Birds and Racoons on Saturday

Raccoon. © Copyright 2016, Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Raccoon. © Copyright 2016, Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

I got up around 7:00 this morning and headed out with Sergeant Margie to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  It was overcast and rainy, so I wasn’t expecting to see a lot, but I wanted to get out anyway.

The drive was uneventful, and I got to preserve in about 90 minutes (which is par). It was misting and drizzling when I got there, but the rain let up after a few hours.  Shooting photos through the drizzle was a bit difficult.  I don’t have any way to shut off the auto-focus on my camera, and the camera sometimes got confused, focusing on the rain instead of the subject.  The rain also keeps some of the birds snuggled down on the ground.  Some of the raptors were out – including a couple of Merlins, several Red-Tailed Hawks, Turkey Vultures, and a Peregrine Falcon — many of them trying to shake off the rain and dry off their feathers (to little avail, since the mist kept getting them wet.)  I also saw a lot of Bald Eagles, but they were all at a distance or in flight, so I didn’t get any really good pictures of them.  I did watch a pair doing their mating dance in the air during which they lock talons and tumble down to the ground, separating just before they crash.  That’s soooo neat to see.  I also saw the male of this pair fly over to an area where Ravens and Turkey Vultures were gathered.  There must’ve been something tasty there to eat.  The male eagle horned his way into the small group of scavengers, snagged a tidbit and flew it over to the female.  I couldn’t see if she accepted it, because she was down in a kind of gully and I could only see her head…  These are the moments when I wish had one of those cameras with a lens as long as my arm…

At one point a big Raven flew into a tree right over the car, and I had to lay down in the front seat and tip the camera out the passenger side window to get photos of him.  They weren’t very good – because you’re kind of looking up his skirts in the shots – but at least I got something.  I found several groups of Turkey Vultures – called “a wake” – sitting in trees or along the fence-lines, some in their “heraldic pose” with their wings held out to either side of them.  They usually do that to get warm — trying to soak up sunlight with their black plumage – but with the overcast that effort was kind of wasted.

There were, of course, a lot of usual suspects: Red-Winged Blackbirds, sparrows, ducks and geese, a few ibis, Coots, a Gallinule, some Ring-Necked Pheasants, a Great Egret, and grebes… and a handful of American White Pelicans in the distance.  I also caught a glimpse of an American Bittern.  He flew up out of the reeds alongside the car, but it was so fast, I didn’t get any pictures of him.

The highlight was getting to see a couple of raccoons.  One was in a gully along the side of the auto-tour track, moving in and out among the tules.  Most cars passing by didn’t even see him, and drove right past him.  I didn’t get many still shots of him (because he was so well hidden), but I did get some video snippets of him.  A second raccoon was further along the route, in behind a chick-wire fence near one of the pumping stations on the wetlands.  He was soooo bedraggled-looking, skinny and wet from the rain.  Not a happy camper.

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I ended up with some good photos for the day, and a lot of mediocre ones, but I hadn’t been expecting much from the trip, so that was okay.