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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 or making gallery-quality prints.

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.

Contributors Get Published

Bishop Creek (10/2/16) Daniel Stas has become a go-to site for publications and designers looking for fall color photography.

Photographs contributed to this site this autumn by color spotters Dylan Ren and Daniel Stas were selected by a calendar publisher.

And, San Bernardino County color spotter Alena Nicholas had several of her images chosen to decorate the interiors of San Bernardino County government buildings, because the designer found them on


Lake Arrowhead (11/7/15) Alena Nicholas

That’s not saying we promise contributors that they’ll be published, though that does happen fairly often, because of the visibility of the site.

There seems to be no set pattern why a photograph is chosen, other than that it is colorful, nicely composed and has a subject that the medium, designer or publisher wants.

The calendar designer was looking for fresh water and an autumn scene. San Bernardino County was looking for images of their county that could be enlarged and hung inside county office buildings.

What is common is that the photos were seen here, and they were strong candidates.

How to Submit Reports and Photos

Bear Creek (11/1/15) Robert Kermen

Over 75 volunteer “color spotters” (our term for contributors) submit photographs and reports to each autumn.

To be one of them is very easy. Email photos within a few days of when they were taken* to Include the photographer’s name, date the photo was taken and the location where the photo was taken.

If you know the foliage seen in the photo (particularly if it is unusual or wouldn’t be evident to us), please describe it (e.g., bigleaf maple, black oak, silver willow, etc.).

Photos should be** high resolution, particularly if you’d like them considered as one of the best photos of the week. The week’s best photos are (with photographer’s permission) sent to major broadcast and print media and they won’t accept any photo less sized than 300 dpi. Photographers are credited and get valuable recognition/exposure.

Reports should include: % of color change (Just Starting, Patchy, Near Peak, Peak or Past Peak) at the location, the name of the location, roads (e.g., take Rock Creek Rd. east from US 395), date visited and any helpful information (e.g., “The trail is steep for the first 500′. but then levels out for the two mile hike to the lake. A grove of peaking aspen is found at the western side the lake trail.”).

Reports and photos can also be posted CaliforniaFallColor’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. Though, emailing photos and reports is the best way to get them on this site.

Thank you and happy wandering!

* Historic photos, like Robert Kermen’s shot of Bear Creek (seen above), are published – on occasion – days or even years after they were taken, but only to illustrate an article that is not time-sensitive. Fall color reports only use photos taken during the previous week, in order to present what can be seen at that location.

** Please don’t hesitate sending a photograph just because it isn’t 300 dpi. Pictures taken with mobile devices often get included in our reports.

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Need We Say More?

North Lake, Bishop Creek Canyon (9/30/16) Elliot McGucken

North Lake, Bishop Creek Canyon (9/30/16) Elliot McGucken

Elliot McGucken Captures Glory


North Lake (9/30/16) Elliot McGucken

North Lake (9/30/16) Elliot McGucken

Photographer Elliot McGucken knew to GO NOW! and traveled to Bishop Creek Canyon over the past few days to capture these glorious images of the canyon at peak color.

If you’ve done similarly, email your best photos to:

We’ll post them for those to enjoy who can’t GO NOW!.

North Lake (9/30/16) Elliot McGucken

Surveyor’s Meadow 9/30/16) Elliot McGucken

Table Mountain (9/30/16) Elliot McGucken

Surveyor’s Meadow, Bishop Creek (9/30/16) Elliot McGucken

Quaking Aspen, Bishop Creek Canyon (10/1/16) Elliot McGucken

Quaking Aspen, Bishop Creek Canyon (10/1/16) Elliot McGucken

South Fork, Bishop Creek (10/1/16) Elliot McGucken

South Fork, Bishop Creek (10/1/16) Elliot McGucken

Quaking Aspen, Bishop Creek Canyon (10/1/16) Elliot McGucken

Quaking Aspen, Bishop Creek Canyon (10/1/16) Elliot McGucken

Bishop Creek Canyon (10/1/16) Elliot McGucken

Bishop Creek Canyon (10/1/16) Elliot McGucken

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Bishop Creek on Video

Bishop, Calif. shows us how artists, climbers and riders are seeing fall color this week in their backyard, Bishop Creek Canyon.

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California Fall Color Looks Back at 2015

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On this Thanksgiving Day, is indebted to every color spotter and photographer who contributed photographs and reports in 2015.

They include (from first turned leaf reported): LA Leaf Peeper, Alicia Vennos, Jon Klusmire, Alena Nicholas, Trapper Felt, Carol Waller, Christine Osborne, Julie Yost, Crys Black, Nikhil Shahi, Misti Sullivan, Kevin Lennox, Ashley Hollgarth, Jen Heger, Kimberly Kolafa, Julie Kirby, Aditi Das, Jeff Hemming, Erick  Castellon, Shanda Ochs, Jackson Frishman, Cuong Diep, Maddie Noiseaux, Leor Pantilat, Lara Kaylor, Jeff Simpson, Clayton Peoples, Lisa Wilkerson-Willis, Phillip Reedy Ruth Hartman, Charles Porter, Greg Newbry, Elliott McGucken, Jared Smith, Dotty Molt, Sherry Gardner, Jill Dinsmore, Josh Wray, Mike Nellor, Ivan Alo, Pushkar Gejji, Mariusz Jeglinski, Gary Young, Patricia Costa, Lisa May, Laurie Baker, Shuo Li, Dylan Ren, Brian Patterson, David Olden, Gabriel Leete, Jeri Rangel, Jim Beaux, Cory Poole, Walter Gabler, Max Forster, Jim Adams, Jeff Luke Titcomb, Nancy Wright, Bonnie Nordby, Kathy Jonokuchi, Linnea Wahamaki, Sarah Showalter, Vera Haranto Fuad, Jas E Miner, Susan Taylor, Santhakumar V A, Darrell Sano, Frank McDonough, Anson Davalos, Sandy Steinman, Anirudh Natikar, Jennifer “JMel” Mellone and Ron Tyler, who produced the above video.

We’re also grateful to the many hundreds of readers who posted comments and photos to our Facebook page and retweeted our Twitter posts. If we missed thanking you here, please know it wasn’t intentional.  We we are indebted to every color spotter, photographer and commenter. Thank you all.

Additional thanks are expressed to Inyo County Tourism, Mono County Tourism, Mammoth Lakes Tourism, Redding Convention & Visitors Bureau, Shasta Cascade Wonderland Association, and The California Parks Company for underwriting California Fall Color. And, to the many reporters and media who carried our reports and gave attention to what we have shown about California’s fall color.

This thank you list is incomplete without mentioning Joan, my wife, who has: humored my recording of color percentages, species and elevations; pointed out particularly beautiful color; and driven the car and pulled it over to the shoulder, at my whim, so that I could jump out to photograph a particularly beautiful location.

Of course, our deepest thanks go to the many tens of thousands of people who have followed and our Facebook and Twitter pages.  You are, after all, the reason we do this.

Autumn doesn’t end on Thanksgiving Day. It has 26 more days to go.  We’ll continue to post photos and reports as received and plan a Special Report on San Diego County. Though today, we begin to dial back our reports, posting them less frequently. We also stop sending weekly reports to California TV meteorologists, travel and outdoor writers.

So, enjoy Thanksgiving Day, and we’ll see you next autumn, dude.

California (Peak 75-100%) – In our hearts, California is always peaking. GO NOW!

New Interactive Map

New for 2014 is the California Fall Color Map seen at left.  This interactive map is exclusive to and provides a quick way to see where the color is changing in California and at what stage.

Non-reporting areas appear in dark green.  All reporting areas have leaves in light green, yellow, orange, red or brown, depending on the fall color’s stage of development. This new scale matches that used by The Weather Channel: Just starting, patchy, near peak, peak and past peak. The colors are based on reports received from volunteer color spotters located throughout California.

Anyone can be a color spotter.  Just email a current report to editor(at) stating where the fall color is seen, at what stage the color is (just starting, patchy, near peak, peak, past peak), your name and – if you have one – a current photograph of what you’re reporting.  We’ll publish the report with credit attributed to you.

Each Thursday morning from the first day of autumn to Thanksgiving Day, we send summaries of each week’s reports to media across California (every TV meteorologist and all travel and outdoor reporters) based on reports received from our network of color spotters.  The best photos could appear, with credit, in newspapers or on TV.

Though no color is yet appearing, our first report this year is from St. Helena in the Napa Valley where Brian Baker of the Chateau Montelena winery notes that an early harvest is expected.  That could mean an earlier show of fall color in the vineyards.

Invisible Rain

Invisible Rain - 8/8/14 - John Poimiroo

Invisible Rain – 8/8/14 – John Poimiroo

Increasingly, since the beginning of August, blue oak leaves have begun appearing on my lawn. I never see them falling and the oaks still seem to be full  of blue-green foliage. It’s an invisible rain.  One day, nothing.  The next, a carpet of dry detritus.

I suppose the oaks are telling me fall is approaching. This is about the time of year (early August) when our color spotters and loyal followers start looking us up, wondering if what they’re seeing is already being reported by us.

The appearance of autumn always happens here or there in mid to late summer… a single tree begins to show flashes of yellow, leaves begin falling and yards become littered as mine has.

The drought seems to have little to do with this though, certainly, lack of water affects foliage and shortens the brilliance or duration of the display.  Still, there will be color change and it will be spectacular in locations throughout the state.  Though, our guess is that some places that were glorious in past years, may be disappointing this year.

One way to know where the color is best, is to keep returning to this site.  Our reporting begins in earnest in September, though if early reports are received we’ll post them.  As in the past, anyone can be a color spotter.  Simply email your report or photo to editor(at), comment on any of this site’s blogs, tweet to @CalifFallColor, or post on our Facebook page, California Fall Color.

If you’ve searched for us on Google lately, you may have noticed that someone supposedly hacked our site.  As far as we can tell, our site was not hacked.  What was hacked was how Google describes us in search results.  Visiting is entirely safe.  Do not fear visiting or clicking through on Google to it.

Our tech has reset how we describe this site to Google and I’m told it will take Google 30 days to scrub what the hacker inserted and return our listing to its correct description.  The hacking of Google was a senseless, criminal act that had the effect of alarming internet users searching for our site.

More fundamental than our frustration over someone else trying to take advantage of our site’s renown is the question, “Who thinks it’s a good business practice to insert your message in someone else’s promotion?” The hacker got Google to add words promoting purchase of erectile dysfunction medication next to our site’s name and to replace the description of our site in Google with a message to buy pharmaceuticals online, in search results.  However, the hacking was so inept that the hacker failed to provide a link to the pharmaceutical supplier.   Had they identified themselves, we would have sought legal action to prosecute them for trade infringement.

Ah well, on to happier things.  We’re working on a new, interactive California Fall Color Map to appear on the home page that will show where color can be seen in all corners of California.  More about the new map will be reported in our next blog. Regular reports will begin in September, though we will publish any report of fall color emailed to editor(at)  In the meantime, enjoy the invisible rain.

California Fall Color Looks Back at Autumn, 2013

On the last day of autumn, we look back at some of our favorite photographs of 2013, while expressing thanks to all who contributed photos and reports.

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Special thanks are expressed to Inyo County, Mono County, Mammoth Lakes Tourism, Redding Convention & Visitors Bureau, Shasta Cascade Wonderland Association, Humboldt County C&VB, and The California Parks Company for making California Fall Color possible. A special nod to Ron Tyler for helping to create this Animoto video.