Calm before the Storm

By Luke Matthews

Late summer is a slower time for wildlife in rice fields. With heads of grain in the fields and harvest around the corner, it’s more difficult to view birds and other creatures. Rewards still come for patient observers. As an example, here’s a recent photo of juvenile Green Heron in a Sutter County rice field.

This also is a time for a brief lull in wildlife populations in ricelands, for several reasons. First, nesting seasons have largely finished for most species and the young are big enough to survive on their own. Second, many of our local ducks have migrated out the of Valley to molt, replacing all their feathers in preparation for the coming year. And finally, most of the fall migrating species have not yet arrived.

However, like any lull, this is only a temporary calm and it will be followed by a storm of activity. As August turns into September many early migrating shorebirds and Northern Pintails will start to arrive, shortly after that you can expect to see geese and cranes arriving.

Juvenile Green Heron
Once we reach October, and the weather starts to cool, the Sacramento Valley will again be teeming with a wide array of migratory and resident bird species that spend their winters in the surrogate wetland habitat provided by our winter flooded rice fields.

Flooded rice fields provide key foraging and roosting habitat for these migratory birds. Some species feast on waste grain left in the fields after harvest or invertebrates that thrive in those shallow waters; others only use the water as a safe place to rest and escape predation.

I always look forward to the migration and enjoy viewing the millions of waterbirds that rely on our ricelands and managed wetlands to get them through the winter.

Luke Matthews is the Wildlife Programs Manager for the California Rice Commission

Luke Matthews