Nature trip is a chance for bird viewing, bug killing
It is a moving experience watching birds on the move. We spent a day at Gray Lodge, a wildlife preserve down in the valley west of Gridley. Finally figured out why it’s called the Feather River. Millions of migratory birds stop here on their way north or south each year. They were all in attendance on the day of our visit.
It helps to have a live guide. Otherwise, if you are like me, your “Field Guide to Western Birds” will be resting safe and dry on the coffee table at home or under a fathom of murky water in the canal at your feet. Without some expert guidance, all I would have seen were ducks and geese.
Lucky for me, the local Land Trust sponsored a day trip with a knowledgeable guide, Ted Beedy. Thanks to him and his high powered tripod-mounted telescope, I could distinguish a pintail from a shoveler, a wigeon from a teal, and a bufflehead from a coot. At least I can for a few more days, until my short-term memory begins to fog up and I can’t find my squeegee.
Telling a Ross’ Goose from snow goose is tough. They look alike, but one is smaller. Don’t ask me which. Both are equally impressive when they are flying in groups of a thousand and coming in for a landing a few feet over your head.
Waterfowl were everywhere, doing constant touch-and-goes, or floating placidly, diving beneath the surface for a meal. (Or to consult someone’s soggy field guide. I’ll bet even THEY can’t tell the difference between a Ross’ or a snow goose without Ted’s help!)
We covered most of the preserve by car, although the more energetic can bike or walk it. Having a car to lean on gave me something to steady my low-powered binoculars as I zeroed-in on some sort of bird. It would be nice to have a little pop-up screen in my binoculars that would match what I was seeing with a name. Like TV captions for the deaf – birding captions for the profoundly ignorant.
I managed to miss the eagles in flight, and the sandhill cranes were a speck in the distance by the time I got focused. The crane’s distinctive voice hasn’t changed in a million years, according to Ted. Who was I to disagree? He MUST know what he was talking about. He certainly looked the part and had all the equipment: the tripod, the field guide in a pouch on his belt, waterproof pants, real hiking boots, an Indiana Jones hat with a feather in it, and this kind of bra contraption that held his binoculars close to his chest.
Me, I was trying to identify what type of mosquito had been attacking every inch of skin that I’d left exposed. I’d smashed a few and was hoping insects didn’t enjoy the same protections that the waterfowl did.
Having committed insecticide in full view of so many nature lovers, I was sure they would want me to leave with the truckload of hunters who passed us on the trail. They cruised by slowly, envious and powerless at the same time. Their section of the preserve rarely has any birds in it.
So, being bird-brains clearly doesn’t affect the waterfowl’s survival skills.
I survived the expedition, too. It had been a beautiful day, and I checked off a few more names on my birding “life list.” And, while I saw quite a few blue herons that day, I have no egrets.
Mike Drummond is a Nevada County writer whose column appears on Tuesday. You can write him in care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945; or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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