Saturday, September 20, 2014

A Floral Delight at the Sacramento River Bend

Date: April 26, 2014
Place: Sacramento River Bend BLM, Red Bluff, California
Coordinates of the Yana Trail parking lot: 40.271865, -122.196482
Length: about 2 miles
Difficulty: easy

Part Yana Trail and part independent, no-name trail we wandered on. Labeled yellow on the Bend USGS map. 

It is always exciting to discover new places to hike. It is even more so to find a beautiful trail in a place we've driven by so many times and never realized was hiding such a sweet gem of Nature. This is the Sacramento River Bend (SRB).
I-5 is the main route to northern California and for the most part, until about Redding, it stretches through the Central Valley, with very little to look at save for endless fields and orchards.
The are, of course, the National Wildlife Refuges along the Sacramento River, such as Colusa NWR that we discovered by a lucky chance.
This was that last day of our spring break road trip and I have learned about the Sacramento River Bend just the day before. I had gone into the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) office to inquire about hiking trails around Susanville, and learned that there is really only one worth recommending - the famous Bizz Johnson Trail. But the nice lady who helped me there has a daughter in Redding and was very familiar with the outdoors recreational possibilities in that area. When I told her we were heading that direction she handed me a brochure. Go there, she said.
Flower (mostly Goldfield) mats all over. Spring at the SRB 

So we did. After our hike to Whiskeytown Falls we were homeward bound, but not quite ready to reach there yet. Thinking of a short, easy hike to finish our spring break with, we left I-5 and parked at the Yana Trail parking lot, where, almost immediately, Papa Quail spotted a bird that was new to him:
Ash-throated Flycatcher

In April, the entire area was green and lush. And following the week's rains, it was flooded as well.
Yes, that's Lassen Volcanic NP in the background. The peak itself is barely visible in the clouds. 

We walked slowly along the pond. Papa quail was looking for birds.
Canada Geese by the water

Of which there were plenty.
Red-wing Blackbird

And I was looking for flowers.
My first sighting was very conspicuous, but not very exciting: mats of hairy vicia, a very invasive weed.
Hairy Vicia (Vicia villosa) non-native
Looking further, though, I soon saw other colors as well. Countless of ltitle white flowers were embedded in the green grass like little stars.

There where many white species in bloom there at the time. Most prominent were popcorn flowers and plantains, but some stood out in the crowd.
Valley Tassels (Castilleja attenuata)

The yellow goldfield was prominent everywhere, spotting the location of the vernal pools that had dried up.
Yellow: Vernal Pool Goldfield (Lasthenia fremontii) White: Popcorn Flower (Plagiobothrys sp.)

There was more than one yellow species, of course.
Common Stickyseed (Blennosperma nahum)

Pink was another common color there. Not as dominant as the whites and yellows, the pink flowers certainly stood out in the green background.
Dwarf Brodiaea (Brodiaea minor)

There were many of these small, delicate lilies there. Each was small, but patched together they made lovely pink floral mats.
Harvest Brodiaea (Brodiaea elegans) 

The rains of the past week flooded the fields near the trail. Small dark figures flew over the water at astonishing speed and agility. Barn swallows.

It is very, very difficult to catch a swallow in mid-air. It takes good equipment and a lot of patience, and also some luck.
Cliff Swallow, photo taken by Papa Quail. 

In the water - waders. Several stilt, named after their disproportionally long legs, were searching the flooded field for morsels.
Black-necked Stilt

We passed the pond and the flooded field and crossed the canal. There we turned left only a narrow foot trail which we mistook for the official Yana Trail. The trail we took stretched into the grass fields that was patched and dotted with multitudes of wildflowers.

Some flowers were considerate enough to grow above the grass.
Wilding Ping (Petrorhagia dubia) non-native, invasive.

Some even announced themselves blatantly:
Royal Larkspur (Delphinium variegatum)

But for most, I had to kneel down.
Johnnytuck (Triphysaria eriantha)

Really down ...
Whitehead Navarretia (Navarretia leucocephala)

For some, I needed to almost lie down on my belly, just like a true passionate botanist.
Pygmyweed (Crassula sp.)

I was compelled to drop down more than once :-)
Sierra Mock Stonecrop (Sedella pumila)

At some point I detected a blue dot by the trail. I stepped off and knelt down. When I got up again, the rest of my family were far, far away ...
Doublehorn Calicoflower (Downingia bicornuta)

That day was my first time of seeing the delicate Downingia in bloom. Not far from that spot was another species of Downingia, also small and very delicate.
Toothed Calicoflower (Downingia cuspidata)

When I eventually caught up with my family, they were all excited by something that the chikas caught on the trail - a tiny tree frog.
California Tree frog

I took a quick photo and had the chikas release the frog in the grass. As the relieved critter hopped away we continued along the trail, which brought us near a dry canal that was lined with trees. While Papa Quail kept looking for birds in the trees, I spotted a tall, yellow flower far in the grass field. A Mariposa Lily!
Yellow Mariposa Lily (Calochortus luteus) 

Not stopping to consider the possibility of rattlesnakes I waded through the tall grass for a closer view. As we continued on, though, we saw quite a few of them. At the point where we realized that we were nowhere near our planned route we were looking at an entire field of lilies, a few of which were white.
Yellow Mariposa (Calochortus superbus)

The area is nearly flat, making it difficult to navigate by landmarks. We knew the direction of the Sacramento River where we were supposed to be by then, and we knew we were not anywhere near it. We had the dry canal on one side and a field of green grass strewn with volcanic rocks and dotted with countless mariposa lilies and ookows and the trail we were on was curving eastward.
A field of volcanic rocks at our turning point

We backtracked to the last intersection we had passed. There was an information kiosk there and after some deliberations, we thought we had identified our position.
Ookow (Dichelostemma congestum)

A dirt road stretched from that trail intersection to Bend Ferry Road. That was the way we would take back to the parking lot. It was getting late, however, and the clouds started gathering again. More urgently - the chikas started complaining. They were hungry.
A patch of Sky Lupine (Lupinus nanus) near the dirt road

So Papa Quail took off, jogging down the road. It was getting too cold to just sit and wait so I encouraged the chikas and together we walked along the road as well.
Oaks near the road

Papa Quail carried off his big zoom camera when he went so I didn't get good shots of the gold finches and the woodpeckers I saw along the way. The flowers, though, were a different matter.
Nightblooming false Bindweed (Calystegia atriplicifolia)

It was back to the whites on the way to the car.
White Brodiaea (Triteleia hyacinthina)

The wind picked up and the cloud gathered above. It looked as if it would rain. The chikas complained they were cold and tired so we sat down by the roadside and I hugged them so we all would keep warm.
Papa Quail was greeted with wide smiles of relief when he arrived shortly after with the car.
Thus ended our last hike of our 2014 spring break, which started with flowers and ended with flowers, as spring should. We were on our way home and back to school.

Oaks in a See of Grass

Sacramento River Bend BLM is a new discovery for us. We only touched a bit of what it has to offer. We've seen bird species we haven't seen before, and wildflower richness and diversity that made my head spin. I will gladly go back there for more exploration.

Many thanks to members of the California Native Plants Society for their help in identifying plants!


  1. This seems a very nice and promising place... the frog is very nice as well :-)

    Next time I hope you'll take the right trail ;-)

    1. Getting lost is a great chance to go where no hiker has gone before :-) Just imagine I could have missed the Downingia ...

  2. Another great place at your area, which I hope to visit, some day :-)

    1. It is a very nice hike! Time your visit to spring to see all the wildflower spectacle :-)

  3. I love those Mariposa lilies, they are so lovely! and the tiny Downingia :-)
    and of course I noticed that the Ookow is actually another kind of blue dicks... maybe purple this time? :-)
    lovely place!

    1. Dick on your mind, my friend :-) Looks like you need to schedule another visit to California!