Story: Michael O'brien Photo: Frank Kratofil
BIRDING AT THE SHASTA COLLEGE CAMPUS
January may be too cold for swimming, surfing and other outdoor activities, but it’s not too cold for bird watching. On the contrary, the winter months are ideal for birding. Why? Our feathered friends are just as dedicated to their cold weather digs as they are their balmy breeding grounds. The North State is winter home to many migrating species of songbirds, raptors and waterfowl.
Start the month by participating in the Wintu Audubon Society’s 34th Annual Redding Christmas Bird Count. This year’s dawn-to-dusk, rain-or-shine birding extravaganza is Saturday, January 2. “Counters” add to their life lists and contribute in a Western Hemisphere effort to census bird populations by dispatching in small groups over a 15-mile circle to record the number of each species seen in their assigned area. Each group is led by an experienced local birder. The day culminates with a gathering at a local restaurant for dinner and results compilation. Contact your local Audubon Society for information on the count going on in your area.
For a quality birding outing any time, check out the Shasta College campus in Redding. Opened in the mid-1960s, Shasta College showcases 337 acres of both natural and manicured foliage in and around the campus. Wild habitat may seem most desirable for birding, but human-engineered landscape also attracts many birds. This campus offers a unique mix of groomed park-like settings, a farm and riparian woodland.
Pack your binoculars, notebook, sketchbook, pencil and field guide, and go on a weekend day when you’ll find the campus empty and quiet. Park in the north or east parking lot, and scan the trees and grassy areas as you traverse the college grounds. A pond by the Performing Arts Center is a good place to check. Sit quietly and the birds will come to you.
From here, walk east towards the agricultural area. Put your binoculars on the tall trees at the lot’s edge and look for raptors, crows, ravens and songbirds. When you spot a bird you cannot readily identify, log as much as you can about plumage and behavior in your notebook before consulting your field guide. Your guide will always be available; the bird most likely will not!
Make your way to the farm road under the trees you just spied. Walk north along this paved road, keeping the farm fence on your right. Check the adjacent brush, plowed fields and irrigation pipe wheels. The road passes by the Shasta College Farm entrance. Continue north towards the sewage ponds. Strange as it sounds, sewage ponds are typically birding hot spots. Ducks, shorebirds, egrets and herons frequent these sheltered, wet areas. From the main gate, you’ll find a nice view into the first pond.
Keep walking north on what is now dirt road towards a grove of mature trees, keeping the pond on your right. Make a few stops on your approach to the grove to find birds in the brush, on the trunks, in the lower branches, the upper branches and soaring overhead. Each species has its canopy level preference; your field guide can help you understand which birds prefer which level.
Under the grove and past the sewage ponds, the road turns east-west, hugging the bank of Stillwater Creek. Travel west and take advantage of the views down into the creek area. Blackberry brambles and brush provide concealment as you search for birds feeding on the bank, in the brush or bathing in the creek. Scan the trees along the creek, looking for Acorn Woodpecker, Mourning Dove or Rubycrowned Kinglet. The wooden boxes you’ll see nailed to trees along the creek are for wood duck nests. Return to this area in March to spot new wood duck families.
Continue walking west, making frequent stops, until you reach a point where the road bends to the south. The trees to the north of this spot are thick with Lewis’ Woodpecker. Not your average pecking Picidae, these unique birds are green backed and red chested. They do not hammer their heads into trees to forage, as do their cousins tapping nearby. They catch insects on the fly, store nuts in tree holes like Acorn Woodpecker, and are more likely to sit upright than cling to the sides of trees. Follow the road here as it turns east, and reconnect to the Stillwater Creek road via one of two cut-through roads that bisect plowed fields. Follow the road past where you entered by the sewage ponds and work your way back to the parking lot to end your ideal day of January birding. Christmas Bird Count info: Bill Oliver, (530) 941-7741 or firstname.lastname@example.org