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.
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!
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.
- American Coot, Fulica americana
- American Kestrel, Falco sparverius
- American Wigeon, Anas americana
- Audubon’s Warbler, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata auduboni
- Bald Eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus
- Bewick’s Wren, Thryomanes bewickii
- Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
- Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
- Blessed Milk Thistle, Silybum marianum
- Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
- Bufflehead Duck, Bucephala albeola
- California Gull, Larus californicus [yellow legs; dark eye; red spot]
- California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
- California Towhee, Melozone crissalis
- Common Gallinule, Gallinula galeata
- Common Goldeneye, Bucephala clangula
- Cooper’s Hawk, Acipiter cooperii
- Dark-Eyed Junco, Junco hyemalis
- Eucalyptus, River Redgum, Eucalyptus camaldulensis
- Gadwall Duck, Mareca strepera
- Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
- Great Egret, Ardea alba
- Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons
- Grebe, Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
- Green-Winged Teal, Anas carolinensis
- Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
- Lesser Goldfinch, Spinus psaltria
- Lesser Scaup, Aythya affinis
- Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
- Mistletoe, Broadleaf Mistletoe, Phoradendron macrophyllum
- Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
- Northern Harrier, Marsh Hawk, Circus hudsonius
- Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
- Northern Pintail, Anas acuta
- Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata
- Nuttall’s Woodpecker, Picoides nuttallii
- Pacific Pond Turtle, Western Pond Turtle, Actinemys marorata
- Periwinkle, Greater Periwinkle, Vinca major
- Pyracantha, Firethorn, Pyracantha coccinea
- Red-Eared Slider Turtle, Trachemys scripta elegans
- Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
- Red-Tailed Hawk, Western Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis calurus
- Ring-Necked Duck, Aythya collaris
- Rose, California Wild Rose, Rosa californica
- Rose, Dog Rose, Rosa canina
- Ruddy Duck, Oxyura jamaicensis
- Sandhill Crane, Grus canadensis
- Savannah Sparrow, Passerculus sandwichensis
- Snow Goose, Chen caerulescens
- Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
- Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
- Vireo, Vireo sp. [nests]
- Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
- White Horehound, Marrubium vulgare
- White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys
- Wild Mustard, Sinapis arvensis
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