Sewer District Lists 2019 Open Trail Dates

Sewer District Lists 2019 Open Trail Dates

We hadn’t been on the Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District’s nature trails in almost a year, so we jumped at the chance of a bird watching hike when the e-mail invite landed in my inbox. A bunch of people beat me to the reply button, though, and Sacramento Sewer placed us on a waiting list. Lucky for us, the cold rain kept many indoors and moved us out onto the trail with a handful of other people willing to brave the weather, including a baby dressed for snow.

Owl decals dot the window of an office window at the Sacramento Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant as the rain pours outside.

The birds weren’t plentiful that Sunday morning as even they knew enough to hunker down in their nests and try to stay warm, but we did spy several varieties through the binoculars and scopes the district provided. One burrowing owl, visible only through the scope, stood in a field staring back at us. According to our guide, natural resource specialist Chris Conard, 241 bird species make their home in what the Sewer District has named the Bufferlands. The Bufferlands are just that, nature areas set aside to buffer the Sacramento Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant from the nearby residential neighborhoods. Most of the year the trails are closed to the public. When they open for guided tours, group size is limited so reserve your spot early if you plan to go.

A few of the recent visitors to the Bufferlands brave the rain to view birds.

The Bufferlands are located between Sacramento and Elk Grove off Interstate 5. Check the Bufferlands website for directions and updates on events.

Birds fly over telephone wires in the Bufferlands. 

To register for events, contact Roger Jones at 916-875-9174 or by e-mail at one week before the event you would like to attend. No pets are allowed at Bufferlands event. Cameras, binoculars, water, and clothes appropriate for walking on trails are recommended.

A map of the treatment plant shows how wildlife habitat and open space buffer the plant from residential neighborhoods.

Here’s the 2019 schedule:

  • March 16, 9 a.m. to noon, Rookery Tour: See the nesting colony of herons, egrets, and double-crested cormorants living in the riparian forest. The rookery has more than 150 nests.  The meeting location will depend upon the weather.
  • April 6, 8:30 to 10:30 a.m., Birds and Blooms Tour: As part of Creek Week, the district will lead a tour through the Fishhead Lake mitigation wetland. According to the district, “The wetland has both a permanent and seasonal component as well as a surrounding upland buffer. Thousands of waterfowl winter at the wetland and many remain year-round to nest and raise young.” Native California wildflowers are expected to be in bloom. Participants will receive a packet of native flower seeds.
  • April 10, 6:30 to 8 p.m., Bufferlands Evening Talk: The topic and details are still in the works. Check the Bufferlands website for updates.
  • May 18, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Walk on the Wildside: This annual family event is hosted by the Bufferlands staff in celebration of International Migratory Bird Day and to focus on preservation and restoration of Central Valley habitat. No reservations are needed. The free event allows families or individuals to walk along the Bufferlands hiking trails on guided or unguided tours. Presentations, live animal shows, live music, children’s activities, and informational exhibits are planned. Spotting scopes will be available in the rookery so visitors can get a close-up view of the 120 active nests there.
  • June 1, 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., Open Trail Day: The Upper Beach Lake wildlife area will open for unguided hikes. Trails will be marked through the wetlands, lake area, and riparian forests. Herons, egrets, and cormorants are likely nesting at this time of the year. Endangered Swainson’s hawks and other raptors, jackrabbits, deer, beavers and river otters could be out and about so district staff recommends bringing cameras and binoculars. Participants in this event will need to sign in upon arrival. Maps will be handed out. Access is via Freeport Boulevard into Beach Lake Park.
  • June 18, 6:30 to 9 p.m., Twilight on the Bufferlands: This evening tour gives people a chance to see animals out at dusk, possibly including beavers, river otters, muskrats, raccoons, and owls. The staff recommends bringing water and binoculars and dressing for trail walking.
  • July 16, Aug. 13, and Sept. 18, Twilight Tours: Evening tours are scheduled for these dates as well. Check the website for more information.
  • Oct. 19, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Open Trail Day: More than five miles of trails will be marked for unguided hikes in the Upper Beach Lake wildlife area. Birds should be plentiful as waterfowl and other wintering birds arrive. Visitors will be required to sign in with a biologist upon arrival. Access is via Freeport Boulevard into Beach Lake Park.
  • Nov. 9, 9 a.m. to noon, Tones of Fall: Biologists will explain the physiological and ecological reasons for the fall colors in the riparian forests and wetlands. This meeting location is weather-dependent. Information will be given to those who register in advance.
  • Dec. 7, 9 a.m. to noon, Wetlands and Waterfowl: This is a visit to the Fishhead Lake mitigation wetlands to watch waterfowl and other wetland birds and mammals. Examples include northern pintail, American wigeon, green-winged teal, mallards, northern shovelers, and gadwall.
Chris Conard, natural resource specialist at the Bufferlands, leads visitors on a search for birds.
Choppy waters splashed against the gate used to release water.
Visitors viewed a stick beavers had gnawed on.
When visitors used the scope to check out the eagle’s nest in the tree, they found a horned owl peeking back at them.
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