I returned to the South Yuba River, along the Buttermilk Bend Trail. This time I was with my sister-in-law and my two nieces and nephew.
At this time the hillside reflected the state of California’s drought, which was sans flowers and golden-brown.
We walked about a mile down the trail (up river) and then headed down to the South Yuba River for some nature loafing. The oldest, used her time taking pictures of the rock and river, the middle boy commenced to design and build his own cairn, and the youngest aggressively nature loafed along the riverside.
And Corvid Sketcher does what he always does when near a river: throw rocks or do a sketch and I did both. My river sketch is the featured sketch.
When we returned to my mother’s house I found a new subject to sketch: the active acorn woodpecker nest in the backyard. The nesting cavity was in a valley oak and the begging calls of the nestlings could be heard every time an adult few up with food.
One of my neighbors knew I was struck with the affliction of birding and told me about the osprey’s nest on top of a Douglas-fir along the railroad about a 30 minute hike up river from my cabin.
After work on Friday, I hiked out of Paradise Park via the fire road and scrambled up a deer trail to the even grade of the railroad. This railroad is now operated by the Santa Cruz, Big Trees and Pacific Railway and takes tourists from Felton to Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. At one time the railroad went over the Santa Cruz Mountains to Los Gatos but now does not go very far beyond Felton. I have hiked this railroad since my youth and it had been a few years since I played hopscotch on railway ties up the San Lorenzo Valley.
Walking along this rustic railroad always feels like I’m participating in a scene from Stand By Me on a quest to find a dead body. But in this case I was in search of a big bunch of sticks on top of a fir, high above the San Lorenzo River.
I kept one eye on the rails and one on the trees off to my right. My neighbor had given me good directions to the nest and when I was 30 minutes out of Paradise, I thought that maybe I had passed the nest. But how could I miss it? So I continued hiking upstream.
Ten minutes later the osprey nest appeared across the river between a break in the redwoods and firs. I put bins on the nest and could not detect any occupants. But osprey nests are deep and the osprey could be laying low. The only sign of life were the acorn woodpeckers that looked to have used the fir as their granary tree, their acorn larder, for years.
I was at a point in the line where the railroad curves gracefully over a curved viaduct. The concrete arched bridge was build by the Southern Pacific Railroad in March of 1905 and spans Coon Gulch. At this point the San Lorenzo River takes a turn and you can get an amazing view upstream. This point in the line is known as Inspiration Point.
It didn’t take long to see signs of life. An osprey flew in and briefly alighted on the nest. Bingo! The nest is occupied after all. The unseen osprey, presumedly sitting on eggs, sat up in the nest and became visable.
The osprey that flew in could have been the male who is responsible for bringing fish to the nest while the female does most of the incubating of the two to three eggs. The male perched near the nest on a Doug-fir and preened.
I stood by the railside and sketched the nest. On the left side of the spread is my field sketch (first in pencil then in dark sepia pen) of the Douglas-fir crowned by the osprey nest. The osprey perched on the right was drawn from a field photo I took of the presumed male. The title and text were added back at the cabin. In the end, I decided to create a spread that is almost monochromatic. I resisted the urge to paint in the sky because I didn’t want anything to distract from the form of the Doug-fir and nest.