Adventure of the Week: Area's bird-watchers flock to Audubon club for advice

Commuters who hurry between West Sacramento and Davis on Interstate 80 might not realize what lies beneath: prime bird-watching opportunities along the Yolo Causeway.

And the American River Parkway, patched with development, might not be the first place you'd look for zipping and zapping hummingbirds, but that's another viewing gem. Haggin Oaks, too.

Many other bird- watching spots, whether tucked away or obvious, are highlighted in the Sacramento Audubon Society's revised edition of "Birding in the Sacramento Region" and by the group's ongoing tours.

A single outing can produce the enjoyment of viewing and hearing 70 different species, says Tim Fitzer, an active bird-watcher for nearly 30 years.

"The Sacramento Valley is unique for bird-watching," Fitzer says. "It's along the Pacific flyway. It's a nice, open area. There's a lot of agriculture." He'll lead a tour this weekend through Sand Creek Road in Arbuckle, which overlooks the Capay Valley.

The itinerary: "On the way up there, we'll be looking for roadrunners," he says. "They can fly but they'd rather run, like the cartoon." Afterward, Fitzer will guide his group to view nesting sparrows: black-chinned sparrows, sage sparrows and dozens of others.

He's been giving tours, including some near Folsom Lake, for more than 25 years.

The 172-page Audubon book, in its fourth edition, is packed with guides (recently updated with Google maps) to 77 ideal viewing points recommended by local birders who visit the spots frequently.

William Dillinger, who has edited past editions, agrees that Sacramento provides countless points of interest.

"The nice thing about bird-watching is that you see a lot of pretty birds and see some nice country," Dillinger says. "I can't imagine it being boring."

In 1981, Dillinger edited the second edition of the book, which got its start with a 1964 article by Betty Kimball. He began his love of bird-watching as a young Cub Scout in the 1930s.

Over four decades, the book has changed to exclude some areas where birds no longer flourish. But the inventory is extensive, covering Discovery Park, East Lawn cemetery, Rancho Seco, Lake Natoma, Rayhouse Road, Beals Point (at Folsom Lake) and other vantage points, including some unconventional hot spots.

"I joke when people join the Audubon," Dillinger says. "I ask them if they want to see the sewer ponds – ducks and all kinds of shore birds like it." Monthly meetings of new and experienced watchers are drawing about 100 people.

Many first-time bird-watchers are amazed by how delicate and subtle bird listening can be, Dillinger says, adding that he's seen well over 500 different species of birds. Listening, just as much as viewing, adds to the experience.

"Some people are demon listeners," he says. "After a while, though, bird sounds will register, and you'll develop expertise as you go along."

"You can walk through the woods and all types of things could be happening, and you wouldn't even see that," he says of the inexperienced watcher. "You get a better appreciation of the natural world through bird-watching."

Careful participants take along a checklist to mark their accomplishments. In the book, a section outlines "target species," including waterfowl, turkeys, grebes, water birds, raptors, swifts, vireos and many more. Sometimes a viewing is so awesome that bird aficionados post an alert of a rare viewing on the society's Web site to prompt other eager watchers.

Dillinger says the group is not just a "bunch of birdwatchers." Another goal is the preservation of birds, plants and land. "We are serious about preserving that habitat. You have to have it all." Educating and lobbying are other club activities.

The national society is named for ornithologist John James Audubon, who began an effort to accurately illustrate North American birds. The Sacramento chapter's newest edition of the book is available on its Web site for $13, including shipping. Among the stores selling the book is the Avid Reader at the Tower in Sacramento.

Upcoming Audubon trips

Sunday – Sand Creek Road Ridge

Tuesday – Sailor Bar Area

Next Thursday – Sand Creek and County Road 41, a Yolo Audubon trip

May 9 – Spenceville Wildlife Area

May 10 – River Bend Park on Mother's Day

May 16 – San Mateo County coast, Half Moon Bay

May 17 – Sacramento Bar, American River Parkway

Cost: Free

Information: www.sacramentoaudubon.org