Battle Creek Wildlife Area Re-Birded
● By Michael O'Brien
Boots & Binos are birding essentials!
I have found that to get through all that life has to throw at us, some form of healthy escape is required. For me, that escape is bird watching, or birding to us enthusiasts. (Calling a birder a "bird watcher" is akin to calling a Trekker and "Trekkie"!) To celebrate Enjoy's 10th, I decided to revisit the location of my first Enjoy article, "Battle Creek is for the Birds": Battle Creek Wildlife Area.
I have birded this location many times, both before my article and since. It is a serene and magical place. I rarely encounter anyone else while there, though I've seen evidence of bus loads of elementary kids on field trips traipsing the grounds. Staked signs identifying trees and shrubs dot the grounds. The entrance kiosk educates on the local flora and fauna, aves and ictiologia.
It has changed since 2006, however...
The wooden bridge east of the parking lot is long since gone. (It was actually condemned just before my article published in that first issue!) The trail system has been rerouted to emphasize the west side of the area. The east part of the park that was accessed by the wooden bridge is mostly overgrown now. However, it is still accessible via the Coleman Fish Hatchery Trail that now crosses the eastern part of the area. This path to the hatchery did not exist in 2006.
The birding appeal of this place remains exquisite. The ecosystem variety available in such a small space creates a unique concentration of many types of birds. Riparian topography, grassland, oak woodland, and marshland lead to open fields and shaded groves, black berry brambles and submerged reeds, slow moving streams highlighted by the swift moving Battle Creek.
During my very first outing here in March, 2000, I counted 30 different bird species in a 2 & 1/2 hour period. I spotted 33 species on a June 2006 trip. (The outing I used for my first article!) In the dog days of summer, typically the worst time of the year to bird, I've counted 26. A fruitful stop anytime of the year.
I have a few spots I never miss while at Battle Creek Wildlife Area. The first is the cement bridge which crosses the same creek as did the wooden bridge, due south of the parking lot. I bring a hiking stool and sit on that bridge. The huge oak trees and soaring Cottonwood trees lord over this creek and provide shelter and sustenance for Acorn Woodpecker, Oak Titmouse, Western Scrub-Jay, Anna's Hummingbird, Ash-throated Flycatcher. I've spotted Wood Duck on the creek below the bridge. Which is no surprise given the number of Wood Duck nesting boxes that have been placed near by!
My next favorite stop is the cement bench placed on the edge of Battle Creek, a due south walk from the bridge. I sit and stay awhile, watching for riparian species creek side: Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, Common Merganser, Black Phoebe, Osprey, Belted Kingfisher (they do not like visitors and are quick to let you know with their "clattering rattle" of a call).
The third stop lies at the western edge of the park, a place I call "the raptor trees." A line of ancient oaks and eucalyptus trees line the western border, and run into Battle Creek. There, another cement bench sits creekside, and is a great place to spend time scanning the trees on either side of the creek for Red Tail, Cooper's, and Red-shouldered hawks. This is also a great place to see perched Turkey Vultures! We so often see them soaring overhead. Their bald, red turkey-like heads are an interesting sight. They love to overnight in these trees and will often allow a fairly close approach, close enough to smell them. They feed on carrion, so you can imagine the odor they exude...
I expect that owls nest in these trees. Although while I've heard Bubo virginianus hoot in the dusk, I have yet to spot one here. Perhaps you will on your trip to Battle Creek Wildlife Area!
Michael O’Brien: A 23-year resident of Shasta County who has frequented the Redding area since 1983, he is a lifelong birder, a graduate of Humboldt State University and a sales and marketing professional. Personal and professional travel has allowed him to bird in most of the Western United States, some Midwestern and Eastern states, in Europe, Canada and the Caribbean.