Llano Seco - Winterlude 2020 - CycleBlaze

November 19, 2020

Llano Seco

Today we awaken to the weather we drove south for.  It’s sunny and beautiful out.  Still chilly, but the day should heat up to about sixty - perfect cycling conditions. Looking ahead, the entire next week looks like more of the same.  Yippee!

For our first ride out of town we take the advice of our host Jerry and head off to the Llano Seco Unit: a section of the Sacramento National Wildlife Reserve Complex, a group of protected parcels along the Sacramento River southwest of here.  Jerry says it’s a major stop on the autumn migration, and at this time of year we can hope to see thousands of geese and maybe some sandhill cranes. 

We wait around until about 10, by which time it’s warmed up to the low 50’s, and start biking west toward the Sacramento River.  It takes us a few miles to get past the last of Chico’s suburbs, but after that we cycle past miles of walnut orchards until we near the river.  It’s flat, easy riding on very quiet roads - just what the fitness trainer ordered, since neither of us has ridden much at all for the last week at least.  I’m sure we’ll eventually tire of these flat roads and nut trees without end; but this morning, with the walnut leaves yellowing with the fall and blanketing the floor of the orchards, it makes for a very pleasant ride.

Heading west toward downtown through Lower Bidwell Park. I suspect many of our day rides here will begin like this.
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Westbound on oddly named Oak Way. Shouldn’t this be Walnut Street?
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Bruce LellmanSince they cut down all the oaks they should change the name to Walnut Way.
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1 week ago
It’s mesmerizing cycling past orchards like this, staring down one long tree lane after another.
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There’s more than just walnut groves to bike past out here.
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Nearing the Sacramento River, we come to the end of the orchards. I wonder what is grown in this deeply furrowed field?
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Reaching the Sacramento River, we turn south and follow its course and the margin of a state park that might be worth exploring on a different day.  For the next five miles we stay near the river until we break away when it bends off to the west.  These are probably the most scenic and varied miles of the day.  We’ll have to study the map and see what other riverside riding we can do down here.

The Sacramento River. I’m always surprised to come to huge, consequential rivers like this for the first time. It’s grown just a bit since we last saw it emptying out of Lake Siskiyou 150 miles north of here.
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The uncultivated margin along the Sacramento is a rich, diverse forest that reminds me of Bidwell Park.
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I’m not sure, but I think this is the end of Big Chico Creek, just before it empties into the river.
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I’m always a bit skeptical coming to a major birding area.  So often, they’re a letdown.  We’re here at the wrong season, or the birds are widely scattered and so far off that they’re just specks in the distance, or it’s the wrong part of the day and they’ve all dispersed across the county before returning to settle for the night.

Today though is no disappointment.  This is the real deal, with huge numbers of waterfowl floating in large rafts on the water or blanketing exposed reefs.  Overhead, huge bird clouds swirl through the sky, composed of countless numbers of geese.   neither of us has ever seen such a huge concentration of snow geese - it’s flabbergasting, really.   This is all a managed wetland that is seasonally flooded to provide migration habitat.  Even outside the refuge the fields are flooded in large, lagoon-like tracts - rice fields, I think.  I read somewhere that the fields are flooded with the expectation that the migrating waterfowl will fertilize them. 

The unit is well developed for wildlife viewing, with a parking lot, a small viewing platform overlooking the wetland, and about a half mile of unpaved walking trails.  We have our lunch on the viewing platform, overlooking rafts of pintails that dabble in the water just yards away, and then bike partway out the hiking path for a different perspective.

Take note of this name, and stop in if you’re here in the autumn.
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Victa CalvoThere's a bunch of federal wildlife refuges all down the valley from Chico to below Sacramento. They all come alive with migrating waterfowl at this time of the year, and their numbers should keep increasing as the birds exit the frozen far north of the continent heading for warmer southern climes (kind of like some cyclists I know). And as fantastic as the display is, it pales in comparison to what it was like 50+ years ago. The number of birds in the air at any given time was truly staggering.

The upper Sacramento valley is very beautiful country and well worth spending some time investigating some day... take good binoculars.
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6 days ago
We start seeing huge numbers of waterfowl from the road, about a half mile from the refuge entrance. These are primarily pintails, in the largest concentration of them I’ve ever seen.
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A few pintails, casually standing around just yards from the shore. Such an elegant bird. I especially like the ruffled look of their wing feathers.
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American widgeons.
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Pintails, and a few widgeons.
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A bit of everything.
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A few sandhill cranes, the only ones we saw today.
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A few white fronted geese.
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A white fronted goose cloud.
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Some snow geese.
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Many more snow geese.
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Oh, my gosh. Wow!
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Looking away from the unit, this is one of the adjacent flooded fields. The sky above looks smudgy, almost smoky; but zoom in.
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Looking east from the refuge. I wonder what that snow-capped peak is just rising above the horizon. I can’t quite figure it out from the map.
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So, that’s the ride.  It’s 20 miles back to Chico, and its a bit of an upwind slog the whole way.  We’ll be back though before we leave town, I’ve no doubt.  Llano Seco is well worth another trip out, if not more.   Maybe there will be more sandhill cranes passing through next time.

When we return though, we’ll skip gravel, washboard Grainland Road. After three miles of this, we agreed that if we had a chance to do this again, we’d just say no.
Heart 1 Comment 1
Bruce LellmanThat must be Washboard Way.
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1 week ago
From Grainland Road, back in the walnut orchards again. Get used to this look. I think you’ll be seeing a lot of it in the coming days.
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Ride stats today: 45 miles, 400’; for the tour: 59 miles, 600’

Today's ride: 45 miles (72 km)
Total: 59 miles (95 km)

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Bob DistelbergThat video. Wow!
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1 week ago
Patrick O'HaraFrom one bird geek to another. I'll ditto that 'Wow!'
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1 week ago
Jen GrumbyDouble ditto.

An audiovisual extravaganza!
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1 week ago