My Montana

My Montana
My Montana

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Big Doings Going On

Today was an exciting day.  After spending the last few days scrubbing up the office, putting Liquid Gold on all the woodwork and cabinets, washing and detailing a van, cleaning the kiosk, and hauling home the food for the party, I got to go to the grand opening of the new viewing platform at Sacramento NWR. I even got to help set up.

Only a few months ago, an audit found the old platform unsafe.  This is the main destination of 60,000 visitors so the refuge was very upset.  They tore it down and started working on getting a new one. The region found the money and they had the new platform designed and built it in less than three months. Pretty awesome for a government job.

I  enjoyed the beautiful day, met new people, and admired another Marilyn- the lady who won the national award for running the best junior duck stamp program in the country.Wish I could have gotten to work with her.  She is passionate about what she does and has a lovely personality.

It has been a hectic two and a half days, getting everything ready but it was a beautiful event surrounded by ducks and geese under a bright sun.

The New Deck - Part of this event was its grand opening

Denise was the event planner. I enjoyed working with her the last few days . Dan is the Project Manager.

The food and part of the displays.  It was all delicious.

Plenty of birds were in view
Even the Blue Goose, the national refuge mascot, made an appearance. Marilyn, the guest of honor is on the left.
Enjoying the birds

Dan Frisk, the Project Manager, telling how the deck got built.

Ribbon Cutting

Marilyn and the bowl honoring her. 

And it was really yummy. Chocolate and white and raspberry inside.

The event ended only a few minutes before sunset. So most of the people stayed to watch the flyout. I was going to skip it but keep stopping to watch a little of it.  Finally I got behind a car who was shooting pictures and I didn't want to move between him and the birds so enjoyed several minutes of watching the sky full of geese and ducks against a red sky.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Meet the Sutter Buttes

One of the first landscape formations to intrigue me  was what appeared to be a group of tiny mountains. Although they didn't look too far away, they seemed very small.  On a map, they look like a place where a giant, whose hands were covered in a sticky dough, touched the earth with his finger, and left a raised fingerprint. The Sutter Buttes are a series of hills roughly forming a circle only about 10 miles in diameter. From a distance, they just appear as a little strip of mountains. Mostly I've just seen their outlines against the sky when looking west or southwest. 

This Google image shows most of the Sutter Buttes- the gray with the green in the middle

The Sutter Buttes were formed by a volcano about 1.6 million years ago in the early Pleistocene era. But this volcano seems to be on it's own fault line, which is no longer active, because it doesn't exactly match the characteristics of either the volcanoes in the Cascades or the California Coast Ranges.

To view an excellent photographic discussion of the geology of the Buttes, click here.  The US Geological Service also has an interesting brochure on the geology of the Buttes.

The Buttes seem to me to be a special place of mystery and spirituality.  At least two tribes of native peoples,  the  Maidu and Wintun,  thought of them that way also and considered them sacred.The Maidu called them Middle Mountain. There were no permanent villages in the Buttes, but the Indians gathered acorns and hunted there.

Today there is a foundation called Middle Mountain Foundation Land Trust that has the goal of preserving the ecology of the area within and around the Sutter Buttes. It also leads public hikes.  I'm hoping to finesses a hike with them, even though I'm supposed to work on the weekends and that is when the hikes happen.

As the Buttes were formed, the land around them sank.  So, on both the east and west sides, there are sinks that have formed wetlands. Some of the area is used to grow rice and there are several preserves in the sinks. One of them is the Butte Creek Farm which the Sacramento NWR Complex staff manages. It was sold to the Fish and Wildlife Service with the stipulation that there would be no public access to the land. A hunting club hunts in the area around it.  Staff and volunteers got to go on a field trip there several days ago.

While there, I got the closest and prettiest view of Sutter Buttes so far. So, after I found the fields of swans, I took a series of roads that would lead me around Sutter Buttes. Indeed, I got to go through part of them on the south side. However, by the time I got there, the sun was almost finished and I only took pictures looking north.

View of Sutter Buttes looking east from Butte Creek Farm
 While driving towards the swan fields,  I got diverted into looking for a boat launch on the Sacramento River at Meridian. The day was foggy but I got these pictures of the west side of Sutter Buttes in the fog.

Nut orchards near east side of Sutter Buttes
West side of Sutter Buttes in Fog

Clearly there was a lot more to Sutter Buttes than I had discovered. So I decided to go all the way around Sutter Buttes - still a very short distance - and see what they looked like.  While I was on the south and east sides of them, the day was still cloudy and foggy so I continued on to look for the swans and had other little adventures. By the time I had found the fields of swans, the day had turned beautiful.

Tree and grass on north side of Sutter Buttes

View of North side of Sutter Buttes in late fall afternoon sun

Sunlight and shadows on north side of Sutter Buttes

Another view
The fields nearest the outcrops of rock are used to graze cattle.

View through nut farm orchards towards South Butte, the highest at 2130 feet elevation

Another north view

Northwest View - these are andesite boulders and some were used  by the Indians to grind acorns into flour

West View - this region is owned by cattle ranchers who graze cattle on the grassy parts.

Rock Outcropping

South View

South View

Looks like a skin over fat

Rocky Outcrop -this is part of the ramp formed by the volcano

Barn against the south side of the Buttes

Another south view
 In 2003, State Parks acquired 1,785 acres of the Buttes, including a section called Peace Valley. The park is not open to the public and has yet to be named.
Hopefully it will be open, the next time I'm in the area.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

In Search of Swans

Last week, one of the volunteer couples went to Marysville, a little town about 50 miles from here,  and found thousands of Swans.  Then one of the visitors was talking about going to see them.

All that talk made me want to see all those swans so I decided to leave early today and go look for them. I had to start taking pictures as soon as I went outside.  Our dawn was beautiful and then I turned and saw the light on the Coast Range.

The good light lasted only a matter of minutes before mostly clouds and fog returned. I took the back roads to Colusa and then caught Hwy. 20 to Yuba City. I found a few picture-worthy subjects along the way. One was this strange windmill.

And I was on the south side of Sutter Buttes and I had to take another picture of them in the dim light.

 I tried to get closer to the Buttes and took a road leading towards them. A few minutes later, I found my first swans.

I crossed the Sacramento River and saw a sign for a boat launch site and took a little detour.

I found lots of beehives. They are needed to pollinate the nut trees that grow everywhere in the Sacramento valley.

Before I got to Yuba City, I saw a historical marker about Thompson's seedless grapes and stopped to read it. An Englishman, William Thompson, farmed here and, in 1872 ordered three cuttings of Lady de Coverly grapes from New York.  Only one cutting lived and became the parent of all the Thompson seedless grapes.  The other interesting thing was that the land was partially developed and had palm trees on it and had no sign of any grapes.

It was still cloudy when I got to Yuba City so I decided to do a little shopping at a Walgreens and a Bargain Market. Then I decided to find an auto parts store and get a fuse use to fix my car radio.  And I found some cheap gas.  By the time I was ready to proceed, the sky was beautiful.

I got distracted again by the Feather River.  I saw a park under the bridge and spent several minutes trying to find how to reach it. When I got there, I took a little walk with camera and binoculars.  Two of the birds I saw was a female Nuttall's woodpecker and my first California Lincoln sparrow.

Finally I was back on track to find the swans. I followed Hwy. 20 out of Marysville and soon was seeing big white spots. They were indeed swans.  And a few ponds later, I found  lots of them.These are tundra swans.  The immature swans have the pinkish beaks and dusky heads. I think some family groups are still together.


That's the east side of the Sutter Buttes behind the birds. I spent the rest of the afternoon circumnavigating them.  They are the reason it took me ten minutes to download all my pictures from today. They will be the subject of my next blog.  But we did have a little color in our sunset today.