Vacation Day 3: Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge

DAY 3 OF MY VACATION.  I got up around 6:30 am and headed out with the dog for the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  The almost-full moon was still out, shining brightly, and there were big sofa clouds everywhere. A slight breeze continued throughout the day. It got up to about 70° by the afternoon.  It was a beautiful day for a drive.

CLICK HERE for an album of photos from the day.

I got to the refuge around 8:00 am and the first thing that greeted us when we arrived was a Peregrine Falcon sitting up in a tree.  It was kind of far away, so I couldn’t get any detailed shots of it, but I did manage to get a few photos.  There were lots of Jackrabbits around and the Northern Harrier hawks were flying all over overhead, sometimes buzz bombing the flocks of Coots and duck to try to get them to flush…  White-Crowned Sparrows seemed to be everywhere (this must be “their time” of the year) along with Red-Winged Blackbirds, Meadowlarks, a Black Phoebes.  Huge flocks of Greater White-Fronted Geese could be seen sitting on the ground; occasionally taking to flight when something spooked them.  I saw a much smaller flock of Snow Geese in one of the farther fields, but they’re not there in any great number yet.  It’s still early in the migration season, though. Among the ducks I saw Mallards, Green-Winged Teals, Northern Shovelers (still in their eclipse plumage), Gadwalls, Northern Pintails, and American Wigeons… but like the Snow Geese, their numbers weren’t very large yet.

At one point along the auto-tour route I found a Great Egret, a Snowy Egret and a Green Heron all feeding in the same patch of water primrose.  I didn’t see the heron at first because he was in sitting on top of the primrose in the shade and was well-camouflaged by his green and brown feathers. But then the Great Egret sort of shoved him out of the way and he jumped up with a squawk and a the raising if his crown feathers.  Hah!  Later on, I saw a few more egrets and herons in other places.

The surprise was being able to spot a Wilson’s Snipe right along the side of the road in a marshy patch… And very near to it, I also saw a California Ground Squirrel eating the seeds out of old thistle heads.  They were right outside the driver’s side of the car so I was able to get some nice close ups of them.  A funny thing: further down the road, I found a couple of crayfish trying to cross the gravel from one part of the wetlands to another.  One of them only had one pincher left, but he bravely brandished it at the car as I drove by him. So much bluster in such a small creature…

And I got to see a pair of young mule deer. It looked like a yearling and its younger sister.  They were eating among the teasel; their mother a few feet back, hidden in the overgrowth.  Both of the youngsters stopped to look at my car before they turned around and headed back to mom.  So cute.

As I mentioned, it’s still very early in the migration season, and the refuge doesn’t have its full contingent of water yet, so there aren’t as many birds to see just yet as I’d like to see.  Still, it was a nice drive, and I got to see a lot of different critters (if not very closely) so I was pleased.  The dog and I headed back home after a few hours and arrived at the house around 1:30 pm.

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Mary K. Hanson is an author, nature photographer and Certified California Naturalist living with terminal cancer.