Friday, November 29, 2019

A Golden Time at Hammon Grove Park

Fall Colors 

Date: November 10, 2019
Place: Hammon Grove Park, Browns Valley, California
Coordinates: 39.229179, -121.400839
Length: 1.5 miles
Level: easy

One of the places that were recommended to us after we finished the birding field trip at the  Bobelaine Audubon Preserve was Sycamore Ranch, about 20 minutes drive east of Yuba City. When we arrived there we found out that although it is a very lovely place, there weren't any real hiking trails there.
Dry Creek at Sycamore Ranch
Sycamore Ranch is primarily a campground place with access to the water where Dry Creek (which wasn't at all dry) spills into the Yuba River.
Dry Creek at Sycamore Ranch
We did take some time wandering around the creek access and the campground, checking out the beautiful fall colors and the birds, which were mostly little bush birds.
Golden-crowned Sparrow at Sycamore Ranch
Both Pappa Quail and the elder chika were following the chirps t spot those which emitted them. They found quite a few.
House Finch at Sycamore Ranch
Me and the younger chika followed them. I admired the fall vegetation, but I was eager to go hiking somewhere and Sycamore Ranch wasn't the right place. So I took a few moments looking online for more suitable places in the vicinity.
Red-breasted Sapsucker at Sycamore Ranch
The nearest place was Hammon Grove Park, just across Dry Creek. But we couldn't simply walk there - we would have to drive out of Sycamore Ranch and enter Hammon Grove Park through a separate access road. I also found Black Swan Preserve, a bit further east. When I showed the options to Pappa Quail he chose to go to Black Swan Preserve.
Ruby-crowned Kinglet at Sycamore Ranch
So after walking around Sycamore Ranch grounds we drove away and went on a nice hike at the Black Swan Preserve. A nice hike it was, but we saw very few birds there. So it wasn't too difficult to persuade Pappa Quail to use what left of the day to hike a bit at Hammon Grove Park.
Our hike as captured by Pappa Quail's GPS
At Hammon Grove Park we were welcomed by a stunning show of fall colors. Really, I haven't seen such a beautiful display of fall since I moved to California from the midwest. Not to say that there isn't beautiful fall colors displays in California, in fact there are many such places, especially in the Easter Sierra, but I only get to see them second hand through someone else's photos. Now, I was seeing first hand this fall beauty right by the Yuba River where the Sierra foothills begin to rise.

When we walked to the waterfront, just across Dry Creek from Sycamore Ranch where we were earlier that afternoon, the beautiful fall scenery was doubled in the calm water mirror.
Dry Creek at Hammon Grove Park
We found the trail near Dry Creek and followed it down toward Yuba River.

Here too, just like in the Bobelaine Audubon Sanctuary and the Black Swan Preserve, one of the main color contributors was the wild California grape. It was hanging from trees all over the park, its leaves ranging fro light green through many shades of yellow and orange, to deep red and mottled brown.
Wild California Grape, Vitis californica 
Pappa Quail didn't lose focus of his primary agenda and soon he found his little feathered treasures.
White-breasted Nuthatch 
For a trip that was to focus on birds we saw only a few, but those we did see treated us to a nice show.
Scrub Jay
Only 4pm but the sun was already very low and the trail leading down to the Yuba River was dark. We hurried down to the river to see what we could see there.

Down by the river the sunlight was still bright and the water shiny. We started going back east along the shoreline. Papa Quail and the chikas moved fast - they had seen birds on a pebble island up ahead. I suppose that the river has been low for a while because in between the pebbles grew little plants. One of these was a small black nightshade. I took a photo before consuming its yummy berries.
American Black Nightshade, Solanum americanum
The black nightshade is a California native, relative of the tomato and the berries taste similar. I add that it is crucial to identify this plant to a 100% assurance before eating the berries because it has toxic relatives that look similar. 
The other plant is saw in miniature version between the pebbles is the non-native water speedwell. It had cute little pink flowers.
Water Speedwell, Veronica anagallis-aquatica, non-native
The river was indeed low, waiting to be fed by the winter snowmelt. The Yuba River, like nearly all the rivers in California, is dammed and its flow is controlled by the dam release.
Yuba River
I hurried along the pebble shoreline to catch up with my family. My younger chika looked for interesting rocks and sticks but my elder chia and Pappa Quail were clicking away at birds that they spotted by the water.
There weren't many birds there and those that we'd seen didn't seem to mind our presence there. The shorebirds moved about, looking for food.
Greater Yellowlegs
Two turkey vultures were feeding on a carcass of something on an island of pebbles off shore. They seemed agitated, kept switching position, hopping and bouncing near the carcass.  Not because of us though, we were quite far from them.
Turkey Vulture
The setting sun painted the river banks in soft rusty hue which complemented well the autumn colors of the trees. It was also signaling us that it was time to get back so we climbed the bank and went up to the trail.

The chikas wanted a snack so we sat on a bench that we found near the trail and gazed down at the river, enjoying the afternoon warmth and the light breeze that rippled the water.
Yuba River

Two common mergansers were also enjoying a leisurely swim on the realm river.
Common Merganser
Eventually we got up and continued on the trail that circled back and around to the park entrance. We came upon a dead tree that served its afterlife as a perch and granary for acorn woodpeckers.
Acorn Woodpecker
The trail turned into a wide dirt road that curved through a thin oak and pine forest. I couldn't tell what species of pine these were and I didn't dwell on it too much. Many of the pines however, were infected with mistletoe - a parasitic plant that grows on host trees and taps into their sap.
Dwarf Pine Mistletoe
As we were making our way back the sun slowly disappeared, first behind the treelike, then behind the horizon. We were in twilight time.
Sunset Light
With the last sun rays at the very tip of the tallest trees we made it back to the parking lot. I was now looking at the pretty maple that I admired at the beginning of our hike from a different direction and with a different backdrop. This one seemed more fitting of the season.

California has a wonderful fall and many places in California display fall colors worthy of the season. Hammond Grove Park is certainly among the best of these places. I loved that charming little hike, it was the best place to end our day with. 


  1. lovely fall colors!
    you're eating wild Solanum? so many of them are poisonous, I always avoid them all. I stick to the cultivated ones (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants...)

    1. Tomatoes were considered toxic when they were first introduced in the old world ... It took me some time to get convinced that the black nightshade berries are indeed harmless. But I agree that it needs to be identified to 100% assurance because of its toxic relatives. Same as wild mushrooms :-)

  2. This post certainly contains some of the most beautiful fall pictures in your blog :-)

    1. Thank you! We just had to go to the best place to see these colors at the right time! Now I know where to go during fall season.