Vacation Day #7: Friday the 13th at the Wildlife Refuge

Friday the 13th. DAY SEVEN OF MY FALL VACATION… I got up around 6:30 am and headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge. The weather was lovely all day: 43º when I left the house and around 73º when I got home.  I thought it was going to be really smoky by the preserve, but the air was mostly clear; just a tiny bit of haze in the air.

At the refuge, I wanted to see how far along they were in flooding their seasonal wetland areas, and if there were any birds migrating in yet. The first half of the auto tour was pretty much “dry”, and the extension loop to the permanent wetlands was closed, so I thought the day was going to be a bust. But then I found a few areas where the water was creeping in, and the birds with it.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos and video snippets.

In one spot, where the slough runs parallel to the auto-tour route, I saw a Great Egret, a young Black-Crowned Night Heron, a Snowy Egret and an American Bittern feeding in the vegetation along and in the slough.

The Greater White-Fronted Geese were starting to move in and there were quite a few large flocks of them, and some flocks of Snow Geese as well… but the numbers aren’t at their maximum yet.  I also saw some Mallards and some Northern Shoveler ducks, but none of the other breeds that usually occupy the refuge… Those should show up over the next few months.  One species I saw quite a few of was the Wilson’s Snipe. I was kind of surprised by how many I saw…

I found the Great Horned Owl twins sitting up in a tree along the route, but they were deep in the shade in the high branches, so it was difficult to get a clear photos of them. I got a few shots, but they’re only so-so…

I saw a California Ground Squirrel snatch the head off of a teasel thistle. Those teasel heads are HARD and super-prickly – they used to be used to comb textiles.  I was really impressed by how deftly the squirrel was able to pluck it off the stem and then strip it down to get at the seeds.

I didn’t see a lot of hawks, but I did see a Northern Harrier doing its strafing run along the ground, and a Red-Tailed Hawk sitting on one of the small “islands” in the shallow water…

I spent about 3½ at the refuge and then headed home.

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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.