Turtle Bay Exploration Park, the Sundial Bridge and Sacramento River Trail
Approaching the Highway 44 off ramp for Turtle Bay from either direction you will find life-sized metal sculptures of Bald Eagles, like this one above, poised to catch fish jumping from the median strip. If that doesn’t catch your attention, with the completion of the bridge construction, which included a walking and bike trail along side the bridge, you get incredible views of the Sacramento River and the adjacent ponds, as well as views like this of Patriot and Liberty, the Bald Eagle pair that has been nesting there for the past six years.
These ponds and the eagle’s nest previously could only be viewed from the opposite side, where the main loop trail headed away from the Turtle Bay Museum toward the river (see map of the Sacramento River Trail). You needed a scope to see the birds on these ponds. Now, from the new path, these birds are up close and personal. Like this Belted Kingfisher
as well as many dabbling and diving ducks and grebes like the Pied-billed Grebe in non-breeding plumage I found on New Years Eve.
Parking in the lot close to the Sundial Bridge you will be in a good location to access everything Turtle Bay has to offer. The museum, the bridge, the arboretum and botanical gardens and 80 miles of paved and natural trails are at your disposal.
From the Sundial Bridge you can take the paved trail along the Sacramento River where you will see woodland and riparian species including migrating warblers in the Spring and Fall. Raptors are also common here where you will always find Red-shouldered Hawks and possibly Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks and the ubiquitous Red-tailed Hawk and Turkey Vulture.
Great and Snowy Egrets and Great Blue Herons can invariably be found along the river banks where I had a close encounter with this Green Heron.
Gulls and ducks of all persuasions can be found in, on and over the river itself. Double-crested Cormorants, Common and Barrow’s Goldeneyes, Mallards and Common Mergansers seem to be at every turn.
In the large oaks and cottonwoods along the river you will find Tree and Violet-green Swallows in the spring and summer while Northern Rough-winged Swallows nest in the wall of a power plant on the north side of the river. You can also watch the Cliff Swallows nesting in a large abandoned concrete building near the museum.
Walking across the Sundial Bridge to the north side of the Sacramento River is the arboretum and botanical gardens (see map). You can spend hours in this peaceful place. This is also where you connect to the main Sacramento River Trail giving you access to miles of riparian habitat.
Several passerine species can be found in the mixed forest and oak woodlands of the park. In the spring and summer months many breed and nest here. One of my favorite cavity nesters found on the north side of the river in the oak savannah is the Ash-throated Flycatcher.
Whether you want to spend the day birding or simply exploring the natural beauty of northern California, Turtle Bay is a must see for anyone traveling through the Redding area. There is plenty to see and do and it is a wonderful place for a family outing as well.
Here is a Turtle Bay bird list that has most of the common species seen here but there are undoubtedly some gaps in this list. I need to update it.
In the meantime, check out the links to Turtle Bay I have left here and if you ever make it to northern California, make sure to look me up and I will be happy to show you all of our special birding hot spots.