Tag Archives: Bufflehead Ducks

Nothing Dramatic, But 35+ Species Today

Up at 6:30 am and I headed out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge again. [I go there  A LOT through the winter and spring months because there’s so much to see there.]  It was about 38° when I left the house with a high overcast.  There were also areas where there was dense fog.  By the end of the day, the overcast was still holding on, but it was up to 48°… On the way to the refuge, I counted 26 hawks, 6 Great Egrets, and 2 Cattle Egrets along the sides of the road.

CLICK HERE to see the full album of photos.

And here are links to the videos taken today:

There was nothing super dramatic happening at the refuge today, but I still managed to get quite a few photos.  One nice moment was when I stopped along the side of the road on the auto-tour to finish off my breakfast sandwich.  While the car was quiet and not moving, a bunch of little finches flew in to pull the last remaining seeds off the weeds on the roadside… and among them was a yellow-orange House Finch!  I usually just see red ones, and I’ve only seen another yellow one once, so that was a nice surprise.  In the same little group was a pair of Lesser Goldfinches.

Toward the end of the route, a mother deer and her fawn jumped out from a tule thicket and ran across the road in front of me.  Good thing you can only go 15 miles per hours on that road. They rushed into the tules on the opposite side of the road, and I could hear them sloshing through the water there, but couldn’t see them.  Then they emerged from the overgrowth onto slightly high ground and  I could see that the baby was wet up to his shoulders.  Awwww…  Mama was wet too, but only to her knees, and I could see how heavy with milk she was.  My appearance must’ve interrupted a nursing session…

When I finished the auto-route route at the refuge it was only about 10:30, so I went over to the Colusa National Wildlife Refuge before heading back home.  Some of the best photos I got there were at the viewing platform.  Lots of ducks had come in close to rest and I got a few really close ups, especially of a fat male American Widgeon duck who gave me a few different poses before he fell back to sleep.

About halfway through that tour, I came across a pair of male Ring-Necked Pheasants who had squared off on the side of the road and where posturing and battling with one another. Lots of head bobbing, fanned tails and jumping at each other…  I didn’t want to get too close to them and disturb them, so I stayed back a bit and got a little video of them before they disappeared into the willows and brush.

I took over 1400 photographs today (!), so it’s going to take me a while to go through all of them.  All in all, I figured I saw over 35 different species between the two refuges, so even though there was no drama – like seeing eagles – it was still a nice drive.

I Helped Lead a Tour of the SNWR, 11-12-16

I had to work today — helping to lead an auto-tour of the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge — so I was up at 5:00 and out the door by 5:30 am.  I stopped at a gas station on my way, filled up the tank, and got some munchies for the road, and then headed over to the Denney’s off of West Street in Woodland to meet up with my coworker Nate and the folks who were coming on the tour.  I’d gotten there early enough to order a small breakfast and get it in a to-go box.  I ate what I could of it out in the car, and then saw Nate and the others gathering outside the parking lot on the street, so I drove over there to meet them.  I handed out guide books and directions to the refuge, and we were all on the road by a little after 7:00 am.  There were seven people in our group (besides my coworker Nate and me) but only three of them were birding “newbies” who had never been to the refuge before.  The rest of them were avid birders, some from Yolo Audubon…

CLICK HERE to see the full album of photos.

CLICK HERE to see additional photos from other photographers.

We arrived at the refuge around 8:00 am, had folks pay for their vehicles at the kiosk and then we met at the inside parking lot before heading out along the auto tour drive. Although there were birding experts willing to drive with the non-birders.  Most of the non-birders chose to drive their own vehicles by themselves.  I had one “newbie” birder who went with me, a gal named Colleen.  Along the way, I was able to help point out birds to her, and name the species and tell her some fun facts… and I was so busy doing that, that I didn’t take very many photos while I was out there… and I forgot to eat lunch.

Along the auto tour there are three park-and-stretch places where you can get out of your car and look around.  I had brought my spotting scope me… but the experienced birders had brought ones of their own and had them set up before I could even get mine out of my car.  But that was okay; at least everyone got to see some of the birds up close.  As we watched one Red-Tailed Hawk who was sitting on the ground, warming up as the sun came up and burned through the low clouds, about 10 Jackrabbits popped up all around the bird and ran circles around it then scattered into the low brush and tules.  Hah!  We also saw a Raven come in for a landing with a large bit of what we assumed was a vole, in its beak, and watched it eat its breakfast before driving on… The folks from Yolo Audubon had also brought additional guide books, and used them to help the newbies to more effectively identify the hawks they were seeing (along with the guide books I also provided to guests who wanted them).

Throughout the tour I was to point out and help folks identify a Cooper’s Hawk, Red-Tailed Hawks, Northern Harriers, Song Sparrows, House Sparrows, White-Crowned Sparrows, ravens, Mallards, Northern Pintails, Green-Winged Teals, Cinnamon Teals, Northern Shovelers, Greater White-Fronted Geese, White-Face Ibis, Snowy Egrets, Great Egrets, a Great Blue Heron, Turkey Vultures, Black Phoebes, Eared Grebes, Yellow-Rumped Warblers, Bufflehead ducks, Pied-Billed Grebes, American Coots, Canada Geese, a Peregrine Falcon, American Wigeons and American Pipits, and the Snow Geese (which were out in force today).  Among the regular totally white-bodied snow Geese was a single “dark morph” Snow Goose.  It had a white head, but it’s body was dark steely-grey.  A VERY cool sighting… but it was pretty distant (for my camera) and I didn’t get any really good shots of it.  I told everyone in our group that they had to share what they photos they took with us, so we could post them to Facebook.

In the non-bird species, along with the jackrabbits, we saw Columbian Black-Tailed Mule Deer, California Ground Squirrels, a Western Pond Turtle, a Western Fence Lizard, webs from “ballooning” spiders, and the nest of Paper Wasps. So it was an interesting excursion.  Some of the newbies had never been to the refuge before, and were excited to come back later in the season.

A Good Day to View Nature, 03-25-16

Jackrabbit. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Jackrabbit. Copyright © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

Even though I had the day off, I got up at 5:00 am anyway, and was out the door with the dog before 6:00 to head out to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  I thought if I went in earlier I might be able to see some fly-ins, or spot coyotes or other crepuscular critters… and I figured I’d avoid the early morning work traffic.

When I got to the refuge, the  sun was just coming up and the moon was just going down.  Made for some interesting light for a while.  There were lots of wildflowers all over the refuge –mostly the yellow and orange waves right now: fiddleneck, wild mustard, goldfields…  So pretty.  There were a lot of jackrabbits around, zig-zagging through the grass; and I was surprised by how many pheasants I was able to see.  They must’ve known that part of the complex was off-limits to hunters.  Hah!  The extra mile loop at the refuge was open, though, so I drove through there and got some photos of an couple of American Bitterns.  One was hunkered down in some water iris, and another one was walking though the tules.  I saw him start to clap his bill and gulp air, filling up his gullet with it.  I’d never seen that behavior before, so I stopped to watch him (and got a tiny bit of video of it).  He’d gulp in air, and then let it out in with an odd sound that was particularly loud.  ((The video didn’t capture the sound very well.))  It was so odd, I looked it up when I got home and found out that that behavior is associated with territorialism. The sound is called a “pumper-lunk” and has been described as the sound of a “congested pump”.  I don’t know what a congested pump sounds like, but watching the bird make it was a cool sight to see.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I also saw  mule deer, Canada Geese, White-Faced Ibis, a Snowy Egret, Bufflehead ducks (and lots of other ducks), Cinnamon Teals, lots and lots of Coots, Snow Geese, ground squirrels, a Great Blue Heron, cormorants, Killdeer, Turkey Vultures, Meadowlarks, a Nutthall’s Woodpecker, Northern Shovelers and Great Egrets – their faces all green this time of year (their breeding color).  And then there were the raptors: Northern Harriers, Red-Tailed Hawks, a Red-Shouldered Hawk and a Peregrine Falcon.  And one huge American White Pelican sitting on a small island with Coots and cormorants.

The Red-Winged Blackbirds were all around by the droves, too, all singing at the same time.  In some areas the sound was almost deafening.   And the tules were full of tiny Marsh Wrens singing and displaying around the nests they’d built for the females… Makes me want to go out there every day.  But I gotta work… and I’m getting two weeks off in April.

I drove around for several hours, then headed back to Sacramento.

Egrets & Herons: 2 Voles: 0

Great Egret tries to swallow its catch. © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.
Great Egret tries to swallow its catch. © 2016 Mary K. Hanson. All rights reserved.

I’m feeling better today; got through the whole night without drugs and without coughing.  I got up around 6:30 and headed out with Sergeant Margie to the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge.  It was foggy and chilly (around 48°) in Sacramento, but pretty clear and a little bit warmer (56°) by the time I got to Willows.

At the refuge there were hardly any other people (I only saw 2 cars on the auto tour), so I felt like I practically had the whole place to myself.  I saw mostly egrets and herons on the auto tour.  I got some good video snippets of one Great Egret catching and eating what looked like a large water vole (the tail was too short to be a rat).  It stabbed at the vole several times with its dagger-like beak and dunked it under water a couple of times to drown it (and, I think, to make it easier to swallow.)  Later on, I also saw a Great Blue Heron catch a vole about the same size as the one the egret got.  Rather than stabbing and drowning it, though, the heron took the vole and shook it violently (I think to severe the spiral cord from the brain) and then moved it toward the back of its mouth where it could crush it with its beak.  Not a good day for the voles…



I also got to see one adult Bald Eagle in the distance, and came up on one of the juvenile eagles again while it was eating.  It was up in a tree over the auto-tour road and didn’t like the fact that a car had come by to disturb it.  So, it dropped some of its meal onto the top of my car, from where it bounced off and hit the road next to my driver’s side window.  A Coot.  Eew. Then the eagle flew off.

I saw a couple of different kinds of hawks, but most of them were too far off to get any photos.  I did get a short snippet of video of a large Red-Tailed Hawk buzz-bombing a small flock of Coots.  He’d strafed them twice before I could get my camera focused on him, so I only got one of the three runs, but he was persistent.  I later found him sitting in a tree near the auto-tour road and got a few photos of him.

At the turnout near the viewing platform (about halfway through the auto tour route) I got out with the dog, and we could hear two Ring-Necked Pheasants croaking at each other.  They’re really loud, and their call is unmistakable, so I was hoping I’d be able to see at least one of them.  I went up onto the top of the viewing platform, and saw one of the pheasants – a large male, making his way through the tall grass, snacking on leaves as he went along.  I got a tiny bit of video of him, but, man, those things move fast!

When I was done with the auto tour, it was still kind of early (around 10:00 am), so I decided to go to the Colusa National  Wildlife Refuge again to see if the Black-Crowned Night Herons were still hanging around there.  They were… but by that time in the morning, they’re all sleeping.  I need to get to the refuge near dusk or dawn, so I can see them when they’re moving around and hunting.  Unlike the Great Blue Herons, the Black-Crowned Night Herons are real heavy and stocky with a short neck and football-shaped body.  They’ll eat almost anything, and are known to predate duck nests.  Their loud “wok” call is very easy to identify.  We’re getting near their breeding season, and sometimes they’ll forage during the day if they have a lot of babies to feed so I’m hoping that eventually I’ll get some decent photos of them…

When I came to the area where the Black-Crowned Night Herons were all sleeping in their trees along the slough, a Great Egret and Great Blue Heron flew down right in front of my car, so I was able to get some close-ups of them.  Among the other birds I saw was a Eurasian Wigeon, different from the American Wigeons that are abundant this time of year, the Eurasian Wigeon has a rust-colored head instead of the gray/green head the Americans have.  This was the first Eurasian Wigeon I’d seen, so I got to add him to my species list.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

When we were done with the tour at the Colusa refuge, Sergeant Margie and I had lunch at the picnic tables near the entrance to the refuge: chicken, apricots and tea.  Then we headed home.  It was a nice day.  It’s so great to be feeling well enough to get outside again…