Colusa Challenges (O08)

COLUSA, CA – Colusa County Airport (O08)

Just when something looks so simple it all melts down. I guess the secret is that looks can be deceiving. (duh) The plan was to converge on Colusa, arrange for ground transport to pick us up and visit the Colusa national Wildlife Refuge. Winter is the time of year to commune with our feathered friends on their holiday away from the cold, Artic homeland. The weather wasn’t great on Sat. but Sunday promised to be stellar. Then the tricky stuff got sticky.

Last time we visited Colusa there was a local, taxi van in town to pick us up, deliver and then return to bring us back to the airport. I had started putting out calls a week prior but no response. So I resumed looking for a ride on Sat. and no one returned my call or just couldn’t help. When it comes to ground transport you have to cast far and wide for a ride. The ‘yellow pages’ did not bear fruit, I tried the C Of C and they were out to lunch, local car dealers did not deal in day rentals and the airport contact never called back. It took 2 hours of dialing and no luck.

I pulled the plug on the group fly out by 8:00 Sunday morning; Sorry guys. Yet the day was so perfect for flying and the refuge is only a short, bike ride from the airport, I enlisted my trusty partner, Don, picked up a hitch hiker, Gerry Fogarty, stuffed the plane with 3 bikes and gear and off we soared.

The airport is easy enough to find. Aim for the Sutter Buttes and it’s on the west side surrounded by rice paddies. From downwind you could see flocks of snow geese pillowing the sky, mirrored on the glassy waters of winter’s abundance.

Winter creates some of the most beautiful and striking patterns on the earth’s surface. Furrows of fall planting, marbled patterns of cloudy skies reflecting off inundated fields, dazzling, yellow stripes of mustard amidst the skeletal rows of vineyards, wings striking the water as birds lift off and the syncopated colors of an orchard in bloom delight the eye. (Every 5th row of the orchards had a line of blossoms with a darker pink. This ‘marker’ is probably the pollinator.) The emerald green of our coastal hills and valleys is unsurpassed this year. The grasses are luxuriating from a winter that satiated their deepest thirst. The sunshine is now converting all the joyous plant life into a massive factory of chlorophyll. What an incredible cycle of nature we witness from the air!

Another annual event flocks to Colusa and the Sacramento Valley each year. The Pacific Flyway is the migratory path of millions of birds fleeing the icy temperatures of the artic north. It is a natural partnership between the birds and agriculture. The birds help the rice farmers by tilling, debugging and fertilizing the fields. The farmers make them welcome by flooding fields that have finished their harvest. It’s such a win-win for both bird and farmer. The Colusa Wildlife Refuge is just an easy, 7 mile pedal from the airport. The Sutter Buttes, the smallest mountain range in the world, frame all views to the east. Across the valley to the west deep snow frosts the coastal range, a sight we haven’t seen in a long time. The refuge has a 3 mile circular track that passes by fallowed fields deep in water and happy bird commuters. It’s not just the thousands of ducks and geese, but also raptors, shore birds and song birds. The raptors claim large, barren trees to perch and spy their prey. Without any leaves on the trees yet they’re easy to find. We found 1 eagle and numerous hawks. Since we were there at mid day most of the residents were off working the fields, foraging for goodies. In the evening their commute back to the refuge is accompanied by a raucous chorus of quacking, honking and whistling. By mid march they will be packing up, saying goodbye to their winter buddies, plugging in their GPS and migrating back to their nesting grounds.

Just as we, too, must pack up the bikes, program the GPS and head back to our home port. Don took a spin around the Sutter Buttes, passing by falcon aeries in rocky crags. Lake Berryessa and Clear Lake are swelling with runoff. Their feeder creeks are backed up with water that has no where to go; such a rich sight to our drought-year eyes. Back on the ground at O69 a balmy Sunday afternoon was in play. It was time for a beer and the joy of warm wx ahead. Friends stop by the hanger, no need to run home out of such gorgeous sunshine. Take to the skies and celebrate all the cycles we’re so lucky to witness. Great friends, great fun, great flying. — Cindy Pickett

Colusa County Airport (O08)
Lat/Long: 39-10-44.4019N / 121-59-36.0124W
Elevation: 50 ft. / 15.2 m (surveyed)
From city: 3 miles S of COLUSA, CA

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