Bird's Eye View
● By Michael O'Brien
story: Michael O'Brien photo: Frank Kratofil
Birding at the McConnell Foundation's Lema Ranch
Lema Ranch is a birding oasis inside the Redding urban landscape. Originally a working mule ranch owned by Chuck and Peggy Lema, Leah McConnell purchased it in the 1970s as an investment property. In the 1990s when the McConnell Foundation needed a permanent home, Lema Ranch was the chosen place.
About 200 acres of diverse landscape provide habitat for many bird species. Four miles of paved trails allow for excellent viewing opportunities. Lema Ranch’s grasslands, oak and Manzanita forests, and aquatic habitats attract specific birds, and each area is accessible via the ranch’s trail system.
The property features five ponds originally built by the Lema family in the 1950s. The McConnells enhanced the ponds in 1997 to better attract plant and animal life. The Ranch’s trails skirt each pond, giving birders excellent, close views of waterfowl, marsh species and thirsty birds
Start your day at the trail parking lot. Three walking trail loops are available. Secluded Loop features grassland and pond habitats and is three-quarters of a mile long. Leah’s Loop surrounds four of the Ranch’s ponds, grasslands and oak forest, and is one and three-quarters of a mile long. Mule Loop circles the entire property, covering two and one-quarter miles. A map of the trails is posted at the trailhead, or view it online at www.mcconnellfoundation.org/lema/trails.
The walking trails are meticulously maintained and run smooth and flat. Benches are positioned along the way so you can stop, sit and see what flies to you. The bench on the Leah/Mule Loop trail overlooking Leah’s Pond faces west, and offers a striking view of Shasta Bally, the McConnell Foundation headquarters, grasslands and oak trees. Use your binoculars to scan the pond for ducks, geese and other water-loving birds. Check out the reeds for Red-Winged Blackbird and Marsh Wren. Lesser Goldfinch love the treetops and the shore vegetation. Look for Red-Shouldered Hawk nesting near the main building and keeping watch over the ranch like a self-appointed sentry.
The grasslands on the southern parts of Secluded and Leah’s Loops are alive with birds. Take your time along your way, stopping often to listen and look for species that thrive in this environment. Use your binoculars to scan brush that skirts the open fields to spot the striking Spotted Towhee, with its blazing red eyes and jet-black head. This bird likes to lurk in the underbrush, but is very vocal. Look into the oaks that jut up from the grassy hills and scan for Nuttalls and Acorn Woodpecker, Oak Titmouse, White-Breasted Nuthatch and Northern Flicker.
Lema Ranch birds seem used to people, so lengthy close-up viewing opportunities are abundant. Dogs, bicycles, skateboards and scooters are prohibited on the trails. People passing by greet you reverently, as if to maintain the serenity of the area and to enhance your birding experience.