They call it a Pineapple Express. An atmospheric river. A once in twenty-five year event. We call it water. And lots of it. This was the river just a year ago:
This year, Winter announced itself, first with a hard frost,
and now, rain. Lots and lots of rain.
After five years of drought, the water is welcome – but the height of our rivers and streams is downright scary. This is a warm storm off the Pacific, so the water melts the snow in the Sierra, and just when you think you’ve been through the thick of it, the rivers swell further with runoff. Sacramento is second only to New Orleans in flood risk. I was here in 1986 as the the water rose so high it brushed the bottom of bridges and the levees failed. If you have any sway with the rain gods, would you kindly ask them to go easy on us this time? Our cup runneth over.
There will be no gardening even if we wanted to: the garden looks like a lake with floating islands.
And there will be no dog walking today. The wind and rain make it unsafe to drive, so all but our feeders have been banned during the worst of it. Today, the dogs won’t mind. With the yards full of ankle-height water, and the relentless shooting of nearby duck hunters, even our water-loving pups prefer to be under cover!
But even these storms bring their own joys: birds.
Some are with us all year,
but much easier to see when the trees are barren.
Others – like the Snow Geese, make their way to our valley only in winter.
And what a sight they are!
Tens of thousands of them.
I have been stalking them for a couple weeks. They are skittish; even the sound of a shutter click sends them flying off.
But they have found food – and sanctuary from the hunters – in the flooded rice fields that surround us.
I usually love the sound of rain, but this rain is worrisome. I should be grateful for it after so long a drought – and I will be – when this storm has safely passed.
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?