Thursday, February 14, 2019

New Business at the Bizz Johnson Trail

July 6, 2018, Lewis's Woodpecker

Date: May 15 and July 6, 2018
Place: Bizz Johnson Trail, Susanville, California
Susanville Trailhead address: 601 Richmond Rd. Susanville
Our hike started at: 200 Miller Rd. Susanville
Length: about 2 miles in and out
Level: easy

We discovered the Bizz Johnson Trail back in 2014 on the tail of a spring break road trip. We didn't walk far then, but we did enjoy a wealth of nature richness - both wildflowers and wildlife, and of course - the beautiful scenery.
On the road trip I did with my friend Anenet last May we stopped at Susanville on our way from the Lake Shasta area to the Eastern Sierra. There was no way we were gonna pass through town without hiking a bit of the Bizz Johnson Trail.
Before I get any further I would like to say that on that hike we made a surprising sighting, one that caused be two months later to divert a family trip especially to walk this trail again. The photos in this post are from both of these hikes.
May 15, Where we joined the Bizz Johnson Trail
I love to see the change of seasons in places I frequent often enough. Susanville is too far for me to visit on a regular basis but last year the opportunity came. The photo above is from May 15, and the one below is from July 6, nearly two months later. And what a difference!
We started west with the Susan River on our left.
July 6
The beginning of the hike wasn't all that impressive. It was clear that the path was human-made and most of the vegetation alongside the trail was of non-native species. I photographed most of them but chose to post only the pretty blue batchelor's button here. My friend simply walked on' disregarding them. She didn't come all the way across the globe to see her home plants.
May 15, Batchelor's Button, Centaurea cyanus
My friend and I were too early for the California poppies. Our signature state flowers had welcomed me at the same spot when I returned there in July.
July 6, California Poppy, Eschscholzia californica
In mid-May, however, things couldn't be lusher. It was green everywhere, with other colors sported by flowers, butterflies, and mushrooms.
May 15, Mushroom with resident
The fragrance of wildflowers filled the air. A few steps further into the trail and we were engulfed in exuberant bloom.
May 15, Chokecherry, Prunus virginiana 
While my friend focused her attention on the wildflowers I took in more of the broad views. We walked only a short distance on this  25 miles long trail, and we saw so much in that short distance! Im my mind I started scheming a future backpacking hike on this trail. If I could only find the time ...
May 15
And then again, I too looked closely at the wildflowers.
May 15, Woolly Mule's Ears, Wyethia mollie

We were looking for flowers but soon got distracted by butterflies. There were many of them, of many different species. My friend was good at photographing each and every one of them. I settled for a few pretty ones.
Checkerspot butterfly on Mountain Butterbeard, Senecio integerrimus

Two months later there were still many butterflies but of a little different species community.
July 6, pale swallowtail

We arrived at the first bridge crossing the river and paused to look down. The photo below is from my July hike with the family and the water level was a little lower by then.
July 6 the first bridge.

We got a closer look at the rocky slopes on the left after crossing the bridge. They were covered with antelope bushes in full bloom.
May 15, Antelope Bush, Purshia tridentata 
A glimpse of red between the bushes revealed the first treasure of the day - a lovely patch of the red canyon larkspur.
May 15, Scarlet Larkspur, Delphinium nudicaule 
There is an established campground a short distance past the first bridge Across the trail from the campground facilities there was a lovely floral quilt of which the most dominant color was the pink of the phlox. Needless to say, we spent quite some time appreciating these lovely flowers. The photo below, however, is one that I took on our way back - with a sphinx moth enjoying the colorful floral spread.
May 15, Sphinx Moth and Southern Mountain Phlox, Phlox austromontana

Another pretty blossom, of a more shy species was the ballhead waterleaf, a wildflower I was already familiar with from hour backpacking trip to the South Warner Wilderness a couple of years before.
May 15, Ballhead Waterleaf, Hydrophyllum capitatum
Shortly we arrived at the second bridge and paused there too to take in the view.
May 15, the second bridge
e bridge on the western side were many false lily of the valley plants that were blooming in lovely white stars. I came down to take a closer look and my friend followed, although she'd seen them before.
May 15, False Lily of the Valley, Maianthemum stellatum 
From there we had a nice view of the old bridge.
May 15
Once again the river was on our left. We kept going west. We had a lovely sunny day but the western skies were dark and heavy. The Lassen Volcanic area was getting a load of snow, I was sure of that.
May 15,
Some distance later we arrived at a lovely nook by the river and stopped to look at the water and at a lovely penstemon that bloom by the river bank.
May 15, Mountain Blue Penstemon, Penstemon laetus 
The oak trees that grow at the river bank were at the beginning of their spring budding, and the new leaves had the most adorable reddish hue to them.
May 15, California Black Oak, Quercus kelloggii
Two months later those very same trees were growing their acorns.
July 6, California Black Oak, Quercus kelloggii 
We sat there a little and then continued on westward. My friend didn't want to go much further but I wanted to get to the place where I got to on my first hike there with my family and see if the woollypod milkvetch was blooming already. Perhaps it was, but I didn't find it. Instead I had some wonderful display of trees budding out their young spring leaves.
May 15 
I also found a few violets in bloom and called my friend over to see them. My photos of the violets didn't come out all that great but the colorful trees in spring colors did.
May 15

That point was also where we turned back.
May 15 the way back
As the clouds passed us by without letting a single drop of rain on us we walked through moving patches of sunlight and shade. We planned to get to Bridgeport that night and that was still some ways away.
We took it slow and easy on the way back. Lots of butterflies fluttered about us, like colorful flowers that were detached from their mother plants and gone a-wondering.
May 15, Cerulean Looper

Butterflies are much fun to see and very hard to photograph. Some of them did cooperate with us.
May 15, Checkerspot
We were passing again that same pretty place by the river where we had stopped before. Suddenly my friend yelped and pointed: there was some commotion in the air on the other side of the river - two birds were fighting. Without thinking I raised my camera and snapped a fast series of shots. I didn't think much would come out of it and couldn't see on the tiny camera screen what birds were these.
May 15, Lewis's Woodpecker

I thought that I saw one of the birds coming to a stop in one of the trees across the water so I left my friend on the riverbank and went down to take a closer look. I took off my shoes and waded to the other side, and looked up at the tree. The bird was indeed there, but without a good zoom and no binoculars I could only tell the rusty-red belly.
May 15, Lewis's Woodpecker
After crossing back I sat down to dry my feet and put my shoes back on. The river was moving lazily, the past winter didn't feed it all that well.
May 15, Susan River
We had a weak phone reception there and I called Pappa Quail, describing what we saw. My description of the birds we very briefly saw fighting was off, and the description of the one sitting in the tree focused on the red belly. "Likely a robin," he concluded. I was somewhat disappointed having crossed the river just for a robin but at list I got to cross the river.
Later that day, as my friend and I stopped for dinner in Reno, I downloaded the photos to my laptop and sent Pappa Quail my images. His reply was quick and profane: what we've seen was a Lewis's woodpecker, the only woodpecker that he hasn't seen yet. And now my friend and I had!
We had another interesting encounter on our way back to the trailhead - a gopher snake that took its time to cross the trail and didn't seem to mind us two hikers hovering over it to get a close-up photo.
May 15, Gopher Snake

We completed our hike passing once again under the reddish hoodoo-like rock formations left by the eroding volcanic deposits tat make he soil around Susanville. The visible reminders of the forces that shaped this area. After this hike we took off southward, making our way to the Eastern Sierra region. I looked wistfully behind me, not knowing that within to months I'll be back there, hiking the Bizz Johnson Trail.
May 16

I remembered well Pappa Quail's reaction to our sighting of the Lewis's woodpecker, so a couple of months later when Grandma Quail came to visit and we embarked on a family road trip on the 4th of July week, I made sure to include the Bizz Johnson Trail in our itinerary.
Pappa Quail was doubtful that the woodpecker would be there that much time later but he went along with my plan. Sure enough - they were there at the very same spot where I had seen them in May, only on our side of the river. Pappa Quail and the elder chika stood there for a very long time taking numerous photos of this beautiful woodpecker. One of these photos heads this blogpost.
July 6, Lewis Woodpecker

Pappa Quail was pleased. The woodpecker, however wasn't the only surprise we had that day, on our July hike. There were many other birds modeling nicely for us, and another very special treat we got while heading back along the trail.
July 6, Western Wood Pewee

I post here one of the river photos I took on July 6: all the trees are in full, mature foliage and the bushes are yellower. The wildflowers were different and so were many of the butterflies. There seemed to be many more birds active then.
July 6, Susan River
One bird that I did get to see on my May hike with my friend that had me very excited was a male black-headed grosbeak. I even got some decent photos of that pretty bird but I don't post them here because two months later Pappa Quail got much better shots of this bird.
The first grosbeak we saw on our July 6 hike however, was female.
July 6, Black-headed Grosbeak, female
While Pappa Quail and the elder chika were going gaga over the Lewis's woodpecker other birds were going gaga in the water. Mallards, mostly, but Pappa Quail found a female wood duck further along the trail.
July 6, Wood Duck, female

I loved the cushions of carex plants dipping their edges in the river. it's a common plant, but one that I miss if not there by rivers and creeks.
July 6, Carex sp. 
We were already on our way back to the trailhead when Pappa Quail and the elder chika spotted a male grosbeak. A daddy grosbeak, sitting in his nest.
July 6, Black-headed Grossbeak, male
My two birdwatchers gave much attention to the daddy grosbeak, then the elder chika tried showing Grandma Quail where the bird was in the bushes while Pappa Quail diverted his attention to a female downy woodpecker perched on a nearby tree.
July 6, Downy Woodpecker, female
Her mate was nearby and cooperated nicely when papa Quail photographed him.
July 6, Downy Woodpecker, male
Then the daddy grosbeak flew away from the nest and the elder chika called Pappa Quail over: the female grosbeak was there, bending over the nest. It was difficult to see through all the foliage but clearly apparent in the enlarged photo: she was feeding two young chicks.
July 6, Black-headed Grossbeak, chicks
After weeding her babies mommy grosbeak settled in her nest, hiding and protecting her chicks.
July 6, Black-headed Grossbeak, female
Just seeing grosbeaks was very cool but witnessing the family in action and this change of shifts between daddy and mommy grosbeak was very exciting indeed!
The Bizz Johnson Trail was teeming with birds that day. The excitement of seeing the Lewis's woodpeckers and the family of grosbeaks didn't minimize any the fun of seeing other birds, even as common as the northern flicker.
July 6, Northern Flicker
Another pretty encounter that Pappa Quail had was the Bullock's Oriole that wiped for us as close to the trailhead.
July 6, Bullock's Oriole
I missed the oriole because I was focusing on the plants. On my May hike with Anenet we saw milkweeds that were just beginning to bud. On my July hike they were already fruiting. I missed their pretty bloom.
July 6, Purple Milkweed, Asclepias cordifolia 
Pappa Quail spotted a movement on the trail ahead just as we arrived the little parking lot at the Miller Rd trailhead. A family of California quail run into the shrubbery as we approached.
July 6, California Quail
One last goodby photo of an acorn woodpecker claiming a power line pole as his tree and we were off Warner Valley, the next destination of our family road trip. 

July 6, Acorn Woodpecker
We drove back into Susanville and as we made our way slowly through the drowsy neighborhood we spotted antlers poking through the tall, dry vegetation. Several deer, all bucks, were sitting in the shade of a large mulberry tree in someone's front yard, taking refuge from the heat of the day.
Santa's summer home

The Bizz Johnson Trail is 25.4 miles long. We hiked less than a mile an a half into it. That short trail segment was so rich with beautiful flowers and fascinating wildlife that I cannot imagine how much more there is to see for one hiking the full length of this trail. Yes, it did make it to my bucket list!  


  1. it's a beautiful trail! and we had so many findings there, but I think the nesting grosbeak family is the best. I counted about 15 different butterfly species and 8 different moth species! and that's only the ones we caught on camera, because I did see at least one swallowtail that didn't cooperate...
    and you can see the different species of flowers and animals we've seen in my inaturalist page:

    1. It was a fantastic hike! And the most difficult part of writing this blog post was selecting the photos ... there were so many to chose from!

  2. Replies
    1. I just came back from Biking Bizz Johnson.... yesterday Sunday Oct 18, 2020.

      NOW us the time to go for Fall Colors. The Aspens are quaking as the transition their canopy...Half Green/Half Yellow.... Early Morning Temps are in the low 40's. By 9 am, as the sunshine arrives,, breathable bike shirt = Perfect

    2. Oh, I wish I could go there right now! I bet it is really gorgeous!