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Holiday Ornaments

Strawberry Tree, Arbutus menziesii (11/28/21) Philip Reedy

Numerous ornaments decorate trees in late autumn. 

There are, of course, the manmade type that are hung on Christmas trees, but also many types of colorful berries grow in the wild and in our gardens … crimson toyon, vermilion pyracantha, purple beautyberries and the yellow, orange and red fruit of the Madrone, Arbutus menziesii  (Strawberry Tree).

Today, Phil Reedy and I had the same idea. Instead of traveling afar to find fall color, just go outside and discover it in our yards. In addition to arbutus berries and blossoms, Phil noticed that all the sycamore in Davis had lost their leaves with just a lone flowering pear leaf nestled among their tan remains. It’s now past peak there and peak has dropped to sea level.

Strawberry Tree, Arbutus menziesii (11/28/21) John Poimiroo
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Fly Me To The Moon

Snow Geese, Colusa NWR (11/26/21) Steve Arita

For a wildlife viewing experience that’s over the moon, head to the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge, an hour’s drive north of Sacramento (I-5) between Williams and Colusa off Abel Rd. There, thousands of migratory waterfowl overwinter.

In late autumn, you’re likely to see hundreds of waterfowl, including snow geese, Ross’ geese, greater white-fronted geese, Canada geese, northern pintail ducks, Eurasian wigeons, northern shovelers, falcated ducks and ring-necked ducks among their number. Numerous shorebirds take their place when the duck and geese depart.

One of the great dramas that can unfold is when a mass ascension occurs. That’s when thousands of birds take off suddenly in a loud flapping, squawking mass when alerted to the approach of  predatory eagles and hawks.

Steve Arita was there yesterday and captured these images. Consider arriving soon after dawn to photograph the birds as they wing into the pond at the observation deck at the entrance to the circular auto tour. 

Greater White-fronted Geese, Colusa NWR (11/26/21) Steve Arita
  • Colusa NWR – Peak (75 – 100%) GO NOW!~
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The Urban Forest


Southside Park, Sacramento (11/19/21) Steve Arita

Northern California’s urban forests often peak, approaching Thanksgiving Day. That’s certainly true at Southside Park in Sacramento. Steve Arita had been tracking how fall color was developing at Southside Park, visited today, and found it to be as good as it gets.

Southside Park, Sacramento (11/20/21) Steve Arita

Southside Park, Sacramento (11/20/21) Steve Arita

Southside Park, Sacramento (11/20/21) Steve Arita

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Southside Park, Sacramento (11/20/21) Steve Arita

  • Sacramento (30′) – Peak (75 – 100%), GO NOW!

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Nature’s Black and White

On a recurring drive to Nevada, Robert Kermen witnessed what he calls the “black and white” of our natural world.

As he rode through the northern Central Valley, Bob observed that rice farmers, ” have mostly completed harvest and are in the process of ripping the rice stubble and flooding the fields to decompose rice straw. During this process, thousands of water fowl descend to feed on the loose rice left in the fields and to rest on their southern migration.”

This year, he said the first to arrive were Black Ibis and White Fronted Geese. “Thousands of them.” So many that “the edges of the flooded fields were covered with goose down blown in by the wind.”

Aspen and willow, Coldstream Valley, Truckee (10/10/21) Robert Kermen

Continuing across I-80, just outside of Truckee, Bob traveled through Coldstream Valley, a popular hiking and biking area with beautiful fall color near apartments and condominiums being built to house local workers and second home owners. Elsewhere along I-80- he found Patchy color at Rainbow Lodge and at Hirschdale Road near Truckee.

  • Northern Central Valley Wildlife Refuges – Near Peak, Go Now!
  • Coldstream Valley, Truckee – Peak (75 – 100%) GO NOW!
  • I-80 – Patchy (10 – 50%)
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Are You Ready?

Chinese Tallow Tree, Davis (8/16/21) Philip Reedy

“Fall is just around the corner,” writes color spotter Phillip Reedy. He was out for a walk in Davis when he spied this bit of exotic color lying amidst the debris of spent seed pods.

Early color is not unusual, particularly during a drought. The normal triggers of color change are upset by lack of water and other factors.

Typically, it is less light from days shortening and colder temperatures that triggers the process of leaves changing color. Lots of sun and heat are the opposite of that, but when plants lack water they become stressed and when they do, anything goes, including their leaves.

The Duluth News Tribune reported Val Cervenka, forest health program coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources as saying. “Trees that are under stress usually show it first in their leaves. Since so much of a tree’s energy goes into producing leaves, the tree can conserve energy by simply dropping the leaves, like it does before it goes dormant in the winter,”

CaliforniaFallColor.com has been monitoring what’s happening across the country. California isn’t the only location where drought is a factor. Minnesota and Colorado have been experiencing a dryer than normal summer with naturalists predicting early fall color.

In Western Massachusetts, it’s the opposite. It’s been a wetter year than normal. So, you’d think they’d be predicting delayed color. Not so. Weakened maples were showing signs of change in early August and color spotters across Western Mass are gearing up for an early show.

In our experience, lots of water means the color appears as normally, but stays longer. Little water means some of the color begins to show sooner than normal and doesn’t last long. It’ll still be beautiful, but when we post “Go Now!”, we mean it. As soon as you see it Near Peak, go. Are you ready?

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Orange Friday

It’s Orange Friday, the day following Thanksgiving Day when California overcomes tryptophan-induced lethargy and goes outdoors to enjoy fall color before it’s gone.

On the San Francisco Peninsula, tall gingko biloba are littering city streets with gold.

Elsewhere in the Bay Area, American beautyberries (Callicarpa americana) provide holiday ornamentation at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden and fallen leaves are now strewn across Berkeley.

Down south, the place for peak color is the LA County Arboretum and Botanic Gardens in Arcadia. Orange-toned crepe myrtle (Lagerstroemia) now dominate and more color is revealed each day to mid December.

Along the American River, cyclists, skaters and walkers on the 32-mile American River Parkway are enjoying one of the most colorful autumns in memory.

In the Gold Country, “Maple Lane,” a boulevard of maples leading to the Empire Cottage at Empire Mine SHP is at peak and will remain good through this weekend. So, spend your Orange Friday weekend being filled with the beauty of this lovely and historic place.

Maple Lane, Empire Mine SHP (11/25/20) Steve Arita

Or at old Monterey where gingko biloba, Asian maple and sycamore dress city streets with gold, yellow and chartreuse-colored leaves.

But, don’t plan to go swimming in Davis where backyard pools are covered with leaves.

Backyard pool, Davis (11/26/20) Philip Reedy

Unless you’re a duck. This pintail drake just enjoyed his morning bath at the Colusa NWR.

Morning bath, Pintail duck drake, Colusa NWR (11/25/20) Philip Reedy

Today is just another Orange Friday. It’s a day best spent outdoors enjoying fleeting moments of California Fall Color.

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Side by Side

When two similarly experienced photographers accompany one another on the same shoot, to the same locations, at the same moments and with exactly the same equipment. You might expect sameness.

There is similarity between these side-by-side images, because Philip Reedy and I convoyed north Friday morning to photograph fall color and migratory birds at the same locations at the same time. We each carried the same bodies and lenses: Nikon D850 cameras with Nikkor 200-500mm, f. 5.6 lenses. The similarity ended there.

Driving separately, out of shared pandemic precaution, we arrived soon after dawn at Gray Lodge Wildlife Area. Phil voiced what I’d been thinking, “There were several times when we were driving through Live Oak that I wanted to stop, because the light was so good.”

He was right, we should have stopped. We’d just passed huge blocks of walnut trees, heavy with golden leaves, and I’d similarly wanted to pull over. Phil noted an orchard that had been carpeted with gold.

Lesson learned: When the light is perfect, stop and take pictures right then. Great light is what’s important, not what you plan to be the subject.

Upon arriving at Gray Lodge, thousands of birds lifted off in one massive, morning-light, mass ascension as they sought rice fields elsewhere. We’d missed it by a moment.

Filled with regret not stopping first in Live Oak, we circled Gray Lodge realizing the birds that remained weren’t leaving, a good scene for birders but not for us. So we headed back beside a long line of trees fronting Rutherford Rd, then north 20 miles to our second objective, Agua Frias Rd. Robert Kermen had drawn a map indicating where he’d seen Sandhill Cranes foraging. They chose to be elsewhere that day, but where?

Just when we’d struck out, we made new luck, stopping at a backlit Walnut Orchard. Phil saw it as filled with golden light; I saw it as darkly shaded with fluorescent- banded trunks.

“We’ve gone a good ways north,” Phil observed, “Almost to Chico.” I responded, “There’s a good place near here, juse south of Chico. It’s an archway of trees overhanging Midway Rd.” And, we were off.

I told the story. Phil showed the beauty.

Encouraged, we decided to head back toward Live Oak. Maybe those walnut orchards we’d seen would still be good. The experience in the orchard on Agua Frias Rd. taught us light can be soft, not harsh, beneath the canopy.

I found a time-worn orchard shed . Phil found an orchard layered with leaves.

It was after noon, but there was still one more place to visit on the return home, the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge near I-5. We’d visited it last year at the same time, but were there soon after daybreak, not this late. I set the Nav which cut us cross-country along backroads around the Sutter Buttes toward Colusa. Then on E. Butte Rd. it happened. I saw Sandhill Crane in a rice field.

Sandhill Cranes, Sutter Buttes (11/20/20) John Poimiroo

They were wary. A car or truck passing on E. Butte Rd. didn’t bother them, but stop and they moved away. This image was taken at 500mm, a hundred yards from the cranes and standing behind my SUV. Any closer and they’d walk elsewhere.

Phil shot using his car as a blind, but was hoping for more action. We got it soon after when we stopped a few rice paddies south. There, the geese we’d seen ascending that morning from Gray Lodge were spread out across the paddy. No sooner had we stopped and set up, than …

Mass Ascension, Snow geese, Sutter Buttes (11/20/20) John Poimiroo
Mass Ascension, Snow geese, Sutter Buttes (11/20/20) Philip Reedy

We eventually got to the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge, where photographers said there hadn’t been much action. So, we joined them in shooting pictures of a few ducks on logs by the birder’s platform. A brrr of motor drives would whine occasionally when a duck flew in to land. We were told the Snow Geese hadn’t shown up. They were elsewhere.

Note: Following our return, Phil was disappointed in the sharpness of his photos. He thought it was the lens, but when he discovered a UV filter on the lens (which he hadn’t noticed previously), took it off and took side-by-side comparison shots, the reason for blurriness was evident.

Lesson learned: If you use protective filters on your long lenses, remove them before taking photographs!

  • Walnut Orchards, Gridley, Live Oak (95′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Sacramento Valley National Wildlife Refuges (49′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!

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Hometown Color

Elk Grove Regional Park (11/21/20) Steve Arita

Californians no longer need to travel long distances to see peak color. It’s now peaking in most California hometowns.

Steve Arita found it and a First Report near home at dawn in Elk Grove Regional Park.

  • Elk Grove (46′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
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Wind Wolves Preserve

Poison oak, Wind Wolves Preserve (11/11/20) Gary Skipper II

Every so often an unreported place surfaces. Today, it is Wind Wolves Preserve.

Located 32 miles southwest of Bakersfield, Wind Wolves is an ecologically distinctive place where the Transverse Ranges, Coast Ranges, Sierra Nevada, western Mojave Desert and San Joaquin Valley converge.

Ranging from 640 to 6,005′, it has a wide array of landforms and habitats. And, at 93,000 acres it’s the west coast’s largest non-profit preserve.

Most interesting to fall color spotters is its mix of deciduous foliage. Now, it takes a true connoisseur of fall color to appreciate this blend of blue and valley oak, Frémont cottonwood, red and sandbar willow, poison oak and California grape in the preserve.

Bobcat, Wind Wolves Preserve (11/11/20) Gary Skipper II

Many species of wildlife, including Tule elk, bobcats, coyotes, American black bear, rabbits, northern Pacific rattlesnakes, and mountain lions live within the preserve.

Gary Skipper II noted correctly that CaliforniaFallColor.com had overlooked Wind Wolves previously and said it gets “decent fall color in mid November.” Gary noted the bright red color of one plant. Let’s hope he didn’t touch it, as otherwise he earned both a First Report and a case of poison oak.

  • Wind Wolves Preserve (640′) – Peak (75-10%) GO NOW!
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Davis Dessert

Davis (11/14/20) Philip Reedy

A great meal finishes best with a delicious dessert, be it savory or sweet. Such is happening in Davis, where autumn’s feast of gorgeous color is ending with a dessert of savory and sweet color.

Philip Reedy found it on a walk today in his hometown.

  • Davis (52′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!