I left the house with the dog around 5:30 am to head out to the Sacramento and Colusa National Wildlife Refuges. It was already 62º there and was windy; not a strong blow-you-over wind, but strong enough so that it kept a lot of the birds hunkered down to keep warm. Neither refuge is at full water capacity yet, so there were long areas of nothing but dried grass and tules. In another month or so, viewing should better.
At the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, the first thing I saw was a Black-Tailed Jackrabbit using a stand of tules as a windbreak. I saw several Red-Tailed Hawks in the trees, saw some American Kestrels on the wing, saw a Northern Harrier on the ground, and lots of Turkey Vultures surfing the wind currents. One of the Red-Tails was so huge, I thought at first that it might be an eagle; the female Red-Tails can get REALLY large. I also heard but didn’t see a Red-Shouldered Hawk.
Lots of Song, Savannah and White-Crowned Sparrows were out along with huge flocks of Snow Geese, Greater White-Fronted Geese, and Northern Pintail ducks. I also saw several Ross’s Geese – which look like Snow Geese, but they’re smaller and don’t have the black “grin patch” on the beak. Among the other ducks were Northern Shovelers (some still in their eclipse plumage), American Wigeons and Gadwalls. The Pintails always out-number the other ducks this early in the season as they’re the first to arrive.
Some areas along the auto-tour route were laden with the thick sticky webbing spiderlings use to “balloon” along the landscape. Long strands and bunches of “spider snot” seemed to be everywhere.
Two standouts at the Sacramento refuge were a Loggerhead Shrike and a Lorquin’s Admiral butterfly. The Shrike had posted itself on some dead cattail stems and as I watched it impaled a large insect on a shard along the side of the stem. Then it manipulated the insect a little bit with its beaks and feet before eating it. I think the insect was a big grasshopper, but I couldn’t get a really good look at it. Shrikes are referred to as “butcher birds” and “songbirds with the heart of a raptor” for their hunting and butchering behaviors.
The Lorquin’s Admiral was a huge surprise. It’s very late in the season for them to be out. This is a kind of butterfly that has several “flights” throughout the year, and they feed on nectar from California Buckeye trees, but they also like bird feces. Ugh. No accounting for taste! What’s cool about these guys is that even though they’re basically made out of “fuzzy air”, they’re super-aggressive and will fight protect their territory. Sort of like getting sucker-punches by a paper doll. Hah! The caterpillars roll themselves up in the leaves of willow trees (among others) and overwinter in them.
CLICK HERE for the album of photos.
At the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge, I saw a lot of the same birds that I did at the Sacramento refuge, but the standout was a Wilson’s snipe and flew up right next to the car and walked around the muddy ground there. Every once in a while, the bird would tilt its head to look up at me as I frantically snapped photos of it through the driver’s side window of my car.
On our way out of the auto-tour route at this refuge, I saw a pair of young Columbian Black-Tailed Deer grazing on the berm that was covered with geese and ducks. The deer didn’t seem to mind it when I stopped my car next to the end of the berm to take some photos and video of them, but when another car came up behind mine, they startled. I was surprised when, instead of running away up the berm through the flock of birds, both deer came charging down the berm right toward my car. I was afraid they were going to hit it. But they both veered off, one after the other, and crossed the auto-tour route road in front of my car – kind of using my car as a shield – before they jumped into the trees and overgrowth on the opposite side of the road. Wow. Got my heart going for a little bit. I don’t know what it was about the other car that made them so afraid.
When I was done with the auto-tour route, I parked near the restroom facility and then took Sergeant Margie out on his leash to stretch his legs. ((Dogs are allowed on the preserve, as long as they’re in your car or on a leash.)) I started down the trail that runs along between a large wetland area and a slough (so you have water on both sides) and was happily surprised to see that Sergeant Margie was able to handle walking a half mile in and a half mile back to the car (one mile round trip). He hasn’t been able or willing to do any kind of “long” walk for almost a year.
I think it helped that the temperature outside was comfortable and the trail was flat and covered with soft leaves. His tongue was hanging out when we got back to the car, but he wasn’t coughing or complaining. I gave him some lunch and a big drink of water before we headed back home.