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Autumn’s End

First snow, last leaves (12/9/17) Robert Kermen

Tundra Swans, Agua Fria Rd., Richvale (12/9/17) Robert Kermen

Sandhill Cranes, Agua Fria Rd., Richvale (12/9/17) Robert Kermen

When does autumn end? When snow blankets fallen leaves, as seen in Robert Kermen’s photograph of dry leaves near the Bear River (Hwy 20), or when the last migratory bird wings further south or begins flying north?

As long as current fall color photographs are posted here, it will not end, at least for CaliforniaFallColor.com readers.

Sacramento Valley – Past Peak – You Missed It.

Merlin falcon, Agua Fria Rd., Richvale (12/9/17) Robert Kermen

Black Phoebe, Durham (12/9/17) Robert Kermen

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Mass Ascension

Mass ascension, Midway Rd., Durham ( 11/24/17) Robert Kermen

Redtail hawk, Midway Rd., Durham ( 11/24/17) Robert Kermen

Redtail hawk, Midway Rd., Durham ( 11/24/17) Robert Kermen

When a “mass ascension” occurs at one of the Sacramento Valley’s many wetlands, rice patties or wildlife refuges, virtually tens of thousands of birds lift off all at once.

They take to the air when predators (bald eagle, redtail hawks and falcons) approach.

Similar to the effect of the flashing silver and black flanks of fish in their schools, the swirling mass of white and dark wings in a mass ascension confuses raptors and makes it more difficult for them to snare a meal.

Mass ascensions are breathtaking sights that are often seen, in autumn, north of Sacramento.

Kermen knew to visit a wetland, south of Durham. If you open the California Fall Color map on the right side of this page and search for Durham or Colusa, anywhere you see large ponds of water are sure to be gathering places for waterfowl. For the easiest viewing, visit the Sacramento Valley National Wildlife Refuge or Colusa NWR. Roads pass through both of them and your vehicle serves as your “blind.” Bring binoculars and, if photographing, a telephoto lens and tripod or window camera mount (which turns your car into a tripod).

White-fronted Geese, Durham (11/24/17) Robert Kermen

Snowy egret, Midway Rd., Durham ( 11/24/17) Robert Kermen

Close up photographs of wildlife are best captured with digital single lens reflex (DSLR) cameras using lenses greater than 300 mm.

A 400mm lens is considered to be an ideal length when starting to shoot wildlife. However, long lenses – particularly those with larger apertures that will take sharp pictures in low light – come with a hefty price tag. For example, Nikon’s 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR lens (admittedly, a very expensive lens) costs over $11,000 (Canon’s similar lens is $1,000 less).

Snow Geese, Durham (11/25/17) Robert Kermen

Considering the high cost of telephoto lenses with large aperture settings, starting amateur wildlife photographers might consider first purchasing a zoom lens in the range of from 100 to 500mm, but with a smaller aperture setting, such as a Nikon 200-500mm f5.6 ($1,400) or Canon 100-400mm f5.6 ($1,200).

Another way to increase focal length is to add a teleconverter to a smaller focal length lens (about $300 for a 2x teleconverter). They do not provide the sharpness of a set lens, but are not budget breakers and result in fine photographs that impress, if you’re not selling your work.

For clarity, a smaller f-stop means a larger aperture, while a larger f-stop means a smaller aperture.

Bald eagle (middle right, sitting) (11/22/17) Robert Kermen

With these options, you will lose the ability to shoot action in lower light conditions, but can more affordably begin shooting wildlife and thus gain experience before making the investment on a more expensive lens.

For these shots, Kermen used a Canon 80D with 70-200mm f4L IS USM lens, which he keeps at hand on the console of his vehicle, so that he doesn’t miss a great shot when motoring along one of California’s backroads.

Click on photo to enlarge.

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A Taste of Oak Glen

Mule deer in an apple orchard, Oak Glen (11/19/17) Alena Nicholas

Los Rios Rancho (11/19/17) Alena Nicholas

One of California’s great autumn traditions is driving to Oak Glen (San Bernardino County), Apple Hill (El Dorado County) or Julian (San Diego County) for a taste of the harvest.

Of course, no trip to these apple-growing areas is complete without buying an apple pie, apple strudel, apple dumpling, candied apple, apple cider or some other delicious apple delicacy.

Legendary Oak Glen bakers, Theresa Law of Law’s Oak Glen Coffee Shop and Steve Gillespie of Los Rios Rancho are famous for their apple pies. The following recipe incorporates the best of both.

Since food is so important to Thanksgiving Week, we provide the recipe should you want to bring a taste of California Fall Color to your Thanksgiving Day dinner. Why, even the mule deer are paying attention.

Of course, as color spotter Alena Nicholas suggests, there’s still time to get to Oak Glen, Apple Hill or Julian, should you want to buy a pie straight out of the oven and bring home the sweet smell of autumn.

Indian Corn, Oak Glen (11/19/17) Alena Nicholas

Famous Oak Glen Apple Pie


  • 9 cups peeled, cored, and thinly sliced apples such as Idared, Jonagold, Newtown Pippin, or Stayman Winesap (about 2 1/2 lb. total) Adjust sugar and lemon juice according to the sweetness of the apples you use.
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 4-1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • Pastry for a double-crust 9-inch pie
  • 1-1/3 cups apple juice
  • 1 cinnamon stick (3 in.)
  • 1 strip orange peel (1/2 by 4 in., orange part only)
  • 3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • Vanilla ice cream (optional)
  1. Mix apple slices with 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 3 tablespoons cornstarch, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and ground cinnamon and nutmeg. Taste and, if desired, add more granulated sugar and lemon juice
  2. On a lightly floured board, roll half the pastry into a round 1/8 inch thick. Line a 9-inch pie pan with pastry. Fill with apple mixture.
  3. On a lightly floured board, roll remaining pastry into a 1/8-inch-thick round and lay over apple mixture. Fold edges of top pastry over edges of the bottom one and crimp to seal together. Cut decorative slits in top pastry and sprinkle with about 1 tablespoon granulated sugar.
  4. Bake on the lowest rack in a 375° oven until juices bubble in center of pie, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. If pastry edges brown before pie is done, drape affected areas with foil. Cool pie on a rack at least 2 hours.
  5. Meanwhile, in a 1 1/2- to 2-quart pan, combine apple juice, cinnamon stick, and orange peel. Cover and simmer over low heat for 15 minutes. Stir in brown sugar until it dissolves. Mix remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch smoothly with 3 tablespoons water; stir into juice mixture over high heat until sauce boils. Discard cinnamon stick and orange peel.
  6. Cut warm or cool pie into wedges; top each portion with vanilla ice cream and warm or cool cinnamon sauce.

Oak Glen (11/19/17) Alena Nicholas

Oak Glen (11/19/17) Alena Nicholas

Oak Glen (11/19/17) Alena Nicholas

Oak Glen (11/19/17) Alena Nicholas

Oak Glen (11/19/17) Alena Nicholas

Oak Glen (11/19/17) Alena Nicholas

Nutritional Information Per Serving:

  • Calories: 476
  • Calories from fat: 28%
  • Protein: 3.2g
  • Fat: 15g
  • Saturated fat: 3.8g
  • Carbohydrate: 84g
  • Fiber: 3.2g
  • Sodium: 244mg
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Rainbow Season

Rainbow and Sandhill Cranes, Lodi (11/4/17) Crys Black

California is entering its rainbow season. It runs from autumn through springtime.

When storms are clearing, the best time to see rainbows is when the sun is behind you and you are looking toward rain or mist.

Color spotter Crys Black captured just such a moment at the Sandhill Crane festival (Woodbridge Ecological Reserve, west of Lodi) as sunset approached.

A storm had just departed and illuminated by sunset light in the moist sky were rainbows and Sandhill Cranes. The latter were returning to the reserve to spend the night safe from predators.

Rainbow season provides all sorts of moments in which to be inspired by nature’s beauty.

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Autumn Accipiters and Asteraceae

Redtail Hawk (11/5/17) Robert Kermen

Ferruginous Hawk (11/5/17) Robert Kermen

Coopers Hawk (11/5/17) Robert Kermen

Robert Kermen was looking skyward to find these hawks watching him from autumn posts spare of leaves.

Accipiters are the largest genus of birds, writes Encyclopaedia Brittanica, with more than 50 species of falconiform birds.

Kermen found these on one morning in Northern California. Though, many others have been attracted to Northern California to prey on migratory waterfowl.

In autumn, hundreds of thousands of duck, geese and other migratory birds pass through the Central Valley, providing a flying feast for these raptors.

After looking skyward, Robert looked down to see another form of living autumn color in full bloom…  exotic Asteraceae, a flower native to South Africa.

Central Valley Flyways – Peak (75-100%) – GO NOW!

Kiss Bronze Star Gazania (11/5/17) Robert Kermen



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Redwood Highway – Glimpses of Brilliance

Bigleaf maple and ferns, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park (10/29/17) Max Forster


Mill Creek, Jedediah Smith Redwoods SP (10/29/17) Max Forster

James Irvine Trail, Prairie Creek Redwoods SP (10/29/17) Max Forster

North Coast color spotter Max Forster sends glimpses of brilliance from his most recent tour along the Redwood Highway.

He reports that despite recent rain (perhaps until this weekend), stormy weather has not “truly returned to the North Coast, extending fall color into November.”

As Max predicted in his previous report, peak color has continued and the Roosevelt elk “are still very active” from

Howland Hill Rd., Jedediah Smith Redwoods SP (10/29/17) Max Forster

Beneath Mill Creek Bridge, Jedediah Smith Redwoods SP (10/29/17) Max Forster

Big Lagoon to Prairie Creek State Park.

Redwood National Park and Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park – Peak (75-100%) – Bigleaf maple along Drury Parkway near the Big Tree are the finest Max recalls having seen in years.  “Almost all of the trees are peaking together.” GO NOW!

Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park – Peak (75-100%) – “The drive through the park

Mill Creek, Jedediah Smith Redwoods SP (10/29/17) Max Forster

along Howland Hill Road will be very colorful this week, with the forest carpeted in golden vine maple,” Max reported. He hiked the entirety of Mill Creek through the park over this past weekend and found bigleaf maple in top form. GO NOW!

Bull elk defends his harem, Elk Meadow (10/29/17) Max Forster


A Flight of Fall Color

Red-tailed Hawk, California/Nevada Border (10/21/17) Robert Kermen

Cooper’s Hawk (10/21/17) Robert Kermen

CaliforniaFallColor is dedicated to celebrating all the colorful shows of autumn, whether flora or fauna.

Yesterday, color spotter Robert Kermen looked to the skies to capture a female red-tailed hawk “showing off her new fall feathers (over the California/Nevada border). She must have had a good molt this summer,” he penned.

Then, he sent this snap of a Cooper’s Hawk… more fall color winging by.



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California’s Parrots: Fall Color on the Wing

Nanday Conure in Sycamore (11/28/15) Kathy Jonokuchi

Nanday Conure in Sycamore (11/28/15) Kathy Jonokuchi

As leaves fall from deciduous trees, flocks of exotic parrots become visible at points along the California coast.

While their loud screeching may be heard at other times of year, many of the parrots are seen infrequently, as their yellow-green feathers camouflage them in the foliage. That is, until late autumn.

The flocks likely started from a few pet birds that escaped or were released by owners, and who now number several hundred. Thirteen species of South American, African and Asian parrots have become naturalized in California and are becoming a seasonal attraction.

The most famous of them (visible year round) are San Francisco’s “Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill,” a mix of cherry-headed conures, that were chronicled in an award-winning documentary of the same name (seen below).

In Los Angeles County, black-hooded parakeets (Nanday Conures) flock together during the late days of autumn where they feed from western San Bernardino County west to Malibu on liquidambar and sycamore seed pods and king palm seeds.

The annual reappearance of a flock of Nandays, known as the Pasadena Parrots, are a colorful herald to preparations for the town’s Tournament of Roses celebrations.

Southern California color spotter Kathy Jonokuchi captured one such group of black-hooded parakeets squawking while roosting in a sycamore tree (seen above).

CLICK HERE to read more about California’s parrots.

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Fall Wildlife Festivals Add Color

Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 3.05.20 PM

Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015

Autumn is festival season with many events occurring just as leaves are turning color. Wildlife migrations and mating seasons are often celebrated.

A major migration of humpback, blue and killer whales and dolphins continues to December in Monterey Bay, where large gatherings of humpback whales put on spectacular shows corralling schools of anchovies, then rising together to feed on them. Whale watching trips take spectators out near the feeding families of whales. CLICK HERE for a general listing of available trips.

In September and early October, it’s rutting season for California’s Tule and Roosevelt Elk, seen at Pt. Reyes National Seashore in Sonoma County and Redwood National and State Parks in Humboldt County. The Elk Meadow Cabins at Orick are a prime location to base and watch the elk rut. Find more at redwoodparklodge.com.

On Sept. 26, the 21st annual Salmon Festival occurs at the Feather River Fish Hatchery in Oroville. This event includes salmon cooking demos and tastings, “non-stop entertainment,” tours of the hatchery where spawning salmons can be seen, kayak trips on the Feather River, a river cleanup event, a 3k color run, a dance, health fair and river cleanup. More is found online at salmonfestivaloroville.org.

California Swan Festival, Quincy (file photo)

California Swan Festival, Marysville (file photo)

November 13 – 15, the California Swan Festival occurs in Marysville with field trips and tours, presentations and workshops.  More is found at caswanfestival.com.

Monarch Butterfly (file photo)

Monarch Butterfly (file photo)

In mid November, Monarch butterflies return to California’s Coast (Santa Cruz, Pacific Grove and Pismo Beach) from their year-long migration to Utah and Canada.  Eucalyptus trees hang heavy with the brightly colored butterflies.  CLICK HERE to see a report on the butterflies.

More about viewing California wildlife and attending wildlife festivals is found at cawatchablewildlife.org.


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Peak of the Week: Yosemite – GO NOW!

Sentinel Bridge (11/11/14)  Nicholas Barnhart

Sentinel Bridge (11/11/14) Nicholas Barnhart

Bigleaf maple (11/11/14) Alena Barnhart

Bigleaf maple (11/11/14) Alena Barnhart

Fern Spring (11/11/14)  Nicholas Barnhart

Fern Spring (11/11/14) Nicholas Barnhart

North Side Drive (11/11/14) Alena Barnhart

North Side Drive (11/11/14) Alena Barnhart

Merced River (11/11/14)  Nicholas Barnhart

Merced River (11/11/14) Nicholas Barnhart

Mule Deer (11/11/14) Nicholas Barnhart

Mule Deer (11/11/14) Nicholas Barnhart

Coyote, Merced River (11/11/14) Alena Barnhart

Coyote, Merced River (11/11/14) Alena Barnhart

Big Oak Flat Road, Yosemite NP (11/9/14) Anson Davalos

Big Oak Flat Road, Yosemite NP (11/9/14) Anson Davalos

Yosemite Chapel (11/11/14) Alena Barnhart

Yosemite Chapel (11/11/14) Alena Barnhart

Black Oak (11/11/14)  Nicholas Barnhart

Black Oak (11/11/14) Nicholas Barnhart

El Capitan (11/11/14)  Nicholas Barnhart

El Capitan (11/11/14) Nicholas Barnhart

San Bernardino Mountain color spotters Nick and Alena Barnhart headed north to Yosemite this past weekend and found the Valley at full peak.

From the Yosemite Chapel shot, it’s easy to see that Yosemite’s trees have been dropping their leaves for a couple of weeks. Nick delayed his trip a week with hopes rain would occur and the waterfalls would be flowing again.

However, very little rain or snow has yet reached the high country, keeping the waterfalls nearly dry.

Nick said the leaves were showering the valley floor as they departed (note to self: recruit more spotters to check out Yosemite Valley in late October each year), though he imagines the color will continue for another week and will probably be near past peak by Thanksgiving Day. It is surprising to me that we don’t receive more photo submissions from Yosemite, considering it’s probably the most photographed location in California.

Presently, fall color is mostly limited to Yosemite Valley, though Wawona also has good color and areas opened up by wildfires in the past 25 years have become repopulated with colorful bigleaf maple, black oak, dogwood and shrubbery.

Temperatures have chilled significantly across the Sierra Nevada this past week. Considering we’ve had clear skies, that would normally lead to more intense color, but in Yosemite’s case the color is unlikely to improve, as the trees have already peaked.

One special aspect of autumn in the national park is wildlife photography. As leaves drop, the forest opens up leaving the wildlife little to hide behind.  Also, they’re often backgrounded by warm color, as seen in Nick’s shot of the mule deer.

The animals most easily photographed are bear, mule deer, coyotes, bobcats, ground squirrels and birds. The deer and coyotes are particularly visible and mostly ignore people.

Santa Clara Valley (most of you know it as Silicon Valley) color spotter Anson Davalos provides a view of the Big Oak Flat Road (North Entrance – Hwy 120) as it descends toward Yosemite Valley above Foresta. This area was grey with cinder and ash following the park’s 1989 fire.

Today, young aspen, dogwood and oaks now paint the hillside with yellow, rose and orange fall color.  Given the present beauty of this area, it should improve to being one of the most spectacular displays of fall color in the national park in coming years.

Yosemite National Park (Peak 75-100%) – All areas in the national park are at peak or past peak.  Yosemite Valley and Wawona have a week, perhaps two (depending on wind) of peak color left to go.  GO NOW!