Not Enough Water on the Wetlands, 10-11-19

A l-o-n-g day.  I got up at 4:30 am so I’d be ready to head out with my friend and fellow naturalist Roxanne to the Sacramento and Colusa National Wildlife Refuges.  We wanted to see what state the refuges were in – if they had water standing in the wetland areas for the incoming migrating birds, if there were any “new” birds out there. We weren’t expecting a lot but were open to whatever Nature wanted to show us today.  And the fresh air is always good.  The weather was gorgeous: about 45º in the early morning hours and a high of about 81º, sunny and a little breezy.

We went to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge first. They’re still REALLY short on water there. The refuge needs to get a wiggle on if they’re going to host the migrating birds and give them ample room to rest and feed.  The Greater White-Fronted Geese have moved in to quite a few places, and there were handfuls of waterfowl species, but it’s still a little early in the season.  I’m hoping there will be a lot more to see when I go out on the 30th to use the photo blind there.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

Early on, we saw a raven chasing and attacking a hawk in the air. I got some video of it, but because the birds were far away and moving so quickly, the video was pretty shaky.  I was able to pull some still frames off the video, however, so you can see some of the drama that took place. I don’t know what had the raven off, but it was brutal in its attack of the hawk. Eventually a second hawk came in to defend the first one and the raven flew off.  But it flew off into a tree and was then chased away by a small flock of Red-Winged Blackbirds. No rest for the wicked.

A common Raven chasing and attacking a hawk

A little further along, we saw a pair of young Columbian Black-Tailed Deer “spike bucks” jousting on the side of the road.  Not a lot to fight with when you only have those single spikes, even when they’re out of their velvet.  The bucks broke off their battle as soon as they saw the car and wandered off in separate directions, but it was fun to see them.  We also saw a couple of bachelor groups of Ring-Necked Pheasants.  No females, just small groups of the boys.  It always amazes me that these huge birds can disappear so easily when they step off the trail into the high grass.  Poof!

When we were done with the auto-tour at the Sacramento refuge, we went on to the Colusa refuge.  The auto-tour route there is about half the size of the one at the Sacramento refuge, and had a little bit more water in it. (Not enough, though. They still have a long way to go.)  Near the entrance, the pool by the viewing platform was nearly full and sprinkled with groups of Greater White-Fronted Geese, Greater Yellow-legs and different species of ducks: Northern Pintails, Northern Shovelers (most of them in their eclipse plumage), Mallards, American Wigeons and Gadwalls.

Some of the geese were wading around in “gangs”, honking at other groups, sometime engaging in noisy confrontations while they lowered their heads, raised their wings and stretched their necks out.  At some points, the honking reached a crescendo with high-pitched whining notes mixed in with lower-toned honks and “growls”.  I tried getting the sound on video but didn’t manage that.  Dang it.

Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons . The more mature they are, the more dark stripes they have across their bellies.

We also saw a few other bird species around including Coots (which were in much smaller numbers than I normally see them), a few Snow Geese, some American White Pelicans and Sandhill Cranes flying overhead, Black-Necked Stilts, a couple of nonbreeding Common Gallinules, Great Egrets and a young Great Blue Heron, among others. 

I was surprised by how many damselflies and dragonflies we saw; mostly Northern Bluet damselflies and Variegate Meadowhawk dragonflies. Everyone seemed to be trying to get in some last-minute mating and egg-laying before the season was over.  We found one pair of Northern Bluets that were connected but struggling a bit on the ground. 

Northern Bluet Damselfly, Enallagma cyathigerum . The blue male is on the left, and the dark female is on the right. She did NOT like him.

To complete mating, the female had to curl her body, raise her tail and press it against the male’s chest where his sex organs are. But this female apparently didn’t like the male that had grabbed her by the head and kept her body rail straight.  She dug her feet into the ground and tried to pull herself out of his grip, eventually managing to get him to let go and fly away. Picky lady.

A pair of Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonflies, Sympetrum corruptum. The male holds the female behind her eyes and guides her to the water, tapping her lightly against the surface to lay her eggs.

At the end of that auto-tour route, I was surprised to see how very few Black-Crowned Night Herons were there.  I usually see 30 to 50 birds using the trees there as their day roost.  Today, there were less than a dozen.  This species doesn’t really migrate, and I’ve never seen so few there, so it was a little distressing. Where did the rest of the flock go? 

An adult Black-Crowned Night Heron, Nycticorax nycticorax,
preening himself while resting in his day roost.

After finishing the route at the Colusa refuge, we headed back home, getting back into Sacramento around 3:00 pm… so that was a long day for me; longer than I’ve had in quite a while.  I was exhausted. Had an early supper and then went to bed.

Species List:

  1. American Coot, Fulica americana
  2. American White Pelican, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos [in flight]
  3. American Wigeon, Anas americana
  4. Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon
  5. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  6. Black-Crowned Night Heron, Nycticorax nycticorax
  7. Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
  8. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  9. California Wild Grape, Vitis californica
  10. California Wild Rose, Rosa californica
  11. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  12. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
  13. Common Gallinule, Gallinula galeata
  14. Common Raven, Corvus corax
  15. Cottonwood, Fremont Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  16. Dead Man’s Foot Fungus, Pisolithus arhizus
  17. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
  18. Gadwall duck, Mareca strepera
  19. Golden Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
  20. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
  21. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  22. Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus
  23. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons
  24. Greater Yellowlegs, Tringa melanoleuca
  25. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  26. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  27. Long-Billed Dowitcher, Limnodromus scolopaceus
  28. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  29. Northern Harrier, Marsh Hawk, Circus hudsonius
  30. Northern Pintail, Anas acuta
  31. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata
  32. Paper Wasp, European Paper Wasp, Polistes dominula
  33. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  34. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  35. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
  36. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  37. Ring-Necked Pheasant, Phasianus colchicus
  38. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  39. Sandhill Crane, Grus canadensis
  40. Savannah Sparrow, Passerculus sandwichensis
  41. Snow Goose, Chen caerulescens
  42. Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia
  43. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  44. Tule Bluet Damselfly, Enallagma carunculatum
  45. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  46. Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum
  47. Velvetleaf, Velvet Leaf, Abutilon theophrasti
  48. Western Fence Lizard, Blue Belly, Sceloporus occidentalis
  49. Western Gull, Larus occidentalis
  50. White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys
  51. White-Faced Ibis, Plegadis chihi