March 18, 2008: It’s Easter Vacation time, and while every day is vacation for
me, it’s a special time for kids. Each year since 2003, my
grandson Mikie and I have gone camping at Kirch Flat
just above the upper end of Pine Flat Reservoir on the
year we’re joined by his best buddy from the Junior Falcons hockey
team, Griffin Flores. My daughter told me with two friends to
entertain each other, they would leave me alone and I could get lots
of reading done. Ha!
boys are crazy for hockey, so we brought along a net, sticks, roller
hockey balls, and roller blades. Since they are both big scorers on
the team, they need a goalie to shoot against. Guess who gets
drafted? Of course, I limit the amount of time I play, since
arthritis in my lower back results in pain after a short time. But
I’ve put in at least an hour total in two days, while they have
probably played a total of five hours or more.
reason it says Frog Pond at the top is that right next to our
favorite camp site there is a slow-moving branch of the river that
is favored by frogs. Mikie has caught several each year, and is
allowed to take one home. Unfortunately, Easter is early this year,
and it is apparently too early for the huge mass of frogs we usually
hear (they don’t care that it’s Easter; it’s still winter to
them). The boys did see one frog up by the camp, which they caught,
then released, assuming there would be plenty more later.
with us however – the boys discovered a new animal to collect,
salamanders. Crossing the main road that goes along the lake is a small
creek that my older grandson and I named Salamander Creek, because
we once saw at least 15 of the small orange creatures in the water
and up on the nearby hillside. Mikie and I have walked in there in
previous years, but he doesn’t remember seeing salamanders.
way up we parked at a wide spot just before the creek, and walked up
the short trail, then down to the creek. We immediately saw a
salamander, which Mikie caught. He had firm instructions that
salamanders were “catch and release” only, so we left it there
and continued on our way. However, when we learned last night that
we were probably not going to catch frogs, he immediately began
lobbying to take home a salamander.
don’t have cell phone coverage, so we could not call and get
approval, but we decided that he could catch one, call when we get
to the top of the hill where there is coverage, and if the answer is
a firm “no,” the creature would be released in Salamander Creek,
which is on our way home.
afternoon we drove to another nearby creek, and discovered that it
was the true Salamander Creek. We immediately saw three or four, and
eventually Mikie and Griffin
caught and released six, and saw another six or more. We decided
that this was Big Salamander Creek, and the original was now Little
after breakfast, chores and an hour or so of hockey were done, we
drove up the road to the east. A short way from the camp the road crosses the
river, then a mile or so farther it crosses back and continues on to
Balch Camp, a PG & E outpost. At the second crossing, dirt roads go up
both sides of the river. We drove up the south side to Mill Flat
Creek Campground, but this large stream had no visible salamanders.
went back to the pavement and up to the north side, until we came to
a small creek. This turned out to be Baby Salamander Creek, and
Mikie immediately caught a small one. Griffin
soon followed with a larger one. We put them in a plastic ice cream
bucket with air holes that we had prepared for the frogs, but the
bigger salamander began showing obvious signs of stress, moving all
around the bucket and trying the get out. We released him, but kept
the other one, who seemed a lot mellower. Now it will be up to Mikie
and his mom to find out what salamanders eat and how to take care of
them. They are experienced reptile and amphibian keepers, and have
an expert on call at the Reptile House, so we will see what happens.
this project was completed, we drove further up the north side road,
to a nice walking spot I had found last year. We made a loop hike up
a hill, around and down an old road. The boys began turning over
rocks looking for bugs, and their first discovery was a centipede.
Most rocks proved disappointing, until Griffin
turned over one that had an unexpected creature under it – a small
gopher snake. After making sure it was not a rattler, we caught it
and looked at it for a minute, then let it go. Further rocks proved
to be uninhabited. However, during this trip the boys saw and got to
touch a salamander, a frog, a snake, a caterpillar, a ladybug, and
some worms. If this doesn’t sound like fun to you, you are
probably not a 10-year-old boy.
they are down at the pond, looking under rocks in the water, finding
worms, and no doubt getting their pants wet. Thankfully they don’t
need my help with that, and I can read, relax, and start this
one of the great things about this area is the early spring greenery
and flowers. There are lots of flowers out, and sections of some of
the hills are so thick with poppies, it looks like someone dumped
orange paint there. Many of the trees are leafing out, although not
as much as usual due to the early date of Easter. We also see lots
of birds, mostly small ones, but also quite a few red tail hawks.
20: Tuesday night’s pond excursion provide a little more
productive than the first night – the boys caught one frog, which
they released because the deal was frog or salamander, your choice.
They also caught another salamander in the pond, where we’ve never
seen them before. This one will be Griffin’s, pending parental approval.
yesterday, and made a stop at Sycamore Creek, a fairly large creek
that runs into the lake several miles downstream from where we
camped. Here we saw, caught, and released one final salamander.
already made the phone call to my daughter and obtained approval to
bring home a salamander, with a further agreement to take both of
them if Griffin’s parents balked.
home, the boys continued their hockey activities until the arrival
of my daughter, Teri, and Griffin’s mother, Leslie and sister, Hannah. Leslie was a bit squeamish
about taking in the creature, stating that she liked “normal”
furry pets, but Hannah went to bat on her brother’s behalf, and
both boys each left with a salamander in a bucket, and an assignment
to research their care and feeding on the Internet.
16 Update: Both salamanders are doing well, happily dining on
crickets, the same food Mikie has been buying for years for his
lizards, toads, frogs, and tarantulas.