With the Sierras above us still capped with El Nino’s snowfall, the rice growers have flooded and planted most of their fields this year – turning Homeward Bound into lakefront property for a few months. The more than 500,000 acres of the valley’s rice lands are located along the Pacific Flyway, and the flooded fields provide critical migration corridors for shoreline birds and others.
Looking out from the garden, I saw this long dark line of what looked like turkeys pecking at the marshy field.
Sadly, I did not have my long lens (naturally!), but I could get close enough to ID them as White-faced Ibis – a bird I had not seen in the fields before.
Apparently, their numbers declined dangerously in the 60’s and 70’s due to DDT contamination and habitat destruction. The inland population has rebounded somewhat in the past few decades, but the pesticides used in rice farming are still a concern.
These dark birds with their long bills and metallic coloring wade through the fields picking their way through shallow waters looking for a meal: invertebrates, crustaceans, frogs, and fishes.
Until, you spook them, of course!
Our Sacramento Valley is a hub of bird activity in the winter. Tens of thousands of birds come a calling, traveling on a super-highway called the Pacific Flyway. It is a major north-south route for migratory birds extending from Alaska to Patagonia. The Sacramento Valley is a key rest stop along the way, or even a winter home for some – where birds gather by the thousands.
According to the Audubon Society, you will find about 250 species of birds in the Sacramento area alone. Expand your search east to the Sierra foothills & mountains, south to the San Joaquin River delta, and west to the Pacific Ocean and that increases to about 400 species.
Some pass through…and some find it very cozy to stay on in our nearby parks where they are very well fed.
Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue is surrounded by rice fields…a perfect landing spots for birds who flock together, including these beautiful snow geese.
Unfortunately, they are perfect sitting ducks for hunters as well. Throughout January, shotgun pops rang out and the birds took to the skies by the hundreds.
This past weekend marked the end of hunting season. The birds could not be happier.
Now that the skies are safe, you’ll find geese-covered fields putting a welcome mat out for their friends –
and even cohabitating with cows.
The worldwide Great Backyard Bird Count runs February 13-16. Thanks to my friend, Rob for capturing this Alfred Hitchcock moment. Anyone want to take a guess on this count?