Two Nature Refuges and 35+ Species in One Day!

Bald Eagle. © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Bald Eagle. © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

The cough still lingers, and woke me up a couple of times during the night, so I wasn’t a well-rested as I would have liked to have been.  Still, I got myself up before 7:00 am and headed off with the dog to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  The weather seemed perfect for bird-watching and I didn’t want to lose the opportunity.  I put some cough drops and snacks in the car, and off we went…

At the refuge, the Snow Geese were moving into areas closer to the auto-tour route and within the first few feet I was able to see some of them “slumming” with a small flock of American Wigeons and tiny Killdeer.  That was a nice way to start the cruise.  Along the way I watched a persistent male Gadwall trying to seduce a female and watched a House Sparrow battling with some Tree Swallows for a nesting hole.  The swallows wanted it, but the sparrow had already laid claim to it so they took turns knocking each other around.  The sparrow was stalwart but outnumbered, so I don’t know if she was able to keep her nest or not.

I also came across one adult Bald Eagle sitting in the “eagle tree” along the route, but he was right over my head, so I was hard to get pictures of him.  I had to hold my camera over the roof of the car and shoot blindly… but I did manage to get a few good shots of him.  Further on down the road, a Great Blue Heron posed on a felled tree limb for me for a little while before taking off and disappearing into a gully.  At another spot, when I pulled off to the side of the road to get some photos of a White-Faced Ibis, I noticed that right next to road, in the stubby brush was a Wilson’s Snipe.  It was napping there and didn’t seem bothered by the sound of the car right next to it, so I got some good close-ups of him.

I didn’t get any super-tremendous photos on the tour, but got to see a lot of birds, and got some fair pictures, so I was satisfied with that.

I finished the auto-tour early, so as I was heading back to Sacramento, I pulled off the highway and tried to find the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge again.  I’d tried doing that once before and followed signs that lead me to the wrong place (it was an office, not the refuge), so this time I ignored the signs and just looked for O’Hair Road because I knew the refuge was supposed to be accessible from there.  And… yay!  I found it.  ((I’ll write up a page on this site for it, so you can find it more easily yourself.))

It’s not anywhere near as impressive as the Sacramento refuge, but has a great viewing platform and attracts some bird species I don’t normally see that the larger refuge.  The Colusa refuge is surrounded by agricultural land, so there are levies and sloughs all around it.  It also has a driving tour that’s a 3-mile loop (the one in the large refuge is about 6 miles) and a 1-mile hiking trail that takes you around the main pond and slough where the viewing platform is.  I didn’t have my walking shoes with me, so I didn’t do the walking trail today.  Along with the usual suspects, like ducks and egrets, I got to see my first group of Ross’s Geese here.  It’s a little difficult for me to tell the Ross’s Geese from the Snow Geese because they’re both white, they both have pink bills, and they both have black primary feathers on their wings.  The only way I can tell one from the other is that the Ross’s Geese have a straighter bill and don’t have the black “grin patch” like the Snow Geese have.

Another cool sighting was at the end of auto-tour loop.  I came across a spot where it looked like there were a lot of grey and white “rags” hanging in the naked branches of some shrubbery along the backside of a slough that ran parallel to the road.  And I’m wondering if maybe they’re “prayer flags” or something…  As I got closer, I realized the “rags” were actually a flock of Black-Crowned Night Herons!  There were over 30 of them just sitting  in the branches, dozing, waiting for dusk (when they go hunting).  They were too far away from me (and obscured by twigs and branches) for me to get any really good close-ups of them, but I did manage to get a few shots.  I’d seen this species before (especially at the Nimbus Fish Hatchery where about four of them found their way into the raceways where the hatchery kept all of their young trout), but had never seen this many collected in one spot before.  It was really neat!

Oh, and I also found a small group of birds nest fungus when I was there.  Seemed appropriate. Overall, I think I counted over 35 different bird species for the day…

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When I was done at the Colusa reserve I continued heading home, stopping once at a rest stop to take a late-afternoon lunch break with the dog.  We had chicken and cake, and some sparkling water, and listened to flocks of Brewer’s Blackbirds singing and squawking at each other in the trees.

It was an exhausting day, but a nice one.  I’m glad I went out.