OUR APRIL INVITATION: Spring In Northern California: Newts, Stellar’s Jays, and an Exuberance of Wildflowers

This is writer Judie Rae’s response to our April Invitation to writers to render spring in their part of the country.

 butterflyTiger swallowtail butterfly. (Photo: Brendan MacRae)

This year, spring in Nevada County, California, is a season of confusion. We mountain-dwellers, living at 3,400 feet in the foothills of the Sierra, 150 miles northeast of San Francisco, had no snow in January or February or March; indeed, those months felt like spring; some varieties of daffodils came up in late January. It wasn’t until April that snow descended, when our flowers were blooming in profusion. Fortunately for gardeners, the white stuff didn’t last long, though we could have used more to help end our drought.

Baby blue eyes are the first wildflowers to appear, our harbingers of spring. They grow in disturbed ground along roadsides. Next to bloom are the California poppies, which also bloom by the side of the road. Their cheerful countenance makes it impossible not to smile at their bright orange heads swaying in the breeze. At the same time, wild dogwood and cherry trees flower in the forests.

In spring the grosbeaks return to the area; their handsome black and white and orange plumage makes them easy to spot. When the robins arrive en masse—this year they arrived in early January—one can look out a window and see many of the red-breasted beauties searching for worms. Stellar’s jays sit in the branches of the California black oaks and demand a treat. They squawk their displeasure at the fat gray squirrels that delight in raiding the bird feeders. And this year, because of the mild winter, we’ve had hummingbirds visiting all year round, so we kept their feeders full.

hawk IMGP8663(1) Red-shouldered hawk. (Photo by Brendan Macrae)

Biologists say that a yard with frogs is a healthy yard (a yard in balance), so hearing their spring call is a particular delight. They do their part to keep harmful insects out of the garden.

Nevada County is blessed with miles of hiking trails, each one a separate treat. On the trails that are near water, Sierra newts put in a spring appearance. Their bright orange bodies stand out in the crystalline water, where they swim and bask, amusing watchers of all ages. Some of us move newts off the trails where they are in danger of being run over by mountain bikers; after all, they were here first. (Newts exude a protective covering, which can be poisonous if it enters a cut, so it’s wise to carry gloves in a fanny pack.)

I, for one, know that I am richer for the chance encounters with wild turkeys, fox, and deer; Canada geese and sandhill cranes flying overhead haunt us with their calls. Living in close proximity to wildlife creates a sacred obligation to honor their presence in our lives. We have a duty to protect and respect the creatures with whom we share this earth.

 tidy tipsTidy-Tips with unopened California poppies in the background. (Photo: Judie Rae)

A yearly hike along the Yuba River at the South Yuba River State Park has become a ritual of sorts for many residents of Nevada County. The wildflower display is spectacular; depending on the month, you’re likely to see hundreds of different kinds of wildflowers, among them poppies, wild iris, Indian paintbrush, waxy buttercups, yarrow, shooting stars, owl’s clover, larkspur, Dutchman’s pipe, as well as the pipe vine plant, which attracts the gorgeous pipe vine butterflies with their distinctive black and iridescent blue lower wings.

The South Yuba River State Park is also home to the Bridgeport Covered Bridge. Built in the 1860s, it is, at 229 feet long, the longest single-span wooden covered bridge in the United States. Walking through it, one cannot help but feel a connection to the early settlers and Gold Rush miners, who also traversed this same structure. Did they too, stop for a time, sit by the river, and admire nature’s bounty as we do?

While nature has played tricks on us these past few months, and predictions call for ever-changing weather patterns, nevertheless, Nevada County residents are blessed to live in an area of incredible beauty.

BUSHDSC01314Ceanothus. (Photo: Judie Rae)


Join the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • Molly Fisk April 28, 2015 at 6:54 pm

    A lovely piece, Judie! I like the way you slid right past the fact that those newts are so often having sex, and the kids watching are so often told that it’s “wrestling.” 😉

  • Susanna Gaertner April 28, 2015 at 3:10 pm

    What an amazing state we inhabit, Judie! You are so near yet so far with the diverse ecosystems that inform our respective regions of this state.
    Thanks for the view from Up North…..