Scaups at Gray Lodge, 02-09-22

I got up around 6:00 AM and got Esteban pottied, fed and settled before I left with my friend Roxanne for a trip to the Gray Lodge Wildlife Area around 7:30 AM. Gray Lodge is in Gridley, so it takes about 90 minutes to get there. This was the longest drive (and longest day-trip) I’d done since my surgery, so I was interested to see how well I could manage it. Roxanne did all the driving. 

I always forget, until we’re nearly there, that the wildlife area is on the opposite side of the Sutter Buttes than we’re usually used to seeing. Makes for some nice scenery photography.

A portion of the Sutter Buttes as seen from inside the Gray Lodge Wildlife Area

On the way to the wildlife area we were “counting hawks” along the freeway, and were stunned when we got up to 25 before we even got to our destination. We saw more hawks inside the preserve, and then even more on the way back home. Our total for the day was a whopping 41 hawks sighted on the trip. That’s the most we’ve ever seen, ever.

The majority of them were Red-Tailed Hawks, but we also saw a Cooper’s Hawk, and a couple of Red-Shouldered Hawks.    

Before we got to Gray Lodge, we also saw other birds in the agricultural fields along the road including Sandhill Cranes, Killdeer, Great Egrets, a little flock of Savannah Sparrows, quite a few American Kestrels, Meadowlarks, Mourning Doves, Snow Geese, and some Great Blue Herons. In one of the orchards, we spotted a female Nuttall’s Woodpecker knocking on some twigs.

We thought that seemed to bode well for the day’s discoveries at the wildlife area… That was the idea anyway.

The first thing we saw inside the preserve were little sparrows in the clumps of wild rose bushes and blackberry vines, and a large group of Turkey Vultures in the tree tops.

In one of the main ponds we got our first good look at some Scaups, males and females, that were swimming in small flocks among Coots and Common Goldeneye ducks.

We’d seen photos of the Scaups on some of the Facebook birding groups, and realized that they’re easy to confuse to Ring-Necked Ducks, so, now we’re questioning all of our Ring-Necked Duck observations in the past. Hah! The biggest difference, to my eye, was in the coloring of the bill. The Ring-Necks have more detailed marking on the bill than the Scaups. At one point, we DID see a few of the Ring-Necked Ducks, but I think I took about 100 photos of the Scaups.

Along the auto-tour route, getting photos of the Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons became something of a joke. We’d see them posing nicely in the water, and as soon as we got our cameras focused on them, they’d take off flying in some random direction. I got a LOT of fuzzy photos of bird feet leaving the water. Hah!

In one spot, we saw a juvenile Bald Eagle sitting on top of a snag, but it was just beyond the focal point of our cameras, so none of my photos turned out very well. I mean, you can tell it’s an eagle, but its not in sharp focus.

We also saw a weird “speckled” bird feeding along the edges of a small island in one of the ponds. I’m not certain, but I’m pretty sure it was a leucistic female Brewer’s Blackbird.

            When trying to figure out why a male Brewer’s bill was pat yellow and part black, I wasn’t able to get an answer to that question, but I did learn something else. The bill’s size varies by season!

A male Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus. I don’t know why part of the bill is yellow.

According to Cornell: “…Bill lengths longer in summer than winter, perhaps related to clear dietary differences between seasons (highly insectivorous during summer, primarily vegetarian during winter) and the requirement for providing nestlings and fledglings with large quantities of insects…”  Amazing!

Because it was a warm day, in the 70’s by the afternoon, we saw a lot of turtles sunning themselves.  The majority of them were Red-Eared Slider turtles, but there were a few Pacific Pond Turtles, too.

In one of the turn-out parking areas along the auto-tour route, I spotted a big female Slider walking in the dirt. I was worried that she’d get run over by a vehicle, so I got out of the car, followed after her and picked her up. She was a big, hefty, healthy-looking gal. I put her into the soft greenery near a water-filled ditch nearby so she’d be more safe.

With all of the mistletoe we saw at the preserve, I was kind of surprised we didn’t see any Phainopeplas or Cedar Waxwings (birds that like the berries).

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

Although we didn’t see some of the things we were hoping to, like Blue-Winged Teals or Soras or otters, we did see quite a few things, and I was able to add a lot to this year’s species list (which started from nothing again on January 1st).  Last year, I logged 1483 species.  I want to beat that number this year.

I did pretty good for most of the trip, but by 1:30 PM or so, I was exhausted. My neck and shoulders ached from being upright for so many hours straight, and I was ready for a nap. It was really hard to stay awake and stay engaged with Roxanne on the long drive home. I have no stamina yet and it kind of pisses me off. I’m so impatient with myself.

Species List:

  1. American Coot, Fulica americana
  2. American Kestrel, Falco sparverius
  3. American Wigeon, Anas americana
  4. Audubon’s Warbler, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata auduboni
  5. Bald Eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus
  6. Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii
  7. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  8. Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
  9. Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum
  10. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  11. Bufflehead Duck, Bucephala albeola
  12. California Gull, Larus californicus [yellow legs; dark eye; red spot]
  13. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  14. California Towhee, Melozone crissalis
  15. Common Gallinule, Gallinula galeata
  16. Common Goldeneye, Bucephala clangula
  17. Cooper’s Hawk, Acipiter cooperii
  18. Dark-Eyed Junco, Junco hyemalis
  19. Eucalyptus, River Redgum, Eucalyptus camaldulensis
  20. Gadwall Duck, Mareca strepera
  21. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
  22. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  23. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons
  24. Grebe, Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  25. Green-Winged Teal, Anas carolinensis
  26. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  27. Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
  28. Lesser Scaup, Aythya affinis
  29. Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  30. Mistletoe, Broadleaf Mistletoe, Phoradendron macrophyllum
  31. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  32. Northern Harrier, Marsh Hawk, Circus hudsonius
  33. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  34. Northern Pintail, Anas acuta
  35. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata
  36. Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii
  37. Pacific Pond Turtle, Western Pond Turtle, Actinemys marorata
  38. Periwinkle, Greater Periwinkle, Vinca major
  39. Pyracantha, Firethorn, Pyracantha coccinea
  40. Red-Eared Slider Turtle, Trachemys scripta elegans
  41. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  42. Red-Tailed Hawk, Western Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis calurus
  43. Ring-Necked Duck, Aythya collaris
  44. Rose, California Wild Rose, Rosa californica
  45. Rose, Dog Rose, Rosa canina
  46. Ruddy Duck, Oxyura jamaicensis
  47. Sandhill Crane, Grus canadensis
  48. Savannah Sparrow, Passerculus sandwichensis
  49. Snow Goose, Chen caerulescens
  50. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  51. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  52. Vireo, Vireo sp. [nests]
  53. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
  54. White Horehound, Marrubium vulgare
  55. White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys
  56. Wild Mustard, Sinapis arvensis

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