Bitterns and Otters Made My #OptOutside Day, 11-24-17

I got up with the dog around 5:30 am and we immediately headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  This is #OptOutside day; rather than doing Black Friday shopping, I’m spending the day outdoors. It was around 50º when we left the house and 61º when we got back home in the afternoon.

It was super-foggy on the way to the refuge, and the fog lingered to some extent for most of the day… which made photo-taking a challenge at times. There were a lot of the usual suspects at the Sacramento refuge: Killdeer, Golden-Crowned Sparrows, White-Crowned Sparrows, Turkey Vultures, House Sparrows, a Peregrine Falcon, Northern Shovelers, Greater White-Fronted Geese, Gadwalls, Northern Pintails, Mallards, Western Meadowlarks, Northern Harriers, Red-Winged Blackbirds, American Coots, Snow Geese, Ross’s Geese, Black Phoebes, Red-Tailed Hawks, Great Egrets… There were two standouts for the day though, and they were within a few feet of one another.

I stopped at a spot where two sloughs intersect, near the gate for the extended loop section of the auto tour route. I found an American Bittern in one of the sloughs, treading on the aquatic vegetation, looking for fish and crayfish. As I was photographing it and taking some videos, I could hear something gurgling in the water to my right. I looked over and could see the vegetation moving; something was underneath it. I focused the camera on that spot and saw a River Otter poke its head up to look around!  It ignored the Bittern – who in turn ignored the otter – and ducked back under the plants again.  A few seconds later, two otter heads popped up… and then three!

The otters all swam down the slough and climbed up onto the side of it. And then a fourth otter appeared! A whole family. They posed on the bank for a little while, and then disappeared into another section of wetland.  I looked back behind me, and the Bittern was still there, fishing away. It was completely oblivious to the otters. Hah!  I saw another Bittern further along the auto-tour route, in among the tules, but didn’t see the otters again.

CLICK HERE for the album of photos and video snippets.

I finished the route early (around 10 o’clock), so I decided to go over to the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge to check things out there. That refuge is much smaller than the Sacramento one, and usually not as interesting, but there are some birds that I see there that I don’t see at the Sacramento refuge (like Wigeons and Gallinules). The Colusa refuge isn’t full of water yet, and there weren’t many birds at the viewing platform there, so it wasn’t as “fun” a diversion as the Sacramento refuge was. I was through the Colusa refuge within about 90 minutes, and headed straight home from there.

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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.