Fall Flies

Cinnamon Teal Duck, photo by Ted Steinke
Cinnamon Teal Duck, photo by Ted Steinke

In late November each year, in the Putah Creek savanna of Northern California, young flies gather along my south porch wall in the afternoon, absorbing needed life energy from the slanting rays of the sun.  

In the early morning, the white-crowned and golden-crowned sparrows maraud around our back yard, on either side of a stream and rock gardens, scratching for the cracked corn we throw out. Mid-morning, the lesser goldfinch and the western bluebirds love to bathe in the shallow pools of the stream, then dry off in the sun on one or the other of two old almond trees, which give a myriad of twiggy perches high above the water.

In the nearby Sacramento Delta, the striped bass are arriving in anticipation of the soon-to-follow mating season. Sturgeon up to two hundred pounds are accompanying, often leaping out of the water in great silvery splashes, clearing their gills of mud, which accumulates during their siphon feeding on the bottom.

It’s not far to the Yolo Bypass marshes, where pintails, mallards, spoonbills, gadwalls and widgeon are the dominant ducks, not to mention come and go flocks of ring-bill ducks. The cinnamon teal are still hanging out but most of the more numerous green-winged teal have come and gone, soon to return.

At Lake Berryessa, the small mouth and largemouth bass are biting, and the rainbow trout becoming more active. The summer people have left.

At Putah Creek in the upper fast-flowing areas, the trout are recovering from the summer fishing and the creek levels now allow streamside walking for the wary, for poison oak and heavy brush need avoiding. One might see a phainopepla there, displaying its crest, this being the northern edge of its range. 

In the lower creek, with slower flows, Sacramento squawfish are cruising the channels while largemouth bass wander the weedy recesses of old gravel pits, overflown by mallards and wood ducks.

As I write this in the late afternoon, our resident white-tailed kites are having a rodent field day on the east hill, with patient hovering and frequent success. This time of year, the morning and afternoon sun has a special light quality, appealing to the artists in my family. The rays are less harsh, almost tranquil, bathing our brown hills and warming our young flies.

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