Explore the Wild Side of Elk Grove

Not far from the confluence of the Sacramento, Cosumnes and Mokelumne rivers and the California Delta, Explore Elk Grove’s welcome mat greets millions of migratory birds each fall and winter. Along the Pacific Flyway, winged visitors make their way to nature preserves, parks and refuges. Breathtaking fly-ins of ducks, sandhill cranes, Canada geese, snow geese and tundra swans are the showstoppers, but wildlife viewing is a year-round attraction. Throughout the region, a wide array of feathered friends, mammals and fish are full-time residents. Parks, neighborhoods and rivers are habitat for red-tailed hawks, Swainson’s hawks, falcons, river otters, raccoons, owls, and, yes, Mexican free-tailed bats! Whether you walk, paddle or observe from your car, it’s easy to get up close and personal with nature.

Keep your binoculars, spotting scopes and cameras close. Much of Elk Grove’s wild side is easily accessible just along Franklin Boulevard. Within its borders, there are 90-plus city parks in excess of 700 acres and more than 28 miles of hiking, biking and walking trails. Get out and Explore Elk Grove!

by Barbara L. Steinberg

BufferlandsSacramento Regional County Sanitation District

Bufferlands - Roger Jones photo
Bufferlands – Roger Jones photo

In the 1970s, the Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District looked deep into their crystal ball and saw that communities needed a “buffer” from the wastewater treatment plant. To safeguard growing populations and preserve much needed open space, they purchased 2,150 acres to minimize the potential for odor and other nuisances that could impact the surrounding neighborhoods. The results were nothing short of remarkable. Hidden away along Franklin Boulevard, this important nature area provides hundreds of acres of high-quality wildlife habitat, farmland and open space in a rapidly urbanizing area of California.

Restoration of historic properties and preservation of riparian habitat make the Bufferlands a must-see for locals and visitors. The Bufferlands supports more than 230 species of birds, 25 species of native mammals and several native fish, amphibians, and reptiles. The Bufferlands is also home to more than 20 species of rare plants and animals, including several threatened and endangered species such as Swainson’s hawk, vernal pool fairy shrimp and giant garter snakes. Opportunities to see this wildlife and nature tourism gem are available through public tours and events, including the annual Walk on the Wildside festival.

Laguna Creek Trail – City of Elk Grove

Laguna Creek Trail - Barbara Steinberg photo
Laguna Creek Trail – Barbara Steinberg photo

With numerous access points and ample parking, this popular trail features two miles of paved, off-street trails for biking, hiking, walking, running and horseback riding. Traversing the lengths of Laguna Creek, treetops and waterways are home to song- and shorebirds. Locals and visitors share the right-of-way with feathered friends and mammals including river otters, raccoons and beaver.

Cosumnes River Preserve – California Department of Fish & Wildlife

Cosumnes River Preserve Sandhill Cranes - Hank Miller photo
Cosumnes River Preserve Sandhill Cranes – Hank Miller photo

A one-mile universally accessible trail and three-mile roundtrip levee trail and boardwalk provide up-close views of sandhill cranes, shorebirds, riparian forests and wetlands. Bring your own boat for guided kayak and canoeing trips on the last free-flowing river from the Sierra Nevada to the Central Valley. Visitor Center includes interpretive displays and covered deck great for picnicking. All ages will love the weekly “Ducks in Scopes”, where preserve docents provide free scopes and binoculars and expert wildlife identification. Scopes are also set for children. Check the website for dates and times.

Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge – US Fish & Wildlife Service

Stone Lakes - Stone Lakes photo
Stone Lakes – Stone Lakes photo

The refuge is home to more than 200 wildlife and fish species. Seasonal Pacific Flyway migrations of Greater Sandhill Cranes, shorebirds and wading birds rest and feed on mudflats, wetlands and lakes. The recently restored Blue Heron Trails is located at the Hood-Franklin Road headquarters. Open from sunrise to sunset, free of charge, the accessible paved trail includes a mile of loops around managed wetlands hosting various migrants such as hawks, shorebirds and interpretive panels. Best viewing is during the migratory season October-May. School groups are welcome. Check online for dates and details about docent-led tours.

Woodbridge Ecological Reserve – California Department of Fish & Wildlife

Woodbridge Ecological Reserve - Barbara Steinberg photo
Woodbridge Ecological Reserve – Barbara Steinberg photo

The wildlife international airport – squadrons of Greater Sandhill Cranes descend during nightly fly-ins September to March. More than 30 other species of birds including ducks, geese, hawks, owls, swans, avocets, coots and stilts join the evening revelry. Managed by the California Department of Fish & Wildlife, parking and viewing mound are located on Woodbridge Road. The north site of the reserve, which includes the crane viewing shelter, can only be visited on a docent-led tour. Be sure to check online for dates and times as tours fill quickly.

Galt Winter Bird Festival

Galt Winter Bird Festival - Barbara Steinberg photo
Galt Winter Bird Festival – Barbara Steinberg photo

Festival headquarters is the starting point for free educational presentations, wildlife shows, hands-on activities and art displays. Fees vary for group tours to Cosumnes River Preserve, Heritage Oak Winery, and Staten Island. Keynote speakers are world-renown birders and authors. Wonderfully kid-friendly!

Walk on the Wildside

Walk On The Wildside - Barbara Steinberg photo
Walk On The Wildside – Barbara Steinberg photo

This one-day festival features hands-on activities, live animal shows, entertainment and guided tours of Stone Lakes National Wildlife Refuge and the 2,150-acre Bufferlands a unique opportunity to see a rare heron and egret rookery—one of only four in Sacramento County. Special twilight tours are offered during the summer and fall.

Lodi Sandhill Crane Festival

For more than 20 years, this three-day festival has celebrated the return of the Greater Sandhill Cranes to the Central Valley. Listed as endangered, the cranes are one the largest migrating North American cranes. Sometimes called B52s, their wingspan can reach almost seven feet wide and they can be up to four feet tall. Leaping with wings extended, their mating dance is marvelous! Guest speakers, art show, entertainment, guided tours and dozens of exhibitors!

Remember to “Leave No Trace” – pack it in and pack it out. Follow the brown and white binocular signs to wildlife viewing sites and festivals and online at CAWatchableWildlife.org

Check out Barbara L. Steinberg on her Facebook page that chronicles all of her adventures and her website, AreYouThatWoman.com, to explore undiscovered corners of Elk Grove and California.

Locations vary – see article for more details

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