The Vina Plains is an excellent example of California annual grasslands and vernal pools on the upper terrace of the Sacramento Valley. The shallow soils are underlain by an impervious, rocky hardpan formed by volcanic mudflows a million or more years ago. Subsequent erosion has scoured out shallow depressions that fill with water during the rainy season. Because of the impermeable subsoil, the water remains until it is lost by evaporation late in the spring. These temporary ponds support a wide variety of plants, crustaceans, snails, flatworms, and insects. During winter the ponds attract legions of waterfowl and shorebirds. Songbirds such as meadowlarks and horned larks nest in the grasslands and raptors can be viewed hunting overhead.
13 miles north of Chico
The Vina Plains vernal pools are some of the best remaining in California. Although once common in the Central Valley and other parts of the state, vernal pools have been reduced to less than 5% of their original range and are now one of California's most threatened natural communities.
Vina Plains is a key property in the Nature Conservancy's Lassen Foothills Project. Vina Plains forms the western boundary of the project, which includes large connected grasslands, wildflower fields, oak woodlands, streamside forests, and native fisheries. The Lassen Foothills project area features some of the state's best remaining salmon runs and is home to the largest herd of migratory deer in California. Vina Plains is utilized by the Conservancy as an important research site to gain information about how to manage grasslands facing invasion by non-native weed species.
The preserve supports 280 species of plants, including the rare Hoover spurge and hairy orcuttia. In spring the landscape comes alive with wildflowers that ring the pools with floral necklaces of blue, white and yellow. Adobe lilies, meadowfoam, violets, and goldfields are just a few of the blooms that enliven the grasslands with bright colors.
Aquatic invertebrates, some of which are rare and endangered, swim silently in the vernal pools. Fairy shrimp hatch from eggs that have survived the summer drought and are stimulated by the cold winter rains that flood into the new and growing pools. Overhead, the air is alive with migratory waterfowl and shorebirds that feed on the fairy shrimp and tadpole shrimp in the pools below. From February through May, great blue herons, tundra swans, snow geese, greater yellowlegs, American widgeons, and more feed in the food-rich waters.
Because Vina Plains Preserve is a working ranch, it is open to the public on a very limited basis. For more information, call (530) 527-4261.
Driving directions are provided at the time of tour signups.