Tundra Swans and much more... Saturday, Jan 18th
Sutter Buttes reflected in a flooded rice field dotted with hundreds of tundra swans.
Back in the fall, sometime in October, our local newspaper ran a short article, "Winter swan tours offered near Marysville." Free tundra swan tours would be available from Nov 16th thru January 2014. I cut out the article and set it on the windowsill in our dining room -- where I'd see it every day. Meantime, we had bigger fish to fry with planning our South American trip coming up in December. But, I'd marked this potential tour in the back of my mind. So when we returned home from So America in early January, I "rediscovered" the article and made a reservation online for Saturday morning, Jan 18th. (I had my fingers crossed that we wouldn't be too late and all the birds flown away!)
Pretty photo thru a bird scope.
Thousands of tundra swans migrate from Northern Alaska to their ancestral wintering grounds near Marysville each year, and the California Dept of Fish and Wildlife, partnering with local rice farmers, sponsors these tours for the public to see this wonderful phenomenon. In an area covering 23,000 acres of rice fields and restored wetland habitat, Marysville is one of the premier locations for viewing the swans. We didn't know all this till last Saturday! And we learned a whole lot more.... The amazing thing is that we were only 20-25 miles "down the hill" from our house. We're still new enough to NorCal that we don't have distances to other towns hot-wired in our brains.
I have never seen so many raptors (esp Red-tailed hawks) in a concentrated area like we did while spying on swans. Of course, the guy on the left is NOT a raptor, but the American Kestrel (I love these little falcons, they're so cute!) certainly is.
Our morning temp in Nevada City was warmer than down in the valley. I figured the opposite would be true, as it usually is, so I wore a vest, but no jacket. Thank goodness the day warmed ('cause it was cold). Jimmy and I and another couple carpooled with the lady tour guide, and our first stop led us to a flooded field with a gazillion swans (and the occasional snow goose). But they were all so far away it was difficult to see them clearly even thru a bird scope. She rattled off many interesting facts, gave us body parts to touch and feathers to feel, and then we moved on.
Eventually we snuck up close enough to get these pictures. We were reminded by the pow-pow-pow! sounds that it is hunting season, and if the swans and geese see people and perhaps the flash of a camera or a scope, they will flush - i.e., take to the sky immediately. So, we had to be sly. A plus from the loop swan tour -- we found back roads we could bicycle on w/o fear of being run over (or hopefully getting shot!) to get more personal with birding.
These White-face ibis (shooting into the sun renders them DARK all over) were a common sight.
One small view of a huge flooded rice field filled with Tundra swans, Pintail ducks, Northern Shovelers, and a few Snow Geese mostly resting in the late morning sun. Large honking flocks of snow geese and smaller groups of swans in the air were audible all morning. Throw in ducks and blackbirds, and you know we got an earful!
Most enjoyable two hours!
On Hwy 20, to/from Marysville, we drove past Smartsville (which apparently used to be just Smartville), so we drove an extra mile to the town itself -- which ain't much at all -- and stopped Smarty in front of a street sign.
You know it just begged to be done!