At the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge on Halloween

I got up around 8:00 am and headed out with the dog to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  It takes about 2 hours to get there and I was worried that the rain would be horrible all the way there and back, but it actually cooperated quite a bit.  It still rained, but not so badly that it made the driving dangerous.

When we got to the refuge I was very surprised to see how much of it was burned in the fire a month or so ago.  I knew there had been a fire there, but I didn’t realize how pervasive the burn was.  It took out ACRES of wetland shrubbery, and decimated the area around half of the walking trails.  Everything was blackened…  It looks terrible right now, but I bet the place will be gorgeous in the spring when the wildflowers – no longer having to fight with heavy grasses and sedge – can bloom over the area.  Between the burned out area and the rain, the dog and I didn’t do any of the walking tour.  We did go through the driving tour portion of the refuge, though, and took our time, just inching along.  It’s a 4-mile roundabout and it took us 2 hours to get around to the other side (driving slowly and stopping to take photos).  Photo taking was hampered by having to shoot some birds through the windshield and having to take photos through the rain, but I was still fairly pleased with what I got.  Because so much of the place was burned, all of the larger water birds were all crammed into one part of the wetlands area – and there were  a lot of them, but not as many as last year.  (Maybe more will come through over the next month or so.)  Migrating birds all through California are having the same trouble: the drought means there’s not enough water for them to rest and eat in, and fires have devastated other areas…  Climate change is affecting some of them, too.  It’s still warm “up north”, so they’re not venturing down south for the winter (yet).

We saw lots of male and female Ring-Necked Pheasants, but they’re such flighty birds that they spook at every noise and it’s hard to get a photo of them; there were also a lot of hawks and falcons around but they moved too quickly for me to get photos of them.  I did get photos of sparrows, Red-Winged Blackbirds, a Northern Shrike, a Phoebe, Black-Necked Stilts, Snow Geese, White-Fronted Geese, Northern Pintails. Mallards, Cinnamon Teals, Great Egrets… and a handsome Meadowlark who stopped off among some tule right next to the car and started singing.  So neat!  On our way out the refuge, we also saw a couple of young Mule Deer.  So it was a wet but photo-productive day.

Oh, and befitting a Halloween visit to the refuge: in one area on the driving tour you can pull off to walk up onto a large deck that overlooks the back half of the wetlands area.  There’s also a tiny restroom there, and I had to get rid of my morning coffee, so I ventured over to it.  If I hadn’t had to pee so badly, I wouldn’t have touched the door.  It was covered, top to bottom, in a thick layer of tiny green midges (Pseudochironomus), mostly males with bushy antenna.  I had to scrape them off the door handle to open the door.  I mean, I know they’re good food for the birds and all that but… yick!  Opening and closing the door dislodged a lot of them and, of course, they flew right up into my face.  Double-yick!  I was picking those things out of my hair for the rest of the drive…  On my way back out of the restroom I tried to get some close-up photos of them, but they were so teeny it was hard to get the camera to focus on them.  Right next to the door jam, though, was a gorgeous Golden Paper Wasp (Polistes bellicosus), so I took some photos of her, too.  So the bathroom trip wasn’t a complete loss, but… Eeeew.

When we finished the car tour, I stopped in the parking lot and had some lunch with Sergeant Margie, and we headed home.