trip to shasta trinity area- what do you think of this plan?

Hey all,

My wife’s birthday gift to me is a trip to the awesome looking Shasta Trinity area staying in Dunsmuir, CA. I have been wanting to go to Northern California for a long time, where I know some of you are pretty familiar with. Its going to be November 19th-24th so I know its not necessarily the best time for mammals but I wanted to know what you think of this itinerary and if it could be improved. While we are there we are certainly going to try to see some waterfalls and scenery but I also want to try to find some mammals, especially ones like otters, beavers, mink, and porcupines(I highly doubt it). We also are interested in birds and other wildlife too.

The plan I have so far is to leave from L.A. about 9 or 10pm on Monday the 19th and drive straight to Martinez trying to get there around 4:30- 5 am Tuesday to pop in and try to find the beavers in Alhambra Creek. After that I want to go to Point Reyes, where we can go to Abbott’s lagoon near dawn and try to find the river otters that reside there. After that I was planning to head over to Tomales point trail and do some of it looking for long tailed weasels( I found 2 the last and only time I went to Point Reyes previously) and Tule Elk. After that I want to drive down L ranch road looking for bobcats and badgers. I think after that we will take the rest of the day to eat and make it to the hotel up in Dunsmuir.

Wednesday- was thinking of going to McArthur Burney falls state park, the McCloud river loop, and maybe Castle Crags State park.

Thursday- Thinking of Shasta Lake, Mossbrae falls, and maybe some driving through various spots in the Shasta/Trinity National Forest

Friday- Was thinking of leaving early to try to get to Yolo Bypass as early as possible. I saw that fairly recently people have been seeing Beaver, Otter, and Mink there. I also heard that people find bats in the bridge under the highway there but maybe in November they wouldn’t be there? After that I was thinking of maybe Grizzly Island Wildlife area if there is time and then to try to make it back to Alhambra Creek in Martinez to see the Beaver before it gets dark and then home.

If anyone has any ideas to add or replace some of these ideas I would love to hear them.

13 Comments
  1. Profile photo of CharlesHood
    CharlesHood 2 weeks ago

    I was going to talk about the Martinez beaver site in a forthcoming publication on CA mammals, since they were easy to see when I was there a few years ago. Venkat warned me to check first, as he had heard they were gone. Looking on iNaturalist, the only recent entry (at least as of when I checked in summer) was one spring report for tracks only.

    At a glance, this itinerary seems to require a lot of driving, esp since it is Thanksgiving Weekend then and so you can expect traffic on I-5.

    Vladamir’s report from Grizzly Island a few years ago was keyed to winter high tides, yes? It’s not my home patch but just as a cautionary note that if tide is not big, maybe small things are hard to see? Of course with mammals, when are things NOT hard to see, and if you don’t try, you won’t ever have ANY luck (good or bad).

    Charles Hood

  2. Venkat Sankar 2 weeks ago

    As Charles says, it seems like Martinez is not reliable anymore (maybe the beavers moved on), so you’d be better off trying elsewhere. And I also feel that you’re trying to cover a bit too much in the limited time you have.

    Point Reyes – Tule Elk are guaranteed at Tomales Ranch, as I’m sure you know. River Otters are still present at Abbott’s Lagoon but not very reliable, generally seeing them at Point Reyes requires some luck. Another spot to try is the small lake behind the Drakes Beach parking area. Seeing 2 Long-tailed Weasels in a day in Pt. Reyes was very lucky; I doubt you’ll repeat that. I’ve been many times and never seen one there, it’s just random in my experience. Finally, Marshall Beach Road (in L Ranch) is great in the afternoons for Bobcat (I saw 5 in one pass of the road once) but not so sure about Badger. Generally, to see Badger in Pt. Reyes you need to spotlight. In general, I think to really make your visit to Pt. Reyes worthwhile, you need to put in at least a few hours at night spotlighting there.

    Not sure what, if anything, you’ll get in Burney, McCloud, Castle Crags, etc. They’re pretty places but far from the best part of the state for mammals. And same thing for Shasta Lake and Eastern Shasta-Trinity NF. Maybe you’ll see something really cool like a Ringtail or Marten, but most likely not much.

    Yolo Bypass is good for Otter, Mink, and Beaver. Sacramento NWR has those too and would be worth a stop. Grizzly Island WA is excellent for River Otter year-round–I’ve seen them every time I visited. Just drive the main road and scan the parallel slough and the pond at the end (Dutton’s Pond). I saw 2 Mink there too once. You won’t see the high-tide stuff like Salt Marsh Harvest Mice and Ornate Shrews, unless you for the short period in Dec-Jan. Not sure about the bats–Mexican Freetails usually winter elsewhere so they may be gone by then.

    Here are some of my recommendations…

    For River Otter, I’d recommend Grizzly Island WA, Sacramento NWR, and Yolo Bypass WA in that order; Point Reyes is ok, but much less reliable. I reckon if you got to those 3 sites you’d be guaranteed a sighting.

    For Beaver, Yolo Bypass WA is your best bet as you say and maybe one of the Sacramento Valley refuges like Colusa. Check recent sightings on iNaturalist and plan your visit that way.

    For Mink, definitely go to Yolo Bypass. I saw 2 once at Grizzly Island, and Tule Lake NWR if you can make it up there would be a good spot too.

    For Porcupine, the best place in CA is Tolowa Dunes SP in Del Norte Co. near the OR border… Though I’ve heard second-hand reports that roads through the valley E of Montague (try those branching off Lower Little Shasta Rd) are great too; NE CA is the region of the state where porcupines are most abundant. So maybe a little less difficult than you thought… 😉

    Long-tailed Weasel and American Badger are actually common in marshlands and sagebrush plains (respectively) of extreme NE CA in E Siskiyou County and Modoc Co. The area around Lower Klamath NWR, Tule Lake NWR, and Clear Lake NWR ought to be good for both, and I’m sure Bobcats and other stuff are around too, as well as Pronghorn (local). You’d get more chances for otter, porcupine, and mink up here too. And there are Marten around Shasta–try Goosenest and Manzanita Lake, if snow conditions permit.

    Actually based on your target list, if you’re not too attached to Bobcat and Tule Elk, it may be better to skip Pt. Reyes and just spend time in Yolo and Sacramento on the way up, travel through the scenic sites around Mt. Shasta and Burney to Tule Lake area (with some diversions for Porcupine etc.), then drive back down to LA through the valley and pick up anything you may have missed on the way up. Happy to give more advice when you firm up plans.

    • Profile photo of gskipper Author
      gskipper 2 weeks ago

      Ok, so I have factored everybody’s helpful advice. And here is the new plan, let me know what you think.

      Monday night/Tuesday- leave La and head straight to Yolo Bypass. I am hoping leaving at 10pm will help us get through the most traffic laden areas and help us miss the worst of the thanksgiving traffic. Factoring time to eat, breaks, and maybe a short nap, I am hoping to get to Yolo near sunrise on Tuesday to search for otter, beaver, mink, muskrat etc. I don’t know if there is a preferred time of day in November but I am going to make myself a little map of the preserve labeled with the most recent spotting of beaver, mink, and otter especially. After a few hours at Yolo, I was thinking of driving through Sacramento NWR and then heading up to the hotel in Dunsmuir. I am guessing if we are doing really well on time and aren’t exhausted then we can probably check Lake Shasta for bald eagles real quick.

      Wednesday- Mainly scenic day, go to McArthur Burney, McCloud falls, castle crags.

      Thursday- Drive up to Montagu area to search for Porcupine. Next head up to Lower Klamath NWR to look for otter, badger, bobcat, lt weasel, skunks, anything else we can find. This will probably take most of the limited daylight hours, will look for wildlife on the way back.

      Friday- leave early and head to Point Reyes if we have already bagged an otter, if we haven’t head to Grizzly Island. If Point Reyes- I am told that a grey fox hangs out in a white barn at the ranch near the tomales point trailhead. After checking for the fox, look for lt weasel and tule elk on the tomales point trail. I am thinking of only doing a couple of miles, not the whole trail. After head to abbotts lagoon briefly and then by afternoon head to L ranch area to look for bobcats. After this head to the Napa Beaver site and try to get there an hour before sunrise. Stick around until a little after sunrise then head back home to LA and sleep the whole weekend.

      This revised plan would allow more time at yolo and replace Martinez with the Napa beaver site. I am still considering Pt. Reyes also b/c my wife has never been there and should experience some of it, but we won’t be trying and wasting time getting their uber early for the otters, will probably try to get there around 9:30.

      Thanks for everyone’s advice so far, I am really looking forward to this!

      Gary

      • Venkat Sankar 2 weeks ago

        Looks good to me. I guess my one comment would be to try Montague the previous night to when it’s scheduled as I’d think the porcupines would be easier to find there at night, just while driving roads or spotlighting. You could then spend the entire next day at Lower Klamath (otter, bobcat, mink, weasel, etc.) then spotlight in the sagebrush plains nearby for badger (and maybe pronghorn if you go by day).

        • Profile photo of gskipper Author
          gskipper 1 week ago

          Makes sense, I can definitely try the porcupine search at night so I have a better chance. Do you think that Grizzly Island might be better to try rather than Yolo since Nick was saying that Greens lake and other good mammal spots will be closed for hunting? Or do you think the open areas of Yolo are still worth trying? Have you ever been to Yolo during that time of year? I tried to look on the website for grizzly island to see about their hunting but it wasn’t very clear, do you happen to know if the areas you suggested in your previous response will be closed to hunting?

  3. Author
    Gary Skipper 2 weeks ago

    Thank you Charles and Venkat. That is super disappointing about the Martinez Beavers, but thank you for the warning. I guess some of the days will be mainly for scenery, since there is already a lot of driving. I know its ambitious, but I never get up there so wanted to make the most of it. I was also told that gray fox is fairly easy to see at pierce point ranch. Venkat, once I research some of the spots you mentioned and do some more inaturalist research I will post my updated plan. Thank you for taking the time to share some of your experience.

    Gary

  4. Nwaterstraat 2 weeks ago

    Hi Gary, a few notes feom my experience:

    I’ve seen Mink, Otter, and Beaver in Yolo Bypass. I’m not sure of the hunting start dates off the top of my head but check that before you go. Most of the roads are still open during hunt season, but Green’s lake is off-limits, which has been my best location for all three species. I’ve also had rangers ask me not to park on the sides of the road during hunt season, they’ve never bothered me during the off season. Also be aware that it is only open sunrise to sunset and now requires a day use fee (which I think must be bought ahead of time at eg. a Big 5). The best time for bats is summer nights just after sunset, where huge strams of them will fly out from under the overpass like a murmuration. They can easily be seen driving over the causeway or stopping at the levees at either end. I think they move out of the area before november though.

    My favorite spot for otters in the Davis area is Lake Solano, particularly in the downstram portion near the diversion dam. It’s also a decent spot for Bald Eagle, check the pines on the cliff above the road there. I’ve also seen beaver and muskrat at this location. If you’re looking for an easy spot for rabbits, try the Wildhorse Ag buffer in davis. I always see plenty of cottontails and a few jackrabbits any time of day there. Also easy CA ground squirrel and burrowing owl near where the trail turns at the golf course.

    November is the wrong time of year, but my favorite beaver spot in Norcal is Lily lake, which is above Fallen Leaf Lake (Lake Tahoe area). The road up is a good spot for all squirrels in the area and the beavers usually come out 45 min before astronomical sunset, allowing some opportunity for photos.

    There are now wolves in the Lassen/Plumas county area. DFW has a map on their webpage of current wolf pack territory in those counties. I haven’t tried for them yet, but I could point you in thw way of a few wolf location tips I’ve found if you’re interested.

    As far as Point Reyes, I’ve tried for Badger and Long Tailed Weasel quite a bit. I’ve seen lots of badger and some weasel sign on the Tomales point trail, but i’ve never had luck with actually spotting them. It’s a really great trail if you enjoy track ID and can get there before anyone else. One Long-tailed weasel just past the chimney rock turn-off and a roadkill one before the pierce point road turnoff. Pierce Point ranch has been very hood for Gray fox at times, but I haven’t had luck recently. Most of my bobcat sightings in the park have been on Marshall beach road, though I’ve also seen them near Drake’s beach, Abbott’s lagoon, and pierce point road. I usually average one coyote per hour on trips during the winter months, though bunched closer to dawn and dusk. The nature trail at Point Reyes Bird Observatory is decent for Sonoma chipmunk, though I think best during summer. I’ve seen river otter in the park in abbott’s lagoon, near Inverness park, ann at Chimney Rock.

    I’ve also spent some time in the far north, including Alturas, Lava Beds, and Hoopa valley and can give you a few tips on those areas if you have interest.

  5. Profile photo of ameet
    ameet 2 weeks ago

    The Martinez beavers were gone for a few years but a new site is now active. I learnt this at the annual Beaver Festival they host every summer. However it is not easy to see the new dam site. Beavers are being regularly seen in Napa. See – https://napavalleyregister.com/news/local/photos-life-at-napa-s-beaver-lodge-at-tulocay-creek/collection_2a7cc7e8-586c-11e7-88e9-afc6814b5e59.html#1.

    I have seen Gray Fox a few times on night drives at Point Reyes. I recently saw one on the entrance road to Sunol Regional Wilderness. There have been many suburban sightings in the Bay Area in the last couple of years.

    The Yolo bats (Mexican Free-tailed) are a summer phenomenon when you can see thousands emerge from under the highway overpass at sunset. They should be gone by November.

  6. Author
    Gary Skipper 2 weeks ago

    Thank you so much Ameet, that spot in Napa looks like a good place to try to for the beavers.

  7. Nick Waterstraat 1 week ago

    I tried to reply to this before but it doesn’t seem to have posted. A few notes:

    Yolo Bypass:
    I’ve seen Otter, mink and beaver here. Be aware that during hunt season (which I believe starts in October), many of the best mammal spots are closed off to the public. This map shows which area are open to the public during hunt season: http://yolobasin.org/hunt-season-closures/#more-4229 . Green’s lake has been my best spot for all three species, and is off-limits during hunt season. As of this year, YBWA has also started requiring an access fee, just be aware of that. My parents told me they saw bats coming out from under the causeway a few nights ago. Not sure how long that will continue for, but if they are there, you should be able to see them while driving across the causeway a few minutes after sunset. A good area for otter nearby is Lake Solano, up by winters, especially in the lower area by the diversion dam. I’ve seen beaver there before but I think they had been displaced from their upstream homes by flooding. I haven’t seen them since. This can also be a decent spot for bald eagle from Nov-Feb. I’d say you’d have about a 1 in 3 chance of seeing one on any given morning, based off my experience. For otter, I’d say 50/50 chance or better of seeing them if you spend an hour there near sunrise or sunset during winter, though I’ve seen them at any time of day with relative frequency. Also i wouldn’t count on it, but this morning I saw a roadkill badger off the side of the road by winters. Never seen any sign of badger in this part of the valley before. In Davis, Dark Horse ag buffer is good for black-tailed jackrabbit and desert cottontail, and known for its burrowing owls (at the turn in the trail by the golf course)

    Point Reyes: I have photographed gray fox at the Pierce Point farmhouse several times. They can be spotty. I saw one there on 4 consecutive trips, but haven’t since (have still seen sign since though). If you see them, they are pretty tolerant of people. If it disappears under a building, just stand around for a few minutes and it will likely pop back out. In Dec. 2017, it was pretty active all the way up to around 10:00 AM. I’ve also seen one on a pre-sunrise drive through the Inverness Park area on the way into Point Reyes. I’ve looked for badger and long-tailed weasel quite a bit in PRNS. I’ve seen pretty good sign of both on Tomales Point Trail. Seen weasel just past the chimney rock turnoff and roadkill on Pierce Point road near Sir Frances Drake Blvd. On a good day, I average about one coyote per hour during the Nov-Feb span. Brush rabbit can be seen easily on the drive through the Tule Elk preserve near sunrise, or Abbott’s Lagoon trail if it’s not too busy. Keep an eye on the ground and you should see Botta’s Pocket Gopher as well.

    North: Meiss Lake is supposed to be good for Badger. I spent only a short amount of time there and saw none, but there was a huge Belding’s Ground Squirrel colony, which would certainly tempt me if I was a badger. Also saw YB Marmot along the road in. Saw a roadkill badger on 5 on the way through Dorris. If you’re in the area, you might check Lava Beds for Pika. I found them in several places there in April 2016. Just ask if you are interested. The road along the northern part of the park is good for mountain cottontail, Black-tailed jackrabbit, and mule deer. I’ve been told it’s the best place in the park to look for bobcat as well. It’s out of the way, but if you get over near Alturas, I know of some spots for pronghorn. I’ve also seen some near Bieber if you go that far during your scenic day.

    Let me know if you have any questions.

    • Profile photo of gskipper Author
      gskipper 1 week ago

      Hello Nick,

      So it looks like maybe lake solano by the putah diversion dam would be a better place to start than yolo b/c of the hunting closures. Do you think Yolo is worth going to after, or just too many of the good spots will be closed off? I looked up the diversion dam and according to google maps is says it is near the cross streets of putah creek road and canal lane. Does that sound right to you?

      The points north sound great but I wonder if some of them might be a little cold in november to see much. I know Pikas don’t hibernate, do you think the lava bed hikes would be really difficult or have access roads closed for snow?

      Thank you so much for the advice.

  8. Nick Waterstraat 1 week ago

    Green’s lake is my go-to in Yolo Bypass. It’s the only place I’ve seen beaver and mink in the bypass (I know others have seen them in other locations) but I’ve seen otter in other places. Personally, I have come to view YBWA as mostly a spring/summer fall location, but if you are interested in waterfowl, the auto loop is still great in winter, my experience is that mammals are less likely with the restrictions in place though. Still probably one of the better spots in the state for mink. Grizzly island is probably better for otter than lake solano but lake solano is good enough that for me (living in Davis/sacramento) it just hasn’t been worth the extra drive time to get out to grizzly island for otter yet. I tried for otter at Lake solano and came up empty but on my last trip back in September, I went kayaking there and saw 8 otters in 4 groups over 3 hours in the middle of the day. The two access points for lake solano are the park picnic area (paid parking, $6) and an open dirt lot closer to the dam (not quite at canal street, it’s further upstream where the lake bends: 38.489377, -122.011234 on google maps). You can’t hike from one lot to the other because of private orchards in between, but otter can be seen at both. I usually park in the lower section because I’m a cheapskate. The park area is good if you are interested in Western Gray Squirrel, woodpeckers, and nuthatches. There’s also usually peacocks around. You can just walk along the road in the diversion dam section and watch the surface for otter. When they are around, it makes the ducks and geese mad, so if you see a bunch of ducks suddenly start calling and flying away, take a look and see if you can see what they are flying away from. Sitting down by the curve and waiting to see if they come by can also be a good strategy. I think most of the otter records here on inaturalist here are by me, but I have a lot more sightings that I didn’t upload.

    Lava Beds: I saw Pika on some pretty short hikes at 41.778629, -121.567102 and 41.766043, -121.553905. The first was literally just off the road, you just have to walk from the nearest parking area just a bit down. The latter was maybe a quater or half mile hike in. Saw another on a slightly longer hike at big painted cave. Pika should be active all year. A ranger said my report in april of 2016 was the first of the season though. It may just be that there’s pretty low traffic in the park during that season. Even in april, I had basically the whole northern half of the park to myself. I haven’t spent too much time in this part of the state in November, but my guess would be that at those elevations there’s probably not too much snow except for right after a storm. keep an eye out here for snow depth: https://www.nohrsc.noaa.gov/nsa/index.html?year=2018&month=10&day=7&units=e&region=Western_Coastal

    • Author
      Gary Skipper 5 days ago

      Hello Nick,

      Thank you so much for all of the helpful information. My wife hasn’t seen pika yet so I am pretty tempted to check out your spots on our lower klamath day. I saw on flickr that people see screech owls too at lake solano. I guess I need to decide if I should go to grizzly island or lake solano on the way up. I imagine I can only pick one because the first hour after sunrise is probably the best time. If otter is possible at lake solano later in the day, I could go to grizzly island first and then check lake solano for otter and screech owl(and eagle if its not too late). I definitely want to take a trip to yolo bypass in the spring then. I have been once before also on during my bday(late november) and didn’t see any mammals at all, just lots of waterfowl, it now makes sense to me why we didn’t see any otters, beavers etc. Thank you for taking the time to give me all this great info. Will look some stuff up and see how much I can fit into the plan.

      Gary

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