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The Sycamore Trail
at
Kaweah Oaks Preserve
Introduction

The Kaweah River regularly flooded during the rainy season and then again when the snow melted in the 
mountains, carrying tons of rich alluvial soil to this vicinity from the eroding Southern Sierra Nevada 
Mountain Range before the Terminus Dam on Lake Kaweah was built in 1962. The Kaweah River broke
into several distinct creeks in this general area; all ending their journey at the huge Tulare Lake located 35 
miles southwest of here. These creeks generated a unique landscape including Valley Oak woodlands, 
riparian forests, swamps and alkali meadows that covered over 400 square miles, of which the Kaweah 
Oaks Preserve is the last vestige.

Alkali Meadow with Yerba Mansa (Lizard Tail)Alkali Meadow

Here you see a completely natural alkali meadow, sandwiched between Valley Oak woodland (the Sycamore Trail) and  a riparian forest (south-west of the picnic area). For centuries, this area was swamp most of the year with so many mosquitoes that the Indians wore them like clothes! The constant flooding and evaporation in this level spot eventually developed into the alkali meadow we see today.  White-tailed deer, Tule elk and Pronghorn antelope grazed on the abundant native grasses that still thrive in this meadow during the dry season.  The Gaweah Tribe (yes, with a G) of the Yokuts Indians, who resided near Woodlake, often hunted here with great success. 

Before you begin your hike on the Sycamore Trail take a closer look at this marvelous meadow. Look and listen for Meadowlarks and Kingbirds attempting to scare up some grasshoppers, beetles or crickets. Can you distinguish between the native and exotic grasses and herbs? Notice the whitish alkali minerals 
appearing on the surface of the soil. If you're lucky you'll observe a pair of White-tailed Kites or a 
Loggerhead Shrike flying above the grasses searching for a meal. Find tunnels and trails in the thatch made by voles, rabbits and squirrels, but be careful not to disturb the ground nesting larks and sparrows.

Sycamore Trail Map




The Sycamore Trail 

The Sycamore Trail is an easy 3/4-mile loop trail that will bring you back to this location. Take the path that goes down into the wooded area. 

This guide details points of interest located on the trail at the 12 numbered stops.

Watch for signs of wildlife all along the path - tracks, scat, evidence of foraging for grubs, mole humps and bumps, and flat grasses where an animal may have spent the night. Watch and listen for hawks and songbirds that are abundant here at Kaweah Oaks Preserve. 
 
 


California Sycamore has mottled white and gray bark
California Sycamore
has smooth light colored bark
Alligator Lizard
Alligator Lizard

 

1. California Sycamore, Platanus racemosa - This native giant is testimony of an abundance of near-surface groundwater. It is an obligate phreatophyte, meaning the tree needs access to ground water within the root zone. In a normally wet year, you can dig a seven foot hole and hit water here at Kaweah Oaks Preserve. But as waterflow in our creeks is decreased, so the trees and wildlife decline. The Western Pond Turtle population has declined since waterflow has driven them downriver seeking the life giving fluid. Some end up on Highway 198 and don't make it across alive.

Take time to play in the leaf litter - you might find Alligator Lizards, beetle larva and harmless spiders inhabiting this crunchy oasis. Notice the huge leaves that are scattered about; sycamores have the largest leaves of any tree in California. The California Sycamore is an important member of our Valley Oak Woodland, providing homes for cavity and open nesting birds, food for hundreds of insects and rich compost that naturally fertilizes the surrounding plant community. 

Red Willow is so named because the early spring growth starts our red.
Red Willow-young growth is red
Poison Hemlock has purplish-red blotches on the stems.Poison Hemlock has lovely fern-like leaves that look like carrot tops or parsley. They are in the Carrot and Parsley Family
Poison Hemlock has mottled red stems
and ferny leaves
2. Good and Evil - The healing Red Willow (Salix laevigata) is on the left side of this path and the deadly Poison Hemlock (Conium maculata) infests the right. As in our lives, so nature has its irony. The Yokuts put the willows to many good uses - all parts can be used to relieve pain, reduce fevers and cleanse wounds by making a tea from the leaves or bark or just chewing a bitter leaf. They also used the fine branches for fishing baskets, snares, traps, and for camouflage. The Poison Hemlock, introduced from Europe, had "medicinal" qualities, but not for healing. The condemned Greek philosopher, Socrates, was forced to drink a potion made from Poison Hemlock and he died. Can you smell the hemlock - the scent reminds us of dirty socks. The mottled red stems is a clue that this plant is very toxic. Here we can see how an introduced species has pushed out our native species. Introduced plants have no natural control and can take over an are very quickly if not eradicated. We are trying to control the hemlock and thistles that grow vigorously in the springtime.
Himalayan Blackberry is black when ready to eat.
Himalayan Blackberry
Valley Oak leaves are deeply lobed.
Valley Oak leaves
3. Himalayan blackberry, Rubus discolor - On the right side of the path there is a large colony of blackberry vines. European settlers introduced this blackberry to the Central Valley in the early 1900's. This berry vine generally has five leaflets per leaf, while the native blackberry only has three. The delicious blackberries ripen from July through August and you're encouraged to consume as many as you like, but leave plenty for the birds and coyotes. Overshadowing the left side of the path is a lovely mature Valley Oak tree (Quercus lobata). This fine example of a Valley Oak is probably 300+ years old - much older than the USA! This very tree probably supported the food needs of many families of Yokuts that foraged this area. They ground or chopped the acorn nuts and stored them for year-round use. They also found the root of the "White-root Sedge (Carex barbarae) very useful in making their fine basketry.  Sedges may look like a grass, but they are not. Find a bloom stalk and feel the stem below the flower. Is the flower stalk square, round or triangular? Clue: Sedges have edges. 
 
California blackberry leaf has 3 leaflets.
California Blackberry leaf and flower
California Blackberry blooms in April.

 

4. California Blackberry, Rubus ursinus  - Here is a small colony of our native California Blackberry. The small blackberries ripen in late May and June. Notice the difference between the native and the introduced blackberry - can you identify the native? In most cases, California natives are "kinder" plants.  The native berry has smaller prickles (thorns), leaves and stems than the Himalayan variety. Unfortunately, the invader is more vigorous and often takes over the native's space. Behind you is a colony of Salt Marsh(Baccharis douglasii). This is the only area on the Preserve where you will find this plant. When it's in bloom look very closely at the flowers. You might find some interesting insects and spiders interacting here. The Crab Spider (Misumenoides formosipes) can be observed waiting patiently for an unsuspecting moth or fly. It's a little tricky to find one because their coloring perfectly matches the flower color they are hiding on. You will find the same spider on annual sunflowers, but it will be a bright yellow instead of creamy white. 
Clematis blooms in mid summer.
5. Virgin's Bower, Clematis ligusticifolia - This native vine has a beautiful white flower that blooms in July and August. The spent flowers transform into unique fluffy and wiry seed heads that some folks call "Old Man's Beard." These seed heads last well into winter and add much interest to the winter landscape. Virgin's Bower can reach high into the Valley Oaks to create a stairway to the forest canopy for small ground creatures. 
Bullock's Oriole
Male Bullock's Oriole
a spring and summer visitor
6) Birding Bench - Rest awhile and listen to our many songbirds. You might test your skill at pishing or birdcalling - South American style. It's just like making the sound to tell someone to be quiet - "SHHH,"but put a "P" in front. PSHHH, PSHHH, PSHHH, three times with enthusiasm! Wait 20 seconds and try it again. Watch the canopy for curious feathered friends that want to see what all the ruckus is about. 
Can you see or hear any of the birds listed below?
woodpecker finch quail sparrow
towhee hawk dove jay
kingbird titmouse swallow oriole
hummingbird wren warbler  robin

 

Kaweah River Delta Waterways
Kaweah River Delta
and McKay's Point

 

7) Deep Creek - Deep Creek is a natural tributary of the Kaweah River. Water that naturally flowed through these creeks for centuries recharged the unconfined aquifer that lies beneath Kaweah Oaks Preserve. This underground water source supplied water to the shallow rooted Valley Oak and California Sycamores in this Riparian Forest and Oak Woodland. Deep Creek is one of many natural waterways now used as irrigation ditches to transport agricultural water from both the Kaweah River and the Friant-Kern Canal. Waterflow is mainly controlled by the Tulare Irrigation District at McKay's Point, eight miles upriver from Kaweah Oaks Preserve. It is unfortunate that water has become a political issue and this protected land is not considered in the overall scheme of water distribution here in Tulare County. We can only hope that the magnificent trees and wildlife here at Kaweah Oaks Preserve will adapt to the ever-changing political environment. 
Perfect Sycamore
8) Perfection - This extraordinary specimen of the California Sycamore (Platanus racemosa) grows to its full potential here at KOP, growing to 100 feet tall, straight up. Many bird and insect species depend on the California Sycamore's high canopy for their nesting sites. These trees support an abundance of life forms so important to the Valley Oak Woodland habitat. Virgin's Bower monopolizes the sunny location in front of the sycamore. 

What an interesting tree!
9) Sensational Sycamore - What fun it is to watch your child playing on this natural  "Jungle Gym" with a fort in the middle. For that matter, it's sheer bliss to pretend you're a kid again, too. Go on, try it! This sycamore has been sick for centuries - Anthracnose is a common fungal disease of the California Sycamore. It causes spring defoliation and limbs to weaken and break from the main trunk. It is this weakness that promotes the lateral limb growth that is so much fun to climb. So it's not so bad to have a weakness, now is it? If you are sitting on the bench look left to the top of the tallest sycamore tree. Now bring your eye down the main trunk a bit. Do you see the large nest? Watch for the Red-tailed Hawk parents flying overhead. 

 

10) Fallen Oak, Quercus lobata - 10 Oak-root fungus probably weakened this tree and it could not support its own weight any longer, it fell in 1999. In a few years the grapevines will hide this oak from view. Take a closer look at the hole just above the roots. It has a colony of ants harvesting something there. In wet periods you can watch the ants as they take a drop of the brackish liquid and haul it up to their nest somewhere in the canopy. A Valley Oak has a surprising amount of life forms living on, in and around it. Valley Oaks can live to be 600 years old, all the while hosting bee hives, ant colonies, termites, fungi, and countless birds in its hallowed limbs. 
Oak Apple (Cynipid Wasp) Gall, wasps have emerged through small holes.
Oak Apple Gall
A Cynipid Wasp Gall
11.) Oak Apples - Valley Oak trees are hosts to seven different gall wasps. Seen here are hundreds of old Apple Galls, which developed after Cynipid Wasps stung stems in early spring and laid their eggs.  The tree responds to the chemicals from the wasp and quickly produces an apple-like matter that the wasp larva consumes until it pupates into an adult wasp. Galls are often invaded by other parasites or eaten by raccoons and opossums, who dearly love the sweet treats inside. Other galls are the Hershey Kiss, Urchin, Brain Coral, Jumping, Bullet, and Woolly Bear Galls; each caused by a different wasp. Yokuts Indians harvested old Oak Apple Galls and used them for tinder. We have no explanation as to why this tree has so many, while the neighboring trees have few. 
image coming soon 12.) Willows - These willows (Salix lucida) were planted as part of the Preserve Management Plan back in the 80's. Kaweah Oaks Preserve, although basically natural, has needed some habitat restoration and exotic weed eradication. Management is a never-ending task taken on by a few dedicated volunteers. We need more help in keeping the trails open and comfortable to hike. Please call our office at 738-0211 and volunteer to assist in managing Kaweah Oaks Preserve for everybody's benefit.


We hope you have enjoyed your hike and that this information has provided a better understanding of the Kaweah Oaks Preserve's Riparian Forest and Valley Oak Woodland landscapes and their inhabitants. 

Thank you for helping keep Kaweah Oaks Preserve natural by leaving it as you found it and not disturbing the native wildlife. 

Come again each season of the year and observe the many changes in the plants, birds and animals. You will be amazed and delighted to see how well it all works together. 

Trail guides  are available to lead groups on a nature walk through the Grapevine, Sycamore,  Swamp or Rose Trail.  Call Sierra Los Tulares Land Trust  at 559 738-0211 or go online at kaweahoaks.com to schedule a guided tour

Become a member of Sierra Los Tulares Land Trust and help protect this and other precious places in the southern Sierra foothills and the Tulare Valley. 

Donations are appreciated and tax-deductible. You can mail a contribution to: 

711 N. Court Street, Ste. D
Visalia, CA 93291 

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