For a nature-inspired challenge in this region, we’ve put together a treasure hunt that’s fun for all ages. Take your time as you explore. Awe-inspiring mysteries of the natural world are everywhere, and connecting with them can clear your mind, improve your mental health and lift your mood. While all 10 natural wonders can be seen with the naked eye, a pair of binoculars will enhance your experience. You can find many of them throughout the Sacramento region, but if you’re looking for a place to start, Ancil Hoffman Park in Carmichael has all except a rookery.
Granaries. Look for snags (dead trees) covered with holes. Acorn woodpeckers drill the holes to store thousands of acorns for a large supply of food throughout winter. The stash is called a granary.
Rookeries. Look upward for a multitude of large nests in a swath of tall trees where great blue herons, great egrets and double-crested cormorants communally nest. As the young chicks grow, you can spot these hilarious-looking, vocal youngsters.
Jackrabbits. These svelte, fast hares with amber-colored eyes and long legs are much larger than their cottontail cousins. They can be found in grasslands, among bushes and low-lying vegetation and can often be spotted and identified by their exceedingly large, long ears.
Ducklings and goslings. This time of year, ducklings and goslings are some of the easiest young to spot and observe. What differences do you notice? For example, ducklings are typically raised by their mother while goslings (young geese) are raised by both parents. For a challenge, search the river for the common merganser with ducklings that hitch a ride on mom’s back.
Dutchman’s pipe. This vigorous vine with heart-shaped leaves is California’s only native pipevine, a food source for the pipevine swallowtail butterfly and caterpillar. Look for a vine covered with striking purple and green flowers in the shape of pipes.
Animal tracks. Trackers can tell a tremendous amount about an animal from the tracks they find. Look for mammal and bird tracks at the edges of water, in mud, wet sand or along dirt trails. Common animal tracks you can expect to find include deer, coyote, raccoon, skunk and birds. For a challenge, try spotting the tracks of a toad.
Mud bird nests. Cliff swallows build colonies of architecturally stunning nests from mud. Look for these nests attached to structures, like the dam at Lake Natoma in Gold River or the old water tower at Ancil Hoffman Park.
A living rainbow. Try to identify the colors yellow, orange, green, blue, black, white, red, gray and brown among the plant kingdom, insects, birds, mammals, frogs, lizards and fish. For a challenge, look for the red crest of feathers on the head of an adult male ruby-crowned kinglet. Normally concealed, these red feathers flare during territorial displays. Find these small birds flitting among trees often at eye level.
Beavers. Look for signs of beavers along the river: downed trees gnawed into the shape of a giant pencil tip, the sound of a slap on water around dusk, the glimpse of what seems to be a log often swimming along the river’s edge, or a beaver’s dam, an architectural wonder on the river.
Shelf fungus. These fungi typically grow on trees or fallen logs in shaded or damp areas and look like shelves, sometimes stacked upon each other. A common shelf fungus in California is the turkey tail, with rings in a range of brilliant colors. For a challenge, see how many different shapes and colors you can find.