Got up around 6:00 am and was out the door with my friend and fellow naturalist Roxanne to head over to the Gray Lodge Wildlife Area in Gridley (about 90 minutes from Sacramento). We’d never been there before, so we didn’t really know what to expect, but we’d seen posts on social media of the birds other folks are seeing there.
It’s early in the migration period, so there are mostly Pintails, Northern Shovelers and Snow Geese in big flocks all over the place – and that’s pretty much what we were seeing at this preserve. But over the next few months, sightings of other birds should sharply increase. Another factor working again us today was the fact that it was very windy in Gridley, so there was a lot of chop on the water in the wetland areas, and the birds were all kind of hunkered down to keep warm. Nonetheless, I could really see the potential of this preserve to become one of my go-to places in the future.
There is a 3-mile auto tour route that we followed, and a couple of trails, too. Along the auto tour route, there are turn-outs (some with porta-potties, which are GREATLY appreciated) and great viewing areas. It’s about half as long as the route at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, but far more open. We walked one of the trails as far as the wildlife blind… which was THE NICEST blind I’ve ever seen. It’s well shaded, had lots of viewing windows, polished benches to sit on, and room to bring in your gear – or even your lunch. I was very impressed with the place.
The views of the Sutter Buttes from around the preserve are excellent. We would have gotten more photos if the air wasn’t so smutty with smoke and dirt kicked up by all of the work being done on the surround ag properties right now.
As we were driving to toward where the pay station was and the auto tour route began, we stopped at one of the turnout to look at the huge pyracantha bushes on the side of the road, and watch several hawks and vultures coasting overhead on the wind. We also use the porta-potty unit there which was one of THE cleanest units I’ve ever seen.
There was a large willow tree near there that was wearing a thick “coat” of poison oak. And in another nearby tree was a juvenile Turkey Vulture. He was very young but fully fledged; his head and the tip of his beak were still very black. If we’d had all day to sit around there we might have been able to see his mom come to feed him.
Just before you get onto the auto tour route, there’s a kiosk to buy a land’s pass for the day. It’s $4.25 per person. You can buy an annual pass online (if you set up an account), but it’s by CALENDAR year and isn’t prorated; so, if you buy a pass in October it’s only good though December of the same year (2 months) but still costs you as much as a 12-month pass. So, it’s best to buy the annual pass in January.
Adjacent to the kiosk are some picnic tables, and access to the ADA compliant Wetland Discovery Trail. This one is a little over half a mile long and leads to a viewing platform. We didn’t walk it, but look forward to doing that during our next trip there.
In the ponds along the auto tour route we saw the usual suspects: Coots, Pipits, Northern Shovelers, Northern Pintails, Mallards, Killdeer, Wigeons, Green-Winged Teals, Greater Yellowlegs, a Common Gallinule, Greater White-Fronted Geese, Snow Geese, Canada Geese, Gadwalls, blackbirds, and others. Most of them were pretty far away, sheltering against the wind near stands of tules and other vegetation. So photo-taking wasn’t all that easy.
At one point, though, we found a Peregrine Falcon standing in a naked tree and were able to get a few photos of him before he flew off. And further along, we saw a Red-Tailed Hawk being harassed by a Raven. When the hawk set down on a berm to rest for moment, the Raven sat down nearby, resting too. Then they both took off again, with the Raven resuming its harassing activities.
In the group shots I got of the ducks was the pleasant surprise of finding a Eurasian Wigeon in among the American Wigeons and Northern Pintails. That was a “first” for me. I’ve seen pictures of them,of course, but I’ve never spotted one in the wild before. Very exciting.
When we’d completed the auto tour route, we parked in a pull-out, used the facilities there, and then walked down part of the 2-mile graveled Flyaway Loop Trail. This runs along the levees around some of the temporary and permanent wetland pools, and leads to the Betty Adamson Hide, the large bird blind. As I’d mentioned, this was the nicest-looking blind I’ve ever seen. On the side of the blind is an inverted V-shaped bat box. At Gray Lodge, there are supposed to be several species of bats including the California Myotis, Brazilian Free-tailed bat, Pallid Bat, and Western Red Bat. One of the windows looks right out onto the box, so it might be cool to sit there at dusk and see if anything flies into the box.
Along the trail were lots of blackberry vines and sweetbriar rose bushes, salt grass, tules and rushes, and a variety of riparian habitat trees: oaks, willows, cottonwood, boxelder, eucalyptus, ash…
CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.
Rox pointed out the salt grass to me, and I was able to get photos of the exuded salt on its leaves along with close-up images of its pinkish “flowers”. I ran my fingers over the leaves and then licked them to taste the salt, but I didn’t put my tongue on the plant itself. Hah! Salty!
We saw a variety of dragonflies, still in flight although late in the season, including Black Saddlebags, Variegated Meadowhawks, Pondhawks, and Green Darners. We saw some of them, male-and-female pairs, flying in tandem and some in-wheel. We also saw a pair of the Meadowhawks depositing eggs on the water.
There were a lot of incredibly tiny butterflies (no larger than my fingernail) flitting around the foot of the plants on the trail. I managed to get some photos of them, and believe they were Western Pygmy-Blues, the smallest butterflies in North America. Their wings, when open, are dusky copper with a purple-blue blush down the middle, with each wing rimmed in white. Sooooo pretty; and so much remarkable detail for such tiny things. Their host plants include pigweed, saltbrush and amaranth plants. “…After mating, females lay eggs on all parts of the host plant, oftenmost on the uppersides of leaves…” Considering how small these guys are, can you imagine how miniscule their eggs, caterpillars and chrysalises must be?!
The biggest surprise, was finding the biggest grasshopper I’d ever seen. It was a dark luscious green with a yellow stripe down its pronotum and bright red hind tibiae. It was a kind of “bird grasshopper”, called that because it can fly very high and very fast like a bird; a Spotted Bird Grasshopper, Schistocerca lineata.
I had a little trouble ID-ing it at first because this species comes in a variety of different color including reddish-brown, yellowish-brown, yellowish-green, olive-green, olive-brown, or dark brown. The color changes with age and is also dependent on the surrounding environment. This particular species overwinters as an adult (rather than in egg form in the ground like most grasshopper species). Females are larger than males. I’m guessing we found a female.
I first caught sight of it hanging underneath the leaf of a blackberry vine. I could see one of its legs and its long abdomen and at first I thought it might be a mantis of some kind. On closer inspection, I realized it was a grasshopper. I reached into the blackberry vines to try to get a hold of it, but every time I got close to it, it would death-drop down further into the brambles. I finally used my old-lady-cane to pull the thorn-covered vines away and got hold of it. It was totally worth the scratches. As big as it was, it had a lot of power in its hind legs, so we held it by the thorax and the wings in order to get photos of it before releasing it again into the thicket.
When we got back to the car from the trail, we stopped for bit to sit in the shade and have our lunch before heading home again. All in all, we were out for about 8 hours. It was a fun, interesting and informative day. I really enjoyed it… and am looking forward to going back to the preserve a little later in the season (preferably when it’s not so windy).
- American Coot, Fulica americana
- American Kestrel, Falco sparverius
- American Pipit, Anthus rubescens
- American Robin, Turdus migratorius
- American Wigeon, Anas Americana
- Armenian Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus [pink flowers]
- Audubon’s Warbler, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata auduboni
- Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
- Black Saddlebags Dragonfly, Tramea lacerata
- Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
- Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum
- Boxelder, Box Elder Tree, Acer negundo
- Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
- California Towhee, Melozone crissalis
- Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
- Common Gallinule, Gallinula galeata
- Common Raven, Corvus corax
- Eurasian Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto
- Eurasian Wigeon, Mareca penelope
- Gadwall duck, Mareca Strepera
- Golden Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia atricapilla
- Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
- Great Egret, Ardea alba
- Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons
- Greater Yellowlegs, Tringa melanoleuca
- Green Darner Dragonfly, Anax junius
- Green-Winged Teal, Anas carolinensis
- Herring Gull, Larus argentatus [spot on bill, gray legs, pale eye]
- Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
- Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
- Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris [heard]
- Mosquito, Common House Mosquito, Culex pipiens
- Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
- Non-Biting Midge, Chironomus sp.
- Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus
- Northern Harrier, Marsh Hawk, Circus hudsonius
- Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
- Northern Pintail, Anas acuta
- Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata
- Parrot’s Feather, Myriophyllum aquaticum [water plant]
- Peregrine Falcon, Falco peregrinus
- Poison Oak, Pacific Poison Oak, Western Poison Oak, Toxicodendron diversilobum
- Prickly Pear, Opuntia sp.
- Pyracantha, Firethorn, Pyracantha coccinea
- Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
- Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
- Rough Cocklebur, Xanthium strumarium
- Salt Grass, Distichlis spicata
- Smartweed, Persicaria lapathifolia [white]
- Snow Goose, Chen caerulescens
- Snowy Egret, Egretta thula
- Spotted Bird Grasshopper, Schistocerca lineata
- Spotted Towhee, Pipilo maculatus [heard]
- Sulphur Shelf Fungus, Western Hardwood Sulphur Shelf, Laetiporus gilbertsonii
- Swamp Smartweed, False Water-Pepper, Persicara hydropiperoides [pink]
- Sweet-Brier Rose, Rosa rubiginosa
- Tasmanian Blue Gum Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus globulus [white flowers]
- Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
- Variegated Meadowhawk Dragonfly, Sympetrum corruptum
- Western Gull, Larus occidentalis
- Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
- Western Pondhawk Dragonfly, Erythemis collocata
- Western Pygmy-Blue Butterly, Brephidium exilis exilis
- White Ash Tree, Fraxinus americana
- White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys
- White-Faced Ibis, Plegadis chihi
- ?? Tiny rounded droppings (chipmunk?)