Research: Tracy Lake and Carbondale

Birds love water. Grapes love water. Oaks love water. And there was plenty of water here.

Tracy Lake

From the satellite imagery, I’d expected Tracy Lake to be completely dry; another casualty of the 100-year drought that’s held California for the past few summers. But perhaps the rain this last winter is finally breaking the spell. The lake was brimming with ducks of at least seven species, and ringing with the shrill calls of Killdeer and blackbirds. Around the lake, the countryside is all grapes: bright green arbors stretching in perfectly manicured lines. They catch the light at sunrise in a wonderful way.

Grape vines at sunrise.

Then there were the oaks. The historic surveyors were camped here along the Mokelumne River in 1912, and even back then they were in awe of the dense tangle of oaks between the river and Tracy Lake. Little has changed in over 100 years. The owner of the vineyard just to the south tells me this is probably the largest old-growth oak stand left in the valley. The dense foliage and massive branches are incredible. But the sound stopped me in my tracks the first time I approached: a jungle-like cacophony of hawks, jays, towhees, crows, and woodpeckers all blasting in unison out of the impenetrable wall of leaves.

The edge of the oak tangle.

It was a pleasant walk. Sunday was my favorite day, when there were no workers in the fields, and I had the entire vineyard to myself. The birds liked it, too. 59 species in a single day, my highest count ever for these surveys.

White-tailed Kite with a freshly caught gopher.

Logic, meanwhile, spent her time about 100 meters higher, in a beautiful forest meadow filled with Wrentits, Pygmy Nuthatches, and even a low-elevation Steller’s Jay. We reconvened in the afternoons, and spent most of our time in town of Ione. While most small, “historic” towns in the valley are underwhelming, this one was brimming with charm. We made our home in a comfortable corner café, where we mixed work with sampling of delicious chocolate confections.

Clark’s Corner cafe in Ione.

Our time back at camp was less idyllic. The weekend was incredibly noisy, what with hordes of children running through our camp and inconsiderate neighbors staying up to very late hours of the morning. On our last night, Sunday, we watched them pack up and leave, and silence embraced us like a fresh, warm blanket. We laughed in glee as we said our good-nights and turned into our tents.

Little did we know, we were in for a different type of noise. Thunder cracked through the sky just before sunset, followed by about ten minutes of dime-sized hail pelting our tents. This noise, we were fine with. We both sat at the openings to our tents, grinning ear to ear as we watched the storm pass.

Just after the storm.

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