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Mass Ascension

Colusa National Wildlife Refuge (11/22/19) John Poimiroo

Birders and photographers stood on a platform at the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge in the chill morning air yesterday.

Most were regulars. They visit the refuge almost daily with their spotting scopes, binoculars and long lenses.

“An eagle must have spooked them,” one of the photographers said, as swirling white and grey specks rose above a line of orange-black oaks in the distance.

Mass Ascension, Colusa NWR (11/22/19) John Poimiroo

Lenses turned as one as one of several mass ascensions seen that morning approached. At first, I shot with my Nikkor 200 to 500 mm lens on a D850, then shifted from the big gun to a separate body with a Nikkor 24 to 70 mm on a D700.

By the time the snow and Ross geese arrived, I’d dialed down the lens to 24 mm. Phil Reedy stood nearby, doing the same.

Mass Ascension, Colusa NWR (11/22/19) John Poimiroo

Geese circled above us in great, flapping, squawking wonder. I got off a couple of dozen frames on motor, then thought, “Enjoy the moment” and put down the camera to just be enthralled by the beauty of being immersed in the experience.

Northern shoveler hen, Colusa NWR (11/22/19) Philip Reedy
  • Colusa NWR – Peak Migration – Snow geese, Ross geese, various ducks and other migratory fowl.
Eurasian Widgeon (l), American Widgeons (r), Colusa NWR (11/22/19) John Poimiroo
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Leaf Sunday

English oak, University Arboretum, CSU Sacramento (11/17/19) John Poimiroo

Everyone ought to have a leaf Sunday.

It’s a Sunday drive just to see peaking leaves. Mine was spent on a route I’ve taken many times with stops in El Dorado Hills, Folsom, Fair Oaks and Sacramento.

Brown’s Ravine, Folsom Lake SRA, El Dorado Hills (11/17/19) John Poimiroo
Mormon Island Wetlands Reserve, Folsom (11/17/19) John Poimiroo

El Dorado Hills has trees yet to turn, but more than half have dropped leaves, so it’s between peak and past peak. Fremont cottonwood and Toyon are nearing the end of their peak at Folsom Lake SRA; and landmark Fremont cottonwood at Mormon Island Wetlands are at peak and crowed with bright yellow.

Fair Oaks Park is nearing the end of peak. The approaching storm is likely to remove whatever color is still hanging, and the village’s chickens seemed to know a storm is approaching, as they were crowing anxiously.

The University Arboretum was mostly past peak, though lovers didn’t mind. They sat on benches in quiet corners of the arboretum, ignoring arguments between squirrels, as they whispered to one another and kissed.

Fabulous Forties, Sacramento (11/17/19) John Poimiroo

Along the Fabulous Forties in east Sacramento (avenues numbered in the 40s), large dumps of leaves from towering London plane trees planted near the curbs have littered the avenues. Owners of these stately homes are out each weekend, blowing, raking and sweeping the detritus into piles to be hauled away by city workers.

Holly and her daughter blow leaves into a pile (11/17/19) John Poimiroo

I happened upon Holly and her daughter who were rushing to blow a week’s fall of folioles, so that party guests would have room to park along the curb that night.

There was autumn in the air in downtown Sacramento. Couples dressed in sweatshirts and light sweaters, even though temps were in the low 70s.

The constant fall of leaves from the city’s canopy of color (see “Rollin’ Thru SacTown” posted earlier today), makes Sacramento seem like it should be colder than it is. Perhaps that will change this week, as snow in the Sierra is predicted.

William Land Park, Sacramento (11/17/19) John Poimiroo

Leaf-dressed picnics, touch football, golf and Sunday strolls were happening at William Land Park, and I closed my Leaf Sunday Drive stopping at the Freeport Bakery to purchase a couple of … what else? Leaf Cookies.

Leaf Cookies, Freeport Bakery, Sacramento (11/17/19) John Poimiroo
  • El Dorado Hills (768′) – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, YOU ALMOST MISSED IT.
  • Mormon Island Wetlands Reserve (372′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Folsom (220′) – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, YOU ALMOST MISSED IT.
  • Fair Oaks (174′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • CSU Arboretum – Sacramento (30′) – Past Peak, YOU MISSED IT.
  • Fabulous Forties – Sacramento (30′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • Downtown – Sacramento (30′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
  • William Land Park – Sacramento (30′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
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Peak in Lodi Again

John Fogerty said he never actually visited Lodi when he wrote the classic line, “Oh Lord, stuck in Lodi again.”

Had he, Fogerty would have learned that Lodi has 85+ wineries covering 100,000+ acres (most in California), nearby wildlife refuges full of Sandhill Cranes, egrets and heron, an annual Fall Color Paddle on the Mokelumne River (Sat., Nov. 23), and loads of fall color.

So, if you’re “lookin’ for a pot of gold,” as Fogerty was, there are few places in the state where autumn gold is more easily found right now, than in Lodi … again.

Photos courtesy VisitLodi.

  • Lodi (35′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
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Rollin’ Thru SacTown

Here’s how Niven Le rolls.

  • Video: GoPro
  • Music: Avicil – The Days; Jess Glynne – Hold My Hand
  • Sacramento (30′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
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Dripping Down The Rivers

Cottonwood, Knights Ferry (11/3/19) Jim Adams

Fall color is dripping down the rivers through the central valley.

Color spotter Jim Adams provides a First Report from Knight’s Ferry where he attended the annual pumpkin roll to find riverside cottonwood and willows and walnut orchards at peak.

Willow, Knights Ferry, Stanislaus River (11/3/19) Jim Adams

He reports that down the Stanislaus River in Oakdale, cottonwood and valley oak have yet to peak.

  • Knights Ferry, Stanislaus River (213′) – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!
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Lake Camanche Nets Color

Trout Pond, Lake Camanche (10/11/19) Terry Willard

With a reputation for “Monster” fish, Lake Camanche between Ione and Valley Springs, northeast of Stockton, is known for going big.

The record catfish caught there weighed 27.6 pounds, large mouth bass bent the scale at 18.17 pounds, a trout came in at 19.42 pounds and its record crappie weighed 3.16 pounds.

As a fly fisherman, I don’t think I could have landed any of them. Though landing fall color is far easier.

The lakeshore literally glows with warm colors in October, as seen in Terry Willard’s photographs of native wetland grasses, Fremont cottonwood and exotic trees.

  • Lake Camanche (135’) – Near Peak (50-75%) GO NOW!
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The Great Migration

Great egret, Ardea Alba, Colusa NWR, Williams (12/18/18) John Poimiroo

Waterfowl have taken up residence, late this autumn, in the rice fields and wetlands of California’s great central valley.

Televised images of a mass ascension of snow and Ross’s geese lifting off from flooded rice fields north of Sacramento, seen on last night’s news, compelled me and a fellow photographer to drive north to the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge today, where we stood with local photographers to await their arrival.

One of the regulars said, “It was magical yesterday, the best I’ve seen. Tens of thousands of geese arrived at 10 and stayed until one.”

 

Migratory waterfowl fly high over Colusa NWR (12/18/18) John Poimiroo

It looked promising. Spread across a pond at the entrance to the refuge,  hundreds of pintails, mallards, shovelers, coots, stints and wigeons bobbed, preened, courted, demonstrated, strutted and napped.

Then, great flocks of the “white birds,” as the locals called the geese, approached from the west in mile-wide Vs that undulated across a gray sky. They flew thousands of feet above us, then continued eastward, but their departure didn’t discourage the locals.

“That’s a good sign,” they encouraged, “The wind is perfect. They like to land into it (meaning they’d be facing our cameras when they touched down). Yesterday was so good. It’s sure to be as good, today.”

Mass Ascension of ducks, Colusa NWR, Williams (12/18/18) John Poimiroo

Again and again, the photographers would say hopefully, “Here they come,” only to have them fly too high over or too far north or south of the refuge. Swirling cyclones of white geese appeared to be circling areas just a mile away.

Massive formations of the white birds continued to fly east in successive, long, flapping, gliding ribbons. 

In the end, they stood us up. We didn’t see the mass ascension we’d driven north to experience, unless you call the above image of ducks spooked by a passing Winnebago, as one.

Instead, we settled for images of wigeons, egrets, coots, stilts and pintails enjoying their sanctuary, and later returned south through Yuba City along CA-99 past tundra swans that bent their long necks to forage the flooded shallows of rice fields.

Though we missed seeing a mass ascension, California’s great migration of waterfowl occurs in northern Sacramento Valley rice fields and wildlife refuges, from mid autumn into winter. So, many more opportunities exist to witness one.

On refuge auto tour routes, the best viewing is from inside your car (which acts as a blind) and when parked on levee roads beside rice fields. Precautions: stay in the center of levee roads – as their shoulders are soft- and getting out of a car will spook the birds (it’s also prohibited).

When wildlife viewing, approach only so close that the animals are not agitated. If they move away, you’re too close. Instead, bring them closer to you by watching them through binoculars (8 x 42 is a good choice – monoculars for kids, $13 on Amazon) or photographing them using a telephoto lens (300 mm and up). With long lenses, a gimbal tripod mount balances the heavy lens and helps keep the image sharp when following a bird’s flight. 

At a few locations in refuges, photo platforms allow photographers to get out of their cars, close to the action. The birds get used to people standing on the platforms, but unusual or unexpected events – like a Winnebago driving past – will spook them into the air and away for minutes on end.

Four photo blinds are available by advance reservation. CLICK HERE for more information. In springtime, nesting wood ducks are often photographed from these blinds.

The Sacramento NWR ($6 entrance fee – all others are free entry) is located beside I-5, immediately south of Willows. Its visitor center helps orient you to the refuges and guides you in identifying the birds. Sac NWR has an auto tour loop, trails and naturalist-guided programs. The refuge is open between an hour before sunrise and an hour after sunset.

Other wildlife refuges in the Sac NWR complex include Colusa, Delevan, Sacramento River, Sutter, Llano Seco (best before 10 a.m.), Butte Sink, North Central Valley and Willow Creek – Lurline. 

Mass ascensions are most dependably seen at the Colusa NWR entrance photo platform (10 a.m. to 2 p.m.) in late autumn and early winter. CLICK HERE for a map of birding hotspots in the Northern Sacramento Valley.

Though, as we experienced, wildlife viewing is never dependable. 

  • Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
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Davis Delivers

California gray squirrel dining on Hawthorne berries, Hoagland Hall, UC Davis (11/27/18) Marc Hoshovsky

When it comes to late November beauty, Davis delivers.

Local color spotter Marc Hoshovsky explored his town, interrupting a California gray squirrel as he dined on Hawthorne berries in downtown Davis.

UC Davis students were similarly preoccupied, as they passed oblivious to the fall color while walking or riding to classes.

Davis is filled with exotic (hawthorne, Chinese pistache, Japanese maple, gingko biloba, dawn redwood, Bradford Pear) and occasional native color (Valley oak), providing a bright pallette of auburn, red, vermillion, orange, yellow, rust and green. 

  • Davis – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
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Home for the Holiday

Gingko biloba, Davis (11/25/18) Philip Reedy

From the far-flung places Philip Reedy photographed this autumn, you might surmise he’s never at home.

So far, this autumn, he has photographed the Hope Valley, Bishop Creek Canyon, June Lake Loop, Lassen Volcanic, Downieville, Quincy, Dunsmuir, and Yreka, including many places near those locations.

So, when his latest submission arrived, I half expected it to be of him standing in some remote stream, surrounded by fall color.

Instead, Phil stayed home for the Thanksgiving Day holiday weekend in Davis, finding these images on a Sunday walk in his hometown.Davis is a college town 11 miles west of Sacramento.

The University of California at Davis is renowned for its contributions to agriculture and winemaking, veterinary care and animal husbandry. On campus, the UC Davis Arboretum has a significant oak and native plant collection.

The City of Davis is similarly celebrated for being bicycle-friendly, though it should also be known as a City of Trees. As, it encourages placement of street trees and protects landmark trees (click links to see lists of these trees).

Conditions for a tree to be designated as one of Davis’ landmark trees include:

  • The tree is an outstanding specimen of a tree species;
  • The tree is one of the largest or oldest trees in Davis;
  • The tree is of historical interest; or
  • The tree is an unusual species, in a significant grove, or otherwise unique. 
  • Davis (52′) – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!
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Wonderful Walnuts

When bags of fresh walnuts, still in their shells, begin appearing in local markets in November, it’s time to head to the walnut orchards for one of California’s most gilded displays of fall color.

This week, I placed a bowl of plump walnuts and nut cracker on our kitchen counter, while realizing I oughta get cracking north to Chico.

Robert Kermen, who lives in walnut country, beat me to it.

Bob spent #OrangeFriday near Durham, taking this photo of a walnut orchard carpeted with golden leaves. 

  • Walnut orchards, Durham – Peak (75-100%) GO NOW!