Bird Watch

A gal named Kristina wrote in a comment about a recent blog. I had mentioned stomping around in wildlife refuges and how that’s one of the best things about having a job covering water and agriculture.

“Wildlife refuges? Where?,” she wrote.

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I’m glad she queried because this was on my list to write about this week, maybe in the printed version of the column.

The annual trek of waterfowl in Northern California is one of the treats of living in the Sacramento Valley. Our tromping ground is an important stop on the Pacific Flyway, where migratory birds travel from South America to Alaska.

Just last night I heard the first flock honking overhead. Like the fall leaves on the Esplanade, the traveling birds are one of those familiar things that makes one really appreciate living here. If its not cloudy you can see the migratory birds in their familiar V-formations.

Driving through back country roads in the valley, it’s not uncommon this time of year to come over a bluff and see hundreds of swans and/or snow geese in flooded rice fields. It’s one of those moments that if I hadn’t lived so long in the valley, I’d likely stop and catch my breath.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services has a series of refuges

, some of them only accessible by boat. However, in recent years the service has made great progress in putting up signs where public access is allowed, and letting drivers know where to park to enjoy the outdoors.

One very accessible spot is the Llano Seco Unit. From Chico take Dayton Road south about 5 miles, turn west on Ord Ferry Road. Continue about 3 miles, turn south on Seven-mile Lane. After about 2 miles you’ll see a viewing station.

You’re not allowed to stray off the paths, but the birds here are amazing and the location is just plain beautiful any time of the year. It’s worth the walk out to the second viewing platform where there are seldom other visitors and you feel as if you’re in the middle of nowhere, just you and the birds.

Then there is Gray Lodge, near Gridley, a Fish and Game property.

Also worth noting is the Snow Goose Festival which takes place locally in January.

This offers a nice introduction to people who are new to bird watching or just want some help figuring out the best spots to go. You register for a session, and then show up in something warm and get a guided visit of what the area has to offer.

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