Every winter millions of creatures migrate though California. Monarch butterflies return to Carmel. Hummingbirds head for Mexico. And waterfowl, including the tundra swan, travel to their favorite winter habitats in Baja California.
We are blessed to live in one of the great migratory “fly-ways” on the planet.
Tundra swans are the most common swan in North America. The bird is completely white, although the head and neck can appear rusty, due to contact with ferrous minerals in marsh soils where the birds feed. They have black legs and a black bill that usually has a yellow spot at the base.
The swans are strong fliers and fly either in a straight line or in a classic “V” formation. These birds prefer habitats that include marshy lakes, bays and tundra — especially locations in Canada where tree growth is hindered by low temperatures and short growing seasons.
The birds mate for life, producing their young in the spring. It is not uncommon for cygnets — young swans — to do their first migration south with their parents. Tundra swans have a long lifespan, and few predators outside of man. A tundra swan can live as long as 20 years or more.
California’s Department of Fish and Game is offering an opportunity to view these amazing creatures as they make their journey south, starting in November and running through the migratory season’s end in February. Members of the public are invited to register for a naturalist-led swan tour of Marysville’s rice and waterfowl area.
It’s a worthwhile daytrip adventure that promises to build memories for a lifetime. Co-hosted by local rice farmers and land owners, these tours will focus on finding tundra swans, as this tract is one of the best locations for seeing swans in California.
“We’ll be scouting for the ‘sheets of white’ — namely the swans — and other assorted waterfowl,” said Bruce Forman, naturalist for the Department of Fish and Game. “It’s also a special treat to see a bald eagle, as this is also bald eagle habitat.”
Ducks, geese, cranes, shorebirds, white pelicans, herons, egrets and raptors are also commonly seen in this area, known as District 10. The area contains 23,000 acres of rice fields and restored habit not normally open to the public.
“Part of the experience will be learning about the importance of rice farming as critical habitat for many kinds of waterfowl,” Forman said.
Tours will be held on the second and third Saturdays of each month from 9 a.m.–11 a.m., November through February. These are driving tours along a short route with very little walking required.
Pre-registration is required on the department’s website, dfg.ca.gov/regions/2/SwanTours.
Up to 30 people may register for each tour. The tours are free, but registrants are encouraged to make a donation online to the California Wildlife Foundation to support the program.
The swan tours are part of DFG’s wildlife viewing services program, which includes similar outdoors opportunities at Gray Lodge Wildlife Area, Yolo Basin Wildlife Area, Isenberg Crane Reserve and North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve. For more information about the swan tours call (916) 358-2852.
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