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 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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
- American Coot, Fulica americana
- American White Pelican, Pelecanus erythrorhynchos [in flight]
- American Wigeon, Anas americana
- Belted Kingfisher, Megaceryle alcyon
- Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
- Black-Crowned Night Heron, Nycticorax nycticorax
- Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
- Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
- California Wild Grape, Vitis californica
- California Wild Rose, Rosa californica
- Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
- Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
- Common Gallinule, Gallinula galeata
- Common Raven, Corvus corax
- Cottonwood, Fremont Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
- Dead Man’s Foot Fungus, Pisolithus arhizus
- Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
- Gadwall duck, Mareca strepera
- Golden Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
- Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
- Great Egret, Ardea alba
- Great Horned Owl, Bubo virginianus
- Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons
- Greater Yellowlegs, Tringa melanoleuca
- Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
- Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
- Long-Billed Dowitcher, Limnodromus scolopaceus
- Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
- Northern Harrier, Marsh Hawk, Circus hudsonius
- Northern Pintail, Anas acuta
- Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata
- Paper Wasp, European Paper Wasp, Polistes dominula
- Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
- Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
- Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
- Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
- Ring-Necked Pheasant, Phasianus colchicus
- Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
- Sandhill Crane, Grus canadensis
- Savannah Sparrow, Passerculus sandwichensis
- Snow Goose, Chen caerulescens
- Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia
- Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
- Tule Bluet Damselfly, Enallagma carunculatum
- Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
- Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum
- Velvetleaf, Velvet Leaf, Abutilon theophrasti
- Western Fence Lizard, Blue Belly, Sceloporus occidentalis
- Western Gull, Larus occidentalis
- White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys
- White-Faced Ibis, Plegadis chihi