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Habitat, viewing upgrades as Colusa refuge readies for year
While the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge south of Willows was celebrating its 75th anniversary on Saturday — and the Delevan refuge in north Colusa County its 50th — Mike Peters was putting some of the final touches on the one outside of Colusa.
The popular waterfowl destination — for hunters and bird watchers alike — is being flooded and with the turn of weather to the north, will soon be a resting place for about 200,000 ducks and geese.
Maybe even more.
"There was one year we had over 300,000 ducks and (50,000) to 100,000 geese," said Peters, who is the manager of the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge.
Many visitors are hoping one special duck returns — a male falcated duck, which was discovered on Dec. 8.
The rare Asian duck is in the teal family and is named for the male's long, falcated — or sickle-shaped — tertials, the wing feathers near his body that overhang onto the tail.
The unusual visitor got national, even international, attention when it unexpectedly arrived last year.
Peters said there is a decent chance the bird will be back if habits of similar sightings in Oregon and other locations hold true in Colusa.
That is why Peters believes even more than the usual 25,000 visitors will visit the preserve this year.
That and the fact more people were introduced to the area last year because of the falcated duck, and indicated to him that they would be returning whether the duck is back or not.
They will be greeted with improved viewing stands, some improved habitat and an improved road system for the auto tour that includes a wider lane in some areas and a number of turnouts that will allow cars to stop, while allowing other cars to pass safely.
It was actually the falcated duck that brought the need to the attention of the staff, as the increase in the number of cars created some safety concerns.
Peters is not sure how many different species of birds call the refuge home, but knows the number climbs well over 150.
He runs out of fingers just trying to total up the number of waterfowl species.
Already, he said, there has been a number of people who have come out to see the early arrivals of white-fronted geese, pintail and mallard ducks, sandhill cranes and a number of others.
Redtail hawks glide overhead in search of prey, one of several flying predators that also includes the Peregrine falcon, though rare, and the Great Horned Owl.
There are also deer and other animals that can be seen at the refuge, which is located just a couple of miles west of Colusa and south off Highway 20.
Even entering the refuge will be a little different this year as the open field along the road in has been worked so there will be more ponds and habitat once the rainy seasons hit.
Hunting season opens Saturday, and Peters said that is where the next expansion project will likely take place.
He is working on environmental documents that will add 75 acres to the hunting area on the south edge of the refuge, part of more than 300 acres purchased in 2009.
Some of that land will be developed for non-hunting habitat.