A Day at the SNWR, 01-25-23

I got up “early” this morning, around 6:30 AM, to feed and potty my dog Esteban, and to get myself ready to go to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge with my friend and fellow Naturalist, Roxanne, I hadn’t there in “forever”, and this year weather and flooding made in impossible to get into the place. (It was actually closed yesterday because they needed to male repairs to the auto tour route. )

I remember one year (2019?) when I took my class of naturalists to the refuge, and the auto tour route was closed behind us when a sink hole opened up on the road. The whole place is a wetlands area, so puddles, sink holes, soft spots, and mires are not unusual here.

The Nature Center was closed because it’s being expanded and getting a new roof.

It was 35ºF at the house when we left, but already 47ºF at the preserve, so we figured it would be a lovely weather day. What we weren’t prepared for was the wind, which made the air feel colder than it actually was, and caused enough chop on the water of the larger pools that it interfered with the waterfowl, and kept them grounded.

Even before we got into the refuge itself, we saw flocks of Snow Geese gathering near the freeway on-ramps and in the fields along Princeton Road. The geese were also common throughout the refuge proper, most of them sitting close to the ground to avoid the wind.

And we also got to see a Bald Eagle sitting in a tree just before the entrance to refuge. That was exciting. The eagles were on my bucket list for the day, and it was thrilling to see one so close so early in the day. We also saw other eagles in the refuge, including some juveniles. One eagle, maybe 4 ½ years old, flew overhead then circled around, scaring up a small flock of Black-Necked Stilts, before landing in a tree on the side of the road. The eagles are strong enough to fly against the wind when they want to.

Inside the refuge, we saw quite a few different species, but very few songbirds and very few shorebirds. The wind was a factor in that, but the amount of water on the landscape was also an issue. We always look forward to the ponds filling with water each year, but this year we’ve already had an inordinate amount of rain so the ponds are almost “over full”. Everything was wet. There weren’t any of the drier areas where smaller birds, and birds like the Snipes, could rest and feed. As the water recedes and areas dry, we might seen more of those little birds.

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

All of the water is appreciated by the egrets and herons, though, who hunt and feed in it.

The coolest and most frustrating sighting we had for the day was seeing an otter run across the road right in front of the car. It moved so fast, I couldn’t get any clear photos of it on the road, and then it ducked down into a wager-filled slough along the side of the road. Once in the water, it could move faster and disappear for periods of time under the surface. There were so many twiggy trees and weeds along the edge of the slough that we couldn’t get the camera to focus on the animal itself… So, the only photos I got were blurry images of its tail. Like I said, it was cool but totally frustrating.

Oh, and it was clear enough to see snow-covered mountains all along the horizon in almost every direction. So beautiful!

When we were done driving the auto tour loop, we headed into Williams and stopped at Granzella’s for a late lunch. It was a chilly windy, fun and fulfilling day.

Species List:

  1. American Coot, Fulica americana
  2. American Pipit, Anthus rubescens
  3. American Wigeon, Anas americana
  4. Arundo, Giant Reed, Arundo donax
  5. Ash, Oregon Ash, Fraxinus latifolia
  6. Audubon’s Warbler, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata auduboni
  7. Bald Eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus
  8. Bee, Western Honeybee, Apis mellifera
  9. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  10. Blackberry, Armenian Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus [red canes]
  11. Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
  12. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  13. Bufflehead Duck, Bucephala albeola
  14. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  15. Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
  16. Crow, American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  17. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
  18. Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus sp.
  19. Eurasian Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto
  20. Field Mustard, Brassica rapa
  21. Gadwall, Mareca strepera
  22. Grasses, Saltgrass, Distichlis spicata
  23. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
  24. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  25. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons
  26. Great-Tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus
  27. Green-Winged Teal, Anas carolinensis
  28. Gull, Larus sp.
  29. Gull, Herring Gull, Larus argentatus
  30. Gull, Ring-Billed Gull, Larus delawarensis
  31. Jointed Charlock, Raphanus raphanistrum
  32. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  33. Loggerhead Shrike, Lanius ludovicianus
  34. Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  35. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  36. Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus [heard]
  37. Northern Harrier, Circus hudsonius
  38. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  39. Northern Pintail, Anas acuta
  40. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata
  41. Otter, North American River Otter, Lontra canadensis
  42. Pacific Pond Turtle, Western Pond Turtle, Actinemys marorata
  43. Paper Wasp, Golden Paper Wasp, Polistes aurifer
  44. Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum
  45. Raccoon, Common Raccoon, Procyon lotor [tracks]
  46. Red-Shouldered Hawk, California Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus elegans
  47. Red-Tailed Hawk, Western Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis calurus
  48. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  49. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  50. Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Regulus calendula
  51. Snow Goose, Chen caerulescens
  52. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula
  53. Sparrow, House Sparrow, Passer domesticus
  54. Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Passerculus sandwichensis
  55. Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia
  56. Sparrow, White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys
  57. Sunflower, California Sunflower, Helianthus californicus
  58. Swainson’s Hawk, Buteo swainsoni
  59. Teasel, Wild Teasel, Dipsacus fullonum
  60. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  61. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  62. Western Fence Lizard, Blue Belly, Sceloporus occidentalis
  63. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
  64. White-Faced Ibis, Plegadis chihi
  65. Willows, Salix sp.
  66. Wren, Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris

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