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Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area

This birder’s paradise sits quietly off the road into California’s capital city

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The corridor along I-80, heading from the Bay Area into Sacramento, is home to scenic farmland—as well as this restoration project in Davis that attracts countless waterfowl, hawks, and songbirds.

The area began with very pragmatic goals: The Yolo Bypass is a flood control structure in the Yolo Basin floodplain, which dates to the early 1900s, whose levees carry any overflow from the Sacramento River to its delta. In the past, the Yolo Basin stretched out over 80,000 acres, and was home to roaming herds of tule elk.

Farming and development took its toll over the years, shrinking the space for the wild creatures. But since the 1990s, when the area was designated an official wildlife area, it has been a more visible part of the Pacific Flyway, attracting ducks, geese, and other migratory birds, as well as herons, egrets, ibis, shorebirds, songbirds, and hawks.

Today’s 16,600-acre wetland is more than just a restored space for birds passing through, however. About 4,000 acres of the space is currently farmed for domestic and wild rice, much of which offers a winter buffet for migrating ducks and geese.

The wildlife area is open year-round for bird-watching, and hunters are allowed on private pockets of the area for waterfowl and pheasant during their respective hunting seasons. From October through June, come to the wildlife area for the monthly tours—part driving, part walking—led by a docent carrying a spotting scope for closer looks at the birds. During February, the Wildlife Area’s Duck Days invites families to learn about ducks and even fish for trout in the ponds.

Or, come during the summer to see a different kind of winged creature: About 250,000 Mexican free-tailed bats live here under the Causeway. “Year-round people visit to see the diversity of birds, but in the summer we’re known for the bats,” says Corky Quirk, an educator with the Yolo Basin Foundation. “We conduct tours throughout the summer to watch them fly.”

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