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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

SACRAMENTO NWR COMPLEX: Snow Goose Festival and Falcated Duck Bring Thousands to Sacramento Refuges

Region 8, February 2, 2012
The falcated duck and an American wigeon
The falcated duck and an American wigeon - Photo Credit: n/a
Visitors at Colusa NWR viewing platform
Visitors at Colusa NWR viewing platform - Photo Credit: n/a

By Pam Bierce, R8 External Affairs

December and January were stellar months for the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex. Mild weather, thousands of wintering waterfowl, the Snow Goose Festival, and the rare duck sighting at Colusa National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) drew thousands of visitors to the refuges.

The 13th annual Snow Goose Festival of the Pacific Flyway, held in Chico, Calif., January 27-29, celebrated the snow goose and other waterfowl that make Northern California their home during the winter. The festival offered bird enthusiasts and nature lovers a wide variety of field trips and workshops; from tours to wildlife refuges, nature preserves, rice fields, and parks, to how to photograph and draw birds.

The five refuges and three wildlife management areas that make up the Sacramento NWR Complex provide key habitat for migrating geese and ducks in the Pacific Flyway, providing spectacular opportunities to view these birds which was highlighted by the many tours to the refuges during the festival.

These field trips were rare opportunities to get “insider” information from the experts about the refuges, the waterfowl and wildlife, and most were filled to capacity.

Refuge Manager Steve Emmons led tours to see the spectacular dusk “fly-off” at the Sacramento NWR. Emmons, who is also a talented photographer, led photography tours highlighting the best locations to photograph birds on both Sacramento and Colusa refuges.

Joe Silviera, the wildlife biologist at Sacramento NWR, led a “behind the gates” tour of the Historic Llano Seco Rancho, where approximately 1,500 Sandhill Cranes were observed on refuge land in the sanctuary. He also took visitors to the Pine Creek Unit of the Sacramento River NWR to view a riparian habitat restoration project.

Colusa NWR Manager, Mike Peters, conducted a field trip at the Colusa NWR where participants were able to observe thousands of wintering geese and ducks from the auto tour and the viewing platform. Not only were the visitors able to see the regular “residents” such as Northern shovelers, green-winged teal, mallards, gadwall, and Northern pintails, they were also able to see a rare falcated duck.

A male falcated duck has been the star attraction at the Colusa NWR since he was first sighted at the refuge on December 8. The falcated duck or falcated teal is common to Asia and rarely seen in the United States. There are only two other accepted records of sightings for California, which is why birders from all over the country have been flocking to the area by the thousands. “We’ve had 20 times the amount of visitors than we normally do at this time of the year,” said Peters. “I’ve talked to people from Colorado, Maine, Florida, Canada, and as far away as Germany.” There have been approximately 9,469 visitors to the refuge since December 9.

The falcated duck has an iridescent green and bronze head with falcated or sickle shaped wing feathers. This makes him stand out from the rest of the native waterfowl on the refuge. His popularity hasn’t decreased since the first sighting, many visitors are returning more than once or twice, with some who live in the area returning weekly to catch a glimpse of him.

When asked if he expects the duck to be around much longer, Peters said that many of the birds leave by mid-February, and he would be pretty surprised if he’s still there by March.

Contact Info: Pam Bierce, 916-414-6542, pamela_bierce@fws.gov