The wild world is waking up after a drowsy summer.
|Yosemite Valley (mid-November of last year)|
In central California, the changing of the seasons is not as vividly dramatic as New England postcards, but it can be just as markedly beautiful if you know where to look. Fall is an excellent season to see wildlife, as many species are on the move. Shorebirds and songbirds migrate, Sandhill Cranes and other northern breeding birds return to the valley from the Arctic; monarch butterflies migrate to their overwintering grounds on the coast; salmon make their way from the Pacific all the way up valley rivers to spawn. Fall offers the last good opportunity to see Humpback and Blue whales off the coast before they begin their southern migration, and is the time to see (and hear) Tule Elk during their rut season. And of course, the star of the autumn woods will always be fall foliage!
Below is a list of some of my favorite fall goings-on in central California.
|Cedar Waxwings arrive in the Central Valley every autumn|
* Shorebird and seabird migration along the coast. September is peak season, and Monterey Bay is a great location for birding (I love Point Pinos and Moss Landing).
* Songbird migration in the Central Valley. During the fall, the diversity of songbirds in the valley is at its highest. Try riparian areas and wetlands (wildlife refuges) in the valley as well as near the coast.
* Sandhill Cranes return to the Central Valley! These impressive birds return in September, but their numbers will peak near the end of November. Look for them in valley wetlands (especially Merced National Wildlife Refuge).
* Monarch migration. These well-known butterflies are migrating across the Central Valley now, so you may spot one at any time. But the best chance to see monarchs en masse is at their overwintering sites along the coast, most notably in Pacific Grove and Santa Cruz, between November and February.
* Tule elk rut. If you're not even sure what that means, it's time for a trip! Visit the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge or Point Reyes National Seashore to experience the bugling of bull elk.
* Salmon run. The fall run of Chinook Salmon takes place each year as these special creatures make their journey from the sea to freshwater spawning grounds in rivers across the Central Valley. November seems to be the peak of the salmon run, and the bridge over the Stanislaus River in Knight's Ferry is a great place to watch.
|Pinecrest Lake (October)|
The star of the fall foliage show across the western United States is the Aspen. But other deciduous trees put on quite the display as well. Look for Big Leaf Maple, Black Oak, Mountain Dogwood, Black Cottonwood, willows and even golden ferns! Also of note, Poison Oak, a beautiful keystone species in our woodlands, develops lovely red fall color (just don't touch it!).
* Eastern Sierra: Mono and Inyo counties are well-known for their splendid show of Aspens, which generally reach peak color in mid-to-late October.
* Western Sierra: Lassen, Plumas and Tahoe National Forests put on a display of mellow fall color in October and even into November. More southerly national forests are worth investigating as well, like El Dorado, Stanislaus and Sierra National Forests. In my experience, fall color in Yosemite Valley seems to peak during the first two or three weeks of November.
* North Coast: Not to be left out, Big Leaf Maples and other trees color the north coast forests of California as well.
In California's forests, expect pockets of color rather than sweeping New England hillsides of fiery red maples. Often, hidden gems of color are found along rivers and streams. Weather plays a big role in intensity and timing of fall colors, so no two years are quite the same. But the fall color show lasts quite a while in California, slowly progressing from high elevations to low over the season.
|Black Oaks turn yellow and reddish-bronze in the fall|
Even though summer is over, the outdoors are as enticing as ever! Hiking, camping, wildlife viewing - it only gets better as the season progresses. Don't let changing seasons keep you indoors; mild fall temperatures are ideal for exploring the wonderful world of nature! Head out to explore today!