King-Swett Ranches Exploration

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The King-Swett Ranches in southwestern Solano County are a currently undeveloped nature preserve owned and managed by the Solano Land Trust.  The public can access these beautiful properties only by docent-led hikes at this time.  I was fortunate to participate in a docent-led hike.  Since I typically hike solo, this was a special opportunity to learn about the typical flora and fauna that the group would encounter in the current season.  The hikes vary throughout the year to include interesting seasonal features.

For the January hike the group caravanned from a Park and Ride meeting place through a locked gate near Gold Hill Rd and up a narrow road to a hilltop parking area.  From the parking area we had a birds-eye view across Suisun Marsh.

image of Suisun Marsh from the hike start

Suisun Marsh from the hike start

The route was a semi-loop with less than 0.2 mile of overlap at the beginning and end, and covered about 3.5 miles in 3 hours, allowing plenty of time for explanations and questions.  The route did not include any established trails.

GPS track

GPS track

Shortly we passed a shallow pond where grazing cattle had gathered to enjoy a drink.  Although they are small in the picture, you may be able to see that quite a few are facing our hiking group.  I have found that cattle seem to be curious about the humans who hike in their vicinity, and continue to watch for quite awhile.

picture of grazing cattle at a pond

Grazing cattle at a pond

The first mile was mostly downhill, partly following a seasonal stream under a canopy of deciduous trees.

photo of following a stream under a canopy of trees

Following a stream under a canopy of trees

As we continued to descend we could see an interesting tree in profile on top of a nearby smaller hill.  I am quite sure this tree is neither trained nor pruned to maintain such a perfect shape!

image of tree on a nearby hilltop

Tree on a nearby hilltop

After descending nearly 500 feet we crossed a stream and began to climb.

Elevation profile

Elevation profile

Much of the area of our hike was open grassland, with the hills a beautiful green from the seasonal rain.  In this picture, taken at the hilltop at about 1.9 miles, the black dots are cattle that graze the land.

picture of hilly grassland that supports cattle grazing

Hilly grassland supports cattle grazing

As we hiked we were “introduced” to several bird species, including black and Say’s phoebes, ruby-crowned kinglets, horned larks, American kestrels, a white-tailed kite, and yellow-rumped warblers, as well as toyon, artemisia, poison oak, and other plants.  Near the streambeds we encountered quite a few scattered bones, part of the natural consequence of the open space food chain.  In this picture my foot serves as a rough ruler.

photo of bone found near a streambed

Bone found near a streambed

The streams seem to follow creases in the hills and are easy to find by looking for the trees they support.

image of trees indicating a stream following a crease between the hills

Trees indicate a stream following a crease between the hills

Another brief descent took us to another crease where we crossed a small geologic rift.

picture of hikers crossing a geologic rift

Crossing a geologic rift

Our docent hike leader had mentioned in his introduction that we would pass by an area where burrowing owls are seen fairly frequently.  We were lucky enough to see one a little distance away.  Suddenly a red-tailed hawk swooped in, perhaps as the owl was a bit distracted by a group of humans, picked up the owl, and flew away. As the hawk started to fly around a hillside it dropped the owl.  We surmised that, if the owl was picked up while distracted, it soon became alert and literally fought for its life.  I was quite enthralled with the natural drama and didn’t get a single picture!

A highlight that was saved for near the end of the hike was a beautiful, very old, tree, I believe a California buckeye.  Somehow the trunk had formed an arch and then continued growing after making a second landing on a nearby rock.

photo of gnarly (old) buckeye

Gnarly (old) buckeye

Shortly afterward we found yet another shallow pond, this one providing a pretty reflection of a hill on the other side.

image of nearby hill reflected in a pond

Nearby hill reflected in a pond

This was an especially interesting hike, with a hike leader who was knowledgeable about the Open Space and its plant and animal inhabitants.  It would be interesting to return in a different season.  Someday a segment of the Bay Area Ridge Trail will pass through part of the King-Swett Ranches.

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