The annual Snow Goose Festival of the Pacific Flyway based in Butte County features much more than geese. Hundreds of bird watchers congregate at the base of the foothills to observe thousands of birds and hundreds of species as they find their route along the Pacific Flyway.
Centered in Chico, the festival puts together 80-some workshops, field trips, and informational presentations for the public to enjoy. Out-of-towners are provided multiple opportunities to flood wildlife sanctuaries and landscapes from Sacramento to Red Bluff for a view of avian vistas.
January 2019 was my second year at the festival. I was invited in 2018 and signed up for two events from the long list of offerings: a painting class and a visit to Gray Lodge Wildlife Area. I arrived expecting a walk around a swamp and lots of fresh air. What greeted this reporter was an overwhelming selection of education via sight and sound and a burgeoning Mecca of information. Seriously. I promised myself that I definitely would return the following year and do the event justice trying to experience more of what was offered. I had arrived completely unprepared for all that awaited but was determined to right that wrong for the next festival.
The 2019 event repeated the fat offering of dozens of field trips up and down the northern coast, from the heights of Sierra to the flatlands below Sutter Buttes. Over 20 free events and a dozen workshops made the event available to anyone interested. Youth were specifically invited to 45 of the activities.
I started off with a pontoon boat tour of Lake Oroville where dozens of bald eagles of varying ages filled our binoculars. We even saw a peregrine falcon dive and strike a Goldeneye duck over the water hoping for lunch.
“It was exciting for the participants to view several bald eagles so close-up,” said Oroville boat tour guide Craig Roth, one of dozens of talented and informed guides participating in the festival. “The varied stages of growing up for an eagle can be confusing but I hope enough pointers were discussed that the participants left with a bit more confidence. I tried to impress the point that bird watching is pure observation - size of bird, type of bill or beak, habitat, how it flies, the sound it makes, coloration, the list goes on.”
And truly it was a wonderful day full of eagle sightings on the water and the hills bordering. “Seeing the Peregrine Falcon was awesome,” said Roth. “Most people saw it in the spotting scope. When it took flight to hunt the Common Goldeneye it was a thrill for all to witness. It struck out on that kill but it's a tough life for all birds. Sometimes it's hard to make a living.”
Later that evening I returned to paint a “Heron in Cattails.” The event at Studio 541 was so enjoyable in 2018 I had to try for a repeat and now carry a hope for another in 2020.
The following morning, a couple dozen birders met with Dr. Roger Lederer at Bidwell Park and were treated to a perfect day filled with sights and sounds. Lederer was an ideal guide having written a handful of books, including “Birds of Bidwell Park.”
A family-oriented Owl Prowl rounded out the night from 7 to 8:30 p.m. that started and ended at Chico Creek Nature Center.
Saturday started with a lecture at Chico Masonic Family Center on “Garden as Habitat” with John Whittlesey, owner of Canyon Creek Nursery and Design. Also an author, Whittlesey presented great suggestions and ideas of how to create an environment with less lawn and more wildlife.
A huge exhibit filled a large room at the family center with activities for all ages, all day long. There were even live bats and falcons on hand (well on the handlers hands) for photos and viewing. Interactive displays and presenters kept the action going from 9am to 4pm. For me, a tour on the history of Sutter Buttes followed but I thought it was a lecture so I missed it, something for me to look forward to doing next year.
Saturday evening was the big banquet “Gathering of Wings,” featuring keynote speaker, naturalist and birding guide David Wimpfheimer. The topic was “Point Reyes and the Farallon Islands: A Mecca for Birds and Birders.”
My Sunday lineup was “Understanding Bird Language” and a presentation by Quincy birder Colin Dillingham titled “Ranges, Movements, and Migration of Peregrine Falcons in Plumas County.” What a great way to end a perfect weekend filled, no, bursting, with birds and fine birders of all ages.
A couple thousand people attended the Snow Goose Festival of the Pacific Flyway in January 2019. I know at least one human that will be returning for the annual migration again in 2020.