Winter months in Napa County offer a range of natural displays that are unique to this time of year and provide exceptional sights. Throughout the Land Trust of Napa County’s many protected open spaces, deciduous native vegetation such as black oak, big leaf maple, buckeye and poison oak have lost their leaves, while tiny buds begin to form on their seemingly bare stems in preparation for new spring growth.
With fewer leaves in view, empty nests become visible in the surrounding treetops. Some of these were used by birds that have migrated as far south as Central America, speaking to the promise of their return. Each new rain further encourages fresh green growth and provides a lush landscape teaming with life.
Manzanita species occurring within the dense chaparral on the Linda Falls Preserve enter full bloom in mid winter, treating visitors to a profusion of white and pink bell-shaped flowers. Heavy winter rains on the Wantrup Preserve bring every small channel and low area to life with abundant water, making the hundred degree days and parched brown grasslands of last August’s Pope Valley seem a distant memory. After the rain, Redwood Creek thunders at full capacity though the Archer Taylor Preserve, while lush ferns, lichens, mosses, and steamy air give the streamside redwood forest the feel of a temperate rainforest.
Some of our fastest and most agile birds of prey, such as the merlin and sharp-shinned hawk, return for the winter, hunting songbirds on the wing in woodlands and clearings. California thrashers begin softly singing their complex songs from deep within their chaparral habitat, remaining more-often heard than seen. Songbirds that have nested to the north or at higher elevations, such a ruby-crowned kinglet and Townsend’s warbler, have returned and can be glimpsed, flitting and calling, in woodlands and forest. Wildlife tracks are freshly displayed in the mud along trail systems soon after a storm has cleared.
By late winter, the first brightly colored wildflowers, such as blue dics and harvest brodiaea begin to bloom in rock outcrops and grasslands on the Foote Botanical Preserve, while showy displays of California goldfields paint the meadows of the Missimer Snell Valley Preserve a rich yellow.
Winter is a busy time for the Land Trust, and activities on our preserves include volunteer work days focused on removal of invasive species such as Himalayan blackberry and French broom, as this is the prime season to pluck out roots with ease, when the soil is moist. Attempting to pull either of these species during summer months proves to be extremely challenging as root systems are firmly secured in dry, hard soil.
This is also choice planting season, as newly installed roots are able to soak up water from future rains to come prior to the long dry spell of summer and fall. This year, the Land Trust and volunteers will be planting up to 1,000 native bunch grasses at the Archer Taylor Preserve as part of a native meadow restoration project. All are welcome to help with these efforts.
Winter hikes led through the Land Trust’s Field Trip program visit scenic vistas at preserves such as the Dunn-Wildlake Ranch, where clear winter days may offer views of the snow-covered Sierra Nevada far to the east. Other hikes wind along fast-flowing creeks and streams and may culminate at the base of a mesmerizing waterfall.
Hikers breathe deep of the fresh crisp winter air, as they keep their eyes peeled for banana slugs and winter flowering native plants such as pink flowering current. There is always something new to experience on any outing led by the Land Trust’s field trip leaders.