Holiday Decorations

Green-winged teal, Arroyo Simi (12/21/21) Kathy Jonokuchi

As dazzlingly colorful as holiday decorations, the migratory birds at Arroyo Simi welcomed the first day of winter, this week.

Southern California color spotter Kathy Jonokuchi was in Simi Valley to record green-winged teal, Anas carolensis; American wigeon, Canada geese and white-faced Ibis, Plegadis chihi.

Kathy said she loves the drake Teals’ “bright green mask and wing band and their cinnamon-colored heads,” adding that the Ibis’ iridescent plumes “always captivate.” 

White-faced Ibis, Arroyo Simi (12/21/21) Kathy Jonokuchi
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Monarchs Return

Monarch Butterflies, Santa Cruz (1/15/2006) John Poimiroo

One hundred times more Monarch butterflies are being seen along the California coast this year, than were counted last year, as reported on CBS News.



Mass Sit-in

Snow and Ross' geese, Colusa NWR (12/1/21) John Poimiroo

A mass sit-in is occurring at the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge. Tens of thousands of Ross’ and Snow geese have taken up residence at the refuge where they honk, squabble, soar, rest and dine.

On a trip to Wheatland, we continued north past orchards along CA-99 to Marysville and Yuba City, then west by CA-20 to Colusa and the refuge. Walnut orchards vary from Near Peak to Peak orange-yellow. The almond trees are still green.

Though the sight worth the drive are the birds. Best time to be there is at dawn and for the first few hours thereafter. By midday, the birds have settled down and except for a few geese and ducks spreading their wings, most are grounded. Still, the mass of birds spreading off into the distance is inspiring.


American wigeon, Colusa NWR (12/1/21) John Poimiroo
Snow and Ross' geese, Colusa NWR (12/1/21) John Poimiroo
Black-necked stilt and various geese, Colusa NWR (12/1/21) John Poimiroo
Ross' geese, Colusa NWR (12/1/21) John Poimiroo
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Gone With The Wind

Western Sycamore, Malibu Creek SP (11/22/21) Kathy Jonokuchi

In autumn, the Santa Anas are strong, downslope winds that flow out of the Great Basin toward the south coast. They’re fearsome and often feed raging wildfires that incinerate dry areas of Southern California’s mountain ranges. This year, they scoured leaves from the branches of deciduous trees throughout the Santa Monica Mountains.

Southern California color spotter and naturalist Kathy Jonokuchi visited a favorite location, Malibu Creek State Park, where the forest appears Patchy with only a quarter of the trees still carrying their leaves.

The park was previously used for on-location filming of M*A*S*H the popular TV comedy about a Korean War mobile surgery unit. Once part of 20th Century Fox’s Movie Ranch, the location continues to appear in motion pictures and TV productions. In spite of the Santa Anas, Gone With The Wind was not filmed within the state park, though the scene in which Gerald walks with Scarlet was shot nearby at Malibu Lake.

Kathy did not visit Malibu Creek SP to study film history, but to study its trees and birds. She wanted to see how Western Sycamore have fared since the Woolsey Fire, four years ago, and found a grove that were spared the flames and are flourishing.

That’s good news for the Nanday Conure, naturalized parrots, which feed off sycamore seed pods during autumn. Once the trees lose their leaves, it’s easier to see the conures. During her visit, Kathy noticed the appearance of ash on the ground, but realized it was the fluffy seeds of cattail rushes, blown to the ground by the Santa Anas. The seeds will propagate in marshy  areas, a benefit of the Santa Anas which are otherwise thought of as a Southern California inconvenience.

  • Malibu Creek State Park, Santa Monica Mountains .91 – 2,739′) – Patchy (10 – 50%)

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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Just Ducky

Hooded Merganser, Arroyo Simi, Simi Valley (11/7/21) Kathy Jonokuchi

Ventura County is just ducky, right now. Its waterways are filled with migrant ducks, that have returned to overwinter in Southern California.

SoCal color spotter Kathy Jonokuchi describes Arroyo Simi, in the Simi Valley, as a wash that runs through the suburbs. Presently, it is a birding hotspot, attracting Hooded Mergansers, Lophodytes cucullatus and American Wigeons, Mareca americana.

Hooded Merganser, Arroyo Simi, Simi Valley (11/7/21) Kathy Jonokuchi

The mergansers favor secluded, sheltered or overgrown locations. They often opt for shady areas, so Kathy’s shots of them cruising in the sunlight across dappled waters are special. Male mergansers sport spectacular plumage which contrasts beautifully with irregular fall sunlight and makes the boys attractive to the girls who wear more demure and dusky dress, reports Lone Pine’s field guide, Birds of Northern California. “Mergansers are shallow divers, unlike dabbling ducks such as the mallard or wigeon,” Kathy writes.

American Wigeon, Arroyo Simi, Simi Valley (11/7/21) Kathy Jonokuchi

The male American wigeons have an irridescent green smear that runs from their eye arcing across their heads, with a cinnamon breast and black and white feathers. Their ladies have greyish heads and brown bodies.

Now, you’ve got us inspired, Kathy. We’re off to Colusa on our annual trek to enjoy the beauty of California’s migratory waterfowl. Now, isn’t that just ducky?
  • Wildlife viewing, Aroyo Simi, Simi Valley – Peak (75 – 100%), GO NOW!

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Jumping for Joy

King salmon, Nimbus Fish Hatchery, Rancho Cordova (11/7/21) John Poimiroo

Nimbus Fish Hatchery, Rancho Cordova (11/7/21) John Poimiroo

Nimbus Fish Hatchery, Rancho Cordova (11/7/21) John Poimiroo

Spawning king salmon, Nimbus Fish Hatchery (11/7/21) John Poimiroo










King salmon were jumping for joy at the new Nimbus Fish Hatchery fish ladder today, and the public was loving it.

A new fish ladder is the reason. It is longer and less abrupt an ascent than the former fish ladder. To keep the hatchery from becoming overwhelmed with salmon, a gate at the entrance to the ladder at the American River near Nimbus Dam is shut causing the salmon to wait impatiently for their run up the ladder and into the hatchery.

With the new viewing area being near where the ladder meets the river, visitors are able to to see just how massive and athletic the salmon are, up close. Spawning salmon will jump nearly five feet into the air at the closed gate out of their ardor to climb the rapid.

Nearby in Folsom, foliage along the Humbug-Willow Creek Bike Trail was peaking and Fremont cottonwood at Mormon Island Wetlands Preserve were Patchy, though approaching Near Peak.

Humbug-Willow Creek Trail (11/7/21) John Poimiroo

Mormon Island Wetlands (11/7/21) John Poimiroo

  • Nimbus Fish Hatchery, Rancho Cordova – Peak (75 – 100%), GO NOW!
  • Humbug-Willow Creek Bike Trail, Folsom – Peak (75 – 100%), GO NOW!
  • Mormon Island Wetlands Preserve, Folsom – Peak (75 – 100%), GO NOW!
  • American River Parkway – Peak to Past Peak, GO NOW, You Almost Missed It.

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Autumn’s Critters

California Gray Squirrel, Jackson Lake (10/31/21) Gary Skipper II

Normally, photographs a week old aren’t published on CaliforniaFallColor.com. That’s done purposefully so that our readers see what colors are appearing now. However, when Gary Skipper sent these shots of autumn’s critters taken a week ago, I recognized they’re not about the fall color but about the critters, and that’s timeless.

Besides, there’s an autumn story to tell and it’s my birthday, so it’s my present to you … or more properly, Gary’s present.

Leading the birthday party is the California Gray Squirrel, Sciurus griseus. A trait of our native squirrels are that they are timid and will run up a tree at the slightest provocation and sound a hoarse chirping call. Also, they’re threatened by an invasive specie, the Eastern Fox Squirrel, Scurius niger. So, our California squirrel needs all the attention he can get, even if he is camera shy.

Lodgepole chipmunk, Jackson Lake (10/31/21) Gary Skipper II

California quail, Jackson Lake (10/31/21) Gary Skipper II

California Gray Squirrel, Jackson Lake (10/31/21) Gary Skipper II










Joining the Western Gray Squirrel (its other name) is a Lodgepole chipmunk, Tamias speciosus, and standing at attention is a California quail, Callipepla californica.

Gary took the photographs at Jackson Lake near Wrightwood in Southern California. He said Vallyermo had good pockets of fall color when he visited, though admitted some of the subtleties may be missing, since he’s color blind.

The only word of advice we have is, “Gary, don’t adjust your white card. The colors are great!” And, because he did so well, despite not having the same ability others have at determining red or green, I’m gonna break that rule and post the rest of his shots, even though the Jackson Lake, Vallyermo and Wrightwood area is Past Peak.

Jackson Lake (10/31/21) Gary Skipper II

Jackson Lake (10/31/21) Gary Skipper II

Jackson Lake (10/31/21) Gary Skipper II

Jackson Lake (10/31/21) Gary Skipper II

Jackson Lake (10/31/21) Gary Skipper II

Jackson Lake (10/31/21) Gary Skipper II

Jackson Lake (10/31/21) Gary Skipper II

Jackson Lake (10/31/21) Gary Skipper II

Jackson Lake (10/31/21) Gary Skipper II

Jackson Lake (10/31/21) Gary Skipper II


Black oak, Jackson Lake (10/31/21) Gary Skipper II

  • Jackson Lake, Wrightwood (6,000′) – Past Peak, You Missed It.

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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%)

Go Away!

American White Pelicans, Ventura Settling Ponds (9/20/21) Kathy Jonokuchi

The way they’ve turned their backs on the camera, these American White Pelicans seem to be telling onlookers like Southern California color spotter Kathy Jonokuchi to leave them alone.

After all, people, they’d like a little privacy. They just arrived at the Ventura Settling Ponds after a long flight and plan to procreate. As, the settling ponds are their winter breeding grounds.

This specie of pelican is “quite different from the Brown Pelican,” Kathy reports. “It’s one of the largest land birds in North America and they work cooperatively to herd fish into shallows and dunk their heads to catch their meal, unlike the brown pelican which sky dives for its dinner.”

This location is a good place to see migratory birds. Duck and waterfowl will be wintering over in the settling ponds and just outside its fence near the estuary, you can see brown pelicans doing their dives.

  • Ventura Settling Ponds (36′) – American White Pelican Breeding Season – Just Starting (0-10%)