I had planned on sleeping in a bit today, but woke up around 5:00 am anyway, so I got up about 5:30 and then headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. It was about 53° when I left the house and got up to about 77° by the late afternoon. We had a breeze for most of the day so it was actually quite nice outdoors.
I put some gas in the car and then continued on toward Willows and the refuge. Whereas some days provide me with a lot Kingbird photos, or squirrel or jackrabbit photos, today I got a lot of Western Fence Lizard pictures. Those guys were out everywhere. I even came across a mating pair. Lizard-porn. Hah!
The other big attractions (for me anyway) was being able to photograph several large dragonflies and finding LOTS of damselfly exuvia (the skin they shed when they emerge from the water and transform into winged damselflies). I also found a few damselflies that had just shed their skin and didn’t have their wings entirely pumped up yet. The exuvia looks so neat to me. It’s the exact shape of the damselfly naiade, but is hollow and looks like a ghost or a reflection of the insect. So cool!
Around that same area, I also came across a male Great-Tailed Grackle that actually followed my car for a while as he sang for the females. He paused among the tules in a few locations and did some displaying and more singing. He was really entertaining! I got a few video snippets of him, and at one point he took a break from his songs to eat damselflies… A snack between concerts.
There were plenty of jackrabbits and cottontails, of course, but not so many of them posed for me today. I also had to deal with a particularly shy Common Gallinule. It was way down in the tules along the bank and I was practically shooting at it “blind”. Somehow the camera managed to get some photos in focus. I was so pleased. I was likewise hindered by the tules when I saw a joined pair of Green Darner Dragonflies land on the water. I held the camera out the window, over my head, trying to get the camera’s eye over the top of the tules, and shot straight down at the water… and I somehow got the shot I wanted of the female dragonfly laying her eggs in the water. Miracle. I even got a shot of another male coming into the frame and the first male chasing it off – while still attached to the female. Woah!.
The Great Horned Owl owlets were out of their nest and sitting on an open branch of their tree. Mom wasn’t with them the first time I passed them, but she was there when I went by again later. The owlets are the same size as their mom now, just… “fluffier”. You can tell by looking at the owlets which one is a little bit older than the other. Great-Horned Owls usually lay their eggs several days apart… so there’s always a least one in the nest that’s older than the others. The mother hawk and her fledgling were in their own nest this morning, too.
I saw several mule deer, including a young male who was coming into his “velvet” (getting his new antlers; they were stubby but very visible on his head). I also came across a young Turkey Vulture who was sitting on the edge of an open gate holding his wings out to the sun to warm himself up. He actually stayed there long enough for me to get a few close-up shots of him.
At other points along the auto tour, I’d stop and just listen to the sounds around me: Red-Winged Blackbirds and Meadowlarks singing, egrets croaking, grebes woo-woo-wooing, Night Herons doing their brisk “wok!” call… It’s a jungle out there, man. I loved it.
CLICK HERE for a video of the Great-Tailed Grackle singing.
CLICK HERE for a video of a Marsh Wren singing.
On my way out of the refuge, I drove past one of the sloughs and could see something big and dark moving under the surface of the water, but I couldn’t tell what it was. I parked the car and craned over the passenger side seat and out the window to see if I could get a better look at it. Definitely some kind of large fish… but the shape wasn’t right to be a catfish… I think it might have been a young Northern Pike! If it was a pike, then anything else living in the water is in trouble; those guys are aggressive hunters. It never came all the way to the surface, though, so I couldn’t really tell for certain.
There was also one spot, just before the exit, where I stopped to look into the drainage ditch – because you never know what you might find in there – and I spotted a Black-Crowned Night heron lurking in the shade. Someone came up behind me in her car and flashed her lights for me to get out of her way. Uh – I’m photographing here! Grumbling, I drove up the road a little distance and pulled over for her to pass, and then backed up to the ditch again so I could get a few more shots of the heron. They weren’t great, but at least I got them.
Around 2:00 pm I headed back to Sacramento and got home around 3:30 pm.