Sue Barthelow's

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Tundra Swans
Tundra Swans in Flight

Swans and Geese
Swans and Geese


Birds of a Feather

by Sue Barthelow

Under gray skies, we drove down the grade from Grass Valley. Before reaching Marysville, we turned off of Highway 20 onto Woodruff Lane to short cut it over to Highway 70 on our way north to Chico. To our left lay a rain-soaked rice paddy speckled white. A quick glance, which is all I got as we whizzed by, revealed hundreds of migrating birds. I had my camera with me, but time was short. My husband and I had a meeting to attend in Chico and had just enough time to get there. I hoped the birds would stay put until our drive home.

Luck was both with me and against me that day. By the time we headed back, the clouds had decided it was time to lighten their load as they backed up against the Sierras. We turned left from Highway 70 onto Ramirez Road for the return leg over to Highway 20. The rain was steady but light. Anxious over whether the flocks still lingered in the area, I scanned the wet fields and rice paddies. Some of the previously filled spots were now vacant except for a few stragglers. I pulled over to the edge of the road and prepared my digital camera for action anyway.

Back on Woodruff Lane, I spied occupied paddies on both the right and left side of the lane. A small rural road was well positioned on my right, so I pulled into it and stopped. I left the car with camera in hand. The rain gently caressed my hair as I wandered away from the car, camera now under my jacket. The well-occupied field on my side of the lane was too far away for my telephoto to capture anything of interest. However, I managed to catch a couple of shots of what turned out to be Tundra Swans as they wheeled overhead.

The best shots were going to be of the paddy back across Woodruff Lane, so I headed that way. The raised edge of the paddy provided me some cover as I slowly approached the center of the road. Hundreds of Tundra Swans and Greater White Fronted Geese stood in the ankle deep water. I could tell that I was making the birds nervous, so I didn't go any closer. I took what pictures I could, occasionally returning to the shoulder to avoid oncoming vehicles. Finally, after becoming too soggy to continue, I returned to the car, dried my camera and headed for home.

If you go, drive along the back roads through the agricultural areas north and east of Marysville. This area is only about a half hour north of Sacramento, California. Many birds migrate to this area to spend the winter. Most of the fields will be nearly empty, but those that the flocks have chosen will be well occupied. You'll need a telephoto lens so you don't get so close that you scare the birds into taking flight.


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