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Wintertime is for the birders
Experts say many species visible now
Yuba-Sutter commuters going south to Sacramento each morning have a far different view than their city counterparts. From hawks perched on road signs to flocks of geese landing on rice fields, drivers might be inspired to spend more time birding, and now's the time to get started.
The Great Backyard Bird Count started Friday and continues through Monday. The four-day event encourages people to go in their backyards or outside and count the birds they see. Community involvement helps scientists track changes in bird numbers and patters in geographic locations. Reports are then submitted online at birdcount.org.
Lora Haller, visitor services manager at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex, said a survey in January indicated more than 200,000 geese and 600,000 ducks on the complex. Five national wildlife refuges — Sacramento, Delevan, Colusa, Sutter and Sacramento River — make up the complex. It's a rest stop for nearly half the migratory birds on the Pacific Flyway.
"We have lots of raptors, birds of prey. You can still see bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, northern harriers, peregrine falcons even white-tailed kites," Haller said.
Sacramento resident Cliff Hawley, a member and volunteer of the Central Valley Bird Club, was once the Big Year record-holder for Sutter County. He witnessed 207 species in the county over the course of a year. His record was broken by Jim Laughlin of Yuba City, who did a Big Year in 2008 and saw 210 species.
Both birders agree that the area around the Sutter Buttes is ideal, with Hawley calling it the best place in Northern California to see raptors. Laughlin enjoys birding at the Bobelaine Audubon Sanctuary and a bird trail at the south end of the Sutter National Wildlife Refuge. The trail is open every year from Feb. 15 through June 30.
For rarities, Hawley said trumpeter swans were seen in January just south of East Nicolaus. Tundra swans are common in Sutter County during the winter.
"Trumpeter swans are larger, they have all-black bills and different pattering of feathering around the face," Hawley said. "Tundra swans are the smaller of the two. They have a bill that's all black with a small yellow spot near the base."
Ferruginous hawks can be seen in the grasslands north of Beale Air Force Base, Hawley said. The birds have a rusty color on the back and white feathers underneath and are sometimes mistaken for red-tailed hawks.
Sacramento Audubon Society board member Tim Fitzer said one way to attract birds to your home is to make space for native plants in your garden, and putting out a couple of feeders or a hummingbird feeder.
"Wintering birds will come into feeders quite readily," Fitzer said. "They have a knack of finding them."
His advice for people participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count is to "spend a few hours looking in your backyard, and see what you can see."