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Stories from the valley

Farmers Rescuing Ducks

Contributed by Steve Beckley

Egg cartons are a regular fixture in the cabs of many combines harvesting wheat in the Sacramento Valley this summer. Operators stop when a nesting duck hen is flushed and rescue the duck eggs.  They are participating in the California Waterfowl’s Egg Rescue and Duck Rescue Program, which saved and released 4,000 ducks last year.

Regina and Roger

I recently made a tour of visiting with some of the farmers participating in the program and also toured a hatchery.  My first stop was River Garden Farms in Knights Landing where I joined Roger Cornwell, farm manager and Regina Stafford, Egg Salvage Coordinator for California Waterfowl, in a wheat field.  This is their first year in the program, but they are committed to improving life for ducks and other wildlife and Roger is planning to plant some crops such as vetch next year that ducks like for nesting. No ducks were flushed during my visit, but I received a call from Roger later that day that had found three nests and saved over 20 eggs.

My next farm visit was Park Farming Organics in Meridian where they were just beginning the harvest of organic wheat.  It was a family occasion as Scott, the father, Brian his son and Brian’s wife and children all were there to watch the harvester open up the field.   Though no eggs were rescued during my brief stay, 153 eggs were salvaged early this month in one of their vetch fields.

Duck Eggs 2

My final farm stop was at Keller Farms in Grimes, where farmer Deke Dormer is the one of the top egg rescuers in the Valley.  Last year Deke and his crew collected 819 eggs from 125 nests during wheat harvest.  Deke feels it is important to give back to nature and operates the farm in that matter.  He had already found a duck nest that morning as he was moving his harvester.  He delayed harvest this year, hoping that many of the eggs would hatch so the ducks could stay with their mothers.  Also he expressed concerned that a coyote was spotted in the area and that could mean trouble for the nesting hens and eggs.

At the end of each day, Regina or one of her team picked up the eggs and took them to a hatchery that operates under a United States Fish and Wildlife Service Permit which guides the raising and release of hand-reared wildlife.

Rancho Esquon Ducks

I took a drive up to Durham to visit Rancho Esquon’s hatchery. Rancho Esquon is a rice farm committed to conservation, with not only the hatchery but about 1,000 acres in native habitat. There I met hatchery manager, Lorreta Gardner, who told me that they hatched and released over 2,400 ducks last year.  Mallards are the number one species hatched, and they also had pens of geese and some turkeys that were hatched from rescued eggs.  The birds, at five weeks old, are banded and released back in to the wild.  Hanging out with the older wild ducks, were a couple of “park ducks” that will be released into a more domestic situation.

Farmers play a vital role in the Egg Rescue program.  They provide the resources to save the eggs and are committed to improving the habitat for all types of wildlife.