Woke up around 4:00 am in pain, and took some meds, but couldn’t get comfortable, so I couldn’t get back to sleep before 6:00 when I had to get up to get ready to go out birding with my friend Roxanne.
We were initially going to go to the Yolo Bypass, then changed our minds but got on the wrong freeway – D’oh! – and ended up instead going over to the Gray Lodge Wildlife Area. The length of the drive was about the same, just in a different direction. As happens sometimes, we saw more wildlife along the highway and in the ag land areas than we did in the wildlife area itself… including over 30 hawks along the way (mostly Red-Tailed Hawks, a couple of Red-Shouldered Hawks, and a Cooper’s Hawk).
I thought it was going to be drizzly and foggy, but it was actually a lovely day, weatherwise, with intermittent sunshine and lots of poufy clouds.
Along the more rural parts of the highway, we were surprised to find a dirt-filled lot that had Western Meadowlarks and Yellow-Billed Magpies in it, a field that had Tundra Swans in it, and another field that had Sandhill Cranes in it. The big surprise was seeing a Bald Eagle sitting on the ground in yet another field with Turkey Vultures sitting to one side of it and a small flock of Crows sitting on the other side. All of them must have been there to scavenge something, but I couldn’t see any evidence of what it was that had brought them all there.
CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.
Elsewhere, hawks decorated the trees and telephone poles, and more were inside the wildlife area. Most of them seemed to be the ruddy-red “rufous” morph Red-Tails.
There were more vultures throughout the wildlife area, including one that was displaying oddly to another vulture. At first, we saw it bowing in front of the other vulture (which was sitting on a post), with its wings arched downward and its tail lifted up with the tail feathers splayed wide.
Both birds flew off a short distance to other posts where the display continued. After a while, the posturing bird hopped off its post and walked off a few steps where it then sat on its feet.
From the head and beak, I think the posturing bird was younger than the other bird. Its head was still a bit dark and the tip of its beak wasn’t pure bone white yet. I don’t know if the posturing bird was a youngster begging for food or if was trying to initiate courtship or what. I’d never seen anything quite like it.
I know that vultures sometimes sit on their feet to conserve heat, but I tried looking up the crooked-wing display in Cornell’s. The only thing I could find was references to courtship and, “…Wing-spreading and hopping also occur during gregarious dance performed by Turkey Vultures in early spring, but function unknown…”
Some of the folks in the Facebook birding groups suggested it was courtship behavior, but I can’t imagine a younger bird trying to court an older one. So I’m still stumped.
Anyway, another surprise of the day was seeing a Red-Breasted Sapsucker in a tree along the auto tour route. And a female Northern Pintail with a band around her leg. I could only see a portion of it, but I reported it anyway.
After we left the wildlife area, we took Highways 45 and 20 back to the interstate. Along the way we stopped at one spot where there was an animal carcass in the road – a newly killed raccoon.
There were vultures on the side of the road, eyeing it, and a Red-Tailed hawk on the telephone pole on the side opposite the vultures. Then we saw a second hawk on the ground in the weeds, eating his fill of a part of the carcass he’d managed to pull over there. I took some photos, then quick ran out to pull the rest of the carcass out of he middle of the road to the side of the road, so the birds could eat it later without getting run over by cars.
At another spot, we saw a Red-Shouldered Hawk off a little ways from the road, and stopped to get some photos of it. Rox turned her hazard lights on to make the car more visible. We were only stopped there for maybe a minute, and these guys in a massive truck with an American flag mounted in the bed came up and yelled, “Are you in trouble?”
Rox told them politely, “No.”
“You’re in the middle of the road!” they shouted. You’re on a rise! No one will see you!” [Untrue. They could see us just fine.] “Get out of there!” [If we had been MEN in the car, they would never have used that tone with us.] I don’t think I would have minded their “bullying concern” if they hadn’t been what I consider right-wing psychos – which are prevalent these days. I’m pretty much burned out on these pseudo-patriots in their gas-guzzling pick-ups waving their flags in my face. I was glad to see them gone.
As we cut through Colusa, heading to the interstate, we stopped at the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge. There were more geese there than at Gray Lodge: Snow Geese, Ross’s Geese and Greater White-Fronted Geese. Lots of Coots, too, and it seemed to us that the Coots we were seeing all seemed “young” and rather thin. Nothing much else to see there, today, so we headed on home.
We were out from about 6:30 am to 4:00 pm,9½ hours. A long day, but we saw a lot of different and unexpected things, and that was fun.
- American Coot, Fulica americana
- American Kestrel, Falco sparverius
- American Pipit, Anthus rubescens
- American Wigeon, Anas Americana
- Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
- Bald Eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus
- Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
- Black-Crowned Night Heron, Nycticorax nycticorax
- Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
- Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
- Bufflehead Duck, Bucephala albeola
- Bushtit, American Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimu
- California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
- Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
- Common Crow, American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
- Common Gallinule, Gallinula galeata
- Common Raven, Corvus corax
- Cooper’s Hawk, Acipiter cooperii
- Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
- European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
- Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
- Gadwall duck, Mareca Strepera
- Goodding’s Black Willow, Salix gooddingii
- Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
- Great Egret, Ardea alba
- Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons
- Greater Yellowlegs, Tringa melanoleuca
- Green-Winged Teal, Anas carolinensis
- House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
- House Sparrow, Passer domesticus
- Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
- Loggerhead Shrike, Lanius ludovicianus
- Long-Billed Curlew, Numenius americanus
- Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
- Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris
- Mistletoe, American Mistletoe, Big Leaf Mistletoe, Phoradendron leucarpum
- Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
- Northern Harrier, Marsh Hawk, Circus hudsonius
- Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
- Northern Pintail, Anas acuta
- Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata
- Pampas Grass, Cortaderia selloana
- Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
- Raccoon, Procyon lotor
- Red-Breasted Sap Sucker, Sphyrapicus ruber
- Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
- Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
- Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
- Ring-Necked Duck, Aythya collaris
- Ring-Necked Pheasant, Phasianus colchicus
- Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
- Ruddy Duck, Oxyura jamaicensis
- Sandhill Crane, Grus canadensis
- Smartweed, Persicaria lapathifolia [white]
- Snow Goose, Chen caerulescens
- Snowy Egret, Egretta thula
- Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia
- Sora, Porzana carolina
- Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
- Tundra Swan, Cygnus columbianus
- Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
- Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
- White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus [kiting over a field]
- White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys
- White-Faced Ibis, Plegadis chihi
- White Horehound, Marrubium vulgare
- Yellow-Billed Magpie, Pica nuttalli