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.
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.
- American Coot, Fulica americana
- American Pipit, Anthus rubescens
- American Wigeon, Anas americana
- Arundo, Giant Reed, Arundo donax
- Ash, Oregon Ash, Fraxinus latifolia
- Audubon’s Warbler, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Setophaga coronata auduboni
- Bald Eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus
- Bee, Western Honeybee, Apis mellifera
- Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
- Blackberry, Armenian Blackberry, Rubus armeniacus [red canes]
- Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
- Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
- Bufflehead Duck, Bucephala albeola
- California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
- Columbian Black-Tailed Deer, Odocoileus hemionus columbianus
- Crow, American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
- Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
- Eucalyptus, Eucalyptus sp.
- Eurasian Collared Dove, Streptopelia decaocto
- Field Mustard, Brassica rapa
- Gadwall, Mareca strepera
- Grasses, Saltgrass, Distichlis spicata
- Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
- Great Egret, Ardea alba
- Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons
- Great-Tailed Grackle, Quiscalus mexicanus
- Green-Winged Teal, Anas carolinensis
- Gull, Larus sp.
- Gull, Herring Gull, Larus argentatus
- Gull, Ring-Billed Gull, Larus delawarensis
- Jointed Charlock, Raphanus raphanistrum
- Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
- Loggerhead Shrike, Lanius ludovicianus
- Mallard Duck, Anas platyrhynchos
- Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
- Northern Flicker, Colaptes auratus [heard]
- Northern Harrier, Circus hudsonius
- Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
- Northern Pintail, Anas acuta
- Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata
- Otter, North American River Otter, Lontra canadensis
- Pacific Pond Turtle, Western Pond Turtle, Actinemys marorata
- Paper Wasp, Golden Paper Wasp, Polistes aurifer
- Poison Hemlock, Conium maculatum
- Raccoon, Common Raccoon, Procyon lotor [tracks]
- Red-Shouldered Hawk, California Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus elegans
- Red-Tailed Hawk, Western Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis calurus
- Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
- Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
- Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Regulus calendula
- Snow Goose, Chen caerulescens
- Snowy Egret, Egretta thula
- Sparrow, House Sparrow, Passer domesticus
- Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Passerculus sandwichensis
- Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia
- Sparrow, White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys
- Sunflower, California Sunflower, Helianthus californicus
- Swainson’s Hawk, Buteo swainsoni
- Teasel, Wild Teasel, Dipsacus fullonum
- Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
- Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
- Western Fence Lizard, Blue Belly, Sceloporus occidentalis
- Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
- White-Faced Ibis, Plegadis chihi
- Willows, Salix sp.
- Wren, Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris
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