This time of year, the sound of honking geese overhead is a reminder that just a few miles from town, winter birds thrive.
Millions of birds, including swans, ducks, geese and cranes, use the valley as a giant bird stop, sloshing in wetlands and flooded rice fields.
Bird-watchers will make a big celebration of the winged visitors, as well as resident birds, during the 11th annual Snow Goose Festival Jan. 28-31. Organizers have assembled bird experts on varied topics to lead 46 field trips and 19 workshops, as well as a banquet, art show and free family events.
To view the entire listings, check out www.snowgoosefestival.org. The Web site includes a system that rates the trips for easy walking versus vigorous hikes, as well as wheelchair accessibility.
Festival coordinator Jennifer Patten said the Thursday and Friday field trips are worth taking a day off from work.
The "Marathon Big Day Birding" runs from 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Jan. 28 "if you want to be out there enjoying an incredible full day of birding."
The journey includes birding in higher elevations, mid-elevation as well as wetland areas. Trip leader Scott Huber expects to see more than 100 species, Patten said.
On Jan. 29 are two field trips, one to Colusa National Wildlife Refuge, with tens of thousands of birds, and Jan. 30 is a trip to the Gray Lodge Wildlife Area.
Both are "off-hunting days," Patten explained, and will provide a quiet birding experience, when birds aren't as skittish.
That evening is also the Family Owl Prowl, which is a big hit with children. Held at the Chico Creek Nature Center, it includes a short walk into Bidwell Park, Patten explained.
Among the 46 birding excursions, several are new.
Saturday is a kayaking trip at the Thermalito Afterbay with restoration ecologist Dan Efseaff.
Patten said just last week kayakers reported seeing 5,000 canvasback ducks, which boaters should be able to see at a close distance from the water.
Another new field trip is the Beginning Birding by Ear, Saturday at 10:45 a.m. at the Chico Masonic Family Center. The event will add a new dimension to bird watching by familiarizing people with bird sounds.
Huber will share recordings and give information on how people can access more information about bird sounds.
Patten said people really interested in the sound aspect could also catch the California Soundscapes workshop, immediately before the Birding by Ear. This includes surround-sound recordings from California parks and wildlife preserves.
Jan. 30 is the Gathering of the Wings banquet and silent auction at the Bell Memorial Union at Chico State University from 5:30-10 p.m.
Tickets are $37 for adults and $20 for youths and students.
Guest speaker will be Stephen Shunk, a professional birder and author of "Birding through the Veil of Winter." Shunk comes out with the "Peterson Reference Guide to Woodpeckers of North America" this fall.
People who want to hear more from the Oregon bird expert, who has led birding trips throughout the West, can catch the Pine Creek/Indian Fisheries workshop Sunday, for which Shunk is a co-leader.
Patten said there are also two Raptor Run workshops, one Jan. 30 and one Jan. 31. This area has one of the largest concentrations of raptors in the United States, with their peak in January, Patten explained.
On that same note, the Falcons and Falconry trip on Jan. 31 will include a demonstration of falconry as a field sport.
The workshops include topics such as designing bird-friendly gardens, basic nature photography and bird watching for kids.
In the past, some of the most popular events have filled up early, so registering soon is recommended. Online registration, at www.snowgoosefestival.org, closes at 5 p.m. Jan. 27.
Some registration may be available after that, Patten said, but can't be guaranteed. For more information on that, call 345-1865.