Friday, August 29, 2014

Again and Again and It's Never Enough: Manzanita Lake

Manzanita Lake, October 2011. Photo taken by a friend who hiked with us. 
Dates: So many times I cannot remember them all. Photos here are from August 2011, October 2011, April 2014, July 2014.
Place: Manzanita Lake, Lassen Volcanic National Park
Coordinates: 40.536426, -121.562437
Length: about 2 miles
Difficulty: easy

Manzanita Lake is right by the North Entrance to Lassen Volcanic National Park. Being right by the park's main road we always stop there. It is such a beautiful walk, and a very easy one too. Over the years I accumulated many photos from that trail. I am sharing a few (!) of them here.

Usually we start the hike at the Visitor Center. On out last Trip though, we started our circumvent from the campground area.
Manzanita Lake, July 2014
It was early July, and everything was bright green and the lake was as calm as it can be.
Chaos Crag (left) and Lassen Peak (right), July 2014
While July in the Bay Area means summer well underway, July in the mountains means spring. It is the height of the blooming time and also the best time to see babies.
American Coot, chick, July 2014
Young adults included :-)
American Coot with Young, July 2014
A walk around Manzanita Lake is never a quick one. As short and easy it is, it is jam-packed with sights worth stopping for.
A successful Song Sparrow, July 2014
The birds around the lake make their presence very noticeable. But there are other wildlife there, off the trail and in the vegetation. The doe was well camouflaged within the bushes.
Mule Deer, July 2014
And the chipmunk was almost to quick to photograph. Almost.
Chipmunk, July 2014
The trail that circumvent Lake Manzanita crosses the Manzanita Creek on top a low and narrow wooden bridge. The chikas and their cousins were fascinated by the current and sat there for some time,  making little leaf boats and sending them to float under the bridge.
Manzanita Creek, July 2014
Meanwhile, Papa Quail found a mountain chickadee's nest. It's consigned housing, of course. Originally curved in the tree by a woodpecker.
Mountain Chickadee, July, 2014
The west side of the lake provides the most beautiful views of Lassen Peak. This high and solid mountain was melting in the lake like one of Dalí's painted dream. 
Keap Nessal, July 2014
While visiting this park many times, I have never been there during winter, when most of Lassen Volcanic National Park is closed to traffic due to snow. Last April, however, as we were crossing the mountain pass on Hy44 from Susanville to Redding, we took the chance to get a sneak peek at Manzanita Lake while it was wearing white.
Manzanita Lake, April 2014
It felt just like stepping through the wardrobe.
Just like Narnia. The woods by Manzanita Lake, April 2014
The trail was completely covered. I wandered here and there around the deserted visitor center, and even crossed the road to look at the next lake over: Lily Pond.
The Surface reflection of he suitabley-named Reflection Lake, April 2014
Meanwhile, the chikas got busy. It was a while since they've been in the snow and they wanted to make the best of this opportunity.
Near Manzanita Lake Visitor Center, April 2014
A snowman could get very lonely without his best friend :-)
Near Manzanita Lake Visitor Center, April 2014

But there was real wildlife to be seen there. Much more than I had expected, considering the wintery scenery.
White-headed Woodpecker, male, by his nest. 
There were quite a few woodpeckers about, and all seemed to be working on their nests. It was April and not February, after all.
Hairy Woodpecker, male
I convinced Papa Quail to go down to the lake, where a sole squirrel was hopping in the snow.
Douglas' Squirrel, April 2014
We stood there for some time, appreciating the serene, black and white view. It was very silent and calm, and I didn't think anything could top my swelling heart at that moment.
So still. Manzanita Lake, April 2014
But just then, a black and white figure detached from the trees and swooped over the lake. It was a bald eagle. My heart leapt.
'Emptiness, Eagles and Snow'. April 2014
Papa quail quickly raised his camera. The majestic bird circled the lake several times and then returned to sit in the trees on the far side of the lake.
Bald Eagle swooping over Manzanita Lake, April 2014
We waited for a good long time after that, hoping that the eagle would fly down again, but it seemed to have had enough. At least for that moment. Eventually it started snowing again and Papa quail reminded me for the second time that day that we were planning to get to Redding at a decent hour that evening, so with much reluctance I dragged my feet back to the parking lot.
Dark-eyed Junco, April 2014
I am now determined to return to Lassen Volcanic national Park during winter. Maybe on skis or snow shoes. It is an entirely different world there, when snow reigns.

No one year is like another. 2011 wasn't a draught year and on July of that year we were welcomed with flowing water everywhere. It was hard to start the hike around the lake because the chikas stopped to play at every little rivulet .
July 2011
Lassen Peak itself was whiter that year too.
July 2011
And the deer a bit less shy ...
Mule Deer Fawn, July 2011
Same trail, same month. Different wildlife.
A lizard basking in the sun , July 2011
Some were very surprising:
Musk Rat going for a swim, July 2011
On the south lake shore there is a large dead tree lying in the water, and it has a woodpecker hole, but what we saw inside was a sublet.
Mountain Chickadee, July 2011
Every time we go there we now look inside that hole :-)
Brown-headed Cowbird, female, July 2011
Later that year we had the opportunity to visit Lassen Volcanic NP again, with friends from overseas. It was autumn and the colors were just spectacular.
Manzanita Lake, October 2011. Photo taken by our friend. 
It was also right before sunset. The low sun rays greatly enhanced the fall color display.
Lassen Peak reflecting in Manzanita Lake, October 2011.

The light was fading quickly. Soon, the flash had to be used for taking photographs.
Douglas' Squirrel, October 2011. I like the flash effect :-) 
I was the only one of our group who completed the trail that day. The night fell quickly and I ran ahead to get the car while everyone else sat by the lake at a place where there road is close by.
Steller's Jay, October 2011
There was just enough light left to film the bats swooping to catch the bugs from the water surface.

Preparing this post has got me craving again to go there soon. It won't be long. Maybe I won't even wait until spring.

Friday, August 22, 2014

One Size Fits All: The Bizz Johnson Trail and the Susan River

Date: April 25, 2014
Place: Susanville, California
Susanville Trailhead address: 601 Richmond Rd. Susanville
Our hike started at: 200 Miller Rd. Susanville
Length: The full trail is 25.4 miles long. We hiked 3 miles in and out.
Difficulty: easy

We cut our visit to South Warner Wilderness short because of the weather forecast. We had originally planned to return to Redding, but the forecast there was also nit very hiking-friendly, so we decided to alter course and took south on CA-395 to Susanville.
As we were nearing our destination Papa Quail suddenly exclaimed and asked that I pull over. I did, and he jumped out of the car with his camera. There, in the weeds along the road were a few yellow-headed blackbirds: certainly a bird worth pulling over for!
Yellow-headed Blackbird
The next day we started with visits to the Lassen National Forest and the BLM offices to inquire about hiking trails in the area. In both places we were referred to a single trail - the Bizz Johnson Trail. Any attempt to get information about other hiking options in the close vicinity were merely shrugged off.
So we went for a hike on the Bizz Johnson Trail.

The Bizz Johnson Trail used to be a railroad that was established at 1914 for the logging industry. When it was decommissioned on 1978 the tracks were removed and the road was converted for recreational use.
The trailhead in Susanville it at the old train station. There's a visitor center there and the lovely attendant recommended that we start our hike at a different spot - about half a mile down the trail. "This way," she said, "you'll get out of the urban setting and out to nature quicker." We took her advice and drove to the Miller Rd. trail entrance and started walking.
Mule-ear, near the trail.
It was bitterly cold. The temperatures might have been higher, but I felt much colder than I was during our camping at the Stough Reservoir. I had my wool poncho wrapped around me with the camera dangling over it. At least it wasn't raining. Yet.
Near Susanville the trail follows along the Susan River, crossing it on a few low bridges.
The river water, although not all too high, wasn't very low either and it was flowing mildly.
Atop the bridge over the Susan River
Along the Susan River, the deciduous trees were well underway with their spring budding. The bright-green, fresh foliage stood sharply against the dark evergreens further up the hill.

The Susan River
As always, I was looking for the blossoms.
Starry False Lily of the Valley (Maianthemum stellatum)
And Papa Quail, he was after the birds. 
Hermit Thrush
There were more birds than blossoms, all right, but the birds didn't stay put as nicely as the plants ...
A Steller's Jay contemplating a selfie
The Susan River carves itself inside a wide canyon of dark, volcanic rock.
Hardy conifers dig their roots deep into the cracks of the rock, hastening the weathering process.

It only takes a little nook with a bit of soil to start a tree that digs into the sheer rock. I am always amazed to see these trees that grow straight from the wall face.

A pine tree near the Susan River
We were slowly warming up with the walk, so I took off my poncho. Soon after, in a nearly perfect timing, it started to drizzle, so I donned it again to protect the camera.
Sedge patch, bent by the flow
One of the more festive birds we encountered at the Susan River were wood ducks in mating colors. We have good photos of these beauties from the Sepulveda Reserve in Van Nuys. The Susanville ducks, however, were so skittish that we couldn't get any decent photo of them, despite the fact that we saw several couples throughout our hike.
I took comfort in photographing these impressive galls:
Common Sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) with galls of sponge gall midge

My big treat of that day was this flower: the Woollypod Milkvetch. It stood out with its shiny purple flowers in the background of underfoot pebbles.
Woollypod Milkvetch (Astragalus purshii)
But the big treat for Papa Quail was the red-breasted sapsucker. He was looking for an opportunity to observe and photograph this bird for quite some time and even scheduled a summer camping trip for us at the Calaveras Big Trees State Park, where they are known to nest.
But then we saw them, right by the Bizz Johnson Trail. More than one, in fact. And they gave Papa Quail plenty of kodak moments.
Red Breasted Sapsucker
I was ready to keep on going, but after a mile and a half Papa Quail reminded me that we were planning to arrive at Redding that evening, so we turned around and started walking back.
Mahala Mat (Ceanothus protratus), being true to its name.
And it was all in good time, because the rain suddenly intensified. We hurried along the trail and made it back to the car.
A Spotted Towhee in the bushes along the Bizz Johnson Trail
And it was on that moment that the downpour really begun. We drove back to town for lunch and started west on CA-44 just as the rain turned into snow.

Susanville might have just that one trail, but it's a worthy trail. I will definitely go back there to do the other 23 miles at some point :-)

Many thanks to members of the California Native Plants Society for their help in identifying the Artemisia and galls species!