Egrets & Herons: 2 Voles: 0

Great Egret tries to swallow its catch. © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Great Egret tries to swallow its catch. © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

I’m feeling better today; got through the whole night without drugs and without coughing.  I got up around 6:30 and headed out with Sergeant Margie to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  It was foggy and chilly (around 48°) in Sacramento, but pretty clear and a little bit warmer (56°) by the time I got to Willows.

At the refuge there were hardly any other people (I only saw 2 cars on the auto tour), so I felt like I practically had the whole place to myself.  I saw mostly egrets and herons on the auto tour.  I got some good video snippets of one Great Egret catching and eating what looked like a large water vole (the tail was too short to be a rat).  It stabbed at the vole several times with its dagger-like beak and dunked it under water a couple of times to drown it (and, I think, to make it easier to swallow.)  Later on, I also saw a Great Blue Heron catch a vole about the same size as the one the egret got.  Rather than stabbing and drowning it, though, the heron took the vole and shook it violently (I think to severe the spiral cord from the brain) and then moved it toward the back of its mouth where it could crush it with its beak.  Not a good day for the voles…



I also got to see one adult Bald Eagle in the distance, and came up on one of the juvenile eagles again while it was eating.  It was up in a tree over the auto-tour road and didn’t like the fact that a car had come by to disturb it.  So, it dropped some of its meal onto the top of my car, from where it bounced off and hit the road next to my driver’s side window.  A Coot.  Eew. Then the eagle flew off.

I saw a couple of different kinds of hawks, but most of them were too far off to get any photos.  I did get a short snippet of video of a large Red-Tailed Hawk buzz-bombing a small flock of Coots.  He’d strafed them twice before I could get my camera focused on him, so I only got one of the three runs, but he was persistent.  I later found him sitting in a tree near the auto-tour road and got a few photos of him.

At the turnout near the viewing platform (about halfway through the auto tour route) I got out with the dog, and we could hear two Ring-Necked Pheasants croaking at each other.  They’re really loud, and their call is unmistakable, so I was hoping I’d be able to see at least one of them.  I went up onto the top of the viewing platform, and saw one of the pheasants – a large male, making his way through the tall grass, snacking on leaves as he went along.  I got a tiny bit of video of him, but, man, those things move fast!

When I was done with the auto tour, it was still kind of early (around 10:00 am), so I decided to go to the Colusa National  Wildlife Refuge again to see if the Black-Crowned Night Herons were still hanging around there.  They were… but by that time in the morning, they’re all sleeping.  I need to get to the refuge near dusk or dawn, so I can see them when they’re moving around and hunting.  Unlike the Great Blue Herons, the Black-Crowned Night Herons are real heavy and stocky with a short neck and football-shaped body.  They’ll eat almost anything, and are known to predate duck nests.  Their loud “wok” call is very easy to identify.  We’re getting near their breeding season, and sometimes they’ll forage during the day if they have a lot of babies to feed so I’m hoping that eventually I’ll get some decent photos of them…

When I came to the area where the Black-Crowned Night Herons were all sleeping in their trees along the slough, a Great Egret and Great Blue Heron flew down right in front of my car, so I was able to get some close-ups of them.  Among the other birds I saw was a Eurasian Wigeon, different from the American Wigeons that are abundant this time of year, the Eurasian Wigeon has a rust-colored head instead of the gray/green head the Americans have.  This was the first Eurasian Wigeon I’d seen, so I got to add him to my species list.

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When we were done with the tour at the Colusa refuge, Sergeant Margie and I had lunch at the picnic tables near the entrance to the refuge: chicken, apricots and tea.  Then we headed home.  It was a nice day.  It’s so great to be feeling well enough to get outside again…