To the Sacto and Colusa Refuges, 12-16-19

I got up with the alarm at 5:30 am and was out the door with Esteban by 6 o’clock to head over to the Colusa and Sacramento National Wildlife Refuges. It was sunny, clear and cold: 35ºF when we headed out and up to about 49º by the time we got back home again.

Start Time: 8:00 am at the refuge
Start Temperature: 35ºF
End Temperature: 49º F
Weather: Clear, sunny, a slight breeze
Total Hours in the field (includes travel time): 8 hours
Miles on Auto-tour Routes: 10
Number of Individual Species Noted Today: 49

It was so clear outside, you could easily see Mount Lassen in the distance, and it featured as a backdrop for some of my photos.

I took my dog Esteban with me.  This was only the second long trip he’d been on with me, and he’s still not the best traveler yet. I think just taking him out more often will help him build his traveler’s legs and confidence.

Esteban in the car. He spent a lot of time standing on the center console looking at the birds. The big flocks of geese freaked him out, though.

At the preserves, Nature was kind of playing “keep away” which frustrated a lot of my photo-taking. I’d see something like a bird or a deer, get the car stopped and focus the camera, and the subject immediately moved out of range. This was most frustrating when I saw a chubby Striped Skunk waddling along the edge of the trail. It was obvious to the car until I stopped it, then the skunk immediately turned tail and scrambled into the tules out of sight.  Dang it! I

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

There were hawks in the trees and along the roads both going to the preserves and coming back to Sacramento. I got up to 25 before I stopped counting!  Mostly Red-Tailed Hawks with a few Red-Shouldered Hawks and a Prairie Falcon thrown into the mix.

A pair of Northern Harriers sharing a meal

At the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, I saw a pair of what I think were Northern Harriers (hawks) sitting on a tussock in the middle of the wetlands with some Turkey Vultures sitting nearby.  The hawks were eating something, but I couldn’t see what it was. I was able to get some photos of them, looking at one another, sharing their meal.  I inferred it might have been an adult with her offspring.  Even with bloody bits on their beaks, I thought they were lovely.

As I mentioned, there were thousands of Snow Geese in both preserves, intermixed with Greater White-Fronted Geese and Ross’s Geese.  During my walk at Effie Yeaw on Saturday, fellow-walker Alice had mentioned that the last time she been to this preserve there wasn’t a goose in sight anywhere.  But she was there when it was raining, so I surmised that the geese hadn’t come into the preserve because they were waiting out the rains and hunkered down in their night roosts (in the agricultural fields around the refuge). Today, the geese were everywhere. 

Nearing the “white out” conditions with all of the Snow Geese rising up off the ground and into the air.

At one point, I saw a Bald Eagle lift off from a tree on the side of the auto-tour route and buzz-bomb the geese.  The geese scattered in all directions, wave on wave of them, until there were so many bird in the air I was actually “snow blind” for a minute or two.  It was incredible. That Bald Eagle was the only one I saw today.

Snow Geese scattering in front of the Eagle.

I saw a lot of Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons along with the usual waterfowl I normally see at the preserves, including a pair of happy Gadwalls. The male kept elbowing the female, but she wasn’t in the mood. Hah! 

Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias

And because the “naturalist” in me won’t shut up: Those stiff feathers on the Great Blue Heron’s chest are called “powder down”. The bird has a special claw on its foot that it scrapes over these stiff feathers, shredding their surface into a fine powder that it then transfers to its skin and other feathers with its beak to keep them clean.

I also saw a few Audubon’s Warblers, a few Ravens, young and nonbreeding Western Meadowlarks and several American Pipits. I also caught sight of an American Bittern trying to make itself inconspicuous among the tules, but I couldn’t get any good photos of it. Where it was situated, I could only see it through my windshield, and my camera takes shitty photos through glass. So, it was neat to see the bird, but frustrating as far as the photo-taking went.

A juvenile Black-Crowned Night Heron, Nycticorax nycticorax, sitting in one of the day-roost trees.

It was nice to see the full flock of Black-Crowned Night Herons hulking en masse in the trees at the end of the Colusa loop again.  The big flock had been absent for a while with only a few stragglers hanging around the refuge.  Today there must’ve been about 50 birds out there, adults and juveniles.

 I drove through the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge auto-tour route and then headed over to the Colusa refuge and drove through there, too.  Esteban and I lunched in the car along the way, and we got back home around 2:00 pm.

Species List:

  1. American Bittern, Botaurus lentiginosus
  2. American Coot, Fulica americana
  3. American Pipit, Anthus rubescens
  4. American Wigeon, Anas americana
  5. Audubon’s Warbler, Setophaga coronata auduboni
  6. Bald Eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus
  7. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  8. Black-Crowned Night Heron, Nycticorax nycticorax
  9. Bufflehead, Bucephala albeola
  10. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  11. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
  12. Common Knotweed, Persicaria lapathifolia
  13. Common Raven, Corvus corax
  14. Dallis Grass, Sticky Heads, Paspalum dilatatum
  15. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
  16. Gadwall duck, Mareca strepera
  17. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
  18. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  19. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons
  20. Herring Gull, Larus argentatus
  21. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous [heard]
  22. Loggerhead Shrike, Lanius ludovicianus
  23. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  24. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris
  25. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  26. Northern Harrier, Marsh Hawk, Circus hudsonius
  27. Northern Pintail, Anas acuta
  28. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata
  29. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  30. Prairie Falcon, Falco mexicanus
  31. Red Gum Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus camaldulensis
  32. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  33. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
  34. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  35. Ring-Necked Duck, Aythya collaris
  36. Ring-Necked Pheasant, Phasianus colchicus
  37. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  38. Ross’s Goose, Chen rossii
  39. Rough Cocklebur, Xanthium strumarium
  40. Savannah Sparrow, Passerculus sandwichensis
  41. Snow Goose, Chen caerulescens
  42. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula
  43. Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia
  44. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  45. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  46. Variable Flatsedge, Cyperus difformis
  47. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
  48. White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys
  49. White-Faced Ibis, Plegadis chihi