California Wildflowers are bursting after a year of epic snow and rain

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Wildflower Power!
Spring heralds an explosion of color as California hillsides, mountains, valleys and deserts come to life after a short winter's nap.  A variety of climates and terrain keeps California wildflowers blooming throughout the year, but at no other time is the petaled pageantry this prolific. Wet winters almost without fail mean an eye-popping wildflower season. This year's epic snowfall and rain should translate into a wildflower season like no other. In higher elevations of the Sierra Nevada and Eastern Sierra, the deep snows could mean a later than usual wildflower show. However, is should be spectacular. Keep your eyes on Mono and Inyo counties. 

Wildflower names like scarlet monkey-flower, Indian paint brush, Western cranesbill and hummingbird sage stir exotic images. These are but a few of the hundreds of wildflower species found in California. 

Everywhere the landscape is transformed into a palette of color. Fields of blue cornflowers, lupine and baby-blue eyes rival any Spring sky. Hills and dales are sun-splashed with the yellows and oranges of California Poppies, wild mustard and goldfields.  The High Desert is a Technicolor showing of desert candles, Mariposa lilies and white and pink primroses.  In the foothills, tiny "redbuds" clinging to leafless branches are some of the earliest signs of Spring.  Later, at the higher elevations, dogwood blossoms lace the trees.

Regardless of when visitors plan to take a walk on the wild(flower) side, they should keep in mind several helpful tips:

*It's against the law to pick wildflowers in California.  They are pleasures for the eye only.

* It's best to stick to specified trails so as not to damage fragile wildflowers and plants.

* Some wildflowers close up at night -- especially in the desert -- and need an hour or so of morning warmth to open up.

* Both wildflowers and cactus flowers depend on rain.  A quick call to any of the areas listed or to local visitor bureaus can confirm that the flowering has begun.

Following is a partial list of the many wildflower viewing areas in Northern and Southern California.

NORTHERN CALIFORNIA WILDFLOWERS

Jepson Prairie Preserve, Solano County 
The time to visit Jepson is late February through late April.  Violas and owl's clover are among the wildflowers lending sun-color to the countryside.  The tiny blue downingia can be found here, too.  Wildflower Tours led by docents are free, but must be scheduled in advance. This year's monumental rainfalls should translate into a vibrant prairie and an overlfowing Olcott Lake. 

Feather River Canyon, Plumas County.  Cascading waterfalls and wildflowers in the spring highlight the canyon's natural beauty - especially showy from mid-March through June with a constantly changing display of wildflower color.  Early color may be seen in the yellows of the delicate waterfall buttercups and the reds of redbud shrub  followed by the delicate white dogwood blossoms. Later wildflower colors may be seen in the yellow bush monkey flower hanging from the rock walls and the blues of the shrubby silver lupine. 

Chico's Bidwell Park, Butte County 
Blossom-filled wildflower walks range from easy strolls to climbing over rougher terrain.  The Yahl Trail from Big Chico Creek to Brown's Hole, for instance, gradually stretches uphill for some two and a half miles while the round-trip on the North Rim Trail covers about nine miles of varying grades.  Spring brings out lupines, poppies, delphiniums, buttercups and Western Redbuds.

Point Reyes National Seashore, Marin County 
During March, April and early May, for many people, the sea views from Chimney Rock, near the lighthouse, take second-place to the sight of Douglas iris, violets, goldfields, lupines, poppies, baby blue-eyes and more.  Each month brings a different batch of wildflower blooms.   

Wildflower Along Hwy 94 -3San Bruno Mountain State and County Parks, San Mateo County 
The Summit Loop--a three-mile walk that gains a bit in elevation--is the place to find yarrow, Wright's paintbrush, sun cups, seaside daisies, hummingbird sage, goldfields and others.  The best wildflower-viewing times are in March and April. 

South Yuba State Park, Nevada County 
The volunteer-built Independence Trail is one of the few nature trails in the U.S. to have wheelchair access.  From late March to early June, a spectacular array of wildflowers -- California Indian pink, delphinium, California pipevine, mock orange, iris, pink phlox, white fairy lantern, yellow cat's ear -- are visible here.  More good wildflower viewing -- though not wheelchair accessible -- is along the Sierra Gateway Trail.  This trail is about 15 road miles from Independence Trail, but only eight miles or so down the South Yuba River.  Wildflower bloom here begins in late February and runs into April.

Sierra National Forest, Mariposa County
From El Portal, a mile below Yosemite National Park, the Hite Cove Trail traverses the South Fork of the Merced River.  The trail -- about eight miles in all -- leads past 100 or so species of wildflowers.  In March, April and early May, the ground is carpeted with baby blue-eyes, lupines, California poppies, mariposa lilies and other wildflower blossoms.

Kern County 
If your schedule doesn't allow for hiking, Kern County offers driving views of California wildflowers.  In Kern River Canyon along Hwy. 178, lupine, blue dicks and popcorn flowers will delight you.  On Hwy. 223 at Hwy. 58, be sure to stop for the poppies and owl's clover.  In the Glennville-Woody area, you will be treated to fields of wild mustard and yellow thistle.  For more information, contact:  Kern County Board of Trade, 2101 Oak Street, Bakersfield, CA  93302

WILDFLOWER FESTIVALS & EVENTS

March:  Blossom Day Festival, Sanger 
Car show, a 10k run and two-mile walk, and a street fair, arts and crafts booths, live music, and food booths with funnel cakes and Mexican specialties in surroundings that are expected to include the annual spring flowers in bloom.

April:  Mather Vernal Pool Flower Walks, Rancho Cordova 
Two-hour tour to explore this magic carpet of flowers.  These unique wildflowers bloom only for a brief period in the spring.  Sponsored by the Sacramento Chapter of the California Native Plants Society.

April:  Bufferlands Birds & Blooms Tour, Sacramento
California poppies, lupine, owl's clover, and baby blue-eyes grow around the uplands and wetlands edges. Thousands of waterfowl and other wetland birds winter at the Fishhead Lake wetlands. Meeting location is weather dependent.

April: Wildflower Music Festival, Chico 
This is a day of fun for the whole family! Check out our kid's area with free activities, jump houses, petting zoo, crafts and more! Visit our food vendors for lunch, snacks, dinner & dessert, and don't forget to stop in for a Sierra Nevada brew all while listening and dancing to the best music Chico has to offer!

April: Western Railway Museum, Suisun City (707/374-2978)
The Scenic Limited takes visitors on a six-mile round-trip ride on the old Sacramento Northern Railway, south from Highway 12. The trip lasts about an hour and passengers catch views of the native wildflowers that cover the rolling hills and fields.

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA WILDFLOWERS

Wildflower Desert Blooms 13During wildflower blooming season (from March through May), visitors to southern California can take advantage of the 24-hour Theodore Payne Wildflowers Foundation hotline in Sun Valley, (818/768-3533).  The hotline offers weekly updates on wildflower status in the Antelope Valley, Santa Monica Mountains, Angeles National Forest, Joshua Tree National Monument, and Anza Borrego Desert State Park.

Figueroa Mountain Recreation Area, Santa Barbara County 
Located near the town of Los Olivos is La Jolla Spring.  March and April are the best months to see phacelias, mariposa lilies, lupine, delphiniums and a bouquet of other wildflower blooms.  

Point Mugu State Park, Ventura County
In February and March, along the Ray Miller Trail, dainty shooting stars are out in multitude together with larkspur, sage and rattleweed.  Other trails good for glimpses of spring color include La Jolla Valley Trail and Mugu Peak Trail.

Antelope Valley State Poppy Reserve, Los Angeles County
Just 15 miles west of Lancaster, visitors will be amazed by 1,700-acres of California poppies and wildflowers.  April, May and June are generally the best months; travelers are advised to confirm the flowering.

Topanga State Park, Los Angeles County
Located in the Santa Monica Mountains, this park abounds in widlflower blossoms. Canyon sunflowers, poppies, sage, lilies, Chinese houses and foxglove blooms come out early and can last well into the summer.  A good starting place is the four-mile Musch Ranch Trail.

Joshua Tree National Park, Riverside County 
Wildflowers begin to blossom in Pinto Basin.  Beavertail, chollo and pincushion cacti bloom from late April until June.  Evening primroses, desert dandelions, lupines, goldfields, desert stars, Mojave asters and various other wildflowers also dot this desert landscape. Starting near the Cottonwood Visitor Center, the four-mile Lost Palms Oasis Trail offers one of the better walks. 

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, San Diego County 
In February and March, the desert terrain is brightened by red, pink, yellow and orange cacti flowers.  Borrego Palm Canyon Trail (three palm-studded miles round-trip to Palm Canyon oasis) is a popular place to see cactus blossoms this time of year.  More than 600 species of wildflowers are on view, including fireweed, desert lavender, white forget-me-nots, indigo bush and California fuchsias.

Torrey Pines State Reserve, San Diego County 
This oceanfront terrain is covered with sand verbena, brittlebush, sun cups, wild snapdragons, California poppies, monkey flowers, shooting stars, phacelia, rockroses, golden yarrow and blue delphiniums.  A well-labeled native garden center outside the adobe visitor center provides a more formal viewing experience. 

WILDFLOWER FESTIVALS & EVENTS
April: Orange Cove Blossom Festival, Orange Cove 
Parade, vendors, and pageant to crown the Orange Blossom Queen.

April: Theodore Payne Native Garden Tour, Los Angeles
Thirty-nine Los Angeles-area home landscapes are showcased on the self-guided tour. At least 50% of the plants in each garden are California natives, and some of the region’s most creative homeowners and garden designers will be represented.

April: California Poppy Festival, Lancaster 
The California Poppy Festival kicks off spring in the Antelope Valley with a glorious array of celebrated performers, unrivaled events, and mouth-watering delicacies designed to delight, enchant, and amuse people of all ages.

May:  Wildflower Show, Julian 
Desert to high mountain flowers are on display at Town Hall, includes flowers High Mountain, Desert, Oak and Pine Forest, Chaparral, and High Desert.

Although they aren't wildflowers the earliest blossom frenzy of the season is along the Fresno County Blossom Trail.  Off Highway 99 just east of Fresno, a 67-mile-long flowering fantasy showcases the nut and stone fruit orchards of Fresno County.  In February, pale pink almond blossoms are some of the first performers in this floral extravaganza.  The breathtaking spectacle continues with the blooming of apricots, plums, peaches, nectarines and apples.  The final curtain call is April through May when citrus blossoms perfume the air.  

More Wildflower Resources: SeeCalifornia.com, Plumas County, California State Parks, National Forests, Wildflower Hotline, California Academy of Sciences, Desert Wildflower Report and BLM.


21st Annual Flyway Festival celebrates return of millions of migrating birds to San Francisco Bay Area

Birdwalk-7597-1 Courtesy of SF Flyway Festival
For this year's Flyway Festival, organizers welcome a team of staff from the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Nathan Hawkaluk - Deputy Refuge Manager, Heather Bartlett - Wildlife Refuge Specialist  and Julie Mahler - Rural Resident of the Yukon Flats will give a talk at the Wildlife Expo, Building 221, 880 Walnut Ave. on Mare Island in Vallejo, CA both Saturday, February 11 and Sunday, February 12 at 1:00pmentitled:  "Alaska’s Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge: Feeding the Flyways, Sustaining the Residents". The Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge is located in the interior of Alaska at the far northern end of the Pacific Flyway.
 
The speakers note that "Each autumn, millions of migratory birds that nest and raise their young on the Flats disperse, spreading across much of the globe to be shared and enjoyed by countless others who appreciate wildlife and wild places. This is the legacy of the Yukon Flats today – and tomorrow. Come learn from Refuge staff about how these migratory birds connect Alaska with California and the San Pablo Bay. Get a glimpse of what it’s like to live, work, and be part of a community in the Far North and learn how Alaska’s public lands support conservation in your backyard."
 
Jenny Papka, Native Bird Connections (1)Native Bird Connections, a wild bird rehab and education center based in Martinez, CA will once again give its “standing-room-only” live bird shows both Saturday and Sunday at the Wildlife Expo from 11:30am-12:30:pm. Digital presentations include information about the surprising nesting of osprey in San Francisco Bay, not known to have occurred in the 20th or 21st centuries until about the year 2000; how to identify birds and use binoculars; why Ladybugs matter; backyard bird feeding tips and the history of the Mare Island Naval Hospital which will be combined with a visit to the grounds of the hospital founded more than 150 years ago, closed as a Navy hospital in 1957 and now the campus of Touro University.
 
For the second season “re:sound migration”, an experimental sound art project created by Vallejo resident and sound artist Jen Boyd, will feature a number of other sound artists with a theme of birds and nature during the Flyway Festival. Performances take place Saturday, February 11 at the Mare Island Shoreline Heritage Preserve Building A-168 from 3:30pm-7:00pm. Visit re-sound.net for more details and a full list of all the participating artists.
 
Host and sponsoring organizations
Once again, Mare Island Heritage Trust, the nonprofit sponsor of the Festival, welcomes Vallejo Watershed AllianceVallejo Sanitation and Flood Control DistrictFriends of San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge, San Francisco Bay Joint Venture, Napa Vine Trail Coalition, Vaca Valley Volks, Marin Audubon Society, and Sierra Club Solano Group. Lennar Mare Island LLC has generously contributed the headquarters building where the Flyway Festival Wildlife Expo takes place on Mare Island in Vallejo.
 
Heron Courtesy of SF Flyway FestivalRegional guided and self-guided outings scheduled in Contra Costa, Sonoma, Napa and Solano counties - The annual migration celebration offers a range of guided and self-guided outings throughout the “north shore” region of the San Francisco Bay Area including birdwatching, natural history and recreational hikes led on Mare Island. Many of the hikes and outings are oriented to beginning and intermediate birders. Hawk watching outings led by experienced hawk specialists from the Sonoma Land Trust, West County Hawkwatch, the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory, Solano Land Trust and Napa Solano Audubon Society are expected to enjoy enthusiastic turnouts. Skaggs Island, the former US Navy communications facility and now a part of San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge is not normally open to the public except during escorted outings like the total of six, two each day, scheduled during the Flyway Festival.
 
One of the most popular attractions this year, will be the three guided outings which are planned by the Friends of the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge on the newly restored more than 1200 acres of tidal wetlands at Cullinan Ranch, opened to the Bay’s waters for the first time in more than 150 years in the first part of January 2015. There is also self-guided walking and even a guided kayak and canoe access outing to this new marshland, as well as to a number of other National Refuge lands for birdwatching and hiking. Self-guided hiking and birdwatching can be done on California Department of Fish and Wildlife property in southern Napa County at the Green Island Unit and a number of Units of the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Sonoma, Napa and Solano counties. Sunday, February 12, 10:00am-2:00pm Solano Land Trust will offer a hawk watching hike in Lynch Canyon Open Space led by hawk expert Larry Broderick, West County Hawkwatch. The Solano Land Trust also offers a hike in the Rockville Hills Preserve which does require pre-registration. Two guided hawk watching hikes will also be given by Larry Broderick, West County Hawkwatch, hosted by Sonoma Land Trust, on the Dickson Unit of the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge, Saturday, February 11 at 10:00am and repeated at 12noon. Visit the Sonoma Land Trust website for details and to register (not required).
 
Mare Island Nature, Birding, Historic, Cultural, Recreational and Scenic Outings - For the 9th year the Flyway Festival welcomes the Vaca Valley Volkswalkers’ American Volkswalk Association sanctioned 6k to 11k walks on a designated route throughout Mare Island.
 
Mare Island outings will include guided walks Friday, Saturday and Sundayby local Audubon Society hike leaders and Mare Island Heritage Trust field guides. Hikes and driving birding outing on the Island include access to the Navy’s first ammunition depot in the Pacific founded in 1857 located in an area of the island designated as the 215-acre Mare Island Shoreline Heritage Preserve which will be open daily during the Festival from 9:00am-sunset with a “Very Informal” almost full moon party Saturday evening February 11 6:30pm-8:00pm for those interested in viewing the moon and sky from a telescope. Digiscoping with phones and cameras should be good in the Preserve with nesting great blue herons and possible osprey sightings. Other guided outings on Mare Island include beginning birding walks on the San Pablo Bay Wetlands Trail. Docent led history tours of the Mare Island Naval Cemetery will be offered both Saturday and Sunday from 12noon-2:00pm
 
St. Peter’s Chapel, home to the most Tiffany stained-glass windows in a single site in the West, will be open for tours Saturday, February 11, and Sunday, February 12, 11:00am-3:00pm. The Mare Island Museum will be open Friday, February 10, 10:00am-2:00pm and Saturday February 11, 10:00am-4:00pm. Both require a $4.00 admission donation.
 
Flyway Festival Art Exhibition and opening reception
Artists and photographers will show original art work that depicts local wildlife, wetlands, marshes, and native habitats from San Francisco Bay to the ridgetops of Mt. Tamalpais and Mt. Diablo. The show is open to all ages and skill levels and the deadline for art entries has been extended to Monday, February 6. Artists’ work will be available for purchase at the Art Show beginning with its opening reception Friday evening, February 10 at 5:00pmand continuing through the two-day show, Saturday and Sunday, 9am-4pm.
 
Most Festival activities are free. Some require preregistration. For more information and directions, call or text Myrna Hayes 707-249-9633 or Sarah Cain 510-579-1008 or visit sfbayflywayfestival.com.
 
Digital photos available prior to and during the event. Call or text Myrna Hayes at 707-249-9633 cell or e-mail myrnahayes@mac.com
 

Anacapa Island Who Says it's Not for Kids

Anacapa Boarding the boat for our trip to Anacapa Island – part of the Channel Islands National Park – we could hear an infant crying.  Certainly most everyone was thinking, “Oh, great! A baby on a 12-mile boat trip!  Are you nuts?”  The Island Packers' boat, Vanguard, began its slow journey through the calm waters of Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard. Out into the open sea, we started to rock and bob – the infant was asleep within seconds.  The rest of us faced forward, eyes wide open, awaiting a glimpse of the elusive Anacapa Island.  Those of us beyond the rhythmic lullabies of babies could take solace in the postcard-perfect weather – light breeze, blue skies, and warm sun – as we embarked on our half-day journey to a land nearly forgotten by time. 

When considering boarding a 68-foot-long boat to take a 12-mile trip out into open seas, traveling with children under the age of five probably doesn’t come to mind.  However, our group included families with children of all ages and an infant.  With just two miles of trails, Anacapa’s landscape is easy hiking and perfect for younger visitors – even parents packing a baby.  The visitor’s center provides welcome shade and picnic tables for a lunchtime break. The center also has great interpretive displays and houses the original crystal and brass Fresnel lens from the island lighthouse.  The landing cove offers great opportunities for snorkeling, swimming and kayaking – even for the younger set.  The water temperatures are warmest during the summer months, topping out at around 65°. It’s a good idea to monitor exposure to the water or come equipped with dive suits.

Kids and parents will enjoy a thrilling below-water view through Anacapa’s underwater video program. Viewed by television from the island’s landing dock at or the mainland visitor center, this unique program features an interpretive dive through one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world, the kelp forest.  Kids can talk directly to the ranger interpreter and ask questions about the watery world below.  This amazing program is available Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays in the landing cove of Anacapa Island. It is open to the public free of charge and occurs at 2:00 p.m from Memorial Day through Labor Day.  

Off-shore, California sea lions and harbor seals are frequently seen and heard barking up a storm at overlooks Cathedral Cove and Pinniped Point.  They are often seen during the Channel crossing – bobbing along and seemingly waving as you pass.  Several varieties of whales and dolphins are spotted year-round on trips to Anacapa – and with luck you may find a pod of orca or common dolphin playing in the boat’s wake.

Despite obvious signs of human habitation, Anacapa retains much of its natural rugged beauty.  Anacapa consists of three small islets, East, Middle and West, which are inaccessible from each other except by boat.  Visitation is limited to the East islet and Frenchy’s Cove on the West islet.   Most of island is primarily wilderness set aside for nesting Western gulls and the endangered California brown pelican.   In the spring, kids and adults marvel at the throng of nesting gulls. Later in the season, downy baby gulls wait quietly, or not, for doting parents to feed them.  And undulating brown pelicans soar overhead or line the cliffs overlooking the landing cove on East Anacapa. 

In general, the island has a Mediterranean climate but the weather can be most unforgiving and dense fog is common during late spring.  Calm winds and seas are more frequent at summer’s end.  Consider seasonal changes when planning a trip to Anacapa or any of the Channel Islands.

The closest of the five islands that make-up the national park, Anacapa is only a ½-mile wide, about 5 miles long, with 200-foot cliffs.  Though fairly stark in its natural state, non-native ice plant, a brilliant red, now blankets much of the island.  Originally planted to prevent erosion, the creeping, mat-forming succulent is being removed as part of an environmental rehabilitation of the island.  In the spring, forests of giant yellow coreopsis seem other-worldly.  Other wildflowers – pale pink island mallow, vivid red paintbrush, and tiny island morning glories – create an eye-catching palette of colors across the island.

It’s fitting that Anacapa is the only one of the five Channel Islands to retain its American Indian name "Eneepah,” derived from a Chumach word meaning island of deception or mirage.  I can tell you, this island is no mirage.  It’s a dream come true for kids of all ages – grown-ups too!

When traveling to Anacapa or any of the Channel Islands, remember: 

> Sunscreen, sunglasses, sunhat
> Seasickness Medicine (If you’re at all concerned or sensitive)
> Dress in layers
> Take plenty of water as there is no fresh water on the island
> Pack lunches and snacks
> Comfortable walking shoes
> Camera and binoculars
> Day-trippers can leave items at the Visitor Center but its best to travel light.
> Walk with care
> Take photos not flowers, rocks, shells, or other items found on the island…except trash.
> If you pack it in, pack it out

For families looking for the complete family escape with all the requisite amenities, the Embassy Suites Mandalay Bay Beach Resort is conveniently located near Channel Islands Harbor.  All-suite rooms offer the luxury and comforts of home:  living room, two televisions, two full baths, one king or two queen beds, and sleeper sofas, a refrigerator, microwave oven, coffee maker, and a well-lit dining table.  Translation:  Plenty of room for everyone to spread out and relax.  A deep blue swimming pool, Jacuzzis, ping pong, non-motorized bikes of all kinds to ride along the beach promenade and miles of the most pristine beach just scream “family friendly!” Tons of Family Fun Packages the entire family will enjoy!

Forget the breakfast buffets; mornings at Embassy Suites are a real food fest!  Besides an over-the-top expanded continental featuring fresh fruits and yogurts, full-cooked breakfasts include eggs, bacon, sausage, omelets, waffles, pancakes and more.  And Embassy Suites may have the happiest “hour” on the planet.  The two-hour soiree includes a variety of munchies from chips and salsa and trail mix to fresh vegetables and dip plus a full bar for parents…and kids!  The Surf Room at Mandalay Bay features kid- and adult-friendly game area with pool table, foosball, big screen TV, or you can simply relax on the patio:  The swaying palm trees and blue lagoons will keep you and the kids dreaming of Paradise.

For more information visit:  www.NPS.gov/chis  or www.IslandPackers.com


Whale-Watching California: Gray Whales Put on a Show

CAWW - Douglas Croft_Big Sur Gray Whale

Have a Whale of a Good Time by Barbara L. Steinberg

Each winter California welcomes the return of its official marine mammal, the gray whale.
The annual migration of more than 18,000 gray whales begins high in Alaskan waters.  The giants then travel southward along California's coastline en route to their breeding and birthing waters in the bays and lagoons of  Baja California.  These majestic mammals hug California's shoreline at Point Reyes National Seashore, past the Farallon Islands, travel through Half Moon Bay and Monterey Bay, then follow the coastline past Southern California before reaching Mexico.

The whales travel 70 to 80 miles per day at a rate of three to five miles per hour.  A spout of vaporized water, at times reaching 12 feet, becomes visible to watchers as the whales surface every three to five minutes to breathe.  Their 12,000-mile round-trip trek is the longest known distance any mammal migrates on an annual basis.  During the migration, the whales will travel in small groups and stay fairly close Whalewatching_on_the_Condor Courtesy of Santa Barbara Conference and Visitors Bureauto the shoreline for protection from predators, such as killer whales.  By mid-February, the migration pattern reverses as the whales lead their new-born calves back to the chilly Arctic waters of the Bering Sea in Alaska.

Gray whales—the only whale species to fully recover its pre-whaling population levels—may reach up to 50 feet in length and weigh up to 45 tons.  Named for their gray coloring, the whales have mottled gray skin due to both natural pigmentation, and whale lice barnacle colonies.  When swimming or hovering just below the surface, the whales may appear uniformly white or slate blue.  One of the gray's more distinctive traits is its lack of a dorsal fin.  Instead, a low hump is followed by a series of bumps down the back. 


The initial sighting of the gray whale is exhilarating. The blow—a  puff of steam standing up to 12 feet off the water—will appear; where there is one blow, others are sure to follow as whales tend to travel in groups of two to six. An amazing maneuver the whales perform is spyhoppingA whale may stick its head above water one or more times consecutively—it is believed that the whale is either getting its bearings or using gravity to help swallow.  The most dramatic and exciting behavior observed is breaching.  The whale will leap out of the water and fall to its side or back making a spectacular splash.  This behavior can be perceived as a form of communication to other whales in the area Ventura California Mother and Daughter enjoy Island packers Channel Islands Credit Barbara Steinberg or means of “back scratching” to release the numerous parasites from the whales' hides.


The four-month period from December through March is a celebration for aficionados of marine and coastal biology life as various festivals, cruises and events are planned in conjunction with the gray whale's yearly migratory pattern.

FOR LANDLUBBERS

Point Reyes National Seashore, home of the picturesque Point Reyes Lighthouse in Marin County, has one of the best viewing locations.  In addition, naturalist talks ,”Journey of the Whale,” are offered weekends and holidays during the season, 1:30 p.m.  The Lighthouse Visitor Center is open from 10:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m., Thursday through Monday.  The Point Reyes Lighthouse Observation Deck is a great place to watch for California gray whales as they migrate past Point Reyes Courtesy of National Park ServiceParking is very limited and weekends can be crowded.  Th winter shuttle service runs December 31 through late March or mid-April, operating on weekends and holidays, weather permitting during whale-watching season.  For details on the talks and shuttles, call the Bear Valley Visitor Center (415) 464-5100; open seven days a week. Checkout their Facebook page for updates on sightings.

Ricochet Ridge Ranch, across from MacKerricher State Park on the Mendocino Coast at Fort Bragg, offers horseback riding along the beach where riders often see gray whales and harbor seals.

Cabrillo National Monument on Point Loma in San Diego is home to a glassed-in whale-watching observatory featuring whale exhibits and a taped narration, is being renovated but should re-open soon.  The center is open daily 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. Interpretive programs are available, call for information. 

Other areas for active viewing include (counties listed from north to south):

Del Norte County:
Klamath River Overlook.  Approximately four miles off U.S. 101 on Requa Road at the top of the mountain that overlooks the mouth of the Klamath River and Pacific Ocean.

Endert’s Beach Overlook.  Approximately three  miles off U.S. 101 on Endert’s Beach Road to the parking lot and viewing area which is a redwood deck built on top of a rock.

Battery Point.  This is accessible only at low tide from the parking area at the foot of “A” Street in Crescent City.

Brother Jonathan Vista Point.  Located on Pebble Beach Drive at Ninth Street in Crescent City.  Viewing area is about 10 feet above the surface of the ocean.

Point St. George.  Located about three miles northwest of Crescent City at the west end of Washington  Boulevard.

Castle Rock, near Crescent City.  The best location for viewing this island is along Pebble Beach Drive north of the Brother Jonathan Vista Point, south of Point St. George.

Humboldt CountyDry Lagoon, Humboldt Lagoons State Park, Freshwater Lagoon,
Redwood National & State Parks near Orick, Gold Bluffs Beach in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park,
McKinleyville Vista Point off  U.S. 101, Palmer’s Point and Wedding Rock,
Patrick’s Point State Park, Trinidad, Scenic drive, south of Trinidad offers a number of spectacular vista points as well as access to beaches such as Luffenholtz Beach.

Shelter Cove
. Take the Garberville/Redway exit off U.S. 101 to the Lost Coast.


Table Bluff. South spit of Humboldt Bay Trinidad Head at Trinidad Harbor, Trinidad.

Mendocino Headlands Whale Watching Credit Barbara Steinberg Mendocino County: Laguna Point at MacKerricher State Park, Jughandle State Reserve, Mendocino Headlands, Point Cabrillo Lightstation Preserve, Russian Gulch State Park, Todd’s Point

Sonoma County: Stillwater Cove County Park and Bodega Head

Santa Cruz County:  Pigeon Point, Greyhound Rock and Davenport Coastline

Monterey County: Monterey Peninsula, Big Sur

San Luis Obispo County:  Montaña de Oro State Park, Pismo State Beach, Morro Strand State Beach, Cayucos State Beach, San Simeon State Beach, and Moonstone Beach Drive

Santa Barbara County:  Santa Barbara Coastline, Channel Islands National Park, and Shoreline Park

Los Angeles CountyCatalina Island, and Korean Friendship Bell and Point Fermin Lighthouse, San Pedro

Orange County: Dana Point

Anacapa Island Packers Credit Barbara SteinbergVentura CountyChannel Islands National Park
Island Packers - The 3‐3½ hour non‐landing narrated whale-watching trips are offered from both Ventura Harbor and Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard. Trips depart almost daily at 9:30 a.m. or 1:30 p.m. All‐day trips with landing are also available on Anacapa or Santa Cruz islands. Camping is also available on all five islands. Advance reservations are advised and can be made by calling (805) 642‐1393. 

California State Beaches also offer a number of programs and locations for viewing migrating whales.  For details on what programs are offered, contact the state park listed below or visit www.Parks.ca.gov for general information on all state parks. 

Fort Ross State Historic Park - (707) 847-3286
Garrapata State Park - (831) 624-4909
MacKerricher State Park - (707) 937-5804
Manchester State Beach - (707) 937-5804
Mendocino Headlands State Park - (707) 937-5804
Montaña de Oro State Park - (805) 528-0513
Morro Bay State Park Museum of Natural History - (805) 772-2694
Patrick's Point State Park - (707) 677-3570
Point Lobos State Natural Reserve - (831) 624-4904
Point Sal State Beach - (805) 733-3713
Point Sur State Historic Park - (831) 625-4419
Salt Point State Park - (707) 847-3221
Sonoma Coast State Beach - (707) 875-3483
Silver Strand State Beach - (619) 435-5184

California Festivals Celebrate Gray Whales

Whalefest MontereyWelcome the grays at Monterey Bay, Point Lobos and Big Sur.  Take part in this two-week celebration with whale-themed art shows, natural history exhibits, and children’s programs at dozens of cultural and natural history organizations, including the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  For more information and a schedule of events, visit.

Intertidal Festival Courtesy of Cabrilio National MonumentWhale Fiesta, San PedroSpecial speakers and presentations are included in weekend festivities at the enclosed whale-watching station at the end of Point Loma in San Diego.  Weekend date to be determined by November. 
For more information, call:  (619) 557-5450.

Oxnard’s Celebration of the Whales - Taking place at Channel Islands Harbor, the celebration will include entertainment and exhibits highlighting the offshore migration of the gray whale.  The event also includes island trips, speakers, and arts and crafts.  

Sponsore by See California
Find more whale festivals at www.SeeCalifornia.com

Dana Point’s Festival of Whales - After an opening ceremony at La Plaza Park with a two-day street faire, this spectacular event will kick-off with a grand display of tallships at the Dana Point harbor.  The Orange County Marine Institute will sponsor a “Whaling & Art of the Sailor” exhibition, and the last weekend will finish with a “wag-a-thon” plus much more.  For more information, call: (888) 440-4309 or (949) 472-7888.  

Mendocino Whale Festival.  Celebrate in the village's galleries and shops with premium wines from Mendocino's top vintners.  Other highlights include chowder tasting, marine art exhibits, music and whale-watching walks on the headlands.  For more information.

Fort Bragg Whale Festival.  Along with dozens of microbrews provided by the Fort Bragg Rotary Club, the area’s top chefs will produce their favorite chowders. A marine mammal art exhibit and crafts fair are also part of the two-day Whale Watching Courtesy of Visit Long Beachfestival. Experience the excitement of whales in motion with a boat excursion at Noyo Harbor.  For more information. 


Little River Whale Festival.
  Savor bites from the kitchens of the town's noted chefs, sips from Mendocino County
vintners, history and birding walks in Van Damme State Park, artist studio tours, fireside talks with local historians.  


Long Beach Whale Watching. Explore the Pacific Ocean and enjoy an up-close and personal experience with the world's largest mammals. Special whale-watching packages offered by the Aquarium of the Pacific. and tours and cruises by Harbor Breeze Whale-Watching Cruises, and Pieroint Landing.
 

Morro Bay Whale Watching is waiting. The Dos Osos is an open-deck pontoon boat, so dress with additional layers. A seasoned crew and interpretive staff provide background and safety instructions. Gray whales visit middle of December through May. Sightings are virtually guaranteed. Other commonly seen marine life includes blue whales, minke whales, fin whales and Pacific white-sided dolphins.


Bird Watcher Paradise -Sandhill Cranes Visit Sacramento River Delta


Day Trip to Woodbridge Ecological Reserve by Barbara L. Steinberg

Sunset at Woodbridge Ecological Reserve Credit Barbara L SteinbergSaturday was winding down. A perfect December day in the Sacramento Valley and along the Sacramento River Delta (or California Delta depending who you ask). Dry weather brings balmy days and very cold nights. It also means clear skies and stunning sunsets for birders who venture to the Woodbridge Ecological Reserve/Phil & Marilyn Eisenberg Sandhill Crane Reserve during the winter bird migration. A major stop along the Pacific Flyway, it's especially popular with the B-52s of birds, the sandhill cranes. Their annual visitation attracts birdwatching enthusiasts from around the region and world. And reason to celebrate the 20th annual Sandhill Crane Festival in nearby Lodi, California. 

Thousands of sandhill cranes along with similar numbers of geese, swans, Sandhill cranes 2 Woodbridge Ecological Reserve Credit Barbara L Steinberg
ducks, and various shorebirds spend fall and winter months in flooded farm fields along Woodbridge Road off Interstate 5. Each day at sundown -- yes, you can set your clock -- the spectacle begins. And then there are those rare days where sunsets are matched by a full-moon rise. The sounds and sights are breathtaking. In the fading light, the cranes appear ghostly in the shallow water. They will spend the night feeding, resting and courting. Their frenzied dance -- jumping and wings spread -- is part of the display.


Self-guided visitations occur daily. The reserve, property of the California Department of Fish & Wildlife, also has docent-led tours.These tours fill-up fast, so book ahead.

But whatever you do, don't miss this annual event -- migration and festival. I've been many times -- the wow factor is always the same. This video from 2011 tells the whole story. If you're really dedicated, morning visits can net you some spectacular views. Thank you to James D. Simon for this incredible YouTube video

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Morro Bay Nature Sublime

 Morro Bay is a Sensory Wonderland By Barbara L. Steinberg

Inhale. Watch the sun set behind Morro Rock, bark at sea lions, call to a night heron, and walk in silence Morro Bay 2012 Credit Barbara L Steinberg5beside a forest of pygmy oaks.  At every turn, open spaces and environmentally sensitive biomes of extraordinary splendor await.  Miles and miles of nature preserves, state parks, state beaches, and magical places with names like The Elfin Forest elevate Morro Bay’s allure.  From a waterfront perch at the Inn at Morro Bay, only one question emerges, “What next?” Mother Nature worked overtime to create this canvas.  It deserves all your attention.

Head for Montaña de Oro State Park toward shoreline and estuary views.  In just a few miles, the road narrows; the “real” world drops away. Some days are sunny. Today, fog drapes the hillsides but without diminishing the heightened anticipation to reach Sandspit Beach – a four-mile “ecologically diverse” sand dune area separating Morro Bay from the Pacific Ocean.

Montana de Oro State Park Lupine Credit Barbara L SteinbergOne vehicle in the parking lot alludes to a park ranger, nowhere to be seen.  Out of your own four-wheeler, the world is quiet.  You zigzag along with the boardwalk, along sensitive dunes dotted with sand verbena and lupine.  A slight rise in the dune and – suddenly – stillness to crashing waves!  A view that thrills you to the bone.

Breathe. One seriously long, deep breath of the fog, the mist, the ocean air.

See. Open your eyes, wide! Really, really wide to an abundance of sand, shore birds, ocean debris, wildflowers, pounding surf. Incredibly, you are the sole inhabitant on this expanse of beach inside Montaña de Oro State Park.  Imagine the coastal Chumash who once called this home.

Montana de Oro State Park 2012 Credit Barbara L. Steinberg12Step. Follow the footprints – some four-footed – the comings and goings of previous visitors. The tide rushes up and laps at your feet, washing away remnants of your passing and those before you.

Gaze. Scan for signs of life. A troop of curlews hurries in and out of the surf chasing an elusive breakfast.  A band of brown pelicans rises and falls with the light as if on some unseen carnival ride. Bashful snowy plovers sneak – left, right, left right – over dunes to  protected nesting ground.  A gang of turkey vultures nibble on the carcass of a dolphin, its mouth agape in a petrified smile. Heartbreaking, but it is the nature of things and now part of this memory.

Sun and fog debate which will prevail over today’s weather. Fog appears to be winning.  Though a distance away, you linger in hopes that Morro Rock will reappear through the mist. Not to be on this adventure. After a mile on the spit, it’s time to turn back.

A ghostly surfer slips the top of a wave, a solitary figure, as you depart. Exhale.


Solano Land Trust hike “Where the Wild Things Are" - Free!

Praying Mantis at the King-Swett Ranches_By Al Mendle
Get a great workout and search for wildlife on this hike through the hills between Fairfield, Benicia and Vallejo. Solano Land Trust docents will guide you on an up to six-mile hike through this area, known as the King-Swett Ranches. Explore these lands that are both natural areas and working cattle ranches, learn about the plants and animals that call these lands home, and see sweeping views of Solano County and beyond.  Participants will get a great workout while looking for birds and other wildlife that call this area home. Residents and visitors are encouraged to take advantage of this special opportunity if they can because these ranches in the hills between are otherwise closed.

When: Saturday, September 3, 2016 
Time: 9am-1pm
Where: King-Swett Ranches
What to bring: Hiking boots or trail running shoes with good grip, water, and snacks.
Register: Space is limited and pre-registration is recommended at conta.cc/2bKB7F3. Important details, including the meeting location, directions and registration information are available at the registration link above, and on the events calendar at solanolandtrust.org

Solano Land Trust protects land to ensure a healthy environment, keep ranching and farming families on their properties, and inspire a love of the land. For more information about Solano Land Trust, its upcoming events and to make a donation, visit solanolandtrust.org.

For more information on wildlife and nature tourism locations, visit California Watchable Wildlife.


Wild Rivers Coast: There’s a reason why on the Smith and Klamath rivers

The sun was barely breaking through when fog began rolling in across the mouth of the Smith River. Where river and ocean unite feels holy. Harbor seals – almost ghostly – gaze out across the shallow. A community of cormorants Zen(ly) attempt drying their wings. Brown pelicans and gulls share the sandspit. A lone angler casts again and again. He confides it’s been rumored salmon are Mouth of the Klamath at Requa Calfiorniarunning better on the Rogue and Klamath rivers. Still, he’s content. I watch with quiet respect and retreat once my camera is
satiated.

Some 30 miles away, we stroll a considerable spit separating the Klamath River from the Pacific Ocean. One more peaceful world, the lone inhabitants walking or sitting quietly we reverently contemplate this sacred space. The tide is returning and waves crash to the shore. A swift undertow – the cold water just licks my naked feet as I scramble away.  The Klamath has journeyed far – 263 miles from Southern Oregon – to wed itself to the churning ocean.

These are the reasons why along the Wild Rivers Coast.

 

WILD RIVERS COAST CMYK no America


Yuba and Sutter counties define food, festivals, fun

Yuba Sutter Pumpkin FarmPlan your taste of Yuba-Sutter during autumn when harvests and seasonal festivals are abundant. 
Highways and country roads link Yuba and Sutter counties to history-rich communities. A short drive from Sacramento, Gold Rush-era towns and multi-generational farmlands overlap in a most delicious way.  From the Central Valley -- California’s agricultural heartland – to Sierra Nevada foothills, Yuba and Sutter’s proverbial plate overflows with both farm-to-fork and cultural and outdoor recreation delights!

Stop by Visit Yuba-Sutter’s visitor center for regional maps and brochures including the North Yuba Grown farm trail map, a guiding light to farm stands, wineries, and locavore shops north of Marysville. Soil, Cordi Winery Live Oak 2015 Credit Barbara L Steinberg4topography and climate inspire hand-crafted wines from Renaissance, Lucero and Clos Saron – Cabernet, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – and olive oils from Apollo and Athena’s Grove do the region proud. A feast for your senses, explore local art and seasonal fare at Yuba Harvest.  The crème de la crèmeof tasty must-dos, the North Yuba Harvest Festival features more than 50 vendors.

Along Highway 99 in Sutter County, the striped awning above Stephen’s Farmhouse beckons. Farm-fresh pies and cookies, jellies and jams, pickled veggies of all kinds, and seasonal produce and walnuts will tempt the most discerning palate. Your favorite pooch will love the homemade Snicker Poodles.

Find the “Great Pumpkin” of your dreams at Bishop’s Pumpkin Farm in Wheatland. Old-fashioned hayrides and u-pick pumpkins, a historic carousel and fresh-baked cookies are just the beginning. Nearby, Salle Orchards offers more tastes of Yuba-Sutter year-round. Autumn means persimmons, pomegranates, pumpkins and 27 varieties of apples. 

Sutter Buttes HikeDrive, hike or bike the Sutter Buttes, the world’s smallest mountain range. Ancient volcanic soils and cool breezes breathe life into Cordi Winery’s grapes and award-winning wines.  Bring a picnic and enjoy the view. Continue on scenic back roads to Sutter and the Sutter Buttes Natural & Artisan Foods. Bring an appetite for olive oils, infused vinegars, gourmet mustards, and dipping sauces. Among many award-winning products, their Blood-Orange Brownie Kit brought home Sofi gold at the 2015 New York Fancy Food Show. You can bring it home, too! In late November, look for Moody’s Middle Mountain Mandarins self-serve farm stand.

Lose yourself at the Sikh Festival, possibly the largest cultural event in California. The first Sunday in November, it’s a cacophony of color and aromas. Each November, harvested rice fields attract migrating Swan Festival  Credit David Rosenwildlife. Along with thousands of tundra swans, nature enthusiasts arrive to celebrate at the annual California Swan Festival. Guided tours include Gray Lodge Wildlife Refuge and Sutter Buttes.  An unparalleled experience, the Buttes’ privately owned lands are accessible only through Middle Mountain Interpretive Hikes. 

Birding and hiking is a hungry business. Yelp reviewers love AJ’s Sandwiches, an easy stroll from Swan Festival H.Q.  Chow down on Farmers Hand BlackBerries Yuba Suttergourmet burgers and specialty sandwiches with a side of pesto frips!  Where, oh where to taste more? In Yuba City and Marysville, The Cookie Tree and The Candy Box are sweets central.  GPS yourself to New Earth Market, Oregon House Grocery & Deli, and The Crave. Among scrumptious treats you’ll find J▪Heier Farms blackberry jams, Sunsweet prunes, North Yuba Bread, and POM pomegranate to satiate locavore retail therapy. Breakfast, lunch and dinner, Dancing Tomato Caffé’s daily mantra is farm-to-table.

With so many tasty options, make Yuba-Sutter a play and stay getaway. Many tasting rooms, country stores, and farms are Yuba Sutter Logo seasonal or open weekends only. Always call ahead for days and hours of operation.

 

   

 

 





 
 



 


West Coast Falconry wildlife adventure is 5 stars and more

West Coat Falconry Yuba County Credit Chris Wetbay 20152What can I say that hasn't already been said about West Coast Falconry? This is one-of-a-kind! Once-in-a-lifetime! A California first! You'll want to go do it again and again! Okay, that negates the once-in-a-lifetime! The experience is a cross between wildlife education and raptor comedy routine. The falconers, Kate Marden and Jana Barkly, are a finely tuned performance -- and lets not forget the important component an impressive star cast of hawks, falcons, owls, and (yes) even a yellow headed vulture named Zopi. The falconers and the birds were really mugging for the participants and we were loving them back. You won't be bored -- time flies and pardon the pun.

West Coast Falconry Harris Hawk Mariposa Credit Chris Westbay 20152Experience the love, trust, and bond of falconer and raptor. The relationship is clear. A variety of experiences, apprentice programs, raptor camps, special events and more. We got up-close and personal with a Harris Hawk, Barn Owl, Eurasian Eagle owl, and the sweetest Spectacled Owl named Owlsley. 

Situated about 60 miles from downtown Sacramento in the picturesque Gold Country foothills above the Central Valley, the drive up and down Springs Valley Road -- into the wilds Springs Valley Road leads to West Coast Falconry Credit Are You That Womanof Yuba County -- is just a  bonus.  Views are lovely. An adventure worth seeking.


1 West Coast Falocnry Owlsley 2015 Credit Barbraa L SteinbergAt the West Coast falconry center you too can have a unique interaction with these birds of prey and have them land on your gloved hand. These magnificent creatures serve a vital role controlling pest populations – rodents and other invasive bird species. For agriculture they provide pest abatement at local farms and, yes, could act as a ring bearer at you upcoming nuptials.

Pretty wild!