Sierra County Nature
Development of communities and recreation in Sierra County was the direct result of the discovery and search for gold in California. As the roads improved, travelers began to come here as a destination, and stop to enjoy the beauty and abundant wildlife. An abundance and beauty that remains mostly unchanged.
Due to our elevation, Sierra County provides one of the longest seasons for wildflower viewing in California.
In spring, dogwood blooms profusely along the banks of rivers and massive patches of monkey flowers invade the wet seeps of canyon walls. Scotch broom adds brilliant patches of yellow. Summer provides a abundance of flowers and in the fall the dogwood puts on a second display of fiery orange and deep pink. Fields of blue and orange flowers flow with the breeze during springtime in the valley. Along the waterways, many marshland plants and several species of buttercups paint a picture of color and serenity.
When the snow melts, the Lakes Basin area abounds in a variety of wildflowers. Orange masses of lilies bloom in the wet creek drainages and wild azaleas are scattered about the hillsides. At the summit of Yuba Pass, magenta penstemon and lacy white yampa decorate the landscape. In the marshy areas, marigolds, elephant heads, corn lilies, and several species of monkey flowers flourish in the spring sun.
In the river canyon, at dusk, bridges in Downieville are likely to produce bats and swallows foraging for food. Kingfishers and osprey also feed in the vicinity. If you’re lucky you can spot river otter by the Downie or North Yuba rivers as they flow through Downieville.
The Empire Creek Trail near Downieville passes through large areas of older forests inhabited by pileated woodpeckers, northern goshawks, pine marten, and California spotted owl. In the spring, the Downieville deer herd moves to the higher elevations to fawn. Black bears, foxes, and raccoons are also present but not so visible.
The Carman Valley north of Calpine has 30 to 40 acres of vernal habitat during spring and early summer. This area is an excellent place to view nesting waterfowl, including wood ducks and shorebirds. Steel Bridge, located over the headwaters of the Feather River, provides an opportunity to view Canadian geese, great blue heron, sandhill cranes, numerous ducks, and songbirds. This is private property, so please do not explore on foot.
The Sierra Valley is a wonderland of wetlands. Smithneck Creek is a favorite among fishermen seeking the elusive brown trout. This area is also home to Nevada mule deer, grouse, chucker, and California mountain quail. Antelope Valley is an excellent place to observe deer fawning areas. If you see a lone fawn, please don’t touch it. Its mother is nearby.
The Smithneck Creek area off Smithneck Road travels through extensive aspen groves with scenes of beaver activityundefineddams, stick lodges, and beaver-logged timber. Jackson Meadows Reservoir entertains broods of Canada geese, mergansers, mallards, and green-winged teal. Several meadows offer good evening views of mule deer and bald eagles visit in the late fall. Black bears, foxes, and raccoons are also present but not so visible.
Kyburz Marsh off Hwy 89, 15 miles south of Sierraville on the way towards Truckee, is approximately 200 acres and provides wildlife viewing for waterfowl, shorebirds, songbirds, numerous species of hawks, osprey, and bald eagles. Several waterfowl nesting islands are located within the area.
In the Lakes Basin, the Sand Pond Interpretive Trail features wheel chair accessible wooden boardwalks that follow fern-lined paths and cross stretches of shallow, clear water. This trail near Sardine Lake Campground is barrier-free and provides viewing opportunities of a wetland that has been enlarged by a family of beavers. The path also allows visitors to view trout and summer mallard broods close up.
Bald eagles and osprey fish on the many lakes, and pine martens forage in nearby meadows. Many of the meadows in this area such as Church and Howard meadows provide viewing of songbirds like the willow flycatcher and various types of warblers. The Yuba Pass area provides excellent bird-watching in addition to the wildflower viewing opportunities.
The San Francisco State Sierra Nevada Field Campus is located a short distance east of Bassetts. The Field Campus is dedicated to promoting an understanding and appreciation of geology and the ecological diversity of life through the study of the many Sierra Nevada ecosystems by means of education, research, and applied ecology. They provide a large number of summer classes open to the public spanning flora and fauna. Learn about fungi, birds, drawing, sketching & painting, natural history, ecology and much more.