Casual birdwatchers, rejoice: These tours will show you the best spots to see swans this winter

Interested in birdwatching, but not sure where to start? The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has you covered with naturalist-led free tours that travel around the Marysville area to the best spots for seeing several bird species.

It’s migration season, and tundra swans are in the region on their path south from the Arctic, said Bruce Forman, who supervises the tours for the department.

There are many other birds seen on the tour, but the snow-white avian is the tour’s “poster child,” said Forman.

The swans have adapted to feed on the rice that is grown around the Marysville area. The crop has already been harvested, so the swans are free to feast on the leftover grain, Forman said.

Forman estimates that 3,000 to 5,000 swans come into the area every year, from late October through January.

Forman said that the driving tours cover about 100 square miles of prime bird-watching real estate, and require very little walking. The tour guides know which fields are the swan favorites, and lead tour groups to those high-traffic areas.

These tours are for beginner bird watchers, Forman said, not scientific, high-level birdwatchers (although everyone is welcome). The naturalists guiding the tours can answer questions about the birds and their habitat, and basic birdwatching equipment is provided.

Usually, about 40 different types of birds can be seen on a single tour, Forman said, including ducks, geese, ibis, shorebirds, heron, and raptors.

The tour teaches and encourages responsible wildlife viewing, so as not to disturb the birds.

“We don’t want to get too close to the birds,” Forman said. “Once they fly up, they’ve alerted the other birds – one action has ripple effects.”

Disturbing one bird, he said, can cause a whole field to empty out, leaving nothing for the next groups of birdwatchers that come by.

If you go

The tours take place in Yolo County, north of Marysville, on Saturdays and Sundays (rain or shine) throughout the winter. Tours are about two hours long. There is no cost to attend. Groups can register online at https://bit.ly/2QRTbmA.

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