The California State Bird on the Montini Trail

The California Quail is the State Bird, and can often be sighted in natural areas of much of the state. In the Overlook and Montini properties, the largest brood can be found right along Fourth Street, at the entrance to the Montini property, in the blackberry bushes along the fence. That is where I grabbed this picture the other day. You can frequently see a rather large flock flittering around that spot. For whatever reason, they seem to be sighted more rarely in the heart of the Overlook and Montini properties. Perhaps their location close-in to civilization protects them from predators. But since they prefer dense shrubbery for cover, it’s hard to find anything denser in the area than those blackberry bushes.

In any case, I always enjoy seeing them, as they are so cute and colorful. Their top-knot is, frankly, hilarious and yet somehow suitable. If you want to try to figure out the gender, males tend to have longer topknots than females. The males are always trying to impress with length. Go figure.

To identify them by their calls, you may want to check out their variety of vocalizations.

They seem to share with wild turkeys the propensity to walk unless forced to fly. I find that endearing for some reason.

Keep your eyes peeled for the quail, particularly when you enter the trail system at the Fourth Street trailhead. I’m fairly certain you will spot them.

 

 

 

Walk Sonoma History Through Sonoma Mountain Cemetery

DIA DE LOS MUERTOS—DAY OF THE DEAD

WALK SONOMA HISTORY THROUGH SONOMA MOUNTAIN CEMETERY 

Saturday November 4

Two Opportunities: 9:30 am OR 1:00 pm

The Sonoma Overlook Trail Stewards invite you to take a lively, informative walk through our historic cemetery with amateur historian Fred Allebach.

Meet cowboys and Indians, ranchers and real estate tycoons, farmers and farriers, carpenters and stone masons, quarrymen, grocers, butchers, bakers, maybe a candlestick maker, and many more!

This fundraising event is limited to 20 participants. Your $35 donation includes the walking tour and small bites. . . complete with googly eyes.

All proceeds go to the Sonoma Overlook Trail Maintenance and Education programs. The Trail is solely supported by private donations. To reserve your spot, email Hope Nisson hopedn@sbcglobal.net. Indicate time preference.

We’re Done for the Season

Anyone who has been reading this blog knows that we have been fighting a multi-year fight against invasive weeds. One of them that is both prevalent and absolutely ready to take over every meadow it encounters is the Yellow Star Thistle (YST). We have been working to eradicate it from the Overlook (for at least the last five years) and the Montini (for at least the last three) properties.

As of today, I can report that this year’s campaign is over, and we have triumphed. Last year we found three additional areas that we had not previously been pulling. This year we found an additional one. We cleared them all.

But better than that, we saw this year that areas we had been pulling for several years were now either clear or nearly so. So each year it gets easier and easier to fight it. It has now been reduced so far that basically one person working from May thru July can control it. And subsequent years will be even easier.

I don’t mean to denigrate the threat. Even the new meadow that was discovered this year on the Overlook property meant an additional 8 1/2 bags (see photo, which isn’t all of it) of YST was dragged off the property. But we are seriously seeing progress, and that is worth noting.

But we are also expanding our scope. This year we started tackling the Italian Thistle, which in this wet year had become rampant along the trail. We focused on the trail, and largely removed it, but it also exists in a lot of places off-trail. It remains a challenge. On the Montini property it is so prevalent that it seems unassailable. This is depressing, especially when you know that it will only get worse.

But if you feel inspired by this post, let me know. You won’t be called upon until next May. I have large contractor’s debris bags to hold the spiny plants, and can give advice on how to pull them without serious danger. The only other thing you might need is a glove. And we can make it a group outing that might even have food and/or drink involved.

But be forewarned — if you start on this path, it can easily lead to an obsession. I know this for a fact.

We’re Winning!

endofseasonFor the last five years we have been trying to eradicate the Yellow Star Thistle (YST) from the Sonoma Overlook Trail. For the the last three years we’ve also been trying to do the same for the Montini Preserve. Today I ranged all over the SOT upper meadows and emerged with about half a bag of YST. This is a great improvement, and demonstrates that our campaign is making a difference. There is now so little on the Overlook that searching for it may almost be a waste of time, so now I will switch to the Montini, which is likely to still have serious infestations of YST.

This year we also started tackling the purple thistle, which has overrun the Montini but hasn’t yet done so on the Overlook. We focused on getting it off the sides of the trail, as that is a primary way that it spreads. Next year we will begin earlier in the year fighting the purple (YST comes on later in Spring than the purple).

If you want to help out, let me know. I have contractor bags and the only other things you need are a glove and persistence.

Signs of Spring

Spring is definitely in full swing. Wildflowers such as lupine and California poppies are in profusion, as are the butterflies that frequent the also prevalent Blue dicks (like the Swallowtail pictured).

The trail is mostly no longer muddy (until the next rain, at least), so now is a great time to get out and enjoy the warmth and the wildlife. Just keep your eyes peeled for rattlesnakes, as they have already been sighted on the trail. Other wildlife to look for include squirrels, deer, lizards, and wide variety of birds, from Red-Tailed Hawks to Red-Shafted Flickers to Great Horned Owls (all of which have been sighted from the trails).

Another sign of spring is, well, a sign. We just replaced the sign at the top of the trail that describes a little of the history of the area and names some of the surrounding sights viewable from the upper meadow. On the Overlook Trail, costs such as these are borne by the volunteer Stewards of the Overlook Trail group, which
collaborates with the Sonoma Ecology Center that serves as our fiscal agent. But anything that costs money to maintain or upgrade the trail and property requires us to raise money through events, donations, etc. If you feel so moved, please click on our “Donate Now!” link in the righthand column. Or, come to our next event at the Sonoma Raceway.

In any case, enjoy all of the sights of spring and stay safe out there!

Nowhere To Go But the Sea

Yesterday morning I was hiking in the rain and I was surprised to see how much water was already running off the trail  (see picture). This is because we had had several days of dry weather and the rain wasn’t all that heavy. But I soon realized it was because the ground is already super-saturated. We’ve had so much rain this season that the ground simply can’t hold any more. Everything that falls runs off.

Even our reservoirs are near full, or even over full — Lake Sonoma, our largest local water supply, is at 101% of its water supply pool. Meanwhile, other reservoirs that are expected to receive the runoff from a record snowpack are near full (e.g., Shasta, Oroville, Don Pedro). Reservoirs have long been viewed as our way to build ourselves out of a drought, but by now clearly that has been proven to be a lie. Any stream worth noting in California has been damned at least once, with many of them sporting several dams. Dams will not solve our water issues. The Colorado River has a number of dams in its watershed, and only in the most amazing rainfall years can it come close to filling them. There has even been a call recently to fill Lake Mead first to cut down on the inevitable water loss from evaporation by trying to keep two reservoirs partly full. And there was even a time when not just one, but two additional dams were planned to be built in Grand Canyon National Park. The Grand Canyon. I mean, seriously. We need other solutions. Specifically, more intelligent use of the water we have.

Meanwhile, we have destroyed more amazing river canyons that I can even adequately describe. Glen Canyon, the cathedral in the desert. Hetch Hetchy,  the second Yosemite Valley. The Stanislaus River Canyon, the single best whitewater river run in California. All tragedies individually, but when seen together it is beyond justification or even comprehension. We have become morally bankrupt in terms of water in the West.

We need to stop growing water-hungry crops in a desert. The southern part of the Central Valley of California is clearly a desert. The Northern part of the Central Valley is only slightly off the desert designation. The crops that use the most water are (in order from most to least): alfalfa, almonds and pistachios, pasture, and rice. Two of the top five water-hungry crops are for cattle — alfalfa and pasture.

Although we are exhorted to save water, the vast majority of California’s water is used by agriculture, which means the real gains in conservation are likely to be realized there. But it’s unclear that our farms are making the changes that are needed. Part of this is clearly seated in our arcane water rights system, which basically means that those with early water rights can do whatever they want. This is a recipe for disaster, but it’s considered the “third rail” in California politics. It’s completely untouchable. And so we must find another way.

One way is completely in our hands.We can adjust our diets. This means cutting back on both dairy and beef. Doing this could go a long way to both reducing our water use as well as improving our health. We can advocate for change at the state level about how water is allocated and used. We probably already conserve, if you are like me, but perhaps there is more we can do.

Water has been important in my life. I became a commercial whitewater river guide on my 21st birthday. Not long thereafter I became the boyfriend to my eventual wife on a Green River trip. I proposed to her on a Grand Canyon river trip. We couldn’t get married on a river because, well…family. But you get the drift. A river runs through it.

So you could say that I have an affinity for water. After learning to river guide, I couldn’t look at the smallest riffle without figuring out how I would run it in the tiniest of river rafts. Those days are mostly past, but occasionally I slip back into that mindset.

As a river guide, I know the singular and imperative nature of water — to always and forever seek level. Usually this means to flow downwards toward the place where there is nowhere left to go. For most streams, this ends up being the sea.

As the water that falls today, or tomorrow, or the next day, flows inexorably to the sea, we need to figure this out better than we have in the past. We can’t dam our way out of our predicament. We need to to think more carefully about our options and the consequences of what we truly and forever give up in pursuit of aims that only benefit a few.

In the end, water can only run to the sea. Here in the West we need to find a way where water only runs to justice. May we do this, and soon.

Water Water Everywhere

Seasonal rogue runoff crossing the Rattlesnake Cutoff trail.

Whether it is related to global warming or not, California seems to go from one extreme to another. Years of punishing drought have given way to one of the wettest winters we’ve seen in a long time. The drought is officially over for northern California, but in so doing it is making amphibians of us all. The average annual rainfall for Sonoma is 31.49 inches. As of today we are at 37.71 inches with more on the way.

The trails take a beating from this much wet. Water often courses down sections of trail, eroding soil needed to make a smooth trail. Puddles create mud that hikers walk through which can also tear up the trail. This year on the Rattlesnake Cutoff trail on the Montini Preserve a new seasonal runoff channel has cut directly across the trail with pools beside it (see picture). Clearly we will need to address this next summer.

Having said all that, we needed to have a year that well and truly broke our multi-year drought, and we certainly got it. It would just be nice if it didn’t also mean mudslides, road closures, and un-hikable sections of trail.