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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Bear Valley Road: Colusa Wildflower update 2013

It's late March 2013 and if you're planning on going to Bear Valley Road in Colusa County to look for meadows of California Poppies my advice is to wait several weeks. Just like last year we were there too early. Which isn't to say there were no poppies, just very few. And none were in the meadows.

If you go looking for Bear Valley Road here are three signs you've almost arrived: The signs to Granzella's restaurant and shop, Exit 578 Clear Lake Colusa off ramp, and you'll see the Sutter Butte mountain range to the east of Interstate 5.

Once you arrive at Bear Valley Road after heading west on HWY 20, you travel down a dirt road for several miles before reaching the meadows that fill with wildflower blossoms. The sign I mentioned in last year's post has fallen down so don't look for it anymore.

Current status of wildflower meadows as of 3/24/13

Sadly, this is what we saw this year, just a lot of grass. Last year there were no poppies but in this same meadow there were lots of bird's-eye gilia, pale yellow cream cups and deep yellow tidy tips.

There was a nice variety of flowers growing alongside the road. So if you want to take individual flower portraits it would be worth the drive.

Row 1: Lupine, Red Maids, and Tidy Tips
Row 2: Tidy Tips and California Poppy
Row 3. Milk Vetch, Lomatium, and Indian Paint Brush

If there are no flowers there are always nice landscapes to be had using the trees, sky, and grassy hillsides.

And this year we saw a lot of free roaming cattle right alongside and even in the road.

We spotted a flock of Long Billed Curlew foraging in a field before they all took off in unison.

And funny how even though I had no clue what this bird was it's gorgeous song made me wonder if it was a Meadow Lark. And it was. It sat there serenading us for several minutes until we drove away. The first few we saw on fence posts took off as soon as we stopped the car so it was great to find one who was more social than the rest.

Unlike last year when we saw many, we spotted just a couple of Burrowing Owls.

And across a pasture and creek I saw ducks that didn't look like ducks. Turns out they were Common Mergansers. The male is to the right with the white wings and dark head and the two birds with brown spiky head feathers are females. They look so different, and the females are so ornate, I thought they were two different species.

And lat but not least I spotted several Wester Pond Turtles sunning themselves on a small dirt outcropping.

So, not a lot of flowers but there was still plenty to see. The trick is you have to drive slowly, and bring someone with you to act as a look out. You really have to look hard to spot animals like the turtles, curlew, and owls because they're well camouflaged. Oh, and don't get out of the car if you're trying to photograph birds. They'll fly away every time as soon as you do so we shoot them through the open windows of the car.

Later that day we headed down HWY 20 (eastbound) and stopped off at the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge. We photographed more birds, wildlife, and a stunning sunset.

To reach the meadows you'll take Interstate-5 to CA-20 BUS West which meets up with HWY 20 which you'll stay on for approximately 18 miles. At Bear Valley Road you'll turn north (right) and travel approximately 14 miles on a dirt to semi-paved road to reach the fields of flowers. Be aware that after heavy rains the dirt road can wash out so waiting for calm weather may be advisable.

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