses and fungi
Fungi (singular = fungus)
A fungus is a kind of decomposer called a saprophyte. Fungi (plural) are incapable of photosynthesis and thus are not able to make their own food. Fungi are made up of two parts: the vegetative part is the mycelium, consisting of thread-like hyphae and the reproductive part called the fruiting body. Hyphae spread underground absorbing nutrients. The fruiting body is what we typically see above ground -- a mushroom is an example.
Symbiosis occurs when two (or more) organisms of different species live with and interact with one another. The word symbiosis literally means ‘Living Together’. There are three types of symbiotic relationships:
Mutualism means that both organisms benefit from the relationship. Lichen is an example of mutualism: the algae or cyanobacteria gains structure and defense, and the fungus gains food.
Commensalism means that one organism benefits, while the other is unaffected.
Parasitism means that one organism benefits at the expense of the other. Think of a flea or tick. Another example is mistletoe, a plant parasitic seed plant, which takes water and nutrients away from its host tree.
A Love Story Among the Oaks: Alice Algae, Freddy Fungus, and Sally Cyanobacteria
“Hello, I’m Sally Cyanobacteria. I am also making some food out of sunshine. May I join you?”
Freddy Fungus blew right over there, and people say that Freddy Fungus, Alice Algae, and Sally Cyanobacteria took a lichen (liking) to each other.
And from then on, Freddy Fungus would make a house and Alice Algae or Sally Cyanobacteria would make food and they could live wherever they wanted, as long as there was sunlight. Together, they all lived happily as best friends forever.
That’s why to this day, when we see a lichen we tell the symbiotic story of a fungus, algae and cyanobacteria that fell in love. Keep that in mind the next time you see lichen on a rock or tree.
University of California Museum of Paleontology http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/fungi/lichens/lichens.html
USDA Forest Service https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/beauty/lichens/
University of California Museum of Paleontology
Long ago there was a fungus named Freddy. Now Freddy Fungus was very good at building houses, but he wasn’t a very good cook. In fact, he couldn’t even make his own food; like all fungi, he had to find dead plants and animals to eat, and sometimes he couldn’t find much food.
One day, while Freddy Fungus was sitting on a tree stump, he looked over at a rain puddle and saw something green growing there. The green thing looked up at him and smiled.
“What is your name?” the green thing asked.
“I’m Freddy Fungus. What is your name?”
“I’m Alice Algae and I was just making some food out of sunshine, are you hungry?”
Just before Freddy could say yes, he heard a voice calling out from a blue- green organism across the rain puddle.
“Is anyone else out there?” Freddy asked.
This chart will help you identify different types of arthropods:
4. Discovering Animals of the Oak Woodlands - Invertebrates
Number of legs
Number of antennae
(incl. sowbugs and pillbugs!)
Invertebrates are animals without backbones; more than 95% of animals on earth make up this extremely diverse group. Most of the invertebrates you’ll encounter in the oak woodlands are insects, spiders, and other arthropods. Invertebrates also include annelids (like earthworms and leeches), molluscs (like snails, slugs, clams, and squids), and more!
Many invertebrates are herbivores or detritivores. Some, like centipedes and wasps, are fierce predators. All invertebrates are members of a food web and have impacts on life within the oak ecosystem.
Insects can be sorted into 26 different groups (Orders); these are the most common:
Number of wings
Type of wings
Butterflies and moths
Ants, bees and wasps
thick base, membranous tip
Crickets and Grasshoppers
Key Characteristics of Reptiles
Most reptiles lay eggs (oviparous), although some can give birth to live young (ovoviviparous).
Reptiles lay eggs on land. Reptile eggs have a leathery shell to protect them from drying out.
Reptiles are covered with tough, dry skin and protective scales or plates.
Reptiles are cold-blooded (ectothermic). This means that their body temperature is regulated by the temperature around them.
Many reptiles spend time each day laying in the sun or on a warm rock.
Very soon after hatching , young reptiles can find food and take care of themselves.
Some reptiles, like rattlesnakes, have a venomous bite. It’s best to avoid getting too close.
Seven species of venomous rattlesnakes occur in California; of these, the Western Rattlesnake, Crotalus oreganus, is the most common. In San Luis Obispo County, we find a subspecies known as the Northern Pacific Rattlesnake, Crotalus oreganus oreganus.
The rattlesnake’s rattle is an adaptation that notifies other animals “I’m here. Don’t step on me!” The rattle may have evolved as a sound-based warning similar to the visually bright colors found on other venomous creatures that announce: “I am dangerous.” Each time the snake sheds its skin, a new segment is added to the rattle. The more a rattlesnake sheds, the more segments are added to its rattle.
4. Discovering Animals of the Oak Woodlands - Reptiles and Amphibians
Key Characteristics of Amphibians:
Amphibians lay eggs in the water. Amphibian eggs do not have a protective leathery shell to protect them from drying out.
Newly hatched young, called larvae or tadpoles, live in the water using gills to breathe and eat.
As the tadpoles grow, they develop legs and lungs for life on land. Most amphibians remain close to a wetland environment all their lives.
Amphibians undergo metamorphosis, where they change from a water-breathing larval form to an adult that breathes air and lives on land.
Amphibians are cold-blooded (ectothermic) and will spend the winter months in colder climates buried under mud or leaf litter.
California Herps ~ A Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of California
Cal Poly Physiological Ecology of Reptiles Laboratory (PERL)
Birds can be found on every continent on earth, and range in size from the ostrich, which can weigh up to 250 pounds, to hummingbirds that weigh less than a penny. Many birds fly, but some don’t. Other birds can run or swim very quickly. Whether they fly or not, all birds have feathers, hollow bones, and lay eggs. Local oak woodlands and savannas provide homes for an amazing variety of birds.
Bird beaks (scientists call these bills) are structures designed to capture food. Bird diets vary, so you’ll find a variety of beaks adapted for particular diets. Hawks, owls, and other raptors have sharp, curved beaks to enable them to capture and eat prey. Woodpeckers have chisel-like bills for drilling into bark where insects hide. Some birds, like the California scrub jay, have a bill that is like a multi-purpose tool to capture a variety of foods. California quail have small, delicate bills designed for eating seeds and insects.
4. Discovering Animals of the Oak Woodlands - Birds
Basic Birding Skills
Birdwatching, sometimes called birding, is the observation of birds in their natural habitat. Birders will often use binoculars to help them see birds at a distance. Keep these four key things in mind when trying to identify a bird you are watching:
Size and Shape: How big is the bird? What is its body shape? Does it have a long or short tail? Is the beak curved or straight?
Color Pattern: What color is the bird's back and breast? Is it speckled or spotted?
Behavior: Does the bird hop around on the ground, or fly from tree to tree? Does it soar in big circles high in the air? Does it flap its wings often or does it glide?
Habitat: Is the bird in water, such as a pond or lake? Is it on trees or shrubs? Asking yourself these types of questions will help with identifying the bird. Look through a field guide to find birds that look similar. Every observation will help you make a more accurate identification.
Cornell Lab of Ornithology, allaboutbirds.org
Morro Coast Audubon Society, morrocoastaudubon.org
Key Characteristics of Birds:
Birds are warm blooded, like mammals.
Birds are the only animal group that has feathers.
All birds are born with two feet and two wings, although not all birds fly.
Birds have beaks or bills and no teeth.
All birds lay eggs.
Most birds build some kind of nest to lay their eggs and take care of their young, feeding them until they are old enough to feed for themselves.
Birds have good eyesight and can see colors.
Birds have hollow bones to make their skeleton lighter for flight. They have large developed chest muscles for flight.
Most birds can fly, but some of the world’s largest birds do not. They use strong legs to run from predators.
Male birds are often (but not always) more brightly colored than females. This is called sexual dimorphism. Females are often less colorful than males, which helps them to blend into their environment when they are nesting or caring for young chicks.
Many birds live in one place during the winter and fly to a different place for nesting and raising their young. This annual seasonal travel is called migration.
Mammals come in all shapes and sizes. This group includes everything from mice to elephants, bats to whales, and, of course, humans. Mammals can be found in every habitat and environment, from deserts to polar ice to the deep ocean.
Some mammals are active during the day (diurnal), while some are active at night (nocturnal) and some are only active at dawn and dusk (crepuscular).
Some mammal species are solitary, while others live in large herds. Some mammals mate for life (monogamous), some don’t. Some mammals eat plants (herbivores), others eat plants and animals (omnivores), while some eat other animals (carnivores).
Mammals have the greatest variation in size, from the tiny pygmy shrew, weighing 1/10 of an ounce (2.8 grams), to the blue whale, weighing more than 300,000 pounds! Mammal life spans can range from a small rodent that lives only a year to an elephant living 70 years. Generally, larger mammals live the longest.
4. Discovering Animals of the Oak Woodlands - Mammals
Key Characteristics of Mammals:
Female mammals have mammary glands that produce milk to feed their young.
The mammal body is covered with hair or fur. Even marine mammals, like dolphins and whales, have some bristly hair on their heads (and before they are born).
Mammals have 3 middle ear bones called the malleus (hammer), incus (anvil), and stapes (stirrup). They greatly improve a mammal’s hearing, which enables communication.
Mammals are viviparous -- they give birth to live young. (There are three exceptions -- the platypus of Australia and 2 species of echidna of Australia and New Guinea lay eggs).
Almost all mammals are endotherms (warm-blooded). They use energy to maintain a stable internal body temperature. Biology is full of exceptions! Scientists have discovered that some mammals, like the Arctic ground squirrel, are heterothermic.
Types of Teeth
Mammals can have up to four different types of teeth, depending on what they eat.
Incisors: the front teeth, used for cutting and the first bite of food.
Canines: next to the incisors; used for biting and piercing flesh.
Premolars: located behind the canines, some have sharp edges for cutting flesh, some are flat and used for grinding food.
Molars: these are the very back teeth and are broad, flat food grinders.
Herbivores tend to have large incisors to nip vegetation and large premolars and molars to grind it into food; very few have canines. Carnivores generally have small incisors, very large canines, and sharp premolars and molars. Omnivores eat almost everything and their teeth reflect their preferences; they have all four types of teeth.
The Land Under the Sea
As recently as 6 million years ago, much of the Central Coast was submerged beneath the Pacific Ocean. How do we know this?
One of our first hints is the sandy soil found in many regions, as well as rocks associated with the seafloor. However, our greatest evidence lies in the marine fossils we find scattered in our oak woodlands almost every day.
The remains of these ancient sea creatures tell us that this land we live on was once a very active and popular sea floor. Further, the massive size of these fossils (some bigger than your head and over 100 pounds) leads us to believe that the ocean currents here were very powerful and fast, which required these animals to grow large enough to say in place. Common fossils include giant oysters, pectens, and barnacles.
Formation of Rocks
Igneous rocks form from molten material called magma or lava. There are two types of igneous rocks. Volcanic rocks form from lava which has spilled from a volcano (above the earth’s surface). Plutonic rocks form from magma that cools and crystallizes beneath the earth's surface. Granite is a plutonic igneous rock.
Sedimentary rocks are formed by the deposition and compaction of rock, sand, and soil sediments on the earth's surface. Sandstone is a sedimentary rock.
Metamorphic rocks form when an igneous or sedimentary rock is exposed to high pressure, high temperature or both, deep below the surface of the earth. This process produces changes in the mineralogy and texture of the rock. Marble is a metamorphic rock.
5. Hands on the Land Where Oaks Grow- Rocks and Fossils
Soil differs greatly from place to place, but all soil is made up of different amounts of three types of particles: sand, silt, and clay. Each plays an important role in creating healthy soil.
Sand is the largest particle found in soil. When you rub it, it feels rough and gritty. Sand does not hold many nutrients, but water flows through it easily and it has many air pockets.
Silt is the medium-sized particle found in soil. Silt feels smooth and powdery when dry, and is slippery when wet. Silt carries some nutrients and is good for growing crops. Silt can become compacted into a crust that makes it harder for water and air to pass through.
Clay is the smallest particle found in soil. Clay feels smooth and hard when dry; when wet it is sticky. While clay can hold many nutrients, it’s small size does not allow much air or water to pass through. Too much clay can make the soil dense and difficult for roots to penetrate.
5 Soil Forming Factors
Time: Soil does not form overnight. In fact, soil formation can take thousands, and in some cases even millions of years.
Climate: Warmer temperatures and plentiful rainfall speed up the formation of soil, whereas cooler temperatures and less precipitation slow down soil formation.
Topography: On flat land, soil accumulates faster than it erodes or washes away. On steep slopes, soil erodes faster.
Parent Material: Parent material is the geologic and organic material from which soil is formed. The kind of soil that forms in a particular location is affected by the parent material and how it reacts to temperature, pressure, erosion, and weathering.
Organisms: Insects and worms burrow in the soil, introducing water and air, and mix the surface and topsoil. They eat decaying plant matter and eliminate it in their waste, enriching the soil and making it more porous.
5. Hands on the Land Where Oaks Grow- Soil and Watershed Science
US Forest Service Science for Kids https://www.fs.fed.us/rm/boise/research/techtrans/projects/scienceforkids/watersheds.shtml
SLO Watershed Project http://slowatershedproject.org/
USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service Soil Education https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/soils/edu/
A Watershed is an area of land in which all water drains into the same river, lake, or ocean (often a river which names the watershed).
Think of the term shed. It can mean something that stores things, like a garden shed; or it can mean to allow something to run off, like an umbrella sheds rain. A watershed does both!
On the trail, you can create a watershed in your hands! Ask your hikers to cup their hands together to create a valley. Use a spray bottle to rain on each “valley.” Watch as the water flows from fingertip mountains, down rivers in the creases of their hand, and eventually pools up and drains out. Water sheds the same way in nature as it does in your hand!
5. Hands on the Land Where Oaks Grow- Watershed and Soil Science
Grazing animals have been here for millions of years! One of the most famous prehistoric grazers in California was the Columbian Mammoth, which was alive alongside humans 12,000 years ago. Just like deer and cattle roam the grasslands today, during the last Ice Age mammoths, giant sloths, and even a species of camel could be found here. In fact, scientists say that the grasses and shrubs we know today evolved alongside these giant herbivores, and relied on their trampling and grazing to keep from becoming overcrowded.
5. Hands on the Land Where Oaks Grow- Rangeland Ecology and Grazing
Wildfires are dangerous to people and homes, and should be prevented in urban areas. However, many ecosystems and plant species actually benefit from occasional fire. Seeds and underground plant roots may still survive in the soil. The ash and open space left behind after a fire can enrich soil and open the area for more sunlight, supporting growth. Some species of plants, especially conifers like pine trees, have seeds that need fire to spread and germinate. After a fire, plant species return or new ones populate the area, a process called ecological succession. Remember that while wildfires may benefit some ecosystems, they may damage others.
Today’s humans are often unaware of where their food and other resources come from. Oaks may just be a pretty view. Adverse impacts have increased with the advent of more modern practices and ideas. Factors include air pollution, clear cutting forests for agriculture and development, overgrazing, and the diversion of water. Oak habitats are lost or fragmented affecting countless animal populations. Oak regeneration is a big challenge. In many areas and for reasons not fully understood, young oaks are not surviving through the sapling stage.
6. People and Oaks- Historic Uses of Oak Resources
In San Luis Obispo County, Native Chumash and Salinan tribes were stewards of the oaks that sustained their lives. They used fire as a tool for managing wildlife habitat, opening dense woods to provide open areas for grazing animals. Acorn sources were protected, especially during lean years. As a matter of survival, people had to develop great knowledge of the oak ecosystem. Nature could be harsh but it was the source of everything needed for life - food, shelter, medicines, and even recreation.
California’s oak woodlands have not always looked like they do now. Ten million years ago, much of what is now our oak woodlands was submerged under the Pacific Ocean. Ten thousand years ago, after the last Ice Age, oaks began to grow in limited areas where climate changes favored their development. As oak woodlands and savannas have evolved over thousands of years, so too have California’s human populations.
The good news is that humans can be forces for positive changes, too. It’s up to us! We can choose to preserve and protect oak landscapes for the benefit of wildlife and people. As an Oak Ambassador, you can help others understand why the oaks are worth our care and attention. By teaching others and sharing your love for nature, you can be a force for positive change in our world.
In the past, local Chumash and Salinan tribes depended on oaks to provide everything needed for life: food, shelter, medicine, and even recreation. Chumash and Salinan people continue to preserve their culture and traditions on the Central Coast today. The information in this section reflects past uses of oak resources, though many of these practices are continued today.
Acorns were the most important food source. One family needed 500 pounds of acorns — or more — each year! People protected the oak trees and used different strategies to increase the acorn harvest. After harvesting, women began the long process of turning acorns into bread or mush. Processing steps included removing the outer shell, grinding, and repeated washings to remove bitter tannins.
6. People and Oaks- Acorns as Food
Some examples of common local oak woodland plants and their uses:
Poison oak’s vining stems were used to make twine and baskets while plant juices provided a cure for ringworm and warts. How did they do this without getting a rash? Amazingly, some native people were immune to the rash-causing poison oak oils.
Can you imagine what it would be like to live off of the land? No grocery or drugstores. Kids learned how to hunt, fish and gather everything needed for life.
6. People and Oaks- Native Plants
Soap plant’s large, underground bulb was crushed and mixed with water to make a soap, hence the name! The dark brown, hairy fibers covering the bulb were used to make fiber brushes. The bulbs contain a nerve toxin that was used to stun fish, making them easy to catch.
Manzanita berries were dried, ground into flour, and used to make bread or mush. People also made cider out of fresh manzanita berries (manzanita means “little apple” in Spanish).
Think of a game or toy you could create from materials found in the oak woodlands!
A person holds a stick with a string attached to the middle. On the other side of the string, a ring is attached. The person swings the stick and string with the intent of catching the ring on the end of the pointed stick.
Walnut Shell Dice Game:
Two people play this game with 10 sticks and 6 half-walnut shells filled with tar and abalone shell chips. One player selects odd numbered shells and one selects even numbers.
The first player rolls the dice and counts how many dice land with the flat side up. That person roles a second and third time and then adds all three counts together. If the number is odd and he chose odd, he gets a stick (a point); if the number is even and he chose even, he gets a stick.
The second player does the same thing as the first player, only with even numbers. The players alternate turns, keeping their odd or even choice for the entire game. When all the counter sticks are gone from the pile, the players win their sticks from each other. The first player to get all the sticks is the winner.
Children poked sticks into acorns to make tops, and then challenged each other to see who could spin theirs the longest.
6. People and Oaks- Toys and Games
Past Native communities loved games and contests just like we do today!
7. Guiding Hikes- Outdoor Safety and First Aid
The Northern Pacific rattlesnake, Crotalus oreganus oreganus, is the only venomous snake found in San Luis Obispo County. To minimize chances of an encounter while out on the trail:
Wear closed-toe, sturdy hiking shoes
Avoid thick underbrush where you cannot see what is in front of you, or use a walking stick to disturb the area in front of you.
If you encounter a snake, stay calm and back away slowly. Never approach, corner, or poke at a snake.
If surprised, rattlesnakes may not have time to use their warning rattle. Carefully look before you sit, especially on rock outcrops.
Learn what rattlesnakes look like before you go out on the trail. Even small rattlesnakes have a venomous bite. Absence of rattles doesn’t mean it’s not a rattlesnake! Rattles can break off.
If someone is bitten by a snake, stay calm. Notify an adult as quickly as possible. It helps to know the name of the closest hospital or urgent care center.
Ticks are a common arachnid in SLO County. Ticks can carry diseases and cause a rash with their bite. Here are some tips to avoid or deal with tick bites:
Stay on the trail. Ticks live in tall grasses and shrubs and may cling to you if you pass by. Avoid tall grass, brush, and low hanging branches; wear long pants to cover your legs and ankles.
Check your clothes, hair, and body for ticks after a hike. If you suspect that your clothes may have ticks on them, it's best to wash them or run them through the dryer on a hot cycle. The heat should kill ticks.
Carefully remove ticks with tweezers or a special tool as soon as possible and clean the bite with an antiseptic wipe or soap.
Learn what poison oak looks like so you can avoid it when on the trail.
Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants when hiking. Wash your hands and clothes after hiking.
When hiking, look for leaves that might brush your pants or skin and avoid them.
If someone is exposed to poison oak, wash the spot with soap and cool water. Special soaps for poison oak are available.
Try not to scratch skin affected with poison oak.
Pay attention to where you step! Look for snakes or insects before you step, sit, or pick something up. Small rocks and sticks can be slippery.
Wear long pants, a hat, sturdy shoes, and sunblock. In rainy weather, be sure to wear a waterproof jacket.
Biting and Stinging Insects
Some people are allergic to bee stings. If you know you have an allergy to insect stings/bites, tell the people you are hiking with in advance (medical alert should be on file with school office/Epi-pen on hand).
Wear a long-sleeved shirt and long pants with boots when in the field. Tucking your pants into your boots or socks helps prevent insects from getting into your pants.
The best defense against biting and stinging insects is to stay away from insect nests, swarms, and ant mounds.
Try not to scratch a bite or sting.
If you think you are having an allergic reaction to a bite or sting, let an adult know right away!
On hike day:
Be at your starting spot before the starting time.
Wear closed-toe hiking shoes and bring a jacket if weather is cool.
Wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts provides protection from sunburn, ticks, and poison oak.
Have your hat, sunscreen, and water bottle with you.
The lead adult docent for your hiking group carries the first aid kit.
With your hiking group:
Say hello to your group. Try to learn everyone's name. Thank hikers and volunteers for joining you.
Introduce yourself – share a special interest or something about yourself. For example, explain why you like to lead hikes in the oaks.
Go over the rules of the trail:
Stay behind the leader
Stay on the trail
Use quiet voices
Ask the leader before touching or picking something up
7. Guiding Hikes- Trail Guide Tips and Tools
Before hike day:
Walk the trail before you lead a group on it. Look at the map. Practice key concepts and talking points for the hike.
Think about the age/grade level of the kids you’ll be leading and how you can best lead them.
Tips for Success
Share something you hope hikers will remember from their experience.
Create an interactive moment. For example, you could ask your hikers to raise their hand if they know an animal that lives in an oak habitat.
Let the natural sounds found on the trails do some of the work. Encourage hikers to stay quiet and listen.
Younger children may be shy. Help them feel comfortable by talking to them individually, one-on-one. Take the time to have a conversation with each person while on the trail.
Allow hikers to assist you in presenting different talks or stations. Students love helping!
Smiles, humor, enthusiasm, and eye contact will make the hike more fun and memorable. Enjoy yourself!
Don’t be afraid to say "I don’t know". You’re not expected to be a walking encyclopedia. Ask, “How can we find out?” Model natural curiosity.
Involve the whole group. Watch for kids who aren’t participating and try to pull them in with questions or ask them to help you with something. Use open-ended questions and discussion more than telling.
Involve the senses, when appropriate. Stop to smell, watch, listen, and touch.
Compliment good behavior -- it inspires others.
Enlist teacher help with problem students.
Try to use children’s names and acknowledge their participation.
Lowering your voice can be an attention grabber. Do you see what I see? Watch and listen.
Use teachable moments and be flexible. You never know what’s going to pop up!
If you are talking and an amazing moment distracts everyone, let attention go to the surprise discovery and then return to your point.
7. Guiding Hikes- Open-Ended Questions
How to respond to questions:
It takes a lot of courage for a person to answer a question in front of a group. We want to create an environment where everyone feels comfortable participating in hike learning experiences.
When a hiker answers a question correctly, do not only respond with “yes” but add to their answer or summarize it. Students want to feel like their answers made a difference.
What happens when a hiker asks you a question and you don't know the answer?
Whatever you do, don't make something up!
Always say, "I don't know but I can try to find out!"
Examples of open-ended questions:
What does this leaf shape remind you of?
What do notice about this flower?
Why is it important to care for nature?
Focus on open-ended questions during hikes to engage minds and encourage discussion!
It is okay to ask closed-ended questions in certain situations. For example, when beginning a station, you might ask a question such as “Does anyone know what kind of bird this is?” This will help you assess the audience’s prior knowledge.
Another good technique is to ask questions in a way that engages your entire audience. For example, you can say, “Thumbs up if you know the name of this bird.” If this is not done, you may get one student answering all the questions,which might cause the others to lose interest.
Examples of close-ended questions:
What is the name of this mammal tooth?
How many legs does a spider have?
What is the name for an animal that eats only plants?
In a conversation, when in the classroom or working on a homework assignment, you might find yourself presented with a series of close-ended or open-ended questions.
Close-ended questions are those which can be answered by a simple phrase, such as "yes" or "no," while open-ended questions are those which require more thought and more than a simple one-word answer. These create discussion.
7. Guiding Hikes- Opening and Closing a Hike
Opening a Hike
At the beginning of a hike, your hikers will probably be very excited. While we love excitement, students learn better when they know what to expect. Here are some ways to start any hike:
Get your hikers' attention: Gather them in a circle around you and make sure they are listening to you. It may be helpful to teach them a hand signal that will tell them it’s time to listen (such as Quiet Coyote).
Introduce yourself: Say your name, grade, and title, and something you are interested in.
Introduce the focus of your hike: Are you exploring habitats? Life cycles? Nutrient cycling? Call attention to the hike theme and point out a few things you'll be noticing as you go.
Explain the rules: There are always a few rules to follow for hikers' own safety and enjoyment, make sure everyone knows them before you start hiking:
Stay behind the hike leader
Stay on the trail
Use quiet voices
Let nature be! Don't pick or remove anything without permission.
Once you have done everything on this list, you are ready to split into groups (if you have to) and start hiking! It's important to avoid silliness when beginning a hike for students; you are a role model and they will do what you do! If you are not doing the introduction, this is the time to make sure you have all your materials ready!
You'll sometimes have trail cards like these to help you remember talking points.
When the hike is coming to a close, gather your group into a circle and ask them to share what they liked, what they learned, and what they will take home with them.
Liked- When asked to reflect on what they liked, students often remark on “firsts;” their first time seeing animal tracks, touching animal skins, and playing native games. Comments like these show us that we are accomplishing our goal of sparking an interest in nature. This is the first step towards understanding and becoming good stewards of the natural world.
Learned- After hiking, the students and hikers will surely have learned one new thing. Ask them what they learned and make them feel proud and accomplished. The students come away with a clear message that there is a lot to learn in the outdoors.
Taking It Home- At the end of the closing circle, students discuss what they will take home. They mention memories of sights and sounds, lessons of the oak community, and new perspectives of nature. Remind students that they can observe nature everywhere, and we can take action to preserve our oak woodlands. In the end, we hope the hikers walk away wanting to continue their education of the outdoors.
You don't need to know everything. Be curious and have fun making discoveries.
3. Keep safe. If you don’t know whether a plant or animal is safe to touch, don’t touch it! Only touch plants or animals that you are sure are safe.
4. Pack it in, pack it out. Put snacks, tissues, and wrappers back into a closed pocket to avoid leaving trash on the trail. Brush off seeds from bottoms of shoes into trash in between hikes to minimize spreading invasive plants.
5. Respect wildlife. Observe animals from a distance. Keep noise levels low to avoid scaring or flushing animals out of their homes.
6. Respect fellow visitors. Step to the side to let others pass on the trail. On multi-use trails, horses have the right-of-way. People on bikes should make room for hikers. Downhill hikers step aside for uphill hikers. Keep voices down and music/cell phones off so that everyone can hear the sounds of nature.
Let It Be!
1. Leave what you find. Leave discoveries in place for others to enjoy and to keep wild places wild.
2. Learn what we can without collecting plants and animals. Naturalists collect an item only if they can learn something important by doing so. If collecting for educational purposes is appropriate, use these guidelines:
For plants: Do not pick plants to avoid disturbing rare and endangered species. Work under the guidance of a knowledgeable docent.
For animals: Do not collect animals, even insects and spiders, except for temporary observation in an appropriate container or habitat. Always make sure to return animals where you found them.
7. Guiding Hikes- Field Ethics for Nature
As an Oak Ambassador, you’ll occasionally have the opportunity to present a puppet show or skit for a school class or a community group. Community presentations are scheduled throughout the year at libraries, events and nature camps. This is a fun way to teach others about nature and oaks. Here are some tips to help you make the most of presentation opportunities:
When your character is speaking, move your puppet up and down or side to side to show who is talking. All other characters should be still so that attention is on the speaker.
Pay attention to team voices so that you’ll be ready to speak when it’s your turn. Keep the conversation flowing smoothly!
For both skits and puppet shows, teamwork and cooperation are best! Welcome your assigned character and do your best to speak for that animal. It’s great to create a distinctive voice as long as it’s easy to understand what you’re saying. Whatever way you choose to add interest to your character, be sure to speak in a loud, clear voice!
Each skit involves just two characters, such as Connie Condor and Jack the Jackrabbit.
It may be beneficial to have two OAs per character with one to move the mask while the other speaks. The OA holding the mask should move the mask when character is speaking.
Each skit also requires a narrator. This could be an OA or an adult volunteer. In addition to reading the narration lines included in the skit, the narrator should introduce the skit. For example, “Today, we’ll meet Milo the Mountain Lion and Sergio the Sabre-toothed Cat. Sergio is visiting us from the Ice Age! Please enjoy “Predator Pounce” presented by the Oak Ambassadors from _____________________ school(s).
8. Presenting Puppet Shows and Skits
9. Handling Specimens
Bird Study Skins
The Cal Poly Biology Department has provided bird specimens to aid in our learning and teaching goals. Many of these specimens are very old and all are fragile. Proper care is essential to keep these delicate specimens in use:
• Wash hands before and after to avoid transferring oils and dirt to the plumage.
• Remember these were animals who once lived and flew; treat them with care and respect.
• Handle carefully and one at a time.
• Pick up and hold by the dowel (wooden stick).
• If the bird is larger, use two hands - one on the dowel and the other on the widest part of the body.
• Do not grasp the tail, wings if extended, top knots, etc.
• Take a look at the paper label to find information about where and when each bird was collected.
Although they are not quite as delicate as the bird study skins, the skulls also require careful handling. For larger skulls, handle at the thickest part of the bone. Be especially careful to not disturb teeth or other delicate parts. For smaller skulls, such as squirrel, bat or rattlesnake, cradle in the palm of your hand.
11. Recommended Online Resources
Betty War Brusa. Salinan Indians of California and Their Neighbors. Naturegraph Publishers, 2008.
Bruce M. Pavlik, Pamela C. Muick, Sharon G. Johnson and Marjorie Popper. Oaks of California. Cachuma Press, 2002.
Glenn Keator and Susan Bazell. The Life of an Oak ~ An Intimate Portrait. Heyday, 1998.
Jan Timbrook. Chumash Ethnobotany. Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History and Heyday, 2007.
Jeannine Gendar. Grass Games and Moon Races ~California Indian Games and Toys. Heyday,1995.
Jenepher Lingelbach and Lisa Purcell, Illustrated by Susan Sawyer. Hands-On Nature. Vermont Institute of Natural Science, 2000.
Joseph Cornell. Sharing Nature with Children. Dawn Publications, 1998.
Julia F. Parker and Beverly R. Ortiz. It Will Live Forever. Heyday, 1991.
Kate Marianchild. Secrets of the Oak Woodlands. Heyday, 2014.
Kay Antunez de Mayolo. Investigating the Oak Community ~ A Curriculum Guide for Grades 4-8. California Oak Foundation, 2000.
Laura Cunningham. A State of Change ~ Forgotten Landscapes of California. Heyday,2010.
M. Kat Anderson. Tending the Wild. University of California Press, 2005.
Malcolm Margolin and Yolanda Montijo. Native Ways ~ California Indian Stories and Memories. Heyday,1995.
Project WILD ~ K-12 Curriculum and Activity Guide. Council for Environmental Education, 2006.
The Chumash People ~ A Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Docent Project. EZ Nature Books, 1991.
Animal Diversity Web- https://animaldiversity.org
California Academy of Sciences- https://www.calacademy.org/audience/kids
California Native Plant Society- https://www.cnps.org
California State Parks ~ Kids in Parks- http://kids.parks.ca.gov
The National Wildlife Federation-https://www.nwf.org/Home/Educational-Resources/Wildlife-Guide
National Park Service ~ Explore Nature- https://www.nps.gov/nature/index.htm
PBS Nature- http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature
Adaptation- A physical or behavioral change that helps an organism survive in its environment
Adolescence- A period or stage of development preceding maturity.
Alga- A simple, non-flowering plant.
Annual Rings- Concentric rings in the cross section of a tree trunk, each representing a single year’s growth.
Antenna- A jointed appendage, usually occurring in pairs on arthropods; used as a sensory receptor.
Anther- The upper portion of the stamen containing the pollen grains.
Arthropod- An invertebrate with a segmented external skeleton and jointed legs.
Cambium- A layer of tissue in woody plants, from which new bark and wood originate.
Camouflage- An animal’s natural coloring or form that allows it to blend in with its surroundings.
Canines- The four pointed teeth occurring at the front corners of the upper and lower jaws of flesh-eating mammals, used for gripping and tearing flesh.
Cephalothorax- A body division with the head and thorax combined, as in spiders.
Chitin- The primary component of arthropod skeletons, which is tough, flexible, and resistant to most chemicals, including water.
Chlorophyll- The green pigment found in plants that is necessary for the process of photosynthesis.
Chrysalis- The pupa of a butterfly.
Cocoon- The pupa of a moth.
Complete Metamorphosis- The four-stage development of insects which includes egg, larva, pupa, and adult.
Conifer- A cone-bearing plant such as pine, fir, spruce, hemlock, cedar, and redwood.
Crepuscular- Active during dawn and dusk.
Cyanobacteria- Photosynthetic bacteria that use sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide to produce sugar.
Deciduous- Trees and shrubs that lose their annual growth of leaves each autumn.
Detritivore- An animal that feeds on dead organic material.
Diurnal- Active during the day.
Ecological Communities- A group of interacting organisms that live in a particular habitat.
Ecological Succession- Changes in the composition of an ecological community over time.
Ecosystem- A basic functional unit consisting of complex interactions between plants and animals and the physical and chemical components of their environment, varying in size from a small field to the entire earth.
Endotherm- An animal capable of internal generation of heat; a warm-blooded animal.
Evapotranspiration- The process of transferring water from the earth to the atmosphere by evaporation of water and transpiration from plants.
Ectotherm- An animal that is dependent on external sources of body heat; a cold-blooded animal.
Food Chain- The transfer of food energy in sequence from plants to animals that eat plants to animals that eat other animals.
Food Web- A network of interconnected food chains within a community.
Fruiting Body- The spore producing organ of a fungus, often seen as a mushroom or toadstool.
Fungi- A group of organisms including mushrooms, molds, and mildews that subsist on upon dead or living organic matter.
Igneous Rock- Rocks formed from cooled magma or lava.
Incisors- Teeth in the front part of the upper and lower jaws of mammals, adapted for cutting.
Incomplete Metamorphosis- The three-stage development of insects which includes egg, nymph, and adult.
Invertebrate- An animal that has no backbone, but uses some other form of support such as a shell or exoskeleton.
Larva- An immature and usually active feeding stage of an animal, unlike the adult in form.
Magma- Molten rock within or beneath the earth’s crust.
Metamorphic Rock- An igneous or sedimentary rock that is drastically changed by extreme heat and or pressure.
Metamorphosis- The process of transformation from an immature form to an adult form in two or more distinct changes.
Molars- In mammals, the back permanent teeth which have surfaces adapted for grinding
Monogamous- Animals that have only one mate at a time.
Mycelium- The vegetative part of a fungus made of thread-like hyphae, typically found on or within the soil.
Niche- The unique function or role of a given species within a community.
Nocturnal- Active during the night.
Nymph- The immature stage of an insect that undergoes incomplete metamorphosis.
Ovoviviparous- Eggs hatch within the body of the parent.
Pecten- A large scallop.
Photosynthesis- The production of sugars, by plants, from carbon dioxide and water in the presence of chlorophyll using sunlight as a source of energy.
Pistil- The central organ of a flower which contains the female parts: stigma, style, and ovary.
Pollen- Fine, yellowish powder-like grains which contain the male germ cells of a plant.
Porous- Having small spaces or holes through which liquid or air may pass.
Primary Consumer- An animal that eats plants.
Pupa- The third stage of complete metamorphosis in insects during which a larva transforms into an adult.
Saprophyte- A plant, fungus, or microorganism that lives on dead or decaying organic matter.
Scavenger- An animal that feeds on dead organic matter, either plant or animal.
Secondary Consumer- An animal that eats other animals.
Sedimentary Rock- Rocks formed from layers of sediment that are compacted and cemented together.
Sexual Dimorphism- A distinct difference in size or appearance between males and females of a species.
Spore- A tiny reproductive cell as in the mosses, ferns, and fungi.
Stamen- The male organ of the flower consisting of anther and filament, which produces the pollen.
Stigma- The most elevated part of the flower’s pistil which receives the pollen.
Stomates (or Stoma, plural Stomata)- Minute openings in the outer surface of leaves and stems of plants, through which water and gases pass.
Style- A slender column of tissue that connects the ovary and the stigma of a flower pistil.
Symbiotic Relationship- Two organisms live and interact with one another. Can be mutualistic, parasitic, or commensalistic.
Thorax- The body segment between the head and abdomen of an insect.
Venom- A poisonous substance secreted by animals typically injected via sting or bite.
Vertebrate- An animal having a segmented backbone or vertebral column; bony fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals.
Viviparous- Gives birth to live young.
Learning Among the Oaks (LATO), including the Oak Ambassadors (OA) program, is supported by volunteer docents, partners, grants and private donations to The Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County, a 501(c)3 nonprofit land trust conserving local land for the benefit of people and wildlife since 1984. We're grateful to all supporters as well as the faculty, staff and OA families at each of the LATO partner schools.
Florida Center for Instructional Technology, College of Education, University of South Florida
Learning Among the Oaks photo collection
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
The Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County
P.O. Box 12206, San Luis Obispo, CA 93406