Exploring Butte County with California Watchable Wildlife

This piece was originally written and published for Explore Butte County here. For more information, go to www.ExploreButteCounty.com

Throughout Butte County, a wide array of feathered friends, mammals, reptiles, insects, and fish are full-time residents, making it an ideal California Watchable Wildlife (CAWW) destination.

Discover red-tailed hawks, Swainson’s hawks, falcons, river otters, owls, Mexican free-tailed bats—and too many more animals to list—at Butte County’s urban parks, neighborhoods, and rivers. With its myriad of lakes, seasonal wetlands, vernal pools, and creeks, Butte County also welcomes millions of migratory birds each fall and winter as a major player on the Pacific Flyway. Each year, winged visitors make their way to flooded rice fields, nature preserves, parks and refuges where you can watch breathtaking fly-ins and show stopping fly-outs of ducks, sandhill cranes, Canada geese, snow geese and tundra swans (and more!).

Whether you walk, paddle, hike, or observe from your car, it’s easy to get up close and personal with nature in and around Butte County all year long (just look for the brown and white binocular signs).  Discover more about a few of Butte County’s official California Watchable Wildlife locations and check CAWW as more locations are added:

  • Bidwell Park
    • Premium site: worth visiting if you have limited time; has wildlife values year-round
    • The habitat: Blue Oak foothills woodland, Riparian, Grassland, Foothill Pine-Oak Woodland, Freshwater seeps/wetlands, Teichert Ponds
    • With both a lower and upper part to the park, Upper Bidwell Park is the Watchable Wildlife focus, with more than 100 species of birds found during various seasons and critical habitat for the Eastern Tehama deer herd, the largest in California. The area also provides critical habitat for and spawning for threatened Spring Run Chinook salmon and hosts larger, seldom seen, animals, such as mountain lion, black bear, coyote, and bobcat.
  • Chico Seed Orchard
    • The habitat: Oak woodland and riparian
    • Originally known as the Plant Introduction Station with the purpose of plant breeding research and plant introduction from all over the world, today the Chico Seed Orchard produces plants for projects such as reforestation, wildfire recovery, watershed restoration, fisheries, riparian habitat for threatened and endangered species, oak woodland restoration, and more. The trees and plants from around the world provide shelter for 200 species of bird throughout the year. A US Forest Service property, it is part of the Mendocino National Forest.
  • Feather River Fish Hatchery – Hosts the annual Oroville Salmon Festival the last Saturday in September.
    • Located on a scenic stretch of the Feather River just below Oroville Dam, this hatchery offers stunning scenery, an underwater window view of fish using the fish ladder, close-up views of Chinook salmon and steelhead spawning and rearing, and opportunities to see fish spawn naturally in the river gravels below the hatchery. The Feather River Fish Hatchery handles 30 million eggs, 15 million fingerlings, and 17,000 adult salmon and steelhead annually. Approximately 20 percent of the ocean sport and commercial catch originates here. Best viewing will be during the salmon spawning season (mid-September to November) and steelhead spawning season (late November to February 1). Find other wildlife viewing opportunities along the Feather River, where you’ll enjoy views of waterfowl, wading birds, songbirds, birds of prey, and small mammals.
  • Gray Lodge Wildlife Area
    • Premium site: worth visiting if you have limited time; interpretive programs and/or displays, well-developed facilities
    • The habitat: 35% upland, 5% permanent wetland, 60% seasonal wetland, 5% riparian, plus delivery ditch, natural slough, and creek banks.
    • Gray Lodge Wildlife Area is a spectacular, seasonal wetland, located five miles north of the Sutter Buttes. More than 230 bird species visit throughout the year. Wintering waterfowl, which includes more than a million ducks and more than 100,000 Ross’ and snow geese, enjoy loafing on the shallow ponds of this 9,200-acre wildlife area. Occasionally, muskrats and river otters are seen swimming through the deeper waterways. The upland fields and tree-lined canals provide habitat for warblers, red-shouldered hawks, ring-necked pheasants, tricolored blackbirds and much more. You may even spot some of the nocturnal life, such as barn owls and black-tailed mule deer, some of which are albino. Enjoy a three-mile driving loop, or walk the Self-guided Nature Trail (.6 miles round-trip)with viewing platform and Wetland Loop Trail (2.0 miles round-trip).
  • Sacramento River National Wildlife Refuge
    • The habitat: Butte County’s part of the Sacramento River National Wildlife Refuge is the Pine Creek Unit, which consists of 141 acres of native grasses and 423 acres of mixed riparian forest. General access is by foot or boat. The two-mile hiking trail is best enjoyed in cooler months or early morning in summer. Look for the nesting pair of osprey along the trail. Nearby, part of the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge Complex, the 1,732-acre Llano Seco Unit is part of the recently renamed Steve Thompson North Central Valley Wildlife Management Area. While open year-round, Llano Seco is comprised primarily of seasonal wetlands and grasslands with some riparian habitats. Both refuges welcome dogs, but they must be kept on leash.
    • The Sacramento River is an important breeding area for migratory songbirds and other migratory and resident land birds. This river is also an important migration corridor that provides stopover resting and feeding habitat for birds that breed in the nearby northern Sierra Nevada and southern Cascade foothills and mountains. Many mammalian species are year-round residents of the refuge. Fish species occur at the refuge in the main channel, sloughs, oxbow lakes, and on the inundated floodplain.

California Wildlife Photo of the Year
California Watchable Wildlife administers the annual California Wildlife Photo of the Year Contest. Photos can be present or past, but must have been taken in California, including the wilds of Butte County. The contest has five submission entry periods, beginning in January and ending October 31. The final judging period, November – December is reserved for selecting the Photo of the Year. Learn more about this annual contest at California Watchable Wildlife and submit your Butte County photos for your chance to win!

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Barbara Steinberg

Barbara Steinberg

Barbara Steinberg is a freelance travel writer and omni-local. Recognized as a California travel authority, she’s been exploring and writing about the Golden State for more than 30 years. She is everywhere you want to be in California – off road and on, urban and rural, 5-star resorts and hidden hot springs, gourmet or dive, but never happier than when she's exploring back roads. Barbara has been a member of California Watchable Wildlife for more than 25 years and serves as their Outreach Coordinator representing the organization at wildlife and nature festivals throughout the state. She graduated cum laude from California State University, Sacramento with a BA in Communications Studies. She is a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of California and California Roundtable on Recreation Parks & Tourism and Subaru Ambassador.



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