Category Archives: Surprises

Quite a Few Surprises, 12-26-20

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. 

Bald Eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus; Turkey Vultures, Cathartes aura; and Common Crows, American Crows, Corvus brachyrhynchos

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.

A young Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura,sitting on his feet after “dancing”

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.

Northern Pintails, Anas acuta, a banded female and a male.

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.

A view of the Sutter Buttes from the Colusa preserve

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.

Species List:

  1. American Coot, Fulica americana
  2. American Kestrel, Falco sparverius
  3. American Pipit, Anthus rubescens
  4. American Wigeon, Anas Americana
  5. Anna’s Hummingbird, Calypte anna
  6. Bald Eagle, Haliaeetus leucocephalus
  7. Black Phoebe, Sayornis nigricans
  8. Black-Crowned Night Heron, Nycticorax nycticorax
  9. Black-Necked Stilt, Himantopus mexicanus
  10. Brewer’s Blackbird, Euphagus cyanocephalus
  11. Bufflehead Duck, Bucephala albeola
  12. Bushtit, American Bushtit, Psaltriparus minimu
  13. California Scrub Jay, Aphelocoma californica
  14. Canada Goose, Branta canadensis
  15. Common Crow, American Crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos
  16. Common Gallinule, Gallinula galeata
  17. Common Raven, Corvus corax
  18. Cooper’s Hawk, Acipiter cooperii
  19. Double-Crested Cormorant, Phalacrocorax auratus
  20. European Starling, Sturnus vulgaris
  21. Fremont’s Cottonwood, Populus fremontii
  22. Gadwall duck, Mareca Strepera
  23. Goodding’s Black Willow, Salix gooddingii
  24. Great Blue Heron, Ardea herodias
  25. Great Egret, Ardea alba
  26. Greater White-Fronted Goose, Anser albifrons
  27. Greater Yellowlegs, Tringa melanoleuca
  28. Green-Winged Teal, Anas carolinensis
  29. House Finch, Haemorhous mexicanus
  30. House Sparrow, Passer domesticus
  31. Killdeer, Charadrius vociferous
  32. Loggerhead Shrike, Lanius ludovicianus
  33. Long-Billed Curlew, Numenius americanus
  34. Mallard duck, Anas platyrhynchos
  35. Marsh Wren, Cistothorus palustris
  36. Mistletoe, American Mistletoe, Big Leaf Mistletoe, Phoradendron leucarpum
  37. Mourning Dove, Zenaida macroura
  38. Northern Harrier, Marsh Hawk, Circus hudsonius
  39. Northern Mockingbird, Mimus polyglottos
  40. Northern Pintail, Anas acuta
  41. Northern Shoveler, Anas clypeata
  42. Pampas Grass, Cortaderia selloana
  43. Pied-Billed Grebe, Podilymbus podiceps
  44. Raccoon, Procyon lotor
  45. Red-Breasted Sap Sucker, Sphyrapicus ruber
  46. Red-Shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus
  47. Red-Tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis
  48. Red-Winged Blackbird, Agelaius phoeniceus
  49. Ring-Necked Duck, Aythya collaris
  50. Ring-Necked Pheasant, Phasianus colchicus
  51. Rio Grande Wild Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo intermedia
  52. Ruddy Duck, Oxyura jamaicensis
  53. Sandhill Crane, Grus canadensis
  54. Smartweed, Persicaria lapathifolia [white]
  55. Snow Goose, Chen caerulescens
  56. Snowy Egret, Egretta thula
  57. Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia
  58. Sora, Porzana carolina
  59. Tule, Common Tule, Schoenoplectus acutus
  60. Tundra Swan, Cygnus columbianus
  61. Turkey Vulture, Cathartes aura
  62. Western Meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta
  63. White Tailed Kite, Elanus leucurus [kiting over a field]
  64. White-Crowned Sparrow, Zonotrichia leucophrys
  65. White-Faced Ibis, Plegadis chihi
  66. White Horehound, Marrubium vulgare
  67. Yellow-Billed Magpie, Pica nuttalli