I had to work today — helping to lead an auto-tour of the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge — so I was up at 5:00 and out the door by 5:30 am. I stopped at a gas station on my way, filled up the tank, and got some munchies for the road, and then headed over to the Denney’s off of West Street in Woodland to meet up with my coworker Nate and the folks who were coming on the tour. I’d gotten there early enough to order a small breakfast and get it in a to-go box. I ate what I could of it out in the car, and then saw Nate and the others gathering outside the parking lot on the street, so I drove over there to meet them. I handed out guide books and directions to the refuge, and we were all on the road by a little after 7:00 am. There were seven people in our group (besides my coworker Nate and me) but only three of them were birding “newbies” who had never been to the refuge before. The rest of them were avid birders, some from Yolo Audubon…
We arrived at the refuge around 8:00 am, had folks pay for their vehicles at the kiosk and then we met at the inside parking lot before heading out along the auto tour drive. Although there were birding experts willing to drive with the non-birders. Most of the non-birders chose to drive their own vehicles by themselves. I had one “newbie” birder who went with me, a gal named Colleen. Along the way, I was able to help point out birds to her, and name the species and tell her some fun facts… and I was so busy doing that, that I didn’t take very many photos while I was out there… and I forgot to eat lunch.
Along the auto tour there are three park-and-stretch places where you can get out of your car and look around. I had brought my spotting scope me… but the experienced birders had brought ones of their own and had them set up before I could even get mine out of my car. But that was okay; at least everyone got to see some of the birds up close. As we watched one Red-Tailed Hawk who was sitting on the ground, warming up as the sun came up and burned through the low clouds, about 10 Jackrabbits popped up all around the bird and ran circles around it then scattered into the low brush and tules. Hah! We also saw a Raven come in for a landing with a large bit of what we assumed was a vole, in its beak, and watched it eat its breakfast before driving on… The folks from Yolo Audubon had also brought additional guide books, and used them to help the newbies to more effectively identify the hawks they were seeing (along with the guide books I also provided to guests who wanted them).
Throughout the tour I was to point out and help folks identify a Cooper’s Hawk, Red-Tailed Hawks, Northern Harriers, Song Sparrows, House Sparrows, White-Crowned Sparrows, ravens, Mallards, Northern Pintails, Green-Winged Teals, Cinnamon Teals, Northern Shovelers, Greater White-Fronted Geese, White-Face Ibis, Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, a Great Blue Heron, Turkey Vultures, Black Phoebes, Eared Grebes, Yellow-Rumped Warblers, Bufflehead ducks, Pied-Billed Grebes, American Coots, Canada Geese, a Peregrine Falcon, American Wigeons and American Pipits, and the Snow Geese (which were out in force today). Among the regular totally white-bodied snow Geese was a single “dark morph” Snow Goose. It had a white head, but it’s body was dark steely-grey. A VERY cool sighting… but it was pretty distant (for my camera) and I didn’t get any really good shots of it. I told everyone in our group that they had to share what they photos they took with us, so we could post them to Facebook.
In the non-bird species, along with the jackrabbits, we saw Columbian Black-Tailed Mule Deer, California Ground Squirrels, a Western Pond Turtle, a Western Fence Lizard, webs from “ballooning” spiders, and the nest of Paper Wasps. So it was an interesting excursion. Some of the newbies had never been to the refuge before, and were excited to come back later in the season.