Up at Gray Lodge (and two federal bird refuges nearby), the flooded rice paddies teem with migrating geese and ducks. The quacking and honking birds depart soon for points south, so make the pilgrimage to the Sacramento Valley this month to enjoy this natural spectacle.
Even beyond January, you will see resident waterfowl, hawks, herons, egrets, owls, plus deer, coyote, and giant jackrabbits as big as jackalopes. Hiking trails and drive-through routes are available, plus protected blinds for close-up birdwatching.
Avoid shooting days (Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday) if you dislike the sound of duck hunters' shotguns in the (safe) distance. Chronicle outdoorsman Tom Stienstra says the birds have wised up and now avoid the hunters, but judging by the lineup for shooting permits, there are still quite a few unlucky ducks.
Though I prefer the peace and quiet of non-shooting days, I recognize that duck hunters' fees help pay for bird refuges. Hunting groups like Ducks Unlimited have made it possible for birdwatchers like me to enjoy wildlife.
The massive Sutter Buttes are the landmark to orient you whichever bird refuge you visit. So set your GPS for Colusa, and enjoy the adventure. If you want a good place to stay overnight, I recommend River Valley Lodge in Colusa, with its brand-new rooms. On the way up I-5, I saw an electronic billboard advertising a $49 special, but normal rates start at $89.
Connected to the hotel is Colusa Casino. Hotel guests have free access to a wonderful outdoor, heated swimming pool at the Cachil Dehe Wintun tribe's adjacent Wellness Center. A few miles away in Williams is Louis Cairo's famous old Italian restaurant, featuring Louis' special garlic bread.