Birding at the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area

On a bright and beautiful day in April I drove out to the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area to see the birds.  There are many, many more birds in winter.  In April, most have migrated north to their nesting grounds where they will raise another generation.  There are still many, many birds to see including red wing blackbirds, egrets, Swainson hawks, among others.

I made this little video to give you a taste:

The Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area is just off Interstate 80 at the E. Chiles Road exit (by the fruitstand).  You may also recognize it as the place where Davis youth write messages in stone on the side of the levee.

You can download this map from the Yolo Basin Foundation’s website to find your way through the Bypass:

There are picnic tables and port-a-potties at each of the parking lots.  If you do picnic, please keep the refuge tidy.

There is no entry fee for enjoying the Wildlife Area, however, if you enjoy birding or picnicking, consider a donation to the Yolo Basin Foundation at

Also, you are in a floodplain that serves as the release valve for Sacramento’s flood protection.  So if you are going to see the birds after a big storm or while it is raining, the area may be closed.


Boutique Wineries at the Old Sugar Mill

Once upon a time tons of sugar beets were grown in the Clarksburg area and processed in the Old Sugar Mill.  First sugar cane and then high fructose corn syrup made sugar beets less desirable and farmers switched to other crops, including wine grapes.  Now Clarksburg has its own wine appalachia and a growing list of wineries.

The largest local winery is Bogle Vineyards.  (for information on tasting:  There are a growing number of smaller or boutique wineries, which means different things to different people and generally implies smaller production, yet passionate commitment to the craft.

The Old Sugar Mill (for information on tasting hours: is the home of 8 local wineries.  The facility is also available for fundraising events and weddings.  I was surprised, though, to discover that there are no eateries.

Located only 30 minutes from downtown Sacramento, and 15 minutes from Elk Grove or West Sacramento, it makes a fun, relaxed outing.  Your party can taste a wide range of wines in this one location. You can read more about each winery before you go:

The Delta Levees (You are Driving On!)

Did you know that there are some levee roads with burning peat beneath them?  Did you know that there are over 1,100 miles of levees in the Delta?

Before the levee was repaired with money from the Department of Water Resources subvention program (funded by voter-approved bonds), the levee looks like the one above and is vulnerable to tidal wave action, wind erosion and subsidence.  After the Reclamation District repairs and improves the levee it looks like the example below.  (on Bouldin Island)

Recently, I was able to join a tour of Delta levees hosted by the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA).  I learned a lot about levees for flood protection and saw much of the Delta in a day.

At the time of the Gold Rush, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta was a giant swamp full of tules.  These tules, along with ocean tidal action, and the inflow of two great river systems, created a myriad of shifting islands and sloughs.  From the late 1800s to the 1930s, local special districts, mainly Reclamation Districts, were formed and land was drained of “excess water” and “reclaimed” for agricultural use.  The islands once drained and cleared of tules were rich with peat soil.  At various times there have been booms of potatoes, asparagus, and pears.  Now wine grapes and blueberries are being planted.  And some of the land is being returned to wildlife habitat.

Much of the roads through the Delta are atop levees that protect the various tracts and islands.  The local Reclamation Districts are responsible for maintaining the levees and  work with the County to maintain the roads.

The cost of maintaining levees has risen and the value of agricultural income has not kept pace, so the State of California created a subvention program to cost share with the Reclamation Districts to maintain the flood protection.  A levee break is expensive both in terms of emergency response and subsequent recovery to the California taxpayer.  Preventive care may be the most affordable option in some cases.  It is complicated, though, as the exposed peat soils emit greenhouse gases and some of the islands have subsided so much that they are structurally compromised.  The structure of levees is hostile to native fish and redesign or removal may be necessary in some situations to restore more natural conditions for native species to recover.  Thus any discussion of levees quickly becomes controversial.  It is possible that Delta levee priorities and policies will be clarified by the Delta Stewardship Council’s sixth (and final?) Delta Plan.

As you travel east to west in the Delta, you will notice that the levees change.  The Delta around Interstate 5 is still a riverine system, and these levees are designed to meet the Army Corp of Engineer specifications and are called “project levees” due to a federal project that helped pay for them.  As you drive toward the San Francisco Bay, the levees change shape and you gradually drop to sea level.  Tidal action becomes predominant.  These levees are “non-project” levees maintained without any federal funding.

The western levees are some of the most fragile because of the subsidence of the peat soils.  You may notice as you drive along that the river on one side is only 5 feet below the top of the levee (depending on low/high tide), whereas the farmland can be more than 50 feet below the top of the levee on the other side.  Over time the peat has been used up, or blown away, or back in the day–burned off.  Without the tule marsh to renew it, it will continue to subside.  In some cases the subsidence is so great that it has compromised the levee as water bubbled up through the bottom.

Peat soil is also combustible and can burn for days, months and even up to a year, if lit accidentally by a spark or a match.  So be carefully out there.  There is one stretch of road that Caltrans believes has a peat fire beneath it but they have not yet figured out a way to put it out.  The bottom line:  do not take your levee for granted.

Delta Conservancy Unveils Strategic Plan

Sacramento County Supervisor Jimmie Yee, a Delta Conservancy Board member, thanked the 20 or so members of the public for attending a workshop on the draft strategic plan at the Clarksburg Community Church hall.

The Delta Conservancy was formed as part of the 2009 Legislative package called the Delta Reform Act.  The Delta Conservancy’s purpose is to promote balanced ecosystem restoration and economic development in the Delta.  They recently released the draft strategic plan and invited public comment.  The strategic plan is found on the website:  Comments are due by April 20, 2012.

Campbell Ingram, executive officer for the Delta Conservancy, encouraged members of the public to read the goals and strategies carefully.  He urged that feedback on these is welcome anytime.

The Delta Conservancy is a state agency within the State’s Natural Resources Agency.  It has a small budget now, but hopes through a combination of entrepreneurial fundraising and a future water bond to have more money for grant programs and projects.

Husick’s Country Store and Deli

Husick’s Hardware and Country Store is the only place to eat in town.  It serves lunch Tuesday-Sunday and enjoys a 90% favorable rating on Urbanspoon (

It goes by several names:  Husick’s Country Store, Husick’s Hardware and Deli.  They are all located at 36510 Riverview Drive in Clarksburg.  Located between the Bogle Winery and the Old Sugar Mill it is a great place to stop for a gourmet sandwich or salad  at a reasonable price.  There is indoor and outdoor seating.

I gave it a whirl on a rainy day so I was happy to sit in the comfortably warm indoor dining area.  The Mason pannini was delicious:  turkey, provolone, rosemary bacon, peppericini, and mustard/mayo.  I rounded out my meal with chips and a soda for just over $10.  It was satisfying–more so with the side of pasta salad that is part of a sandwich order.

Husick’s would also be a great place to grab a cup of coffee.  They serve Old Soul beans.  I liked the seating area with comfy chairs and a year’s worth of Horse&Rider magazines.  There are local food goods and a few garden items for sale as well.

Clarksburg has a long way to go before it rivals St. Helena or Calistoga; however, it also does not have the hassle of crowds.  And there is something about the  Sacramento River and the surrounding sloughs that force you to slow down and take a deep breath.


Clarksburg Charmer

Community Church

Clarksburg is a lovely small town in Yolo County on the west side of the Sacramento River.  It is easy to reach from Sacramento via the Freeport Bridge.  It is an up and coming wine producing region and working hard to be a destination for wine-tasting at the Old Sugar Mill.

As I drove around I found myself smiling at the town clock, the community library, and the Eagle Scout park.  Pleasantville comes to mind, only smaller.

Clarksburg is a 30 minute drive from East Sacramento and an easy reach from Davis via West Sacramento.  You can also reach it by boat, parking at the Clarksburg Marina.

The only place to eat in town is Husick’s Country Store (see review).  It is a great place to eat before wine tasting or to buy a picnic lunch.