Up at about 6:00 am and out the door by 6:30 with Sergeant Margie to go over to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. I got there right around 8:00 o’clock and had the whole place to myself for a couple of hours before anyone else showed up. Like the Colusa preserve, some of the wetland areas in this larger preserve are also drained and dried out already, but they have a loop open that lets you drive around some of their permanent wetland area, so although you don’t get to see a ton of birds, you do get to see some… and a few of them are ones that I can’t see along the American River.
The drive started off with good views of Killdeer and some American Avocets (which I think are such pretty birds), Greater Yellowlegs and Red-Winged and Brewer’s Blackbirds. There were lots of jackrabbits along the auto-tour route along with some chubby little Cottontails (which look like babies next to the big jacks.) And lots of ground squirrels. I didn’t see any raccoons this time out, but I did see a few deer. Oh, and I saw some pond turtles and Western Fence Lizards.
There are still a lot of wildflowers in bloom – mostly Goldfields and Fiddleneck – and the Poison Hemlock is starting to rise along with the Milk Thistle and other weeds.
Marsh Wrens were everywhere in the tules, chattering away and tucking in the loose ends of their nest construction. Between them, the blackbirds, and the Meadowlarks, some spots were really NOISY! There were quite a few Ring-Necked Pheasants out and about adding their loud rusty-hinge croaks to the cacophony, and in some places the Double-Crested Cormorants were grunting like pigs. I’ve gotten so I can tell some of the birds by their sound without seeing them… Speaking of the cormorants: a lot of the breeding adults have their “double-crests” showing now and it makes the birds look like they have really fluffy eyebrows (or very long eyelashes). Hah!
There were, of course, American Coots all over the place and many White-Faced Ibises among the other ducks: Northern Shovelers, Cinnamon and Green-Winged Teals, a few Buffleheads and a solitary female Goldeneye, and some Ruddy Ducks. I did see another American Bittern today… and heard another one doing its pumper-lunk call in the reeds… but I couldn’t see that one. Toward the end of the drive, I came across some American White Pelicans. But the stand-out sighting for the day (for me anyway) was getting to see a pair of Clark’s Grebes do part of their courtship ritual where they bob their heads at on another then get up and run across the top of the water in tandem. I’d seen photos and video of that before, but had never witnessed it myself. I only got a few seconds of it on video but it made my day. I’ll have to get back there in the next few weeks to see if I can see any more courtship behavior. There were also some Western Grebes and Pied-Billed Grebes out on the water, too. Most of them were too far away to get any really good shots of them, but it’s still always fun to see them. It’s sometimes difficult for me to tell the Clark’s Grebes from the Western Grebes because they look almost identical. The only real difference is that on the Clark’s Grebe the eyes are surrounded by white and on the Western Grebe the eyes are surrounded by black.
Here’s the Grebe video: https://youtu.be/jpGUjuwigu0
Also saw some Great Egrets and Snow Egrets. And as I was heading out the refuge, I came across a large hawk sitting on a stump – apparently just waiting there to have her picture taken. Hah! – and a Common Gallinule, an adult one sporting a red shield on the front of its face. The red of the shield was so intense that my camera freaked out over it, so all of the face-on shots took on a kind of “glowing” effect. By that time, too, the sun had been up for a while and things were getting warm, so the camera had to fight through distortions caused by heat waves. When conditions get like that, it’s time to go home…
I got back to the house around 2:30 pm, cooked up some chicken thighs and an ear of corn for supper, and collapsed with the dogs.