Dave Feliz pointed out a thin white strip on the horizon, hiding behind the brush and water, tucked underneath the skyline of Sacramento: Those are snow geese, he warned, and when we start walking toward them, they’re going to bolt.
They did — again and again and again and again, flowing up in a cloud of thousands, squawking across the wetlands. They flew farther and farther away from the intruding nature-seekers that Feliz shepherded Saturday through the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area during Duck Days, an annual wetlands festival organized by the Yolo Basin Foundation.
Each year, hundreds of people enjoy field trips and workshops at the event, learning how to carve duck decoys, touring the 17,300-acre Conaway Ranch and learning how rice farming and wildlife complement each other
“People need that,” said Chris Higgins of Davis, who, along with about a dozen others, went on the hike with Feliz, manager of the state-owned wildlife area. “They need the connection with nature every so often.
“When you’re downtown or whatever, you’re kind of in an artificial world — buildings, traffic. I think everybody needs to get away from that now and then.”
Feliz led the group on what was scheduled to be a 2 1/2-hour field trip out to Tule Ranch, a 10,000-acre hunk of the Wildlife Area, which itself is a 16,770-acre part of the Yolo Bypass. Owned by the state, the ranch is leased to farmers and ranchers.
Farmers grow organic tomatoes, grew organic sunflowers last year, and ranchers let their cattle graze the pasture. Grazing’s been going on for 130 years, Feliz said, “so there’s a neat cultural aspect.”
On the way back, Feliz and company stumbled across a family that had tried to go off-roading in the wetlands. Their white Porche Cayenne sank in two feet of mud.
“I promise I’ll never take you back to see nature again,” the father joked while hitching a ride back to the foundation’s headquarters. ”The next time you want to experience nature,” he told his two daughters, we’ll walk around Land Park.”
As a pitch for next year, Feliz had a zinger ready: “Come visit your car next year!”
The other Duck Days participants were all about nature on the Tule Ranch hike. Higgins counted himself fortunate for the opportunity to see “the big cloud of geese.” Sometimes, snow geese just take off and don’t come back. This flock, however, hopscotched around, hoping the human interlopers would go away. But the people just kept following, repeatedly rousting the birds.
“We were really lucky today,” he said. “It’s impressive to see waterfowl take off in those quantities as an entire group.”