Vacation Day 9: Colusa and Sacramento National Wildlife Refuges

DAY 9 OF MY VACATION.  I was up around 6:30 am and headed out with the dog to the Colusa and Sacramento National Wildlife Refuges…

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

At the Colusa refuge, which I went to first, I was surprised to see water in the pond near the viewing platform.  Last week when I was there, there was no water at all.  Two guys with large-lens cameras were setting up on the deck when I got there.  There weren’t a whole lot of birds to see yet, but they were taking photos of the fly-in of White-Fronted Geese.

Although the water is coming in, what birds are there are not very close to the auto-tour road along the levies yet (because the water is still shallow and isn’t in all the areas it should be) so getting photos with my gear wasn’t easy.  The difficulty was compounded by the glare of the early morning light coming through breaks in the clouds and fog.  I was kind of disappointed in the picture I got there.  Still, I got to see a Loggerhead Shrike, Greater White-Fronted Geese, some,  Greater Yellowlegs, Gadwalls, Pintails and Mallards, a couple of Red-Tailed Hawks – including one that landed in a tree right over my car and stared down at me! – a Long Billed Curlew, some Turkey Vultures, Black-Necked Stilts and a couple of immature Common Gallinules.  I was also surprised by a few Sandhill Cranes, and got to see both mature and immature Black-Crowned Night Herons sitting in their morning roost trees.

That drive took me about an hour. Then I headed to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge which is about 20 miles further north up the highway. The big news at that refuge is that the flocks of Snow Geese have arrived there.  There were only a handful of them last week; today there were hundreds of them… but they were mostly far away because, as with the Colusa refuge, the water in this refuge isn’t at full capacity yet, so the birds stay pretty far away from the touring road.

Along with birds similar to those I saw in Colusa, I saw several Great Egrets, some Red-Eared Slider Turtles and Western Pond Turtles, Killdeer, American White Pelicans, a few White-Faced Ibis, a Peregrine Falcon, and loads of Red-Winged Blackbirds.  A few California Ground Squirrels stopped and posed for me, and I got to see a female Belted Kingfisher chase off both a Turkey Vulture and a Red-Tailed Hawk from a tree in the middle of a pond where she was fishing.  Tough little broad!

At one point, I’d stopped to get some photos of a little Savannah Sparrow on the side of the road, and then saw about six River Otters scurry across the road in front of me. By the time I got the camera up, they were already disappearing into the brush. Dang it!

By the time I was done going through the Sacramento refuge it was around 2:30 pm, so I headed back to Williams, got a sandwich and then headed over to the hotel.

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Mary K. Hanson is a breast cancer survivor who, at age 61, took coursework to become a Certified California Naturalist. The author of “The Chubby Woman’s Walkabout”™ blog, Ms. Hanson has also written nature-based feature articles published in regional newspapers, authored over ten books, including her "Cool Stuff Along the American" series of guide books, and has had her photographs featured in books, articles, calendars, on the American River Parkway Foundation’s Instagram stream, and even the White House blog. This year Ms. Hanson is helping to launch and teach a new Certified California Naturalist course through Tuleyome, in partnership with the University of California and the Woodland Library, so members of the public can themselves become certified as naturalists in the state. All of the photos seen on her website were taken by Ms. Hanson herself (unless noted otherwise) with moderate- to low-end photographic equipment more easily affordable to the everyday nature enthusiast. She also occasionally leads photo-walks through the American River Bend Park for the public and is sometimes available for public speaking.