Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Loafing at Loafer Creek, Lake Oroville State Recreation Area

Date: April 20-22, 2014
Place: Loafer Creek Campground, Lake Oroville, Oroville, California
Coordinates: 39.526396, -121.447537
Difficulty: easy
Length: about 1.5 miles

Spring break is such a fine idea. What a great time to take the family for spring time exploration of California!
The bad drought has affected the wildflower bloom in most of California. Looking for places where we could still see the colorful spring spectacle we decided to go first to the Oroville area. We camped for two nights at the Loafer Creek Campground of Lake Oroville State Recreation Area.
A woodpecker larder
Loafer Creek Campground is sparse, shaded, and while we were there, was almost empty and very quiet. I assume that during summer it is more crowded. We were thankful for the quiet and the relative solitude.
Lark Sparrow
There were many little birds all over the place and Papa Quail was busy documenting them for most of our loafing time :-)
Oak Titmouse
There are some hiking trails around the campground. We arrived there early enough to squeeze in a little hike after pitching our tent.
Map portion scanned from Park's brochure. Our trail is labeled yellow.
It took some time to find the trailhead. I didn't mind at all: the weather was perfect and the area is beautiful and very lush.
Pacific Madrone (Arbutus menziesii)
Around the campground were velvet-green carpets of the non-native Hairy Vetch. It's and invasive weed, but a very pretty one.
Non-native Hairy Honeysuckle (Lonicera hispidula) visiting the non-native Hairy Vetch (Vicia villosa)
With all this green one might forget that this is a drought year in California. The elder chika found the evidence of previous rains: 

The trail took us through shaded woodland,

and through open meadows dotted with wildflowers.
White Brodiaea (Triteleia hyacinthina)
Most of the flowers I already knew from the Bay Area. I was happy to see them.
White Globe Lily (Calochortus albus)
Some were new to me.
Valley Checkerbloom (Sidalcea hartwegii)
The sun was going down and we were only half-way of the loop we were on. At some point we crossed a dirt road, which was not labeled on the map but seemed to go in the direction we needed, so we took it. Sure enough, it led us right back to the campground.
Sky Lupine (Lupinus nanus)
We stayed at Loafer Creek for two nights. On our second day we went to explore North Table Mountain Ecological Preserve, where the spring wildflower spectacle has become a cause for pilgrimage for flower lovers from all over.
Chipping Sparrow at Loafer Creek Campground
But even out time at the campground itself was very rewarding. You can ask the other birds: they're there year-round :-)
White-breasted Nuthatch

Saturday, April 19, 2014

No More Bypassing the Bypass: Hiking at the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area

Date: July, 2013
Place: Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area, West Sacramento, California
Coordinates: 38.563261, -121.636255
Link to map, at the Yolo Basin Foundation site. We parked at stop B and hiked around the ponds. Length of our trail: about 1.5 miles.
Difficulty: easy

The Yolo Bypass has been bypassed by us so many times on our way to and from Sacramento. We've seen the roadside sign. We knew it was there. We had the interest. It's just that ... Well, no good excuses here. Finally, last summer, we made the plan, picked up my sister K at West Sacramento, and  drove to the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area.
Still flooded in July
We were the only people there. It was very peaceful. Would have been quiet too except for I-80 so close (and for two very chatty chikas in company).
So close, yet seems out of place: California's capital's skyline. 
I didn't expect to see many flowers there, and indeed, only a few species were blooming. But those few were all around. This one in particular:
Toothpickweed (Ammi visnaga), non-native
I was mesmerized by theses huge inflorescences, many of which were encased in silk shrouds and crawling with armies of tiny red bugs that I didn't identify (yet). I liked the intricate look of the mature inflorescence that has gone to seeds.
Toothpickweed (Ammi visnaga), non-native
It was hot and sunny, and the trail side was decorated with little sunshines of its own:
Common Sunflower (Helianthus annuus)
The low yield of flowers was expected at this time of year. Out main goal was to see birds. Of these, there were plenty,
White-faced Ibis
both above:
Caspian Tern

And below:
Western Meadowlark

Park of the area is cultivated. Rice is a crop compatible with wetland wildlife.
A growing rice field at the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area
And when the field is empty, the flooded mud attracts shore birds.

They aren't very conspicuous, these little guys. So here's a close-up:
Western Sandpiper
The water in the fields is manages through an array of canals. These too are home for birds, most commonly, egrets.

During hunting season (fall), much of the area is closed for hiking. There are lists of how many water fowl are hunted there during the season. When we were there the ponds were largely empty. Nothing but a few mallards here and there. Great for reflection photography, though ...

Tule and cattail are the habitat of many little birds that are mostly being heard rather than seen. Occasionally, though, we got lucky.
American Goldfinch, male
And not always just with birds.
White Cabbage Butterfly
Common, but pretty nonetheless: the ever-present cowbird. Even without the cows.
Brown-headed Cowbird, male
We took out time walking around the ponds, enjoying the company and the discovery of a new place. After the walk we did on of the auto tours to explore some more. The potential of this place in terms of wildlife viewing is huge, we were simply visiting during summer, which is the slow season there. There's less water and much fewer birds. And it is very hot, too. In fact, I was slow to write this post because I was hoping to return for another visit this winter, which didn't happen. Still, we had a very nice walk around the ponds there, and we did see quite a few summer birds. And even some flowers. All and all, it was a very enjoyable summer hike.
Swainson's Hawk

Sunday, April 13, 2014

A Mountain of Gold: Summer Hike at Montaña De Oro State Park

Date: August 31, 2013
Place: Montaña De Oro State Park, Los Osos, California
Coordinates: 35.273892-120.885550  
Length: about 3 miles
Difficulty: moderate

When the first spanish explorers sailed along the coast of California saw the coastal hills covered with sting bloom of California poppies they were so impressed by the glorious sight that they named the place Montaña De Oro: Mountain of Gold.
Oats Peak-Reservoir Flats-Islay Creek loop. Map segment scanned from MdO SP brochure. 
The trailhead to Oats Peak is behind the visitor center. We hoisted our afternoon packs and started uphill.

There was no gold on the mountain in September. From far the hill looked dormant-gray but all along the trail there were quite a few late summer bloomers.
Sticky Monkeyflower (Mimulus aurantiacus)
And their hard-working pollinators.
Cabbage White Butterfly

At that point, all of the morning's cloud cover had dissipated completely and the sun was bearing down on us mercilessly. The ascend wasn't all that steep or long, but the heat made us stop for breathers frequently. I didn't mind. There was plenty to observe on these short breaks.
Dwarf Chaparral Broom (Coyote Bush), Baccharis pilularis
There were many lizards about, enjoying the heat and energized by it. Many of them were out in plain view, happily yielding to the camera. I chose to post this, a bit obscured, photo because in this one the  lizard's bright blue belly shows.
Western Fence Lizard
We didn't have time to go all the way up Oats Peak, and the heat was too intense anyway. We took the left split and continued up and over the hill on Reservoir Flat Trail.
Cardinal Catchfly (Silene lanciata)
On the eastern side of the hill we had a great view of Oats Peak and the meadow below it, surprisingly green.

Extending beyond the meadow and between the hills - Islay Creek, still intensely green and very inviting. On my next visit I'll hike it :-)

The trail descends into that valley and continues on eastward. We turned left on Islay Creek Trail and started looping back westward.
Hummingbird Trumpet (Epilobium canum)
Lupines always make me smile. They are hardy plants, inhabiting a wide range of areas and climate zones and can withstand harsh conditions. Lupines are of the earliest species to repopulate disturbed devastated areas, such as post-eruption volcanos. With their nitrogen-fixing bacteria symbionts they fertilize the soil and pave the way for other plants to grow.
Not to say that Montaña De Oro is a harsh place ... I was simply happy to see lupines blooming so late in summer. 
Summer Lupine (Lupinus formosus)
As we descended into Islay Creek Trail we went under the overhanging boughs of Treebeard :-)

Lichen on an oak tree
Along the creek the trail is a tunnel inside thick vegetation, mostly shaded and very nice.

A relief from the September sun: Ilsley Creek Trail
If to judge by the tweets, many birds agreed to it. We stopped to observe this chickadee that was busy harvesting seeds and didn't mind us watching its acrobatics.
Chestnut-backed Chickadee
The trail follows the creek until it emerges from the hills and opens up to the campground area.
Common Aster (Aster chilensis)
It was right there at the (very busy) campground that we encountered this papa quail parading about in the open without seeming concerned about anything, including a bunch of children biking noisily around. The rest of his family, we soon discovered, was hidden in the bushes as one would expect of normal quails.
California Quail, male
We observed that quail for some time, then driven by the heat down the road to the parking lot, stopping momentarily to say hi to this cute goldfinch in the thistles.
Lesser Goldfinch, female
Although the trail we hiked was not difficult we were exhausted by the heat and were ready to call it the day. I would love to go back to Montaña De Oro anytime, but given a choice I would probably opt for spring/early summer. Either way, I'd recommend this park