Annual Christmas Tree in the Gazebo

For over 20 years a decorated 9 foot tree has brought holiday cheer from the gazebo in Whitmore Park.  Visible from Highway 99, this annual project undertaken by the Ceres Garden Club is ready to warm the community by the first weekend in December.  As the sections of the tree are fluffed, lights strung and replaced, then decorations attached, garden club members enjoy a fun time working together for the benefit of the entire Ceres area.


A beacon of cheer in Whitmore Park


Snowmen aren’t Frosty

Members of the Ceres Garden Club make one-of-a-kind log snowmen to take the bite out of winter and keep you smiling throughout the Christmas holiday season. Using a chainsaw, varying sizes are cut and stacked with a slice for the brim of the hat.  Small branches are cut on the band-saw, which are then characterized for buttons, eyes and sometimes a nose. A festive ribbon tied at the neck finishes the cute critter that can be burned in the fireplace after Christmas.

Used for a fundraiser to benefit the upcoming certified National Garden Clubs, Inc. Flower Show School  and Scholarship Fund, members of the Ceres Garden Club enjoy the fun times crafting while building a financial nest for worthy projects.

Handmade Log Snowman

As the Seasons Change, So Do Birds’ Feathers

bird molt

Understanding the Basics of Bird Molts

One of the most defining features of a bird is its plumage. But as complex and capable as feathers are, they don’t last forever: They begin to break down after some time, forcing replacement. As a result, a bird’s appearance may radically change through the molting period—or just look odd and patchy. That, in turn, adds another layer of difficulty to species identification.

If you’re a birder, don’t agonize over these transitions: Embrace the molt. It’s a fascinating behavior, just like migration and breeding, and it’s one of the vital parts of a bird’s life; plus, it can add some interesting context to your next birding outing.

Here are some fundamentals of identifying molts.

Are molts obvious?

Yes, though more so in larger species and in longer feathers on the wings and the tail. When birds are molting, you can usually spot the missing primary flight feathers by looking for a gap in the outline of the wing. The molt typically starts with the inner-most primary feather and works out; similarly, the central tail feathers tend to be shed first. At the same time, the plumage on the body is also being swapped. In black or darkly colored birds, the new feathers are noticeable as they contrast with the faded old ones.

When does molting occur?

Molting is energetically expensive—as is migration and breeding. So, birds make sure these three activities don’t overlap. For many of our North American songbirds, that sweet spot in the calendar is July into early August. Townsend’s Warblers, for instance, go through a complete molt during this time, after they’re done mating, nesting, and tending to their chicks, but before they embark on their southbound migrations. Other birds such as Gray Flycatchers fly down to their tropical grounds first to wrap up the process there. Tree Swallows, meanwhile, may begin the swap up north, pause for migration, and then complete it after arriving at their wintering destinations. Many species also have a partial molt in late winter or spring, replacing their head and body feathers but not their flight feathers. That’s how a male Scarlet Tanager can switch to olive-green for the winter and back to luminous red for spring and summer.

Do all birds molt once a year?

In general, smaller species replace all their feathers once, and will often replace some twice. But the bigger the feather, the more taxing it is to replace it. That’s why huge birds such as eagles and pelicans don’t grow a new set of flight feathers each year; they restore individual primaries and secondaries on the wings in a staggered manner, taking multiple years to refresh.

What is “juvenile” plumage?

The juvenile stage refers to the period right after a fledgling leaves the nest. For some species it lasts just a few days; for others it can take up to a year. This is also the only time in a bird’s life when all of its feathers grow in at the same time, giving it a particularly uniform appearance. Take the young Western Sandpiper, for example: It’s crisp and clean-looking, almost like a recently detailed and upholstered car.

After a bird goes through its first juvenile molt, it only changes feathers sequentially, which means it always has something old and something new on its body. That’s why late-winter gulls that are immature (the awkward stage between juvenile and adult) look so “patchy.”

Are molts the only reason why a bird’s plumage changes?

Wear is another way. In autumn, the gorgeous Snow Bunting molts into a buff and white plumage. But during the winter, those buffy tips rub away to reveal the underlying black and white breeding suit of the male.

Are wear and fading the same thing?

There’s a small, but important difference between the two terms. Wear is mechanical deterioration from flapping and environmental elements that causes the feather tips to fray. Generally, paler plumes wear more quickly because they lack melanin, a pigment that strengthens cells and protects them from damage. Fading, on the other hand, is a photochemical reaction, where UV radiation from the sun breaks down a feather’s structure. Lice and bacteria also contribute to feather loss.

Can I become a molt-ID expert?

After learning the basics here, the next step is to get familiar with the habits, schedules, and variations of specific groups of birds. The Peterson Reference Guide to Molt in North American Birds is a great all-encompassing resource and field guide. You can also practice at home by noting the different plumages in the birds that come to your feeder. Look for darker and fresher feathers and contrast them with the paler ones.

The best part is, because molting is so staple and universal, you don’t need to seek out rare birds to study the results. Common species that change radically from one plumage to another include juvenile Brown-headed Cowbirds in late summer and American Goldfinches, which go from yellow to brown and back to yellow. Meanwhile, gulls are notorious for their diversity of molts and can prove tough to ID in summer and fall. So, if you’re willing to challenge yourself and dive right in, grab a hot chocolate (or another warming “beverage”), hit a nearby lake or fast-food parking lot, and start training.

By Alvaro Jaramillo, Audubon Magazine

November 16, 2017

Hot Topics Leadership Workshop

Valley Lode District Hosts

Garden Club members from all 18 garden clubs in the Valley Lode District (counties of Stanislaus, San Joaquin, Alpine, Calaveras, Mono, Tuolumne, Amador) were invited to attend the Hot Topics Leadership Workshop on Tuesday, November 14.  Hosted by the Valley Lode District elected officers, both past and present, attendance was free.

Matt Cranford, CEO Stanislaus County Fair, as keynote speaker presented tips and great ideas on how to conduct a successful fundraising event.

Break-out Sessions followed with rotation to “How to Conduct Super Meetings” by Bob Taylor, Professional Business Trainer; “Minutes and Archive Documents” by Cindy Martin, VLD Recording Secretary; “Hands-On is Right-On:Crafts” by Karen Thomas, Crafter Extraordinaire; and “Awards & Blue Ribbon Garden Club” by Berni Hendrix, CGCI Awards Chairman.

Breakfast bar snacks including the much in demand Valley Lode Savory Breakfast Bites , handmade by Barbara Hawkins, Ceres Garden Club, and beverages started the morning sessions which ended with a catered lunch of chicken fajitas, rice, beans, chips & salsa.

Valley Lode District Director, Pam Fish, coordinated the entire event and directed the fun VLode Bingo game.  Judy Scheppmann, Past Valley Lode District Director announced that a new garden club had been conceived in the Farmington/Escalon communities.

The fun-filled learning Workshop ended with a planning session to host the California Garden Clubs, Inc annual Convention on June 3-7, 2018 in Tuolumne, CA at the Black Oak Resort Hotel.  Members and Club Presidents from the represented Valley Lode District garden clubs shared and planned together to create a coordinated effort to make a long remembered Convention in the Valley Lode District.



Turkeys in California

Native to North America

Before the arrival of European settlers with their hunting, forest clearing and timber extraction, flocks of hundreds of wild turkeys could be found throughout North America. By the start of the twentieth century, they were on the brink of extinction. Through conservation and reintroduction efforts, however, they recovered and today, although not quite as many as the ten million estimated during the 1600s, they number about six million and are resident in every state except Alaska. While this proliferation has been deemed a conservation story by many—maybe even the greatest wildlife conservation success of the last century—there is considerable debate surrounding the introduction of wild turkeys into California and their place in its landscape.

Despite the quarter million or more now making themselves at home in the golden state, this specific species—Meleagris gallopavo (comprising four distinct subspecies and their hybrids with the Rio Grande subspecies being the most widespread)—is not considered native to California. Some 10,000–12,000 years ago, another smaller species with different morphological characteristics, the extinct Meleagris californica, did exist in southern California as evidenced by the more than 11,100 bones from at least 791 different birds found in the Rancho La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles. In fact, the second most abundant fossils in the Tar Pits belong to M.californica. Exactly why M. californica—originally described as a peacock—became extinct thousands of years ago in California is not known but it has been suggested that decreasing rainfall led to a loss of essential vegetation.

As part of a major state-sponsored recreational hunting program, the California Fish and Game Commission introduced thousands of farm-raised turkeys into the wild from the early 1900s through the 1950s. In spite of these introductions, the population remained flat, probably because these turkeys lacked the skills to survive in the wild.

From 1959 through 1999, however, the Commission, now the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, imported and released thousands of live-trapped wild turkeys (mostly of the Rio Grande subspecies from Texas) at over 200 locations, and these had no problem adapting to the California environment. Their population rapidly increased and their territory expanded throughout the state.Today, descendants of these turkeys occupy over 29,000 square miles of California—about one quarter of the state. They can make a living almost anywhere: agricultural fields and orchards, golf courses, university campuses, residential areas, urban sidewalks, freeway entrances and exits, and state and national parks to name just a few.

While most of the media coverage focuses on complaints from urban and suburban residents being harassed by rafts of invading turkeys, there may be a more critical issue at stake and important questions that need to be answered: Are they causing damage to the environment and decreasing biodiversity?

According to Christina Donehower, an environmental scientist at the Natural Resources Division, California Department of Parks and Recreation, much of the long-term data needed to reliably answer these questions and guide management actions is lacking. Donehower explains, “It is very likely that wild turkeys are affecting the ecological communities that they have come to inhabit in California. However, at this time, State Parks has limited capacity to devote to the monitoring and management of turkeys.” And so far, she says turkeys in California have received relatively little attention from the scientific community.

Daniel Ryan, the Invasive Wildlife Biologist at Pinnacles National Park, agrees with Donehower. Ryan maintains “we need far more good scientific research on this species and the effects it has had since being dropped into the state. We need concrete answers and we don’t have the time or money to find out.”

Scott Gardner, a senior environmental scientist for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife echoes these views. He says “it is obvious that the turkeys are here to stay and that long-term scientific studies are needed.” These pleas are nothing new. Concerns about the turkey’s potential impact on the native flora and fauna are raised by both government agencies and the public in the early 1990’s.

In 2007, the California State Department of Parks and Recreation identified three potential negative environmental impacts of turkeys as being of immediate importance: their consumption of endangered reptiles and amphibians, their competition with ground-dwelling birds for resources and their contribution to the spread of a tree disease called sudden oak death. Also in 2007, the Laguna Santa Rosa Watershed suggested that the effects of the wild turkeys on oak recruitment, soil disturbance, and damage to sensitive native species should be investigated.

To date, none of these concerns have been addressed in any long-term, comprehensive study. A short-term study conducted at one of Audubon Canyon Ranch’s Sonoma County preserves by Daniel Gluesenkamp in 2001, showed that “turkeys ate a broad variety of plants and animals and caused a tenfold increase in soil disturbance as well as a decrease in terrestrial invertebrates, herbivores, and decomposers fundamental to an ecosystem.”

In 2005, Reginald Barrett, a UC Berkeley retired professor emeritus of wildlife ecology and management, conducted another short-term study on the feeding habits and behavior of wild turkeys inhabiting Annadel State Park. He found no evidence of them spreading sudden oak death, eating endangered and/or vulnerable plants, insects or eggs, or causing harm to their surroundings, e.g. through rooting up soils or damaging vegetation.

In 2007, during another short-term study, Angela Gillingham found that turkeys were coexisting with quails within the same macrohabitat types without significant detrimental effects on either species. Gillingham felt that, while there was a great deal of dietary overlap, since both species have such diverse feeding preferences, barring any extraordinary environmental disasters or dramatic changes in population numbers or resource and/or habitat availability, it is unlikely that turkeys will come to monopolize available food sources.

The results from these short-term studies have created controversy. The California Native Plant Society, an organization dedicated to protecting and preserving California’s native plant heritage for future generations, feels that “while little is known about the impact turkeys are having, the data available indicate that the populations are too large, are in areas where they shouldn’t be and that they are affecting the environment by disturbing habitat, and eating a broad variety of native plants and animals”. On the other hand, The National Wild Turkey Federation, whose mission is “the conservation of the wild turkey and the preservation of the nation’s hunting heritage,” insists that there is much evidence that the birds are important both socially and economically, and no evidence that they are having a detrimental effect on the habitat or on any endangered species. As pointed out by the California Department of Fish and Game, however, such effects may be too subtle and too difficult to detect in the short term.

When the California Department of Fish and Game began releasing turkeys into the wild, they thought the program would result in economical and recreational benefits. Unfortunately they could not foresee the ensuing problems. Gardner says that while “the original turkey introductions weren’t an environmental concern at the time, because of their overabundance in some areas and geographic spread and our current environmental concerns—especially drought— with hindsight the department might have made a different choice about introducing them.”

According to Barrett and Gardner the turkey population is not now out of control or of major immediate concern for the environment. Overpopulation and increasing limited resources, however, could increase those concerns and turkeys could start to out-compete native birds for food resources. This is especially true since wild turkeys are “generalist feeders, and will eat animal matter, vegetable matter, you name it,” said Barrett.

So, is there a wild turkey crisis in California? Are they creating ecological problems now? Will they in the future? Possibly. Possibly not. According to Ryan, “Perhaps it will be necessary to pull out all the stops to halt their range expansion or maybe they will settle into a very normal niche in their regional environments. Turkeys, like many other introduced or reintroduced species, will probably continue to be a contentious subject in California as their population and range expand and they become more noticeable in the lives of Californians”. Perhaps then, more detailed studies will provide much-needed answers. If so, the only question left might well be whether or not the answers have come too late.

Reprint Scientific America, March 2016 by Dawn Starin


The Old Farmer’s Almanac Weather Forcasts


What’s shaping the weather?

According to the Farmer’s Almanac, 2018, solar (sun) activity is on the decline with expected temperatures to be colder than last winter, but still above normal.  Snowfall will be above normal in much of New England, from New Mexico eastward to the Tennessee Valley, in the central Plans and the Intermountain region, and in the California mountains, with below normal snowfall in other areas.

A weak El Nino is expected this winter, with cold air masses able to slip into the Intermountain region but will have difficulty making any prolonged inroads into the northern Plains, Great Lakes, or northeastern states.  Other important factors in the coming weather pattern include the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation in a continued warm phase, the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) in a neutral phase, and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) in the early stages of its warm cycle.  Oscillations are linked ocean-atmospher patterns that influence the weather over periods of weeks to years.

WINTER PREDICTION –  temperatures will be much colder than last winter, but still above normal, from Maine southward to most of Florida and westward through the Great Lakes, Midwest, Heartland, and Northern Plains.  Below normal temperatures will be the rule from the Gulf States westward to California and from the Intermountain region westward to the Pacific Northwest.  Precipitation will be above normal in much of the country, with above-normal snowfall in northern and central states.

SPRING PREDICTION – warmer than normal in Florida, Lower Lakes, Intermountain, Pacific Northwest, and interior portions of the Pacific Southwest.  Near or cooler than normal elsewhere.  Spring precipitation will be below normal from North Carolina southward to Florida and i the Lower Lakes, Intermountain, Pacific Coast states.  It will be above normal in most other areas.

SUMMER PREDICTION – temperatures will be below normal in much of California, the southern Intermountain region, and Texas-Oklahoma, but above normal elsewhere.  Rainfall will be above normal from the mid-Atlantic southward to Florida, Tennessee and Ohio Valleys and the Deep South, from Texas-Oklahoma westward into southeastern Arizona, and in the Pacific Northwest it will be below normal elsewhere.  The best chance for a major HURRICANE strike are in late August and early September along the western and central Gulf regions, with a tropical storm threat in early to mid-September from Florida to North Carolina.

AUTUMN PREDICTION – temperatures will be cooler than normal in much of the Northeast, from the High Plains westward to the Pacific, and in the Desert Southwest and warmer than normal in most other areas.  Precipitation will be above normal, particularly in the Pacific region.


farmers almanac


Hughson Arboretum Tour

On April 6, the Ceres Garden Club arranged a tour of the Hughson Arboretum and Gardens lead by Dale Pollard, Professor Environmental Horticulture, Modesto Junior College and Hughson Arboretum Board member.

What had been a walnut orchard and a dream for a lovely place filled with native and historic trees and shrubs, became the reality of benefactor Margaret Sturtevant.  The first few acres on family land were planted at the corner of Whitmore Ave and Euclid Road, Hughson, California in 1994.  More plantings were done in 1998, and in 2007 an additional five acres were planted in native trees and plants.

Unique in that the Arboretum boasts to plant, maintain, and make available for public viewing, native trees and plant species, trees of historic value, and other types of plants that will promote education and appreciation of a natural environment.  The concept is to provide a place for preservation of native species and to allow the public to have access to a place of peace for quiet contemplation.  Creating a natural setting without concrete walkways, mowstrips or manicured topiary is the reality of the dream of its founder.

Very unique are the historical trees.  George Washington Tulip Poplar, first planted at Mount Vernon in 1798; Harriet Beecher Stowe Golden Rain; President Madison Montpelier Red Maple; Trail of Tears Redbud; American Elm Survivor Tree, from the Oklahoma City bombing; George Washington Carver Green Ash; and Susan B Anthony Sycamore. It literally took an act of Congress to allow for the moving of a giant Redwood tree slab from Humboldt County Giant Redwood forest, which is on display.

Looking to the future and thinking of the generations who may never see the natural condition of our rich valley, the Hughson Arboretum on only 9 acres is a magical spot where time stands still.  Yet nothing is still in the Arboretum.  The breeze, bees, and blooms beckon to a space where nature is in perfect harmony.

For more information on the Hughson Arboretum and Gardens, and on how to participate with the Arboretum go to: or email:  Mail: P O Box 1345, Hughson, CA 95326