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Anyone driving along the backroads in the county has inevitably witnessed the awesome sight of thousands of waterfowl taking to the skies in impressive flocks in their journey from their winter sanctuaries.
Officials with the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex say that peak populations occur in December and January. Nearly 300 species can be found, but the spotlight this week will be on the Snow Goose.
The 21st Annual Snow Goose Festival of the Pacific Flyway is underway, primarily in Chico, but there will be field trips to Colusa County as well.
The field trips range in price from $27 to $30 for adults and $10 to $20 for youth and are held Jan. 22-26. However, many residents of Colusa County opt to experience the refuge habitats for free. Hiking trails, viewing platform, photography blind, and graveled auto tours at the Colusa Refuge are all available year-round, one hour before sunrise and after sunset.
Don Geidel, resident volunteer for SNWR Visitor Services, has six years experience and shares his knowledge with visitors to the refuge.
“Birds are intelligent,” said Geidel, as he explained that the birds figure out quickly the boundaries to the refuge and the hunting grounds, much to hunters’ frustrations. “They are here to rest.”
In addition to the Snow Goose, the Greater White-Fronted Goose and Ross’ Goose are some of the more common foul to be recognized, although the refuge is home or resting grounds to
ducks, hawks, kingfishers, herons, among other species.
“When all these geese blow out of the water, it is due to a Bald Eagle,” said photographer Patrick Strock.
NWR officials estimate 95 percent of the Central Valley’s wetlands, grasslands, and riparian areas have been destroyed or modified since it was first settled. Over 5,000 acres in the Complex have been maintained for thousands of migratory foul for breeding grounds since 1945. Thousands of geese and hundreds of thousands of ducks can be observed from the refuge, located just west of the city of Colusa off of the 20 highway on O’Hare Road.
Visitors are reminded to stay in their vehicles on the auto-tour.
“A car doesn’t present a danger, but people do,” said Geidel, with a reminder that his feathered friends are conserving energy during the winter months in the flooded marshes.
Colusa NWR is part of a network of wildlife viewing areas in the Sacramento area. These areas not only provide sanctuary but are a benefit to the community as they foster an awareness support for conservation, officials said.
For more information about the National Wildlife Refuge, visit online at fws.gov or snowgoosefestival.org for events surrounding the Snow Goose Festival. ■