Tag Archives: Black-Crowned Night Herons

Not Many Good Photos Today, 12-02-18

I got up around 6:30 this morning, and decided I’d try going out to the Sacramento and Colusa National Wildlife Refuges. It’s a long drive and I wasn’t sure how Wilson (my tumor)  would react to sitting in a vibrating thing, accelerating and decelerating for hours at a time. I tried going without any pain pills, too, but that didn’t last. Around 9:00 am I had to take one of the ibuprofen. Otherwise, Wilson pretty much behaved himself.

It was foggy in some spots along the highway, but otherwise chilly and mostly sunny all day. It was about 38° when I headed out and remained in the 40’s at the refuges. When I got back to Sacramento in the afternoon, it was about 54°.

On my way to the refuges, I counted 24 raptors along the highway. Most of them were Red-Tailed Hawks, but there were also 4 Turkey Vultures and 3 Kestrels in the mix.

I got to the Sacramento refuge around 9:00 am, which is really “too late” to see anything really good. Most of the birds had finished their breakfasts already and were hunkering down to digest their meals. I didn’t feel like I got any really good photos of anything, and I also felt I was rushed because there were so many other cars on the auto-tour route. So, it was kind of a disappointing day.

The Snow Geese and Ross’s Geese are dominating the landscapes right now, and their noise was defending at times. Soooo many birds!

I was hoping to see some eagles, and I did, but they were about a block away form the car on a small island in the wetland area adjacent to the last park-and-stretch point.  There was an adult Bald Eagle and two juveniles who were eating what looked like a downed Snow Goose. The juveniles looked like they were different ages; one about 2 years old, the other about 3 years old. When they were done eating, they flew off, and the adult eagle moved over to the carcass. While it was eating, it was approached by a seagull, then a Turkey Vulture, then a Raven… and the eagle was actually pretty tolerant of them. I got some of it on video, but because of the distance of the birds, the images aren’t very crisp.

I WAS able to get some nice scenery shots along the route and was happy to see snow on Snow Mountain (the northernmost end of the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument).

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos (even though I’m not really pleased with any of them.)

At the Nimbus Fish Hatchery, 02-27-18

Around 7:30 I headed over to the Nimbus Fish Hatchery. This was going to be the last day they were going to do the Steelhead spawning, and I wanted to film some of that process for the naturalist students. When I got to the hatchery, nothing was open yet, so I walked the ground for a little while. It was 37º there, but the wind coming off the American River made it feel like 32º. Brrrr!

The visitor’s center opened up at 8:00, which is when the Steelhead spawning was advertised to start… But I was told that it was going to be delayed for an hour or so, so the process could be simulcast to grade schools in the area.

I didn’t want to just stand around for an hour and half, so I decided to brave the cold again and walk part of the trail instead. If nothing else, I could take some photos of that to share with my naturalist class.

Right around the visitor’s center there were lots of Brewer’s Blackbirds, and I also saw some Lesser Goldfinch, a House Finch, lots of House Sparrows and Golden-Crowned Sparrows, and several hummingbirds (Anna’s, I think).

On the river I saw lots of Common Goldeneye Ducks, Common Mergansers (more females than males), Canada Geese, a single Grayleg Goose, Herring Gulls, Ring-Billed Gulls, and California Gulls.

The best find by the river was being able to see gulls and Double-Crested Cormorants lining up on a wire that goes from one side of the river to another. I’m not sure what it’s used for, but the winch-end of the wire is on the hatchery’s side. The cormorants get their “nuptial crests” – that stand out like bushy eyebrows over their eyes — during the breeding season, and we’re right at the beginning of that now. Most of the crests you see are black (which generally means that the cormorant is a resident of California), but occasionally you’ll see one with white crests which generally means they’re migrating down into our area from more northerly regions, like Alaska. I saw one with white crests today. That was a first for me.

CLICK HERE to see the album of photos.

The salmon raceways were empty, even the water had been drained out; but on the trout side of the facility, there were Rainbow Trout in various stages of development in every raceway.

Caught inside the structure, too, were a couple of Black-Crowned Night Herons. They must’ve gotten in when someone opened and the forgot to shut the entrance gate – and then got trapped in there when the place was locked up again. They were looking pretty panicked. The only way to get them out would be to open the gates again and shoo them toward the open door. But opening the gates means other fish-eating birds can get into the raceways, too… A conundrum.

By the time I got back to the visitors center, they were halfway through the filming of the Steelhead spawning, and I didn’t want to interrupt that, so I left.

On my way home, I passed right by the American River Bend Park, so I stopped there for a few minutes just to see if I could spot the Great Horned Owl on her nest that I saw the last time I was there. Yep. She was there, sitting on her nest, dozing away. Because the nest is so high and the lighting around it is so bad, I can’t get very good photos of it, but I took a few anyway.

In the same area, I also saw a mule deer in the distance, several Mourning Doves, a few Northern Flickers, Spotted Towhees, Oak Titmice, and an Audubon’s Warbler. It looks like stands of Stinging Nettles are starting to come again – which may be a bad thing for hikers and campers, but is a good thing for Red Admiral butterflies who lay their eggs on the plants, and whose caterpillars depend on them for food and protection. I only stayed at the park for about 30 minutes and didn’t walk any of the trails.

Lots of Hawks, Ducks, Geese and an Eagle!

Up at 6:30 again this morning, and I was out the door heading for the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge before 7:00.  It was 38° when I left the house, and was bright, sunny, and chilly all day.  Never got over 54°.  I love this kind of weather!  I had originally planned to go Lake Solano Park today, but something inside me insisted I go the SNWR instead… and I’m glad I did.  Got to see my first Bald Eagle of the season!

CLICK HERE to see the photo album.

The drive to the refuge was unremarkable; I had to stop and put gas in the car, and got some Jack breakfast stuff to eat, then was off again.  It was so clear out, you could see a lot of the foothills and smaller mountains around the valley.  Snow Mountain actually had snow on it… and I could see Mount Lassen in the distance, snow-covered, too… On the way, I counted 15 hawks along the highway…

I got to the refuge around 9:00 am, and juts as I drove into the first lot where the payment kiosk is, I saw a Great Egret fishing in the slough. As I crept forward a little bit to try to get some photos of it, I realized there was a smaller Snowy Egret standing behind it.  A two-fer! That was a nice way to start the morning!  I saw several more egrets along the way.

You could see the silhouette of the Sutter Buttes along the eastern horizon with a layer of fog crawling along below them.  It was neat to see the flocks of geese fly in and land across that backdrop…

An odd happenstance: I came across a flock of American White Pelicans that decided to WALK across the auto-tour route rather than fly… until they spotted my car.  Then little by little they all took off.  Another stunner: I stopped under a big willow tree where I usually see Northern Harrier Hawks.  Today there were no hawks, but there WAS a huge Great Horned Owl sitting up there!  It was dozing, its eyes open just a slit, and it was so well camouflaged it was hard to see it among all the little twiglet branches, but I did get a few photos of it.  I had a similar encounter with a Red-Tailed Hawk that was so covered by branches and stems, I could barely see it…

At another point on the route, something stirred up the Snow Geese, and they filled the air, flying and squawking and carrying on for the longest time.  Most of them settled in the “back 40”, fields a little further away from the auto-tour route which made taking photos a little difficult.  But among the Snow Geese were juveniles (once called “Blue Geese”) and some odd dark-morph ones.

Lots of Jackrabbits here and there, most of them trying to hide out in the tall dead grass or thickets because there were hawks everywhere.  I also saw a little American Kestrel.  I came across a few California Ground Squirrels, and got some close-up shots of one of them.  I also saw a Striped Skunk but – dang it! – it ducked down into its burrow before I could a picture of it.  I have no luck with skunk photos…

Among the ducks were most of the usual suspects: Mallards, Northern Pintails, Northern Shovelers, Green-Winged Teals, Cinnamon Teals, and a few Buffleheads.  The Buffleheads were too far away to get any descent still shots of them, but I did get a little video of them diving and popping up in the water. Oh, and I also found some Ring-Necked Ducks (which actually have a ring around their bill); a small group of males and females.  Later, while I was taking some photos of a group of American Coots, two White-Faced Ibis flew in, so I got a little bit of video of them… I didn’t realize it until I got home a looked through my photos, but I got a fuzzy photo of a Blue-Winged Teal, too.  He was slumming with the Mallards.  Hah!

Among the smaller birds were Western Meadowlarks, Song Sparrows, Black Phoebes, and White-Crowned Sparrows.

I didn’t see the eagle until the very last part of the route, just before you head back to the nature center.  It was sitting in a eucalyptus tree above my head, and I had to do contortions out the driver’s side window to get pictures of her.  I assumed it was a “she” based on her size, and the “depth” of her beak.  (In males, the beak opens up to just in front of the eye; in the female it’s deeper, and opens up to the mid-eye, or even behind the eye.)  An older couple came up in a car behind me and at first seemed aggravated that I was stopped near the middle of the road, then they realized the eagle was up there, and I saw huge smiles cross their faces. The hubby leaned outside the driver’s side window of their car to get some photos, too.  That was a great way to end the run.

By the time I got to the front gate of the SNWR it was only about 11:30 am, so I decided to head over to the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge before heading home.  It’s on the way; just outside of the town of Williams.  At Colusa, I saw pretty much the same species of ducks and geese, except for some American Widgeons and the Black-Crowned Night Herons.  There  were also a lot of Great Blue Herons along the sloughs, and I was able to get some fairly good shot of them.

There were also lots of hawks, too, and at one point I stopped to watch a big Red-Tailed Hawk trying to manage a Coot it had been successful in catching. The Coot was too large to eat at all once, and too heavy to fly away with, so the hawk wasn’t sure what to do.  It ate as much as it could, then flew off into a nearby tree – where two other hawks and a Turkey Vulture were sitting, waiting for leftovers. After a few second, the first hawk flew back to its kill, and flew-dragged the Coot off onto a small knoll in the middle of a wet area.  There, the hawks kind of posed for me and I got some really good shots of it with its prey.  I got some video of it spreading its tail and raising its head-feathers to make itself look more formidable.  Such a handsome animal!

I left the Colusa refuge around 1:30 and then headed home.

And here are some video snippets:

Vacation Day 9: Colusa and Sacramento National Wildlife Refuges

DAY 9 OF MY VACATION.  I was up around 6:30 am and headed out with the dog to the Colusa and Sacramento National Wildlife Refuges…

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

At the Colusa refuge, which I went to first, I was surprised to see water in the pond near the viewing platform.  Last week when I was there, there was no water at all.  Two guys with large-lens cameras were setting up on the deck when I got there.  There weren’t a whole lot of birds to see yet, but they were taking photos of the fly-in of White-Fronted Geese.

Although the water is coming in, what birds are there are not very close to the auto-tour road along the levies yet (because the water is still shallow and isn’t in all the areas it should be) so getting photos with my gear wasn’t easy.  The difficulty was compounded by the glare of the early morning light coming through breaks in the clouds and fog.  I was kind of disappointed in the picture I got there.  Still, I got to see a Loggerhead Shrike, Greater White-Fronted Geese, some,  Greater Yellowlegs, Gadwalls, Pintails and Mallards, a couple of Red-Tailed Hawks – including one that landed in a tree right over my car and stared down at me! – a Long Billed Curlew, some Turkey Vultures, Black-Necked Stilts and a couple of immature Common Gallinules.  I was also surprised by a few Sandhill Cranes, and got to see both mature and immature Black-Crowned Night Herons sitting in their morning roost trees.

That drive took me about an hour. Then I headed to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge which is about 20 miles further north up the highway. The big news at that refuge is that the flocks of Snow Geese have arrived there.  There were only a handful of them last week; today there were hundreds of them… but they were mostly far away because, as with the Colusa refuge, the water in this refuge isn’t at full capacity yet, so the birds stay pretty far away from the touring road.

Along with birds similar to those I saw in Colusa, I saw several Great Egrets, some Red-Eared Slider Turtles and Western Pond Turtles, Killdeer, American White Pelicans, a few White-Faced Ibis, a Peregrine Falcon, and loads of Red-Winged Blackbirds.  A few California Ground Squirrels stopped and posed for me, and I got to see a female Belted Kingfisher chase off both a Turkey Vulture and a Red-Tailed Hawk from a tree in the middle of a pond where she was fishing.  Tough little broad!

At one point, I’d stopped to get some photos of a little Savannah Sparrow on the side of the road, and then saw about six River Otters scurry across the road in front of me. By the time I got the camera up, they were already disappearing into the brush. Dang it!

By the time I was done going through the Sacramento refuge it was around 2:30 pm, so I headed back to Williams, got a sandwich and then headed over to the hotel.

At the Sacramento and Colusa Wildlife Refuges

I got up around 6:30 this morning, set out breakfast for the dogs, and then headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge with Sergeant Margie.  It was about 46° outside when I left, and by the time I got back home it was around 72°… so weatherwise it was a beautiful day.  On the way to the refuge, I stopped in Woodland to put some gas in the car and get a few snacky things to eat on the road…

CLICK HERE for the full album of photos.

At the refuge, they still need to flood quite a lot of it, and there isn’t a wide variety of waterbirds out there to see yet, but in another month or so, it should make for better viewing there. Today, I mostly saw a lot of White-Fronted Geese. I saw a couple of areas where there were swarms of Swallows eating midges out of the air, and I even got a little video snippet of them. The best sightings of the day were: (1) an American Bittern feeding among the water primrose in one of the sloughs. When it saw my car come close, it lifted its head up to expose its striped throat and froze. (Other people drove right by and didn’t see it.) It sat like that until I drove off again, so I was able to get a lot of photos of it. (2) A Great Egret sitting in a tree in the shade right next to the road.  It was sitting on a tree that was growing out of a gully, so it was right outside my passenger side window. After a while it flew out and landed on road right on the edge of the gully, so I got photos of it in both locations.

I also saw White-Crowned Sparrows, a Belted Kingfisher, Columbia Black-Tailed Mule Deer, Northern Pintails, a Northern Harrier, some  California Ground Squirrels, Coots, a Red-Tailed Hawk, a Savannah Sparrows and  Northern Shovelers. There were also some last-of-the-season dragonflies around including some Pondhawks and Green Darners.

The extra loop around the permanent wetland area was closed, so the drive took less time than it normally would, so I left that refuge and drove back down the highway to the Colusa Wildlife Refuge off of Highway 20.

That refuge was almost bone dry, so there wasn’t a lot to see there either, but I did get to see some more geese and duck, some Cattle Egrets, White-Faced Ibis (and I think I also spotted a Long-Billed Curlew among them) some Common Gallinules, Snowy Egrets and Black-Crowned Night Herons.  So I got to see  fairly good smattering of birds today, but I’m anxiously waiting for more to arrive so I can get some better photos…

Back to the SNWR for One More Run

American Goldfinch, male. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.
American Goldfinch, male. ©2016 Copyright Mary K. Hanson. All Rights Reserved.

I got up around 6:00 am and headed off to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge again.  This will be my last trip up there this month… On the way out of Sacramento I was surprised to see six  — count ‘em, six – police cars blocking one of the lanes on Fruitridge and surrounding the Shell gas station.  Wonder what was going on there…  The rest of the drive was completely uneventful, and I got to the refuge around 8:00 am.

Starting off on the auto tour the first critter that greeted me was a brightly colored male American Goldfinch eating seeds.  They’re such teeny birds, but such a bright shade of yellow, you can’t miss them… I also was surprised by coming across a river otter.  She was sitting by the side of the road taking a dirt bath, but rushed across the road and slipped into the water when she saw my car.  I’m assuming it was a female because she looked VERY pregnant… I saw mama Great Horned Owl and her owlets all sitting on a long branch on “their” tree.  When a Great Blue Heron landed on the top of their tree, they didn’t seem to mind… I also saw several Bull Frogs, and was kind of proud of myself for being able to spot them since some of them were nothing but eyeballs sitting above the surface of the water…

On the little island where the American White Pelicans and Cormorant usually hang out there were also Wigeons, Ruddy Ducks, and Pintails this morning. I watched a Pied-Billed Grebe gathering grass for its nest… and saw a small flock of adult Canada Geese trying to contain and discipline a rowdy group of fledglings (which were already in their sort-of adult colors but still smaller than the adults)… Among the normal contingency of Cabbage White butterflies, there was a Painted Lady… And I also saw several American Bitterns on the wing, some Black-Crowned Night Herons, and an immature Snowy Egret (without its yellow boots; its feet were black)…

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I usually do two rounds of the auto tour, but today (like yesterday) I did only one, and headed back to Sacramento.  I stopped in Woodland to pick up a few groceries and then headed home.