Sunday, January 18, 2015

Field trip to Yolo ByPass Wildlife Refuge

Saturday, Jan 17, we hosted a Diablo Valley Camera Club field trip to the Yolo ByPass Wildlife Refuge.  Well, sort of.

A member alerted me to the fact the refuge had been closed before Christmas due to an extreme high tide which flooded the road.   But I called the refuge and was assured that the refuge had reopened and only one small area was still closed.

We arrived, all 13 of us to find the following sign and cones across the main road.    So, someone said there was another entrance.  We drove to that and discovered it was an authorized entry only area.     And while we could have walked it, a bunch of people walking scares off the birds.  Cars don't have the same effect.

So, someone suggested we head to Grizzly Island Refuge.  Great idea, and it was closer to our return home than going to the Sacramento Refuge, although one member opted to do that.
In fog of varying intensities, we headed to Grizzly Island which fronts on the upper reaches of San Francisco Bay at Suisun Bay.   We arrived to find that it was totally closed to the public, except for an area open to hunters with permit.  Two members did try going into that area and were promptly thrown out.    (interestingly, at Yolo Bypass, one couple opted to try the road which directed folks to the hunter check in site.....and they found lots of birds, and as long as they didn't go past the checkpoint, it was okay to be there....but it sure wasn't clear from the signage).

The drive to Grizzly Island  refuge passes some great tidal areas,  the fog created some nice effects and we had fun.  By this point the group had scattered, but five of us ended up at Rush Ranch, a conservancy area which is both a working ranch and which is open to the public.  It is used a lot of school groups.  John Muir's great grandson trains horses and give carriage rides designed for the disabled at the ranch.   He was away that weekend at a national event, but trains horses to pull wagons, carriages etc. as part of a program for the disabled.  Mr. Muir developed multiple sclerosis as a teen,but loved horses and continued to ride until riding became difficult.  Then he developed his skills as a carriage driver.  He trains the horses and gives rides to visitors at the ranch about once a month.   

It is  embarrassing to lead a field trip to a place that isn't open.  But we had a good time and people did get some good photos.

Here are just a few of my photos from the day
Low winter fogs are common in the two areas, as well as most of the California Central Valley in winter

One of the carriage horses raised by Michael Muir.   There were several with this interesting black white spotted horses, some more white with black spots and some black with white spots like this one.

Inside the blacksmith shop on the ranch

This was the best shot I could get of the new colt, which we learned was only a day old.  Outside there were double fences and the colt's head always seemed to be behind one of the wooden fence slats.  The mother has the interesting black and white coloration of several of the horses there while the colt does not.

Rolling hills on the way home

Activities on my lot

I noticed one of the blocks below my shed was beginning to tilt.  I asked the maintenance crew to take a look.  In short order it was decided the old retaining wall needed replacing.   In this co-op, the responsibility for this work lies with the park, not the individual.  And so the work is all being done for me, at no cost, by volunteers  But then each of us in the park is expected to volunteer to help in its operations. I just don't have the skills for some of the maintenance and this crew knew what they were doing.

I am still figuring out where my skills best fit.  But so far I have helped with the weekly cleaning of the club house, serving ice cream at the weekly ice cream social (not that that seems like much of a contribution), washing dishes after a potluck, and I have offered to be on the evening gate duty as a relief for others.   Someone needs to open the gate at night, after the office is closed, for emergency vehicles, for late arrivals, or guests of park residents.  As part of that, I am aiming my walks around different sections of the park so I learn my way around.  I've also joined the writer's group and a couple things have been said about helping with the park monthly newsletter.   We will see what transpires.

All of this happens only when I am there.  And that is how the park operates.  The majority of lot holders there are only there part of the year.  People come and go regularly and some, like me, will be there less than they are away.

Removing the old railroad ties

Ron Jones (known in the park as RJ) operates the backhoe.   This isn't the first time he has helped me out.  Years ago, he and Val surprised me early one morning in the RV area at the Oceanside.   It is mentioned in an earlier blog.  He fixed my motorhome stops.   More recently he helped me fix realign the small wheels that guide my bed up and down from the ceiling.  

The volunteer crew begins laying the blocks for the new retaining wall below my shed.

I've planted California Poppy seeds along my lot.  They have come up in profusion.  If conditions are right, I should have quite a show.   I will wait to do the necessary weed whacking (fire abatement) until after they bloom.   Fire danger is a major issue. Summers are hot, dry and the native vegetation is a mix of oak, grasses and some pines.   This is not far from major fires in and around Oakhurst last summer.

The New Year

After many years of spending winter in the deserts of Arizona, southeastern California, New Mexico and a bit in Texas, I am spending this winter in the foothills of California at the co-op lot in Coarsegold.    The top photo is sunset a few miles west of my location.  

I had two great Christmas celebrations with Chris' family.  On Christmas Day we were in the Bay Area at his daughter's home.   Then two days later, the entire family gathered at his sister's house in Porterville (south end of the California central valley,at the beginning of the foothills).   It was great to be around a whole lots of young kids, cousins and second cousins, who had great fun with each other and with the adults.  

Chris spent New Years' weekend with me in Coarsegold.  We drove to Yosemite for New Year's day.  It is an easy drive from Coarsegold.  This time of year we should have had snow.  Unfortunately this winter, except for a bit of rain and snow in mid-December, is acting like another drought year.  So, while there were a few small patches of snow  left along the sides of the road as we drove in, the valley was without any.  But it was cold and the Merced River was mostly frozen on the surface and Bridal Veil and Yosemite Falls were more icicles than free flowing water.
Frozen Bridal Veil Falls

Ice in the Merced River

Ice in the river.  The gold is the reflection of El Capitan

El Capitan reflection and ice

Coarsegold is also close to the great California central valley and in winter this is a major birding area.   Merced Wildlife Refuge is a great spot to go shooting (with camera).  At one time, much of the valley was marshland in the winter.  As agriculture developed here and cities sprouted, there was less and less,.  but some areas have been restored to  create  riparian habitat for wintering and year round birds.  As part of the Pacific Flyway, it is important habitat for geese, ducks, cranes and others.

Morning steam

Great Egrets are year round residents.  This Egret was hunting.   And it caught a field mouse.