Friday, January 16, 2015

What's Going Down at SOS? ... Our Energy Consumption!

Did you know… the United States has less than 5% of the world’s population but consumes 19% of the world’s energy. On average, one American consumes as much energy as approximately 2 Japanese, 31 Indians, or 307 Tanzanians.

As we fight to slow climate change, our daily choices regarding energy use can make a big difference. In California, about 44% of the total energy consumed is by appliances, electronics, and lighting. Luckily, this is something we have a lot of control over!

Here at SOS we reduce our energy consumption not only through our Pig Post program (see our December blog post), but also with a weekly energy competition! Wireless energy monitors located in each dorm record both real-time and cumulative energy use each day. Each monitor is surrounded by a poster explaining how the monitor works and why it is important. Read below!

Students learn about the competition upon their arrival and begin participating the first moment they step into their dorm. SOS staff then record data daily to compare between dorms and announce the results during lunch. The competition motivates students to be more conscious of habits like turning off the lights, closing windows and doors while heat or A/C is running, and unplugging camera/phone chargers. We hope that students will take these practices back to their homes and families! 

Who or what has influenced your household energy habits? 

For more information about household energy consumption in California, check out the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) website:

Friday, January 2, 2015

New Winged Ambassador for SOS Raptor Center!

Great News! SOS has an addition to its Raptor Center. Our newest bird is a female Western Screech Owl (WSO).

She has been at SOS for over 200 days now, and a lot of training has been done to get her ready to be seen by kids. She has gotten used to her new home (mew), learned to tolerate her handler, learned to step up on the glove and back to the perch, and learned to be outside on the glove. The next step is for her to be seen by her first class. If all goes well, we are hoping that she will be viewed outside by schools in January. Below are a few pictures of her in her mew and outside with the different perches.

The WSO tethered in her mew. Tethering provides a safe environment for her and trainer while she learns to be in a new home. 

Two of the perches built specifically for a raptor her size. 

Another perch. 

Learning how to be perched outside. 

Maybe the WSO's first time seeing snow. 

WSO with a piece of food to reinforce good behaviors. 

Check out the Sierra Outdoor School Facebook page later for updates on the WSO's progress. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014


The Sierra Outdoor School has been getting much needed rain showers, and with those showers appear nature’s oddballs—mushrooms.  Mushrooms are part of the Fungi Kingdom and are actually only a small part of a much larger organism.

Apples of the dirt
A mushroom is much like an apple on a tree—existing to carry and spread seeds.  The mushroom version of a seed is called a spore.  The “tree” a mushroom grows on is called the mycelium, an underground network of hair-like fibers.  The mycelium can be as small as a few square feet and as large as several thousand acres. 

Mycelium in yellow.  Found growing under log.

What appears to be cob webs is actually mycelium.
Mushroom examples and their lifestyles
Shaggy Mane—Shaggy Mane mushrooms grow in the forest here at SOS but can also be found growing out of lawns in the suburbs.  They are characterized by a “shaggy” cap growing on the end of a stalk.  The underside of the cap contains gills from which spores will eventually drop.  Shaggy Mane is a common example of a saprophyte, an organism which gets its energy and nutrients by digesting decaying plant matter. 

Shaggy Mane just beginning to make an appearance.
Mature Shaggy Mane
Puffball—Unlike the Shaggy Mane, the Puffball lacks gills and a stalk.  Late in its life cycle it will dry out and emit a “puff” of spores.  Puffballs are mycorrhizal, which means they get their energy from trees through a mycelium to root connection .  The mycelium in turn acts as an extension of the tree's root networks and brings in more water.  
A trio of puffballs.
Turkey Tail—Can you guess how this mushroom got its name? Turkey tail is part of a group of mushrooms called polypores. Instead of having gills, polypores have a system of pores(like your skin) on their underside.  Like the Shaggy Mane, Turkey Tail is a saprophyte, getting its energy by digesting the wood it grows on. 

So the next time you see a mushroom remember:
1) An underground network of mycelium lies beneath it.
2) Their function is to spread spores for reproduction.
3) They assist in decomposition and can help the roots of trees.
4) They come in many shapes and sizes.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Pig Post Post

Here at Sierra Outdoor School, we do not believe in wasting resources. In efforts to reduce our waste we have many programs including an Energy Competition where students can monitor their energy usage, a kitchen with all reusable materials, reusable water bottles for sale, and finally our cutest way to minimize food waste is our "Pig Post". Some people may compost their food waste at home, here the pigs do that for us: we call this "Pig Posting" (get it? :D). 

One of our naturalists, Ed (or Squirrel), has four pigs that live here near the school. These pigs are fed all of the food that students and adults do not eat during their stay at SOS. As a part of a public school system, we are required to prepare a specific amount of food per person per meal, whether they eat it or not, according to California State guidelines. This leads to leftovers at each meal. Our "Pig Post" program feeds the pigs instead of adding to the landfill.

After each meal students will bring up the food that is not eaten (see tater tots and tortellini bellow), and put it in the Pig Post Bin. 

After the food has been placed in the bin, the food gets placed into sealed (animal-proof) containers and left behind the kitchen until Ed (naturalist and pig owner) has a chance to pick it up.

The food is then stored in a refrigerator either on campus or at Ed’s home until it is dinner time!

The pigs are fed twice a day. They eat about 40 pounds a day (a little less when they are younger, a little more when they are older). The leftovers from one meal for 100 students feeds the pigs for an entire day.We host anywhere from 50-500 students a week generally eating 2-3 meals here a day. By feeding the pigs our leftovers about 11,000 lbs of food waste per school year is put to use instead being sent to the landfill (for us, that would be all the way to Nevada!). Since there is a little more food than our pigs can consume in one year, the extra food waste is given to fellow local pig farmers. And just in case you were concerned, we do not serve any pork! 

What do you do to limit food waste? 

What do you with your food waste? 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Meet Our New Interns!

We have had an amazing first few months of the School year with many incredible schools discovering the wonders and beauty of nature.Our 2014-15 Interns have been working hard learning more everyday becoming proficient Naturalists. As great enthusiasts of nature and science, the interns cannot wait for the rest of this school year to take students out on one of our hands-on classes in the forest. See you soon!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Intern Projects - 2014

Each year, interns complete projects to improve the school and leave their mark. Past projects have included new trails, additional teaching spaces, and even a stream to keep the pond healthy.

This year the interns will leave behind a multitude of helpful and creative projects.

A lover of tracking, Devin captured the footprints of many four-legged residents and painted them all over main campus. Since natural tracks can sometimes be difficult to find, the painted tracks are a fun and exciting introduction to tracking. Try to figure out whose prints are whose.

Justin and Molly worked to improve a past intern project, a secondary amphitheater closer to main campus. They doubled the size of the stage area, added more benches, and added steps. Upon the completion of this project they dubbed the amphitheater, the Covanshrein Theater, a combination of the last names’ of interns who worked on the project. Now there is another place on campus to learn, sing, and dance!

Kim gathered GPS data and created a mural of California and Sierra Outdoor School. A special thank you goes to Ian Reilling and Phil McDonald for help with the map-making. The mural highlights California's national parks, major cities, and areas students typically visit as well as buildings, trails, and important spots around campus. Use the mural to figure out where you are, where you've been, and where you're going!

Putting her chainsaw certification to work, Lara dropped several incense cedar trees in a field west of campus. By doing this, Lara thinned out the forest, which will help to prevent forest fires like the Rim Fire that was about 5 miles away from campus in August!

Nancy created an additional teaching space, Ponderosa Point, near north of the main campus. Ponderosa Point is an open area with massive yet comfy tree benches with wood burned illustrations of science concepts such as photosynthesis and the energy pyramid. It's the perfect spot to rest your legs and reflect at the end of a long hike.

With a permit from the U.S. fish and wildlife services, Rachael prepared numerous talons, wings, and skins to be displayed in the future S.O.S. museum. She compiled some of the animal parts and pictures from her game camera on campus to create a visual display. The game camera was made possible by collaboration with CSERC.  Rachael also earned a grant for a solar powered pump for the pond, so the pond will be self-sustaining!

All of these projects were only possible from the help and support of the rest of the wonderful S.O.S. staff. Thank you to all of those who helped!!!

When you visit, keep your eyes peeled for these projects!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Welcome to our new winged-ambassador!

Sierra Outdoor School has an exciting new ambassador at the Raptor Center! We received a female Western Screech Owl from Stanislaus Wildlife Center near Turlock, California on Monday. The owl is an adult that was being kept illegally as a pet. Due to being raised by a human, this owl cannot survive in the wild as it did not develop hunting or mating skills from its parents. This is the second bird of our Raptor Center that must be cared for due to being taken in illegally by humans. Remember, if you find a bird or raptor or any other wildlife, you cannot raise it as a pet. If it is healthy, leave it alone. If it is injured, call a veterinarian or wildlife center.

Western Screech Owls are one of three Screech Owl species found in North America but this occurred recently when Eastern and Western Screech Owls were classified as different species. Western Screech Owls are nocturnal animals, cavity nesters and carnivores that eat mammals sometimes bigger than they are, such as cottontail rabbits and Mallard ducks. Our fully-grown female weighs just half a pound: that is the same as a 8 oz glass of water! 

Check out the WSO call: