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Discoveries... Just Wing It

11/01/2006 09:14AM ● Published by Brandi Barnett

By Michael O'Brien

Our world is painted with the colors of contrast.

Today I find myself sitting next to the sunny, cheerful Sacramento River. Yesterday I was visiting gloomy New York City. The menacing sounds of cabs, ambulances and bustle that pounded my ears are now replaced by the soothing sounds of singing birds, rustling trees and babbling river water.

Why do you live in the North State?Well, take a trip to a big city and you may be instantly reminded of why you don’t live elsewhere. Go birding at one of our local spots of nature and you will be reminded of why you would live no place else.

This month’s birding location is a spot almost in the center of greater Redding. The Highway 299 bridge connects the busy Dana Drive and Hilltop commerce corridors to Redding’s city center while spanning the Sacramento River. This part of the river features a variety of pools, eddies and islands. Thousands of us drive over this spot everyday, but few stop to explore it. Such landscape offers excellent refuge for wildlife, and provides an ideal place to bird within 20 minutes of nearly any residence in Redding.

To reach this oasis in the city, I began from the Turtle Bay Exploration Park parking lot. I walked
towards the Sundial Bridge, but rather than walk across the bridge, I angled down the bark-covered hill to the right, and found the nearly hidden trail that runs just below the café/museum building. This trail is fairly wide but only people on foot or bike may pass. I walked east along this trail, leaving the weekend rush of Turtle Bay behind, moving towards the pocket of nature ahead. A diverse habitat of flowing water, riverbank, thick brush and tall trees surrounds this area. Such diversity increases the potential for finding a wide variety of bird species. Immediately, I scanned the river body and spotted riparian birds like common merganser, Canada goose, osprey, and spotted sandpiper. From the same spot, I trained my binoculars into the brush on the far and near banks and spied black Phoebe, snowy egret, great blue heron, and the iridescent yellow of Wilson’s warbler. The sky was seemingly filled with Northern tough-winged swallows.

Walking further, I found a bench along the trail, dedicated to Evelyn Rose Koch. It sits on a small
bluff above the river and faces back towards the Sundial Bridge. I sat to rest and noticed that from this vantage point, the bridge stands alone. It appears unencumbered by pedestrians, as pure white and stout as a great egret, craning its neck, as if looking for crawfish on the river bank. It becomes part of the natural landscape.

Returning to the trail, I passed a woman walking her poodle. She was carrying a pair of binos,
scanning the treetops for birds with one hand while controlling the leashed pooch with the other.
This seems to be a favorite place for people to walk their dogs. I encountered others riding bikes,
walking pets, all smiling and looking content knowing what treasure this area provides.
The trail cul-de-sacs as the river bends south, providing excellent access to the shore. I again
scanned for birds and was rewarded with a view of a juvenile sharp-shinned hawk dive-bombing a pair of mallards. According to birding field guides, sharpies prey on much smaller birds.This hawk must not have read the guide; a mallard is twice the size as this little hawk. After this dramatic scene, as if on cue, a pair of turkey vultures swooped over my head close enough to hear the air being pushed out from under their wings.

The trail eventually loops back around to the north Turtle Bay Museum building and back to the
Sundial Bridge.However, I found myself not wanting to return. Instead, I sat next to a pool off the
main river body, watching a gaggle of Canadian geese dabble for greens off the bottom. I reflected upon my day before in a massive gray city, appreciating its contrast to this beautiful spot, grateful to be living in the North State.

November 2006

Life+Leisure, In Print bird watching november 2006 birding

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