Stretching from Bering Strait off the coast of Alaska to the southernmost tip of South America, the Pacific Flyway ranks as one of the greatest migratory pathways in the world. Millions of birds representing hundreds of species use this great avian highway each year, and nowhere is this abundance of wildlife more accessible than right here in Butte County.
With an ideal combination of mild winter weather, abundant food, and rich quantities of water, the area attracts a huge wintering population of waterfowl and raptors, making it an ideal location for Northern Californian bird watching throughout most of the year. This migration, especially of the majestic snow goose, is celebrated annually at the end of January with the Snow Goose Festival of the Pacific Flyway. The five-day celebration includes field trips, workshops, exhibitions, and other activities revolving around a variety of geese, ducks, herons, raptors, and more, all in their natural splendor.
Even if you can’t make it to the Snow Goose Festival, you can still enjoy spectacular birding opportunities whenever you visit. The Llano Seco Viewing Platforms south of Chico provides what is arguably the most spectacular wildlife viewing in Northern California. On the elevated platforms, you’ll be overwhelmed by the number of birds you can see, including unusual migrating species in the fall, like the black-bellied plover, and less common duck species, like the Eurasian Wigeon, in the winter.
In Gridley, the Gray Lodge Wildlife Area is perhaps the most well-known birding site in Butte County. The well-marked nature trail makes for a refreshing walk with spectacular bird viewing of more than 230 bird species across the 9,200-acre wildlife area. During the winter migration, you’ll likely be rewarded with a dusk “fly-off” of thousands of Snow Geese and other waterfowl filling the sky. You can also enjoy an exhibit museum, seasonal tours, and excellent car viewing.
In the spring, you’ll find trees jam-packed with warblers, vireos, tanagers, and grosbeaks at the Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve. If you’re willing to brave the mid-summer heat, a trip to the Chico Oxidation Ponds will likely showcase rarely seen southerly migrating species, such as the semi-palmated sandpiper--just make sure to call ahead for permission. In Oroville, the Thermalito Afterbay and Thermalito Forebay provide great vantage points for viewing waterbirds as well as more rare raptor sightings than anywhere else in the area.
Seasoned birders know that anyone can get into this easy activity, and that it’s a great way to explore places you’ve never been! Here are a few tips to get you started:
- Wear comfortable walking shoes, bring binoculars, and download a birding app
- Dress for the elements and the season
- Respect the habitat and minimize your footprint so that everyone can enjoy the space